1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 46
After Maddox’s Rangers had gotten themselves settled, they began to perform regular patrols south of the Gave de Pau, the river that ran south of the town. Servien assumed that this was with the consent — or, at least, the cognizance — of the comte.
The group of forty would ride out in the morning and return in the late afternoon; they would look as if they’d had some exercise, with evidence of manoeuvres in the dense wooded hills in the Pyrenees foothills present in their clothing. Brassac did not make any particular observation regarding their activities until the end of their first week at Pau, when, shortly after their arrival — a bit later than usual — his manservant presented the comte’s respects and asked Servien to attend him in his private quarters.
Servien attended briefly to his toilet, making sure that his attire was presentable and his hair and beard were combed, and then accompanied the man to the part of the chateau near where he had happened upon the comte’s private chapel.
Colonel Maddox was in the comte’s sitting room when Servien entered. The manservant bowed briefly and closed the doors, leaving Brassac, Servien and the up-timer alone.
“Monsieur Servien,” Maddox said. She was standing next to a long, plain table that bore a heavy canvas sack.
Servien looked from Maddox to Brassac and raised an eyebrow.
“Colonel?” he said.
“I thought it best that you see this as well, Monsieur,” she said, and took the sack and dumped it on the table. What emerged was a disorderly pile of what looked to be boot soles, some of which had some fragment of the boot upper attached. Several were missing heels or parts of the toe.
“I am told that Monsieur le Comte employs an excellent cordonnier,” Servien said. “Though some of these may be beyond repair.”
Brassac sighed. “The royal court is known for its wit, Colonel Maddox,” he said, and continued, “perhaps you should clarify for Monsieur Servien what he is looking at.”
Maddox picked up one of the boot soles. “These are from the boots of a small group of Spanish scouts we — encountered — in the hills west of Oloron, perhaps twenty or twenty-five miles from here.”
“And you knew that they were Spaniards . . .”
She reached into a pocket and tossed a wallet onto the table. Servien opened it and pulled out a number of rank insignia, all recognizable as Spanish.
“We’ve been looking for groups like this one. They probably came down through Somport or St. Jean Pied-de-Port.”
Maddox picked up a few of the items on the table. “I think it was nineteen or twenty.”
“You’re not suffering a bout of sympathy, are you, Monsieur Servien? I thought you’d been Richelieu’s man.”
“I assume you are being witty,” Servien said. “I assure you that this is no time to try out for a position at the royal court. Even veteran jesters are having trouble finding a job.”
Maddox shrugged and smiled. “Monsieur de Brassac, you’re right on target with your comment about court wit.” She turned back to Servien. “Yes, Monsieur. They’re all dead. We set a trap and led them into an ambush. Pretty simple, really: we let them see an obvious retreat from our sharp shooters’ crossfire, and when they withdrew there our regular guys took care of them.”
“And the boot soles?”
“To send a message,” she said. “The Count tells me that his man of business knows a tavern keeper in St. Jean who is used to dealing with Spanish traders and merchants; this sack will be delivered there. The message will be taken over the mountains quickly enough.”
“Did you kill every man?”
“We can’t be sure. It’s possible that one or more of the scouting party got away.”
“Did you lose any of your own company?”
“One of our men nearly broke his neck when he fell down into a gully, but that’s just bruises. Their boys had flintlock muskets; we set up the crossfire to start shooting when they were more than a hundred fifty yards away. We dropped ten of them on the spot and the rest when they retreated. Our boys were out of range for the whole exchange of fire.”
“Thus ending the invasion,” Servien said. He picked up a sole from the table and looked at it.
“No, I don’t think so,” Maddox answered. “The invasion is still coming — probably soon. We just took away the element of surprise.”
Gaston d’Orleans stood in the front-most pew of the Basilica of Saint-Denis, his hands clasped in front of him. He did not turn as the Archbishop of Paris, Jean-FranÃ§ois de Gondi, entered the nave. The sweet, cloying smell of the incense being aspersed filled his nostrils as the archbishop entered his view. The cantor intoned the psalm: “asparges me hysopo et mundabor, lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor” — “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.”
The prelate slowly made his way up to the high altar, followed by the other celebrants, offering a prayer to bless it. Without turning, he raised his hands toward the ceiling and pronounced a blessing on the congregation. A deacon stepped behind and carefully removed his cope and set it aside. To either side of the archbishop, the deacons knelt and sang: “et introibo ad altare tuum ad Deum, laetitiae et exultationis meae, et confitebor tibi in cithara Deus Deus meus” — “I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.” Then they ascended the steps and separated to the left and right while the Archbishop genuflected and stepped forward to the credence table.
The introit, the Kyrie and the Gloria followed, along with the collects. Then Gondi raised the epistolary and began to read.
Custodite sabbata mea et pavete ad sanctuarium meum ego Dominus . . .
Dabo pacem in finibus vestris dormietis et non erit qui exterreat auferam malas bestias et gladius non transibit terminos vestros . . .
Ponam tabernaculum meum in medio vestri et non abiciet vos anima mea . . .
Ponam faciem meam contra vos et corruetis coram hostibus vestris et subiciemini his qui oderunt vos fugietis nemine persequente . . .
Conteram superbiam duritiae vestrae daboque caelum vobis desuper sicut ferrum et terram aeneam. . .
As the words from Leviticus were intoned, those near Gaston could see him growing more and more angry, particularly when Gondi intoned the nineteenth verse: I will break the pride of your stubbornness: and I will make to you the heaven above as iron, and the earth as brass.
King Louis’ tomb was no more than an unfinished marble slab with the dates of birth and death and the Bourbon arms. A monument, a more grand and suitable memorial to the late king, had already been commissioned but its completion was months away at least.
When the mass was completed, Gaston and his party descended into the crypt to view the tomb. When they approached, Gaston held up his hand and walked slowly to the slab, where he knelt and placed his hand on the marble. Tears welled in his eyes.
The archbishop stepped forward.
“Sire,” he began, “I –”
Gaston rose and turned to Gondi. “A word with you, Your Grace,” he said, grasping the elder prelate’s elbow firmly. Gaston escorted the archbishop a few dozen feet away, out of the hearing of his companions. He released Gondi’s elbow and stepped away. The archbishop looked alarmed; Gaston brushed a tear away and looked fiercely at Gondi.
“Is there . . . some problem, Your Majesty?”
“Leviticus,” Gaston said. “Leviticus 26. I will break the pride of your stubbornness: and I will make to you the heaven above as iron, and the earth as brass. This is the message you choose to give to the congregants in the memory of my royal brother?”
“My choice from the epistolary is a matter of conscience, Sire. A prerogative of my office.”
“You should tread carefully, Your Grace. If it is your wish to exercise your conscience on a regular basis, your tenure in that office will be shorter than you think.”