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Book 3 Chapter 9 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER IX

THE SIEGE

There are moments in our life when we long ardently for strong excitement
to drown our petty griefs--times when the soul, like the lion in the
fable, wearied with the continual attacks of the gnat, earnestly desires
a mightier enemy and real danger. Cinq-Mars found himself in this
condition of mind, which always results from a morbid sensibility in the
organic constitution and a perpetual agitation of the heart. Weary of
continually turning over in his mind a combination of the events which he
desired, and of those which he dreaded; weary of calculating his chances
to the best of his power; of summoning to his assistance all that his
education had taught him concerning the lives of illustrious men, in
order to compare it with his present situation; oppressed by his regrets,
his dreams, predictions, fancies, and all that imaginary world in which
he had lived during his solitary journey-he breathed freely upon finding
himself thrown into a real world almost as full of agitation; and the
realizing of two actual dangers restored circulation to his blood, and
youth to his whole being.

Since the nocturnal scene at the inn near Loudun, he had not been able to
resume sufficient empire over his mind to occupy himself with anything
save his cherished though sad reflections; and consumption was already
threatening him, when happily he arrived at the camp of Perpignan, and
happily also had the opportunity of accepting the proposition of the Abbe
de Gondi--for the reader has no doubt recognized Cinq-Mars in the person
of that young stranger in mourning, so careless and so melancholy, whom
the duellist in the cassock invited to be his second.

He had ordered his tent to be pitched as a volunteer in the street of the
camp assigned to the young noblemen who were to be presented to the King
and were to serve as aides-de-camp to the Generals; he soon repaired
thither, and was quickly armed, horsed, and cuirassed, according to the
custom of the time, and set out alone for the Spanish bastion, the place
of rendezvous. He was the first arrival, and found that a small plot of
turf, hidden among the works of the besieged place, had been well chosen
by the little Abbe for his homicidal purposes; for besides the
probability that no one would have suspected officers of engaging in a
duel immediately beneath the town which they were attacking, the body of
the bastion separated them from the French camp, and would conceal them
like an immense screen. It was wise to take these precautions, for at
that time it cost a man his head to give himself the satisfaction of
risking his body.

While waiting for his friends and his adversaries, Cinq-Mars had time to
examine the southern side of Perpignan, before which he stood. He had
heard that these works were not those which were to be attacked, and he
tried in vain to account for the besieger's projects. Between this
southern face of the town, the mountains of Albere, and the Col du
Perthus, there might have been advantageous lines of attack, and redoubts
against the accessible point; but not a single soldier was stationed
there. All the forces seemed directed upon the north of Perpignan, upon
the most difficult side, against a brick fort called the Castillet, which
surmounted the gate of Notre-Dame. He discovered that a piece of ground,
apparently marshy, but in reality very solid, led up to the very foot of
the Spanish bastion; that this post was guarded with true Castilian
negligence, although its sole strength lay entirely in its defenders; for
its battlements, almost in ruin, were furnished with four pieces of
cannon of enormous calibre, embedded in the turf, and thus rendered
immovable, and impossible to be directed against a troop advancing
rapidly to the foot of the wall.

It was easy to see that these enormous pieces had discouraged the
besiegers from attacking this point, and had kept the besieged from any
idea of addition to its means of defence. Thus, on the one side, the
vedettes and advanced posts were at a distance, and on the other, the
sentinels were few and ill supported. A young Spaniard, carrying a long
gun, with its rest suspended at his side and the burning match in his
right hand, who was walking with nonchalance upon the rampart, stopped to
look at Cinq-Mars, who was riding about the ditches and moats.

"Senor caballero," he cried, "are you going to take the bastion by
yourself on horseback, like Don Quixote--Quixada de la Mancha?"

At the same time he detached from his side the iron rest, planted it in
the ground, and supported upon it the barrel of his gun in order to take
aim, when a grave and older Spaniard, enveloped in a dirty brown cloak,
said to him in his own tongue:

"'Ambrosio de demonio', do you not know that it is forbidden to throw
away powder uselessly, before sallies or attacks are made, merely to have
the pleasure of killing a boy not worth your match? It was in this very
place that Charles the Fifth threw the sleeping sentinel into the ditch
and drowned him. Do your duty, or I shall follow his example."

Ambrosio replaced the gun upon his shoulder, the rest at his side, and
continued his walk upon the rampart.

Cinq-Mars had been little alarmed at this menacing gesture, contenting
himself with tightening the reins of his horse and bringing the spurs
close to his sides, knowing that with a single leap of the nimble animal
he should be carried behind the wall of a hut which stood near by, and
should thus be sheltered from the Spanish fusil before the operation of
the fork and match could be completed. He knew, too, that a tacit
convention between the two armies prohibited marksmen from firing upon
the sentinels; each party would have regarded it as assassination. The
soldier who had thus prepared to attack Cinq-Mars must have been ignorant
of this understanding. Young D'Effiat, therefore, made no visible
movement; and when the sentinel had resumed his walk upon the rampart, he
again betook himself to his ride upon the turf, and presently saw five
cavaliers directing their course toward him. The first two, who came on
at full gallop, did not salute him, but, stopping close to him, leaped to
the ground, and he found himself in the arms of the Counsellor de Thou,
who embraced him tenderly, while the little Abbe de Gondi, laughing
heartily, cried:

"Behold another Orestes recovering his Pylades, and at the moment of
immolating a rascal who is not of the family of the King of kings, I
assure you."

"What! is it you, my dear Cinq-Mars?" cried De Thou; "and I knew not of
your arrival in the camp! Yes, it is indeed you; I recognize you,
although you are very pale. Have you been ill, my dear friend? I have
often written to you; for my boyish friendship has always remained in my
heart."

"And I," answered Henri d'Effiat, "I have been very culpable toward you;
but I will relate to you all the causes of my neglect. I can speak of
them, but I was ashamed to write them. But how good you are! Your
friendship has never relaxed."

"I knew you too well," replied De Thou; "I knew that there could be no
real coldness between us, and that my soul had its echo in yours."

With these words they embraced once more, their eyes moist with those
sweet tears which so seldom flow in one's life, but with which it seems,
nevertheless, the heart is always charged, so much relief do they give in
flowing.

This moment was short; and during these few words, Gondi had been pulling
them by their cloaks, saying:

"To horse! to horse, gentlemen! Pardieu! you will have time enough to
embrace, if you are so affectionate; but do not delay. Let our first
thought be to have done with our good friends who will soon arrive. We
are in a fine position, with those three villains there before us, the
archers close by, and the Spaniards up yonder! We shall be under three
fires."

He was still speaking, when De Launay, finding himself at about sixty
paces from his opponents, with his seconds, who were chosen from his own
friends rather than from among the partisans of the Cardinal, put his
horse to a canter, advanced gracefully toward his young adversaries, and
gravely saluted them.

"Gentlemen, I think that we shall do well to select our men, and to take
the field; for there is talk of attacking the lines, and I must be at my
post."

"We are ready, Monsieur," said Cinq-Mars; "and as for selecting
opponents, I shall be very glad to become yours, for I have not forgotten
the Marechal de Bassompierre and the wood of Chaumont. You know my
opinion concerning your insolent visit to my mother."

"You are very young, Monsieur. In regard to Madame, your mother, I
fulfilled the duties of a man of the world; toward the Marechal, those of
a captain of the guard; here, those of a gentleman toward Monsieur
l'Abbe, who has challenged me; afterward I shall have that honor with
you."

"If I permit you," said the Abbe, who was already on horseback.

They took sixty paces of ground--all that was afforded them by the extent
of the meadow that enclosed them. The Abbe de Gondi was stationed between
De Thou and his friend, who sat nearest the ramparts, upon which two
Spanish officers and a score of soldiers stood, as in a balcony, to
witness this duel of six persons--a spectacle common enough to them. They
showed the same signs of joy as at their bullfights, and laughed with
that savage and bitter laugh which their temperament derives from their
admixture of Arab blood.

At a sign from Gondi, the six horses set off at full gallop, and met,
without coming in contact, in the middle of the arena; at that instant,
six pistol-shots were heard almost together, and the smoke covered the
combatants.

When it dispersed, of the six cavaliers and six horses but three men and
three animals were on their legs. Cinq-Mars was on horseback, giving his
hand to his adversary, as calm as himself; at the other end of the field,
De Thou stood by his opponent, whose horse he had killed, and whom he was
helping to rise. As for Gondi and De Launay, neither was to be seen.
Cinq-Mars, looking about for them anxiously, perceived the Abbe's horse,
which, caracoling and curvetting, was dragging after him the future
cardinal, whose foot was caught in the stirrup, and who was swearing as
if he had never studied anything but the language of the camp. His nose
and hands were stained and bloody with his fall and with his efforts to
seize the grass; and he was regarding with considerable dissatisfaction
his horse, which in spite of himself he irritated with his spurs, making
its way to the trench, filled with water, which surrounded the bastion,
when, happily, Cinq-Mars, passing between the edge of the swamp and the
animal, seized its bridle and stopped its career.

"Well, my dear Abbe, I see that no great harm has come to you, for you
speak with decided energy."

"Corbleu!" cried Gondi, wiping the dust out of his eyes, "to fire a
pistol in the face of that giant I had to lean forward and rise in my
stirrups, and thus I lost my balance; but I fancy that he is down, too."

"You are right, sir," said De Thou, coming up; "there is his horse
swimming in the ditch with its master, whose brains are blown out. We
must think now of escaping."

"Escaping! That, gentlemen, will be rather difficult," said the adversary
of Cinq-Mars, approaching. "Hark! there is the cannon-shot, the signal
for the attack. I did not expect it would have been given so soon. If we
return we shall meet the Swiss and the foot-soldiers, who are marching in
this direction."

"Monsieur de Fontrailles says well," said De Thou; "but if we do not
return, here are these Spaniards, who are running to arms, and whose
balls we shall presently have whistling about our heads."

"Well, let us hold a council," said Gondi; "summon Monsieur de Montresor,
who is uselessly occupied in searching for the body of poor De Launay.
You have not wounded him, Monsieur De Thou?"

"No, Monsieur l'Abbe; not every one has so good an aim as you," said
Montresor, bitterly, limping from his fall. "We shall not have time to
continue with the sword."

"As to continuing, I will not consent to it, gentlemen," said
Fontrailles; "Monsieur de Cinq-Mars has behaved too nobly toward me. My
pistol went off too soon, and his was at my very cheek--I feel the
coldness of it now--but he had the generosity to withdraw it and fire in
the air. I shall not forget it; and I am his in life and in death."

"We must think of other things now," interrupted Cinq-Mars; "a ball has
just whistled past my ear. The attack has begun on all sides; and we are
surrounded by friends and by enemies."

In fact, the cannonading was general; the citadel, the town, and the army
were covered with smoke. The bastion before them as yet was unassailed,
and its guards seemed less eager to defend it than to observe the fate of
the other fortifications.

"I believe that the enemy has made a sally," said Montresor, "for the
smoke has cleared from the plain, and I see masses of cavalry charging
under the protection of the battery."

"Gentlemen," said Cinq-Mars, who had not ceased to observe the walls,
"there is a very decided part which we could take, an important share in
this--we might enter this ill-guarded bastion."

"An excellent idea, Monsieur," said Fontrailles; "but we are but five
against at least thirty, and are in plain sight and easily counted."

"Faith, the idea is not bad," said Gondi; "it is better to be shot up
there than hanged down here, as we shall be if we are found, for De
Launay must be already missed by his company, and all the court knows of
our quarrel."

"Parbleu! gentlemen," said Montresor, "help is coming to us."

A numerous troop of horse, in great disorder, advanced toward them at
full gallop; their red uniform made them visible from afar. It seemed to
be their intention to halt on the very ground on which were our
embarrassed duellists, for hardly had the first cavalier reached it when
cries of "Halt!" were repeated and prolonged by the voices of the chiefs
who were mingled with their cavaliers.

"Let us go to them; these are the men-at-arms of the King's guard," said
Fontrailles. "I recognize them by their black cockades. I see also many
of the light-horse with them; let us mingle in the disorder, for I fancy
they are 'ramenes'."

This is a polite phrase signifying in military language "put to rout."
All five advanced toward the noisy and animated troops, and found that
this conjecture was right. But instead of the consternation which one
might expect in such a case, they found nothing but a youthful and
rattling gayety, and heard only bursts of laughter from the two
companies.

"Ah, pardieu! Cahuzac," said one, "your horse runs better than mine; I
suppose you have exercised it in the King's hunts!"

"Ah, I see, 'twas that we might be the sooner rallied that you arrived
here first," answered the other.

"I think the Marquis de Coislin must be mad, to make four hundred of us
charge eight Spanish regiments."

"Ha! ha! Locmaria, your plume is a fine ornament; it looks like a weeping
willow. If we follow that, it will be to our burial."

"Gentlemen, I said to you before," angrily replied the young officer,
"that I was sure that Capuchin Joseph, who meddles in everything, was
mistaken in telling us to charge, upon the part of the Cardinal. But
would you have been satisfied if those who have the honor of commanding
you had refused to charge?"

"No, no, no!" answered all the young men, at the same time forming
themselves quickly into ranks.

"I said," interposed the old Marquis de Coislin, who, despite his white
head, had all the fire of youth in his eyes, "that if you were commanded
to mount to the assault on horseback, you would do it."

"Bravo! bravo!" cried all the men-at-arms, clapping their hands.

"Well, Monsieur le Marquis," said Cinq-Mars, approaching, "here is an
opportunity to execute what you have promised. I am only a volunteer; but
an instant ago these gentlemen and I examined this bastion, and I believe
that it is possible to take it."

"Monsieur, we must first examine the ditch to see--"

At this moment a ball from the rampart of which they were speaking struck
in the head the horse of the old captain, laying it low.

"Locmaria, De Mouy, take the command, and to the assault!" cried the two
noble companies, believing their leader dead.

"Stop a moment, gentlemen," said old Coislin, rising, "I will lead you,
if you please. Guide us, Monsieur volunteer, for the Spaniards invite us
to this ball, and we must reply politely."

Hardly had the old man mounted another horse, which one of his men
brought him, and drawn his sword, when, without awaiting his order, all
these ardent youths, preceded by Cinq-Mars and his friends, whose horses
were urged on by the squadrons behind, had thrown themselves into the
morass, wherein, to their great astonishment and to that of the
Spaniards, who had counted too much upon its depth, the horses were in
the water only up to their hams; and in spite of a discharge of
grape-shot from the two largest pieces, all reached pell-mell a strip of
land at the foot of the half-ruined ramparts. In the ardor of the rush,
Cinq-Mars and Fontrailles, with the young Locmaria, forced their horses
upon the rampart itself; but a brisk fusillade killed the three animals,
which rolled over their masters.

"Dismount all, gentlemen!" cried old Coislin; "forward with pistol and
sword! Abandon your horses!"

All obeyed instantly, and threw themselves in a mass upon the breach.

Meantime, De Thou, whose coolness never quitted him any more than his
friendship, had not lost sight of the young Henri, and had received him
in his arms when his horse fell. He helped him to rise, restored to him
his sword, which he had dropped, and said to him, with the greatest
calmness, notwithstanding the balls which rained on all sides:

"My friend, do I not appear very ridiculous amid all this skirmish, in my
costume of Counsellor in Parliament?"

"Parbleu!" said Montresor, advancing, "here's the Abbe, who quite
justifies you."

And, in fact, little Gondi, pushing on among the light horsemen, was
shouting, at the top of his voice: "Three duels and an assault. I hope to
get rid of my cassock at last!"

Saying this, he cut and thrust at a tall Spaniard.

The defence was not long. The Castilian soldiers were no match for the
French officers, and not one of them had time or courage to recharge his
carbine.

"Gentlemen, we will relate this to our mistresses in Paris," said
Locmaria, throwing his hat into the air; and Cinq-Mars, De Thou, Coislin,
De Mouy, Londigny, officers of the red companies, and all the young
noblemen, with swords in their right hands and pistols in their left,
dashing, pushing, and doing each other by their eagerness as much harm as
they did the enemy, finally rushed upon the platform of the bastion, as
water poured from a vase, of which the opening is too small, leaps out in
interrupted gushes.

Disdaining to occupy themselves with the vanquished soldiers, who cast
themselves at their feet, they left them to look about the fort, without
even disarming them, and began to examine their conquest, like schoolboys
in vacation, laughing with all their hearts, as if they were at a
pleasure-party.

A Spanish officer, enveloped in his brown cloak, watched them with a
sombre air.

"What demons are these, Ambrosio?" said he to a soldier. "I never have
met with any such before in France. If Louis XIII has an entire army thus
composed, it is very good of him not to conquer all Europe."

"Oh, I do not believe they are very numerous; they must be some poor
adventurers, who have nothing to lose and all to gain by pillage."

"You are right," said the officer; "I will try to persuade one of them to
let me escape."

And slowly approaching, he accosted a young light-horseman, of about
eighteen, who was sitting apart from his comrades upon the parapet. He
had the pink-and-white complexion of a young girl; his delicate hand held
an embroidered handkerchief, with which he wiped his forehead and his
golden locks He was consulting a large, round watch set with rubies,
suspended from his girdle by a knot of ribbons.

The astonished Spaniard paused. Had he not seen this youth overthrow his
soldiers, he would not have believed him capable of anything beyond
singing a romance, reclined upon a couch. But, filled with the suggestion
of Ambrosio, he thought that he might have stolen these objects of luxury
in the pillage of the apartments of a woman; so, going abruptly up to
him, he said:

"Hombre! I am an officer; will you restore me to liberty, that I may once
more see my country?"

The young Frenchman looked at him with the gentle expression of his age,
and, thinking of his own family, he said:

"Monsieur, I will present you to the Marquis de Coislin, who will, I
doubt not, grant your request; is your family of Castile or of Aragon?"

"Your Coislin will ask the permission of somebody else, and will make me
wait a year. I will give you four thousand ducats if you will let me
escape."

That gentle face, those girlish features, became infused with the purple
of fury; those blue eyes shot forth lightning; and, exclaiming, "Money to
me! away, fool!" the young man gave the Spaniard a ringing box on the
ear. The latter, without hesitating, drew a long poniard from his breast,
and, seizing the arm of the Frenchman, thought to plunge it easily into
his heart; but, nimble and vigorous, the youth caught him by the right
arm, and, lifting it with force above his head, sent it back with the
weapon it held upon the head of the Spaniard, who was furious with rage.

"Eh! eh! Softly, Olivier!" cried his comrades, running from all
directions; "there are Spaniards enough on the ground already."

And they disarmed the hostile officer.

"What shall we do with this lunatic?" said one.

"I should not like to have him for my valet-dechambre," returned another.

"He deserves to be hanged," said a third; "but, faith, gentlemen, we
don't know how to hang. Let us send him to that battalion of Swiss which
is now passing across the plain."

And the calm and sombre Spaniard, enveloping himself anew in his cloak,
began the march of his own accord, followed by Ambrosio, to join the
battalion, pushed by the shoulders and urged on by five or six of these
young madcaps.

Meantime, the first troop of the besiegers, astonished at their success,
had followed it out to the end; Cinq-Mars, so advised by the aged
Coislin, had made with him the circuit of the bastion, and found to their
vexation that it was completely separated from the city, and that they
could not follow up their advantage. They, therefore, returned slowly to
the platform, talking by the way, to rejoin De Thou and the Abbe de
Gondi, whom they found laughing with the young light-horsemen.

"We have Religion and justice with us, gentlemen; we could not fail to
triumph."

"No doubt, for they fought as hard as we."

There was silence at the approach of Cinq-Mars, and they remained for an
instant whispering and asking his name; then all surrounded him, and took
his hand with delight.

"Gentlemen, you are right," said their old captain; "he is, as our
fathers used to say, the best doer of the day. He is a volunteer, who is
to be presented today to the King by the Cardinal."

"By the Cardinal! We will present him ourselves. Ah, do not let him be a
Cardinalist; he is too good a fellow for that!" exclaimed all the young
men, with vivacity.

"Monsieur, I will undertake to disgust you with him," said Olivier
d'Entraigues, approaching Cinq-Mars, "for I have been his page. Rather
serve in the red companies; come, you will have good comrades there."

The old Marquis saved Cinq-Mars the embarrassment of replying, by
ordering the trumpets to sound and rally his brilliant companies. The
cannon was no longer heard, and a soldier announced that the King and the
Cardinal were traversing the lines to examine the results of the day. He
made all the horses pass through the breach, which was tolerably wide,
and ranged the two companies of cavalry in battle array, upon a spot
where it seemed impossible that any but infantry could penetrate.