"The duke is in love to madness, or rather to folly," replied Richelieu, with great bitterness. "Like the ancient paladins, he has only undertaken this war to obtain a look from his lady love. If he becomes certain that this war will cost the honor, and perhaps the liberty, of the lady of his thoughts, as he says, I will answer for it he will look twice."
"And yet," said Milady, with a persistence that proved she wished to see clearly to the end of the mission with which she was about to be charged, "if he persists?"
"If he persists?" said the cardinal. "That is not probable."
"It is possible," said Milady.
"If he persists—" His Eminence made a pause, and resumed: "If he persists—well, then I shall hope for one of those events which change the destinies of states."
"If your Eminence would quote to me some one of these events in history," said Milady, "perhaps I should partake of your confidence as to the future."
"Well, here, for example," said Richelieu: "when, in 1610, for a cause similar to that which moves the duke, King Henry IV, of glorious memory, was about, at the same time, to invade Flanders and Italy, in order to attack Austria on both sides. Well, did there not happen an event which saved Austria? Why should not the king of France have the same chance as the emperor?"
"Your Eminence means, I presume, the knife stab in the Rue de la Feronnerie?"
"Precisely," said the cardinal.
"Does not your Eminence fear that the punishment inflicted upon Ravaillac may deter anyone who might entertain the idea of imitating him?"
"There will be, in all times and in all countries, particularly if religious divisions exist in those countries, fanatics who ask nothing better than to become martyrs. Ay, and observe—it just occurs to me that the Puritans are furious against Buckingham, and their preachers designate him as the Antichrist."
"Well?" said Milady.
"Well," continued the cardinal, in an indifferent tone, "the only thing to be sought for at this moment is some woman, handsome, young, and clever, who has cause of quarrel with the duke. The duke has had many affairs of gallantry; and if he has fostered his amours by promises of eternal constancy, he must likewise have sown the seeds of hatred by his eternal infidelities."
"No doubt," said Milady, coolly, "such a woman may be found."
"Well, such a woman, who would place the knife of Jacques Clement or of Ravaillac in the hands of a fanatic, would save France."
"Yes; but she would then be the accomplice of an assassination."
"Were the accomplices of Ravaillac or of Jacques Clement ever known?"
"No; for perhaps they were too high-placed for anyone to dare look for them where they were. The Palace of Justice would not be burned down for everybody, monseigneur."
"You think, then, that the fire at the Palace of Justice was not caused by chance?" asked Richelieu, in the tone with which he would have put a question of no importance.
"I, monseigneur?" replied Milady. "I think nothing; I quote a fact, that is all. Only I say that if I were named Madame de Montpensier, or the Queen Marie de Medicis, I should use less precautions than I take, being simply called Milady Clarik."
"That is just," said Richelieu. "What do you require, then?"
"I require an order which would ratify beforehand all that I should think proper to do for the greatest good of France."
"But in the first place, this woman I have described must be found who is desirous of avenging herself upon the duke."
"She is found," said Milady.
"Then the miserable fanatic must be found who will serve as an instrument of God's justice."
"He will be found."
"Well," said the cardinal, "then it will be time to claim the order which you just now required."
"Your Eminence is right," replied Milady; "and I have been wrong in seeing in the mission with which you honor me anything but that which it really is—that is, to announce to his Grace, on the part of your Eminence, that you are acquainted with the different disguises by means of which he succeeded in approaching the queen during the fete given by Madame the Constable; that you have proofs of the interview granted at the Louvre by the queen to a certain Italian astrologer who was no other than the Duke of Buckingham; that you have ordered a little romance of a satirical nature to be written upon the adventures of Amiens, with a plan of the gardens in which those adventures took place, and portraits of the actors who figured in them; that Montague is in the Bastille, and that the torture may make him say things he remembers, and even things he has forgotten; that you possess a certain letter from Madame de Chevreuse, found in his Grace's lodging, which singularly compromises not only her who wrote it, but her in whose name it was written. Then, if he persists, notwithstanding all this—as that is, as I have said, the limit of my mission—I shall have nothing to do but to pray God to work a miracle for the salvation of France. That is it, is it not, monseigneur, and I shall have nothing else to do?"
"That is it," replied the cardinal, dryly.
"And now," said Milady, without appearing to remark the change of the duke's tone toward her—"now that I have received the instructions of your Eminence as concerns your enemies, Monseigneur will permit me to say a few words to him of mine?"
"Have you enemies, then?" asked Richelieu.
"Yes, monseigneur, enemies against whom you owe me all your support, for I made them by serving your Eminence."
"Who are they?" replied the duke.
"In the first place, there is a little intrigante named Bonacieux."
"She is in the prison of Nantes."
"That is to say, she was there," replied Milady; "but the queen has obtained an order from the king by means of which she has been conveyed to a convent."
"To a convent?" said the duke.
"Yes, to a convent."
"And to which?"
"I don't know; the secret has been well kept."
"But I will know!"
"And your Eminence will tell me in what convent that woman is?"
"I can see nothing inconvenient in that," said the cardinal.
"Well, now I have an enemy much more to be dreaded by me than this little Madame Bonacieux."
"Who is that?"
"What is his name?"
"Oh, your Eminence knows him well," cried Milady, carried away by her anger. "He is the evil genius of both of us. It is he who in an encounter with your Eminence's Guards decided the victory in favor of the king's Musketeers; it is he who gave three desperate wounds to de Wardes, your emissary, and who caused the affair of the diamond studs to fail; it is he who, knowing it was I who had Madame Bonacieux carried off, has sworn my death."
"Ah, ah!" said the cardinal, "I know of whom you speak."
"I mean that miserable d'Artagnan."
"He is a bold fellow," said the cardinal.
"And it is exactly because he is a bold fellow that he is the more to be feared."
"I must have," said the duke, "a proof of his connection with Buckingham."
"A proof?" cried Milady; "I will have ten."
"Well, then, it becomes the simplest thing in the world; get me that proof, and I will send him to the Bastille."
"So far good, monseigneur; but afterwards?"
"When once in the Bastille, there is no afterward!" said the cardinal, in a low voice. "Ah, pardieu!" continued he, "if it were as easy for me to get rid of my enemy as it is easy to get rid of yours, and if it were against such people you require impunity—"
"Monseigneur," replied Milady, "a fair exchange. Life for life, man for man; give me one, I will give you the other."
"I don't know what you mean, nor do I even desire to know what you mean," replied the cardinal; "but I wish to please you, and see nothing out of the way in giving you what you demand with respect to so infamous a creature—the more so as you tell me this d'Artagnan is a libertine, a duelist, and a traitor."
"An infamous scoundrel, monseigneur, a scoundrel!"
"Give me paper, a quill, and some ink, then," said the cardinal.
"Here they are, monseigneur."
There was a moment of silence, which proved that the cardinal was employed in seeking the terms in which he should write the note, or else in writing it. Athos, who had not lost a word of the conversation, took his two companions by the hand, and led them to the other end of the room.
"Well," said Porthos, "what do you want, and why do you not let us listen to the end of the conversation?"
"Hush!" said Athos, speaking in a low voice. "We have heard all it was necessary we should hear; besides, I don't prevent you from listening, but I must be gone."
"You must be gone!" said Porthos; "and if the cardinal asks for you, what answer can we make?"
"You will not wait till he asks; you will speak first, and tell him that I am gone on the lookout, because certain expressions of our host have given me reason to think the road is not safe. I will say two words about it to the cardinal's esquire likewise. The rest concerns myself; don't be uneasy about that."
"Be prudent, Athos," said Aramis.
"Be easy on that head," replied Athos; "you know I am cool enough."
Porthos and Aramis resumed their places by the stovepipe.
As to Athos, he went out without any mystery, took his horse, which was tied with those of his friends to the fastenings of the shutters, in four words convinced the attendant of the necessity of a vanguard for their return, carefully examined the priming of his pistols, drew his sword, and took, like a forlorn hope, the road to the camp.
45 A CONJUGAL SCENE
As Athos had foreseen, it was not long before the cardinal came down. He opened the door of the room in which the Musketeers were, and found Porthos playing an earnest game of dice with Aramis. He cast a rapid glance around the room, and perceived that one of his men was missing.
"What has become of Monseigneur Athos?" asked he.
"Monseigneur," replied Porthos, "he has gone as a scout, on account of some words of our host, which made him believe the road was not safe."
"And you, what have you done, Monsieur Porthos?"
"I have won five pistoles of Aramis."
"Well; now will you return with me?"
"We are at your Eminence's orders."
"To horse, then, gentlemen; for it is getting late."
The attendant was at the door, holding the cardinal's horse by the bridle. At a short distance a group of two men and three horses appeared in the shade. These were the two men who were to conduct Milady to the fort of the Point, and superintend her embarkation.
The attendant confirmed to the cardinal what the two Musketeers had already said with respect to Athos. The cardinal made an approving gesture, and retraced his route with the same precautions he had used incoming.
Let us leave him to follow the road to the camp protected by his esquire and the two Musketeers, and return to Athos.
For a hundred paces he maintained the speed at which he started; but when out of sight he turned his horse to the right, made a circuit, and came back within twenty paces of a high hedge to watch the passage of the little troop. Having recognized the laced hats of his companions and the golden fringe of the cardinal's cloak, he waited till the horsemen had turned the angle of the road, and having lost sight of them, he returned at a gallop to the inn, which was opened to him without hesitation.
The host recognized him.
"My officer," said Athos, "has forgotten to give a piece of very important information to the lady, and has sent me back to repair his forgetfulness."
"Go up," said the host; "she is still in her chamber."
Athos availed himself of the permission, ascended the stairs with his lightest step, gained the landing, and through the open door perceived Milady putting on her hat.
He entered the chamber and closed the door behind him. At the noise he made in pushing the bolt, Milady turned round.
Athos was standing before the door, enveloped in his cloak, with his hat pulled down over his eyes. On seeing this figure, mute and immovable as a statue, Milady was frightened.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" cried she.
"Humph," murmured Athos, "it is certainly she!"
And letting fall his cloak and raising his hat, he advanced toward Milady.
"Do you know me, madame?" said he.
Milady made one step forward, and then drew back as if she had seen a serpent.
"So far, well," said Athos, "I perceive you know me."
"The Comte de la Fere!" murmured Milady, becoming exceedingly pale, and drawing back till the wall prevented her from going any farther.
"Yes, Milady," replied Athos; "the Comte de la Fere in person, who comes expressly from the other world to have the pleasure of paying you a visit. Sit down, madame, and let us talk, as the cardinal said."
Milady, under the influence of inexpressible terror, sat down without uttering a word.
"You certainly are a demon sent upon the earth!" said Athos. "Your power is great, I know; but you also know that with the help of God men have often conquered the most terrible demons. You have once before thrown yourself in my path. I thought I had crushed you, madame; but either I was deceived or hell has resuscitated you!"
Milady at these words, which recalled frightful remembrances, hung down her head with a suppressed groan.
"Yes, hell has resuscitated you," continued Athos. "Hell has made you rich, hell has given you another name, hell has almost made you another face; but it has neither effaced the stains from your soul nor the brand from your body."
Milady arose as if moved by a powerful spring, and her eyes flashed lightning. Athos remained sitting.
"You believed me to be dead, did you not, as I believed you to be? And the name of Athos as well concealed the Comte de la Fere, as the name Milady Clarik concealed Anne de Breuil. Was it not so you were called when your honored brother married us? Our position is truly a strange one," continued Athos, laughing. "We have only lived up to the present time because we believed each other dead, and because a remembrance is less oppressive than a living creature, though a remembrance is sometimes devouring."
"But," said Milady, in a hollow, faint voice, "what brings you back to me, and what do you want with me?"
"I wish to tell you that though remaining invisible to your eyes, I have not lost sight of you."
"You know what I have done?"
"I can relate to you, day by day, your actions from your entrance to the service of the cardinal to this evening."
A smile of incredulity passed over the pale lips of Milady.
"Listen! It was you who cut off the two diamond studs from the shoulder of the Duke of Buckingham; it was you had the Madame Bonacieux carried off; it was you who, in love with de Wardes and thinking to pass the night with him, opened the door to Monsieur d'Artagnan; it was you who, believing that de Wardes had deceived you, wished to have him killed by his rival; it was you who, when this rival had discovered your infamous secret, wished to have him killed in his turn by two assassins, whom you sent in pursuit of him; it was you who, finding the balls had missed their mark, sent poisoned wine with a forged letter, to make your victim believe that the wine came from his friends. In short, it was you who have but now in this chamber, seated in this chair I now fill, made an engagement with Cardinal Richelieu to cause the Duke of Buckingham to be assassinated, in exchange for the promise he has made you to allow you to assassinate d'Artagnan."
Milady was livid.
"You must be Satan!" cried she.
"Perhaps," said Athos; "But at all events listen well to this. Assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, or cause him to be assassinated—I care very little about that! I don't know him. Besides, he is an Englishman. But do not touch with the tip of your finger a single hair of d'Artagnan, who is a faithful friend whom I love and defend, or I swear to you by the head of my father the crime which you shall have endeavored to commit, or shall have committed, shall be the last."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan has cruelly insulted me," said Milady, in a hollow tone; "Monsieur d'Artagnan shall die!"
"Indeed! Is it possible to insult you, madame?" said Athos, laughing; "he has insulted you, and he shall die!"
"He shall die!" replied Milady; "she first, and he afterward."
Athos was seized with a kind of vertigo. The sight of this creature, who had nothing of the woman about her, recalled awful remembrances. He thought how one day, in a less dangerous situation than the one in which he was now placed, he had already endeavored to sacrifice her to his honor. His desire for blood returned, burning his brain and pervading his frame like a raging fever; he arose in his turn, reached his hand to his belt, drew forth a pistol, and cocked it.
Milady, pale as a corpse, endeavored to cry out; but her swollen tongue could utter no more than a hoarse sound which had nothing human in it and resembled the rattle of a wild beast. Motionless against the dark tapestry, with her hair in disorder, she appeared like a horrid image of terror.
Athos slowly raised his pistol, stretched out his arm so that the weapon almost touched Milady's forehead, and then, in a voice the more terrible from having the supreme calmness of a fixed resolution, "Madame," said he, "you will this instant deliver to me the paper the cardinal signed; or upon my soul, I will blow your brains out."
With another man, Milady might have preserved some doubt; but she knew Athos. Nevertheless, she remained motionless.
"You have one second to decide," said he.
Milady saw by the contraction of his countenance that the trigger was about to be pulled; she reached her hand quickly to her bosom, drew out a paper, and held it toward Athos.
"Take it," said she, "and be accursed!"
Athos took the paper, returned the pistol to his belt, approached the lamp to be assured that it was the paper, unfolded it, and read:
Dec. 3, 1627
It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.
"And now," said Athos, resuming his cloak and putting on his hat, "now that I have drawn your teeth, viper, bite if you can."
And he left the chamber without once looking behind him.
At the door he found the two men and the spare horse which they held.
"Gentlemen," said he, "Monseigneur's order is, you know, to conduct that woman, without losing time, to the fort of the Point, and never to leave her till she is on board."
As these words agreed wholly with the order they had received, they bowed their heads in sign of assent.
With regard to Athos, he leaped lightly into the saddle and set out at full gallop; only instead of following the road, he went across the fields, urging his horse to the utmost and stopping occasionally to listen.
In one of those halts he heard the steps of several horses on the road. He had no doubt it was the cardinal and his escort. He immediately made a new point in advance, rubbed his horse down with some heath and leaves of trees, and placed himself across the road, about two hundred paces from the camp.
"Who goes there?" cried he, as soon as he perceived the horsemen.
"That is our brave Musketeer, I think," said the cardinal.
"Yes, monseigneur," said Porthos, "it is he."
"Monsieur Athos," said Richelieu, "receive my thanks for the good guard you have kept. Gentlemen, we are arrived; take the gate on the left. The watchword is, 'King and Re.'"
Saying these words, the cardinal saluted the three friends with an inclination of his head, and took the right hand, followed by his attendant—for that night he himself slept in the camp.
"Well!" said Porthos and Aramis together, as soon as the cardinal was out of hearing, "well, he signed the paper she required!"
"I know it," said Athos, coolly, "since here it is."
And the three friends did not exchange another word till they reached their quarters, except to give the watchword to the sentinels. Only they sent Mousqueton to tell Planchet that his master was requested, the instant that he left the trenches, to come to the quarters of the Musketeers.
Milady, as Athos had foreseen, on finding the two men that awaited her, made no difficulty in following them. She had had for an instant an inclination to be reconducted to the cardinal, and relate everything to him; but a revelation on her part would bring about a revelation on the part of Athos. She might say that Athos had hanged her; but then Athos would tell that she was branded. She thought it was best to preserve silence, to discreetly set off to accomplish her difficult mission with her usual skill; and then, all things being accomplished to the satisfaction of the cardinal, to come to him and claim her vengeance.
In consequence, after having traveled all night, at seven o'clock she was at the fort of the Point; at eight o'clock she had embarked; and at nine, the vessel, which with letters of marque from the cardinal was supposed to be sailing for Bayonne, raised anchor, and steered its course toward England.
46 THE BASTION SAINT-GERVAIS
On arriving at the lodgings of his three friends, d'Artagnan found them assembled in the same chamber. Athos was meditating; Porthos was twisting his mustache; Aramis was saying his prayers in a charming little Book of Hours, bound in blue velvet.
"Pardieu, gentlemen," said he. "I hope what you have to tell me is worth the trouble, or else, I warn you, I will not pardon you for making me come here instead of getting a little rest after a night spent in taking and dismantling a bastion. Ah, why were you not there, gentlemen? It was warm work."
"We were in a place where it was not very cold," replied Porthos, giving his mustache a twist which was peculiar to him.
"Hush!" said Athos.
"Oh, oh!" said d'Artagnan, comprehending the slight frown of the Musketeer. "It appears there is something fresh aboard."
"Aramis," said Athos, "you went to breakfast the day before yesterday at the inn of the Parpaillot, I believe?"
"How did you fare?"
"For my part, I ate but little. The day before yesterday was a fish day, and they had nothing but meat."
"What," said Athos, "no fish at a seaport?"
"They say," said Aramis, resuming his pious reading, "that the dyke which the cardinal is making drives them all out into the open sea."
"But that is not quite what I mean to ask you, Aramis," replied Athos. "I want to know if you were left alone, and nobody interrupted you."
"Why, I think there were not many intruders. Yes, Athos, I know what you mean: we shall do very well at the Parpaillot."
"Let us go to the Parpaillot, then, for here the walls are like sheets of paper."
D'Artagnan, who was accustomed to his friend's manner of acting, and who perceived immediately, by a word, a gesture, or a sign from him, that the circumstances were serious, took Athos's arm, and went out without saying anything. Porthos followed, chatting with Aramis.
On their way they met Grimaud. Athos made him a sign to come with them. Grimaud, according to custom, obeyed in silence; the poor lad had nearly come to the pass of forgetting how to speak.
They arrived at the drinking room of the Parpaillot. It was seven o'clock in the morning, and daylight began to appear. The three friends ordered breakfast, and went into a room in which the host said they would not be disturbed.
Unfortunately, the hour was badly chosen for a private conference. The morning drum had just been beaten; everyone shook off the drowsiness of night, and to dispel the humid morning air, came to take a drop at the inn. Dragoons, Swiss, Guardsmen, Musketeers, light-horsemen, succeeded one another with a rapidity which might answer the purpose of the host very well, but agreed badly with the views of the four friends. Thus they applied very curtly to the salutations, healths, and jokes of their companions.
"I see how it will be," said Athos: "we shall get into some pretty quarrel or other, and we have no need of one just now. D'Artagnan, tell us what sort of a night you have had, and we will describe ours afterward."
"Ah, yes," said a light-horseman, with a glass of brandy in his hand, which he sipped slowly. "I hear you gentlemen of the Guards have been in the trenches tonight, and that you did not get much the best of the Rochellais."
D'Artagnan looked at Athos to know if he ought to reply to this intruder who thus mixed unasked in their conversation.
"Well," said Athos, "don't you hear Monsieur de Busigny, who does you the honor to ask you a question? Relate what has passed during the night, since these gentlemen desire to know it."
"Have you not taken a bastion?" said a Swiss, who was drinking rum out of beer glass.
"Yes, monsieur," said d'Artagnan, bowing, "we have had that honor. We even have, as you may have heard, introduced a barrel of powder under one of the angles, which in blowing up made a very pretty breach. Without reckoning that as the bastion was not built yesterday all the rest of the building was badly shaken."
"And what bastion is it?" asked a dragoon, with his saber run through a goose which he was taking to be cooked.
"The bastion St. Gervais," replied d'Artagnan, "from behind which the Rochellais annoyed our workmen."
"Was that affair hot?"
"Yes, moderately so. We lost five men, and the Rochellais eight or ten."
"Balzempleu!" said the Swiss, who, notwithstanding the admirable collection of oaths possessed by the German language, had acquired a habit of swearing in French.
"But it is probable," said the light-horseman, "that they will send pioneers this morning to repair the bastion."
"Yes, that's probable," said d'Artagnan.
"Gentlemen," said Athos, "a wager!"
"Ah, wooi, a vager!" cried the Swiss.
"What is it?" said the light-horseman.
"Stop a bit," said the dragoon, placing his saber like a spit upon the two large iron dogs which held the firebrands in the chimney, "stop a bit, I am in it. You cursed host! a dripping pan immediately, that I may not lose a drop of the fat of this estimable bird."
"You was right," said the Swiss; "goose grease is kood with basdry."
"There!" said the dragoon. "Now for the wager! We listen, Monsieur Athos."
"Yes, the wager!" said the light-horseman.
"Well, Monsieur de Busigny, I will bet you," said Athos, "that my three companions, Messieurs Porthos, Aramis, and d'Artagnan, and myself, will go and breakfast in the bastion St. Gervais, and we will remain there an hour, by the watch, whatever the enemy may do to dislodge us."
Porthos and Aramis looked at each other; they began to comprehend.
"But," said d'Artagnan, in the ear of Athos, "you are going to get us all killed without mercy."
"We are much more likely to be killed," said Athos, "if we do not go."
"My faith, gentlemen," said Porthos, turning round upon his chair and twisting his mustache, "that's a fair bet, I hope."
"I take it," said M. de Busigny; "so let us fix the stake."
"You are four gentlemen," said Athos, "and we are four; an unlimited dinner for eight. Will that do?"
"Capitally," replied M. de Busigny.
"Perfectly," said the dragoon.
"That shoots me," said the Swiss.
The fourth auditor, who during all this conversation had played a mute part, made a sign of the head in proof that he acquiesced in the proposition.
"The breakfast for these gentlemen is ready," said the host.
"Well, bring it," said Athos.
The host obeyed. Athos called Grimaud, pointed to a large basket which lay in a corner, and made a sign to him to wrap the viands up in the napkins.
Grimaud understood that it was to be a breakfast on the grass, took the basket, packed up the viands, added the bottles, and then took the basket on his arm.
"But where are you going to eat my breakfast?" asked the host.
"What matter, if you are paid for it?" said Athos, and he threw two pistoles majestically on the table.
"Shall I give you the change, my officer?" said the host.
"No, only add two bottles of champagne, and the difference will be for the napkins."
The host had not quite so good a bargain as he at first hoped for, but he made amends by slipping in two bottles of Anjou wine instead of two bottles of champagne.
"Monsieur de Busigny," said Athos, "will you be so kind as to set your watch with mine, or permit me to regulate mine by yours?"
"Which you please, monsieur!" said the light-horseman, drawing from his fob a very handsome watch, studded with diamonds; "half past seven."
"Thirty-five minutes after seven," said Athos, "by which you perceive I am five minutes faster than you."
And bowing to all the astonished persons present, the young men took the road to the bastion St. Gervais, followed by Grimaud, who carried the basket, ignorant of where he was going but in the passive obedience which Athos had taught him not even thinking of asking.
As long as they were within the circle of the camp, the four friends did not exchange one word; besides, they were followed by the curious, who, hearing of the wager, were anxious to know how they would come out of it. But when once they passed the line of circumvallation and found themselves in the open plain, d'Artagnan, who was completely ignorant of what was going forward, thought it was time to demand an explanation.
"And now, my dear Athos," said he, "do me the kindness to tell me where we are going?"
"Why, you see plainly enough we are going to the bastion."
"But what are we going to do there?"
"You know well that we go to breakfast there."
"But why did we not breakfast at the Parpaillot?"
"Because we have very important matters to communicate to one another, and it was impossible to talk five minutes in that inn without being annoyed by all those importunate fellows, who keep coming in, saluting you, and addressing you. Here at least," said Athos, pointing to the bastion, "they will not come and disturb us."
"It appears to me," said d'Artagnan, with that prudence which allied itself in him so naturally with excessive bravery, "that we could have found some retired place on the downs or the seashore."
"Where we should have been seen all four conferring together, so that at the end of a quarter of an hour the cardinal would have been informed by his spies that we were holding a council."
"Yes," said Aramis, "Athos is right: ANIMADVERTUNTUR IN DESERTIS."
"A desert would not have been amiss," said Porthos; "but it behooved us to find it."
"There is no desert where a bird cannot pass over one's head, where a fish cannot leap out of the water, where a rabbit cannot come out of its burrow, and I believe that bird, fish, and rabbit each becomes a spy of the cardinal. Better, then, pursue our enterprise; from which, besides, we cannot retreat without shame. We have made a wager—a wager which could not have been foreseen, and of which I defy anyone to divine the true cause. We are going, in order to win it, to remain an hour in the bastion. Either we shall be attacked, or not. If we are not, we shall have all the time to talk, and nobody will hear us—for I guarantee the walls of the bastion have no ears; if we are, we will talk of our affairs just the same. Moreover, in defending ourselves, we shall cover ourselves with glory. You see that everything is to our advantage."
"Yes," said d'Artagnan; "but we shall indubitably attract a ball."
"Well, my dear," replied Athos, "you know well that the balls most to be dreaded are not from the enemy."
"But for such an expedition we surely ought to have brought our muskets."
"You are stupid, friend Porthos. Why should we load ourselves with a useless burden?"
"I don't find a good musket, twelve cartridges, and a powder flask very useless in the face of an enemy."
"Well," replied Athos, "have you not heard what d'Artagnan said?"
"What did he say?" demanded Porthos.
"d'Artagnan said that in the attack of last night eight or ten Frenchmen were killed, and as many Rochellais."
"The bodies were not plundered, were they? It appears the conquerors had something else to do."
"Well, we shall find their muskets, their cartridges, and their flasks; and instead of four musketoons and twelve balls, we shall have fifteen guns and a hundred charges to fire."
"Oh, Athos!" said Aramis, "truly you are a great man."
Porthos nodded in sign of agreement. D'Artagnan alone did not seem convinced.
Grimaud no doubt shared the misgivings of the young man, for seeing that they continued to advance toward the bastion—something he had till then doubted—he pulled his master by the skirt of his coat.
"Where are we going?" asked he, by a gesture.
Athos pointed to the bastion.
"But," said Grimaud, in the same silent dialect, "we shall leave our skins there."
Athos raised his eyes and his finger toward heaven.
Grimaud put his basket on the ground and sat down with a shake of the head.
Athos took a pistol from his belt, looked to see if it was properly primed, cocked it, and placed the muzzle close to Grimaud's ear.
Grimaud was on his legs again as if by a spring. Athos then made him a sign to take up his basket and to walk on first. Grimaud obeyed. All that Grimaud gained by this momentary pantomime was to pass from the rear guard to the vanguard.
Arrived at the bastion, the four friends turned round.
More than three hundred soldiers of all kinds were assembled at the gate of the camp; and in a separate group might be distinguished M. de Busigny, the dragoon, the Swiss, and the fourth bettor.
Athos took off his hat, placed it on the end of his sword, and waved it in the air.
All the spectators returned him his salute, accompanying this courtesy with a loud hurrah which was audible to the four; after which all four disappeared in the bastion, whither Grimaud had preceded them.
47 THE COUNCIL OF THE MUSKETEERS
As Athos had foreseen, the bastion was only occupied by a dozen corpses, French and Rochellais.
"Gentlemen," said Athos, who had assumed the command of the expedition, "while Grimaud spreads the table, let us begin by collecting the guns and cartridges together. We can talk while performing that necessary task. These gentlemen," added he, pointing to the bodies, "cannot hear us."
"But we could throw them into the ditch," said Porthos, "after having assured ourselves they have nothing in their pockets."
"Yes," said Athos, "that's Grimaud's business."
"Well, then," cried d'Artagnan, "pray let Grimaud search them and throw them over the walls."
"Heaven forfend!" said Athos; "they may serve us."
"These bodies serve us?" said Porthos. "You are mad, dear friend."
"Judge not rashly, say the gospel and the cardinal," replied Athos. "How many guns, gentlemen?"
"Twelve," replied Aramis.
"How many shots?"
"That's quite as many as we shall want. Let us load the guns."
The four Musketeers went to work; and as they were loading the last musket Grimaud announced that the breakfast was ready.
Athos replied, always by gestures, that that was well, and indicated to Grimaud, by pointing to a turret that resembled a pepper caster, that he was to stand as sentinel. Only, to alleviate the tediousness of the duty, Athos allowed him to take a loaf, two cutlets, and a bottle of wine.
"And now to table," said Athos.
The four friends seated themselves on the ground with their legs crossed like Turks, or even tailors.
"And now," said d'Artagnan, "as there is no longer any fear of being overheard, I hope you are going to let me into your secret."
"I hope at the same time to procure you amusement and glory, gentlemen," said Athos. "I have induced you to take a charming promenade; here is a delicious breakfast; and yonder are five hundred persons, as you may see through the loopholes, taking us for heroes or madmen—two classes of imbeciles greatly resembling each other."
"But the secret!" said d'Artagnan.
"The secret is," said Athos, "that I saw Milady last night."
D'Artagnan was lifting a glass to his lips; but at the name of Milady, his hand trembled so, that he was obliged to put the glass on the ground again for fear of spilling the contents."
"You saw your wi—"
"Hush!" interrupted Athos. "You forget, my dear, you forget that these gentlemen are not initiated into my family affairs like yourself. I have seen Milady."
"Where?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Within two leagues of this place, at the inn of the Red Dovecot."
"In that case I am lost," said d'Artagnan.
"Not so bad yet," replied Athos; "for by this time she must have quit the shores of France."
D'Artagnan breathed again.
"But after all," asked Porthos, "who is Milady?"
"A charming woman!" said Athos, sipping a glass of sparkling wine. "Villainous host!" cried he, "he has given us Anjou wine instead of champagne, and fancies we know no better! Yes," continued he, "a charming woman, who entertained kind views toward our friend d'Artagnan, who, on his part, has given her some offense for which she tried to revenge herself a month ago by having him killed by two musket shots, a week ago by trying to poison him, and yesterday by demanding his head of the cardinal."
"What! by demanding my head of the cardinal?" cried d'Artagnan, pale with terror.
"Yes, that is true as the Gospel," said Porthos; "I heard her with my own ears."
"I also," said Aramis.
"Then," said d'Artagnan, letting his arm fall with discouragement, "it is useless to struggle longer. I may as well blow my brains out, and all will be over."
"That's the last folly to be committed," said Athos, "seeing it is the only one for which there is no remedy."
"But I can never escape," said d'Artagnan, "with such enemies. First, my stranger of Meung; then de Wardes, to whom I have given three sword wounds; next Milady, whose secret I have discovered; finally, the cardinal, whose vengeance I have balked."
"Well," said Athos, "that only makes four; and we are four—one for one. Pardieu! if we may believe the signs Grimaud is making, we are about to have to do with a very different number of people. What is it, Grimaud? Considering the gravity of the occasion, I permit you to speak, my friend; but be laconic, I beg. What do you see?"
"Of how many persons?"
"What sort of men?"
"Sixteen pioneers, four soldiers."
"How far distant?"
"Five hundred paces."
"Good! We have just time to finish this fowl and to drink one glass of wine to your health, d'Artagnan."
"To your health!" repeated Porthos and Aramis.
"Well, then, to my health! although I am very much afraid that your good wishes will not be of great service to me."
"Bah!" said Athos, "God is great, as say the followers of Mohammed, and the future is in his hands."
Then, swallowing the contents of his glass, which he put down close to him, Athos arose carelessly, took the musket next to him, and drew near to one of the loopholes.
Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan followed his example. As to Grimaud, he received orders to place himself behind the four friends in order to reload their weapons.
"Pardieu!" said Athos, "it was hardly worth while to distribute ourselves for twenty fellows armed with pickaxes, mattocks, and shovels. Grimaud had only to make them a sign to go away, and I am convinced they would have left us in peace."
"I doubt that," replied d'Artagnan, "for they are advancing very resolutely. Besides, in addition to the pioneers, there are four soldiers and a brigadier, armed with muskets."
"That's because they don't see us," said Athos.
"My faith," said Aramis, "I must confess I feel a great repugnance to fire on these poor devils of civilians."
"He is a bad priest," said Porthos, "who has pity for heretics."
"In truth," said Athos, "Aramis is right. I will warn them."
"What the devil are you going to do?" cried d'Artagnan, "you will be shot."
But Athos heeded not his advice. Mounting on the breach, with his musket in one hand and his hat in the other, he said, bowing courteously and addressing the soldiers and the pioneers, who, astonished at this apparition, stopped fifty paces from the bastion: "Gentlemen, a few friends and myself are about to breakfast in this bastion. Now, you know nothing is more disagreeable than being disturbed when one is at breakfast. We request you, then, if you really have business here, to wait till we have finished or repast, or to come again a short time hence, unless; unless, which would be far better, you form the salutary resolution to quit the side of the rebels, and come and drink with us to the health of the King of France."
"Take care, Athos!" cried d'Artagnan; "don't you see they are aiming?"
"Yes, yes," said Athos; "but they are only civilians—very bad marksmen, who will be sure not to hit me."
In fact, at the same instant four shots were fired, and the balls were flattened against the wall around Athos, but not one touched him.
Four shots replied to them almost instantaneously, but much better aimed than those of the aggressors; three soldiers fell dead, and one of the pioneers was wounded.
"Grimaud," said Athos, still on the breach, "another musket!"
Grimaud immediately obeyed. On their part, the three friends had reloaded their arms; a second discharge followed the first. The brigadier and two pioneers fell dead; the rest of the troop took to flight.
"Now, gentlemen, a sortie!" cried Athos.
And the four friends rushed out of the fort, gained the field of battle, picked up the four muskets of the privates and the half-pike of the brigadier, and convinced that the fugitives would not stop till they reached the city, turned again toward the bastion, bearing with them the trophies of their victory.
"Reload the muskets, Grimaud," said Athos, "and we, gentlemen, will go on with our breakfast, and resume our conversation. Where were we?"
"I recollect you were saying," said d'Artagnan, "that after having demanded my head of the cardinal, Milady had quit the shores of France. Whither goes she?" added he, strongly interested in the route Milady followed.
"She goes into England," said Athos.
"With what view?"
"With the view of assassinating, or causing to be assassinated, the Duke of Buckingham."
D'Artagnan uttered an exclamation of surprise and indignation.
"But this is infamous!" cried he.
"As to that," said Athos, "I beg you to believe that I care very little about it. Now you have done, Grimaud, take our brigadier's half-pike, tie a napkin to it, and plant it on top of our bastion, that these rebels of Rochellais may see that they have to deal with brave and loyal soldiers of the king."
Grimaud obeyed without replying. An instant afterward, the white flag was floating over the heads of the four friends. A thunder of applause saluted its appearance; half the camp was at the barrier.
"How?" replied d'Artagnan, "you care little if she kills Buckingham or causes him to be killed? But the duke is our friend."
"The duke is English; the duke fights against us. Let her do what she likes with the duke; I care no more about him than an empty bottle." And Athos threw fifteen paces from him an empty bottle from which he had poured the last drop into his glass.
"A moment," said d'Artagnan. "I will not abandon Buckingham thus. He gave us some very fine horses."
"And moreover, very handsome saddles," said Porthos, who at the moment wore on his cloak the lace of his own.
"Besides," said Aramis, "God desires the conversion and not the death of a sinner."
"Amen!" said Athos, "and we will return to that subject later, if such be your pleasure; but what for the moment engaged my attention most earnestly, and I am sure you will understand me, d'Artagnan, was the getting from this woman a kind of carte blanche which she had extorted from the cardinal, and by means of which she could with impunity get rid of you and perhaps of us."
"But this creature must be a demon!" said Porthos, holding out his plate to Aramis, who was cutting up a fowl.
"And this carte blanche," said d'Artagnan, "this carte blanche, does it remain in her hands?"
"No, it passed into mine; I will not say without trouble, for if I did I should tell a lie."
"My dear Athos, I shall no longer count the number of times I am indebted to you for my life."
"Then it was to go to her that you left us?" said Aramis.
"And you have that letter of the cardinal?" said d'Artagnan.
"Here it is," said Athos; and he took the invaluable paper from the pocket of his uniform. D'Artagnan unfolded it with one hand, whose trembling he did not even attempt to conceal, to read:
Dec. 3, 1627
It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.
"In fact," said Aramis, "it is an absolution according to rule."
"That paper must be torn to pieces," said d'Artagnan, who fancied he read in it his sentence of death.
"On the contrary," said Athos, "it must be preserved carefully. I would not give up this paper if covered with as many gold pieces."
"And what will she do now?" asked the young man.
"Why," replied Athos, carelessly, "she is probably going to write to the cardinal that a damned Musketeer, named Athos, has taken her safe-conduct from her by force; she will advise him in the same letter to get rid of his two friends, Aramis and Porthos, at the same time. The cardinal will remember that these are the same men who have often crossed his path; and then some fine morning he will arrest d'Artagnan, and for fear he should feel lonely, he will send us to keep him company in the Bastille."
"Go to! It appears to me you make dull jokes, my dear," said Porthos.
"I do not jest," said Athos.
"Do you know," said Porthos, "that to twist that damned Milady's neck would be a smaller sin than to twist those of these poor devils of Huguenots, who have committed no other crime than singing in French the psalms we sing in Latin?"
"What says the abbe?" asked Athos, quietly.
"I say I am entirely of Porthos's opinion," replied Aramis.
"And I, too," said d'Artagnan.
"Fortunately, she is far off," said Porthos, "for I confess she would worry me if she were here."
"She worries me in England as well as in France," said Athos.
"She worries me everywhere," said d'Artagnan.
"But when you held her in your power, why did you not drown her, strangle her, hang her?" said Porthos. "It is only the dead who do not return."
"You think so, Porthos?" replied the Musketeer, with a sad smile which d'Artagnan alone understood.
"I have an idea," said d'Artagnan.
"What is it?" said the Musketeers.
"To arms!" cried Grimaud.
The young men sprang up, and seized their muskets.
This time a small troop advanced, consisting of from twenty to twenty-five men; but they were not pioneers, they were soldiers of the garrison.
"Shall we return to the camp?" said Porthos. "I don't think the sides are equal."
"Impossible, for three reasons," replied Athos. "The first, that we have not finished breakfast; the second, that we still have some very important things to say; and the third, that it yet wants ten minutes before the lapse of the hour."
"Well, then," said Aramis, "we must form a plan of battle."
"That's very simple," replied Athos. "As soon as the enemy are within musket shot, we must fire upon them. If they continue to advance, we must fire again. We must fire as long as we have loaded guns. If those who remain of the troop persist in coming to the assault, we will allow the besiegers to get as far as the ditch, and then we will push down upon their heads that strip of wall which keeps its perpendicular by a miracle."
"Bravo!" cried Porthos. "Decidedly, Athos, you were born to be a general, and the cardinal, who fancies himself a great soldier, is nothing beside you."
"Gentlemen," said Athos, "no divided attention, I beg; let each one pick out his man."
"I cover mine," said d'Artagnan.
"And I mine," said Porthos.
"And I mine," said Aramis.
"Fire, then," said Athos.
The four muskets made but one report, but four men fell.
The drum immediately beat, and the little troop advanced at charging pace.
Then the shots were repeated without regularity, but always aimed with the same accuracy. Nevertheless, as if they had been aware of the numerical weakness of the friends, the Rochellais continued to advance in quick time.
With every three shots at least two men fell; but the march of those who remained was not slackened.
Arrived at the foot of the bastion, there were still more than a dozen of the enemy. A last discharge welcomed them, but did not stop them; they jumped into the ditch, and prepared to scale the breach.
"Now, my friends," said Athos, "finish them at a blow. To the wall; to the wall!"
And the four friends, seconded by Grimaud, pushed with the barrels of their muskets an enormous sheet of the wall, which bent as if pushed by the wind, and detaching itself from its base, fell with a horrible crash into the ditch. Then a fearful crash was heard; a cloud of dust mounted toward the sky—and all was over!
"Can we have destroyed them all, from the first to the last?" said Athos.
"My faith, it appears so!" said d'Artagnan.
"No," cried Porthos; "there go three or four, limping away."
In fact, three or four of these unfortunate men, covered with dirt and blood, fled along the hollow way, and at length regained the city. These were all who were left of the little troop.
Athos looked at his watch.
"Gentlemen," said he, "we have been here an hour, and our wager is won; but we will be fair players. Besides, d'Artagnan has not told us his idea yet."
And the Musketeer, with his usual coolness, reseated himself before the remains of the breakfast.
"My idea?" said d'Artagnan.
"Yes; you said you had an idea," said Athos.
"Oh, I remember," said d'Artagnan. "Well, I will go to England a second time; I will go and find Buckingham."
"You shall not do that, d'Artagnan," said Athos, coolly.
"And why not? Have I not been there once?"
"Yes; but at that period we were not at war. At that period Buckingham was an ally, and not an enemy. What you would now do amounts to treason."
D'Artagnan perceived the force of this reasoning, and was silent.
"But," said Porthos, "I think I have an idea, in my turn."
"Silence for Monsieur Porthos's idea!" said Aramis.
"I will ask leave of absence of Monsieur de Treville, on some pretext or other which you must invent; I am not very clever at pretexts. Milady does not know me; I will get access to her without her suspecting me, and when I catch my beauty, I will strangle her."
"Well," replied Athos, "I am not far from approving the idea of Monsieur Porthos."
"For shame!" said Aramis. "Kill a woman? No, listen to me; I have the true idea."
"Let us see your idea, Aramis," said Athos, who felt much deference for the young Musketeer.
"We must inform the queen."
"Ah, my faith, yes!" said Porthos and d'Artagnan, at the same time; "we are coming nearer to it now."
"Inform the queen!" said Athos; "and how? Have we relations with the court? Could we send anyone to Paris without its being known in the camp? From here to Paris it is a hundred and forty leagues; before our letter was at Angers we should be in a dungeon."
"As to remitting a letter with safety to her Majesty," said Aramis, coloring, "I will take that upon myself. I know a clever person at Tours—"
Aramis stopped on seeing Athos smile.
"Well, do you not adopt this means, Athos?" said d'Artagnan.
"I do not reject it altogether," said Athos; "but I wish to remind Aramis that he cannot quit the camp, and that nobody but one of ourselves is trustworthy; that two hours after the messenger has set out, all the Capuchins, all the police, all the black caps of the cardinal, will know your letter by heart, and you and your clever person will be arrested."
"Without reckoning," objected Porthos, "that the queen would save Monsieur de Buckingham, but would take no heed of us."
"Gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, "what Porthos says is full of sense."
"Ah, ah! but what's going on in the city yonder?" said Athos.
"They are beating the general alarm."
The four friends listened, and the sound of the drum plainly reached them.
"You see, they are going to send a whole regiment against us," said Athos.
"You don't think of holding out against a whole regiment, do you?" said Porthos.
"Why not?" said Musketeer. "I feel myself quite in a humor for it; and I would hold out before an army if we had taken the precaution to bring a dozen more bottles of wine."
"Upon my word, the drum draws near," said d'Artagnan.
"Let it come," said Athos. "It is a quarter of an hour's journey from here to the city, consequently a quarter of an hour's journey from the city to hither. That is more than time enough for us to devise a plan. If we go from this place we shall never find another so suitable. Ah, stop! I have it, gentlemen; the right idea has just occurred to me."
"Allow me to give Grimaud some indispensable orders."
Athos made a sign for his lackey to approach.
"Grimaud," said Athos, pointing to the bodies which lay under the wall of the bastion, "take those gentlemen, set them up against the wall, put their hats upon their heads, and their guns in their hands."
"Oh, the great man!" cried d'Artagnan. "I comprehend now."
"You comprehend?" said Porthos.
"And do you comprehend, Grimaud?" said Aramis.
Grimaud made a sign in the affirmative.
"That's all that is necessary," said Athos; "now for my idea."
"I should like, however, to comprehend," said Porthos.
"That is useless."
"Yes, yes! Athos's idea!" cried Aramis and d'Artagnan, at the same time.
"This Milady, this woman, this creature, this demon, has a brother-in-law, as I think you told me, d'Artagnan?"
"Yes, I know him very well; and I also believe that he has not a very warm affection for his sister-in-law."
"There is no harm in that. If he detested her, it would be all the better," replied Athos.
"In that case we are as well off as we wish."
"And yet," said Porthos, "I would like to know what Grimaud is about."
"Silence, Porthos!" said Aramis.
"What is her brother-in-law's name?"
"Lord de Winter."
"Where is he now?"
"He returned to London at the first sound of war."
"Well, there's just the man we want," said Athos. "It is he whom we must warn. We will have him informed that his sister-in-law is on the point of having someone assassinated, and beg him not to lose sight of her. There is in London, I hope, some establishment like that of the Magdalens, or of the Repentant Daughters. He must place his sister in one of these, and we shall be in peace."
"Yes," said d'Artagnan, "till she comes out."
"Ah, my faith!" said Athos, "you require too much, d'Artagnan. I have given you all I have, and I beg leave to tell you that this is the bottom of my sack."
"But I think it would be still better," said Aramis, "to inform the queen and Lord de Winter at the same time."
"Yes; but who is to carry the letter to Tours, and who to London?"
"I answer for Bazin," said Aramis.
"And I for Planchet," said d'Artagnan.
"Ay," said Porthos, "if we cannot leave the camp, our lackeys may."
"To be sure they may; and this very day we will write the letters," said Aramis. "Give the lackeys money, and they will start."
"We will give them money?" replied Athos. "Have you any money?"
The four friends looked at one another, and a cloud came over the brows which but lately had been so cheerful.
"Look out!" cried d'Artagnan, "I see black points and red points moving yonder. Why did you talk of a regiment, Athos? It is a veritable army!"
"My faith, yes," said Athos; "there they are. See the sneaks come, without drum or trumpet. Ah, ah! have you finished, Grimaud?"
Grimaud made a sign in the affirmative, and pointed to a dozen bodies which he had set up in the most picturesque attitudes. Some carried arms, others seemed to be taking aim, and the remainder appeared merely to be sword in hand.
"Bravo!" said Athos; "that does honor to your imagination."
"All very well," said Porthos, "but I should like to understand."
"Let us decamp first, and you will understand afterward."
"A moment, gentlemen, a moment; give Grimaud time to clear away the breakfast."
"Ah, ah!" said Aramis, "the black points and the red points are visibly enlarging. I am of d'Artagnan's opinion; we have no time to lose in regaining our camp."
"My faith," said Athos, "I have nothing to say against a retreat. We bet upon one hour, and we have stayed an hour and a half. Nothing can be said; let us be off, gentlemen, let us be off!"
Grimaud was already ahead, with the basket and the dessert. The four friends followed, ten paces behind him.
"What the devil shall we do now, gentlemen?" cried Athos.
"Have you forgotten anything?" said Aramis.
"The white flag, morbleu! We must not leave a flag in the hands of the enemy, even if that flag be but a napkin."
And Athos ran back to the bastion, mounted the platform, and bore off the flag; but as the Rochellais had arrived within musket range, they opened a terrible fire upon this man, who appeared to expose himself for pleasure's sake.
But Athos might be said to bear a charmed life. The balls passed and whistled all around him; not one struck him.
Athos waved his flag, turning his back on the guards of the city, and saluting those of the camp. On both sides loud cries arose—on the one side cries of anger, on the other cries of enthusiasm.
A second discharge followed the first, and three balls, by passing through it, made the napkin really a flag. Cries were heard from the camp, "Come down! come down!"
Athos came down; his friends, who anxiously awaited him, saw him returned with joy.
"Come along, Athos, come along!" cried d'Artagnan; "now we have found everything except money, it would be stupid to be killed."
But Athos continued to march majestically, whatever remarks his companions made; and they, finding their remarks useless, regulated their pace by his.
Grimaud and his basket were far in advance, out of the range of the balls.
At the end of an instant they heard a furious fusillade.
"What's that?" asked Porthos, "what are they firing at now? I hear no balls whistle, and I see nobody!"
"They are firing at the corpses," replied Athos.
"But the dead cannot return their fire."
"Certainly not! They will then fancy it is an ambuscade, they will deliberate; and by the time they have found out the pleasantry, we shall be out of the range of their balls. That renders it useless to get a pleurisy by too much haste."
"Oh, I comprehend now," said the astonished Porthos.
"That's lucky," said Athos, shrugging his shoulders.
On their part, the French, on seeing the four friends return at such a step, uttered cries of enthusiasm.
At length a fresh discharge was heard, and this time the balls came rattling among the stones around the four friends, and whistling sharply in their ears. The Rochellais had at last taken possession of the bastion.
"These Rochellais are bungling fellows," said Athos; "how many have we killed of them—a dozen?"
"How many did we crush under the wall?"
"Eight or ten."
"And in exchange for all that not even a scratch! Ah, but what is the matter with your hand, d'Artagnan? It bleeds, seemingly."
"Oh, it's nothing," said d'Artagnan.
"A spent ball?"
"Not even that."
"What is it, then?"
We have said that Athos loved d'Artagnan like a child, and this somber and inflexible personage felt the anxiety of a parent for the young man.
"Only grazed a little," replied d'Artagnan; "my fingers were caught between two stones—that of the wall and that of my ring—and the skin was broken."
"That comes of wearing diamonds, my master," said Athos, disdainfully.
"Ah, to be sure," cried Porthos, "there is a diamond. Why the devil, then, do we plague ourselves about money, when there is a diamond?"
"Stop a bit!" said Aramis.
"Well thought of, Porthos; this time you have an idea."
"Undoubtedly," said Porthos, drawing himself up at Athos's compliment; "as there is a diamond, let us sell it."
"But," said d'Artagnan, "it is the queen's diamond."
"The stronger reason why it should be sold," replied Athos. The queen saving Monsieur de Buckingham, her lover; nothing more just. The queen saving us, her friends; nothing more moral. Let us sell the diamond. What says Monsieur the Abbe? I don't ask Porthos; his opinion has been given."
"Why, I think," said Aramis, blushing as usual, "that his ring not coming from a mistress, and consequently not being a love token, d'Artagnan may sell it."
"My dear Aramis, you speak like theology personified. Your advice, then, is—"
"To sell the diamond," replied Aramis.
"Well, then," said d'Artagnan, gaily, "let us sell the diamond, and say no more about it."
The fusillade continued; but the four friends were out of reach, and the Rochellais only fired to appease their consciences.
"My faith, it was time that idea came into Porthos's head. Here we are at the camp; therefore, gentlemen, not a word more of this affair. We are observed; they are coming to meet us. We shall be carried in triumph."
In fact, as we have said, the whole camp was in motion. More than two thousand persons had assisted, as at a spectacle, in this fortunate but wild undertaking of the four friends—an undertaking of which they were far from suspecting the real motive. Nothing was heard but cries of "Live the Musketeers! Live the Guards!" M. de Busigny was the first to come and shake Athos by the hand, and acknowledge that the wager was lost. The dragoon and the Swiss followed him, and all their comrades followed the dragoon and the Swiss. There was nothing but felicitations, pressures of the hand, and embraces; there was no end to the inextinguishable laughter at the Rochellais. The tumult at length became so great that the cardinal fancied there must be some riot, and sent La Houdiniere, his captain of the Guards, to inquire what was going on.
The affair was described to the messenger with all the effervescence of enthusiasm.
"Well?" asked the cardinal, on seeing La Houdiniere return.
"Well, monseigneur," replied the latter, "three Musketeers and a Guardsman laid a wager with Monsieur de Busigny that they would go and breakfast in the bastion St. Gervais; and while breakfasting they held it for two hours against the enemy, and have killed I don't know how many Rochellais."
"Did you inquire the names of those three Musketeers?"
"What are their names?"
"Messieurs Athos, Porthos, and Aramis."
"Still my three brave fellows!" murmured the cardinal. "And the Guardsman?"
"Still my young scapegrace. Positively, these four men must be on my side."
The same evening the cardinal spoke to M. de Treville of the exploit of the morning, which was the talk of the whole camp. M. de Treville, who had received the account of the adventure from the mouths of the heroes of it, related it in all its details to his Eminence, not forgetting the episode of the napkin.
"That's well, Monsieur de Treville," said the cardinal; "pray let that napkin be sent to me. I will have three fleur-de-lis embroidered on it in gold, and will give it to your company as a standard."
"Monseigneur," said M. de Treville, "that will be unjust to the Guardsmen. Monsieur d'Artagnan is not with me; he serves under Monsieur Dessessart."
"Well, then, take him," said the cardinal; "when four men are so much attached to one another, it is only fair that they should serve in the same company."
That same evening M. de Treville announced this good news to the three Musketeers and d'Artagnan, inviting all four to breakfast with him next morning.
D'Artagnan was beside himself with joy. We know that the dream of his life had been to become a Musketeer. The three friends were likewise greatly delighted.
"My faith," said d'Artagnan to Athos, "you had a triumphant idea! As you said, we have acquired glory, and were enabled to carry on a conversation of the highest importance."
"Which we can resume now without anybody suspecting us, for, with the help of God, we shall henceforth pass for cardinalists."
That evening d'Artagnan went to present his respects to M. Dessessart, and inform him of his promotion.
M. Dessessart, who esteemed d'Artagnan, made him offers of help, as this change would entail expenses for equipment.
D'Artagnan refused; but thinking the opportunity a good one, he begged him to have the diamond he put into his hand valued, as he wished to turn it into money.
The next day, M. Dessessart's valet came to d'Artagnan's lodging, and gave him a bag containing seven thousand livres.
This was the price of the queen's diamond.
48 A FAMILY AFFAIR
Athos had invented the phrase, family affair. A family affair was not subject to the investigation of the cardinal; a family affair concerned nobody. People might employ themselves in a family affair before all the world. Therefore Athos had invented the phrase, family affair.
Aramis had discovered the idea, the lackeys.
Porthos had discovered the means, the diamond.
D'Artagnan alone had discovered nothing—he, ordinarily the most inventive of the four; but it must be also said that the very name of Milady paralyzed him.
Ah! no, we were mistaken; he had discovered a purchaser for his diamond.
The breakfast at M. de Treville's was as gay and cheerful as possible. D'Artagnan already wore his uniform—for being nearly of the same size as Aramis, and as Aramis was so liberally paid by the publisher who purchased his poem as to allow him to buy everything double, he sold his friend a complete outfit.
D'Artagnan would have been at the height of his wishes if he had not constantly seen Milady like a dark cloud hovering in the horizon.
After breakfast, it was agreed that they should meet again in the evening at Athos's lodging, and there finish their plans.
D'Artagnan passed the day in exhibiting his Musketeer's uniform in every street of the camp.
In the evening, at the appointed hour, the four friends met. There only remained three things to decide—what they should write to Milady's brother; what they should write to the clever person at Tours; and which should be the lackeys to carry the letters.
Everyone offered his own. Athos talked of the discretion of Grimaud, who never spoke a word but when his master unlocked his mouth. Porthos boasted of the strength of Mousqueton, who was big enough to thrash four men of ordinary size. Aramis, confiding in the address of Bazin, made a pompous eulogium on his candidate. Finally, d'Artagnan had entire faith in the bravery of Planchet, and reminded them of the manner in which he had conducted himself in the ticklish affair of Boulogne.
These four virtues disputed the prize for a length of time, and gave birth to magnificent speeches which we do not repeat here for fear they should be deemed too long.
"Unfortunately," said Athos, "he whom we send must possess in himself alone the four qualities united."
"But where is such a lackey to be found?"
"Not to be found!" cried Athos. "I know it well, so take Grimaud."
"Take Planchet. Planchet is brave and shrewd; they are two qualities out of the four."
"Gentlemen," said Aramis, "the principal question is not to know which of our four lackeys is the most discreet, the most strong, the most clever, or the most brave; the principal thing is to know which loves money the best."
"What Aramis says is very sensible," replied Athos; "we must speculate upon the faults of people, and not upon their virtues. Monsieur Abbe, you are a great moralist."
"Doubtless," said Aramis, "for we not only require to be well served in order to succeed, but moreover, not to fail; for in case of failure, heads are in question, not for our lackeys—"
"Speak lower, Aramis," said Athos.
"That's wise—not for the lackeys," resumed Aramis, "but for the master—for the masters, we may say. Are our lackeys sufficiently devoted to us to risk their lives for us? No."
"My faith," said d'Artagnan. "I would almost answer for Planchet."
"Well, my dear friend, add to his natural devotedness a good sum of money, and then, instead of answering for him once, answer for him twice."
"Why, good God! you will be deceived just the same," said Athos, who was an optimist when things were concerned, and a pessimist when men were in question. "They will promise everything for the sake of the money, and on the road fear will prevent them from acting. Once taken, they will be pressed; when pressed, they will confess everything. What the devil! we are not children. To reach England"—Athos lowered his voice—"all France, covered with spies and creatures of the cardinal, must be crossed. A passport for embarkation must be obtained; and the party must be acquainted with English in order to ask the way to London. Really, I think the thing very difficult."
"Not at all," cried d'Artagnan, who was anxious the matter should be accomplished; "on the contrary, I think it very easy. It would be, no doubt, parbleu, if we write to Lord de Winter about affairs of vast importance, of the horrors of the cardinal—"
"Speak lower!" said Athos.
"—of intrigues and secrets of state," continued d'Artagnan, complying with the recommendation. "There can be no doubt we would all be broken on the wheel; but for God's sake, do not forget, as you yourself said, Athos, that we only write to him concerning a family affair; that we only write to him to entreat that as soon as Milady arrives in London he will put it out of her power to injure us. I will write to him, then, nearly in these terms."
"Let us see," said Athos, assuming in advance a critical look.
"Monsieur and dear friend—"
"Ah, yes! Dear friend to an Englishman," interrupted Athos; "well commenced! Bravo, d'Artagnan! Only with that word you would be quartered instead of being broken on the wheel."
"Well, perhaps. I will say, then, Monsieur, quite short."
"You may even say, My Lord," replied Athos, who stickled for propriety.
"My Lord, do you remember the little goat pasture of the Luxembourg?"
"Good, the Luxembourg! One might believe this is an allusion to the queen-mother! That's ingenious," said Athos.
"Well, then, we will put simply, My Lord, do you remember a certain little enclosure where your life was spared?"
"My dear d'Artagnan, you will never make anything but a very bad secretary. Where your life was spared! For shame! that's unworthy. A man of spirit is not to be reminded of such services. A benefit reproached is an offense committed."
"The devil!" said d'Artagnan, "you are insupportable. If the letter must be written under your censure, my faith, I renounce the task."
"And you will do right. Handle the musket and the sword, my dear fellow. You will come off splendidly at those two exercises; but pass the pen over to Monsieur Abbe. That's his province."
"Ay, ay!" said Porthos; "pass the pen to Aramis, who writes theses in Latin."
"Well, so be it," said d'Artagnan. "Draw up this note for us, Aramis; but by our Holy Father the Pope, cut it short, for I shall prune you in my turn, I warn you."
"I ask no better," said Aramis, with that ingenious air of confidence which every poet has in himself; "but let me be properly acquainted with the subject. I have heard here and there that this sister-in-law was a hussy. I have obtained proof of it by listening to her conversation with the cardinal."
"Lower! SACRE BLEU!" said Athos.
"But," continued Aramis, "the details escape me."
"And me also," said Porthos.
D'Artagnan and Athos looked at each other for some time in silence. At length Athos, after serious reflection and becoming more pale than usual, made a sign of assent to d'Artagnan, who by it understood he was at liberty to speak.
"Well, this is what you have to say," said d'Artagnan: "My Lord, your sister-in-law is an infamous woman, who wished to have you killed that she might inherit your wealth; but she could not marry your brother, being already married in France, and having been—" d'Artagnan stopped, as if seeking for the word, and looked at Athos.
"Repudiated by her husband," said Athos.
"Because she had been branded," continued d'Artagnan.
"Bah!" cried Porthos. "Impossible! What do you say—that she wanted to have her brother-in-law killed?"
"She was married?" asked Aramis.
"And her husband found out that she had a fleur-de-lis on her shoulder?" cried Porthos.
These three yeses had been pronounced by Athos, each with a sadder intonation.
"And who has seen this fleur-de-lis?" inquired Aramis.
"d'Artagnan and I. Or rather, to observe the chronological order, I and d'Artagnan," replied Athos.
"And does the husband of this frightful creature still live?" said Aramis.
"He still lives."
"Are you quite sure of it?"
"I am he."
There was a moment of cold silence, during which everyone was affected according to his nature.
"This time," said Athos, first breaking the silence, "d'Artagnan has given us an excellent program, and the letter must be written at once."
"The devil! You are right, Athos," said Aramis; "and it is a rather difficult matter. The chancellor himself would be puzzled how to write such a letter, and yet the chancellor draws up an official report very readily. Never mind! Be silent, I will write."
Aramis accordingly took the quill, reflected for a few moments, wrote eight or ten lines in a charming little female hand, and then with a voice soft and slow, as if each word had been scrupulously weighed, he read the following:
"My Lord, The person who writes these few lines had the honor of crossing swords with you in the little enclosure of the Rue d'Enfer. As you have several times since declared yourself the friend of that person, he thinks it his duty to respond to that friendship by sending you important information. Twice you have nearly been the victim of a near relative, whom you believe to be your heir because you are ignorant that before she contracted a marriage in England she was already married in France. But the third time, which is the present, you may succumb. Your relative left La Rochelle for England during the night. Watch her arrival, for she has great and terrible projects. If you require to know positively what she is capable of, read her past history on her left shoulder."
"Well, now that will do wonderfully well," said Athos. "My dear Aramis, you have the pen of a secretary of state. Lord de Winter will now be upon his guard if the letter should reach him; and even if it should fall into the hands of the cardinal, we shall not be compromised. But as the lackey who goes may make us believe he has been to London and may stop at Chatellerault, let us give him only half the sum promised him, with the letter, with an agreement that he shall have the other half in exchange for the reply. Have you the diamond?" continued Athos.
"I have what is still better. I have the price;" and d'Artagnan threw the bag upon the table. At the sound of the gold Aramis raised his eyes and Porthos started. As to Athos, he remained unmoved.
"How much in that little bag?"
"Seven thousand livres, in louis of twelve francs."
"Seven thousand livres!" cried Porthos. "That poor little diamond was worth seven thousand livres?"
"It appears so," said Athos, "since here they are. I don't suppose that our friend d'Artagnan has added any of his own to the amount."
"But, gentlemen, in all this," said d'Artagnan, "we do not think of the queen. Let us take some heed of the welfare of her dear Buckingham. That is the least we owe her."
"That's true," said Athos; "but that concerns Aramis."
"Well," replied the latter, blushing, "what must I say?"
"Oh, that's simple enough!" replied Athos. "Write a second letter for that clever personage who lives at Tours."
Aramis resumed his pen, reflected a little, and wrote the following lines, which he immediately submitted to the approbation of his friends.
"My dear cousin."
"Ah, ah!" said Athos. "This clever person is your relative, then?"
"Go on, to your cousin, then!"
"My dear Cousin, His Eminence, the cardinal, whom God preserve for the happiness of France and the confusion of the enemies of the kingdom, is on the point of putting an end to the hectic rebellion of La Rochelle. It is probable that the succor of the English fleet will never even arrive in sight of the place. I will even venture to say that I am certain M. de Buckingham will be prevented from setting out by some great event. His Eminence is the most illustrious politician of times past, of times present, and probably of times to come. He would extinguish the sun if the sun incommoded him. Give these happy tidings to your sister, my dear cousin. I have dreamed that the unlucky Englishman was dead. I cannot recollect whether it was by steel or by poison; only of this I am sure, I have dreamed he was dead, and you know my dreams never deceive me. Be assured, then, of seeing me soon return."
"Capital!" cried Athos; "you are the king of poets, my dear Aramis. You speak like the Apocalypse, and you are as true as the Gospel. There is nothing now to do but to put the address to this letter."
"That is easily done," said Aramis.
He folded the letter fancifully, and took up his pen and wrote:
"To Mlle. Michon, seamstress, Tours."
The three friends looked at one another and laughed; they were caught.
"Now," said Aramis, "you will please to understand, gentlemen, that Bazin alone can carry this letter to Tours. My cousin knows nobody but Bazin, and places confidence in nobody but him; any other person would fail. Besides, Bazin is ambitious and learned; Bazin has read history, gentlemen, he knows that Sixtus the Fifth became Pope after having kept pigs. Well, as he means to enter the Church at the same time as myself, he does not despair of becoming Pope in his turn, or at least a cardinal. You can understand that a man who has such views will never allow himself to be taken, or if taken, will undergo martyrdom rather than speak."
"Very well," said d'Artagnan, "I consent to Bazin with all my heart, but grant me Planchet. Milady had him one day turned out of doors, with sundry blows of a good stick to accelerate his motions. Now, Planchet has an excellent memory; and I will be bound that sooner than relinquish any possible means of vengeance, he will allow himself to be beaten to death. If your arrangements at Tours are your arrangements, Aramis, those of London are mine. I request, then, that Planchet may be chosen, more particularly as he has already been to London with me, and knows how to speak correctly: London, sir, if you please, and my master, Lord d'Artagnan. With that you may be satisfied he can make his way, both going and returning."
"In that case," said Athos, "Planchet must receive seven hundred livres for going, and seven hundred livres for coming back; and Bazin, three hundred livres for going, and three hundred livres for returning—that will reduce the sum to five thousand livres. We will each take a thousand livres to be employed as seems good, and we will leave a fund of a thousand livres under the guardianship of Monsieur Abbe here, for extraordinary occasions or common wants. Will that do?"
"My dear Athos," said Aramis, "you speak like Nestor, who was, as everyone knows, the wisest among the Greeks."
"Well, then," said Athos, "it is agreed. Planchet and Bazin shall go. Everything considered, I am not sorry to retain Grimaud; he is accustomed to my ways, and I am particular. Yesterday's affair must have shaken him a little; his voyage would upset him quite."
Planchet was sent for, and instructions were given him. The matter had been named to him by d'Artagnan, who in the first place pointed out the money to him, then the glory, and then the danger.
"I will carry the letter in the lining of my coat," said Planchet; "and if I am taken I will swallow it."
"Well, but then you will not be able to fulfill your commission," said d'Artagnan.
"You will give me a copy this evening, which I shall know by heart tomorrow."
D'Artagnan looked at his friends, as if to say, "Well, what did I tell you?"
"Now," continued he, addressing Planchet, "you have eight days to get an interview with Lord de Winter; you have eight days to return—in all sixteen days. If, on the sixteenth day after your departure, at eight o'clock in the evening you are not here, no money—even if it be but five minutes past eight."
"Then, monsieur," said Planchet, "you must buy me a watch."
"Take this," said Athos, with his usual careless generosity, giving him his own, "and be a good lad. Remember, if you talk, if you babble, if you get drunk, you risk your master's head, who has so much confidence in your fidelity, and who answers for you. But remember, also, that if by your fault any evil happens to d'Artagnan, I will find you, wherever you may be, for the purpose of ripping up your belly."
"Oh, monsieur!" said Planchet, humiliated by the suspicion, and moreover, terrified at the calm air of the Musketeer.
"And I," said Porthos, rolling his large eyes, "remember, I will skin you alive."
"And I," said Aramis, with his soft, melodius voice, "remember that I will roast you at a slow fire, like a savage."
Planchet began to weep. We will not venture to say whether it was from terror created by the threats or from tenderness at seeing four friends so closely united.
D'Artagnan took his hand. "See, Planchet," said he, "these gentlemen only say this out of affection for me, but at bottom they all like you."
"Ah, monsieur," said Planchet, "I will succeed or I will consent to be cut in quarters; and if they do cut me in quarters, be assured that not a morsel of me will speak."
It was decided that Planchet should set out the next day, at eight o'clock in the morning, in order, as he had said, that he might during the night learn the letter by heart. He gained just twelve hours by this engagement; he was to be back on the sixteenth day, by eight o'clock in the evening.
In the morning, as he was mounting his horse, d'Artagnan, who felt at the bottom of his heart a partiality for the duke, took Planchet aside.
"Listen," said he to him. "When you have given the letter to Lord de Winter and he has read it, you will further say to him: Watch over his Grace Lord Buckingham, for they wish to assassinate him. But this, Planchet, is so serious and important that I have not informed my friends that I would entrust this secret to you; and for a captain's commission I would not write it."
"Be satisfied, monsieur," said Planchet, "you shall see if confidence can be placed in me."
Mounted on an excellent horse, which he was to leave at the end of twenty leagues in order to take the post, Planchet set off at a gallop, his spirits a little depressed by the triple promise made him by the Musketeers, but otherwise as light-hearted as possible.
Bazin set out the next day for Tours, and was allowed eight days for performing his commission.
The four friends, during the period of these two absences, had, as may well be supposed, the eye on the watch, the nose to the wind, and the ear on the hark. Their days were passed in endeavoring to catch all that was said, in observing the proceeding of the cardinal, and in looking out for all the couriers who arrived. More than once an involuntary trembling seized them when called upon for some unexpected service. They had, besides, to look constantly to their own proper safety; Milady was a phantom which, when it had once appeared to people, did not allow them to sleep very quietly.
On the morning of the eighth day, Bazin, fresh as ever, and smiling, according to custom, entered the cabaret of the Parpaillot as the four friends were sitting down to breakfast, saying, as had been agreed upon: "Monsieur Aramis, the answer from your cousin."
The four friends exchanged a joyful glance; half of the work was done. It is true, however, that it was the shorter and easier part.
Aramis, blushing in spite of himself, took the letter, which was in a large, coarse hand and not particular for its orthography.
"Good God!" cried he, laughing, "I quite despair of my poor Michon; she will never write like Monsieur de Voiture."
"What does you mean by boor Michon?" said the Swiss, who was chatting with the four friends when the letter came.
"Oh, pardieu, less than nothing," said Aramis; "a charming little seamstress, whom I love dearly and from whose hand I requested a few lines as a sort of keepsake."
"The duvil!" said the Swiss, "if she is as great a lady as her writing is large, you are a lucky fellow, gomrade!"
Aramis read the letter, and passed it to Athos.
"See what she writes to me, Athos," said he.
Athos cast a glance over the epistle, and to disperse all the suspicions that might have been created, read aloud:
"My cousin, My sister and I are skillful in interpreting dreams, and even entertain great fear of them; but of yours it may be said, I hope, every dream is an illusion. Adieu! Take care of yourself, and act so that we may from time to time hear you spoken of.
"And what dream does she mean?" asked the dragoon, who had approached during the reading.
"Yez; what's the dream?" said the Swiss.
"Well, pardieu!" said Aramis, "it was only this: I had a dream, and I related it to her."
"Yez, yez," said the Swiss; "it's simple enough to dell a dream, but I neffer dream."
"You are very fortunate," said Athos, rising; "I wish I could say as much!"