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Book 5 Chapter 20 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XX

THE READING

Shortly after the events just narrated, at the corner of the
Palais-Royal, at a small and pretty house, numerous carriages were seen
to draw up, and a door, reached by three steps, frequently to open. The
neighbors often came to their windows to complain of the noise made at so
late an hour of the night, despite the fear of robbers; and the patrol
often stopped in surprise, and passed on only when they saw at each
carriage ten or twelve footmen, armed with staves and carrying torches. A
young gentleman, followed by three lackeys, entered and asked for
Mademoiselle de Lorme. He wore a long rapier, ornamented with pink
ribbon. Enormous bows of the same color on his high-heeled shoes almost
entirely concealed his feet, which after the fashion of the day he turned
very much out. He frequently twisted a small curling moustache, and
before entering combed his small pointed beard. There was but one
exclamation when he was announced.

"Here he is at last!" cried a young and rich voice. "He has made us wait
long enough for him, the dear Desbarreaux. Come, take a seat! place
yourself at this table and read."

The speaker was a woman of about four-and-twenty, tall and handsome,
notwithstanding her somewhat woolly black hair and her dark olive
complexion. There was something masculine in her manner, which she seemed
to derive from her circle, composed entirely of men. She took their arm
unceremoniously, as she spoke to them, with a freedom which she
communicated to them. Her conversation was animated rather than joyous.
It often excited laughter around her; but it was by dint of intellect
that she created gayety (if we may so express it), for her countenance,
impassioned as it was, seemed incapable of bending into a smile, and her
large blue eyes, under her jet-black hair, gave her at first rather a
strange appearance.

Desbarreaux kissed her hand with a gallant and chivalrous air. He then,
talking to her all the time, walked round the large room, where were
assembled nearly thirty persons-some seated in the large arm chairs,
others standing in the vast chimney-place, others conversing in the
embrasures of the windows under the heavy curtains. Some of them were
obscure men, now illustrious; others illustrious men, now obscure for
posterity. Thus, among the latter, he profoundly saluted MM. d'Aubijoux,
de Brion, de Montmort, and other very brilliant gentlemen, who were there
as judges; tenderly, and with an air of esteem, pressed the hands of MM.
Monteruel, de Sirmond, de Malleville, Baro, Gombauld, and other learned
men, almost all called great men in the annals of the Academy of which
they were the founders--itself called sometimes the Academic des Beaux
Esprits, but really the Academic Francaise. But M. Desbarreaux gave but a
mere patronizing nod to young Corneille, who was talking in a corner with
a foreigner, and with a young man whom he presented to the mistress of
the house by the name of M. Poquelin, son of the 'valet-de-chambre
tapissier du roi'. The foreigner was Milton; the young man was Moliere.

Before the reading expected from the young Sybarite, a great contest
arose between him and other poets and prose writers of the time. They
spoke to each other with great volubility and animation a language
incomprehensible to any one who should suddenly have come among them
without being initiated, eagerly pressing each other's hands with
affectionate compliments and infinite allusions to their works.

"Ah, here you are, illustrious Baro!" cried the newcomer. "I have read
your last sixain. Ah, what a sixain! how full of the gallant and the
tendre?"

"What is that you say of the tendre?" interrupted Marion de Lorme; "have
you ever seen that country? You stopped at the village of Grand-Esprit,
and at that of Jolis-Vers, but you have been no farther. If Monsieur le
Gouverneur de Notre Dame de la Garde will please to show us his new
chart, I will tell you where you are."

Scudery arose with a vainglorious and pedantic air; and, unrolling upon
the table a sort of geographical chart tied with blue ribbons, he himself
showed the lines of red ink which he had traced upon it.

"This is the finest piece of Clelie," he said. "This chart is generally
found very gallant; but 'tis merely a slight ebullition of playful wit,
to please our little literary cabale. However, as there are strange
people in the world, it is possible that all who see it may not have
minds sufficiently well turned to understand it. This is the road which
must be followed to go from Nouvelle-Amitie to Tendre; and observe,
gentlemen, that as we say Cumae-on-the-Ionian-Sea, Cuma;-on-the-Tyrrhean-
Sea, we shall say Tendre-sur-Inclination, Tendre-sur-Estime, and Tendre-
sur-Reconnaissance. We must begin by inhabiting the village of
Grand-Coeur, Generosity, Exactitude, and Petits-Soins."

"Ah! how very pretty!" interposed Desbarreaux. "See the villages marked
out; here is Petits-Soins, Billet-Galant, then Billet-Doux!"

"Oh! 'tis ingenious in the highest degree!" cried Vaugelas, Colletet, and
the rest.

"And observe," continued the author, inflated with this success, "that it
is necessary to pass through Complaisance and Sensibility; and that if we
do not take this road, we run the risk of losing our way to Tiedeur,
Oubli, and of falling into the Lake of Indifference."

"Delicious! delicious! 'gallant au supreme!'" cried the auditors; "never
was greater genius!"

"Well, Madame," resumed Scudery, "I now declare it in your house: this
work, printed under my name, is by my sister--she who translated 'Sappho'
so agreeably." And without being asked, he recited in a declamatory tone
verses ending thus:

          L'Amour est un mal agreable
          Don't mon coeur ne saurait guerir;
          Mais quand il serait guerissable,
          Il est bien plus doux d'en mourir.

"How! had that Greek so much wit? I can not believe it," exclaimed Marion
de Lorme; "how superior Mademoiselle de Scudery is to her! That idea is
wholly hers; she must unquestionably put these charming verses into
'Clelie'. They will figure well in that Roman history."

"Admirable, perfect!" cried all the savans; "Horatius, Aruns, and the
amiable Porsenna are such gallant lovers."

They were all bending over the "carte de Tendre," and their fingers
crossed in following the windings of the amorous rivers. The young
Poquelin ventured to raise a timid voice and his melancholy but acute
glance, and said:

"What purpose does this serve? Is it to give happiness or pleasure?
Monsieur seems to me not singularly happy, and I do not feel very gay."

The only reply he got was a general look of contempt; he consoled himself
by meditating, 'Les Precieuses Ridicules'.

Desbarreaux prepared to read a pious sonnet, which he was penitent for
having composed in an illness; he seemed to be ashamed of having thought
for a moment upon God at the sight of his lightning, and blushed at the
weakness. The mistress of the house stopped him.

"It is not yet time to read your beautiful verses; you would be
interrupted. We expect Monsieur le Grand Ecuyer and other gentlemen; it
would be actual murder to allow a great mind to speak during this noise
and confusion. But here is a young Englishman who has just come from
Italy, and is on his return to London. They tell me he has composed a
poem--I don't know what; but he'll repeat some verses of it. Many of you
gentlemen of the Academy know English; and for the rest he has had the
passages he is going to read translated by an ex-secretary of the Duke of
Buckingham, and here are copies in French on this table."

So saying, she took them and distributed them among her erudite visitors.
The company seated themselves, and were silent. It took some time to
persuade the young foreigner to speak or to quit the recess of the
window, where he seemed to have come to a very good understanding with
Corneille. He at last advanced to an armchair placed near the table; he
seemed of feeble health, and fell into, rather than seated himself in,
the chair. He rested his elbow on the table, and with his hand covered
his large and beautiful eyes, which were half closed, and reddened with
nightwatches or tears. He repeated his fragments from memory. His
doubting auditors looked at him haughtily, or at least patronizingly;
others carelessly glanced over the translation of his verses.

His voice, at first suppressed, grew clearer by the very flow of his
harmonious recital; the breath of poetic inspiration soon elevated him to
himself; and his look, raised to heaven, became sublime as that of the
young evangelist, conceived by Raffaello, for the light still shone on
it. He narrated in his verses the first disobedience of man, and invoked
the Holy Spirit, who prefers before all other temples a pure and simple
heart, who knows all, and who was present at the birth of time.

This opening was received with a profound silence; and a slight murmur
arose after the enunciation of the last idea. He heard not; he saw only
through a cloud; he was in the world of his own creation. He continued.

He spoke of the infernal spirit, bound in avenging fire by adamantine
chains, lying vanquished nine times the space that measures night and day
to mortal men; of the darkness visible of the eternal prisons and the
burning ocean where the fallen angels float. Then, his voice, now
powerful, began the address of the fallen angel. "Art thou," he said, "he
who in the happy realms of light, clothed with transcendent brightness,
didst outshine myriads? From what height fallen? What though the field be
lost, all is not lost! Unconquerable will and study of revenge, immortal
hate and courage never to submit nor yield-what is else not to be
overcome."

Here a lackey in a loud voice announced MM. de Montresor and
d'Entraigues. They saluted, exchanged a few words, deranged the chairs,
and then settled down. The auditors availed themselves of the
interruption to institute a dozen private conversations; scarcely
anything was heard but expressions of censure, and imputations of bad
taste. Even some men of merit, dulled by a particular habit of thinking,
cried out that they did not understand it; that it was above their
comprehension (not thinking how truly they spoke); and from this feigned
humility gained themselves a compliment, and for the poet an impertinent
remark--a double advantage. Some voices even pronounced the word
"profanation."

The poet, interrupted, put his head between his hands and his elbows on
the table, that he might not hear the noise either of praise or censure.
Three men only approached him, an officer, Poquelin, and Corneille; the
latter whispered to Milton:

"I would advise you to change the picture; your hearers are not on a
level with this."

The officer pressed the hand of the English poet and said to him:

"I admire you with all my soul."

The astonished Englishman looked at him, and saw an intellectual,
impassioned, and sickly countenance.

He bowed, and collected himself, in order to proceed. His voice took a
gentle tone and a soft accent; he spoke of the chaste happiness of the
two first of human beings. He described their majestic nakedness, the
ingenuous command of their looks, their walk among lions and tigers,
which gambolled at their feet; he spoke of the purity of their morning
prayer, of their enchanting smile, the playful tenderness of their youth,
and their enamored conversation, so painful to the Prince of Darkness.

Gentle tears quite involuntarily made humid the eyes of the beautiful
Marion de Lorme. Nature had taken possession of her heart, despite her
head; poetry filled it with grave and religious thoughts, from which the
intoxication of pleasure had ever diverted her. The idea of virtuous love
appeared to her for the first time in all its beauty; and she seemed as
if struck with a magic wand, and changed into a pale and beautiful
statue.

Corneille, his young friend, and the officer, were full of a silent
admiration which they dared not express, for raised voices drowned that
of the surprised poet.

"I can't stand this!" cried Desbarreaux. "It is of an insipidity to make
one sick."

"And what absence of grace, gallantry, and the belle flamme!" said
Scudery, coldly.

"Ah, how different from our immortal D'Urfe!" said Baro, the continuator.

"Where is the 'Ariane,' where the 'Astrea?'" cried, with a groan, Godeau,
the annotator.

The whole assembly well-nigh made these obliging remarks, though uttered
so as only to be heard by the poet as a murmur of uncertain import. He
understood, however, that he produced no enthusiasm, and collected
himself to touch another chord of his lyre.

At this moment the Counsellor de Thou was announced, who, modestly
saluting the company, glided silently behind the author near Corneille,
Poquelin, and the young officer. Milton resumed his strain.

He recounted the arrival of a celestial guest in the garden of Eden, like
a second Aurora in mid-day, shaking the plumes of his divine wings, that
filled the air with heavenly fragrance, who recounted to man the history
of heaven, the revolt of Lucifer, clothed in an armor of diamonds, raised
on a car brilliant as the sun, guarded by glittering cherubim, and
marching against the Eternal. But Emmanuel appears on the living chariot
of the Lord; and his two thousand thunderbolts hurled down to hell, with
awful noise, the accursed army confounded.

At this the company arose; and all was interrupted, for religious
scruples became leagued with false taste. Nothing was heard but
exclamations which obliged the mistress of the house to rise also, and
endeavor to conceal them from the author. This was not difficult, for he
was entirely absorbed in the elevation of his thoughts. His genius at
this moment had nothing in common with the earth; and when he once more
opened his eyes on those who surrounded him, he saw near him four
admirers, whose voices were better heard than those of the assembly.

Corneille said to him:

"Listen. If you aim at present glory, do not expect it from so fine a
work. Pure poetry is appreciated by but few souls. For the common run of
men, it must be closely allied with the almost physical interest of the
drama. I had been tempted to make a poem of 'Polyeuctes'; but I shall
cut down this subject, abridge it of the heavens, and it shall be only a
tragedy."

"What matters to me the glory of the moment?" answered Milton. "I think
not of success. I sing because I feel myself a poet. I go whither
inspiration leads me. Its path is ever the right one. If these verses
were not to be read till a century after my death, I should write them
just the same."

"I admire them before they are written," said the young officer. "I see
in them the God whose innate image I have found in my heart."

"Who is it speaks thus kindly to me?" asked the poet.

"I am Rene Descartes," replied the soldier, gently.

"How, sir!" cried De Thou. "Are you so happy as to be related to the
author of the Princeps?"

"I am the author of that work," replied Rene.

"You, sir!--but--still--pardon me--but--are you not a military man?"
stammered out the counsellor, in amazement.

"Well, what has the habit of the body to do with the thought? Yes, I wear
the sword. I was at the siege of Rochelle. I love the profession of arms
because it keeps the soul in a region of noble ideas by the continual
feeling of the sacrifice of life; yet it does not occupy the whole man.
He can not always apply his thoughts to it. Peace lulls them. Moreover,
one has also to fear seeing them suddenly interrupted by an obscure blow
or an absurd and untimely accident. And if a man be killed in the
execution of his plan, posterity preserves an idea of the plan which he
himself had not, and which may be wholly preposterous; and this is the
evil side of the profession for a man of letters."

De Thou smiled with pleasure at the simple language of this superior
man--this man whom he so admired, and in his admiration loved. He pressed
the hand of the young sage of Touraine, and drew him into an adjoining
cabinet with Corneille, Milton, and Moliere, and with them enjoyed one of
those conversations which make us regard as lost the time which precedes
them and the time which is to follow them.

For two hours they had enchanted one another with their discourse, when
the sound of music, of guitars and flutes playing minuets, sarabands,
allemandes, and the Spanish dances which the young Queen had brought into
fashion, the continual passing of groups of young ladies and their joyous
laughter, all announced that the ball had commenced. A very young and
beautiful person, holding a large fan as it were a sceptre, and
surrounded by ten young men, entered their retired chamber with her
brilliant court, which she ruled like a queen, and entirely put to the
rout the studious conversers.

"Adieu, gentlemen!" said De Thou. "I make way for Mademoiselle de
l'Enclos and her musketeers."

"Really, gentlemen," said the youthful Ninon, "we seem to frighten you.
Have I disturbed you? You have all the air of conspirators."

"We are perhaps more so than these gentlemen, although we dance," said
Olivier d'Entraigues, who led her.

"Ah! your conspiracy is against me, Monsieur le Page!" said Ninon,
looking the while at another light-horseman, and abandoning her remaining
arm to a third, the other gallants seeking to place themselves in the way
of her flying ceillades, for she distributed her glances brilliant as the
rays of the sun dancing over the moving waters.

De Thou stole away without any one thinking of stopping him, and was
descending the great staircase, when he met the little Abbe de Gondi,
red, hot, and out of breath, who stopped him with an animated and joyous
air.

"How now! whither go you? Let the foreigners and savans go. You are one
of us. I am somewhat late; but our beautiful Aspasia will pardon me. Why
are you going? Is it all over?"

"Why, it seems so. When the dancing begins, the reading is done."

"The reading, yes; but the oaths?" said the Abbe, in a low voice.

"What oaths?" asked De Thou.

"Is not Monsieur le Grand come?"

"I expected to see him; but I suppose he has not come, or else he has
gone."

"No, no! come with me," said the bare-brained Abbe. "You are one of us.
Parbleu! it is impossible to do without you; come!"

De Thou, unwilling to refuse, and thus appear to disown his friends, even
for parties of pleasure which annoyed him, followed De Gondi, who passed
through two cabinets, and descended a small private staircase. At each
step he took, he heard more distinctly the voices of an assemblage of
men. Gondi opened the door. An unexpected spectacle met his view.

The chamber he was entering, lighted by a mysterious glimmer, seemed the
asylum of the most voluptuous rendezvous. On one side was a gilt bed,
with a canopy of tapestry ornamented with feathers, and covered with lace
and ornaments. The furniture, shining with gold, was of grayish silk,
richly embroidered. Velvet cushions were at the foot of each armchair,
upon a thick carpet. Small mirrors, connected with one another by
ornaments of silver, seemed an entire glass, itself a perfection then
unknown, and everywhere multiplied their glittering faces. No sound from
without could penetrate this throne of delight; but the persons assembled
there seemed far remote from the thoughts which it was calculated to give
rise to. A number of men, whom he recognized as courtiers, or soldiers of
rank, crowded the entrance of this chamber and an adjoining apartment of
larger dimensions. All were intent upon that which was passing in the
centre of the first room. Here, ten young men, standing, and holding in
their hands their drawn swords, the points of which were lowered toward
the ground, were ranged round a table. Their faces, turned to Cinq-Mars,
announced that they had just taken an oath to him. The grand ecuyer stood
by himself before the fireplace, his arms folded with an air of
all-absorbing reflection. Standing near him, Marion de Lorme, grave and
collected, seemed to have presented these gentlemen to him.

When Cinq-Mars perceived his friend, he rushed toward the door, casting a
terrible glance at Gondi, and seizing De Thou by both arms, stopped him
on the last step.

"What do you here?" he said, in a stifled voice.

"Who brought you here? What would you with me? You are lost if you
enter."

"What do you yourself here? What do I see in this house?"

"The consequences of that you wot of. Go; this air is poisoned for all
who are here."

"It is too late; they have seen me. What would they say if I were to
withdraw? I should discourage them; you would be lost."

This dialogue had passed in low and hurried tones; at the last word, De
Thou, pushing aside his friend, entered, and with a firm step crossed the
apartment to the fireplace.

Cinq-Mars, trembling with rage, resumed his place, hung his head,
collected himself, and soon raising a more calm countenance, continued a
discourse which the entrance of his friend had interrupted:

"Be then with us, gentlemen; there is no longer any need for so much
mystery. Remember that when a strong mind embraces an idea, it must
follow it to all its consequences. Your courage will have a wider field
than that of a court intrigue. Thank me; instead of a conspiracy, I give
you a war. Monsieur de Bouillon has departed to place himself at the head
of his army of Italy; in two days, and before the king, I quit Paris for
Perpignan. Come all of you thither; the Royalists of the army await us."

Here he threw around him calm and confident looks; he saw gleams of joy
and enthusiasm in the eyes of all who surrounded him. Before allowing his
own heart to be possessed by the contagious emotion which precedes great
enterprises, he desired still more firmly to assure himself of them, and
said with a grave air:

"Yes, war, gentlemen; think of it, open war. Rochelle and Navarre are
arousing their Protestants; the army of Italy will enter on one side; the
king's brother will join us on the other. The man we combat will be
surrounded, vanquished, crushed. The parliaments will march in our rear,
bearing their petitions to the King, a weapon as powerful as our swords;
and after the victory we will throw ourselves at the feet of Louis XIII,
our master, that he may pardon us for having delivered him from a cruel
and ambitious man, and hastened his own resolution."

Here, again glancing around him, he saw increasing confidence in the
looks and attitudes of his accomplices.

"How!" he continued, crossing his arms, and yet restraining with an
effort his own emotion; "you do not recoil before this resolution, which
would appear a revolt to any other men! Do you not think that I have
abused the powers you have vested in me? I have carried matters very far;
but there are times when kings would be served, as it were in spite of
themselves. All is arranged, as you know. Sedan will open its gates to
us; and we are sure of Spain. Twelve thousand veteran troops will enter
Paris with us. No place, however, will be given up to the foreigner; they
will all have a French garrison, and be taken in the name of the King."

"Long live the King! long live the Union! the new Union, the Holy
League!" cried the assembly.

"It has come, then!" cried Cinq-Mars, with enthusiasm; "it has come--the
most glorious day of my life. Oh, youth, youth, from century to century
called frivolous and improvident! of what will men now accuse thee, when
they behold conceived, ripened, and ready for execution, under a chief of
twenty-two, the most vast, the most just, the most beneficial of
enterprises? My friends, what is a great life but a thought of youth
executed by mature age? Youth looks fixedly into the future with its
eagle glance, traces there a broad plan, lays the foundation stone; and
all that our entire existence afterward can do is to approximate to that
first design. Oh, when can great projects arise, if not when the heart
beats vigorously in the breast? The mind is not sufficient; it is but an
instrument."

A fresh outburst of joy had followed these words, when an old man with a
white beard stood forward from the throng.

"Bah!" said Gondi, in a low voice, "here's the old Chevalier de Guise
going to dote, and damp us."

And truly enough, the old man, pressing the hand of Cinq-Mars, said
slowly and with difficulty, having placed himself near him:

"Yes, my son, and you, my children, I see with joy that my old friend
Bassompierre is about to be delivered by you, and that you are about to
avenge the Comte de Soissons and the young Montmorency. But it is
expedient for youth, all ardent as it is, to listen to those who have
seen much. I have witnessed the League, my children, and I tell you that
you can not now, as then, take the title of the Holy League, the Holy
Union, the Protectors of Saint Peter, or Pillars of the Church, because I
see that you reckon on the support of the Huguenots; nor can you put upon
your great seal of green wax an empty throne, since it is occupied by a
king."

"You may say by two," interrupted Gondi, laughing.

"It is, however, of great importance," continued old Guise, amid the
tumultuous young men, "to take a name to which the people may attach
themselves; that of War for the Public Welfare has been made use of;
Princes of Peace only lately. It is necessary to find one."

"Well, the War of the King," said Cinq-Mars.

"Ay, the War of the King!" cried Gondi and all the young men.

"Moreover," continued the old seigneur, "it is essential to gain the
approval of the theological faculty of the Sorbonne, which heretofore
sanctioned even the 'hautgourdiers' and the 'sorgueurs',--[Names of the
leaguers.]--and to put in force its second proposition--that it is
permitted to the people to disobey the magistrates, and to hang them."

"Eh, Chevalier!" exclaimed Gondi; "this is not the question. Let Monsieur
le Grand speak; we are thinking no more of the Sorbonne at present than
of your Saint Jacques Clement."

There was a laugh, and Cinq-Mars went on:

"I wished, gentlemen, to conceal nothing from you as to the projects of
Monsieur, those of the Duke de Bouillon, or my own, for it is just that a
man who stakes his life should know at what game; but I have placed
before you the least fortunate chances, and I have not detailed our
strength, for there is not one of you but knows the secret of it. Is it
to you, Messieurs de Montresor and de Saint-Thibal, I need tell the
treasures that Monsieur places at our disposal? Is it to you, Monsieur
d'Aignou, Monsieur de Mouy, that I need tell how many gentlemen are eager
to join your companies of men-at-arms and light-horse, to fight the
Cardinalists; how many in Touraine and in Auvergne, where lay the lands
of the House of D'Effiat, and whence will march two thousand seigneurs,
with their vassals?

"Baron de Beauvau, shall I recall the zeal and valor of the cuirassiers
whom you brought to the unhappy Comte de Soissons, whose cause was ours,
and whom you saw assassinated in the midst of his triumph by him whom
with you he had defeated? Shall I tell these gentlemen of the joy of the
Count-Duke of Olivares at the news of our intentions, and the letters of
the Cardinal-Infanta to the Duke de Bouillon? Shall I speak of Paris to
the Abbe de Gondi, to D'Entraigues, and to you, gentlemen, who are daily
witnesses of her misery, of her indignation, and her desire to break
forth? While all foreign nations demand peace, which the Cardinal de
Richelieu still destroys by his want of faith (as he has done in
violating the treaty of Ratisbon), all orders of the State groan under
his violence, and dread that colossal ambition which aspires to no less
than the temporal and even spiritual throne of France."

A murmur of approbation interrupted Cinq-Mars. There was then silence for
a moment; and they heard the sound of wind instruments, and the measured
tread of the dancers.

This noise caused a momentary diversion and a smile in the younger
portion of the assembly.

Cinq-Mars profited by this; and raising his eyes, "Pleasures of youth,"
he cried--"love, music, joyous dances--why do you not alone occupy our
leisure hours? Why are not you our sole ambition? What resentment may we
not justly feel that we have to make our cries of indignation heard above
our bursts of joy, our formidable secrets in the asylum of love, and our
oaths of war and death amid the intoxication of and of life!"

"Curses on him who saddens the youth of a people! When wrinkles furrow
the brow of the young men, we may confidently say that the finger of a
tyrant has hollowed them out. The other troubles of youth give it despair
and not consternation. Watch those sad and mournful students pass day
after day with pale foreheads, slow steps, and half-suppressed voices.
One would think they fear to live or to advance a step toward the future.
What is there then in France? A man too many."

"Yes," he continued; "for two years I have watched the insidious and
profound progress of his ambition. His strange practices, his secret
commissions, his judicial assassinations are known to you. Princes,
peers, marechals--all have been crushed by him. There is not a family in
France but can show some sad trace of his passage. If he regards us all
as enemies to his authority, it is because he would have in France none
but his own house, which twenty years ago held only one of the smallest
fiefs of Poitou.

"The humiliated parliament has no longer any voice. The presidents of
Nismes, Novion, and Bellievre have revealed to you their courageous but
fruitless resistance to the condemnation to death of the Duke de la
Vallette.

"The presidents and councils of sovereign courts have been imprisoned,
banished, suspended--a thing before unheard of--because they have raised
their voices for the king or for the public.

"The highest offices of justice, who fill them? Infamous and corrupt men,
who suck the blood and gold of the country. Paris and the maritime towns
taxed; the rural districts ruined and laid waste by the soldiers and
other agents of the Cardinal; the peasants reduced to feed on animals
killed by the plague or famine, or saving themselves by
self-banishment--such is the work of this new justice. His worthy agents
have even coined money with the effigy of the Cardinal-Duke. Here are
some of his royal pieces."

The grand ecuyey threw upon the table a score of gold doubloons whereon
Richelieu was represented. A fresh murmur of hatred toward the Cardinal
arose in the apartment.

"And think you the clergy are less trampled on and less discontented? No.
Bishops have been tried against the laws of the State and in contempt of
the respect due to their sacred persons. We have seen, in consequence,
Algerine corsairs commanded by an archbishop. Men of the lowest condition
have been elevated to the cardinalate. The minister himself, devouring
the most sacred things, has had himself elected general of the orders of
Citeaux, Cluny, and Premontre, throwing into prison the monks who refused
him their votes. Jesuits, Carmelites, Cordeliers, Augustins, Dominicans,
have been forced to elect general vicars in France, in order no longer to
communicate at Rome with their true superiors, because he would be
patriarch in France, and head of the Gallican Church."

"He's a schismatic! a monster!" cried several voices.

"His progress, then, is apparent, gentlemen. He is ready to seize both
temporal and spiritual power. He has little by little fortified himself
against the King in the strongest towns of France--seized the mouths of
the principal rivers, the best ports of the ocean, the salt-pits, and all
the securities of the kingdom. It is the King, then, whom we must deliver
from this oppression. 'Le roi et la paix!' shall be our cry. The rest
must be left to Providence."

Cinq-Mars greatly astonished the assembly, and De Thou himself, by this
address. No one had ever before heard him speak so long together, not
even in fireside conversation; and he had never by a single word shown
the least aptitude for understanding public affairs. He had, on the
contrary, affected the greatest indifference on the subject, even in the
eyes of those whom he was molding to his projects, merely manifesting a
virtuous indignation at the violence of the minister, but affecting not
to put forward any of his own ideas, in order not to suggest personal
ambition as the aim of his labors. The confidence given to him rested on
his favor with the king and his personal bravery. The surprise of all
present was therefore such as to cause a momentary silence. It was soon
broken by all the transports of Frenchmen, young or old, when fighting of
whatever kind is held out to them.

Among those who came forward to press the hand of the young party leader,
the Abbe de Gondi jumped about like a kid.

"I have already enrolled my regiment!" he cried. "I have some superb
fellows!" Then, addressing Marion de Lorme, "Parbleu! Mademoiselle, I
will wear your colors--your gray ribbon, and your order of the Allumette.
The device is charming--

     'Nous ne brullons que pour bruller les autres.'

And I wish you could see all the fine things we shall do if we are
fortunate enough to come to blows."

The fair Marion, who did not like him, began to talk over his head to M.
de Thou--a mortification which always exasperated the little Abbe, who
abruptly left her, walking as tall as he could, and scornfully twisting
his moustache.

All at once a sudden silence took possession of the assembly. A rolled
paper had struck the ceiling and fallen at the feet of Cinq-Mars. He
picked it up and unrolled it, after having looked eagerly around him. He
sought in vain to divine whence it came; all those who advanced had only
astonishment and intense curiosity depicted in their faces.

"Here is my name wrongly written," he said coldly.

               "A CINQ MARCS,

            CENTURIE DE NOSTRADAMUS.

       Quand bonnet rouge passera par la fenetre,
          A quarante onces on coupera tete,
              Et tout finira."

   [This punning prediction was made public three months before the,
   conspiracy.]

"There is a traitor among us, gentlemen," he said, throwing away the
paper. "But no matter. We are not men to be frightened by his sanguinary
jests."

"We must find the traitor out, and throw him through the window," said
the young men.

Still, a disagreeable sensation had come over the assembly. They now only
spoke in whispers, and each regarded his neighbor with distrust. Some
withdrew; the meeting grew thinner. Marion de Lorme repeated to every one
that she would dismiss her servants, who alone could be suspected.
Despite her efforts a coldness reigned throughout the apartment. The
first sentences of Cinq-Mars' address, too, had left some uncertainty as
to the intentions of the King; and this untimely candor had somewhat
shaken a few of the less determined conspirators.

Gondi pointed this out to Cinq-Mars.

"Hark ye!" he said in a low voice. "Believe me, I have carefully studied
conspiracies and assemblages; there are certain purely mechanical means
which it is necessary to adopt. Follow my advice here; I know a good deal
of this sort of thing. They want something more. Give them a little
contradiction; that always succeeds in France. You will quite make them
alive again. Seem not to wish to retain them against their will, and they
will remain."

The grand ecuyer approved of the suggestion, and advancing toward those
whom he knew to be most deeply compromised, said:

"For the rest, gentlemen, I do not wish to force any one to follow me.
Plenty of brave men await us at Perpignan, and all France is with us. If
any one desires to secure himself a retreat, let him speak. We will give
him the means of placing himself in safety at once."

Not one would hear of this proposition; and the movement it occasioned
produced a renewal of the oaths of hatred against the minister.

Cinq-Mars, however, proceeded to put the question individually to some of
the persons present, in the election of whom he showed much judgment; for
he ended with Montresor, who cried that he would pass his sword through
his body if he had for a moment entertained such an idea, and with Gondi,
who, rising fiercely on his heels, exclaimed:

"Monsieur le Grand Ecuyer, my retreat is the archbishopric of Paris and
L'Ile Notre-Dame. I'll make it a place strong enough to keep me from
being taken."

"And yours?" he said to De Thou.

"At your side," murmured De Thou, lowering his eyes, unwilling to give
importance to his resolution by the directness of his look.

"You will have it so? Well, I accept," said Cinq-Mars; "and my sacrifice
herein, dear friend, is greater than yours." Then turning toward the
assembly:

"Gentlemen, I see in you the last men of France, for after the
Montmorencys and the Soissons, you alone dare lift a head free and worthy
of our old liberty. If Richelieu triumph, the ancient bases of the
monarchy will crumble with us. The court will reign alone, in the place
of the parliaments, the old barriers, and at the same time the powerful
supports of the royal authority. Let us be conquerors, and France will
owe to us the preservation of her ancient manners and her time-honored
guarantees. And now, gentlemen, it were a pity to spoil the ball on this
account. You hear the music. The ladies await you. Let us go and dance."

"The Cardinal shall pay the fiddlers," added Gondi.

The young men applauded with a laugh; and all reascended to the ballroom
as lightly as they would have gone to the battlefield.