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Book 2 Chapter 8 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER VIII

THE INTERVIEW

The pompous cortege of the Cardinal halted at the beginning of the camp.
All the armed troops were drawn up in the finest order; and amid the
sound of cannon and the music of each regiment the litter traversed a
long line of cavalry and infantry, formed from the outermost tent to that
of the minister, pitched at some distance from the royal quarters, and
which its purple covering distinguished at a distance. Each general of
division obtained a nod or a word from the Cardinal, who at length
reaching his tent and, dismissing his train, shut himself in, waiting for
the time to present himself to the King. But, before him, every person of
his escort had repaired thither individually, and, without entering the
royal abode, had remained in the long galleries covered with striped
stuff, and arranged as became avenues leading to the Prince. The
courtiers walking in groups, saluted one another and shook hands,
regarding each other haughtily, according to their connections or the
lords to whom they belonged. Others whispered together, and showed signs
of astonishment, pleasure, or anger, which showed that something
extraordinary had taken place. Among a thousand others, one singular
dialogue occurred in a corner of the principal gallery.

"May I ask, Monsieur l'Abbe, why you look at me so fixedly?"

"Parbleu! Monsieur de Launay, it is because I'm curious to see what you
will do. All the world abandons your Cardinal-Duke since your journey
into Touraine; if you do not believe it, go and ask the people of
Monsieur or of the Queen. You are behind-hand ten minutes by the watch
with the Cardinal de la Vallette, who has just shaken hands with
Rochefort and the gentlemen of the late Comte de Soissons, whom I shall
regret as long as I live."

"Monsieur de Gondi, I understand you; is it a challenge with which you
honor me?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Comte," answered the young Abbe, saluting him with all
the gravity of the time; "I sought an occasion to challenge you in the
name of Monsieur d'Attichi, my friend, with whom you had something to do
at Paris."

"Monsieur l'Abbe, I am at your command. I will seek my seconds; do you
the same."

"On horseback, with sword and pistol, I suppose?" added Gondi, with the
air of a man arranging a party of pleasure, lightly brushing the sleeve
of his cassock.

"If you please," replied the other. And they separated for a time,
saluting one another with the greatest politeness, and with profound
bows.

A brilliant crowd of gentlemen circulated around them in the gallery.
They mingled with it to procure friends for the occasion. All the
elegance of the costumes of the day was displayed by the court that
morning-small cloaks of every color, in velvet or in satin, embroidered
with gold or silver; crosses of St. Michael and of the Holy Ghost; the
ruffs, the sweeping hat-plumes, the gold shoulder-knots, the chains by
which the long swords hung: all glittered and sparkled, yet not so
brilliantly as did the fiery glances of those warlike youths, or their
sprightly conversation, or their intellectual laughter. Amid the assembly
grave personages and great lords passed on, followed by their numerous
gentlemen.

The little Abbe de Gondi, who was very shortsighted, made his way through
the crowd, knitting his brows and half shutting his eyes, that he might
see the better, and twisting his moustache, for ecclesiastics wore them
in those days. He looked closely at every one in order to recognize his
friends, and at last stopped before a young man, very tall and dressed in
black from head to foot; his sword, even, was of quite dark, bronzed
steel. He was talking with a captain of the guards, when the Abbe de
Gondi took him aside.

"Monsieur de Thou," said he, "I need you as my second in an hour, on
horseback, with sword and pistol, if you will do me that honor."

"Monsieur, you know I am entirely at your service on all occasions. Where
shall we meet?"

"In front of the Spanish bastion, if you please."

"Pardon me for returning to a conversation that greatly interests me. I
will be punctual at the rendezvous."

And De Thou quitted him to rejoin the Captain. He had said all this in
the gentlest of voices with unalterable coolness, and even with somewhat
of an abstracted manner.

The little Abbe squeezed his hand with warm satisfaction, and continued
his search.

He did not so easily effect an agreement with the young lords to whom he
addressed himself; for they knew him better than did De Thou, and when
they saw him coming they tried to avoid him, or laughed at him openly,
and would not promise to serve him.

"Ah, Abbe! there you are hunting again; I'll swear it's a second you
want," said the Duc de Beaufort.

"And I wager," added M. de la Rochefoucauld, "that it's against one of
the Cardinal-Duke's people."

"You are both right, gentlemen; but since when have you laughed at
affairs of honor?"

"The saints forbid I should," said M. de Beaufort. "Men of the sword like
us ever reverence tierce, quarte, and octave; but as for the folds of the
cassock, I know nothing of them."

"Pardieu! Monsieur, you know well enough that it does not embarrass my
wrist, as I will prove to him who chooses; as to the gown itself, I
should like to throw it into the gutter."

"Is it to tear it that you fight so often?" asked La Rochefoucauld. "But
remember, my dear Abbe, that you yourself are within it."

Gondi turned to look at the clock, wishing to lose no more time in such
sorry jests; but he had no better success elsewhere. Having stopped two
gentlemen in the service of the young Queen, whom he thought ill-affected
toward the Cardinal, and consequently glad to measure weapons with his
creatures, one of them said to him very gravely:

"Monsieur de Gondi, you know what has just happened; the King has said
aloud, 'Whether our imperious Cardinal wishes it or not, the widow of
Henri le Grand shall no longer remain in exile.' Imperious! the King
never before said anything so strong as that, Monsieur l'Abbe, mark that.
Imperious! it is open disgrace. Certainly no one will dare to speak to
him; no doubt he will quit the court this very day."

"I have heard this, Monsieur, but I have an affair--"

"It is lucky for you he stopped short in the middle of your career."

"An affair of honor--"

"Whereas Mazarin is quite a friend of yours."

"But will you, or will you not, listen to me?"

"Yes, a friend indeed! your adventures are always uppermost in his
thoughts. Your fine duel with Monsieur de Coutenan about the pretty
little pin-maker,--he even spoke of it to the King. Adieu, my dear Abbe,
we are in great haste; adieu, adieu!" And, taking his friend's arm, the
young mocker, without listening to another word, walked rapidly down the
gallery and disappeared in the throng.

The poor Abbe was much mortified at being able to get only one second,
and was watching sadly the passing of the hour and of the crowd, when he
perceived a young gentleman whom he did not know, seated at a table,
leaning on his elbow with a pensive air; he wore mourning which indicated
no connection with any great house or party, and appeared to await,
without any impatience, the time for attending the King, looking with a
heedless air at those who surrounded him, and seeming not to notice or to
know any of them.

Gondi looked at him a moment, and accosted him without hesitation:

"Monsieur, I have not the honor of your acquaintance, but a fencing-party
can never be unpleasant to a man of honor; and if you will be my second,
in a quarter of an hour we shall be on the ground. I am Paul de Gondi;
and I have challenged Monsieur de Launay, one of the Cardinal's clique,
but in other respects a very gallant fellow."

The unknown, apparently not at all surprised at this address, replied,
without changing his attitude: "And who are his seconds?"

"Faith, I don't know; but what matters it who serves him? We stand no
worse with our friends for having exchanged a thrust with them."

The stranger smiled nonchalantly, paused for an instant to pass his hand
through his long chestnut hair, and then said, looking idly at a large,
round watch which hung at his waist:

"Well, Monsieur, as I have nothing better to do, and as I have no friends
here, I am with you; it will pass the time as well as anything else."

And, taking his large, black-plumed hat from the table, he followed the
warlike Abbe, who went quickly before him, often running back to hasten
him on, like a child running before his father, or a puppy that goes
backward and forward twenty times before it gets to the end of a street.

Meanwhile, two ushers, attired in the royal livery, opened the great
curtains which separated the gallery from the King's tent, and silence
reigned. The courtiers began to enter slowly, and in succession, the
temporary dwelling of the Prince. He received them all gracefully, and
was the first to meet the view of each person introduced.

Before a very small table surrounded with gilt armchairs stood Louis
XIII, encircled by the great officers of the crown. His dress was very
elegant: a kind of fawn-colored vest, with open sleeves, ornamented with
shoulder-knots and blue ribbons, covered him down to the waist. Wide
breeches reached to the knee, and the yellow-and-red striped stuff of
which they were made was ornamented below with blue ribbons. His
riding-boots, reaching hardly more than three inches above the ankle,
were turned over, showing so lavish a lining of lace that they seemed to
hold it as a vase holds flowers. A small mantle of blue velvet, on which
was embroidered the cross of the Holy Ghost, covered the King's left arm,
which rested on the hilt of his sword.

His head was uncovered, and his pale and noble face was distinctly
visible, lighted by the sun, which penetrated through the top of the
tent. The small, pointed beard then worn augmented the appearance of
thinness in his face, while it added to its melancholy expression. By his
lofty brow, his classic profile, his aquiline nose, he was at once
recognized as a prince of the great race of Bourbon. He had all the
characteristic traits of his ancestors except their penetrating glance;
his eyes seemed red from weeping, and veiled with a perpetual drowsiness;
and the weakness of his vision gave him a somewhat vacant look.

He called around him, and was attentive to, the greatest enemies of the
Cardinal, whom he expected every moment; and, balancing himself with one
foot over the other, an hereditary habit of his family, he spoke quickly,
but pausing from time to time to make a gracious inclination of the head,
or a gesture of the hand, to those who passed before him with low
reverences.

The court had been thus paying its respects to the King for two hours
before the Cardinal appeared; the whole court stood in close ranks behind
the Prince, and in the long galleries which extended from his tent.
Already longer intervals elapsed between the names of the courtiers who
were announced.

"Shall we not see our cousin the Cardinal?" said the King, turning, and
looking at Montresor, one of Monsieur's gentlemen, as if to encourage him
to answer.

"He is said to be very ill just now, Sire," was the answer.

"And yet I do not see how any but your Majesty can cure him," said the
Duc de Beaufort.

"We cure nothing but the king's evil," replied Louis; "and the complaints
of the Cardinal are always so mysterious that we own we can not
understand them."

The Prince thus essayed to brave his minister, gaining strength in jests,
the better to break his yoke, insupportable, but so difficult to remove.
He almost thought he had succeeded in this, and, sustained by the joyous
air surrounding him, he already privately congratulated himself on having
been able to assume the supreme empire, and for the moment enjoyed all
the power of which he fancied himself possessed. An involuntary agitation
in the depth of his heart had warned him indeed that, the hour passed,
all the burden of the State would fall upon himself alone; but he talked
in order to divert the troublesome thought, and, concealing from himself
the doubt he had of his own inability to reign, he set his imagination to
work upon the result of his enterprises, thus forcing himself to forget
the tedious roads which had led to them. Rapid phrases succeeded one
another on his lips.

"We shall soon take Perpignan," he said to Fabert, who stood at some
distance.

"Well, Cardinal, Lorraine is ours," he added to La Vallette. Then,
touching Mazarin's arm:

"It is not so difficult to manage a State as is supposed, eh?"

The Italian, who was not so sure of the Cardinal's disgrace as most of
the courtiers, answered, without compromising himself:

"Ah, Sire, the late successes of your Majesty at home and abroad prove
your sagacity in choosing your instruments and in directing them, and--"

But the Duc de Beaufort, interrupting him with that self-confidence, that
loud voice and overbearing air, which subsequently procured him the
surname of Important, cried out, vehemently:

"Pardieu! Sire, it needs only to will. A nation is driven like a horse,
with spur and bridle; and as we are all good horsemen, your Majesty has
only to choose among us."

This fine sally had not time to take effect, for two ushers cried,
simultaneously, "His Eminence!"

The King's face flushed involuntarily, as if he had been surprised en
flagrant delit. But immediately gaining confidence, he assumed an air of
resolute haughtiness, which was not lost upon the minister.

The latter, attired in all the pomp of a cardinal, leaning upon two young
pages, and followed by his captain of the guards and more than five
hundred gentlemen attached to his house, advanced toward the King slowly
and pausing at each step, as if forced to it by his sufferings, but in
reality to observe the faces before him. A glance sufficed.

His suite remained at the entrance of the royal tent; of all those within
it, not one was bold enough to salute him, or to look toward him. Even La
Vallette feigned to be occupied in a conversation with Montresor; and the
King, who desired to give him an unfavorable reception, greeted him
lightly and continued a private conversation in a low voice with the Duc
de Beaufort.

The Cardinal was therefore forced, after the first salute, to stop and
pass to the side of the crowd of courtiers, as if he wished to mingle
with them, but in reality to test them more closely; they all recoiled as
at the sight of a leper. Fabert alone advanced toward him with the frank,
brusque air habitual with him, and, making use of the terms belonging to
his profession, said:

"Well, my lord, you make a breach in the midst of them like a
cannon-ball; I ask pardon in their name."

"And you stand firm before me as before the enemy," said the Cardinal;
"you will have no cause to regret it in the end, my dear Fabert."

Mazarin also approached the Cardinal, but with caution, and, giving to
his mobile features an expression of profound sadness, made him five or
six very low bows, turning his back to the group gathered around the
King, so that in the latter quarter they might be taken for those cold
and hasty salutations which are made to a person one desires to be rid
of, and, on the part of the Duke, for tokens of respect, blended with a
discreet and silent sorrow.

The minister, ever calm, smiled disdainfully; and, assuming that firm
look and that air of grandeur which he always wore in the hour of danger,
he again leaned upon his pages, and, without waiting for a word or a
glance from his sovereign, he suddenly resolved upon his line of conduct,
and walked directly toward him, traversing the whole length of the tent.
No one had lost sight of him, although all affected not to observe him.
Every one now became silent, even those who were conversing with the
King. All the courtiers bent forward to see and to hear.

Louis XIII turned toward him in astonishment, and, all presence of mind
totally failing him, remained motionless and waited with an icy
glance-his sole force, but a force very effectual in a prince.

The Cardinal, on coming close to the monarch, did not bow; and, without
changing his attitude, with his eyes lowered and his hands placed on the
shoulders of the two boys half bending, he said:

"Sire, I come to implore your Majesty at length to grant me the
retirement for which I have long sighed. My health is failing; I feel
that my life will soon be ended. Eternity approaches me, and before
rendering an account to the eternal King, I would render one to my
earthly sovereign. It is eighteen years, Sire, since you placed in my
hands a weak and divided kingdom; I return it to you united and powerful.
Your enemies are overthrown and humiliated. My work is accomplished. I
ask your Majesty's permission to retire to Citeaux, of which I am abbot,
and where I may end my days in prayer and meditation."

The King, irritated by some haughty expressions in this address, showed
none of the signs of weakness which the Cardinal had expected, and which
he had always seen in him when he had threatened to resign the management
of affairs. On the contrary, feeling that he had the eyes of the whole
court upon him, Louis looked upon him with the air of a king, and coldly
replied:

"We thank you, then, for your services, Monsieur le Cardinal, and wish
you the repose you desire."

Richelieu was deeply moved, but no indication of his anger appeared upon
his countenance. "Such was the coldness with which you left Montmorency
to die," he said to himself; "but you shall not escape me thus." He then
continued aloud, bowing at the same time:

"The only recompense I ask for my services is that your Majesty will
deign to accept from me, as a gift, the Palais-Cardinal I have erected at
my own expense in Paris."

The King, astonished, bowed his assent. A murmur of surprise for a moment
agitated the attentive court.

"I also throw myself at your Majesty's feet, to beg that you will grant
me the revocation of an act of rigor, which I solicited (I publicly
confess it), and which I perhaps regarded too hastily beneficial to the
repose of the State. Yes, when I was of this world, I was too forgetful
of my early sentiments of personal respect and attachment, in my
eagerness for the public welfare; but now that I already enjoy the
enlightenment of solitude, I see that I have done wrong, and I repent."

The attention of the spectators was redoubled, and the uneasiness of the
King became visible.

"Yes, there is one person, Sire, whom I have always loved, despite her
wrong toward you, and the banishment which the affairs of the kingdom
forced me to bring about for her; a person to whom I have owed much, and
who should be very dear to you, notwithstanding her armed attempts
against you; a person, in a word, whom I implore you to recall from
exile--the Queen Marie de Medicis, your mother!"

The King uttered an involuntary exclamation, so little did he expect to
hear that name. A repressed agitation suddenly appeared upon every face.
All waited in silence the King's reply. Louis XIII looked for a long time
at his old minister without speaking, and this look decided the fate of
France; in that instant he called to mind all the indefatigable services
of Richelieu, his unbounded devotion, his wonderful capacity, and was
surprised at himself for having wished to part with him. He felt deeply
affected at this request, which had probed for the exact cause of his
anger at the bottom of his heart, and uprooted it, thus taking from his
hands the only weapon he had against his old servant. Filial love brought
words of pardon to his lips and tears into his eyes. Rejoicing to grant
what he desired most of all things in the world, he extended his hands to
the Duke with all the nobleness and kindliness of a Bourbon. The Cardinal
bowed and respectfully kissed it; and his heart, which should have burst
with remorse, only swelled in the joy of a haughty triumph.

The King, deeply touched, abandoning his hand to him, turned gracefully
toward his court and said, with a trembling voice:

"We often deceive ourselves, gentlemen, and especially in our knowledge
of so great a politician as this."

"I hope he will never leave us, since his heart is as good as his head."

Cardinal de la Vallette instantly seized the sleeve of the King's mantle,
and kissed it with all the ardor of a lover, and the young Mazarin did
much the same with Richelieu himself, assuming, with admirable Italian
suppleness, an expression radiant with joy and tenderness. Two streams of
flatterers hastened, one toward the King, the other toward the minister;
the former group, not less adroit than the second, although less direct,
addressed to the Prince thanks which could be heard by the minister, and
burned at the feet of the one incense which was intended for the other.
As for Richelieu, bowing and smiling to right and left, he stepped
forward and stood at the right hand of the King as his natural place. A
stranger entering would rather have thought, indeed, that it was the King
who was on the Cardinal's left hand. The Marechal d'Estrees, all the
ambassadors, the Duc d'Angouleme, the Due d'Halluin (Schomberg), the
Marechal de Chatillon, and all the great officers of the crown surrounded
him, each waiting impatiently for the compliments of the others to be
finished, in order to pay his own, fearing lest some one else should
anticipate him with the flattering epigram he had just improvised, or the
phrase of adulation he was inventing.

As for Fabert, he had retired to a corner of the tent, and seemed to have
paid no particular attention to the scene. He was chatting with Montresor
and the gentlemen of Monsieur, all sworn enemies of the Cardinal,
because, out of the throng he avoided, he had found none but these to
speak to. This conduct would have seemed extremely tactless in one less
known; but although he lived in the midst of the court, he was ever
ignorant of its intrigues. It was said of him that he returned from a
battle he had gained, like the King's hunting-horse, leaving the dogs to
caress their master and divide the quarry, without seeking even to
remember the part he had had in the triumph.

The storm, then, seemed entirely appeased, and to the violent agitations
of the morning succeeded a gentle calm. A respectful murmur, varied with
pleasant laughter and protestations of attachment, was all that was heard
in the tent. The voice of the Cardinal arose from time to time: "The poor
Queen! We shall, then, soon again see her! I never had dared to hope for
such happiness while I lived!" The King listened to him with full
confidence, and made no attempt to conceal his satisfaction. "It was
assuredly an idea sent to him from on high," he said; "this good
Cardinal, against whom they had so incensed me, was thinking only of the
union of my family. Since the birth of the Dauphin I have not tasted
greater joy than at this moment. The protection of the Holy Virgin is
manifested over our kingdom."

At this moment, a captain of the guards came up and whispered in the
King's ear.

"A courier from Cologne?" said the King; "let him wait in my cabinet."

Then, unable to restrain his impatience, "I will go! I will go!" he said,
and entered alone a small, square tent attached to the larger one. In it
he saw a young courier holding a black portfolio, and the curtains closed
upon the King.

The Cardinal, left sole master of the court, concentrated all its homage;
but it was observed that he no longer received it with his former
presence of mind. He inquired frequently what time it was, and exhibited
an anxiety which was not assumed; his hard, unquiet glances turned toward
the smaller tent. It suddenly opened; the King appeared alone, and
stopped on the threshold. He was paler than usual, and trembled in every
limb; he held in his hand a large letter with five black seals.

"Gentlemen," said he, in a loud but broken voice, "the Queen has just
died at Cologne; and I perhaps am not the first to hear of it," he added,
casting a severe look toward the impassible Cardinal, "but God knows all!
To horse in an hour, and attack the lines! Marechals, follow me." And he
turned his back abruptly, and reentered his cabinet with them.

The court retired after the minister, who, without giving any sign of
sorrow or annoyance, went forth as gravely as he had entered, but now a
victor.