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Book 5 Chapter 21 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER XXI

THE CONFESSIONAL

It was on the day following the assembly that had taken place in the
house of Marion de Lorme. A thick snow covered the roofs of Paris and
settled in its large gutters and streets, where it arose in gray heaps,
furrowed by the wheels of carriages.

It was eight o'clock, and the night was dark. The tumult of the city was
silent on account of the thick carpet the winter had spread for it, and
which deadened the sound of the wheels over the stones, and of the feet
of men and horses. In a narrow street that winds round the old church of
St. Eustache, a man, enveloped in his cloak, slowly walked up and down,
constantly watching for the appearance of some one. He often seated
himself upon one of the posts of the church, sheltering himself from the
falling snow under one of the statues of saints which jutted out from the
roof of the building, stretching over the narrow path like birds of prey,
which, about to make a stoop, have folded their wings. Often, too, the
old man, opening his cloak, beat his arms against his breast to warm
himself, or blew upon his fingers, ill protected from the cold by a pair
of buff gloves reaching nearly to the elbow. At last he saw a slight
shadow gliding along the wall.

"Ah, Santa Maria! what villainous countries are these of the North!" said
a woman's voice, trembling. "Ah, the duchy of Mantua! would I were back
there again, Grandchamp!"

"Pshaw! don't speak so loud," said the old domestic, abruptly. "The walls
of Paris have Cardinalist ears, and more especially the walls of the
churches. Has your mistress entered? My master awaits her at the door."

"Yes, yes; she has gone in."

"Be silent," said Grandchamp. "The sound of the clock is cracked. That's
a bad sign."

"That clock has sounded the hour of a rendezvous."

"For me, it sounds like a passing-bell. But be silent, Laure; here are
three cloaks passing."

They allowed three men to pass. Grandchamp followed them, made sure of
the road they took, and returned to his seat, sighing deeply.

"The snow is cold, Laure, and I am old. Monsieur le Grand might have
chosen another of his men to keep watch for him while he's making love.
It's all very well for you to carry love-letters and ribbons and
portraits and such trash, but for me, I ought to be treated with more
consideration. Monsieur le Marechal would not have done so. Old domestics
give respectability to a house, and should be themselves respected."

"Has your master arrived long, 'caro amico'?"

"Eh, cara, cayo! leave me in peace. We had both been freezing for an hour
when you came. I should have had time to smoke three Turkish pipes.
Attend to your business, and go and look to the other doors of the
church, and see that no suspicious person is prowling about. Since there
are but two vedettes, they must beat about well."

"Ah, what a thing it is to have no one to whom to say a friendly word
when it is so cold! and my poor mistress! to come on foot all the way
from the Hotel de Nevers. Ah, amore! qui regna amore!"

"Come, Italian, wheel about, I tell thee. Let me hear no more of thy
musical tongue."

"Ah, Santa Maria! What a harsh voice, dear Grandchamp! You were much more
amiable at Chaumont, in Turena, when you talked to me of 'miei occhi
neri."

"Hold thy tongue, prattler! Once more, thy Italian is only good for
buffoons and rope-dancers, or to accompany the learned dogs."

"Ah, Italia mia! Grandchamp, listen to me, and you shall hear the
language of the gods. If you were a gallant man, like him who wrote this
for a Laure like me!"

And she began to hum:

        Lieti fiori a felici, e ben nate erbe
        Che Madonna pensando premer sole;
        Piaggia ch'ascolti su dolci parole
        E del bel piede alcun vestigio serbe.

The old soldier was but little used to the voice of a young girl; and in
general when a woman spoke to him, the tone he assumed in answering
always fluctuated between an awkward compliment and an ebullition of
temper. But on this occasion he appeared moved by the Italian song, and
twisted his moustache, which was always with him a sign of embarrassment
and distress. He even omitted a rough sound something like a laugh, and
said:

"Pretty enough, 'mordieu!' that recalls to my mind the siege of Casal;
but be silent, little one. I have not yet heard the Abbe Quillet come.
This troubles me. He ought to have been here before our two young people;
and for some time past--"

Laure, who was afraid of being sent alone to the Place St. Eustache,
answered that she was quite sure he had gone in, and continued:

       "Ombrose selve, ove'percote il sole
        Che vi fa co'suoi raggi alte a superbe."

"Hum!" said the worthy old soldier, grumbling. "I have my feet in the
snow, and a gutter runs down on my head, and there's death at my heart;
and you sing to me of violets, of the sun, and of grass, and of love. Be
silent!"

And, retiring farther in the recess of the church, he leaned his gray
head upon his hands, pensive and motionless. Laure dared not again speak
to him.

While her waiting-woman had gone to find Grandchamp, the young and
trembling Marie with a timid hand had pushed open the folding-door of the
church.

She there found Cinq-Mars standing, disguised, and anxiously awaiting
her. As soon as she recognized him, she advanced with rapid steps into
the church, holding her velvet mask over her face, and hastened to take
refuge in a confessional, while Henri carefully closed the door of the
church by which she had entered. He made sure that it could not be opened
on the outside, and then followed his betrothed to kneel within the place
of penitence. Arrived an hour before her, with his old valet, he had
found this open--a certain and understood sign that the Abbe Quillet, his
tutor, awaited him at the accustomed place. His care to prevent any
surprise had made him remain himself to guard the entrance until the
arrival of Marie. Delighted as he was at the punctuality of the good
Abbe, he would still scarcely leave his post to thank him. He was a
second father to him in all but authority; and he acted toward the good
priest without much ceremony.

The old parish church of St. Eustache was dark. Besides the perpetual
lamp, there were only four flambeaux of yellow wax, which, attached above
the fonts against the principal pillars, cast a red glimmer upon the blue
and black marble of the empty church. The light scarcely penetrated the
deep niches of the aisles of the sacred building. In one of the
chapels--the darkest of them--was the confessional, of which we have
before spoken, whose high iron grating and thick double planks left
visible only the small dome and the wooden cross. Here, on either side,
knelt Cinq-Mars and Marie de Mantua. They could scarcely see each other,
but found that the Abbe Quillet, seated between them, was there awaiting
them. They could see through the little grating the shadow of his hood.
Henri d'Effiat approached slowly; he was regulating, as it were, the
remainder of his destiny. It was not before his king that he was about to
appear, but before a more powerful sovereign, before her for whom he had
undertaken his immense work. He was about to test her faith; and he
trembled.

He trembled still more when his young betrothed knelt opposite to him; he
trembled, because at the sight of this angel he could not help feeling
all the happiness he might lose. He dared not speak first, and remained
for an instant contemplating her head in the shade, that young head upon
which rested all his hopes. Despite his love, whenever he looked upon her
he could not refrain from a kind of dread at having undertaken so much
for a girl, whose passion was but a feeble reflection of his own, and who
perhaps would not appreciate all the sacrifices he had made for
her--bending the firm character of his mind to the compliances of a
courtier, condemning it to the intrigues and sufferings of ambition,
abandoning it to profound combinations, to criminal meditations, to the
gloomy labors of a conspirator.

Hitherto, in their secret interviews, she had always received each fresh
intelligence of his progress with the transports of pleasure of a child,
but without appreciating the labors of each of these so arduous steps
that lead to honors, and always asking him with naivete when he would be
Constable, and when they should marry, as if she were asking him when he
would come to the Caroussel, or whether the weather was fine. Hitherto,
he had smiled at these questions and this ignorance, pardonable at
eighteen, in a girl born to a throne and accustomed to a grandeur natural
to her, which she found around her on her entrance into life; but now he
made more serious reflections upon this character. And when, but just
quitting the imposing assembly of conspirators, representatives of all
the orders of the kingdom, his ear, wherein still resounded the masculine
voices that had sworn to undertake a vast war, was struck with the first
words of her for whom that war was commenced, he feared for the first
time lest this naivete should be in reality simple levity, not coming
from the heart. He resolved to sound it.

"Oh, heavens! how I tremble, Henri!" she said as she entered the
confessional; "you make me come without guards, without a coach. I always
tremble lest I should be seen by my people coming out of the Hotel de
Nevers. How much longer must I yet conceal myself like a criminal? The
Queen was very angry when I avowed the matter to her; and whenever she
speaks to me of it, 'tis with her severe air that you know, and which
always makes me weep. Oh, I am terribly afraid!"

She was silent; Cinq-Mars replied only with a deep sigh.

"How! you do not speak to me!" she said.

"Are these, then, all your terrors?" asked Cinq-Mars, bitterly.

"Can I have greater? Oh, 'mon ami', in what a tone, with what a voice, do
you address me! Are you angry because I came too late?"

"Too soon, Madame, much too soon, for the things you are to hear--for I
see you are far from prepared for them."

Marie, affected at the gloomy and bitter tone of his voice, began to
weep.

"Alas, what have I done," she said, "that you should call me Madame, and
treat me thus harshly?"

"Be tranquil," replied Cinq-Mars, but with irony in his tone. "'Tis not,
indeed, you who are guilty; but I--I alone; not toward you, but for you."

"Have you done wrong, then? Have you ordered the death of any one? Oh,
no, I am sure you have not, you are so good!"

"What!" said Cinq-Mars, "are you as nothing in my designs? Did I
misconstrue your thoughts when you looked at me in the Queen's boudoir?
Can I no longer read in your eyes? Was the fire which animated them that
of a love for Richelieu? That admiration which you promised to him who
should dare to say all to the King, where is it? Is it all a falsehood?"

Marie burst into tears.

"You still speak to me with bitterness," she said; "I have not deserved
it. Do you suppose, because I speak not of this fearful conspiracy, that
I have forgotten it? Do you not see me miserable at the thought? Must you
see my tears? Behold them; I shed enough in secret. Henri, believe that
if I have avoided this terrible subject in our last interviews, it is
from the fear of learning too much. Have I any other thought that that of
your dangers? Do I not know that it is for me you incur them? Alas! if
you fight for me, have I not also to sustain attacks no less cruel?
Happier than I, you have only to combat hatred, while I struggle against
friendship. The Cardinal will oppose to you men and weapons; but the
Queen, the gentle Anne of Austria, employs only tender advice, caresses,
sometimes tears."

"Touching and invincible constraint to make you accept a throne," said
Cinq-Mars, bitterly. "I well conceive you must need some efforts to
resist such seductions; but first, Madame, I must release you from your
vows."

"Alas, great Heaven! what is there, then, against us?"

"There is God above us, and against us," replied Henri, in a severe tone;
"the King has deceived me."

There was an agitated movement on the part of the Abbe.

Marie exclaimed, "I foresaw it; this is the misfortune I dreamed and
dreamed of! It is I who caused it?"

"He deceived me, as he pressed my hand," continued Cinq-Mars; "he
betrayed me by the villain Joseph, whom an offer has been made to me to
poniard."

The Abbe gave a start of horror which half opened the door of the
confessional.

"O father, fear nothing," said Henri d'Effiat; "your pupil will never
strike such blows. Those I prepare will be heard from afar, and the broad
day will light them up; but there remains a duty--a sacred duty--for me
to fulfil. Behold your son sacrifice himself before you! Alas! I have not
lived long in the sight of happiness, and I am about, perhaps, to destroy
it by your hand, that consecrated it."

As he spoke, he opened the light grating which separated him from his old
tutor; the latter, still observing an extraordinary silence, passed his
hood over his forehead.

"Restore this nuptial ring to the Duchesse de Mantua," said Cinq-Mars, in
a tone less firm; "I can not keep it unless she give it me a second time,
for I am not the same whom she promised to espouse."

The priest hastily seized the ring, and passed it through the opposite
grating; this mark of indifference astonished Cinq-Mars.

"What! Father," he said, "are you also changed?"

Marie wept no longer; but, raising her angelic voice, which awakened a
faint echo along the aisles of the church, as the softest sigh of the
organ, she said, returning the ring to Cinq-Mars:

"O dearest, be not angry! I comprehend you not. Can we break asunder what
God has just united, and can I leave you, when I know you are unhappy? If
the King no longer loves you, at least you may be assured he will not
harm you, since he has not harmed the Cardinal, whom he never loved. Do
you think yourself undone, because he is perhaps unwilling to separate
from his old servant? Well, let us await the return of his friendship;
forget these conspirators, who affright me. If they give up hope, I shall
thank Heaven, for then I shall no longer tremble for you. Why needlessly
afflict ourselves? The Queen loves us, and we are both very young; let us
wait. The future is beautiful, since we are united and sure of ourselves.
Tell me what the King said to you at Chambord. I followed you long with
my eyes. Heavens! how sad to me was that hunting party!"

"He has betrayed me, I tell you," answered Cinq-Mars. "Yet who could have
believed it, that saw him press our hands, turning from his brother to
me, and to the Duc de Bouillon, making himself acquainted with the
minutest details of the conspiracy, of the very day on which Richelieu
was to be arrested at Lyons, fixing himself the place of his exile (our
party desired his death, but the recollection of my father made me ask
his life). The King said that he himself would direct the whole affair at
Perpignan; yet just before, Joseph, that foul spy, had issued from out of
the cabinet du Lys. O Marie! shall I own it? at the moment I heard this,
my very soul was tossed. I doubted everything; it seemed to me that the
centre of the world was unhinged when I found truth quit the heart of the
King. I saw our whole edifice crumble to the ground; another hour, and
the conspiracy would vanish away, and I should lose you forever. One
means remained; I employed it."

"What means?" said Marie.

"The treaty with Spain was in my hand; I signed it."

"Ah, heavens! destroy it."

"It is gone."

"Who bears it?"

"Fontrailles."

"Recall him."

"He will, ere this, have passed the defiles of Oleron," said Cinq-Mars,
rising up. "All is ready at Madrid, all at Sedan. Armies await me,
Marie--armies! Richelieu is in the midst of them. He totters; it needs
but one blow to overthrow him, and you are mine forever--forever the wife
of the triumphant Cinq-Mars."

"Of Cinq-Mars the rebel," she said, sighing.

"Well, have it so, the rebel; but no longer the favorite. Rebel,
criminal, worthy of the scaffold, I know it," cried the impassioned
youth, falling on his knees; "but a rebel for love, a rebel for you, whom
my sword will at last achieve for me."

"Alas, a sword imbrued in the blood of your country! Is it not a
poniard?"

"Pause! for pity, pause, Marie! Let kings abandon me, let warriors
forsake me, I shall only be the more firm; but a word from you will
vanquish me, and once again the time for reflection will be passed from
me. Yes, I am a criminal; and that is why I still hesitate to think
myself worthy of you. Abandon me, Marie; take back the ring."

"I can not," she said; "for I am your wife, whatever you be."

"You hear her, father!" exclaimed Cinq-Mars, transported with happiness;
"bless this second union, the work of devotion, even more beautiful than
that of love. Let her be mine while I live."

Without answering, the Abbe opened the door of the confessional and had
quitted the church ere Cinq-Mars had time to rise and follow him.

"Where are you going? What is the matter?" he cried.

But no one answered.

"Do not call out, in the name of Heaven!" said Marie, "or I am lost; he
has doubtless heard some one in the church."

But D'Effiat, agitated, and without answering her, rushed forth, and
sought his late tutor through the church, but in vain. Drawing his sword,
he proceeded to the entrance which Grandchamp had to guard; he called him
and listened.

"Now let him go," said a voice at the corner of the street; and at the
same moment was heard the galloping of horses.

"Grandchamp, wilt thou answer?" cried Cinq-Mars.

"Help, Henri, my dear boy!" exclaimed the voice of the Abbe Quillet.

"Whence come you? You endanger me," said the grand ecuyer, approaching
him.

But he saw that his poor tutor, without a hat in the falling snow, was in
a most deplorable condition.

"They stopped me, and they robbed me," he cried. "The villains, the
assassins! they prevented me from calling out; they stopped my mouth with
a handkerchief."

At this noise, Grandchamp at length came, rubbing his eyes, like one just
awakened. Laure, terrified, ran into the church to her mistress; all
hastily followed her to reassure Marie, and then surrounded the old Abbe.

"The villains! they bound my hands, as you see. There were more than
twenty of them; they took from me the key of the side door of the
church."

"How! just now?" said Cinq-Mars; "and why did you quit us?"

"Quit you! why, they have kept me there two hours."

"Two hours!" cried Henri, terrified.

"Ah, miserable old man that I am!" said Grandchamp; "I have slept while
my master was in danger. It is the first time."

"You were not with us, then, in the confessional?" continued Cinq-Mars,
anxiously, while Marie tremblingly pressed against his arm.

"What!" said the Abbe, "did you not see the rascal to whom they gave my
key?"

"No! whom?" cried all at once.

"Father Joseph," answered the good priest.

"Fly! you are lost!" cried Marie.