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Book 6 Chapter 23 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XXIII

ABSENCE

          L'absence est le plus grand des maux,
          Non pas pour vous, cruelle!

                       LA FONTAINE.

Who has not found a charm in watching the clouds of heaven as they float
along? Who has not envied them the freedom of their journeyings through
the air, whether rolled in great masses by the wind, and colored by the
sun, they advance peacefully, like fleets of dark ships with gilt prows,
or sprinkled in light groups, they glide quickly on, airy and elongated,
like birds of passage, transparent as vast opals detached from the
treasury of the heavens, or glittering with whiteness, like snows from
the mountains carried on the wings of the winds? Man is a slow traveller
who envies those rapid journeyers; less rapid than his imagination, they
have yet seen in a single day all the places he loves, in remembrance or
in hope,--those that have witnessed his happiness or his misery, and
those so beautiful countries unknown to us, where we expect to find
everything at once. Doubtless there is not a spot on the whole earth, a
wild rock, an arid plain, over which we pass with indifference, that has
not been consecrated in the life of some man, and is not painted in his
remembrance; for, like battered vessels, before meeting inevitable wreck,
we leave some fragment of ourselves on every rock.

Whither go the dark-blue clouds of that storm of the Pyrenees? It is the
wind of Africa which drives them before it with a fiery breath. They fly;
they roll over one another, growlingly throwing out lightning before
them, as their torches, and leaving suspended behind them a long train of
rain, like a vaporous robe. Freed by an effort from the rocky defiles
that for a moment had arrested their course, they irrigate, in Bearn, the
picturesque patrimony of Henri IV; in Guienne, the conquests of Charles
VII; in Saintogne, Poitou, and Touraine, those of Charles V and of Philip
Augustus; and at last, slackening their pace above the old domain of Hugh
Capet, halt murmuring on the towers of St. Germain.

"O Madame!" exclaimed Marie de Mantua to the Queen, "do you see this
storm coming up from the south?"

"You often look in that direction, 'ma chere'," answered Anne of Austria,
leaning on the balcony.

"It is the direction of the sun, Madame."

"And of tempests, you see," said the Queen. "Trust in my friendship, my
child; these clouds can bring no happiness to you. I would rather see you
turn your eyes toward Poland. See the fine people you might command."

At this moment, to avoid the rain, which began to fall, the
Prince-Palatine passed rapidly under the windows of the Queen, with a
numerous suite of young Poles on horseback. Their Turkish vests, with
buttons of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies; their green and gray cloaks;
the lofty plumes of their horses, and their adventurous air-gave them a
singular eclat to which the court had easily become accustomed. They
paused for a moment, and the Prince made two salutes, while the light
animal he rode passed gracefully sideways, keeping his front toward the
princesses; prancing and snorting, he shook his mane, and seemed to
salute by putting his head between his legs. The whole suite repeated the
evolution as they passed. The Princesse Marie had at first shrunk back,
lest they should see her tears; but the brilliant and flattering
spectacle made her return to the balcony, and she could not help
exclaiming:

"How gracefully the Palatine rides that beautiful horse! he seems scarce
conscious of it."

The Queen smiled, and said:

"He is conscious about her who might be his queen tomorrow, if she would
but make a sign of the head, and let but one glance from her great black
almond-shaped eyes be turned on that throne, instead of always receiving
these poor foreigners with poutings, as now."

And Anne of Austria kissed the cheek of Marie, who could not refrain from
smiling also; but she instantly sunk her head, reproaching herself, and
resumed her sadness, which seemed gliding from her. She even needed once
more to contemplate the great clouds that hung over the chateau.

"Poor child," continued the Queen, "thou dost all thou canst to be very
faithful, and to keep thyself in the melancholy of thy romance. Thou art
making thyself ill with weeping when thou shouldst be asleep, and with
not eating. Thou passest the night in revery and in writing; but I warn
thee, thou wilt get nothing by it, except making thyself thin and less
beautiful, and the not being a queen. Thy Cinq-Mars is an ambitious
youth, who has lost himself."

Seeing Marie conceal her head in her handkerchief to weep, Anne of
Austria for a moment reentered her chamber, leaving Marie in the balcony,
and feigned to be looking for some jewels at her toilet-table; she soon
returned, slowly and gravely, to the window. Marie was more calm, and was
gazing sorrowfully at the landscape before her, the hills in the
distance, and the storm gradually spreading itself.

The Queen resumed in a more serious tone:

"God has been more merciful to you than your imprudence perhaps deserved,
Marie. He has saved you from great danger. You were willing to make great
sacrifices, but fortunately they have not been accomplished as you
expected. Innocence has saved you from love. You are as one who, thinking
she has swallowed a deadly poison, has in reality drunk only pure and
harmless water."

"Ah, Madame, what mean you? Am I not unhappy enough already?"

"Do not interrupt me," said the Queen; "you will, ere long, see your
present position with different eyes. I will not accuse you of
ingratitude toward the Cardinal; I have too many reasons for not liking
him. I myself witnessed the rise of the conspiracy. Still, you should
remember, 'ma chere', that he was the only person in France who, against
the opinion of the Queen-mother and of the court, insisted upon war with
the duchy of Mantua, which he recovered from the empire and from Spain,
and returned to the Duc de Nevers, your father. Here, in this very
chateau of Saint-Germain, was signed the treaty which deposed the Duke of
Guastalla.--[The 19th of May, 1632.]--You were then very young; they
must, however, have told you of it. Yet here, through love alone (I am
willing to believe, with yourself, that it is so), a young man of
two-and-twenty is ready to get him assassinated."

"O Madame, he is incapable of such a deed. I swear to you that he has
refused to adopt it."

"I have begged you, Marie, to let me speak. I know that he is generous
and loyal. I am willing to believe that, contrary to the custom of our
times, he would not go so far as to kill an old man, as did the Chevalier
de Guise. But can he prevent his assassination, if his troops make him
prisoner? This we can not say, any more than he. God alone knows the
future. It is, at all events, certain that it is for you he attacks him,
and, to overthrow him, is preparing civil war, which perhaps is bursting
forth at the very moment that we speak--a war without success. Whichever
way it turns, it can only effect evil, for Monsieur is going to abandon
the conspiracy."

"How, Madame?"

"Listen to me. I tell you I am certain of it; I need not explain myself
further. What will the grand ecuyer do? The King, as he rightly
anticipated, has gone to consult the Cardinal. To consult him is to yield
to him; but the treaty of Spain is signed. If it be discovered, what can
Monsieur de Cinq-Mars do? Do not tremble thus. We will save him; we will
save his life, I promise you. There is yet time, I hope."

"Ah, Madame, you hope! I am lost!" cried Marie, half fainting.

"Let us sit down," said the Queen; and, placing herself near Marie, at
the entrance to the chamber, she continued:

"Doubtless Monsieur will treat for all the conspirators in treating for
himself; but exile will be the least punishment, perpetual exile. Behold,
then, the Duchesse de Nevers and Mantua, the Princesse Marie de Gonzaga,
the wife of Monsieur Henri d'Effiat, Marquis de Cinq-Mars, exiled!"

"Well, Madame, I will follow him into exile. It is my duty; I am his
wife!" exclaimed Marie, sobbing. "I would I knew he were already banished
and in safety."

"Dreams of eighteen!" said the Queen, supporting Marie. "Awake, child,
awake! you must. I deny not the good qualities of Monsieur de Cinq-Mars.
He has a lofty character, a vast mind, and great courage; but he may no
longer be aught for you, and, fortunately, you are not his wife, or even
his betrothed."

"I am his, Madame-his alone."

"But without the benediction," replied Anne of Austria; "in a word,
without marriage. No priest would have dared--not even your own; he told
me so. Be silent!" she added, putting her two beautiful hands on Marie's
lips. "Be silent! You would say that God heard your vow; that you can not
live without him; that your destinies are inseparable from his; that
death alone can break your union? The phrases of your age, delicious
chimeras of a moment, at which one day you will smile, happy at not
having to lament them all your life. Of the many and brilliant women you
see around me at court, there is not one but at your age had some
beautiful dream of love, like this of yours, who did not form those ties,
which they believed indissoluble, and who did not in secret take eternal
oaths. Well, these dreams are vanished, these knots broken, these oaths
forgotten; and yet you see them happy women and mothers. Surrounded by
the honors of their rank, they laugh and dance every night. I again
divine what you would say--they loved not as you love, eh? You deceive
yourself, my dear child; they loved as much, and wept no less.

"And here I must make you acquainted with that great mystery which
constitutes your despair, since you are ignorant of the malady that
devours you. We have a twofold existence, 'm'amie': our internal life,
that of our feelings powerfully works within us, while the external life
dominates despite ourselves. We are never independent of men, more
especially in an elevated condition. Alone, we think ourselves mistresses
of our destiny; but the entrance of two or three people fastens on all
our chains, by recalling our rank and our retinue. Nay; shut yourself up
and abandon yourself to all the daring and extraordinary resolutions that
the passions may raise up in you, to the marvellous sacrifices they may
suggest to you. A lackey coming and asking your orders will at once break
the charm and bring you back to your real life. It is this contest
between your projects and your position which destroys you. You are
invariably angry with yourself; you bitterly reproach yourself."

Marie turned away her head.

"Yes, you believe yourself criminal. Pardon yourself, Marie; all men are
beings so relative and so dependent one upon another that I know not
whether the great retreats of the world that we sometimes see are not
made for the world itself. Despair has its pursuits, and solitude its
coquetry. It is said that the gloomiest hermits can not refrain from
inquiring what men say of them. This need of public opinion is
beneficial, in that it combats, almost always victoriously, that which is
irregular in our imagination, and comes to the aid of duties which we too
easily forget. One experiences (you will feel it, I hope) in returning to
one's proper lot, after the sacrifice of that which had diverted the
reason, the satisfaction of an exile returning to his family, of a sick
person at sight of the sun after a night afflicted with frightful dreams.

"It is this feeling of a being returned, as it were, to its natural state
that creates the calm which you see in many eyes that have also had their
tears-for there are few women who have not known tears such as yours. You
would think yourself perjured if you renounced Cinq-Mars! But nothing
binds you; you have more than acquitted yourself toward him by refusing
for more than two years past the royal hands offered you. And, after all,
what has he done, this impassioned lover? He has elevated himself to
reach you; but may not the ambition which here seems to you to have aided
love have made use of that love? This young man seems to me too profound,
too calm in his political stratagems, too independent in his vast
resolutions, in his colossal enterprises, for me to believe him solely
occupied by his tenderness. If you have been but a means instead of an
end, what would you say?"

"I would still love him," answered Marie. "While he lives, I am his."

"And while I live," said the Queen, with firmness, "I will oppose the
alliance."

At these last words the rain and hail fell violently on the balcony. The
Queen took advantage of the circumstance abruptly to leave the room and
pass into that where the Duchesse de Chevreuse, Mazarin, Madame de
Guemenee, and the Prince-Palatine had been awaiting her for a short time.
The Queen walked up to them. Marie placed herself in the shade of a
curtain in order to conceal the redness of her eyes. She was at first
unwilling to take part in the sprightly conversation; but some words of
it attracted her attention. The Queen was showing to the Princesse de
Guemenee diamonds she had just received from Paris.

"As for this crown, it does not belong to me. The King had it prepared
for the future Queen of Poland. Who that is to be, we know not." Then
turning toward the Prince-Palatine, "We saw you pass, Prince. Whom were
you going to visit?"

"Mademoiselle la Duchesse de Rohan," answered the Pole.

The insinuating Mazarin, who availed himself of every opportunity to worm
out secrets, and to make himself necessary by forced confidences, said,
approaching the Queen:

"That comes very apropos, just as we were speaking of the crown of
Poland."

Marie, who was listening, could not hear this, and said to Madame de
Guemenee, who was at her side:

"Is Monsieur de Chabot, then, King of Poland?"

The Queen heard that, and was delighted at this touch of pride. In order
to develop its germ, she affected an approving attention to the
conversation that ensued.

The Princesse de Guemenee exclaimed:

"Can you conceive such a marriage? We really can't get it out of our
heads. This same Mademoiselle de Rohan, whom we have seen so haughty,
after having refused the Comte de Soissons, the Duc de Weimar, and the
Duc de Nemours, to marry Monsieur de Chabot, a simple gentleman! 'Tis
really a sad pity! What are we coming to? 'Tis impossible to say what it
will all end in."

"What! can it be true? Love at court! a real love affair! Can it be
believed?"

All this time the Queen continued opening and shutting and playing with
the new crown.

"Diamonds suit only black hair," she said. "Let us see. Let me put it on
you, Marie. Why, it suits her to admiration!"

"One would suppose it had been made for Madame la Princesse," said the
Cardinal.

"I would give the last drop of my blood for it to remain on that brow,"
said the Prince-Palatine.

Marie, through the tears that were still on her cheek, gave an infantine
and involuntary smile, like a ray of sunshine through rain. Then,
suddenly blushing deeply, she hastily took refuge in her apartments.

All present laughed. The Queen followed her with her eyes, smiled,
presented her hand for the Polish ambassador to kiss, and retired to
write a letter.