Count de Guiche arrives at the camp and greets Captain Carbon. De Guiche announces that he’s heard rumors that the cadets—whom he calls louts and fools—hate him. He threatens to punish any soldier who disobeys or mocks him, reminding everyone of his feats of strength in battle. Cyrano, without lifting his eyes from his book, asks de Guiche about the white scarf that he wears as a symbol of his high rank. De Guiche feels flattered that Cyrano has heard about this, but admits that in the middle of danger in battle, he dropped the scarf so that he appeared to be just another soldier and wouldn’t be targeted. Cyrano then claims that he (Cyrano) would have worn the white scarf himself, even though it would have made him a target for the enemy. The Count contests this, and says that the scarf is surely lost now and full of bullet holes, as no one could have been brave enough to retrieve it. Cyrano then produces the scarf from his pocket and gives it to de Guiche. The cadets laugh.
This is one of the most important sections in the entire play, but its meaning is slightly obscured when translated into English. The white scarf that de Guiche wears in battle is a latter-day version of the “panache” (a white feather) that the famous French monarch Henry IV wore to set an example to his troops. Thus, by stealing de Guiche’s scarf, Cyrano is, quite literally, claiming the Count’s “panache”—that is, his bravery, his flamboyance, and his pride—for himself. (For more on this word, see Themes and Background Info.) There’s also a strong class critique at work in this scene—instead of showing proper respect for his social superiors, Cyrano doesn’t even look up from his book as he humiliates the Count and proves that he himself is the braver man.
De Guiche reluctantly accepts the white scarf from Cyrano. He then waves the scarf to a “useful spy” in his employ, stationed far away (i.e., off-stage). De Guiche explains to the French troops that he’s been using this spy to collect important information about the enemy. De Guiche claims that his spy has told him that the enemy plans to attack soon. De Guiche then waves his white plume in the spy’s direction. He claims that he’s just used his plume to signal to the spy where his troops are strongest. The fighting, he concludes, should begin within an hour. Cyrano sarcastically thanks de Guiche for choosing his troops to fight the enemy.
De Guiche isn’t just trying to defeat the Spanish—he’s also engineering the battle in such a way that the Spanish will specifically attack Cyrano’s unit. De Guiche is abusing his rank and power to try and get both his rival (Christian) and a man he hates (Cyrano) killed. Cyrano certainly recognizes what the Count is doing, which is why he sarcastically thanks him for “choosing them.” It’s appropriate that the Count uses his white scarf to signal his spy—what was supposed to be a symbol of nobility and bravery becomes, in de Guiche’s hands, a “flag” of treachery.
Cyrano and Carbon must now plan their defense against the enemy. Cyrano calls for Christian, who’s weak from hunger, and can only think of Roxane. Cyrano shows Christian that he’s written a new letter for Christian to present to Roxane. Christian reads the letter approvingly, but notices that there appears to be a tearstain on the parchment. Cyrano sheepishly admits that even he cried while composing the letter.
Thus far, Cyrano has been able to conceal his feelings for Roxane around Christian, and Christian seems too dull to notice the obvious. But this concealment can’t last forever, and the tearstain on the parchment is another strong clue leading Christian to figure out the truth.
A sentinel cries out that there is a carriage approaching the camp. As the carriage approaches, the sentinel shouts that the carriage is in the service of the King of France. Quickly, Cyrano orders his troops to stand up straight as a show of respect for whomever the King has sent. Roxane then emerges from the carriage, much to the Count de Guiche’s surprise.
Ironically, Roxane comes to visit Christian at the exact moment when Christian is about to realize that Cyrano is in love with Roxane. Rostand’s play is full of such “coincidental” tragicomic timing.