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Book 3 Chapter 11 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XI

THE BLUNDERS

In order to appear before the King, Cinq-Mars had been compelled to mount
the charger of one of the light horse, wounded in the affair, having lost
his own at the foot of the rampart. As the two companies were marching
out, he felt some one touch his shoulder, and, turning round, saw old
Grandchamp leading a very beautiful gray horse.

"Will Monsieur le Marquis mount a horse of his own?" said he. "I have put
on the saddle and housings of velvet embroidered in gold that remained in
the trench. Alas, when I think that a Spaniard might have taken it, or
even a Frenchman! For just now there are so many people who take all they
find, as if it were their own; and then, as the proverb says, 'What falls
in the ditch is for the soldier.' They might also have taken the four
hundred gold crowns that Monsieur le Marquis, be it said without
reproach, forgot to take out of the holsters. And the pistols! Oh, what
pistols! I bought them in Germany; and here they are as good as ever, and
with their locks perfect. It was quite enough to kill the poor little
black horse, that was born in England as sure as I was at Tours in
Touraine, without also exposing these valuables to pass into the hands of
the enemy."

While making this lamentation, the worthy man finished saddling the gray
horse. The column was long enough filing out to give him time to pay
scrupulous attention to the length of the stirrups and of the bands, all
the while continuing his harangue.

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur, for being somewhat slow about this; but I
sprained my arm slightly in lifting Monsieur de Thou, who himself raised
Monsieur le Marquis during the grand scuffle."

"How camest thou there at all, stupid?" said Cinq-Mars. "That is not thy
business. I told thee to remain in the camp."

"Oh, as to remaining in the camp, that is out of the question. I can't
stay there; when I hear a musket-shot, I should be ill did I not see the
flash. As for my business, that is to take care of your horses, and you
are on them. Monsieur, think you I should not have saved, had I been
able, the life of the poor black horse down there in the trench? Ah, how
I loved him!--a horse that gained three races in his time--a time too
short for those who loved him as I loved him! He never would take his
corn but from his dear Grandchamp; and then he would caress me with his
head. The end of my left ear that he carried away one day--poor
fellow!--proves it, for it was not out of ill-will he bit it off; quite
the contrary. You should have heard how he neighed with rage when any one
else came near him; that was the reason why he broke Jean's leg. Good
creature, I loved him so!

"When he fell I held him on one side with one hand and M. de Locmaria
with the other. I thought at first that both he and that gentleman would
recover; but unhappily only one of them returned to life, and that was he
whom I least knew. You seem to be laughing at what I say about your
horse, Monsieur; you forget that in times of war the horse is the soul of
the cavalier. Yes, Monsieur, his soul; for what is it that intimidates
the infantry? It is the horse! It certainly is not the man, who, once
seated, is little more than a bundle of hay. Who is it that performs the
fine deeds that men admire? The horse. There are times when his master,
who a moment before would rather have been far away, finds himself
victorious and rewarded for his horse's valor, while the poor beast gets
nothing but blows. Who is it gains the prize in the race? The horse, that
sups hardly better than usual, while the master pockets the gold, and is
envied by his friends and admired by all the lords as if he had run
himself. Who is it that hunts the roebuck, yet puts but a morsel in his
own mouth? Again, the horse; sometimes the horse is even eaten himself,
poor animal! I remember in a campaign with Monsieur le Marechal, it
happened that--But what is the matter, Monsieur, you grow pale?"

"Bind up my leg with something--a handkerchief, a strap, or what you
will. I feel a burning pain there; I know not what."

"Your boot is cut, Monsieur. It may be some ball; however, lead is the
friend of man."

"It is no friend of mine, at all events."

"Ah, who loves, chastens! Lead must not be ill spoken of! What is that--"

While occupied in binding his master's leg below the knee, the worthy
Grandchamp was about to hold forth in praise of lead as absurdly as he
had in praise of the horse, when he was forced, as well as Cinq-Mars, to
hear a warm and clamorous dispute among some Swiss soldiers who had
remained behind the other troops. They were talking with much
gesticulation, and seemed busied with two men among a group of about
thirty soldiers.

D'Effiat, still holding out his leg to his servant, and leaning on the
saddle of his horse, tried, by listening attentively, to understand the
subject of the colloquy; but he knew nothing of German, and could not
comprehend the dispute. Grandchamp, who, still holding the boot, had also
been listening very seriously, suddenly burst into loud laughter, holding
his sides in a manner not usual with him.

"Ha, ha, ha! Monsieur, here are two sergeants disputing which they ought
to hang of the two Spaniards there; for your red comrades did not take
the trouble to tell them. One of the Swiss says that it's the officer,
the other that it's the soldier; a third has just made a proposition for
meeting the difficulty."

"And what does he say?"

"He suggests that they hang them both."

"Stop! stop!" cried Cinq-Mars to the soldiers, attempting to walk; but
his leg would not support him.

"Put me on my horse, Grandchamp."

"Monsieur, you forget your wound."

"Do as I command, and then mount thyself."

The old servant grumblingly obeyed, and then galloped off, in fulfilment
of another imperative order, to stop the Swiss, who were just about to
hang their two prisoners to a tree, or to let them hang themselves; for
the officer, with the sang-froid of his nation, had himself passed the
running noose of a rope around his own neck, and, without being told, had
ascended a small ladder placed against the tree, in order to tie the
other end of the rope to one of its branches. The soldier, with the same
calm indifference, was looking on at the Swiss disputing around him,
while holding the ladder.

Cinq-Mars arrived in time to save them, gave his name to the Swiss
sergeant, and, employing Grandchamp as interpreter, said that the two
prisoners were his, and that he would take them to his tent; that he was
a captain in the guards, and would be responsible for them. The German,
ever exact in discipline, made no reply; the only resistance was on the
part of the prisoner. The officer, still on the top of the ladder, turned
round, and speaking thence as from a pulpit, said, with a sardonic laugh:

"I should much like to know what you do here? Who told you I wished to
live?"

"I do not ask to know anything about that," said Cinq-Mars; "it matters
not to me what becomes of you afterward. All I propose now is to prevent
an act which seems to me unjust and cruel. You may kill yourself
afterward, if you like."

"Well said," returned the ferocious Spaniard; "you please me. I thought
at first you meant to affect the generous in order to oblige me to be
grateful, which is a thing I detest. Well, I consent to come down; but I
shall hate you as much as ever, for you are a Frenchman. Nor do I thank
you, for you only discharge a debt you owe me, since it was I who this
morning kept you from being shot by this young soldier while he was
taking aim at you; and he is a man who never missed a chamois in the
mountains of Leon."

"Be it as you will," said Cinq-Mars; "come down."

It was his character ever to assume with others the mien they wore toward
him; and the rudeness of the Spaniard made him as hard as iron toward
him.

"A proud rascal that, Monsieur," said Grandchamp; "in your place Monsieur
le Marechal would certainly have left him on his ladder. Come, Louis,
Etienne, Germain, escort Monsieur's prisoners--a fine acquisition, truly!
If they bring you any luck, I shall be very much surprised."

Cinq-Mars, suffering from the motion of his horse, rode only at the pace
of his prisoners on foot, and was accordingly at a distance behind the
red companies, who followed close upon the King. He meditated on his way
what it could be that the Prince desired to say to him. A ray of hope
presented to his mind the figure of Marie de Mantua in the distance; and
for a moment his thoughts were calmed. But all his future lay in that
brief sentence--"to please the King"; and he began to reflect upon all
the bitterness in which his task might involve him.

At that moment he saw approaching his friend, De Thou, who, anxious at
his remaining behind, had sought him in the plain, eager to aid him if
necessary.

"It is late, my friend; night approaches. You have delayed long; I feared
for you. Whom have you here? What has detained you? The King will soon be
asking for you."

Such were the rapid inquiries of the young counsellor, whose anxiety,
more than the battle itself, had made him lose his accustomed serenity.

"I was slightly wounded; I bring a prisoner, and I was thinking of the
King. What can he want me for, my friend? What must I do if he proposes
to place me about his person? I must please him; and at this
thought--shall I own it?--I am tempted to fly. But I trust that I shall
not have that fatal honor. 'To please,' how humiliating the word! 'to
obey' quite the opposite! A soldier runs the chance of death, and there's
an end. But in what base compliances, what sacrifices of himself, what
compositions with his conscience, what degradation of his own thought,
may not a courtier be involved! Ah, De Thou, my dear De Thou! I am not
made for the court; I feel it, though I have seen it but for a moment.
There is in my temperament a certain savageness, which education has
polished only on the surface. At a distance, I thought myself adapted to
live in this all-powerful world; I even desired it, led by a cherished
hope of my heart. But I shuddered at the first step; I shuddered at the
mere sight of the Cardinal. The recollection of the last of his crimes,
at which I was present, kept me from addressing him. He horrifies me; I
never can endure to be near him. The King's favor, too, has that about it
which dismays me, as if I knew it would be fatal to me."

"I am glad to perceive this apprehension in you; it may be most
salutary," said De Thou, as they rode on. "You are about to enter into
contact with power. Before, you did not even conceive it; now you will
touch it with your very hand. You will see what it is, and what hand
hurls the lightning. Heaven grant that that lightning may never strike
you! You will probably be present in those councils which regulate the
destiny of nations; you will see, you will perchance originate, those
caprices whence are born sanguinary wars, conquests, and treaties; you
will hold in your hand the drop of water which swells into mighty
torrents. It is only from high places that men can judge of human
affairs; you must look from the mountaintop ere you can appreciate the
littleness of those things which from below appear to us great."

"Ah, were I on those heights, I should at least learn the lesson you
speak of; but this Cardinal, this man to whom I must be under obligation,
this man whom I know too well by his works--what will he be to me?"

"A friend, a protector, no doubt," answered De Thou.

"Death were a thousand times preferable to his friendship! I hate his
whole being, even his very name; he spills the blood of men with the
cross of the Redeemer!"

"What horrors are you saying, my friend? You will ruin yourself if you
reveal your sentiments respecting the Cardinal to the King."

"Never mind; in the midst of these tortuous ways, I desire to take a new
one, the right line. My whole opinion, the opinion of a just man, shall
be unveiled to the King himself, if he interrogate me, even should it
cost me my head. I have at last seen this King, who has been described to
me as so weak; I have seen him, and his aspect has touched me to the
heart in spite of myself. Certainly, he is very unfortunate, but he can
not be cruel; he will listen to the truth."

"Yes; but he will not dare to make it triumph," answered the sage De
Thou. "Beware of this warmth of heart, which often draws you by sudden
and dangerous movements. Do not attack a colossus like Richelieu without
having measured him."

"That is just like my tutor, the Abbe Quillet. My dear and prudent
friend, neither the one nor the other of you know me; you do not know how
weary I am of myself, and whither I have cast my gaze. I must mount or
die."

"What! already ambitious?" exclaimed De Thou, with extreme surprise.

His friend inclined his head upon his hands, abandoning the reins of his
horse, and did not answer.

"What! has this selfish passion of a riper age obtained possession of you
at twenty, Henri? Ambition is the saddest of all hopes."

"And yet it possesses me entirely at present, for I see only by means of
it, and by it my whole heart is penetrated."

"Ah, Cinq-Mars, I no longer recognize you! how different you were
formerly! I do not conceal from you that you appear to me to have
degenerated. In those walks of our childhood, when the life, and, above
all, the death of Socrates, caused tears of admiration and envy to flow
from our eyes; when, raising ourselves to the ideal of the highest
virtue, we wished that those illustrious sorrows, those sublime
misfortunes, which create great men, might in the future come upon us;
when we constructed for ourselves imaginary occasions of sacrifices and
devotion--if the voice of a man had pronounced, between us two, the
single world, 'ambition,' we should have believed that we were touching a
serpent."

De Thou spoke with the heat of enthusiasm and of reproach. Cinq-Mars went
on without answering, and still with his face in his hands. After an
instant of silence he removed them, and allowed his eyes to be seen, full
of generous tears. He pressed the hand of his friend warmly, and said to
him, with a penetrating accent:

"Monsieur de Thou, you have recalled to me the most beautiful thoughts of
my earliest youth. Do not believe that I have fallen; I am consumed by a
secret hope which I can not confide even to you. I despise, as much as
you, the ambition which will seem to possess me. All the world will
believe in it; but what do I care for the world? As for you, noble
friend, promise me that you will not cease to esteem me, whatever you may
see me do. I swear that my thoughts are as pure as heaven itself!"

"Well," said De Thou, "I swear by heaven that I believe you blindly; you
give me back my life!"

They shook hands again with effusion of heart, and then perceived that
they had arrived almost before the tent of the King.

Day was nearly over; but one might have believed that a softer day was
rising, for the moon issued from the sea in all her splendor. The
transparent sky of the south showed not a single cloud, and it seemed
like a veil of pale blue sown with silver spangles; the air, still hot,
was agitated only by the rare passage of breezes from the Mediterranean;
and all sounds had ceased upon the earth. The fatigued army reposed
beneath their tents, the line of which was marked by the fires, and the
besieged city seemed oppressed by the same slumber; upon its ramparts
nothing was to be seen but the arms of the sentinels, which shone in the
rays of the moon, or the wandering fire of the night-rounds. Nothing was
to be heard but the gloomy and prolonged cries of its guards, who warned
one another not to sleep.

It was only around the King that all things waked, but at a great
distance from him. This Prince had dismissed all his suite; he walked
alone before his tent, and, pausing sometimes to contemplate the beauty
of the heavens, he appeared plunged in melancholy meditation. No one
dared to interrupt him; and those of the nobility who had remained in the
royal quarters had gathered about the Cardinal, who, at twenty paces from
the King, was seated upon a little hillock of turf, fashioned into a seat
by the soldiers. There he wiped his pale forehead, fatigued with the
cares of the day and with the unaccustomed weight of a suit of armor; he
bade adieu, in a few hurried but always attentive and polite words, to
those who came to salute him as they retired. No one was near him now
except Joseph, who was talking with Laubardemont. The Cardinal was
looking at the King, to see whether, before reentering, this Prince would
not speak to him, when the sound of the horses of Cinq-Mars was heard.
The Cardinal's guards questioned him, and allowed him to advance without
followers, and only with De Thou.

"You are come too late, young man, to speak with the King," said the
Cardinal-Duke with a sharp voice. "One can not make his Majesty wait."

The two friends were about to retire, when the voice of Louis XIII
himself made itself heard. This Prince was at that moment in one of those
false positions which constituted the misfortune of his whole life.
Profoundly irritated against his minister, but not concealing from
himself that he owed the success of the day to him, desiring, moreover,
to announce to him his intention to quit the army and to raise the siege
of Perpignan, he was torn between the desire of speaking to the Cardinal
and the fear lest his anger might be weakened. The minister, upon his
part, dared not be the first to speak, being uncertain as to the thoughts
which occupied his master, and fearing to choose his time ill, but yet
not able to decide upon retiring. Both found themselves precisely in the
position of two lovers who have quarrelled and desire to have an
explanation, when the King, seized with joy the first opportunity of
extricating himself. The chance was fatal to the minister. See upon what
trifles depend those destinies which are called great.

"Is it not Monsieur de Cinq-Mars?" said the King, in a loud voice. "Let
him approach; I am waiting for him."

Young D'Effiat approached on horseback, and at some paces from the King
desired to set foot to earth; but hardly had his leg touched the ground
when he dropped upon his knees.

"Pardon, Sire!" said he, "I believe that I am wounded;" and the blood
issued violently from his boot.

De Thou had seen him fall, and had approached to sustain him. Richelieu
seized this opportunity of advancing also, with dissembled eagerness.

"Remove this spectacle from the eyes of the King," said he. "You see very
well that this young man is dying."

"Not at all," said Louis, himself supporting him; "a king of France knows
how to see a man die, and has no fear of the blood which flows for him.
This young man interests me. Let him be carried into my tent, and let my
doctors attend him. If his wound is not serious, he shall come with me to
Paris, for the siege is suspended, Monsieur le Cardinal. Such is my
desire; other affairs call me to the centre of the kingdom. I will leave
you here to command in my absence. This is what I desired to say to you."

With these words the King went abruptly into his tent, preceded by his
pages and his officers, carrying flambeaux.

The royal pavilion was closed, and Cinq-Mars was borne in by De Thou and
his people, while the Duc de Richelieu, motionless and stupefied, still
regarded the spot where this scene had passed. He appeared
thunder-struck, and incapable of seeing or hearing those who observed
him.

Laubardemont, still intimidated by his ill reception of the preceding
day, dared not speak a word to him, and Joseph hardly recognized in him
his former master. For an instant he regretted having given himself to
him, and fancied that his star was waning; but, reflecting that he was
hated by all men and had no resource save in Richelieu, he seized him by
the arm, and, shaking him roughly, said to him in a low voice, but
harshly:

"Come, come, Monseigneur, you are chickenhearted; come with us."

And, appearing to sustain him by the elbow, but in fact drawing him in
spite of himself, with the aid of Laubardemont, he made him enter his
tent, as a schoolmaster forces a schoolboy to rest, fearing the effects
of the evening mist upon him.

The prematurely aged man slowly obeyed the wishes of his two parasites,
and the purple of the pavilion dropped upon him.