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Book 3 Chapter 10 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER X

THE RECOMPENSE

Cardinal Richelieu had said to himself, "To soften the first paroxysm of
the royal grief, to open a source of emotions which shall turn from its
sorrow this wavering soul, let this city be besieged; I consent. Let
Louis go; I will allow him to strike a few poor soldiers with the blows
which he wishes, but dares not, to inflict upon me. Let his anger drown
itself in this obscure blood; I agree. But this caprice of glory shall
not derange my fixed designs; this city shall not fall yet. It shall not
become French forever until two years have past; it shall come into my
nets only on the day upon which I have fixed in my own mind. Thunder,
bombs, and cannons; meditate upon your operations, skilful captains;
hasten, young warriors. I shall silence your noise, I shall dissipate
your projects, and make your efforts abortive; all shall end in vain
smoke, for I shall conduct in order to mislead you."

This is the substance of what passed in the bald head of the Cardinal
before the attack of which we have witnessed a part. He was stationed on
horseback, upon one of the mountains of Salces, north of the city; from
this point he could see the plain of Roussillon before him, sloping to
the Mediterranean. Perpignan, with its ramparts of brick, its bastions,
its citadel, and its spire, formed upon this plain an oval and sombre
mass on its broad and verdant meadows; the vast mountains surrounded it,
and the valley, like an enormous bow curved from north to south, while,
stretching its white line in the east, the sea looked like its silver
cord. On his right rose that immense mountain called the Canigou, whose
sides send forth two rivers into the plain below. The French line
extended to the foot of this western barrier. A crowd of generals and of
great lords were on horseback behind the minister, but at twenty paces'
distance and profoundly silent.

Cardinal Richelieu had at first followed slowly the line of operations,
but had later returned and stationed himself upon this height, whence his
eye and his thought hovered over the destinies of besiegers and besieged.
The whole army had its eyes upon him, and could see him from every point.
All looked upon him as their immediate chief, and awaited his gesture
before they acted. France had bent beneath his yoke a long time; and
admiration of him shielded all his actions to which another would have
been often subjected. At this moment, for instance, no one thought of
smiling, or even of feeling surprised, that the cuirass should clothe the
priest; and the severity of his character and aspect suppressed every
thought of ironical comparisons or injurious conjectures. This day the
Cardinal appeared in a costume entirely martial: he wore a reddish-brown
coat, embroidered with gold, a water-colored cuirass, a sword at his
side, pistols at his saddle-bow, and he had a plumed hat; but this he
seldom put on his head, which was still covered with the red cap. Two
pages were behind him; one carried his gauntlets, the other his casque,
and the captain of his guards was at his side.

As the King had recently named him generalissimo of his troops, it was to
him that the generals sent for their orders; but he, knowing only too
well the secret motives of his master's present anger, affected to refer
to that Prince all who sought a decision from his own mouth. It happened
as he had foreseen; for he regulated and calculated the movements of that
heart as those of a watch, and could have told with precision through
what sensations it had passed. Louis XIII came and placed himself at his
side; but he came as a pupil, forced to acknowledge that his master is in
the right. His air was haughty and dissatisfied, his language brusque and
dry. The Cardinal remained impassible. It was remarked that the King, in
consulting him, employed the words of command, thus reconciling his
weakness and his power of place, his irresolution and his pride, his
ignorance and his pretensions, while his minister dictated laws to him in
a tone of the most profound obedience.

"I will have them attack immediately, Cardinal," said the Prince on
coming up; "that is to say," he added, with a careless air, "when all
your preparations are made, and you have fixed upon the hour with our
generals."

"Sire, if I might venture to express my judgment, I should be glad did
your Majesty think proper to begin the attack in a quarter of an hour,
for that will give time enough to advance the third line."

"Yes, yes; you are right, Monsieur le Cardinal! I think so, too. I will
go and give my orders myself; I wish to do everything myself. Schomberg,
Schomberg! in a quarter of an hour I wish to hear the signal-gun; I
command it."

And Schomberg, taking the command of the right wing, gave the order, and
the signal was made.

The batteries, arranged long since by the Marechal de la Meilleraie,
began to batter a breach, but slowly, because the artillerymen felt that
they had been directed to attack two impregnable points; and because,
with their experience, and above all with the common sense and quick
perception of French soldiers, any one of them could at once have
indicated the point against which the attack should have been directed.
The King was surprised at the slowness of the firing.

"La Meilleraie," said he, impatiently, "these batteries do not play well;
your cannoneers are asleep."

The principal artillery officers were present as well as the Marechal;
but no one answered a syllable. They had looked toward the Cardinal, who
remained as immovable as an equestrian statue, and they imitated his
example. The answer must have been that the fault was not with the
soldiers, but with him who had ordered this false disposition of the
batteries; and this was Richelieu himself, who, pretending to believe
them more useful in that position, had stopped the remarks of the chiefs.

The King, astonished at this silence, and, fearing that he had committed
some gross military blunder by his question, blushed slightly, and,
approaching the group of princes who had accompanied him, said, in order
to reassure himself:

"D'Angouleme, Beaufort, this is very tiresome, is it not? We stand here
like mummies."

Charles de Valois drew near and said:

"It seems to me, Sire, that they are not employing here the machines of
the engineer Pompee-Targon."

"Parbleu!" said the Duc de Beaufort, regarding Richelieu fixedly, "that
is because we were more eager to take Rochelle than Perpignan at the time
that Italian came. Here we have not an engine ready, not a mine, not a
petard beneath these walls; and the Marechal de la Meilleraie told me
this morning that he had proposed to bring some with which to open the
breach. It was neither the Castillet, nor the six great bastions which
surround it, nor the half-moon, we should have attacked. If we go on in
this way, the great stone arm of the citadel will show us its fist a long
time yet."

The Cardinal, still motionless, said not a single word; he only made a
sign to Fabert, who left the group in attendance, and ranged his horse
behind that of Richelieu, close to the captain of his guards.

The Duc de la Rochefoucauld, drawing near the King, said:

"I believe, Sire, that our inactivity makes the enemy insolent, for look!
here is a numerous sally, directing itself straight toward your Majesty;
and the regiments of Biron and De Ponts fall back after firing."

"Well!" said the King, drawing his sword, "let us charge and force those
villains back again. Bring on the cavalry with me, D'Angouleme. Where is
it, Cardinal?"

"Behind that hill, Sire, there are in column six regiments of dragoons,
and the carabineers of La Roque; below you are my men-at-arms and my
light horse, whom I pray your Majesty to employ, for those of your
Majesty's guard are ill guided by the Marquis de Coislin, who is ever too
zealous. Joseph, go tell him to return."

He whispered to the Capuchin, who had accompanied him, huddled up in
military attire, which he wore awkwardly, and who immediately advanced
into the plain.

In the mean time, the compact columns of the old Spanish infantry issued
from the gate of Notre-Dame like a dark and moving forest, while from
another gate proceeded the heavy cavalry, which drew up on the plain. The
French army, in battle array at the foot of the hill where the King
stood, behind fortifications of earth, behind redoubts and fascines of
turf, perceived with alarm the men-at-arms and the light horse pressed
between these two forces, ten times their superior in numbers.

"Sound the charge!" cried Louis XIII; "or my old Coislin is lost."

And he descended the hill, with all his suite as ardent as himself; but
before he reached the plain and was at the head of his musketeers, the
two companies had taken their course, dashing off with the rapidity of
lightning, and to the cry of "Vive le Roi!" They fell upon the long
column of the enemy's cavalry like two vultures upon a serpent; and,
making a large and bloody gap, they passed beyond, and rallied behind the
Spanish bastion, leaving the enemy's cavalry so astonished that they
thought only of re-forming their own ranks, and not of pursuing.

The French army uttered a burst of applause; the King paused in
amazement. He looked around him, and saw a burning desire for attack in
all eyes; the valor of his race shone in his own. He paused yet another
instant in suspense, listening, intoxicated, to the roar of the cannon,
inhaling the odor of the powder; he seemed to receive another life, and
to become once more a Bourbon. All-who looked on him felt as if they were
commanded by another man, when, raising his sword and his eyes toward the
sun, he cried:

"Follow me, brave friends! here I am King of France!"

His cavalry, deploying, dashed off with an ardor which devoured space,
and, raising billows of dust from the ground, which trembled beneath
them, they were in an instant mingled with the Spanish cavalry, and both
were swallowed up in an immense and fluctuating cloud.

"Now! now!" cried the Cardinal, in a voice of thunder, from his
elevation, "now remove the guns from their useless position! Fabert, give
your orders; let them be all directed upon the infantry which slowly
approaches to surround the King. Haste! save the King!"

Immediately the Cardinal's suite, until then sitting erect as so many
statues, were in motion. The generals gave their orders; the
aides-de-camp galloped off into the plain, where, leaping over the
ditches, barriers, and palisades, they arrived at their destination as
soon as the thought that directed them and the glance that followed them.

Suddenly the few and interrupted flashes which had shone from the
discouraged batteries became a continual and immense flame, leaving no
room for the smoke, which rose to the sky in an infinite number of light
and floating wreaths; the volleys of cannon, which had seemed like far
and feeble echoes, changed into a formidable thunder whose roll was as
rapid as that of drums beating the charge; while from three opposite
points large red flashes from fiery mouths fell upon the dark columns
which issued from the besieged city.

Meantime, without changing his position, but with ardent eyes and
imperative gestures, Richelieu ceased not to multiply his orders, casting
upon those who received them a look which implied a sentence of death if
he was not instantly obeyed.

"The King has overthrown the cavalry; but the foot still resist. Our
batteries have only killed, they have not conquered. Forward with three
regiments of infantry instantly, Gassion, La Meilleraie, and
Lesdiguieres! Take the enemy's columns in flank. Order the rest of the
army to cease from the attack, and to remain motionless throughout the
whole line. Bring paper! I will write myself to Schomberg."

A page alighted and advanced, holding a pencil and paper. The minister,
supported by four men of his suite, also alighted, but with difficulty,
uttering a cry, wrested from him by pain; but he conquered it by an
effort, and seated himself upon the carriage of a cannon. The page
presented his shoulder as a desk; and the Cardinal hastily penned that
order which contemporary manuscripts have transmitted to us, and which
might well be imitated by the diplomatists of our day, who are, it seems,
more desirous to maintain themselves in perfect balance between two ideas
than to seek those combinations which decide the destinies of the world,
regarding the clear and obvious dictates of true genius as beneath their
profound subtlety.

   "M. le Marechal, do not risk anything, and reflect before you
   attack. When you are thus told that the King desires you not to
   risk anything, you are not to understand that his Majesty forbids
   you to fight at all; but his intention is that you do not engage in
   a general battle unless it be with a notable hope of gain from the
   advantage which a favorable situation may present, the
   responsibility of the battle naturally falling upon you."

These orders given, the old minister, still seated upon the gun-carriage,
his arms resting upon the touch-hole, and his chin upon his arms, in the
attitude of one who adjusts and points a cannon, continued in silence to
watch the battle, like an old wolf, which, sated with victims and torpid
with age, contemplates in the plain the ravages of a lion among a herd of
cattle, which he himself dares not attack. From time to time his eye
brightens; the smell of blood rejoices him, and he laps his burning
tongue over his toothless jaw.

On that day, it was remarked by his servants--or, in other words, by all
surrounding him--that from the time of his rising until night he took no
nourishment, and so fixed all the application of his soul on the events
which he had to conduct that he triumphed over his physical pains,
seeming, by forgetting, to have destroyed them. It was this power of
attention, this continual presence of mind, that raised him almost to
genius. He would have attained it quite, had he not lacked native
elevation of soul and generous sensibility of heart.

Everything happened upon the field of battle as he had wished, fortune
attending him there as well as in the cabinet. Louis XIII claimed with
eager hand the victory which his minister had procured for him; he had
contributed himself, however, only that grandeur which consists in
personal valor.

The cannon had ceased to roar when the broken columns of infantry fell
back into Perpignan; the remainder had met the same fate, was already
within the walls, and on the plain no living man was to be seen, save the
glittering squadrons of the King, who followed him, forming ranks as they
went.

He returned at a slow walk, and contemplated with satisfaction the
battlefield swept clear of enemies; he passed haughtily under the very
fire of the Spanish guns, which, whether from lack of skill, or by a
secret agreement with the Prime Minister, or from very shame to kill a
king of France, only sent after him a few balls, which, passing two feet
above his head, fell in front of the lines, and merely served to increase
the royal reputation for courage.

At every step, however, that he took toward the spot where Richelieu
awaited him, the King's countenance changed and visibly fell; he lost all
the flush of combat; the noble sweat of triumph dried upon his brow. As
he approached, his usual pallor returned to his face, as if having the
right to sit alone on a royal head; his look lost its fleeting fire, and
at last, when he joined the Cardinal, a profound melancholy entirely
possessed him. He found the minister as he had left him, on horseback;
the latter, still coldly respectful, bowed, and after a few words of
compliment, placed himself near Louis to traverse the lines and examine
the results of the day, while the princes and great lords, riding at some
distance before and behind, formed a crowd around them.

The wily minister was careful not to say a word or to make a gesture that
could suggest the idea that he had had the slightest share in the events
of the day; and it was remarkable that of all those who came to hand in
their reports, there was not one who did not seem to divine his thoughts,
and exercise care not to compromise his occult power by open obedience.
All reports were made to the King. The Cardinal then traversed, by the
side of the Prince, the right of the camp, which had not been under his
view from the height where he had remained; and he saw with satisfaction
that Schomberg, who knew him well, had acted precisely as his master had
directed, bringing into action only a few of the light troops, and
fighting just enough not to incur reproach for inaction, and not enough
to obtain any distinct result. This line of conduct charmed the minister,
and did not displease the King, whose vanity cherished the idea of having
been the sole conqueror that day. He even wished to persuade himself, and
to have it supposed, that all the efforts of Schomberg had been
fruitless, saying to him that he was not angry with him, that he had
himself just had proof that the enemy before him was less despicable than
had been supposed.

"To show you that you have lost nothing in our estimation," he added, "we
name you a knight of our order, and we give you public and private access
to our person."

The Cardinal affectionately pressed his hand as he passed him, and the
Marechal, astonished at this deluge of favors, followed the Prince with
his bent head, like a culprit, recalling, to console himself, all the
brilliant actions of his career which had remained unnoticed, and
mentally attributing to them these unmerited rewards to reconcile them to
his conscience.

The King was about to retrace his steps, when the Due de Beaufort, with
an astonished air, exclaimed:

"But, Sire, have I still the powder in my eyes, or have I been
sun-struck? It appears to me that I see upon yonder bastion several
cavaliers in red uniforms who greatly resemble your light horse whom we
thought to be killed."

The Cardinal knitted his brows.

"Impossible, Monsieur," he said; "the imprudence of Monsieur de Coislin
has destroyed his Majesty's men-at-arms and those cavaliers. It is for
that reason I ventured just now to say to the King that if the useless
corps were suppressed, it might be very advantageous from a military
point of view."

"Pardieu! your Eminence will pardon me," answered the Duc de Beaufort;
"but I do not deceive myself, and there are seven or eight of them
driving prisoners before them."

"Well! let us go to the point," said the King; "if I find my old Coislin
there I shall be very glad."

With great caution, the horses of the King and his suite passed across
the marsh, and with infinite astonishment their riders saw on the
ramparts the two red companies in battle array as on parade.

"Vive Dieu!" cried Louis; "I think that not one of them is missing! Well,
Marquis, you keep your word--you take walls on horseback."

"In my opinion, this point was ill chosen," said Richelieu, with disdain;
"it in no way advances the taking of Perpignan, and must have cost many
lives."

"Faith, you are right," said the King, for the first time since the
intelligence of the Queen's death addressing the Cardinal without
dryness; "I regret the blood which must have been spilled here."

"Only two of own young men have been wounded in the attack, Sire," said
old Coislin; "and we have gained new companions-in-arms, in the
volunteers who guided us."

"Who are they?" said the Prince.

"Three of them have modestly retired, Sire; but the youngest, whom you
see, was the first who proposed the assault, and the first to venture his
person in making it. The two companies claim the honor of presenting him
to your Majesty."

Cinq-Mars, who was on horseback behind the old captain, took off his hat
and showed his pale face, his large, dark eyes, and his long, chestnut
hair.

"Those features remind me of some one," said the King; "what say you,
Cardinal?"

The latter, who had already cast a penetrating glance at the newcomer,
replied:

"Unless I am mistaken, this young man is--"

"Henri d'Effiat," said the volunteer, bowing.

"Sire, it is the same whom I had announced to your Majesty, and who was
to have been presented to you by me; the second son of the Marechal."

"Ah!" said Louis, warmly, "I am glad to see the son of my old friend
presented by this bastion. It is a suitable introduction, my boy, for one
bearing your name. You will follow us to the camp, where we have much to
say to you. But what! you here, Monsieur de Thou? Whom have you come to
judge?"

"Sire," answered Coislin, "he has condemned to death, without judging,
sundry Spaniards, for he was the second to enter the place."

"I struck no one, Monsieur," interrupted De Thou reddening; "it is not my
business. Herein I have no merit; I merely accompanied my friend,
Monsieur de Cinq-Mars."

"We approve your modesty as well as your bravery, and we shall not forget
this. Cardinal, is there not some presidency vacant?"

Richelieu did not like De Thou. And as the sources of his dislike were
always mysterious, it was difficult to guess the cause of this animosity;
it revealed itself in a cruel word that escaped him. The motive was a
passage in the history of the President De Thou--the father of the young
man now in question--wherein he stigmatized, in the eyes of posterity, a
granduncle of the Cardinal, an apostate monk, sullied with every human
vice.

Richelieu, bending to Joseph's ear, whispered:

"You see that man; his father put my name into his history. Well, I will
put his into mine." And, truly enough, he subsequently wrote it in blood.
At this moment, to avoid answering the King, he feigned not to have heard
his question, and to be wholly intent upon the merit of Cinq-Mars and the
desire to see him well placed at court.

"I promised you beforehand to make him a captain in my guards," said the
Prince; "let him be nominated to-morrow. I would know more of him, and
raise him to a higher fortune, if he pleases me. Let us now retire; the
sun has set, and we are far from our army. Tell my two good companies to
follow us."

The minister, after repeating the order, omitting the implied praise,
placed himself on the King's right hand, and the whole court quitted the
bastion, now confided to the care of the Swiss, and returned to the camp.

The two red companies defiled slowly through the breach which they had
effected with such promptitude; their countenances were grave and silent.

Cinq-Mars went up to his friend.

"These are heroes but ill recompensed," said he; "not a favor, not a
compliment."

"I, on the other hand," said the simple De Thou "I, who came here against
my will--receive one. Such are courts, such is life; but above us is the
true judge, whom men can not blind."

"This will not prevent us from meeting death tomorrow, if necessary,"
said the young Olivier, laughing.