The two Musketeers met at the gate. Athos and d'Artagnan watched their approach from the window.
"The devil!" cried Aramis, "you have a magnificent horse there, Porthos."
"Yes," replied Porthos, "it is the one that ought to have been sent to me at first. A bad joke of the husband's substituted the other; but the husband has been punished since, and I have obtained full satisfaction."
Planchet and Grimaud appeared in their turn, leading their masters' steeds. D'Artagnan and Athos put themselves into saddle with their companions, and all four set forward; Athos upon a horse he owed to a woman, Aramis on a horse he owed to his mistress, Porthos on a horse he owed to his procurator's wife, and d'Artagnan on a horse he owed to his good fortune—the best mistress possible.
The lackeys followed.
As Porthos had foreseen, the cavalcade produced a good effect; and if Mme. Coquenard had met Porthos and seen what a superb appearance he made upon his handsome Spanish genet, she would not have regretted the bleeding she had inflicted upon the strongbox of her husband.
Near the Louvre the four friends met with M. de Treville, who was returning from St. Germain; he stopped them to offer his compliments upon their appointments, which in an instant drew round them a hundred gapers.
D'Artagnan profited by the circumstance to speak to M. de Treville of the letter with the great red seal and the cardinal's arms. It is well understood that he did not breathe a word about the other.
M. de Treville approved of the resolution he had adopted, and assured him that if on the morrow he did not appear, he himself would undertake to find him, let him be where he might.
At this moment the clock of La Samaritaine struck six; the four friends pleaded an engagement, and took leave of M. de Treville.
A short gallop brought them to the road of Chaillot; the day began to decline, carriages were passing and repassing. d'Artagnan, keeping at some distance from his friends, darted a scrutinizing glance into every carriage that appeared, but saw no face with which he was acquainted.
At length, after waiting a quarter of an hour and just as twilight was beginning to thicken, a carriage appeared, coming at a quick pace on the road of Sevres. A presentiment instantly told d'Artagnan that this carriage contained the person who had appointed the rendezvous; the young man was himself astonished to find his heart beat so violently. Almost instantly a female head was put out at the window, with two fingers placed upon her mouth, either to enjoin silence or to send him a kiss. D'Artagnan uttered a slight cry of joy; this woman, or rather this apparition—for the carriage passed with the rapidity of a vision—was Mme. Bonacieux.
By an involuntary movement and in spite of the injunction given, d'Artagnan put his horse into a gallop, and in a few strides overtook the carriage; but the window was hermetically closed, the vision had disappeared.
D'Artagnan then remembered the injunction: "If you value your own life or that of those who love you, remain motionless, and as if you had seen nothing."
He stopped, therefore, trembling not for himself but for the poor woman who had evidently exposed herself to great danger by appointing this rendezvous.
The carriage pursued its way, still going at a great pace, till it dashed into Paris, and disappeared.
D'Artagnan remained fixed to the spot, astounded and not knowing what to think. If it was Mme. Bonacieux and if she was returning to Paris, why this fugitive rendezvous, why this simple exchange of a glance, why this lost kiss? If, on the other side, it was not she—which was still quite possible—for the little light that remained rendered a mistake easy—might it not be the commencement of some plot against him through the allurement of this woman, for whom his love was known?
His three companions joined him. All had plainly seen a woman's head appear at the window, but none of them, except Athos, knew Mme. Bonacieux. The opinion of Athos was that it was indeed she; but less preoccupied by that pretty face than d'Artagnan, he had fancied he saw a second head, a man's head, inside the carriage.
"If that be the case," said d'Artagnan, "they are doubtless transporting her from one prison to another. But what can they intend to do with the poor creature, and how shall I ever meet her again?"
"Friend," said Athos, gravely, "remember that it is the dead alone with whom we are not likely to meet again on this earth. You know something of that, as well as I do, I think. Now, if your mistress is not dead, if it is she we have just seen, you will meet with her again some day or other. And perhaps, my God!" added he, with that misanthropic tone which was peculiar to him, "perhaps sooner than you wish."
Half past seven had sounded. The carriage had been twenty minutes behind the time appointed. D'Artagnan's friends reminded him that he had a visit to pay, but at the same time bade him observe that there was yet time to retract.
But d'Artagnan was at the same time impetuous and curious. He had made up his mind that he would go to the Palais-Cardinal, and that he would learn what his Eminence had to say to him. Nothing could turn him from his purpose.
They reached the Rue St. Honore, and in the Place du Palais-Cardinal they found the twelve invited Musketeers, walking about in expectation of their comrades. There only they explained to them the matter in hand.
D'Artagnan was well known among the honorable corps of the king's Musketeers, in which it was known he would one day take his place; he was considered beforehand as a comrade. It resulted from these antecedents that everyone entered heartily into the purpose for which they met; besides, it would not be unlikely that they would have an opportunity of playing either the cardinal or his people an ill turn, and for such expeditions these worthy gentlemen were always ready.
Athos divided them into three groups, assumed the command of one, gave the second to Aramis, and the third to Porthos; and then each group went and took their watch near an entrance.
D'Artagnan, on his part, entered boldly at the principal gate.
Although he felt himself ably supported, the young man was not without a little uneasiness as he ascended the great staircase, step by step. His conduct toward Milady bore a strong resemblance to treachery, and he was very suspicious of the political relations which existed between that woman and the cardinal. Still further, de Wardes, whom he had treated so ill, was one of the tools of his Eminence; and d'Artagnan knew that while his Eminence was terrible to his enemies, he was strongly attached to his friends.
"If de Wardes has related all our affair to the cardinal, which is not to be doubted, and if he has recognized me, as is probable, I may consider myself almost as a condemned man," said d'Artagnan, shaking his head. "But why has he waited till now? That's all plain enough. Milady has laid her complaints against me with that hypocritical grief which renders her so interesting, and this last offense has made the cup overflow."
"Fortunately," added he, "my good friends are down yonder, and they will not allow me to be carried away without a struggle. Nevertheless, Monsieur de Treville's company of Musketeers alone cannot maintain a war against the cardinal, who disposes of the forces of all France, and before whom the queen is without power and the king without will. d'Artagnan, my friend, you are brave, you are prudent, you have excellent qualities; but the women will ruin you!"
He came to this melancholy conclusion as he entered the antechamber. He placed his letter in the hands of the usher on duty, who led him into the waiting room and passed on into the interior of the palace.
In this waiting room were five or six of the cardinals Guards, who recognized d'Artagnan, and knowing that it was he who had wounded Jussac, they looked upon him with a smile of singular meaning.
This smile appeared to d'Artagnan to be of bad augury. Only, as our Gascon was not easily intimidated—or rather, thanks to a great pride natural to the men of his country, he did not allow one easily to see what was passing in his mind when that which was passing at all resembled fear—he placed himself haughtily in front of Messieurs the Guards, and waited with his hand on his hip, in an attitude by no means deficient in majesty.
The usher returned and made a sign to d'Artagnan to follow him. It appeared to the young man that the Guards, on seeing him depart, chuckled among themselves.
He traversed a corridor, crossed a grand saloon, entered a library, and found himself in the presence of a man seated at a desk and writing.
The usher introduced him, and retired without speaking a word. D'Artagnan remained standing and examined this man.
D'Artagnan at first believed that he had to do with some judge examining his papers; but he perceived that the man at the desk wrote, or rather corrected, lines of unequal length, scanning the words on his fingers. He saw then that he was with a poet. At the end of an instant the poet closed his manuscript, upon the cover of which was written "Mirame, a Tragedy in Five Acts," and raised his head.
D'Artagnan recognized the cardinal.
40 A TERRIBLE VISION
The cardinal leaned his elbow on his manuscript, his cheek upon his hand, and looked intently at the young man for a moment. No one had a more searching eye than the Cardinal de Richelieu, and d'Artagnan felt this glance run through his veins like a fever.
He however kept a good countenance, holding his hat in his hand and awaiting the good pleasure of his Eminence, without too much assurance, but also without too much humility.
"Monsieur," said the cardinal, "are you a d'Artagnan from Bearn?"
"Yes, monseigneur," replied the young man.
"There are several branches of the d'Artagnans at Tarbes and in its environs," said the cardinal; "to which do you belong?"
"I am the son of him who served in the Religious Wars under the great King Henry, the father of his gracious Majesty."
"That is well. It is you who set out seven or eight months ago from your country to seek your fortune in the capital?"
"You came through Meung, where something befell you. I don't very well know what, but still something."
"Monseigneur," said d'Artagnan, "this was what happened to me—"
"Never mind, never mind!" resumed the cardinal, with a smile which indicated that he knew the story as well as he who wished to relate it. "You were recommended to Monsieur de Treville, were you not?"
"Yes, monseigneur; but in that unfortunate affair at Meung—"
"The letter was lost," replied his Eminence; "yes, I know that. But Monsieur de Treville is a skilled physiognomist, who knows men at first sight; and he placed you in the company of his brother-in-law, Monsieur Dessessart, leaving you to hope that one day or other you should enter the Musketeers."
"Monseigneur is correctly informed," said d'Artagnan.
"Since that time many things have happened to you. You were walking one day behind the Chartreux, when it would have been better if you had been elsewhere. Then you took with your friends a journey to the waters of Forges; they stopped on the road, but you continued yours. That is all very simple: you had business in England."
"Monseigneur," said d'Artagnan, quite confused, "I went—"
"Hunting at Windsor, or elsewhere—that concerns nobody. I know, because it is my office to know everything. On your return you were received by an august personage, and I perceive with pleasure that you preserve the souvenir she gave you."
D'Artagnan placed his hand upon the queen's diamond, which he wore, and quickly turned the stone inward; but it was too late.
"The day after that, you received a visit from Cavois," resumed the cardinal. "He went to desire you to come to the palace. You have not returned that visit, and you were wrong."
"Monseigneur, I feared I had incurred disgrace with your Eminence."
"How could that be, monsieur? Could you incur my displeasure by having followed the orders of your superiors with more intelligence and courage than another would have done? It is the people who do not obey that I punish, and not those who, like you, obey—but too well. As a proof, remember the date of the day on which I had you bidden to come to me, and seek in your memory for what happened to you that very night."
That was the very evening when the abduction of Mme. Bonacieux took place. D'Artagnan trembled; and he likewise recollected that during the past half hour the poor woman had passed close to him, without doubt carried away by the same power that had caused her disappearance.
"In short," continued the cardinal, "as I have heard nothing of you for some time past, I wished to know what you were doing. Besides, you owe me some thanks. You must yourself have remarked how much you have been considered in all the circumstances."
D'Artagnan bowed with respect.
"That," continued the cardinal, "arose not only from a feeling of natural equity, but likewise from a plan I have marked out with respect to you."
D'Artagnan became more and more astonished.
"I wished to explain this plan to you on the day you received my first invitation; but you did not come. Fortunately, nothing is lost by this delay, and you are now about to hear it. Sit down there, before me, d'Artagnan; you are gentleman enough not to listen standing." And the cardinal pointed with his finger to a chair for the young man, who was so astonished at what was passing that he awaited a second sign from his interlocutor before he obeyed.
"You are brave, Monsieur d'Artagnan," continued his Eminence; "you are prudent, which is still better. I like men of head and heart. Don't be afraid," said he, smiling. "By men of heart I mean men of courage. But young as you are, and scarcely entering into the world, you have powerful enemies; if you do not take great heed, they will destroy you."
"Alas, monseigneur!" replied the young man, "very easily, no doubt, for they are strong and well supported, while I am alone."
"Yes, that's true; but alone as you are, you have done much already, and will do still more, I don't doubt. Yet you have need, I believe, to be guided in the adventurous career you have undertaken; for, if I mistake not, you came to Paris with the ambitious idea of making your fortune."
"I am at the age of extravagant hopes, monseigneur," said d'Artagnan.
"There are no extravagant hopes but for fools, monsieur, and you are a man of understanding. Now, what would you say to an ensign's commission in my Guards, and a company after the campaign?"
"You accept it, do you not?"
"Monseigneur," replied d'Artagnan, with an embarrassed air.
"How? You refuse?" cried the cardinal, with astonishment.
"I am in his Majesty's Guards, monseigneur, and I have no reason to be dissatisfied."
"But it appears to me that my Guards—mine—are also his Majesty's Guards; and whoever serves in a French corps serves the king."
"Monseigneur, your Eminence has ill understood my words."
"You want a pretext, do you not? I comprehend. Well, you have this excuse: advancement, the opening campaign, the opportunity which I offer you—so much for the world. As regards yourself, the need of protection; for it is fit you should know, Monsieur d'Artagnan, that I have received heavy and serious complaints against you. You do not consecrate your days and nights wholly to the king's service."
"In fact," said the cardinal, placing his hand upon a bundle of papers, "I have here a whole pile which concerns you. I know you to be a man of resolution; and your services, well directed, instead of leading you to ill, might be very advantageous to you. Come; reflect, and decide."
"Your goodness confounds me, monseigneur," replied d'Artagnan, "and I am conscious of a greatness of soul in your Eminence that makes me mean as an earthworm; but since Monseigneur permits me to speak freely—"
"Then, I will presume to say that all my friends are in the king's Musketeers and Guards, and that by an inconceivable fatality my enemies are in the service of your Eminence; I should, therefore, be ill received here and ill regarded there if I accepted what Monseigneur offers me."
"Do you happen to entertain the haughty idea that I have not yet made you an offer equal to your value?" asked the cardinal, with a smile of disdain.
"Monseigneur, your Eminence is a hundred times too kind to me; and on the contrary, I think I have not proved myself worthy of your goodness. The siege of La Rochelle is about to be resumed, monseigneur. I shall serve under the eye of your Eminence, and if I have the good fortune to conduct myself at the siege in such a manner as merits your attention, then I shall at least leave behind me some brilliant action to justify the protection with which you honor me. Everything is best in its time, monseigneur. Hereafter, perhaps, I shall have the right of giving myself; at present I shall appear to sell myself."
"That is to say, you refuse to serve me, monsieur," said the cardinal, with a tone of vexation, through which, however, might be seen a sort of esteem; "remain free, then, and guard your hatreds and your sympathies."
"Well, well," said the cardinal, "I don't wish you any ill; but you must be aware that it is quite trouble enough to defend and recompense our friends. We owe nothing to our enemies; and let me give you a piece of advice; take care of yourself, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for from the moment I withdraw my hand from behind you, I would not give an obolus for your life."
"I will try to do so, monseigneur," replied the Gascon, with a noble confidence.
"Remember at a later period and at a certain moment, if any mischance should happen to you," said Richelieu, significantly, "that it was I who came to seek you, and that I did all in my power to prevent this misfortune befalling you."
"I shall entertain, whatever may happen," said d'Artagnan, placing his hand upon his breast and bowing, "an eternal gratitude toward your Eminence for that which you now do for me."
"Well, let it be, then, as you have said, Monsieur d'Artagnan; we shall see each other again after the campaign. I will have my eye upon you, for I shall be there," replied the cardinal, pointing with his finger to a magnificent suit of armor he was to wear, "and on our return, well—we will settle our account!"
"Young man," said Richelieu, "if I shall be able to say to you at another time what I have said to you today, I promise you to do so."
This last expression of Richelieu's conveyed a terrible doubt; it alarmed d'Artagnan more than a menace would have done, for it was a warning. The cardinal, then, was seeking to preserve him from some misfortune which threatened him. He opened his mouth to reply, but with a haughty gesture the cardinal dismissed him.
D'Artagnan went out, but at the door his heart almost failed him, and he felt inclined to return. Then the noble and severe countenance of Athos crossed his mind; if he made the compact with the cardinal which he required, Athos would no more give him his hand—Athos would renounce him.
It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it.
D'Artagnan descended by the staircase at which he had entered, and found Athos and the four Musketeers waiting his appearance, and beginning to grow uneasy. With a word, d'Artagnan reassured them; and Planchet ran to inform the other sentinels that it was useless to keep guard longer, as his master had come out safe from the Palais-Cardinal.
Returned home with Athos, Aramis and Porthos inquired eagerly the cause of the strange interview; but d'Artagnan confined himself to telling them that M. de Richelieu had sent for him to propose to him to enter into his guards with the rank of ensign, and that he had refused.
"And you were right," cried Aramis and Porthos, with one voice.
Athos fell into a profound reverie and answered nothing. But when they were alone he said, "You have done that which you ought to have done, d'Artagnan; but perhaps you have been wrong."
D'Artagnan sighed deeply, for this voice responded to a secret voice of his soul, which told him that great misfortunes awaited him.
The whole of the next day was spent in preparations for departure. D'Artagnan went to take leave of M. de Treville. At that time it was believed that the separation of the Musketeers and the Guards would be but momentary, the king holding his Parliament that very day and proposing to set out the day after. M. de Treville contented himself with asking d'Artagnan if he could do anything for him, but d'Artagnan answered that he was supplied with all he wanted.
That night brought together all those comrades of the Guards of M. Dessessart and the company of Musketeers of M. de Treville who had been accustomed to associate together. They were parting to meet again when it pleased God, and if it pleased God. That night, then, was somewhat riotous, as may be imagined. In such cases extreme preoccupation is only to be combated by extreme carelessness.
At the first sound of the morning trumpet the friends separated; the Musketeers hastening to the hotel of M. de Treville, the Guards to that of M. Dessessart. Each of the captains then led his company to the Louvre, where the king held his review.
The king was dull and appeared ill, which detracted a little from his usual lofty bearing. In fact, the evening before, a fever had seized him in the midst of the Parliament, while he was holding his Bed of Justice. He had, not the less, decided upon setting out that same evening; and in spite of the remonstrances that had been offered to him, he persisted in having the review, hoping by setting it at defiance to conquer the disease which began to lay hold upon him.
The review over, the Guards set forward alone on their march, the Musketeers waiting for the king, which allowed Porthos time to go and take a turn in his superb equipment in the Rue aux Ours.
The procurator's wife saw him pass in his new uniform and on his fine horse. She loved Porthos too dearly to allow him to part thus; she made him a sign to dismount and come to her. Porthos was magnificent; his spurs jingled, his cuirass glittered, his sword knocked proudly against his ample limbs. This time the clerks evinced no inclination to laugh, such a real ear clipper did Porthos appear.
The Musketeer was introduced to M. Coquenard, whose little gray eyes sparkled with anger at seeing his cousin all blazing new. Nevertheless, one thing afforded him inward consolation; it was expected by everybody that the campaign would be a severe one. He whispered a hope to himself that this beloved relative might be killed in the field.
Porthos paid his compliments to M. Coquenard and bade him farewell. M. Coquenard wished him all sorts of prosperities. As to Mme. Coquenard, she could not restrain her tears; but no evil impressions were taken from her grief as she was known to be very much attached to her relatives, about whom she was constantly having serious disputes with her husband.
But the real adieux were made in Mme. Coquenard's chamber; they were heartrending.
As long as the procurator's wife could follow him with her eyes, she waved her handkerchief to him, leaning so far out of the window as to lead people to believe she wished to precipitate herself. Porthos received all these attentions like a man accustomed to such demonstrations, only on turning the corner of the street he lifted his hat gracefully, and waved it to her as a sign of adieu.
On his part Aramis wrote a long letter. To whom? Nobody knew. Kitty, who was to set out that evening for Tours, was waiting in the next chamber.
Athos sipped the last bottle of his Spanish wine.
In the meantime d'Artagnan was defiling with his company. Arriving at the Faubourg St. Antoine, he turned round to look gaily at the Bastille; but as it was the Bastille alone he looked at, he did not observe Milady, who, mounted upon a light chestnut horse, designated him with her finger to two ill-looking men who came close up to the ranks to take notice of him. To a look of interrogation which they made, Milady replied by a sign that it was he. Then, certain that there could be no mistake in the execution of her orders, she started her horse and disappeared.
The two men followed the company, and on leaving the Faubourg St. Antoine, mounted two horses properly equipped, which a servant without livery had waiting for them.
41 THE SEIGE OF LA ROCHELLE
The Siege of La Rochelle was one of the great political events of the reign of Louis XIII, and one of the great military enterprises of the cardinal. It is, then, interesting and even necessary that we should say a few words about it, particularly as many details of this siege are connected in too important a manner with the story we have undertaken to relate to allow us to pass it over in silence.
The political plans of the cardinal when he undertook this siege were extensive. Let us unfold them first, and then pass on to the private plans which perhaps had not less influence upon his Eminence than the others.
Of the important cities given up by Henry IV to the Huguenots as places of safety, there only remained La Rochelle. It became necessary, therefore, to destroy this last bulwark of Calvinism—a dangerous leaven with which the ferments of civil revolt and foreign war were constantly mingling.
Spaniards, Englishmen, and Italian malcontents, adventurers of all nations, and soldiers of fortune of every sect, flocked at the first summons under the standard of the Protestants, and organized themselves like a vast association, whose branches diverged freely over all parts of Europe.
La Rochelle, which had derived a new importance from the ruin of the other Calvinist cities, was, then, the focus of dissensions and ambition. Moreover, its port was the last in the kingdom of France open to the English, and by closing it against England, our eternal enemy, the cardinal completed the work of Joan of Arc and the Duc de Guise.
Thus Bassompierre, who was at once Protestant and Catholic—Protestant by conviction and Catholic as commander of the order of the Holy Ghost; Bassompierre, who was a German by birth and a Frenchman at heart—in short, Bassompierre, who had a distinguished command at the siege of La Rochelle, said, in charging at the head of several other Protestant nobles like himself, "You will see, gentlemen, that we shall be fools enough to take La Rochelle."
And Bassompierre was right. The cannonade of the Isle of Re presaged to him the dragonnades of the Cevennes; the taking of La Rochelle was the preface to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
We have hinted that by the side of these views of the leveling and simplifying minister, which belong to history, the chronicler is forced to recognize the lesser motives of the amorous man and jealous rival.
Richelieu, as everyone knows, had loved the queen. Was this love a simple political affair, or was it naturally one of those profound passions which Anne of Austria inspired in those who approached her? That we are not able to say; but at all events, we have seen, by the anterior developments of this story, that Buckingham had the advantage over him, and in two or three circumstances, particularly that of the diamond studs, had, thanks to the devotedness of the three Musketeers and the courage and conduct of d'Artagnan, cruelly mystified him.
It was, then, Richelieu's object, not only to get rid of an enemy of France, but to avenge himself on a rival; but this vengeance must be grand and striking and worthy in every way of a man who held in his hand, as his weapon for combat, the forces of a kingdom.
Richelieu knew that in combating England he combated Buckingham; that in triumphing over England he triumphed over Buckingham—in short, that in humiliating England in the eyes of Europe he humiliated Buckingham in the eyes of the queen.
On his side Buckingham, in pretending to maintain the honor of England, was moved by interests exactly like those of the cardinal. Buckingham also was pursuing a private vengeance. Buckingham could not under any pretense be admitted into France as an ambassador; he wished to enter it as a conqueror.
It resulted from this that the real stake in this game, which two most powerful kingdoms played for the good pleasure of two amorous men, was simply a kind look from Anne of Austria.
The first advantage had been gained by Buckingham. Arriving unexpectedly in sight of the Isle of Re with ninety vessels and nearly twenty thousand men, he had surprised the Comte de Toiras, who commanded for the king in the Isle, and he had, after a bloody conflict, effected his landing.
Allow us to observe in passing that in this fight perished the Baron de Chantal; that the Baron de Chantal left a little orphan girl eighteen months old, and that this little girl was afterward Mme. de Sevigne.
The Comte de Toiras retired into the citadel St. Martin with his garrison, and threw a hundred men into a little fort called the fort of La Pree.
This event had hastened the resolutions of the cardinal; and till the king and he could take the command of the siege of La Rochelle, which was determined, he had sent Monsieur to direct the first operations, and had ordered all the troops he could dispose of to march toward the theater of war. It was of this detachment, sent as a vanguard, that our friend d'Artagnan formed a part.
The king, as we have said, was to follow as soon as his Bed of Justice had been held; but on rising from his Bed of Justice on the twenty-eighth of June, he felt himself attacked by fever. He was, notwithstanding, anxious to set out; but his illness becoming more serious, he was forced to stop at Villeroy.
Now, whenever the king halted, the Musketeers halted. It followed that d'Artagnan, who was as yet purely and simply in the Guards, found himself, for the time at least, separated from his good friends—Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. This separation, which was no more than an unpleasant circumstance, would have certainly become a cause of serious uneasiness if he had been able to guess by what unknown dangers he was surrounded.
He, however, arrived without accident in the camp established before La Rochelle, of the tenth of the month of September of the year 1627.
Everything was in the same state. The Duke of Buckingham and his English, masters of the Isle of Re, continued to besiege, but without success, the citadel St. Martin and the fort of La Pree; and hostilities with La Rochelle had commenced, two or three days before, about a fort which the Duc d'Angouleme had caused to be constructed near the city.
The Guards, under the command of M. Dessessart, took up their quarters at the Minimes; but, as we know, d'Artagnan, possessed with ambition to enter the Musketeers, had formed but few friendships among his comrades, and he felt himself isolated and given up to his own reflections.
His reflections were not very cheerful. From the time of his arrival in Paris, he had been mixed up with public affairs; but his own private affairs had made no great progress, either in love or fortune. As to love, the only woman he could have loved was Mme. Bonacieux; and Mme. Bonacieux had disappeared, without his being able to discover what had become of her. As to fortune, he had made—he, humble as he was—an enemy of the cardinal; that is to say, of a man before whom trembled the greatest men of the kingdom, beginning with the king.
That man had the power to crush him, and yet he had not done so. For a mind so perspicuous as that of d'Artagnan, this indulgence was a light by which he caught a glimpse of a better future.
Then he had made himself another enemy, less to be feared, he thought; but nevertheless, he instinctively felt, not to be despised. This enemy was Milady.
In exchange for all this, he had acquired the protection and good will of the queen; but the favor of the queen was at the present time an additional cause of persecution, and her protection, as it was known, protected badly—as witness Chalais and Mme. Bonacieux.
What he had clearly gained in all this was the diamond, worth five or six thousand livres, which he wore on his finger; and even this diamond—supposing that d'Artagnan, in his projects of ambition, wished to keep it, to make it someday a pledge for the gratitude of the queen—had not in the meanwhile, since he could not part with it, more value than the gravel he trod under his feet.
We say the gravel he trod under his feet, for d'Artagnan made these reflections while walking solitarily along a pretty little road which led from the camp to the village of Angoutin. Now, these reflections had led him further than he intended, and the day was beginning to decline when, by the last ray of the setting sun, he thought he saw the barrel of a musket glitter from behind a hedge.
D'Artagnan had a quick eye and a prompt understanding. He comprehended that the musket had not come there of itself, and that he who bore it had not concealed himself behind a hedge with any friendly intentions. He determined, therefore, to direct his course as clear from it as he could when, on the opposite side of the road, from behind a rock, he perceived the extremity of another musket.
This was evidently an ambuscade.
The young man cast a glance at the first musket and saw, with a certain degree of inquietude, that it was leveled in his direction; but as soon as he perceived that the orifice of the barrel was motionless, he threw himself upon the ground. At the same instant the gun was fired, and he heard the whistling of a ball pass over his head.
No time was to be lost. D'Artagnan sprang up with a bound, and at the same instant the ball from the other musket tore up the gravel on the very spot on the road where he had thrown himself with his face to the ground.
D'Artagnan was not one of those foolhardy men who seek a ridiculous death in order that it may be said of them that they did not retreat a single step. Besides, courage was out of the question here; d'Artagnan had fallen into an ambush.
"If there is a third shot," said he to himself, "I am a lost man."
He immediately, therefore, took to his heels and ran toward the camp, with the swiftness of the young men of his country, so renowned for their agility; but whatever might be his speed, the first who fired, having had time to reload, fired a second shot, and this time so well aimed that it struck his hat, and carried it ten paces from him.
As he, however, had no other hat, he picked up this as he ran, and arrived at his quarters very pale and quite out of breath. He sat down without saying a word to anybody, and began to reflect.
This event might have three causes:
The first and the most natural was that it might be an ambuscade of the Rochellais, who might not be sorry to kill one of his Majesty's Guards, because it would be an enemy the less, and this enemy might have a well-furnished purse in his pocket.
D'Artagnan took his hat, examined the hole made by the ball, and shook his head. The ball was not a musket ball—it was an arquebus ball. The accuracy of the aim had first given him the idea that a special weapon had been employed. This could not, then, be a military ambuscade, as the ball was not of the regular caliber.
This might be a kind remembrance of Monsieur the Cardinal. It may be observed that at the very moment when, thanks to the ray of the sun, he perceived the gun barrel, he was thinking with astonishment on the forbearance of his Eminence with respect to him.
But d'Artagnan again shook his head. For people toward whom he had but to put forth his hand, his Eminence had rarely recourse to such means.
It might be a vengeance of Milady; that was most probable.
He tried in vain to remember the faces or dress of the assassins; he had escaped so rapidly that he had not had leisure to notice anything.
"Ah, my poor friends!" murmured d'Artagnan; "where are you? And that you should fail me!"
D'Artagnan passed a very bad night. Three or four times he started up, imagining that a man was approaching his bed for the purpose of stabbing him. Nevertheless, day dawned without darkness having brought any accident.
But d'Artagnan well suspected that that which was deferred was not relinquished.
D'Artagnan remained all day in his quarters, assigning as a reason to himself that the weather was bad.
At nine o'clock the next morning, the drums beat to arms. The Duc d'Orleans visited the posts. The guards were under arms, and d'Artagnan took his place in the midst of his comrades.
Monsieur passed along the front of the line; then all the superior officers approached him to pay their compliments, M. Dessessart, captain of the Guards, as well as the others.
At the expiration of a minute or two, it appeared to d'Artagnan that M. Dessessart made him a sign to approach. He waited for a fresh gesture on the part of his superior, for fear he might be mistaken; but this gesture being repeated, he left the ranks, and advanced to receive orders.
"Monsieur is about to ask for some men of good will for a dangerous mission, but one which will do honor to those who shall accomplish it; and I made you a sign in order that you might hold yourself in readiness."
"Thanks, my captain!" replied d'Artagnan, who wished for nothing better than an opportunity to distinguish himself under the eye of the lieutenant general.
In fact the Rochellais had made a sortie during the night, and had retaken a bastion of which the royal army had gained possession two days before. The matter was to ascertain, by reconnoitering, how the enemy guarded this bastion.
At the end of a few minutes Monsieur raised his voice, and said, "I want for this mission three or four volunteers, led by a man who can be depended upon."
"As to the man to be depended upon, I have him under my hand, monsieur," said M. Dessessart, pointing to d'Artagnan; "and as to the four or five volunteers, Monsieur has but to make his intentions known, and the men will not be wanting."
"Four men of good will who will risk being killed with me!" said d'Artagnan, raising his sword.
Two of his comrades of the Guards immediately sprang forward, and two other soldiers having joined them, the number was deemed sufficient. D'Artagnan declined all others, being unwilling to take the first chance from those who had the priority.
It was not known whether, after the taking of the bastion, the Rochellais had evacuated it or left a garrison in it; the object then was to examine the place near enough to verify the reports.
D'Artagnan set out with his four companions, and followed the trench; the two Guards marched abreast with him, and the two soldiers followed behind.
They arrived thus, screened by the lining of the trench, till they came within a hundred paces of the bastion. There, on turning round, d'Artagnan perceived that the two soldiers had disappeared.
He thought that, beginning to be afraid, they had stayed behind, and he continued to advance.
At the turning of the counterscarp they found themselves within about sixty paces of the bastion. They saw no one, and the bastion seemed abandoned.
The three composing our forlorn hope were deliberating whether they should proceed any further, when all at once a circle of smoke enveloped the giant of stone, and a dozen balls came whistling around d'Artagnan and his companions.
They knew all they wished to know; the bastion was guarded. A longer stay in this dangerous spot would have been useless imprudence. D'Artagnan and his two companions turned their backs, and commenced a retreat which resembled a flight.
On arriving at the angle of the trench which was to serve them as a rampart, one of the Guardsmen fell. A ball had passed through his breast. The other, who was safe and sound, continued his way toward the camp.
D'Artagnan was not willing to abandon his companion thus, and stooped to raise him and assist him in regaining the lines; but at this moment two shots were fired. One ball struck the head of the already-wounded guard, and the other flattened itself against a rock, after having passed within two inches of d'Artagnan.
The young man turned quickly round, for this attack could not have come from the bastion, which was hidden by the angle of the trench. The idea of the two soldiers who had abandoned him occurred to his mind, and with them he remembered the assassins of two evenings before. He resolved this time to know with whom he had to deal, and fell upon the body of his comrade as if he were dead.
He quickly saw two heads appear above an abandoned work within thirty paces of him; they were the heads of the two soldiers. D'Artagnan had not been deceived; these two men had only followed for the purpose of assassinating him, hoping that the young man's death would be placed to the account of the enemy.
As he might be only wounded and might denounce their crime, they came up to him with the purpose of making sure. Fortunately, deceived by d'Artagnan's trick, they neglected to reload their guns.
When they were within ten paces of him, d'Artagnan, who in falling had taken care not to let go his sword, sprang up close to them.
The assassins comprehended that if they fled toward the camp without having killed their man, they should be accused by him; therefore their first idea was to join the enemy. One of them took his gun by the barrel, and used it as he would a club. He aimed a terrible blow at d'Artagnan, who avoided it by springing to one side; but by this movement he left a passage free to the bandit, who darted off toward the bastion. As the Rochellais who guarded the bastion were ignorant of the intentions of the man they saw coming toward them, they fired upon him, and he fell, struck by a ball which broke his shoulder.
Meantime d'Artagnan had thrown himself upon the other soldier, attacking him with his sword. The conflict was not long; the wretch had nothing to defend himself with but his discharged arquebus. The sword of the Guardsman slipped along the barrel of the now-useless weapon, and passed through the thigh of the assassin, who fell.
D'Artagnan immediately placed the point of his sword at his throat.
"Oh, do not kill me!" cried the bandit. "Pardon, pardon, my officer, and I will tell you all."
"Is your secret of enough importance to me to spare your life for it?" asked the young man, withholding his arm.
"Yes; if you think existence worth anything to a man of twenty, as you are, and who may hope for everything, being handsome and brave, as you are."
"Wretch," cried d'Artagnan, "speak quickly! Who employed you to assassinate me?"
"A woman whom I don't know, but who is called Milady."
"But if you don't know this woman, how do you know her name?"
"My comrade knows her, and called her so. It was with him she agreed, and not with me; he even has in his pocket a letter from that person, who attaches great importance to you, as I have heard him say."
"But how did you become concerned in this villainous affair?"
"He proposed to me to undertake it with him, and I agreed."
"And how much did she give you for this fine enterprise?"
"A hundred louis."
"Well, come!" said the young man, laughing, "she thinks I am worth something. A hundred louis? Well, that was a temptation for two wretches like you. I understand why you accepted it, and I grant you my pardon; but upon one condition."
"What is that?" said the soldier, uneasy at perceiving that all was not over.
"That you will go and fetch me the letter your comrade has in his pocket."
"But," cried the bandit, "that is only another way of killing me. How can I go and fetch that letter under the fire of the bastion?"
"You must nevertheless make up your mind to go and get it, or I swear you shall die by my hand."
"Pardon, monsieur; pity! In the name of that young lady you love, and whom you perhaps believe dead but who is not!" cried the bandit, throwing himself upon his knees and leaning upon his hand—for he began to lose his strength with his blood.
"And how do you know there is a young woman whom I love, and that I believed that woman dead?" asked d'Artagnan.
"By that letter which my comrade has in his pocket."
"You see, then," said d'Artagnan, "that I must have that letter. So no more delay, no more hesitation; or else whatever may be my repugnance to soiling my sword a second time with the blood of a wretch like you, I swear by my faith as an honest man—" and at these words d'Artagnan made so fierce a gesture that the wounded man sprang up.
"Stop, stop!" cried he, regaining strength by force of terror. "I will go—I will go!"
D'Artagnan took the soldier's arquebus, made him go on before him, and urged him toward his companion by pricking him behind with his sword.
It was a frightful thing to see this wretch, leaving a long track of blood on the ground he passed over, pale with approaching death, trying to drag himself along without being seen to the body of his accomplice, which lay twenty paces from him.
Terror was so strongly painted on his face, covered with a cold sweat, that d'Artagnan took pity on him, and casting upon him a look of contempt, "Stop," said he, "I will show you the difference between a man of courage and such a coward as you. Stay where you are; I will go myself."
And with a light step, an eye on the watch, observing the movements of the enemy and taking advantage of the accidents of the ground, d'Artagnan succeeded in reaching the second soldier.
There were two means of gaining his object—to search him on the spot, or to carry him away, making a buckler of his body, and search him in the trench.
D'Artagnan preferred the second means, and lifted the assassin onto his shoulders at the moment the enemy fired.
A slight shock, the dull noise of three balls which penetrated the flesh, a last cry, a convulsion of agony, proved to d'Artagnan that the would-be assassin had saved his life.
D'Artagnan regained the trench, and threw the corpse beside the wounded man, who was as pale as death.
Then he began to search. A leather pocketbook, a purse, in which was evidently a part of the sum which the bandit had received, with a dice box and dice, completed the possessions of the dead man.
He left the box and dice where they fell, threw the purse to the wounded man, and eagerly opened the pocketbook.
Among some unimportant papers he found the following letter, that which he had sought at the risk of his life:
"Since you have lost sight of that woman and she is now in safety in the convent, which you should never have allowed her to reach, try, at least, not to miss the man. If you do, you know that my hand stretches far, and that you shall pay very dearly for the hundred louis you have from me."
No signature. Nevertheless it was plain the letter came from Milady. He consequently kept it as a piece of evidence, and being in safety behind the angle of the trench, he began to interrogate the wounded man. He confessed that he had undertaken with his comrade—the same who was killed—to carry off a young woman who was to leave Paris by the Barriere de La Villette; but having stopped to drink at a cabaret, they had missed the carriage by ten minutes.
"But what were you to do with that woman?" asked d'Artagnan, with anguish.
"We were to have conveyed her to a hotel in the Place Royale," said the wounded man.
"Yes, yes!" murmured d'Artagnan; "that's the place—Milady's own residence!"
Then the young man tremblingly comprehended what a terrible thirst for vengeance urged this woman on to destroy him, as well as all who loved him, and how well she must be acquainted with the affairs of the court, since she had discovered all. There could be no doubt she owed this information to the cardinal.
But amid all this he perceived, with a feeling of real joy, that the queen must have discovered the prison in which poor Mme. Bonacieux was explaining her devotion, and that she had freed her from that prison; and the letter he had received from the young woman, and her passage along the road of Chaillot like an apparition, were now explained.
Then also, as Athos had predicted, it became possible to find Mme. Bonacieux, and a convent was not impregnable.
This idea completely restored clemency to his heart. He turned toward the wounded man, who had watched with intense anxiety all the various expressions of his countenance, and holding out his arm to him, said, "Come, I will not abandon you thus. Lean upon me, and let us return to the camp."
"Yes," said the man, who could scarcely believe in such magnanimity, "but is it not to have me hanged?"
"You have my word," said he; "for the second time I give you your life."
The wounded man sank upon his knees, to again kiss the feet of his preserver; but d'Artagnan, who had no longer a motive for staying so near the enemy, abridged the testimonials of his gratitude.
The Guardsman who had returned at the first discharge announced the death of his four companions. They were therefore much astonished and delighted in the regiment when they saw the young man come back safe and sound.
D'Artagnan explained the sword wound of his companion by a sortie which he improvised. He described the death of the other soldier, and the perils they had encountered. This recital was for him the occasion of veritable triumph. The whole army talked of this expedition for a day, and Monsieur paid him his compliments upon it. Besides this, as every great action bears its recompense with it, the brave exploit of d'Artagnan resulted in the restoration of the tranquility he had lost. In fact, d'Artagnan believed that he might be tranquil, as one of his two enemies was killed and the other devoted to his interests.
This tranquillity proved one thing—that d'Artagnan did not yet know Milady.
42 THE ANJOU WINE
After the most disheartening news of the king's health, a report of his convalescence began to prevail in the camp; and as he was very anxious to be in person at the siege, it was said that as soon as he could mount a horse he would set forward.
Meantime, Monsieur, who knew that from one day to the other he might expect to be removed from his command by the Duc d'Angouleme, by Bassompierre, or by Schomberg, who were all eager for his post, did but little, lost his days in wavering, and did not dare to attempt any great enterprise to drive the English from the Isle of Re, where they still besieged the citadel St. Martin and the fort of La Pree, as on their side the French were besieging La Rochelle.
D'Artagnan, as we have said, had become more tranquil, as always happens after a past danger, particularly when the danger seems to have vanished. He only felt one uneasiness, and that was at not hearing any tidings from his friends.
But one morning at the commencement of the month of November everything was explained to him by this letter, dated from Villeroy:
MM. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, after having had an entertainment at my house and enjoying themselves very much, created such a disturbance that the provost of the castle, a rigid man, has ordered them to be confined for some days; but I accomplish the order they have given me by forwarding to you a dozen bottles of my Anjou wine, with which they are much pleased. They are desirous that you should drink to their health in their favorite wine. I have done this, and am, monsieur, with great respect,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Godeau, Purveyor of the Musketeers
"That's all well!" cried d'Artagnan. "They think of me in their pleasures, as I thought of them in my troubles. Well, I will certainly drink to their health with all my heart, but I will not drink alone."
And d'Artagnan went among those Guardsmen with whom he had formed greater intimacy than with the others, to invite them to enjoy with him this present of delicious Anjou wine which had been sent him from Villeroy.
One of the two Guardsmen was engaged that evening, and another the next, so the meeting was fixed for the day after that.
D'Artagnan, on his return, sent the twelve bottles of wine to the refreshment room of the Guards, with strict orders that great care should be taken of it; and then, on the day appointed, as the dinner was fixed for midday d'Artagnan sent Planchet at nine in the morning to assist in preparing everything for the entertainment.
Planchet, very proud of being raised to the dignity of landlord, thought he would make all ready, like an intelligent man; and with this view called in the assistance of the lackey of one of his master's guests, named Fourreau, and the false soldier who had tried to kill d'Artagnan and who, belonging to no corps, had entered into the service of d'Artagnan, or rather of Planchet, after d'Artagnan had saved his life.
The hour of the banquet being come, the two guards arrived, took their places, and the dishes were arranged on the table. Planchet waited, towel on arm; Fourreau uncorked the bottles; and Brisemont, which was the name of the convalescent, poured the wine, which was a little shaken by its journey, carefully into decanters. Of this wine, the first bottle being a little thick at the bottom, Brisemont poured the lees into a glass, and d'Artagnan desired him to drink it, for the poor devil had not yet recovered his strength.
The guests having eaten the soup, were about to lift the first glass of wine to their lips, when all at once the cannon sounded from Fort Louis and Fort Neuf. The Guardsmen, imagining this to be caused by some unexpected attack, either of the besieged or the English, sprang to their swords. D'Artagnan, not less forward than they, did likewise, and all ran out, in order to repair to their posts.
But scarcely were they out of the room before they were made aware of the cause of this noise. Cries of "Live the king! Live the cardinal!" resounded on every side, and the drums were beaten in all directions.
In short, the king, impatient, as has been said, had come by forced marches, and had that moment arrived with all his household and a reinforcement of ten thousand troops. His Musketeers proceeded and followed him. D'Artagnan, placed in line with his company, saluted with an expressive gesture his three friends, whose eyes soon discovered him, and M. de Treville, who detected him at once.
The ceremony of reception over, the four friends were soon in one another's arms.
"Pardieu!" cried d'Artagnan, "you could not have arrived in better time; the dinner cannot have had time to get cold! Can it, gentlemen?" added the young man, turning to the two Guards, whom he introduced to his friends.
"Ah, ah!" said Porthos, "it appears we are feasting!"
"I hope," said Aramis, "there are no women at your dinner."
"Is there any drinkable wine in your tavern?" asked Athos.
"Well, pardieu! there is yours, my dear friend," replied d'Artagnan.
"Our wine!" said Athos, astonished.
"Yes, that you sent me."
"We sent you wine?"
"You know very well—the wine from the hills of Anjou."
"Yes, I know what brand you are talking about."
"The wine you prefer."
"Well, in the absence of champagne and chambertin, you must content yourselves with that."
"And so, connoisseurs in wine as we are, we have sent you some Anjou wine?" said Porthos.
"Not exactly, it is the wine that was sent by your order."
"On our account?" said the three Musketeers.
"Did you send this wine, Aramis?" said Athos.
"No; and you, Porthos?"
"No; and you, Athos?"
"If it was not you, it was your purveyor," said d'Artagnan.
"Yes, your purveyor, Godeau—the purveyor of the Musketeers."
"My faith! never mind where it comes from," said Porthos, "let us taste it, and if it is good, let us drink it."
"No," said Athos; "don't let us drink wine which comes from an unknown source."
"You are right, Athos," said d'Artagnan. "Did none of you charge your purveyor, Godeau, to send me some wine?"
"No! And yet you say he has sent you some as from us?"
"Here is his letter," said d'Artagnan, and he presented the note to his comrades.
"This is not his writing!" said Athos. "I am acquainted with it; before we left Villeroy I settled the accounts of the regiment."
"A false letter altogether," said Porthos, "we have not been disciplined."
"d'Artagnan," said Aramis, in a reproachful tone, "how could you believe that we had made a disturbance?"
D'Artagnan grew pale, and a convulsive trembling shook all his limbs.
"Thou alarmest me!" said Athos, who never used thee and thou but upon very particular occasions, "what has happened?"
"Look you, my friends!" cried d'Artagnan, "a horrible suspicion crosses my mind! Can this be another vengeance of that woman?"
It was now Athos who turned pale.
D'Artagnan rushed toward the refreshment room, the three Musketeers and the two Guards following him.
The first object that met the eyes of d'Artagnan on entering the room was Brisemont, stretched upon the ground and rolling in horrible convulsions.
Planchet and Fourreau, as pale as death, were trying to give him succor; but it was plain that all assistance was useless—all the features of the dying man were distorted with agony.
"Ah!" cried he, on perceiving d'Artagnan, "ah! this is frightful! You pretend to pardon me, and you poison me!"
"I!" cried d'Artagnan. "I, wretch? What do you say?"
"I say that it was you who gave me the wine; I say that it was you who desired me to drink it. I say you wished to avenge yourself on me, and I say that it is horrible!"
"Do not think so, Brisemont," said d'Artagnan; "do not think so. I swear to you, I protest—"
"Oh, but God is above! God will punish you! My God, grant that he may one day suffer what I suffer!"
"Upon the Gospel," said d'Artagnan, throwing himself down by the dying man, "I swear to you that the wine was poisoned and that I was going to drink of it as you did."
"I do not believe you," cried the soldier, and he expired amid horrible tortures.
"Frightful! frightful!" murmured Athos, while Porthos broke the bottles and Aramis gave orders, a little too late, that a confessor should be sent for.
"Oh, my friends," said d'Artagnan, "you come once more to save my life, not only mine but that of these gentlemen. Gentlemen," continued he, addressing the Guardsmen, "I request you will be silent with regard to this adventure. Great personages may have had a hand in what you have seen, and if talked about, the evil would only recoil upon us."
"Ah, monsieur!" stammered Planchet, more dead than alive, "ah, monsieur, what an escape I have had!"
"How, sirrah! you were going to drink my wine?"
"To the health of the king, monsieur; I was going to drink a small glass of it if Fourreau had not told me I was called."
"Alas!" said Fourreau, whose teeth chattered with terror, "I wanted to get him out of the way that I might drink myself."
"Gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, addressing the Guardsmen, "you may easily comprehend that such a feast can only be very dull after what has taken place; so accept my excuses, and put off the party till another day, I beg of you."
The two Guardsmen courteously accepted d'Artagnan's excuses, and perceiving that the four friends desired to be alone, retired.
When the young Guardsman and the three Musketeers were without witnesses, they looked at one another with an air which plainly expressed that each of them perceived the gravity of their situation.
"In the first place," said Athos, "let us leave this chamber; the dead are not agreeable company, particularly when they have died a violent death."
"Planchet," said d'Artagnan, "I commit the corpse of this poor devil to your care. Let him be interred in holy ground. He committed a crime, it is true; but he repented of it."
And the four friends quit the room, leaving to Planchet and Fourreau the duty of paying mortuary honors to Brisemont.
The host gave them another chamber, and served them with fresh eggs and some water, which Athos went himself to draw at the fountain. In a few words, Porthos and Aramis were posted as to the situation.
"Well," said d'Artagnan to Athos, "you see, my dear friend, that this is war to the death."
Athos shook his head.
"Yes, yes," replied he, "I perceive that plainly; but do you really believe it is she?"
"I am sure of it."
"Nevertheless, I confess I still doubt."
"But the fleur-de-lis on her shoulder?"
"She is some Englishwoman who has committed a crime in France, and has been branded in consequence."
"Athos, she is your wife, I tell you," repeated d'Artagnan; "only reflect how much the two descriptions resemble each other."
"Yes; but I should think the other must be dead, I hanged her so effectually."
It was d'Artagnan who now shook his head in his turn.
"But in either case, what is to be done?" said the young man.
"The fact is, one cannot remain thus, with a sword hanging eternally over his head," said Athos. "We must extricate ourselves from this position."
"Listen! You must try to see her, and have an explanation with her. Say to her: 'Peace or war! My word as a gentleman never to say anything of you, never to do anything against you; on your side, a solemn oath to remain neutral with respect to me. If not, I will apply to the chancellor, I will apply to the king, I will apply to the hangman, I will move the courts against you, I will denounce you as branded, I will bring you to trial; and if you are acquitted, well, by the faith of a gentleman, I will kill you at the corner of some wall, as I would a mad dog.'"
"I like the means well enough," said d'Artagnan, "but where and how to meet with her?"
"Time, dear friend, time brings round opportunity; opportunity is the martingale of man. The more we have ventured the more we gain, when we know how to wait."
"Yes; but to wait surrounded by assassins and poisoners."
"Bah!" said Athos. "God has preserved us hitherto, God will preserve us still."
"Yes, we. Besides, we are men; and everything considered, it is our lot to risk our lives; but she," asked he, in an undertone.
"What she?" asked Athos.
"Madame Bonacieux! Ah, that's true!" said Athos. "My poor friend, I had forgotten you were in love."
"Well, but," said Aramis, "have you not learned by the letter you found on the wretched corpse that she is in a convent? One may be very comfortable in a convent; and as soon as the siege of La Rochelle is terminated, I promise you on my part—"
"Good," cried Athos, "good! Yes, my dear Aramis, we all know that your views have a religious tendency."
"I am only temporarily a Musketeer," said Aramis, humbly.
"It is some time since we heard from his mistress," said Athos, in a low voice. "But take no notice; we know all about that."
"Well," said Porthos, "it appears to me that the means are very simple."
"What?" asked d'Artagnan.
"You say she is in a convent?" replied Porthos.
"Very well. As soon as the siege is over, we'll carry her off from that convent."
"But we must first learn what convent she is in."
"That's true," said Porthos.
"But I think I have it," said Athos. "Don't you say, dear d'Artagnan, that it is the queen who has made choice of the convent for her?"
"I believe so, at least."
"In that case Porthos will assist us."
"And how so, if you please?"
"Why, by your marchioness, your duchess, your princess. She must have a long arm."
"Hush!" said Porthos, placing a finger on his lips. "I believe her to be a cardinalist; she must know nothing of the matter."
"Then," said Aramis, "I take upon myself to obtain intelligence of her."
"You, Aramis?" cried the three friends. "You! And how?"
"By the queen's almoner, to whom I am very intimately allied," said Aramis, coloring.
And on this assurance, the four friends, who had finished their modest repast, separated, with the promise of meeting again that evening. D'Artagnan returned to less important affairs, and the three Musketeers repaired to the king's quarters, where they had to prepare their lodging.
43 THE SIGN OF THE RED DOVECOT
Meanwhile the king, who, with more reason than the cardinal, showed his hatred for Buckingham, although scarcely arrived was in such a haste to meet the enemy that he commanded every disposition to be made to drive the English from the Isle of Re, and afterward to press the siege of La Rochelle; but notwithstanding his earnest wish, he was delayed by the dissensions which broke out between MM. Bassompierre and Schomberg, against the Duc d'Angouleme.
MM. Bassompierre and Schomberg were marshals of France, and claimed their right of commanding the army under the orders of the king; but the cardinal, who feared that Bassompierre, a Huguenot at heart, might press but feebly the English and Rochellais, his brothers in religion, supported the Duc d'Angouleme, whom the king, at his instigation, had named lieutenant general. The result was that to prevent MM. Bassompierre and Schomberg from deserting the army, a separate command had to be given to each. Bassompierre took up his quarters on the north of the city, between Leu and Dompierre; the Duc d'Angouleme on the east, from Dompierre to Perigny; and M. de Schomberg on the south, from Perigny to Angoutin.
The quarters of Monsieur were at Dompierre; the quarters of the king were sometimes at Estree, sometimes at Jarrie; the cardinal's quarters were upon the downs, at the bridge of La Pierre, in a simple house without any entrenchment. So that Monsieur watched Bassompierre; the king, the Duc d'Angouleme; and the cardinal, M. de Schomberg.
As soon as this organization was established, they set about driving the English from the Isle.
The juncture was favorable. The English, who require, above everything, good living in order to be good soldiers, only eating salt meat and bad biscuit, had many invalids in their camp. Still further, the sea, very rough at this period of the year all along the sea coast, destroyed every day some little vessel; and the shore, from the point of l'Aiguillon to the trenches, was at every tide literally covered with the wrecks of pinnacles, roberges, and feluccas. The result was that even if the king's troops remained quietly in their camp, it was evident that some day or other, Buckingham, who only continued in the Isle from obstinacy, would be obliged to raise the siege.
But as M. de Toiras gave information that everything was preparing in the enemy's camp for a fresh assault, the king judged that it would be best to put an end to the affair, and gave the necessary orders for a decisive action.
As it is not our intention to give a journal of the siege, but on the contrary only to describe such of the events of it as are connected with the story we are relating, we will content ourselves with saying in two words that the expedition succeeded, to the great astonishment of the king and the great glory of the cardinal. The English, repulsed foot by foot, beaten in all encounters, and defeated in the passage of the Isle of Loie, were obliged to re-embark, leaving on the field of battle two thousand men, among whom were five colonels, three lieutenant colonels, two hundred and fifty captains, twenty gentlemen of rank, four pieces of cannon, and sixty flags, which were taken to Paris by Claude de St. Simon, and suspended with great pomp in the arches of Notre Dame.
Te Deums were chanted in camp, and afterward throughout France.
The cardinal was left free to carry on the siege, without having, at least at the present, anything to fear on the part of the English.
But it must be acknowledged, this response was but momentary. An envoy of the Duke of Buckingham, named Montague, was taken, and proof was obtained of a league between the German Empire, Spain, England, and Lorraine. This league was directed against France.
Still further, in Buckingham's lodging, which he had been forced to abandon more precipitately than he expected, papers were found which confirmed this alliance and which, as the cardinal asserts in his memoirs, strongly compromised Mme. de Chevreuse and consequently the queen.
It was upon the cardinal that all the responsibility fell, for one is not a despotic minister without responsibility. All, therefore, of the vast resources of his genius were at work night and day, engaged in listening to the least report heard in any of the great kingdoms of Europe.
The cardinal was acquainted with the activity, and more particularly the hatred, of Buckingham. If the league which threatened France triumphed, all his influence would be lost. Spanish policy and Austrian policy would have their representatives in the cabinet of the Louvre, where they had as yet but partisans; and he, Richelieu—the French minister, the national minister—would be ruined. The king, even while obeying him like a child, hated him as a child hates his master, and would abandon him to the personal vengeance of Monsieur and the queen. He would then be lost, and France, perhaps, with him. All this must be prepared against.
Courtiers, becoming every instant more numerous, succeeded one another, day and night, in the little house of the bridge of La Pierre, in which the cardinal had established his residence.
There were monks who wore the frock with such an ill grace that it was easy to perceive they belonged to the church militant; women a little inconvenienced by their costume as pages and whose large trousers could not entirely conceal their rounded forms; and peasants with blackened hands but with fine limbs, savoring of the man of quality a league off.
There were also less agreeable visits—for two or three times reports were spread that the cardinal had nearly been assassinated.
It is true that the enemies of the cardinal said that it was he himself who set these bungling assassins to work, in order to have, if wanted, the right of using reprisals; but we must not believe everything ministers say, nor everything their enemies say.
These attempts did not prevent the cardinal, to whom his most inveterate detractors have never denied personal bravery, from making nocturnal excursions, sometimes to communicate to the Duc d'Angouleme important orders, sometimes to confer with the king, and sometimes to have an interview with a messenger whom he did not wish to see at home.
On their part the Musketeers, who had not much to do with the siege, were not under very strict orders and led a joyous life. The was the more easy for our three companions in particular; for being friends of M. de Treville, they obtained from him special permission to be absent after the closing of the camp.
Now, one evening when d'Artagnan, who was in the trenches, was not able to accompany them, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, mounted on their battle steeds, enveloped in their war cloaks, with their hands upon their pistol butts, were returning from a drinking place called the Red Dovecot, which Athos had discovered two days before upon the route to Jarrie, following the road which led to the camp and quite on their guard, as we have stated, for fear of an ambuscade, when, about a quarter of a league from the village of Boisnau, they fancied they heard the sound of horses approaching them. They immediately all three halted, closed in, and waited, occupying the middle of the road. In an instant, and as the moon broke from behind a cloud, they saw at a turning of the road two horsemen who, on perceiving them, stopped in their turn, appearing to deliberate whether they should continue their route or go back. The hesitation created some suspicion in the three friends, and Athos, advancing a few paces in front of the others, cried in a firm voice, "Who goes there?"
"Who goes there, yourselves?" replied one of the horsemen.
"That is not an answer," replied Athos. "Who goes there? Answer, or we charge."
"Beware of what you are about, gentlemen!" said a clear voice which seemed accustomed to command.
"It is some superior officer making his night rounds," said Athos. "What do you wish, gentlemen?"
"Who are you?" said the same voice, in the same commanding tone. "Answer in your turn, or you may repent of your disobedience."
"King's Musketeers," said Athos, more and more convinced that he who interrogated them had the right to do so.
"Company of Treville."
"Advance, and give an account of what you are doing here at this hour."
The three companions advanced rather humbly—for all were now convinced that they had to do with someone more powerful than themselves—leaving Athos the post of speaker.
One of the two riders, he who had spoken second, was ten paces in front of his companion. Athos made a sign to Porthos and Aramis also to remain in the rear, and advanced alone.
"Your pardon, my officer," said Athos; "but we were ignorant with whom we had to do, and you may see that we were good guard."
"Your name?" said the officer, who covered a part of his face with his cloak.
"But yourself, monsieur," said Athos, who began to be annoyed by this inquisition, "give me, I beg you, the proof that you have the right to question me."
"Your name?" repeated the cavalier a second time, letting his cloak fall, and leaving his face uncovered.
"Monsieur the Cardinal!" cried the stupefied Musketeer.
"Your name?" cried his Eminence, for the third time.
"Athos," said the Musketeer.
The cardinal made a sign to his attendant, who drew near. "These three Musketeers shall follow us," said he, in an undertone. "I am not willing it should be known I have left the camp; and if they follow us we shall be certain they will tell nobody."
"We are gentlemen, monseigneur," said Athos; "require our parole, and give yourself no uneasiness. Thank God, we can keep a secret."
The cardinal fixed his piercing eyes on this courageous speaker.
"You have a quick ear, Monsieur Athos," said the cardinal; "but now listen to this. It is not from mistrust that I request you to follow me, but for my security. Your companions are no doubt Messieurs Porthos and Aramis."
"Yes, your Eminence," said Athos, while the two Musketeers who had remained behind advanced hat in hand.
"I know you, gentlemen," said the cardinal, "I know you. I know you are not quite my friends, and I am sorry you are not so; but I know you are brave and loyal gentlemen, and that confidence may be placed in you. Monsieur Athos, do me, then, the honor to accompany me; you and your two friends, and then I shall have an escort to excite envy in his Majesty, if we should meet him."
The three Musketeers bowed to the necks of their horses.
"Well, upon my honor," said Athos, "your Eminence is right in taking us with you; we have seen several ill-looking faces on the road, and we have even had a quarrel at the Red Dovecot with four of those faces."
"A quarrel, and what for, gentlemen?" said the cardinal; "you know I don't like quarrelers."
"And that is the reason why I have the honor to inform your Eminence of what has happened; for you might learn it from others, and upon a false account believe us to be in fault."
"What have been the results of your quarrel?" said the cardinal, knitting his brow.
"My friend, Aramis, here, has received a slight sword wound in the arm, but not enough to prevent him, as your Eminence may see, from mounting to the assault tomorrow, if your Eminence orders an escalade."
"But you are not the men to allow sword wounds to be inflicted upon you thus," said the cardinal. "Come, be frank, gentlemen, you have settled accounts with somebody! Confess; you know I have the right of giving absolution."
"I, monseigneur?" said Athos. "I did not even draw my sword, but I took him who offended me round the body, and threw him out of the window. It appears that in falling," continued Athos, with some hesitation, "he broke his thigh."
"Ah, ah!" said the cardinal; "and you, Monsieur Porthos?"
"I, monseigneur, knowing that dueling is prohibited—I seized a bench, and gave one of those brigands such a blow that I believe his shoulder is broken."
"Very well," said the cardinal; "and you, Monsieur Aramis?"
"Monseigneur, being of a very mild disposition, and being, likewise, of which Monseigneur perhaps is not aware, about to enter into orders, I endeavored to appease my comrades, when one of these wretches gave me a wound with a sword, treacherously, across my left arm. Then I admit my patience failed me; I drew my sword in my turn, and as he came back to the charge, I fancied I felt that in throwing himself upon me, he let it pass through his body. I only know for a certainty that he fell; and it seemed to me that he was borne away with his two companions."
"The devil, gentlemen!" said the cardinal, "three men placed hors de combat in a cabaret squabble! You don't do your work by halves. And pray what was this quarrel about?"
"These fellows were drunk," said Athos, "and knowing there was a lady who had arrived at the cabaret this evening, they wanted to force her door."
"Force her door!" said the cardinal, "and for what purpose?"
"To do her violence, without doubt," said Athos. "I have had the honor of informing your Eminence that these men were drunk."
"And was this lady young and handsome?" asked the cardinal, with a certain degree of anxiety.
"We did not see her, monseigneur," said Athos.
"You did not see her? Ah, very well," replied the cardinal, quickly. "You did well to defend the honor of a woman; and as I am going to the Red Dovecot myself, I shall know if you have told me the truth."
"Monseigneur," said Athos, haughtily, "we are gentlemen, and to save our heads we would not be guilty of a falsehood."
"Therefore I do not doubt what you say, Monsieur Athos, I do not doubt it for a single instant; but," added he, "to change the conversation, was this lady alone?"
"The lady had a cavalier shut up with her," said Athos, "but as notwithstanding the noise, this cavalier did not show himself, it is to be presumed that he is a coward."
"'Judge not rashly', says the Gospel," replied the cardinal.
"And now, gentlemen, that's well," continued the cardinal. "I know what I wish to know; follow me."
The three Musketeers passed behind his Eminence, who again enveloped his face in his cloak, and put his horse in motion, keeping from eight to ten paces in advance of his four companions.
They soon arrived at the silent, solitary inn. No doubt the host knew what illustrious visitor was expected, and had consequently sent intruders out of the way.
Ten paces from the door the cardinal made a sign to his esquire and the three Musketeers to halt. A saddled horse was fastened to the window shutter. The cardinal knocked three times, and in a peculiar manner.
A man, enveloped in a cloak, came out immediately, and exchanged some rapid words with the cardinal; after which he mounted his horse, and set off in the direction of Surgeres, which was likewise the way to Paris.
"Advance, gentlemen," said the cardinal.
"You have told me the truth, my gentlemen," said he, addressing the Musketeers, "and it will not be my fault if our encounter this evening be not advantageous to you. In the meantime, follow me."
The cardinal alighted; the three Musketeers did likewise. The cardinal threw the bridle of his horse to his esquire; the three Musketeers fastened the horses to the shutters.
The host stood at the door. For him, the cardinal was only an officer coming to visit a lady.
"Have you any chamber on the ground floor where these gentlemen can wait near a good fire?" said the cardinal.
The host opened the door of a large room, in which an old stove had just been replaced by a large and excellent chimney.
"I have this," said he.
"That will do," replied the cardinal. "Enter, gentlemen, and be kind enough to wait for me; I shall not be more than half an hour."
And while the three Musketeers entered the ground floor room, the cardinal, without asking further information, ascended the staircase like a man who has no need of having his road pointed out to him.
44 THE UTILITY OF STOVEPIPES
It was evident that without suspecting it, and actuated solely by their chivalrous and adventurous character, our three friends had just rendered a service to someone the cardinal honored with his special protection.
Now, who was that someone? That was the question the three Musketeers put to one another. Then, seeing that none of their replies could throw any light on the subject, Porthos called the host and asked for dice.
Porthos and Aramis placed themselves at the table and began to play. Athos walked about in a contemplative mood.
While thinking and walking, Athos passed and repassed before the pipe of the stove, broken in halves, the other extremity passing into the chamber above; and every time he passed and repassed he heard a murmur of words, which at length fixed his attention. Athos went close to it, and distinguished some words that appeared to merit so great an interest that he made a sign to his friends to be silent, remaining himself bent with his ear directed to the opening of the lower orifice.
"Listen, Milady," said the cardinal, "the affair is important. Sit down, and let us talk it over."
"Milady!" murmured Athos.
"I listen to your Eminence with greatest attention," replied a female voice which made the Musketeer start.
"A small vessel with an English crew, whose captain is on my side, awaits you at the mouth of Charente, at fort of the Point. He will set sail tomorrow morning."
"I must go thither tonight?"
"Instantly! That is to say, when you have received my instructions. Two men, whom you will find at the door on going out, will serve you as escort. You will allow me to leave first; then, after half an hour, you can go away in your turn."
"Yes, monseigneur. Now let us return to the mission with which you wish to charge me; and as I desire to continue to merit the confidence of your Eminence, deign to unfold it to me in terms clear and precise, that I may not commit an error."
There was an instant of profound silence between the two interlocutors. It was evident that the cardinal was weighing beforehand the terms in which he was about to speak, and that Milady was collecting all her intellectual faculties to comprehend the things he was about to say, and to engrave them in her memory when they should be spoken.
Athos took advantage of this moment to tell his two companions to fasten the door inside, and to make them a sign to come and listen with him.
The two Musketeers, who loved their ease, brought a chair for each of themselves and one for Athos. All three then sat down with their heads together and their ears on the alert.
"You will go to London," continued the cardinal. "Arrived in London, you will seek Buckingham."
"I must beg your Eminence to observe," said Milady, "that since the affair of the diamond studs, about which the duke always suspected me, his Grace distrusts me."
"Well, this time," said the cardinal, "it is not necessary to steal his confidence, but to present yourself frankly and loyally as a negotiator."
"Frankly and loyally," repeated Milady, with an unspeakable expression of duplicity.
"Yes, frankly and loyally," replied the cardinal, in the same tone. "All this negotiation must be carried on openly."
"I will follow your Eminence's instructions to the letter. I only wait till you give them."
"You will go to Buckingham in my behalf, and you will tell him I am acquainted with all the preparations he has made; but that they give me no uneasiness, since at the first step he takes I will ruin the queen."
"Will he believe that your Eminence is in a position to accomplish the threat thus made?"
"Yes; for I have the proofs."
"I must be able to present these proofs for his appreciation."
"Without doubt. And you will tell him I will publish the report of Bois-Robert and the Marquis de Beautru, upon the interview which the duke had at the residence of Madame the Constable with the queen on the evening Madame the Constable gave a masquerade. You will tell him, in order that he may not doubt, that he came there in the costume of the Great Mogul, which the Chevalier de Guise was to have worn, and that he purchased this exchange for the sum of three thousand pistoles."
"All the details of his coming into and going out of the palace—on the night when he introduced himself in the character of an Italian fortune teller—you will tell him, that he may not doubt the correctness of my information; that he had under his cloak a large white robe dotted with black tears, death's heads, and crossbones—for in case of a surprise, he was to pass for the phantom of the White Lady who, as all the world knows, appears at the Louvre every time any great event is impending."
"Is that all, monseigneur?"
"Tell him also that I am acquainted with all the details of the adventure at Amiens; that I will have a little romance made of it, wittily turned, with a plan of the garden and portraits of the principal actors in that nocturnal romance."
"I will tell him that."
"Tell him further that I hold Montague in my power; that Montague is in the Bastille; that no letters were found upon him, it is true, but that torture may make him tell much of what he knows, and even what he does not know."
"Then add that his Grace has, in the precipitation with which he quit the Isle of Re, forgotten and left behind him in his lodging a certain letter from Madame de Chevreuse which singularly compromises the queen, inasmuch as it proves not only that her Majesty can love the enemies of the king but that she can conspire with the enemies of France. You recollect perfectly all I have told you, do you not?"
"Your Eminence will judge: the ball of Madame the Constable; the night at the Louvre; the evening at Amiens; the arrest of Montague; the letter of Madame de Chevreuse."
"That's it," said the cardinal, "that's it. You have an excellent memory, Milady."
"But," resumed she to whom the cardinal addressed this flattering compliment, "if, in spite of all these reasons, the duke does not give way and continues to menace France?"