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Book 4 Chapter 15 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XV

THE ALCOVE

While a prince was thus reassured with difficulty by those who surrounded
him, and allowed them to see a terror which might have proved contagious,
a princess more exposed to accidents, more isolated by the indifference
of her husband, weaker by nature and by the timidity which is the result
of the absence of happiness, on her side set the example of the calmest
courage and the most pious resignation, and tranquillized her terrified
suite; this was the Queen. Having slept hardly an hour, she heard shrill
cries behind the doors and the thick tapestries of her chamber. She
ordered her women to open the door, and the Duchesse de Chevreuse, in her
night attire, and wrapped in a great cloak, fell, nearly fainting, at the
foot of her bed, followed by four of her ladies-in-waiting and three of
the women of the bed-chamber. Her delicate feet were bare, and bleeding
from a wound she had received in running.

She cried, weeping like a child, that a pistol-shot had broken her
shutters and her window-panes, and had wounded her; she entreated the
Queen to send her into exile, where she would be more tranquil than in a
country where they wished to assassinate her because she was the friend
of her Majesty.

Her hair was in great disorder, and fell to her feet. It was her chief
beauty; and the young Queen thought that this toilette was less the
result of chance than might have been imagined.

"Well, my dear, what has happened?" she said to her with sang-froid. "You
look like a Magdalen, but in her youth, and before she repented. It is
probable that if they wish to harm any one here it is I; calm yourself."

"No, Madame! save me, protect me! it is Richelieu who pursues me, I am
sure!"

The sound of pistols, which was then heard more distinctly, convinced the
Queen that the terrors of Madame de Chevreuse were not vain.

"Come and dress me, Madame de Motteville!" cried she. But that lady had
completely lost her self-possession, and, opening one of those immense
ebony coffers which then answered the purpose of wardrobes, took from it
a casket of the Princess's diamonds to save it, and did not listen to
her. The other women had seen on a window the reflection of torches, and,
imagining that the palace was on fire, threw jewels, laces, golden vases,
and even the china, into sheets which they intended to lower into the
street. At this moment Madame de Guemenee arrived, a little more dressed
than the Duchesse de Chevreuse, but taking events still more tragically.
Her terror inspired the Queen with a slight degree of fear, because of
the ceremonious and placid character she was known to possess. She
entered without curtseying, pale as a spectre, and said with volubility:

"Madame, it is time to make our confession. The Louvre is attacked, and
all the populace are arriving from the city, I have been told."

Terror silenced and rendered motionless all the persons present.

"We shall die!" exclaimed the Duchesse de Chevreuse, still on her knees.
"Ah, my God! why did I leave England? Yes, let us confess. I confess
aloud. I have loved--I have been loved by--"

"Well," said the Queen, "I do not undertake to hear your confession to
the end. That would not perhaps be the least of my dangers, of which,
however, you think little."

The coolness of Anne of Austria, and this last severe observation,
however, restored a little calm to this beautiful personage, who rose in
confusion, and perceiving the disordered state of her toilet, went to
repair it as she best could in a closet near by.

"Dona Stefania," said the Queen to one of her women, the only Spaniard
whom she had retained, "go seek the captain of the guards. It is time
that I should see men at last, and hear something reasonable."

She said this in Spanish, and the mystery of this order, spoken in a
tongue which the ladies did not understand, restored those in the chamber
to their senses.

The waiting-woman was telling her beads, but she rose from the corner of
the alcove in which she had sought refuge, and hastened to obey her
mistress.

The signs of revolt and the evidences of terror became meantime more
distinct. In the great court of the Louvre was heard the trampling of the
horses of the guards, the orders of the chiefs, the rolling of the
Queen's carriages, which were being prepared, should it be necessary to
fly. The rattling of the iron chains dragged along the pavement to form
barricades in case of an attack, hurried steps in the corridor, the clash
of arms, the confused cries of the people, which rose and fell, went and
came again, like the noise of the waves and the winds. The door once more
opened, and this time it was to admit a very charming person.

"I expected you, dear Marie," said the Queen, extending her arms to the
Duchesse de Mantua. "You have been more courageous than any of us; you
are attired fit to be seen by all the court."

"I was not in bed, fortunately," replied the young Princesse de Gonzaga,
casting down her eyes. "I saw all these people from the windows. O
Madame, Madame, fly! I implore you to escape by the secret stairway, and
let us remain in your place. They might take one of us for the Queen."
And she added, with tears, "I have heard cries of death. Fly, Madame! I
have no throne to lose. You are the daughter, the wife, and the mother of
kings. Save yourself, and leave us here!"

"You have more to lose than I, 'm'amaie', in beauty, youth, and, I hope,
in happiness," said the Queen, with a gracious smile, giving the Duchess
her beautiful hands to kiss. "Remain in my alcove and welcome; but we
will both remain there. The only service I accept from you, my sweet
child, is to bring to my bed that little golden casket which my poor
Motteville has left on the ground, and which contains all that I hold
most precious."

Then, as she took it, she whispered in Marie's ear:

"Should any misfortune happen to me, swear that you will throw it into
the Seine."

"I will obey you, Madame, as my benefactress and my second mother," Marie
answered, weeping.

The sound of the conflict redoubled on the quays, and the windows
reflected the flash of the firearms, of which they heard the explosion.
The captain of the guards and the captain of the Swiss sent for orders
from the Queen through Dona Stefania.

"I permit them to enter," said the Queen. "Stand aside, ladies. I am a
man in a moment like this; and I ought to be so." Then, raising the
bed-curtains, she continued, addressing the two officers:

"Gentlemen, first remember that you answer with your heads for the life
of the princes, my children. You know that, Monsieur de Guitaut?"

"I sleep across their doorway, Madame; but this disturbance does not
threaten either them or your Majesty."

"Very well; do not think of me until after them," interrupted the Queen,
"and protect indiscriminately all who are threatened. You also hear me,
Monsieur de Bassompierre; you are a gentleman. Forget that your uncle is
yet in the Bastille, and do your duty by the grandsons of the dead King,
his friend."

He was a young man, with a frank, open countenance.

"Your Majesty," said he, with a slight German accent, "may see that I
have forgotten my family, and not yours." And he displayed his left hand
despoiled of two fingers, which had just been cut off. "I have still
another hand," said he, bowing and withdrawing with Guitaut.

The Queen, much moved, rose immediately, and, despite the prayers of the
Princesse de Guemenee, the tears of Marie de Gonzaga, and the cries of
Madame de Chevreuse, insisted upon placing herself at the window, and
half opened it, leaning upon the shoulder of the Duchesse de Mantua.

"What do I hear?" she said. "They are crying, 'Long live the King! Long
live the Queen!'"

The people, imagining they recognized her, redoubled their cries at this
moment, and shouted louder than ever, "Down with the Cardinal! Long live
Monsieur le Grand!"

Marie shuddered.

"What is the matter with you?" said the Queen, observing her. But as she
did not answer, and trembled in every limb, this good and gentle Princess
appeared not to perceive it; and, paying the greatest attention to the
cries and movements of the populace, she even exaggerated an inquietude
which she had not felt since the first name had reached her ear. An hour
later, when they came to tell her that the crowd only awaited a sign from
her hand to withdraw, she waved it graciously, and with an air of
satisfaction. But this joy was far from being complete, for her heart was
still troubled by many things, and, above all, by the presentiment of the
regency. The more she leaned forward to show herself, the more she beheld
the revolting scenes which the increasing light revealed. Terror took
possession of her soul as it became necessary to appear calm and
confiding; and her heart was saddened at the very gayety of her words and
countenance. Exposed to all eyes, she felt herself a mere woman, and
shuddered in looking at that people whom she would soon perhaps be called
upon to govern, and who already took upon themselves to demand the death
of ministers, and to call upon their Queen to appear before them.

She saluted them.

A hundred and fifty years later that salute was repeated by another
princess, like herself of Austrian blood, and Queen of France. The
monarchy without foundation, such as Richelieu made it, was born and died
between these two salutes.

The Princess at last closed her windows, and hastened to dismiss her
timid suite. The thick curtains fell again over the barred windows; and
the room was no longer lighted by a day which was odious to her. Large
white wax flambeaux burned in candelabra, in the form of golden arms,
which stand out from the framed and flowered tapestries with which the
walls were hung. She remained alone with Marie de Mantua; and reentering
with her the enclosure which was formed by the royal balustrade, she fell
upon her bed, fatigued by her courage and her smiles, and burst into
tears, leaning her head upon her pillow. Marie, on her knees upon a
velvet footstool, held one of her hands in both hers, and without daring
to speak first, leaned her head tremblingly upon it; for until that
moment, tears never had been seen in the Queen's eyes.

They remained thus for some minutes. The Princess, then raising herself
up by a painful effort, spoke:

"Do not afflict yourself, my child; let me weep. It is such a relief to
one who reigns! If you pray to God for me, ask Him to grant me sufficient
strength not to hate the enemy who pursues me everywhere, and who will
destroy the royal family of France and the monarchy by his boundless
ambition. I recognize him in all that has taken place; I see him in this
tumultuous revolt."

"What, Madame! is he not at Narbonne?--for it is the Cardinal of whom you
speak, no doubt; and have you not heard that these cries were for you,
and against him?"

"Yes, 'm'amie', he is three hundred leagues away from us, but his fatal
genius keeps guard at the door. If these cries have been heard, it is
because he has allowed them; if these men were assembled, it is because
they have not yet reached the hour which he has destined for their
destruction. Believe me, I know him; and I have dearly paid for the
knowledge of that dark soul. It has cost me all the power of my rank, the
pleasures of my age, the affection of my family and even the heart of my
husband. He has isolated me from the whole world. He now confines me
within a barrier of honors and respect; and formerly he dared, to the
scandal of all France, to bring an accusation against myself. They
examined my papers, they interrogated me, they made me sign myself
guilty, and ask the King's pardon for a fault of which I was ignorant;
and I owed to the devotion, and the perhaps eternal imprisonment of a
faithful servant,

   [His name was Laporte. Neither the fear of torture nor the hope of
   the Cardinal's reward could draw from him one word of the Queen's
   secrets.]

the preservation of this casket which you have saved for me. I read in
your looks that you think me too fearful; but do not deceive yourself, as
all the court now does. Be sure, my dear child, that this man is
everywhere, and that he knows even our thoughts."

"What, Madame! does he know all that these men have cried under your
windows, and the names of those who sent them?"

"Yes; no doubt he knows it, or has foreseen it. He permits it; he
authorizes it, to compromise me in the King's eyes, and keep him forever
separated from me. He would complete my humiliation."

"But the King has not loved him for two years; he loves another."

The Queen smiled; she gazed some time in silence upon the pure and open
features of the beautiful Marie, and her look, full of candor, which was
languidly raised toward her. She smoothed back the black curls which
shaded her noble forehead, and seemed to rest her eyes and her soul in
looking at the charming innocence displayed upon so lovely a face. She
kissed her cheek, and resumed:

"You do not suspect, my poor child, a sad truth. It is that the King
loves no one, and that those who appear the most in favor will be the
soonest abandoned by him, and thrown to him who engulfs and devours all."

"Ah, mon Dieu! what is this you tell me?"

"Do you know how many he has destroyed?" continued the Queen, in a low
voice, and looking into her eyes as if to read in them all her thoughts,
and to make her own penetrate there. "Do you know the end of his
favorites? Have you been told of the exile of Baradas; of that of
Saint-Simon; of the convent of Mademoiselle de la Fayette, the shame of
Madame d'Hautfort, the death of Chalais? All have fallen before an order
from Richelieu to his master. Without this favor, which you mistake for
friendship, their lives would have been peaceful. But this favor is
mortal; it is a poison. Look at this tapestry, which represents Semele.
The favorites of Louis XIII resemble that woman; his attachment devours
like this fire, which dazzles and consumes her."

But the young Duchess was no longer in a condition to listen to the
Queen. She continued to fix her large, dark eyes upon her, dimmed by a
veil of tears; her hands trembled in those of Anne of Austria, and her
lips quivered with convulsive agitation.

"I am very cruel, am I not, Marie?" continued the Queen, in an extremely
sweet voice, and caressing her like a child from whom one would draw an
avowal. "Oh, yes; no doubt I am very wicked! Your heart is full; you can
not bear it, my child. Come, tell me; how do matters stand with you and
Monsieur de Cinq-Mars?"

At this word grief found a vent, and, still on her knees at the Queen's
feet, Marie in her turn shed upon the bosom of the good Princess a deluge
of tears, with childish sobs and so violent an agitation of her head and
her beautiful shoulders that it seemed as if her heart would break. The
Queen waited a long time for the end of this first emotion, rocking her
in her arms as if to appease her grief, frequently repeating, "My child,
my child, do not afflict yourself thus!"

"Ah, Madame!" she exclaimed, "I have been guilty toward you; but I did
not reckon upon that heart. I have done wrong, and I shall perhaps be
punished severely for it. But, alas! how shall I venture to confess to
you, Madame? It was not so much to open my heart to you that was
difficult; it was to avow to you that I had need to read there myself."

The Queen reflected a moment, laying her finger upon her lips. "You are
right," she then replied; "you are quite right. Marie, it is always the
first word which is the most difficult to say; and that difficulty often
destroys us. But it must be so; and without this rule one would be often
wanting in dignity. Ah, how difficult it is to reign! To-day I would
descend into your heart, but I come too late to do you good."

Marie de Mantua hung her head without making any reply.

"Must I encourage you to speak?" said the Queen. "Must I remind you that
I have almost adopted you for my eldest daughter? that after seeking to
unite you with the King's brother, I prepared for you the throne of
Poland? Must I do more, Marie? Yes, I must, I will. If afterward you do
not open your whole heart to me, I have misjudged you. Open this golden
casket; here is the key. Open it fearlessly; do not tremble as I do."

The Duchesse de Mantua obeyed with hesitation, and beheld in this little
chased coffer a knife of rude form, the handle of which was of iron, and
the blade very rusty. It lay upon some letters carefully folded, upon
which was the name of Buckingham. She would have lifted them; Anne of
Austria stopped her.

"Seek nothing further," she said; "that is all the treasure of the Queen.
And it is a treasure; for it is the blood of a man who lives no longer,
but who lived for me. He was the most beautiful, the bravest, the most
illustrious of the nobles of Europe. He covered himself with the diamonds
of the English crown to please me. He raised up a fierce war and armed
fleets, which he himself commanded, that he might have the happiness of
once fighting him who was my husband. He traversed the seas to gather a
flower upon which I had trodden, and ran the risk of death to kiss and
bathe with his tears the foot of this bed in the presence of two of my
ladies-in-waiting. Shall I say more? Yes, I will say it to you--I loved
him! I love him still in the past more than I could love him in the
present. He never knew it, never divined it. This face, these eyes, were
marble toward him, while my heart burned and was breaking with grief; but
I was the Queen of France!" Here Anne of Austria forcibly grasped Marie's
arm. "Dare now to complain," she continued, "if you have not yet ventured
to speak to me of your love, and dare now to be silent when I have told
you these things!"

"Ah, yes, Madame, I shall dare to confide my grief to you, since you are
to me--"

"A friend, a woman!" interrupted the Queen. "I was a woman in my terror,
which put you in possession of a secret unknown to the whole world. I am
a woman by a love which survives the man I loved. Speak; tell me! It is
now time."

"It is too late, on the contrary," replied Marie, with a forced smile.
"Monsieur de Cinq-Mars and I are united forever."

"Forever!" exclaimed the Queen. "Can you mean it? And your rank, your
name, your future--is all lost? Do you reserve this despair for your
brother, the Duc de Bethel, and all the Gonzagas?"

"For more than four years I have thought of it. I am resolved; and for
ten days we have been affianced."

"Affianced!" exclaimed the Queen, clasping her hands. "You have been
deceived, Marie. Who would have dared this without the King's order? It
is an intrigue which I will know. I am sure that you have been misled and
deceived."

Marie hesitated a moment, and then said:

"Nothing is more simple, Madame, than our attachment. I inhabited, you
know, the old chateau of Chaumont, with the Marechale d'Effiat, the
mother of Monsieur de Cinq-Mars. I had retired there to mourn the death
of my father; and it soon happened that Monsieur de Cinq-Mars had to
deplore the loss of his. In this numerous afflicted family, I saw his
grief only, which was as profound as mine. All that he said, I had
already thought, and when we spoke of our afflictions we found them
wholly alike. As I had been the first to suffer, I was better acquainted
with sorrow than he; and I endeavored to console him by telling him all
that I had suffered, so that in pitying me he forgot himself. This was
the beginning of our love, which, as you see, had its birth, as it were,
between two tombs."

"God grant, my sweet, that it may have a happy termination!" said the
Queen.

"I hope so, Madame, since you pray for me," continued Marie. "Besides,
everything now smiles upon me; but at that time I was very miserable. The
news arrived one day at the chateau that the Cardinal had called Monsieur
de Cinq-Mars to the army. It seemed to me that I was again deprived of
one of my relatives; and yet we were strangers. But Monsieur de
Bassompierre spoke without ceasing of battles and death. I retired every
evening in grief, and I wept during the night. I thought at first that my
tears flowed for the past, but I soon perceived that it was for the
future; and I felt that they could not be the same tears, since I wished
to conceal them. Some time passed in the expectation of his departure. I
saw him every day; and I pitied him for having to depart, because he
repeated to me every instant that he would have wished to live eternally
as he then did, in his own country and with us. He was thus without
ambition until the day of his departure, because he knew not whether he
was--whether he was--I dare not say it to your Majesty--"

Marie blushed, cast down her humid eyes, and smiled.

"Well!" said the Queen, "whether he was beloved,--is it not so?"

"And in the evening, Madame, he left, ambitious."

"That is evident, certainly. He left," said Anne of Austria, somewhat
relieved; "but he has been back two years, and you have seen him?"

"Seldom, Madame," said the young Duchess, proudly; "and always in the
presence of the priest, before whom I have promised to be the wife of no
other than Cinq-Mars."

"Is it really, then, a marriage? Have you dared to do it? I shall
inquire. But, Heaven, what faults! how many faults in the few words I
have heard! Let me reflect upon them."

And, speaking aloud to herself, the Queen continued, her eyes and head
bent in the attitude of reflection:

"Reproaches are useless and cruel if the evil is done. The past is no
longer ours; let us think of the future. Cinq-Mars is brave, able, and
even profound in his ideas. I have observed that he has done much in two
years, and I now see that it was for Marie. He comports himself well; he
is worthy of her in my eyes, but not so in the eyes of Europe. He must
rise yet higher. The Princesse de Mantua can not, may not, marry less
than a prince. He must become one. By myself I can do nothing; I am not
the Queen, I am the neglected wife of the King. There is only the
Cardinal, the eternal Cardinal, and he is his enemy; and perhaps this
disturbance--"

"Alas! it is the beginning of war between them. I saw it at once."

"He is lost then!" exclaimed the Queen, embracing Marie. "Pardon me, my
child, for thus afflicting you; but in times like these we must see all
and say all. Yes, he is lost if he does not himself overthrow this wicked
man--for the King will not renounce him; force alone--"

"He will overthrow him, Madame. He will do it, if you will assist him.
You are the divinity of France. Oh, I conjure you, protect the angel
against the demon! It is your cause, that of your royal family, that of
all your nation."

The Queen smiled.

"It is, above all, your cause, my child; and it is as such that I will
embrace it to the utmost extent of my power. That is not great, as I have
told you; but such as it is, I lend it to you entirely, provided,
however, that this angel does not stoop to commit mortal sins," added
she, with a meaning look. "I heard his name pronounced this night by
voices most unworthy of him."

"Oh, Madame, I would swear that he knows nothing of it!"

"Ah, my child, do not speak of State affairs. You are not yet learned
enough in them. Let me sleep, if I can, before the hour of my toilette.
My eyes are burning, and yours also, perhaps."

Saying these words, the amiable Queen laid her head upon the pillow which
covered the casket, and soon Marie saw her fall asleep through sheer
fatigue. She then rose, and, seating herself in a great, tapestried,
square armchair, clasped her hands upon her knees, and began to reflect
upon her painful situation. Consoled by the aspect of her gentle
protectress, she often raised her eyes to watch her slumber, and sent her
in secret all the blessings which love showers upon those who protect it,
sometimes kissing the curls of her blond hair, as if by this kiss she
could convey to her soul all the ideas favorable to the thought ever
present to her mind.

The Queen's slumber was prolonged, while Marie thought and wept. However,
she remembered that at ten o'clock she must appear at the royal toilette
before all the court. She resolved to cast aside reflection, to dry her
tears, and she took a thick folio volume placed upon a table inlaid with
enamel and medallions; it was the 'Astree' of M. d'Urfe--a work 'de belle
galanterie' adored by the fair prudes of the court. The unsophisticated
and straightforward mind of Marie could not enter into these pastoral
loves. She was too simple to understand the 'bergeres du Lignon', too
clever to be pleased at their discourse, and too impassioned to feel
their tenderness. However, the great popularity of the romance so far
influenced her that she sought to compel herself to take an interest in
it; and, accusing herself internally every time that she felt the ennui
which exhaled from the pages of the book, she ran through it with
impatience to find something to please and transport her. An engraving
arrested her attention. It represented the shepherdess Astree with
high-heeled shoes, a corset, and an immense farthingale, standing on
tiptoe to watch floating down the river the tender Celadon, drowning
himself in despair at having, been somewhat coldly received in the
morning. Without explaining to herself the reason of the taste and
accumulated fallacies of this picture, she sought, in turning over the
pages, something which could fix her attention; she saw the word "Druid."

"Ah! here is a great character," said she. "I shall no doubt read of one
of those mysterious sacrificers of whom Britain, I am told, still
preserves the monuments; but I shall see him sacrificing men. That would
be a spectacle of horror; however, let us read it."

Saying this, Marie read with repugnance, knitting her brows, and nearly
trembling, the following:

   "The Druid Adamas delicately called the shepherds Pimandre,
   Ligdamont, and Clidamant, newly arrived from Calais. 'This
   adventure can not terminate,' said he, 'but by the extremity of
   love. The soul, when it loves, transforms itself into the object
   beloved; it is to represent this that my agreeable enchantments will
   show you in this fountain the nymph Sylvia, whom you all three love.
   The high-priest Amasis is about to come from Montbrison, and will
   explain to you the delicacy of this idea. Go, then, gentle
   shepherds! If your desires are well regulated, they will not cause
   you any torments; and if they are not so, you will be punished by
   swoonings similar to those of Celadon, and the shepherdess Galatea,
   whom the inconstant Hercules abandoned in the mountains of Auvergne,
   and who gave her name to the tender country of the Gauls; or you
   will be stoned by the shepherdesses of Lignon, as was the ferocious
   Amidor. The great nymph of this cave has made an enchantment.'"

The enchantment of the great nymph was complete on the Princess, who had
hardly sufficient strength to find out with a trembling hand, toward the
end of the book, that the Druid Adamas was an ingenious allegory,
representing the Lieutenant-General of Montbrison, of the family of the
Papons. Her weary eyes closed, and the great book slipped from her lap to
the cushion of velvet upon which her feet were placed, and where the
beautiful Astree and the gallant Celadon reposed luxuriously, less
immovable than Marie de Mantua, vanquished by them and by profound
slumber.