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Book 4 Chapter 14 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny



       "Thus with imagin'd wing our swift scene flies,
        In motion of no less celerity
        Than that of thought,"

exclaims the immortal Shakespeare in the chorus of one of his tragedies.

       "Suppose that you have seen
        The well-appointed king
        Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet
        With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning.
        . . . . . .
        . . . behold,
        And follow."

With this poetic movement he traverses time and space, and transports at
will the attentive assembly to the theatre of his sublime scenes.

We shall avail ourselves of the same privilege, though without the same
genius. No more than he shall we seat ourselves upon the tripod of the
unities, but merely casting our eyes upon Paris and the old dark palace
of the Louvre, we will at once pass over the space of two hundred leagues
and the period of two years.

Two years! what changes may they not have upon men, upon their families,
and, above all, in that great and so troublous family of nations, whose
long alliances a single day suffices to destroy, whose wars are ended by
a birth, whose peace is broken by a death! We ourselves have beheld kings
returning to their dwelling on a spring day; that same day a vessel
sailed for a voyage of two years. The navigator returned. The kings were
seated upon their thrones; nothing seemed to have taken place in his
absence, and yet God had deprived those kings of a hundred days of their

But nothing was changed for France in 1642, the epoch to which we turn,
except her fears and her hopes. The future alone had changed its aspect.
Before again beholding our personages, we must contemplate at large the
state of the kingdom.

The powerful unity of the monarchy was rendered still more imposing by
the misfortunes of the neighboring States. The revolutions in England,
and those in Spain and Portugal, rendered the peace which France enjoyed
still more admired. Strafford and Olivares, overthrown or defeated,
aggrandized the immovable Richelieu.

Six formidable armies, reposing upon their triumphant weapons, served as
a rampart to the kingdom. Those of the north, in league with Sweden, had
put the Imperialists to flight, still pursued by the spirit of Gustavus
Adolphus, those on the frontiers of Italy had in Piedmont received the
keys of the towns which had been defended by Prince Thomas; and those
which strengthened the chain of the Pyrenees held in check revolted
Catalonia, and chafed before Perpignan, which they were not allowed to
take. The interior was not happy, but tranquil. An invisible genius
seemed to have maintained this calm, for the King, mortally sick,
languished at St. Germain with a young favorite; and the Cardinal was,
they said, dying at Narbonne. Some deaths, however, betrayed that he yet
lived; and at intervals, men falling as if struck by a poisonous blast
recalled to mind the invisible power.

St.-Preuil, one of Richelieu's enemies, had just laid his "iron head"
upon the scaffold without shame or fear, as he himself said on mounting

Meantime, France seemed to govern herself, for the prince and the
minister had been separated a long time; and of these two sick men, who
hated each other, one never had held the reins of State, the other no
longer showed his power--he was no longer named in the public acts; he
appeared no longer in the government, and seemed effaced everywhere; he
slept, like the spider surrounded by his webs.

If some events and some revolutions had taken place during these two
years, it must have been in hearts; it must have been some of those
occult changes from which, in monarchies without firm foundation,
terrible overthrows and long and bloody dissensions arise.

To enlighten ourselves, let us glance at the old black building of the
unfinished Louvre, and listen to the conversation of those who inhabited
it and those who surrounded it.

It was the month of December; a rigorous winter had afflicted Paris,
where the misery and inquietude of the people were extreme. However,
curiosity was still alive, and they were eager for the spectacles given
by the court. Their poverty weighed less heavily upon them while they
contemplated the agitations of the rich. Their tears were less bitter on
beholding the struggles of power; and the blood of the nobles which
reddened their streets, and seemed the only blood worthy of being shed,
made them bless their own obscurity. Already had tumultuous scenes and
conspicuous assassinations proved the monarch's weakness, the absence and
approaching end of the minister, and, as a kind of prologue to the bloody
comedy of the Fronde, sharpened the malice and even fired the passions of
the Parisians. This confusion was not displeasing to them. Indifferent to
the causes of the quarrels which were abstruse for them, they were not so
with regard to individuals, and already began to regard the party chiefs
with affection or hatred, not on account of the interest which they
supposed them to take in the welfare of their class, but simply because
as actors they pleased or displeased.

One night, especially, pistol and gun-shots had been heard frequently in
the city; the numerous patrols of the Swiss and the body-guards had even
been attacked, and had met with some barricades in the tortuous streets
of the Ile Notre-Dame; carts chained to the posts, and laden with
barrels, prevented the cavaliers from advancing, and some musket-shots
had wounded several men and horses. However, the town still slept, except
the quarter which surrounded the Louvre, which was at this time inhabited
by the Queen and M. le Duc d'Orleans. There everything announced a
nocturnal expedition of a very serious nature.

It was two o'clock in the morning. It was freezing, and the darkness was
intense, when a numerous assemblage stopped upon the quay, which was then
hardly paved, and slowly and by degrees occupied the sandy ground that
sloped down to the Seine. This troop was composed of about two hundred
men; they were wrapped in large cloaks, raised by the long Spanish swords
which they wore. Walking to and fro without preserving any order, they
seemed to wait for events rather than to seek them. Many seated
themselves, with their arms folded, upon the loose stones of the newly
begun parapet; they preserved perfect silence. However, after a few
minutes passed in this manner, a man, who appeared to come out of one of
the vaulted doors of the Louvre, approached slowly, holding a
dark-lantern, the light from which he turned upon the features of each
individual, and which he blew out after finding the man he sought among
them. He spoke to him in a whisper, taking him by the hand:

"Well, Olivier, what did Monsieur le Grand say to you?

   [The master of the horse, Cinq-Mars, was thus named by abbreviation.
   This name will often occur in the course of the recital.]

Does all go well?"

"Yes, I saw him yesterday at Saint-Germain. The old cat is very ill at
Narbonne; he is going 'ad patres'. But we must manage our affairs
shrewdly, for it is not the first time that he has played the torpid.
Have you people enough for this evening, my dear Fontrailles?"

"Be easy; Montresor is coming with a hundred of Monsieur's gentlemen. You
will recognize him; he will be disguised as a master-mason, with a rule
in his hand. But, above all, do not forget the passwords. Do you know
them all well, you and your friends?"

"Yes, all except the Abbe de Gondi, who has not yet arrived; but 'Dieu me
pardonne', I think he is there himself! Who the devil would have known

And here a little man without a cassock, dressed as a soldier of the
French guards, and wearing a very black false moustache, slipped between
them. He danced about with a joyous air, and rubbed his hands.

"Vive Dieu! all goes on well, my friend. Fiesco could not do better;" and
rising upon his toes to tap Olivier upon the shoulder, he continued:

"Do you know that for a man who has just quitted the rank of pages, you
don't manage badly, Sire Olivier d'Entraigues? and you will be among our
illustrious men if we find a Plutarch. All is well organized; you arrive
at the very moment, neither too soon nor too late, like a true party
chief. Fontrailles, this young man will get on, I prophesy. But we must
make haste; in two hours we shall have some of the archbishops of Paris,
my, uncle's parishioners. I have instructed them well; and they will cry,
'Long live Monsieur! Long live the Regency! No more of the Cardinal!'
like madmen. They are good devotees, thanks to me, who have stirred them
up. The King is very ill. Oh, all goes well, very well! I come from
Saint-Germain. I have seen our friend Cinq-Mars; he is good, very good,
still firm as a rock. Ah, that is what I call a man! How he has played
with them with his careless and melancholy air! He is master of the court
at present. The King, they say, is going to make him duke and peer. It is
much talked of; but he still hesitates. We must decide that by our
movement this evening. The will of the people! He must do the will of the
people; we will make him hear it. It will be the death of Richelieu,
you'll see. It is, above all, hatred of him which is to predominate in
the cries, for that is the essential thing. That will at last decide our
Gaston, who is still uncertain, is he not?"

"And how can he be anything else?" said Fontrailles. "If he were to take
a resolution to-day in our favor it would be unfortunate."

"Why so?"

"Because we should be sure that to-morrow morning he would be against

"Never mind," replied the Abbe; "the Queen is firm."

"And she has heart also," said Olivier; "that gives me some hope for
Cinq-Mars, who, it seems to me, has sometimes dared to frown when he
looked at her."

"Child that you are, how little do you yet know of the court! Nothing can
sustain him but the hand of the King, who loves him as a son; and as for
the Queen, if her heart beats, it is for the past and not for the future.
But these trifles are not to the purpose. Tell me, dear friend, are you
sure of your young Advocate whom I see roaming about there? Is he all

"Perfectly; he is an excellent Royalist. He would throw the Cardinal into
the river in an instant. Besides, it is Fournier of Loudun; that is
saying everything."

"Well, well, this is the kind of men we like. But take care of
yourselves, Messieurs; some one comes from the Rue Saint-Honore."

"Who goes there?" cried the foremost of the troop to some men who were
advancing. "Royalists or Cardinalists?"

"Gaston and Le Grand," replied the newcomers, in low tones.

"It is Montresor and Monsieur's people," said Fontrailles. "We may soon

"Yes, 'par la corbleu'!" said the newcomer, "for the Cardinalists will
pass at three o'clock. Some one told us so just now."

"Where are they going?" said Fontrailles.

"There are more than two hundred of them to escort Monsieur de Chavigny,
who is going to see the old cat at Narbonne, they say. They thought it
safer to pass by the Louvre."

"Well, we will give him a velvet paw!" said the Abbe.

As he finished saying this, a noise of carriages and horses was heard.
Several men in cloaks rolled an enormous stone into the middle of the
street. The foremost cavaliers passed rapidly through the crowd, pistols
in hand, suspecting that something unusual was going on; but the
postilion, who drove the horses of the first carriage, ran upon the stone
and fell.

"Whose carriage is this which thus crushes foot-passengers?" cried the
cloakmen, all at once. "It is tyrannical. It can be no other than a
friend of the Cardinal de la Rochelle."

   [During the long siege of La Rochelle, this name was given to
   Cardinal Richelieu, to ridicule his obstinacy in commanding as
   General-in-Chief, and claiming for himself the merit of taking that

"It is one who fears not the friends of the little Le Grand," exclaimed a
voice from the open door, from which a man threw himself upon a horse.

"Drive these Cardinalists into the river!" cried a shrill, piercing

This was a signal for the pistol-shots which were furiously exchanged on
every side, and which lighted up this tumultuous and sombre scene. The
clashing of swords and trampling of horses did not prevent the cries from
being heard on one side: "Down with the minister! Long live the King!
Long live Monsieur and Monsieur le Grand! Down with the red-stockings!"
On the other: "Long live his Eminence! Long live the great Cardinal!
Death to the factious! Long live the King!" For the name of the King
presided over every hatred, as over every affection, at this strange

The men on foot had succeeded, however, in placing the two carriages
across the quay so as to make a rampart against Chavigny's horses, and
from this, between the wheels, through the doors and springs, overwhelmed
them with pistol-shots, and dismounted many. The tumult was frightful,
but suddenly the gates of the Louvre were thrown open, and two squadrons
of the body-guard came out at a trot. Most of them carried torches in
their hands to light themselves and those they were about to attack. The
scene changed. As the guards reached each of the men on foot, the latter
was seen to stop, remove his hat, make himself known, and name himself;
and the guards withdrew, sometimes saluting him, and sometimes shaking
him by the hand. This succor to Chavigny's carriages was then almost
useless, and only served to augment the confusion. The body-guards, as if
to satisfy their consciences, rushed through the throng of duellists,

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, be moderate!"

But when two gentlemen had decidedly crossed swords, and were in active
conflict, the guard who beheld them stopped to judge the fight, and
sometimes even to favor the one who he thought was of his opinion, for
this body, like all France, had their Royalists and their Cardinalists.

The windows of the Louvre were lighted one after another, and many
women's heads were seen behind the little lozenge-shaped panes,
attentively watching the combat.

Numerous Swiss patrols came out with flambeaux.

These soldiers were easily distinguished by an odd uniform. The right
sleeve was striped blue and red, and the silk stocking of the right leg
was red; the left side was striped with blue, red, and white, and the
stocking was white and red. It had, no doubt, been hoped in the royal
chateau that this foreign troop would disperse the crowd, but they were
mistaken. These impassible soldiers coldly and exactly executed, without
going beyond, the orders they had received, circulating symmetrically
among the armed groups, which they divided for a moment, returning before
the gate with perfect precision, and resuming their ranks as on parade,
without informing themselves whether the enemies among whom they had
passed had rejoined or not.

But the noise, for a moment appeased, became general by reason of
personal disputes. In every direction challenges, insults, and
imprecations were heard. It seemed as if nothing but the destruction of
one of the two parties could put an end to the combat, when loud cries,
or rather frightful howls, raised the tumult to its highest pitch. The
Abbe de Gondi, dragging a cavalier by his cloak to pull him down,

"Here are my people! Fontrailles, now you will see something worth while!
Look! look already who they run! It is really charming."

And he abandoned his hold, and mounted upon a stone to contemplate the
manoeuvres of his troops, crossing his arms with the importance of a
General of an army. Day was beginning to break, and from the end of the
Ile St.-Louis a crowd of men, women, and children of the lowest dregs of
the people was seen rapidly advancing, casting toward heaven and the
Louvre strange vociferations. Girls carried long swords; children dragged
great halberds and pikes of the time of the League; old women in rags
pulled by cords old carts full of rusty and broken arms; workmen of every
trade, the greater number drunk, followed, armed with clubs, forks,
lances, shovels, torches, stakes, crooks, levers, sabres, and spits. They
sang and howled alternately, counterfeiting with atrocious yells the
cries of a cat, and carrying as a flag one of these animals suspended
from a pole and wrapped in a red rag, thus representing the Cardinal,
whose taste for cats was generally known. Public criers rushed about, red
and breathless, throwing on the pavement and sticking up on the parapets,
the posts, the walls of the houses, and even on the palace, long satires
in short stanzas upon the personages of the time. Butcher-boys and
scullions, carrying large cutlasses, beat the charge upon saucepans, and
dragged in the mud a newly slaughtered pig, with the red cap of a
chorister on its head. Young and vigorous men, dressed as women, and
painted with a coarse vermilion, were yelling, "We are mothers of
families ruined by Richelieu! Death to the Cardinal!" They carried in
their arms figures of straw that looked like children, which they threw
into the river.

When this disgusting mob overran the quays with its thousands of imps, it
produced a strange effect upon the combatants, and entirely contrary to
that expected by their patron. The enemies on both sides lowered their
arms and separated. Those of Monsieur and Cinq-Mars were revolted at
seeing themselves succored by such auxiliaries, and, themselves aiding
the Cardinal's gentlemen to remount their horses and to gain their
carriages, and their valets to convey the wounded to them, gave their
adversaries personal rendezvous to terminate their quarrel upon a ground
more secret and more worthy of them. Ashamed of the superiority of
numbers and the ignoble troops which they seemed to command, foreseeing,
perhaps, for the first time the fearful consequences of their political
machinations, and what was the scum they were stirring up, they withdrew,
drawing their large hats over their eyes, throwing their cloaks over
their shoulders, and avoiding the daylight.

"You have spoiled all, my dear Abbe, with this mob," said Fontrailles,
stamping his foot, to Gondi, who was already sufficiently nonplussed;
"your good uncle has fine parishioners!"

"It is not my fault," replied Gondi, in a sullen tone; "these idiots came
an hour too late. Had they arrived in the night, they would not have been
seen, which spoils the effect somewhat, to speak the truth (for I grant
that daylight is detrimental to them), and we would only have heard the
voice of the people 'Vox populi, vox Dei'. Nevertheless, no great harm
has been done. They will by their numbers give us the means of escaping
without being known, and, after all, our task is ended; we did not wish
the death of the sinner. Chavigny and his men are worthy fellows, whom I
love; if he is only slightly wounded, so much the better. Adieu; I am
going to see Monsieur de Bouillon, who has arrived from Italy."

"Olivier," said Fontrailles, "go at once to Saint-Germain with Fournier
and Ambrosio; I will go and give an account to Monsieur, with Montresor."

All separated, and disgust accomplished, with these highborn men, what
force could not bring about.

Thus ended this fray, likely to bring forth great misfortunes. No one was
killed in it. The cavaliers, having gained a few scratches and lost a few
purses, resumed their route by the side of the carriages along the
by-streets; the others escaped, one by one, through the populace they had
attracted. The miserable wretches who composed it, deprived of the chief
of the troops, still remained two hours, yelling and screaming until the
effect of their wine was gone, and the cold had extinguished at once the
fire of their blood and that of their enthusiasm. At the windows of the
houses, on the quay of the city, and along the walls, the thoughtful and
genuine people of Paris watched with a sorrowful air and in mournful
silence these preludes of disorder; while the various bodies of
merchants, dressed in black and preceded by their provosts, walked slowly
and courageously through the populace toward the Palais de justice, where
the parliament was to assemble, to make complaint of these terrible
nocturnal scenes.

The apartments of Gaston d'Orleans were in great confusion. This Prince
occupied the wing of the Louvre parallel with the Tuileries; and his
windows looked into the court on one side, and on the other over a mass
of little houses and narrow streets which almost entirely covered the
place. He had risen precipitately, awakened suddenly by the report of the
firearms, had thrust his feet into large square-toed slippers with high
heels, and, wrapped in a large silk dressing-gown, covered with golden
ornaments embroidered in relief, walked to and fro in his bedroom,
sending every minute a fresh lackey to see what was going on, and
ordering them immediately to go for the Abbe de la Riviere, his general
counsellor; but he was unfortunately out of Paris. At every pistol-shot
this timid Prince rushed to the windows, without seeing anything but some
flambeaux, which were carried quickly along. It was in vain he was told
that the cries he heard were in his favor; he did not cease to walk up
and down the apartments, in the greatest disorder-his long black hair
dishevelled, and his blue eyes open and enlarged by disquiet and terror.
He was still thus when Montresor and Fontrailles at length arrived and
found him beating his breast, and repeating a thousand times, "Mea culpa,
mea culpa!"

"You have come at last!" he exclaimed from a distance, running to meet
them. "Come! quick! What is going on? What are they doing there? Who are
these assassins? What are these cries?"

"They cry, 'Long live Monsieur!'"

Gaston, without appearing to hear, and holding the door of his chamber
open for an instant, that his voice might reach the galleries in which
were the people of his household, continued to cry with all his strength,
gesticulating violently:

"I know nothing of all this, and I have authorized nothing. I will not
hear anything! I will not know anything! I will never enter into any
project! These are rioters who make all this noise; do not speak to me of
them, if you wish to be well received here. I am the enemy of no man; I
detest such scenes!"

Fontrailles, who knew the man with whom he had to deal, said nothing, but
entered with his friend, that Monsieur might have time to discharge his
first fury; and when all was said, and the door carefully shut, he began
to speak:

"Monseigneur," said he, "we come to ask you a thousand pardons for the
impertinence of these people, who will persist in crying out that they
desire the death of your enemy, and that they would even wish to make you
regent should we have the misfortune to lose his Majesty. Yes, the people
are always frank in their discourse; but they are so numerous that all
our efforts could not restrain them. It was truly a cry from the
heart--an explosion of love, which reason could not restrain, and which
escaped all bounds."

"But what has happened, then?" interrupted Gaston, somewhat calmed. "What
have they been doing these four hours that I have heard them?"

"That love," said Montresor, coldly, "as Monsieur de Fontrailles had the
honor of telling you, so escaped all rule and bounds that we ourselves
were carried away by it, and felt seized with that enthusiasm which
always transports us at the mere name of Monsieur, and which leads us on
to things which we had not premeditated."

"But what, then, have you done?" said the Prince.

"Those things," replied Fontrailles, "of which Monsieur de Montresor had
the honor to speak to Monsieur are precisely those which I foresaw here
yesterday evening, when I had the honor of conversing with you."

"That is not the question," interrupted Gaston. "You cannot say that I
have ordered or authorized anything. I meddle with nothing; I know
nothing of government."

"I admit," continued Fontrailles, "that your Highness ordered nothing,
but you permitted me to tell you that I foresaw that this night would be
a troubled one about two o'clock, and I hoped that your astonishment
would not have been too great."

The Prince, recovering himself little by little, and seeing that he did
not alarm the two champions, having also upon his conscience and reading
in their eyes the recollection of the consent which he had given them the
evening before, sat down upon the side of his bed, crossed his arms, and,
looking at them with the air of a judge, again said in a commanding tone:

"But what, then, have you done?"

"Why, hardly anything, Monseigneur," said Fontrailles. "Chance led us to
meet in the crowd some of our friends who had a quarrel with Monsieur de
Chavigny's coachman, who was driving over them. A few hot words ensued
and rough gestures, and a few scratches, which kept Monsieur de Chavigny
waiting, and that is all."

"Absolutely all," repeated Montresor.

"What, all?" exclaimed Gaston, much moved, and tramping about the
chamber. "And is it, then, nothing to stop the carriage of a friend of
the Cardinal-Duke? I do not like such scenes. I have already told you so.
I do not hate the Cardinal; he is certainly a great politician, a very
great politician. You have compromised me horribly; it is known that
Montresor is with me. If he has been recognized, they will say that I
sent him."

"Chance," said Montresor, "threw in my way this peasant's dress, which
Monsieur may see under my cloak, and which, for that reason, I preferred
to any other."

Gaston breathed again.

"You are sure, then, that you have not been recognized. You understand,
my dear friend, how painful it would be to me. You must admit yourself--"

"Sure of it!" exclaimed the Prince's gentleman. "I would stake my head
and my share in Paradise that no one has seen my features or called my by
my name."

"Well," continued Gaston, again seating himself on his bed, and assuming
a calmer air, in which even a slight satisfaction was visible, "tell me,
then, what has happened."

Fontrailles took upon himself the recital, in which, as we may suppose,
the populace played a great part and Monsieur's people none, and in his
peroration he said:

"From our windows even, Monseigneur, respectable mothers of families
might have been seen, driven by despair, throwing their children into the
Seine, cursing Richelieu."

"Ah, it is dreadful!" exclaimed the Prince, indignant, or feigning to be
so, and to believe in these excesses. "Is it, then, true that he is so
generally detested? But we must allow that he deserves it. What! his
ambition and avarice have, then, reduced to this extremity the good
inhabitants of Paris, whom I love so much."

"Yes, Monseigneur," replied the orator. "And it is not Paris alone, it is
all France, which, with us, entreats you to decide upon delivering her
from this tyrant. All is ready; nothing is wanting but a sign from your
august head to annihilate this pygmy, who has attempted to assault the
royal house itself."

"Alas! Heaven is my witness that I myself forgive him!" answered Gaston,
raising up his eyes. "But I can no longer bear the cries of the people.
Yes, I will help them; that is to say," continued the Prince, "so that my
dignity is not compromised, and that my name does not appear in the

"Well, but it is precisely that which we want," exclaimed Fontrailles, a
little more at his ease.

"See, Monseigneur, there are already some names to put after yours, who
will not fear to sign. I will tell you them immediately, if you wish it."

"But--but," said the Duc d'Orleans, timidly, "do you know that it is a
conspiracy which you propose to me so coolly?"

"Fie, Monseigneur, men of honor like us! a conspiracy! Oh! not at all; a
league at the utmost, a slight combination to give a direction to the
unanimous wish of the nation and the court--that is all."

"But that is not so clear, for, after all, this affair will be neither
general nor public; therefore, it is a conspiracy. You will not avow that
you are concerned in it."

"I, Monseigneur! Excuse me to all the world, since the kingdom is already
in it, and I am of the kingdom. And who would not sign his name after
that of Messieurs de Bouillon and Cinq-Mars?"

"After, perhaps, not before," said Gaston, fixing his eyes upon
Fontrailles more keenly than he had expected.

The latter hesitated a moment.

"Well, then, what would Monseigneur do should I tell him the names after
which he could sign his?"

"Ha! ha! this is amusing," answered the Prince, laughing; "know you not
that above mine there are not many? I see but one."

"And if there be one, will Monseigneur promise to sign that of Gaston
beneath it?"

"Ah, parbleu! with all my heart. I risk nothing there, for I see none but
that of the King, who surely is not of the party."

"Well, from this moment permit us," said Montresor, "to take you at your
word, and deign at present to consent to two things only: to see Monsieur
de Bouillon in the Queen's apartments, and Monsieur the master of the
horse at the King's palace."

"Agreed!" said Monsieur, gayly, tapping Montresor on the shoulder. "I
will to-day wait on my sister-in-law at her toilette, and I will invite
my brother to hunt the stag with me at Chambord."

The two friends asked nothing further, and were themselves surprised at
their work. They never had seen so much resolution in their chief.
Accordingly, fearing to lead him to a topic which might divert him from
the path he had adopted, they hastened to turn the conversation upon
other subjects, and retired in delight, leaving as their last words in
his ear that they relied upon his keeping his promise.