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Book 5 Chapter 18 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XVIII

THE SECRET

De Thou had reached home with his friend; his doors were carefully shut,
and orders given to admit no one, and to excuse him to the refugees for
allowing them to depart without seeing them again; and as yet the two
friends had not spoken to each other.

The counsellor had thrown himself into his armchair in deep meditation.
Cinq-Mars, leaning against the lofty chimneypiece, awaited with a serious
and sorrowful air the termination of this silence. At length De Thou,
looking fixedly at him and crossing his arms, said in a hollow and
melancholy voice:

"This, then, is the goal you have reached! These, the consequences of
your ambition! You are are about to banish, perhaps slay, a man, and to
bring then, a foreign army into France; I am, then, to see you an
assassin and a traitor to your country! By what tortuous paths have you
arrived thus far? By what stages have you descended so low?"

"Any other than yourself would not speak thus to me twice," said
Cinq-Mars, coldly; "but I know you, and I like this explanation. I
desired it, and sought it. You shall see my entire soul. I had at first
another thought, a better one perhaps, more worthy of our friendship,
more worthy of friendship--friendship, the second thing upon earth."

He raised his eyes to heaven as he spoke, as if he there sought the
divinity.

"Yes, it would have been better. I intended to have said nothing to you
on the subject. It was a painful task to keep silence; but hitherto I
have succeeded. I wished to have conducted the whole enterprise without
you; to show you only the finished work. I wished to keep you beyond the
circle of my danger; but shall I confess my weakness? I feared to die, if
I have to die, misjudged by you. I can well sustain the idea of the
world's malediction, but not of yours; but this has decided me upon
avowing all to you."

"What! and but for this thought, you would have had the courage to
conceal yourself forever from me? Ah, dear Henri, what have I done that
you should take this care of my life? By what fault have I deserved to
survive you, if you die? You have had the strength of mind to hoodwink me
for two whole years; you have never shown me aught of your life but its
flowers; you have never entered my solitude but with a joyous
countenance, and each time with a fresh favor. Ah, you must be very
guilty or very virtuous!"

"Do not seek in my soul more than therein lies. Yes, I have deceived you;
and that fact was the only peace and joy I had in the world. Forgive me
for having stolen these moments from my destiny, so brilliant, alas! I
was happy in the happiness you supposed me to enjoy; I made you happy in
that dream, and I am only guilty in that I am now about to destroy it,
and to show myself as I was and am. Listen: I shall not detain you long;
the story of an impassioned heart is ever simple. Once before, I
remember, in my tent when I was wounded, my secret nearly escaped me; it
would have been happy, perhaps, had it done so. Yet what would counsel
have availed me? I should not have followed it. In a word, 'tis Marie de
Mantua whom I love."

"How! she who is to be Queen of Poland?"

"If she is ever queen, it can only be after my death. But listen: for her
I became a courtier; for her I have almost reigned in France; for her I
am about to fall--perhaps to die."

"Die! fall! when I have been reproaching your triumph! when I have wept
over the sadness of your victory!"

"Ah! you know me but ill, if you suppose that I shall be the dupe of
Fortune, when she smiles upon me; if you suppose that I have not pierced
to the bottom of my destiny! I struggle against it, but 'tis the stronger
I feel it. I have undertaken a task beyond human power; and I shall fail
in it."

"Why, then, not stop? What is the use of intellect in the business of the
world?"

"None; unless, indeed, it be to tell us the cause of our fall, and to
enable us to foresee the day on which we shall fall. I can not now
recede. When a man is confronted with such an enemy as Richelieu, he must
overcome him or be crushed by him. Tomorrow I shall strike the last blow;
did I not just now, in your presence, engage to do so?"

"And it is that very engagement that I would oppose. What confidence have
you in those to whom you thus abandon your life? Have you not read their
secret thoughts?"

"I know them all; I have read their hopes through their feigned rage; I
know that they tremble while they threaten. I know that even now they are
ready to make their peace by giving me up; but it is my part to sustain
them and to decide the King. I must do it, for Marie is my betrothed, and
my death is written at Narbonne. It is voluntarily, it is with full
knowledge of my fate, that I have thus placed myself between the block
and supreme happiness. That happiness I must tear from the hands of
Fortune, or die on that scaffold. At this instant I experience the joy of
having broken down all doubt. What! blush you not at having thought me
ambitious from a base egoism, like this Cardinal--ambitious from a
puerile desire for a power which is never satisfied? I am ambitious, but
it is because I love. Yes, I love; in that word all is comprised. But I
accuse you unjustly. You have embellished my secret intentions; you have
imparted to me noble designs (I remember them), high political
conceptions. They are brilliant, they are grand, doubtless; but--shall I
say it to you?--such vague projects for the perfecting of corrupt
societies seem to me to crawl far below the devotion of love. When the
whole soul vibrates with that one thought, it has no room for the nice
calculation of general interests; the topmost heights of earth are far
beneath heaven."

De Thou shook his head.

"What can I answer?" he said. "I do not understand you; your reasoning
unreasons you. You hunt a shadow."

"Nay," continued Cinq-Mars; "far from destroying my strength, this inward
fire has developed it. I have calculated everything. Slow steps have led
me to the end which I am about to attain. Marie drew me by the hand;
could I retreat? I would not have done it though a world faced me.
Hitherto, all has gone well; but an invisible barrier arrests me. This
barrier must be broken; it is Richelieu. But now in your presence I
undertook to do this; but perhaps I was too hasty. I now think I was so.
Let him rejoice; he expected me. Doubtless he foresaw that it would be
the youngest whose patience would first fail. If he played on this
calculation, he played well. Yet but for the love that has urged me on, I
should have been stronger than he, and by just means."

Then a sudden change came over the face of Cinq-Mars. He turned pale and
red twice; and the veins of his forehead rose like blue lines drawn by an
invisible hand.

"Yes," he added, rising, and clasping together his hands with a force
which indicated the violent despair concentred in his heart, "all the
torments with which love can tear its victims I have felt in my breast.
This timid girl, for whom I would shake empires, for whom I have suffered
all, even the favor of a prince, who perhaps has not felt all I have done
for her, can not yet be mine. She is mine before God, yet I am estranged
from her; nay, I must hear daily discussed before me which of the thrones
of Europe will best suit her, in conversations wherein I may not even
raise my voice to give an opinion, and in which they scorn as mate for
her princes of the blood royal, who yet have precedence far before me. I
must conceal myself like a culprit to hear through a grating the voice of
her who is my wife; in public I must bow before her--her husband, yet her
servant! 'Tis too much; I can not live thus. I must take the last step,
whether it elevate me or hurl me down."

"And for your personal happiness you would overthrow a State?"

"The happiness of the State is one with mine. I secure that undoubtedly
in destroying the tyrant of the King. The horror with which this man
inspires me has passed into my very blood. When I was first on my way to
him, I encountered in my journey his greatest crime. He is the genius of
evil for the unhappy King! I will exorcise him. I might have become the
genius of good for Louis XIII. It was one of the thoughts of Marie, her
most cherished thought. But I do not think I shall triumph in the uneasy
soul of the Prince."

"Upon what do you rely, then?" said De Thou.

"Upon the cast of a die. If his will can but once last for a few hours, I
have gained. 'Tis a last calculation on which my destiny hangs."

"And that of your Marie!"

"Could you suppose it?" said Cinq-Mars, impetuously. "No, no! If he
abandons me, I sign the treaty with Spain, and then-war!"

"Ah, horror!" exclaimed the counsellor. "What, a war! a civil war, and a
foreign alliance!"

"Ay, 'tis a crime," said Cinq-Mars, coldly; "but have I asked you to
participate in it?"

"Cruel, ungrateful man!" replied his friend; "can you speak to me thus?
Know you not, have I not proved to you, that friendship holds the place
of every passion in my heart? Can I survive the least of your
misfortunes, far less your death. Still, let me influence you not to
strike France. Oh, my friend! my only friend! I implore you on my knees,
let us not thus be parricides; let us not assassinate our country! I say
us, because I will never separate myself from your actions. Preserve to
me my self-esteem, for which I have labored so long; sully not my life
and my death, which are both yours."

De Thou had fallen at the feet of his friend, who, unable to preserve his
affected coldness, threw himself into his arms, as he raised him, and,
pressing him to his heart, said in a stifled voice:

"Why love me thus? What have you done, friend? Why love me? You who are
wise, pure, and virtuous; you who are not led away by an insensate
passion and the desire for vengeance; you whose soul is nourished only by
religion and science--why love me? What has my friendship given you but
anxiety and pain? Must it now heap dangers on you? Separate yourself from
me; we are no longer of the same nature. You see courts have corrupted
me. I have no longer openness, no longer goodness. I meditate the ruin of
a man; I can deceive a friend. Forget me, scorn me. I am not worthy of
one of your thoughts; how should I be worthy of your perils?"

"By swearing to me not to betray the King and France," answered De Thou.
"Know you that the preservation of your country is at stake; that if you
yield to Spain our fortifications, she will never return them to us; that
your name will be a byword with posterity; that French mothers will curse
it when they shall be forced to teach their children a foreign
language--know you all this? Come."

And he drew him toward the bust of Louis XIII.

"Swear before him (he is your friend also), swear never to sign this
infamous treaty."

Cinq-Mars lowered his eyes, but with dogged tenacity answered, although
blushing as he did so:

"I have said it; if they force me to it, I will sign."

De Thou turned pale, and let fall his hand. He took two turns in his
room, his arms crossed, in inexpressible anguish. At last he advanced
solemnly toward the bust of his father, and opened a large book standing
at its foot; he turned to a page already marked, and read aloud:

"I think, therefore, that M. de Ligneboeuf was justly condemned to death
by the Parliament of Rouen, for not having revealed the conspiracy of
Catteville against the State."

Then keeping the book respectfully opened in his hand, and contemplating
the image of the President de Thou, whose Memoirs he held, he continued:

"Yes, my father, you thought well.... I shall be a criminal, I shall
merit death; but can I do otherwise? I will not denounce this traitor,
because that also would be treason; and he is my friend, and he is
unhappy."

Then, advancing toward Cinq-Mars, and again taking his hand, he said:

"I do much for you in acting thus; but expect nothing further from me,
Monsieur, if you sign this treaty."

Cinq-Mars was moved to the heart's core by this scene, for he felt all
that his friend must suffer in casting him off. Checking, however, the
tears which were rising to his smarting lids, and embracing De Thou
tenderly, he exclaimed:

"Ah, De Thou, I find you still perfect. Yes, you do me a service in
alienating yourself from me, for if your lot had been linked to mine, I
should not have dared to dispose of my life. I should have hesitated to
sacrifice it in case of need; but now I shall assuredly do so. And I
repeat to you, if they force me, I shall sign the treaty with Spain."