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Book 4 Chapter 17 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XVII

TOILETTE

The carriage of the Grand Equerry was rolling rapidly toward the Louvre,
when, closing the curtain, he took his friend's hand, and said to him
with emotion:

"Dear De Thou, I have kept great secrets in my heart, and, believe me,
they have weighed heavily there; but two fears impelled me to
silence--that of your danger, and--shall I say it?--that of your
counsels."

"Yet well you know," replied De Thou, "that I despise the first; and I
deemed that you did not despise the second."

"No, but I feared, and still fear them. I would not be stopped. Do not
speak, my friend; not a word, I conjure you, before you have heard and
seen all that is about to take place. I will return with you to your
house on quitting the Louvre; there I will listen to you, and thence I
shall depart to continue my work, for nothing will shake my resolve, I
warn you. I have just said so to the gentlemen at your house."

In his accent Cinq-Mars had nothing of the brusqueness which clothed his
words. His voice was conciliatory, his look gentle, amiable,
affectionate, his air as tranquil as it was determined. There was no
indication of the slightest effort at control. De Thou remarked it, and
sighed.

Alighting from the carriage with him, De Thou followed him up the great
staircase of the Louvre. When they entered the Queen's apartment,
announced by two ushers dressed in black and bearing ebony rods, she was
seated at her toilette. This was a table of black wood, inlaid with
tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, and brass, in an infinity of designs of
very bad taste, but which give to all furniture an air of grandeur which
we still admire in it. A mirror, rounded at the top, which the ladies of
our time would consider small and insignificant, stood in the middle of
the table, whereon were scattered jewels and necklaces.

Anne of Austria, seated before it in a large armchair of crimson velvet,
with long gold fringe, was as motionless and grave as on her throne,
while Dona Stefania and Madame de Motteville, on either side, lightly
touched her beautiful blond hair with a comb, as if finishing the Queen's
coiffure, which, however, was already perfectly arranged and decorated
with pearls. Her long tresses, though light, were exquisitely glossy,
manifesting that to the touch they must be fine and soft as silk. The
daylight fell without a shade upon her forehead, which had no reason to
dread the test, itself reflecting an almost equal light from its
surpassing fairness, which the Queen was pleased thus to display. Her
blue eyes, blended with green, were large and regular, and her vermilion
mouth had that underlip of the princesses of Austria, somewhat prominent
and slightly cleft, in the form of a cherry, which may still be marked in
all the female portraits of this time, whose painters seemed to have
aimed at imitating the Queen's mouth, in order to please the women of her
suite, whose desire was, no doubt, to resemble her.

The black dress then adopted by the court, and of which the form was even
fixed by an edict, set off the ivory of her arms, bare to the elbow, and
ornamented with a profusion of lace, which flowed from her loose sleeves.
Large pearls hung in her ears and from her girdle. Such was the
appearance of the Queen at this moment. At her feet, upon two velvet
cushions, a boy of four years old was playing with a little cannon, which
he was assiduously breaking in pieces. This was the Dauphin, afterward
Louis XIV. The Duchesse Marie de Mantua was seated on her right hand upon
a stool. The Princesse de Guemenee, the Duchesse de Chevreuse, and
Mademoiselle de Montbazon, Mesdemoiselles de Guise, de Rohan, and de
Vendome, all beautiful and brilliant with youth, were behind her,
standing. In the recess of a window, Monsieur, his hat under his arm, was
talking in a low voice with a man, stout, with a red face and a steady
and daring eye. This was the Duc de Bouillon. An officer about
twenty-five years of age, well-formed, and of agreeable presence, had
just given several papers to the Prince, which the Duc de Bouillon
appeared to be explaining to him.

De Thou, after having saluted the Queen, who said a few words to him,
approached the Princesse de Guemenee, and conversed with her in an
undertone, with an air of affectionate intimacy, but all the while intent
upon his friend's interest. Secretly trembling lest he should have
confided his destiny to a being less worthy of him than he wished, he
examined the Princess Marie with the scrupulous attention, the
scrutinizing eye of a mother examining the woman whom her son has
selected for his bride--for he thought that Marie could not be altogether
a stranger to the enterprise of Cinq-Mars. He saw with dissatisfaction
that her dress, which was extremely elegant, appeared to inspire her with
more vanity than became her on such an occasion. She was incessantly
rearranging upon her forehead and her hair the rubies which ornamented
her head, and which scarcely equalled the brilliancy and animated color
of her complexion. She looked frequently at Cinq-Mars; but it was rather
the look of coquetry than that of love, and her eyes often glanced toward
the mirror on the toilette, in which she watched the symmetry of her
beauty. These observations of the counsellor began to persuade him that
he was mistaken in suspecting her to be the aim of Cinq-Mars, especially
when he saw that she seemed to have a pleasure in sitting at the Queen's
side, while the duchesses stood behind her, and that she often looked
haughtily at them.

"In that heart of nineteen," said he, "love, were there love, would reign
alone and above all to-day. It is not she!"

The Queen made an almost imperceptible movement of the head to Madame de
Guemenee. After the two friends had spoken a moment with each person
present, and at this sign, all the ladies, except Marie de Mantua, making
profound courtesies, quitted the apartment without speaking, as if by
previous arrangement. The Queen, then herself turning her chair, said to
Monsieur:

"My brother, I beg you will come and sit down by me. We will consult upon
what I have already told you. The Princesse Marie will not be in the way.
I begged her to remain. We have no interruption to fear."

The Queen seemed more at ease in her manner and language; and no longer
preserving her severe and ceremonious immobility, she signed to the other
persons present to approach her.

Gaston d'Orleans, somewhat alarmed at this solemn opening, came
carelessly, sat down on her right hand, and said with a half-smile and a
negligent air, playing with his ruff and the chain of the Saint Esprit
which hung from his neck:

"I think, Madame, that we shall fatigue the ears of so young a personage
by a long conference. She would rather hear us speak of dances, and of
marriage, of an elector, or of the King of Poland, for example."

Marie assumed a disdainful air; Cinq-Mars frowned.

"Pardon me," replied the Queen, looking at her; "I assure you the
politics of the present time interest her much. Do not seek to escape us,
my brother," added she, smiling. "I have you to-day! It is the least we
can do to listen to Monsieur de Bouillon."

The latter approached, holding by the hand the young officer of whom we
have spoken.

"I must first," said he, "present to your Majesty the Baron de Beauvau,
who has just arrived from Spain."

"From Spain?" said the Queen, with emotion. "There is courage in that;
you have seen my family?"

"He will speak to you of them, and of the Count-Duke of Olivares. As to
courage, it is not the first time he has shown it. He commanded the
cuirassiers of the Comte de Soissons."

"How? so young, sir! You must be fond of political wars."

"On the contrary, your Majesty will pardon me," replied he, "for I served
with the princes of the peace."

Anne of Austria smiled at this jeu-de-mot. The Duc de Bouillon, seizing
the moment to bring forward the grand question he had in view, quitted
Cinq-Mars, to whom he had just given his hand with an air of the most
zealous friendship, and approaching the Queen with him, "It is
miraculous, Madame," said he, "that this period still contains in its
bosom some noble characters, such as these;" and he pointed to the master
of the horse, to young Beauvau, and to De Thou. "It is only in them that
we can place our hope for the future. Such men are indeed very rare now,
for the great leveller has swung a long scythe over France."

"Is it of Time you speak," said the Queen, "or of a real personage?"

"Too real, too living, too long living, Madame!" replied the Duke,
becoming more animated; "but his measureless ambition, his colossal
selfishness can no longer be endured. All those who have noble hearts are
indignant at this yoke; and at this moment, more than ever, we see
misfortunes threatening us in the future. It must be said, Madame--yes,
it is no longer time to blind ourselves to the truth, or to conceal
it--the King's illness is serious. The moment for thinking and resolving
has arrived, for the time to act is not far distant."

The severe and abrupt tone of M. de Bouillon did not surprise Anne of
Austria; but she had always seen him more calm, and was, therefore,
somewhat alarmed by the disquietude he betrayed. Quitting accordingly the
tone of pleasantry which she had at first adopted, she said:

"How! what fear you, and what would you do?"

"I fear nothing for myself, Madame, for the army of Italy or Sedan will
always secure my safety; but I fear for you, and perhaps for the princes,
your sons."

"For my children, Monsieur le Duc, for the sons of France? Do you hear
him, my brother, and do you not appear astonished?"

The Queen was deeply agitated.

"No, Madame," said Gaston d'Orleans, calmly; "you know that I am
accustomed to persecution. I am prepared to expect anything from that
man. He is master; we must be resigned."

"He master!" exclaimed the Queen. "And from whom does he derive his
powers, if not from the King? And after the King, what hand will sustain
him? Can you tell me? Who will prevent him from again returning to
nothing? Will it be you or I?"

"It will be himself," interrupted M. de Bouillon, "for he seeks to be
named regent; and I know that at this moment he contemplates taking your
children from you, and requiring the King to confide them to his care."

"Take them from me!" cried the mother, involuntarily seizing the Dauphin,
and taking him in her arms.

The child, standing between the Queen's knees, looked at the men who
surrounded him with a gravity very singular for his age, and, seeing his
mother in tears, placed his hand upon the little sword he wore.

"Ah, Monseigneur," said the Duc de Bouillon, bending half down to address
to him what he intended for the Princess, "it is not against us that you
must draw your sword, but against him who is undermining your throne. He
prepares an empire for you, no doubt. You will have an absolute sceptre;
but he has scattered the fasces which indicated it. Those fasces were
your ancient nobility, whom he has decimated. When you are king, you will
be a great king. I foresee it; but you will have subjects only, and no
friends, for friendship exists only in independence and a kind of
equality which takes its rise in force. Your ancestors had their peers;
you will not have yours. May God aid you then, Monseigneur, for man may
not do it without institutions! Be great; but above all, around you, a
great man, let there be others as strong, so that if the one stumbles,
the whole monarchy may not fall."

The Duc de Bouillon had a warmth of expression and a confidence of manner
which captivated those who heard him. His valor, his keen perception in
the field, the profundity of his political views, his knowledge of the
affairs of Europe, his reflective and decided character, all rendered him
one of the most capable and imposing men of his time-the only one,
indeed, whom the Cardinal-Duc really feared. The Queen always listened to
him with confidence, and allowed him to acquire a sort of empire over
her. She was now more deeply moved than ever.

"Ah, would to God," she exclaimed, "that my son's mind was ripe for your
counsels, and his arm strong enough to profit by them! Until that time,
however, I will listen, I will act for him. It is I who should be, and it
is I who shall be, regent. I will not resign this right save with life.
If we must make war, we will make it; for I will do everything but submit
to the shame and terror of yielding up the future Louis XIV to this
crowned subject. Yes," she went on, coloring and closely pressing the
young Dauphin's arm, "yes, my brother, and you gentlemen, counsel me!
Speak! how do we stand? Must I depart? Speak openly. As a woman, as a
wife, I could have wept over so mournful a position; but now see, as a
mother, I do not weep. I am ready to give you orders if it is necessary."

Never had Anne of Austria looked so beautiful as at this moment; and the
enthusiasm she manifested electrified all those present, who needed but a
word from her mouth to speak. The Duc de Bouillon cast a glance at
Monsieur, which decided him.

"Ma foi!" said he, with deliberation, "if you give orders, my sister, I
will be the captain of your guards, on my honor, for I too am weary of
the vexations occasioned me by this knave. He continues to persecute me,
seeks to break off my marriage, and still keeps my friends in the
Bastille, or has them assassinated from time to time; and besides, I am
indignant," said he, recollecting himself and assuming a more solemn air,
"I am indignant at the misery of the people."

"My brother," returned the Princess, energetically, "I take you at your
word, for with you, one must do so; and I hope that together we shall be
strong enough for the purpose. Do only as Monsieur le Comte de Soissons
did, but survive your victory. Side with me, as you did with Monsieur de
Montmorency, but leap the ditch."

Gaston felt the point of this. He called to mind the well-known incident
when the unfortunate rebel of Castelnaudary leaped almost alone a large
ditch, and found on the other side seventeen wounds, a prison, and death
in the sight of Monsieur, who remained motionless with his army. In the
rapidity of the Queen's enunciation he had not time to examine whether
she had employed this expression proverbially or with a direct reference;
but at all events, he decided not to notice it, and was indeed prevented
from doing so by the Queen, who continued, looking at Cinq-Mars:

"But, above all, no panic-terror! Let us know exactly where we are,
Monsieur le Grand. You have just left the King. Is there fear with you?"

D'Effiat had not ceased to observe Marie de Mantua, whose expressive
countenance exhibited to him all her ideas far more rapidly and more
surely than words. He read there the desire that he should speak--the
desire that he should confirm the Prince and the Queen. An impatient
movement of her foot conveyed to him her will that the thing should be
accomplished, the conspiracy arranged. His face became pale and more
pensive; he pondered for a moment, realizing that his destiny was
contained in that hour. De Thou looked at him and trembled, for he knew
him well. He would fain have said one word to him, only one word; but
Cinq-Mars had already raised his head. He spoke:

"I do not think, Madame, that the King is so ill as you suppose. God will
long preserve to us this Prince. I hope so; I am even sure of it. He
suffers, it is true, suffers much; but it is his soul more peculiarly
that is sick, and of an evil which nothing can cure--of an evil which one
would not wish to one's greatest enemy, and which would gain him the pity
of the whole world if it were known. The end of his misery--that is to
say, of his life--will not be granted him for a long time. His languor is
entirely moral. There is in his heart a great revolution going on; he
would accomplish it, and can not.

"The King has felt for many long years growing within him the seeds of a
just hatred against a man to whom he thinks he owes gratitude, and it is
this internal combat between his natural goodness and his anger that
devours him. Every year that has passed has deposited at his feet, on one
side, the great works of this man, and on the other, his crimes. It is
the last which now weigh down the balance. The King sees them and is
indignant; he would punish, but all at once he stops and weeps. If you
could witness him thus, Madame, you would pity him. I have seen him seize
the pen which was to sign his exile, dip it into the ink with a bold
hand, and use it--for what?--to congratulate him on some recent success.
He at once applauds himself for his goodness as a Christian, curses
himself for his weakness as a sovereign judge, despises himself as a
king. He seeks refuge in prayer, and plunges into meditation upon the
future; then he rises terrified because he has seen in thought the
tortures which this man merits, and how deeply no one knows better than
he. You should hear him in these moments accuse himself of criminal
weakness, and exclaim that he himself should be punished for not having
known how to punish. One would say that there are spirits which order him
to strike, for his arms are raised as he sleeps. In a word, Madame, the
storm murmurs in his heart, but burns none but himself. The thunderbolts
are chained."

"Well, then, let us loose them!" exclaimed the Duc de Bouillon.

"He who touches them may die of the contact," said Monsieur.

"But what a noble devotion!" cried the Queen.

"How I should admire the hero!" said Marie, in a half-whisper.

"I will do it," answered Cinq-Mars.

"We will do it," said M. de Thou, in his ear.

Young Beauvau had approached the Duc de Bouillon.

"Monsieur," said he, "do you forget what follows?"

"No, 'pardieu'! I do not forget it," replied the latter, in a low voice;
then, addressing the Queen, "Madame," said he, "accept the offer of
Monsieur le Grand. He is more in a position to sway the King than either
you or I; but hold yourself prepared, for the Cardinal is too wary to be
caught sleeping. I do not believe in his illness. I have no faith in the
silence and immobility of which he has sought to persuade us these two
years past. I would not believe in his death even, unless I had myself
thrown his head into the sea, like that of the giant in Ariosto. Hold
yourself ready to meet all contingencies, and let us, meanwhile, hasten
our operations. I have shown my plans to Monsieur just now; I will give
you a summary of them. I offer you Sedan, Madame, for yourself, and for
Messeigneurs, your sons. The army of Italy is mine; I will recall it if
necessary. Monsieur le Grand is master of half the camp of Perpignan. All
the old Huguenots of La Rochelle and the South are ready to come to him
at the first nod. All has been organized for a year past, by my care, to
meet events."

"I should not hesitate," said the Queen, "to place myself in your hands,
to save my children, if any misfortune should happen to the King. But in
this general plan you forget Paris."

"It is ours on every side; the people by the archbishop, without his
suspecting it, and by Monsieur de Beaufort, who is its king; the troops
by your guards and those of Monsieur, who shall be chief in command, if
he please."

"I! I! oh, that positively can not be! I have not enough people, and I
must have a retreat stronger than Sedan," said Gaston.

"It suffices for the Queen," replied M. de Bouillon.

"Ah, that may be! but my sister does not risk so much as a man who draws
the sword. Do you know that these are bold measures you propose?"

"What, even if we have the King on our side?" asked Anne of Austria.

"Yes, Madame, yes; we do not know how long that may last. We must make
ourselves sure; and I do nothing without the treaty with Spain."

"Do nothing, then," said the Queen, coloring deeply; "for certainly I
will never hear that spoken of."

"And yet, Madame, it were more prudent, and Monsieur is right," said the
Duc de Bouillon; "for the Count-Duke of San Lucra offers us seventeen
thousand men, tried troops, and five hundred thousand crowns in ready
money."

"What!" exclaimed the Queen, with astonishment, "have you dared to
proceed so far without my consent? already treaties with foreigners!"

"Foreigners, my sister! could we imagine that a princess of Spain would
use that word?" said Gaston.

Anne of Austria rose, taking the Dauphin by the hand; and, leaning upon
Marie: "Yes, sir," she said, "I am a Spaniard; but I am the
grand-daughter of Charles V, and I know that a queen's country is where
her throne is. I leave you, gentlemen; proceed without me. I know nothing
of the matter for the future."

She advanced some steps, but seeing Marie pale and bathed in tears, she
returned.

"I will, however, solemnly promise you inviolable secrecy; but nothing
more."

All were mentally disconcerted, except the Duc de Bouillon, who, not
willing to lose the advantages he had gained, said to the Queen, bowing
respectfully:

"We are grateful for this promise, Madame, and we ask no more, persuaded
that after the first success you will be entirely with us."

Not wishing to engage in a war of words, the Queen courtesied somewhat
less coldly, and quitted the apartment with Marie, who cast upon
Cinq-Mars one of those looks which comprehend at once all the emotions of
the soul. He seemed to read in her beautiful eyes the eternal and
mournful devotion of a woman who has given herself up forever; and he
felt that if he had once thought of withdrawing from his enterprise, he
should now have considered himself the basest of men.

As soon as the two princesses had disappeared, "There, there! I told you
so, Bouillon, you offended the Queen," said Monsieur; "you went too far.
You can not certainly accuse me of having been hesitating this morning. I
have, on the contrary, shown more resolution than I ought to have done."

"I am full of joy and gratitude toward her Majesty," said M. de Bouillon,
with a triumphant air; "we are sure of the future. What will you do now,
Monsieur de Cinq-Mars?"

"I have told you, Monsieur; I draw not back, whatever the consequences. I
will see the King; I will run every risk to obtain his assent."

"And the treaty with Spain?"

"Yes, I--"

De Thou seized Cinq-Mars by the arm, and, advancing suddenly, said, with
a solemn air:

"We have decided that it shall be only signed after the interview with
the King; for should his Majesty's just severity toward the Cardinal
dispense with it, we have thought it better not to expose ourselves to
the discovery of so dangerous a treaty."

M. de Bouillon frowned.

"If I did not know Monsieur de Thou," said he, "I should have regarded
this as a defection; but from him--"

"Monsieur," replied the counsellor, "I think I may engage myself, on my
honor, to do all that Monsieur le Grand does; we are inseparable."

Cinq-Mars looked at his friend, and was astonished to see upon his mild
countenance the expression of sombre despair; he was so struck with it
that he had not the courage to gainsay him.

"He is right, gentlemen," he said with a cold but kindly smile; "the King
will perhaps spare us much trouble. We may do good things with him. For
the rest, Monseigneur, and you, Monsieur le Duc," he added with immovable
firmness, "fear not that I shall ever draw back. I have burned all the
bridges behind me. I must advance; the Cardinal's power shall fall, or my
head."

"It is strange, very strange!" said Monsieur; "I see that every one here
is farther advanced in the conspiracy than I imagined."

"Not so, Monsieur," said the Duc de Bouillon; "we prepared only that
which you might please to accept. Observe that there is nothing in
writing. You have but to speak, and nothing exists or ever has existed;
according to your order, the whole thing shall be a dream or a volcano."

"Well, well, I am content, if it must be so," said Gaston; "let us occupy
ourselves with more agreeable topics. Thank God, we have a little time
before us! I confess I wish that it were all over. I am not fitted for
violent emotions; they affect my health," he added, taking M. de
Beauvau's arm. "Tell us if the Spanish women are still pretty, young man.
It is said you are a great gallant among them. 'Tudieu'! I'm sure you've
got yourself talked of there. They tell me the women wear enormous
petticoats. Well, I am not at all against that; they make the foot look
smaller and prettier. I'm sure the wife of Don Louis de Haro is not
handsomer than Madame de Guemenee, is she? Come, be frank; I'm told she
looks like a nun. Ah! you do not answer; you are embarrassed. She has
then taken your fancy; or you fear to offend our friend Monsieur de Thou
in comparing her with the beautiful Guemenee. Well, let's talk of the
customs; the King has a charming dwarf I'm told, and they put him in a
pie. He is a fortunate man, that King of Spain! I don't know another
equally so. And the Queen, she is still served on bended knee, is she
not? Ah! that is a good custom; we have lost it. It is very
unfortunate--more unfortunate than may be supposed."

And Gaston d'Orleans had the confidence to speak in this tone nearly half
an hour, with a young man whose serious character was not at all adapted
to such conversation, and who, still occupied with the importance of the
scene he had just witnessed and the great interests which had been
discussed, made no answer to this torrent of idle words. He looked at the
Duc de Bouillon with an astonished air, as if to ask him whether this was
really the man whom they were going to place at the head of the most
audacious enterprise that had ever been launched; while the Prince,
without appearing to perceive that he remained unanswered, replied to
himself, speaking with volubility, as he drew him gradually out of the
room. He feared that one of the gentlemen present might recommence the
terrible conversation about the treaty; but none desired to do so, unless
it were the Duc de Bouillon, who, however, preserved an angry silence. As
for Cinq-Mars, he had been led away by De Thou, under cover of the
chattering of Monsieur, who took care not to appear to notice their
departure.