1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 37
“I have neither orders nor plans, My Lord.”
“I believe I can make use of your talents,” the comte said. “In the meanwhile, you are a welcome guest. You have ridden far, and you must have time to think.”
Servien had never been given much to reflection on his future. The present had kept him busy in his role as intendant. He knew, and his cousin Abel had frequently reminded him, that there would certainly come a time when his patron would no longer be there to employ him, but this fact was pushed out of his mind in his day-to-day interactions with the cardinal. While Richelieu was alive and in power, he refused to give it a second thought.
Now that he was gone, Servien found himself in the uncomfortable position of considering what up-timers called “Plan B.”
Over the next few days he was comfortably accommodated as the guest of the comte de Brassac within the Château de Pau. He was given the freedom of the place, to walk where he would, without restriction. The comte neither demanded nor required anything of him. He suspected that Brassac was sensitive to his own restlessness, his desire to take some action — but there was nothing for Servien to do, from Pau, right now.
It didn’t make waiting any easier. But it was unclear to him just what the comte was waiting for.
Three nights after his arrival at Pau, Servien found himself in an upper hall of the Château at vespers, admiring a particularly impressive tapestry depicting the famous Field of the Cloth of Gold, a great knightly contest and tournament from the previous century. It took him far away from the conflicts of the present day; it was a restful pause in the quiet of the early evening.
As he stood there trying to identify some of the more famous participants in that long-ago ceremony, he became aware of a murmuring sound not far away. It was almost too soft to hear; but he made it out — a man’s voice, speaking a Latin prayer in a steady, regular cadence. He considered leaving, but curiosity overcame him; he walked slowly and quietly along the hall until he came to a slightly-open door. Light spilled into the hallway from the room beyond.
He was hesitant to interrupt; he moved the door very slightly to see what was within and saw before him a small chapel. Below the crucified Savior was an ornately carved prie-dieu and a small table; something — he could not see just what — was laid upon the table, and the comte de Brassac was kneeling on the hassock, his back to the door, softly praying. At the soft creak of the door he stopped and turned, and noted Servien.
After a moment’s pause he continued the prayer — an Ave — to its conclusion, then picked up the object from the table and tucked it within his vest. Standing and genuflecting, he turned to face his guest.
“You find me at my devotions, Monsieur.”
“I apologize for interrupting.”
“It is nothing. I . . . merely had need of counsel.”
“I hope you found what you needed.” Servien glanced from Brassac to the now-empty table, and then back to the comte.
Brassac looked ready to move on, then seemed to reconsider. “Please close the door, if you would. I thought I had done so, that I might not disturb others. But perhaps it is fortuitous that you came upon me.”
Servien did as he was instructed. He walked into the room, crossing himself as he faced the prie-dieu.
“I have not explained to you why Père Joseph . . . the cardinal de Tremblay . . . directed you to come here in case of emergency. I have been trying to decide what I might share with you, but I have concluded that in fairness, it is appropriate that I explain.”
Servien did not answer, waiting for Brassac to continue.
“Cardinal de Tremblay and I, and others whose names you would know, share a common interest in the defense of the realm and the crown. We belong to a . . . society for the maintenance and protection of our beloved country. Its name is the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrament — the Company of the Blessed Sacrament.”
“I cannot say that I have ever heard of that society, My Lord.”
“It is a secret society,” Brassac said. “And your master was aware of it, but we do not count him among our members.”
“The Company is devoted to the Crown of France,” the comte continued. “We have known for some time that the queen was with child, and that there were . . . forces looking to intercept the succession.”
“And kill His Majesty the king?”
“Every monarch has enemies, Servien. King Louis was no exception. But if your question is whether we expected this attack — the answer is definitively no. Gaston was always a threat, but has been exiled for many years. As for Vendôme . . . there is no question that he is capable of regicide, but his greatest enemy was your master, not his brother the king.”
“I think you underestimate his desire for revenge, Monsieur le Comte. You and your — Company — seem to have overlooked an obvious alliance.”
“We are not the only group seeking to protect crown and kingdom. And we cannot be everywhere.”
Servien bit off an angry reply: he was without his patron, in the presence of a member of the noblesse d’épee. He wanted to give vent to his frustration and bitterness, his resentment that the world had been turned upside down.
Brassac was telling him of a society that pledged to protect the crown and defend the kingdom . . . but they were not in the Forest of Rambouillet, at Yvelines, when Vendôme and his men rode out of the dark and struck down King and Cardinal.
“Kill them all . . . leave none alive,” he heard in his mind.
“You seem dubious, Monsieur Servien.”
“I do not intend to convey that sentiment, My Lord.”
“Then . . .”
“I entreat you to continue, Monsieur le Comte.”
“Our worst fears have not been brought about,” Brassac said. “If what you say is true, the infant King and the queen Mother still live, but are in peril. We will do everything we can to protect them.”
“May I ask a question?”
“By all means.”
“What position do you hold within this Company?”
“I am its Superior.”
“And Cardinal de Tremblay?”
“He is a member of our society. An important one.”
“I am gratified to hear that he is so highly regarded,” Servien said. “And now that you have revealed the existence of this secret company to me . . . what happens next?”
“You mean,” Brassac said, “do I swear you to secrecy with a blood oath? No. Nothing of the kind. It would be my preference that you keep its existence secret; I know that you are familiar with the business of keeping secrets, and thus I have no doubt of your ability in that regard. But I will not foolishly compel you. Do whatever you like with the information.”
“Just that. ‘Do whatever you like.'”
“Just that.” Brassac reached within his vest and drew out the object he had concealed there: a cloth scapular on a woven string. It bore a painted image of the Blessed Virgin with a crimson heart surrounded by a golden halo. He touched it to his lips and then handed it to Servien. “This is our emblem: the Sacred Heart. It is one of our methods of recognition.
“When you entered, I was praying to our Holy Mother that others in our Company were executing their instructions, making efforts for the defense of France in the face of these events. I shall return to Paris after word of the king’s death officially reaches us; until then, I must leave matters in the hands of others.”
“Including the cardinal de Tremblay, I assume.”
“Yes. Most especially including the cardinal de Tremblay. And in the meanwhile we watch, and wait.”