Madame de Villefort fell at her husband's feet. He addressed her with passionate words of reproach as he turned to leave her.
"Think of it, madame," he said; "if on my return justice has not been satisfied, I will denounce you with my own mouth, and arrest you with my own hands! I am going to the court to pronounce sentence of death on a murderer. If I find you alive on my return, you shall sleep to-night in gaol."
Madame sighed, her nerves gave way, and she sank on the carpet.
But Villefort little knew at the moment he spoke these burning words to the woman who was his wife that he himself was not going out to condemn a fellow-sinner, but to be himself condemned. For the man to whom he referred as a murderer was the so-called Count Cavalcanti, really Benedetto, who now turned out to be an illegitimate son of Villefort's whom he had endeavoured to bury alive as an infant in the garden of a house at Auteuil. The night before the criminal had had a long interview with Monte Cristo's steward, who had disclosed to the prisoner the secret of his birth, and in court he declared his father was Villefort, the public prosecutor! This statement made a great commotion in the court, and all eyes were on Villefort, while Benedetto continued to answer the questions of the president, and proved that he was the child whom Villefort would have buried alive years before. The public prosecutor himself confirmed the prisoner's story by admitting his guilt, and staggering from the court.
When Villefort arrived at his own house he found everything in confusion. Making his way to his wife's apartments, he had the horror of meeting her while she still lived, just at the very instant when the poison she had taken did its work, and of finding a moment or two after that she had poisoned his little son Edward.
This was more than the brain of man could endure, and Villefort turned from the tragic scene a raving madman, rushing wildly to the garden, and beginning to dig with a spade.
The vengeance of Edmond Dantes, so long delayed, so carefully and laboriously planned, was now complete, and it only remained for him to perform the last of his marvels, at the same time giving proof of his boundless generosity. Valentine de Villefort had been buried, and Maximilian was in despair; but Monte Cristo urged the young man to have patience and hope.
It seemed a strange thing to ask a lover whose sweetheart had been placed within the tomb to have hope and to come to Monte Cristo in one month. But this was the bargain they made.
When the month had passed, Maximilian came to the isle of Monte Cristo.
"I have your word," he said to the count, "that you would help me die or give me Valentine!"
"Ah! A miracle alone can save you—the resurrection of Valentine! Thus do I fulfil my promise!"
Monte Cristo turned to a jewelled cabinet, and took from it a tube of greenish paste. Maximilian swallowed some of the mysterious substance, which was but hashish. He sat down and waited.
"Monte Cristo," he said, "I feel that I am dying—good-bye!"
Meanwhile, Monte Cristo had opened a door from which a great light streamed. Maximilian opened his eyes, looked towards the light; and then—he saw Valentine!
Then Monte Cristo spoke. "He calls you, Valentine, even as he thinks he dies by his own will. But even as I saved you from the tomb, so have I saved him. I feared for his reason if he saw you, except in a trance— from his trance he will wake to happiness!"
Next morning Valentine and Maximilian were walking on the beach, when Jacopo, the captain of Monte Cristo's yacht, gave them a letter. As they looked on the superscription they cried, simultaneously, "Gone!"
In his letter, Monte Cristo, said: "All that is in this grotto, my friend, my house in the Champs Elysees, and my chateau at Treport, are the marriage gifts bestowed by Edmond Dantes upon the son of his old master, Morrel. Mademoiselle de Villefort will share them with you; for I entreat her to give to the poor the immense fortune reverting to her from her father, now a madman, and her brother, who died last September with his mother."
"But where is the count?" asked Morrel eagerly. Jacopo pointed towards the horizon, where a white sail was visible.
"And where is Haidee?" asked Valentine. Jacopo still pointed towards the sail.
* * * * *
The Three Musketeers
It was not till the publication of "The Three Musketeers," in 1844, that the amazing gifts of Dumas were fully recognised. From 1844 till 1850, the literary output of novels, plays, and historical memoirs was enormous, and so great was the demand for Dumas' work that he made no attempt to supply his customers single-handed, but engaged a host of assistants, and was content to revise and amend—or in some cases only to sign—their productions. "The Three Musketeers" was followed by its sequel, "Twenty Years After," in 1845, and the story was continued still further in the "Vicomte de Bragelonne." The "Valois" series of novels, "Monte Cristo," and the "Memoirs of a Physician," were all published before 1850, in addition to many dramatised versions of stories.
I.—The Musketeer's Apprenticeship
D'Artagnan was without acquaintances in Paris, and now on the very day of his arrival he was committed to fight with three of the most distinguished of the king's musketeers.
Coming from Gascony, a youth with all the pride and ambition of his race, D'Artagnan had brought no money; with him, but only a letter of introduction from his father to M. de Treville, captain of the musketeers. But he had been taught that by courage alone could a man now make his way to fortune, and that he was to bear nothing, save from the cardinal—the great Cardinal Richelieu, or from the king—Louis XIII.
It was immediately after his interview with M. de Treville that D'Artagnan, well trained at home as a swordsman, quarrelled with the three musketeers.
First, on the palace stairs, he ran violently into Athos, who was suffering from a wounded shoulder.
"Excuse me," said D'Artagnan. "Excuse me, but I am in a hurry."
"You are in a hurry?" said the musketeer, pale as a sheet. "Under that pretence, you run against me; you say 'Excuse me!' and you think that sufficient. You are not polite; it is easy to see that you are from the country."
D'Artagnan had already passed on, but this remark made him stop short.
"However far I may come it is not you, monsieur, who can give me a lesson in manners, I warn you."
"Perhaps," said Athos, "you are in a hurry now, but you can find me without running after me. Do you understand me."
"Where, and when?" said D'Artagnan.
"Near the Carmes-Deschaux at noon," replied Athos. "And please do not keep me waiting, for at a quarter past twelve I will cut off your ears if you run."
"Good!" cried D'Artagnan. "I will be there at ten minutes to twelve."
At the street gate Porthos was talking with the soldiers on guard. Between the two there was just room for a man to pass, and D'Artagnan hurried on, only to find himself enveloped in the long velvet cloak of Porthos, which the wind had blown out.
"The fellow must be mad," said Porthos, "to run against people in this manner! Do you always forget your eyes when you happen to be in a hurry?"
"No," replied D'Artagnan, who, in extricating himself from the cloak, had observed that the handsome cloth of gold coat worn by Porthos was only gold in front and plain buff at the back, "no, and thanks to my eyes, I can see what others cannot see."
"Monsieur," said Porthos angrily, "you stand a chance of getting chastised if you run against musketeers in this fashion. I shall look for you, at one o'clock behind the Luxembourg."
"Very well, at one o'clock then," replied D'Artagnan, turning into the street.
A few minutes later D'Artagnan annoyed Aramis, the third musketeer, who was chatting with some gentleman of the king's musketeers. As D'Artagnan came up Aramis accidentally dropped an embroidered pocket-handkerchief and covered it at once with his foot to prevent observation. D'Artagnan, conscious of a certain want of politeness in his treatment of Athos and Porthos, and determined to be more obliging in future, stooped and picked up the handkerchief—much to the vexation of Aramis, who denied all claim to the delicate piece of cambric.
D'Artagnan not taking the rebukes of Aramis in good part, they fixed two o'clock as the hour of meeting.
The two young men bowed and separated, Aramis going up the street which led to the Luxembourg, whilst D'Artagnan, finding that it was near noon, took the road to the Carmes-Deschaux, saying to himself, "Decidedly I can't draw back; but at least if I am killed, I shall be killed by a musketeer."
Knowing nobody in Paris, D'Artagnan went to his appointment without a second.
It was just striking twelve when he arrived on the ground, and Athos, still suffering from his old wound on the shoulder, was already waiting for his adversary.
Athos explained with all politeness that his seconds had not yet arrived.
"If you are in great haste, monsieur," said D'Artagnan, "and if it be your will to despatch me at once, do not inconvenience yourself. I am ready. But if you would wait three days till your shoulder is healed, I have a miraculous balsam given me by my mother, and I am sure this balsam will cure your wound. At the end of three days it would still do me a great honour to be your man."
"That is well said," said Athos, "and it pleases me. Thus spoke the gallant knights of Charlemagne. Monsieur, I love men of your stamp, and I can tell that if we don't kill each other, I shall enjoy your society. But here comes my seconds."
"What!" cried D'Artagnan as Porthos and Aramis appeared. "Are these gentlemen your seconds?"
"Yes," replied Athos. "Are you not aware that we are never seen one without the others, and that we are called the three inseparables?"
"What does this mean?" said Porthos, who had now come up and stood astonished.
"This is the gentleman I am to fight with," said Athos, pointing to D'Artagnan and saluting him.
"Why I am also going to fight with him," said Porthos.
"But not before one o'clock," replied D'Artagnan.
"Well, and I also am going to fight with that gentleman," said Aramis.
"But not till two o'clock," said D'Artagnan calmly.
"And now you are all assembled, gentleman, permit me to offer you my excuses."
At this word "excuses" a cloud passed over the brow of Athos, a haughty smile curled the lip of Porthos, and a negative sign was the reply of Aramis.
"You do not understand me, gentleman," said D'Artagnan, throwing up his head. "I ask to be excused in case I should not be able to discharge my debt to all three; for M. Athos has the right to kill me first. And now, gentleman, I repeat, excuse me, but on that account only, and—guard!"
At these words D'Artagnan drew his sword, and at that moment so elated was he that he would have drawn his sword against all the musketeers in the kingdom.
Scarcely had the two rapiers sounded on meeting, when a company of the cardinal's guards appeared on the scene. At that time there was not only a standing feud between the king's musketeers and the guards of Cardinal Richelieu, there was also a prohibition against duelling.
"The cardinal's guards! The cardinal's guards!" cried Aramis and Porthos at the same time. "Sheathe swords, gentlemen! Sheathe swords!" But it was too late.
Jussac, commander of the guards, had seen the combatants in a position which could not be mistaken.
"Hullo, musketeers," he called out; "fighting, are you, in spite of the edicts? Well, duty before everything. Sheathe your swords, please, and follow us."
"That is quite impossible," said Aramis politely. "The best thing you can do is to pass on your way."
"We shall charge upon you, then," said Jussac. "if you disobey."
"There are five of them," said Athos, "and we are but three. We shall be beaten, and must die on the spot, for on my part I will never face my captain as a conquered man."
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis instantly closed in, and Jussac drew up his soldiers.
In that short interval D'Artagnan determined on the part he was to take; it was a decision of life-long importance. He had to choose between the king and the cardinal, and the choice made, it must be persisted in. He turned towards Athos and his friends. "Gentlemen," said he, "allow me to correct your words. You said you were but three, but it appears to me we are four. I do not wear the uniform, but my heart is that of a musketeer."
"Withdraw, young man, and save your skin!" cried Jussac.
The three musketeers thought of D'Artagnan's youth, and dreaded his inexperience.
"Try me, gentlemen," said D'Artagnan, "and I swear to you that I will never go hence if we are conquered."
Athos pressed the young man's hand, and exclaimed, "Well, then! Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan, forward!"
The nine combatants rushed upon each other with fury, and the battle ended in the utter discomfiture of the cardinal's guards, one of whom was slain and three badly wounded. The musketeers returned walking arm in arm. D'Artagnan marched between Athos and Porthos, his heart full of delight.
"If I am not yet a musketeer," said he to his new friends, "at least, I have entered upon my apprenticeship, haven't I?"
II.—The Queen's Diamonds
The king, always jealous of Richelieu's guards, was extremely pleased when he heard from M. de Treville of the fight that had taken place. He gave D'Artagnan a handful of gold, and promised him a place in the ranks of the musketeers at the first vacancy; in the meantime he was to join a company of royal guards. From this time the life of the four young men became common, for D'Artagnan fell quite easily into the habits of his three friends.
Athos, who was scarcely thirty years old, was of great personal beauty and intelligence of mind. He never spoke of women, he never laughed, rarely smiled, and his reserved and silent habits seemed to make him a much older man.
Porthos was exactly the opposite of Athos. He not only talked much, but he talked loudly, not caring whether anyone listened to him. He would talk about anything except the sciences, alleging that from childhood dated his inveterate hatred of learning. The physical strength of Porthos was enormous, and with all the vanity of a child he was a thoroughly loyal and brave man.
As for Aramis, he always gave out that he intended to take orders in the Church, and was merely a musketeer for the time being. Aramis revelled in intrigues and mysteries.
What the real names of his comrades were D'Artagnan had no idea. That the names they bore had been assumed was all he knew.
The motto of the four was "all for one, one for all." D'Artagnan had already earned the dislike of Cardinal Richelieu by his part in the fight with the cardinal's guards; it was not long before his daring gave greater cause for offence.
The king suspected his wife, Anne of Austria, of being in love with the Duke of Buckingham, and the cardinal suspected the queen of intriguing with Buckingham against France. Now, a secret interview had taken place at the palace between Buckingham and the queen, and the cardinal, who employed spies everywhere, found out this as he found out everything, and determined to destroy the queen's reputation, for there was deadly enmity between Anne of Austria and Richelieu.
Buckingham had received from the queen a set of diamond studs—a present from the king—as a keepsake; so the cardinal despatched a certain lady, a woman of rare beauty, known as "Milady," to England, to get hold of two of these studs.
Then the cardinal, by fostering the royal suspicion, persuaded the king to give a grand ball whereat the queen should wear the diamond studs. By this means Louis would be convinced of Buckingham's visit, for the set of studs would be incomplete.
The queen was in dispair. It was D'Artagnan and the three musketeers who saved her honour. D'Artagnan loved Madame Bonacieux, a confidential dressmaker of the queen's; and this woman, devoted to her royal mistress, gave D'Artagnan a secret note from the queen to Buckingham.
D'Artagnan went at once to M. de Treville, obtained leave of absence for himself and his friends, and set out for England. It was not a minute too soon, for the cardinal had already made plans to prevent any such counter-move, giving orders that no one was to sail from France without a permit.
Between Paris and Calais, Porthos, Aramis, and Athos were all left behind, wounded by Richelieu's guards, and D'Artagnan only effected a passage to Dover by fighting and nearly killing a young noble who held a permit from the cardinal to leave France.
Once in England, D'Artagnan hastened to find Buckingham. The latter discovered, to his horror, that Milady had already become possessed cunningly of two of the precious studs, and D'Artagnan had to wait while the skill of the first English jeweller made good the loss beyond detection.
He returned to Paris with the twelve studs in time for the royal ball. Milady had already given the two she had stolen to the cardinal, who had passed them on to the king.
"What does this mean, Monsieur le Cardinal?" said the king severely, when in the middle of the ball he found, to his joy, that the queen was already wearing twelve diamonds.
"It means, sire," the cardinal replied, with vexation, "that I was anxious to present her majesty with two studs, but did not dare to offer them myself."
"I am very grateful," said Anne of Austria, fully alive to the cardinal's defeat, "only I am afraid these two studs must have cost your eminence as much as all the others cost his majesty."
The man, D'Artagnan, to whom the queen owed this extraordinary triumph over her enemy, stood unknown in the crowd that gathered round the doors. It was only when the queen retired that someone touched him on the shoulder and bade him follow. He readily obeyed; D'Artagnan waited in an ante-room of the queen's apartments; he could hear voices within, and presently a hand and an arm, marvellously white and beautiful, came through the tapestry.
D'Artagnan felt that this was his reward. He dropped on his knees, seized the hand, and touched it modestly with his lips. Then the hand was withdrawn, and in his own a ring was left. The tapestry closed, and his guide, no other than Bonacieux, reappeared and escorted him hastily to the corridor.
III.—The Musketeers at La Rochelle
The siege of La Rochelle was an important affair, one of the chief political events of the reign of Louis XIII.
For a time D'Artagnan was separated from his friends, for the musketeers were escorting the king to the seat of war, and our intrepid Gascon was with the main army. It was now that D'Artagnan began to realise that he had attracted, not only the displeasure of the cardinal, but also the deadly hatred of Milady, the cardinal's secret agent, whose overtures at friendship, made in the cardinal's interest, he had insulted before leaving Paris, and whose secret shame he had discovered.
Twice his life was nearly taken by hired assassins, and the third time a present of wine turned out to be poisoned.
To add to his natural discomfort, Madame Bonacieux had disappeared from Paris, and probably was in prison.
The arrival of the musketeers restored his spirits, and the four were again inseparable. One drawback to their intercourse was the fact that the cardinal and his spies were all over the camp, and that, consequently, it was difficult to talk confidentially without being overheard.
In order to secure privacy for a conference, they decided to go and breakfast in a bastion near the enemy's lines, and wagered with some officers they would stay there an hour. It was a position of terrible danger, but the feat was accomplished, and the wild undertaking of the musketeers was acclaimed with tremendous enthusiasm in the French camp.
The noise reached the cardinal's ears, and he inquired its meaning.
"Monseigneur," said the officer, "three musketeers and a guard laid a wager that they would go and breakfast in the Bastion St. Gervais, and they breakfasted and held it for two hours against the enemy, killing I don't know how many Rochellais."
"Did you inquire the names of those three musketeers?"
"Yes, monseigneur. MM. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis."
"Still the three braves!" muttered the cardinal. "And the guard?"
"Still my reckless young friend! I must have these four men as my own."
That same night the cardinal spoke to M. de Treville of the episode of the bastion, and gave permission for D'Artagnan to become a musketeer, "for such men should be in the same company," he said.
One night during the siege, the three musketeers, seeking D'Artagnan, were met in a country lane by the cardinal, travelling, as he often did, with a single attendant. Athos recognised him, and the cardinal bade the three men escort him to a lonely inn. At the door they all alighted. The landlord of the inn received the cardinal, for he had been expecting an officer to visit a lady who was within. The three musketeers were accommodated in a large room on the ground floor, and the cardinal passed up the staircase as a man who knew his road. Porthos and Aramis sat down at the table to dice, while Athos walked up and down the room in a thoughtful mood. To his astonishment, Athos found that, the stovepipe being broken, he could hear all that was passing in the room above.
"Listen, Milady," the cardinal was saying, "this affair is of utmost importance. A small vessel is waiting for you at the mouth of the river. You will go on board to-night and set sail to-morrow morning for England. Half an hour after I have gone, you will leave here. When you reach England, you will seek the Duke of Buckingham, explain to him that I have proofs of his secret interviews with the queen, and tell him that if England moves in support of the besieged in La Rochelle, I will at once ruin the queen."
"But what if he persists in spite of this in making war?" said Milady.
"If he persists? Why, then he must be got rid of. Some woman doubtless exists, handsome, young, and clever, who has a grievance against the duke; and some fanatic can be found to be her instrument."
"The woman exists, and the fanatic will be found," returned Milady. "And now, will monseigneur permit me to speak of my enemies, as we have spoken of yours?"
"Your enemies? Who are they?" asked Richelieu.
"First, there is a meddlesome little woman called Bonacieux. She was in prison at Nantes, but has been conveyed to a convent by an order which the queen obtained from the king. Will your eminence find out where that convent is?"
"I don't object to that."
"Then I have a much more dangerous enemy than the little Bonacieux, and that is her lover, the wretch D'Artagnan. I will get you a thousand proofs that he has conspired with Buckingham."
"Very well; get me proof, and I will send him to the Bastille."
For a few seconds there was silence while the cardinal was writing a note.
Athos at once got up and told his companions he would go out to see if the road was safe, and left the house.
The cardinal gave his final instructions to Milady, and departed with Porthos and Aramis. No sooner had they turned an angle of the road than Athos re-entered the inn, marched boldly upstairs, and before he had been seen, had bolted the door.
Milady turned round, and became exceedingly white.
"The Count de la Fere!" she said.
"Yes, Milady, the Count de la Fere in person. You believed him dead, did you not, as I believed you to be?"
"What do you want? Why do you come here?" said Milady in a hollow voice.
"I have followed your actions," said Athos sternly. "It was you who had Madame Bonacieux carried off; it was you who sent assassins after D'Artagnan, and poisoned his wine. Only to-night you have agreed to assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, and expect D'Artagnan to be slain in return. Now, I care nothing about the Duke of Buckingham; he is an Englishman, but D'Artagnan is my friend."
"M. D'Artagnan insulted me," said Milady.
"Is it possible to insult you?" said Athos. He drew out a pistol and cocked it. "Madame, you will instantly deliver to me the paper you have received from the cardinal; or, upon my soul, I will blow out your brains."
Athos slowly raised his pistol until the weapon almost touched the woman's forehead. Milady knew too well that with this terrible man death would certainly come unless she yielded. She drew the paper out of her bosom and handed it to Athos. "Take it," she said, "and be accursed."
Athos returned the pistol to his belt, unfolded the paper, and read:
It is by my order, and for the good of the state, that the bearer of this has done what he has done.
Dec. 3rd, 1627.
Athos, without looking at the woman, left the inn, mounted his horse, and galloping across country, managed to get in front, on the road, before the cardinal had passed.
For a second, Milady thought of pursuing the cardinal in order to denounce Athos; but unpleasant revelations might be made, and it seemed best to carry out her mission in England, and then, when she had satisfied the cardinal, to claim her revenge.
IV.—The Doom of Milady
Milady accomplished the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham at Portsmouth, and Richelieu was relieved of the fear of English intervention at La Rochelle.
But the doom of Milady was at hand.
The king, weary of the siege, had gone to spend a few days quietly at St. Germains, taking for an escort only twenty of the musketeers, and at Paris the four friends had obtained from M. de Treville a few days' leave of absence.
Aramis had discovered the convent where Madame Bonacieux was confined; it was at Bethune, and thither the musketeers hastened. Unfortunately, Milady reached Bethune first. She had come there to await the cardinal's orders, and having ingratiated herself with the abbess, learnt that D'Artagnan was on his way with an order from the queen to take Madame Bonacieux to Paris. Milady immediately dispatched a messenger to the cardinal, and at the very moment when the musketeers were at the front entrance, she poured a powder into a glass of wine and bade Madame Bonacieux drink.
"It is not the way I meant to avenge myself," said Milady, as she hastily left the convent by the back gate, "but, ma foi, we do what we must!"
The deadly poison did its work. Constance Bonacieux expired in D'Artagnan's arms.
Then the four musketeers, joined by Lord de Winter, who had arrived from England in hot pursuit of Milady, his sister-in-law, set out to overtake the woman who had wrought so much evil.
They came up with Milady at a solitary house near the village of Erquinheim.
The four servants of the musketeers guarded the house; Athos, D'Artagnan, Aramis, Porthos, and De Winter entered.
"What do you want?" screamed Milady.
"We want Charlotte Backson, first called Countess de la Fere, and afterwards Lady de Winter," said Athos. "M. D'Artagnan, it is for you to accuse her first."
"I accuse this woman of having poisoned Constance Bonacieux, and of having attempted to poison me, and I accuse her of having engaged assassins to shoot me," said D'Artagnan.
"I accuse this woman of having procured the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham," said Lord de Winter. "Moreover, my brother, who made her his heiress, died suddenly of a strange disease."
"I married this woman and gave her my name and wealth, and found afterwards she was branded as a felon," said Athos.
The musketeers and Lord de Winter passed sentence of death upon the miserable woman.
She was taken out to the river bank, and beheaded, and her body dropped into the middle of the stream.
"Let the justice of Heaven be done!" they cried in a loud voice.
Within three days the musketeers were back in Paris, ready to return with the king to La Rochelle. Then the cardinal summoned D'Artagnan to his presence.
"You are charged with having corresponded with the enemies of France, with having surprised state secrets, and with having attempted to thwart the plans of your general," said the cardinal.
"The woman who charges me—a branded felon—Milady de Winter, is dead," replied D'Artagnan.
"Dead!" exclaimed the cardinal. "Dead!"
"We have tried her and condemned her," said D'Artagnan. Then he told the cardinal of the poisoning of Madame Bonacieux, and of the subsequent trial and execution.
The cardinal shuddered before he answered quietly, "You will be tried and condemned."
"Monseigneur," said D'Artagnan, "though I have the pardon in my pocket I am willing to die."
"What pardon?" said the cardinal, in astonishment. "From the king?"
"No, a pardon signed by your eminence." D'Artagnan produced the precious paper which Athos had forced Milady to give him before her journey to England.
For a time the cardinal sat looking at the paper before him. Then he slowly tore it up.
"Now I am lost." thought D'Artagnan. "But he shall see how a gentleman can die."
The cardinal went to a table, and wrote a few lines on a parchment.
"Here, monsieur," he said; "I have taken away from you one paper; I give you another. Only the name is wanting in this commission, and you must fill that up."
D'Artagnan took the document with hesitation. He looked at it, saw it was a lieutenant's commission in the musketeers, and fell at the cardinal's feet.
"Monseigneur, my life is yours. Dispose of it as you will. But I do not deserve this. I have three friends, all more worthy——"
The cardinal interrupted him.
"You are a brave young man, D'Artagnan. Fill up this commission as you will."
D'Artagnan sought out his friends, and offered the commission to them in turn.
But each declined, and Athos filled in the name of D'Artagnan on the commission.
"I shall soon have no more friends. Nothing but bitter recollections!" said D'Artagnan, thinking of Madame Bonacieux.
"You are young yet," Athos answered. "In time these bitter recollections will give way to sweet remembrances."
* * * * *
Twenty Years After
In this first-rate romance, which is a sequel to "The Three Musketeers," and was published in 1845, we have D'Artagnan and the three musketeers in the prime of middle life. Their efforts on behalf of Charles I. are amazing, worthy of anything done when they were twenty years younger. All the characters introduced are for the most part historical, and they are all drawn with spirit, so that our interest in them never flags. A remarkable point in regard to these historical romances of Dumas is that, in spite of their enormous length, no superfluous dialogue or long descriptions prolong them. Dumas took considerable liberties with the facts of history in several places, as, for instance, in the introduction of D'Artagnan and his friends to Charles I., and in making his trial and execution follow as quickly on his surrender as we are made to believe in "Twenty Years After." The story is further continued in "The Vicomte de Bragelonne."
I.—The Parsimony of Mazarin
The great Richelieu was dead, and his successor, Cardinal Mazarin, a cunning and parsimonious Italian, was chief minister of France. Paris, torn and distracted by civil dissension, and impoverished by heavy taxation, was seething with revolt, and Mazarin was the object of popular hatred, Anne of Austria, the queen-mother (for Louis XIV. was but a child), sharing his disfavour with the people.
It was under these circumstances that the queen recalled how faithfully D'Artagnan had once served her, and reminded Mazarin of that gallant officer, and of his three friends. Mazarin sent for D'Artagnan, who for twenty years had remained a lieutenant of musketeers, and asked him what had become of his friends.
"I want you and your three friends to be of use to me," said the cardinal. "Where are your friends?"
"I do not know, my lord. We parted company long ago; all three have left the service."
"Where can you find them, then?"
"I can find them wherever they are. It would be my business."
"And what are the conditions for finding them?"
"Money, my lord; as much money as the undertaking may require. Travelling is dear, and I am only a poor lieutenant in the musketeers."
"You will be at my service when they are found?" asked Mazarin.
"What are we to do?"
"Don't trouble about that. When the time for action arrives you shall learn all that I require of you. Wait till that comes, and find out where your friends are."
Mazarin gave D'Artagnan a bag of money, and the latter withdrew, to discover in the courtyard that the bag contained silver and not gold.
"Crown pieces only, silver!" exclaimed D'Artagnan; "I guessed as much. Ah, Mazarin, Mazarin, you have no real confidence in me. So much the worse for you!"
But the cardinal was rubbing his hands, and congratulating himself that he had discovered a secret for a tenth of the coin Richelieu would have spent on the matter.
D'Artagnan first sought for Aramis, who was now an abbe, and lived in a convent and wrote sermons. But the heart of Aramis was not in religion, and when D'Artagnan found him, and the two had sat talking for some time, D'Artagnan said, "My friend, it seems to me that when you were a musketeer you were always thinking of the Church, and now that you are an abbe you are always longing to be a musketeer."
"It's true," said Aramis. "Man is a strange bundle of inconsistencies. Since I became an abbe I dream of nothing but battles, and I practise shooting all day long here with an excellent master."
Aramis indeed had both retained his swordsmanship and his interest in public affairs. But when D'Artagnan mentioned Mazarin, and the serious crisis in the state, Aramis declared that Mazarin was an upstart with only the queen on his side; and that the young king, the nobles, and princes, were all against him. Aramis was already on the side of Mazarin's enemies. He could not pledge himself to anyone, and the two separated.
D'Artagnan went on to find Porthos, whose address he had learnt from Aramis. Porthos, who now called himself De Valon after the name of his estate, lived at ease as a country gentleman should; he was a widower and wealthy, but he was mortified because his neighbours were of ancient family and ignored him. He received D'Artagnan with open arms, and when at breakfast he confessed his weariness, D'Artagnan at once invited him to join him again and promised that he would get a barony for his services.
"Go into harness again!" cried D'Artagnan. "Gird on your sword, and win a coronet. You want a title; I want money; the cardinal wants our help."
"For my part," said the gigantic Porthos, "I certainly want to be made a baron."
They talked of Athos, who lived on his estate at Bragelonne, and was now the Count de la Fere. And Porthos mentioned that Athos had an adopted son.
"If we can get Athos, all will be well," said D'Artagnan. "If we cannot, we must do without him. We two are worth a dozen."
"Yes," said Porthos, smiling at the remembrance of their old exploits; "but we four would be equal to thirty-six."
"I have your word, then?" said D'Artagnan.
"Yes. I will fight heart and soul for the cardinal; but—but he must make me a baron."
"Oh, that's settled already!" said D'Artagnan. "I'll answer for your barony."
With that he had his horse saddled, and rode on to the castle of Bragelonne. Athos was visibly moved at the sight of D'Artagnan, and rushed towards him and clasped him in his arms. D'Artagnan, equally moved, held him closely, while tears stood in his eyes. Athos seemed scarcely aged at all, in spite of his eight-and-forty years; but there was a greater dignity about his face. Formerly, too, he had been a heavy drinker, but now no signs of excess disturbed the calm serenity of his countenance. The presence of his son, whom he called Raoul—a boy of fifteen—seemed to explain to D'Artagnan the regenerated existence of Athos.
Deeply as the heart of Athos was stirred at meeting his old comrade-in-arms, and sincere as his attachment was to D'Artagnan, the Count de la Fere would have nothing to do with any plan for helping Mazarin.
D'Artagnan returned alone to await Porthos in Paris. The same night Athos and his son also left for Paris.
II.—The Four Set Out for England
Queen Henrietta of England, daughter of Henry IV. of France and wife of King Charles I., was lodged in the Louvre, while her husband lost his crown in the civil war. The queen had appealed to Mazarin either to send assistance to Charles I., or to receive him in France, and the cardinal had declined both propositions. Then it was that an Englishman, Lord de Winter, who had come to Paris to get help, appealed to Athos, whom he had known twenty years earlier, to come to England and fight for the king.
Athos and Aramis at once responded, and waited on the queen, who received them in the large empty rooms—left unfurnished by the avarice of the cardinal—allotted to her in the Louvre.
"Gentlemen," said the queen, "a few years ago I had around me knights, treasure, and armies. To-day look around, and know that in order to accomplish a plan which is dearer to me than life I have only Lord de Winter, the friend of twenty years, and you, gentlemen, whom I see for the first time, and whom I know but as my countrymen."
"It is enough," said Athos, bowing low, "if the life of three men can purchase yours, madame."
"I thank you, gentlemen. But hear me. My husband, King of England, is leading so wretched a life that death would be a welcome exchange for him. He has asked for the hospitality of France, and it has been refused him."
"What is to be done?" said Athos. "I have the honour to inquire from your majesty what you desire Monsieur D'Herblay (as Aramis was named) and myself to do in your service. We are ready."
"I, madame," said Aramis, "follow M. de la Fere wherever he leads, even to death, without demanding any reason; but when it concerns your majesty's service, no one precedes me."
"Well, then, gentlemen," said the queen, "since it is thus, and since you are willing to devote yourselves to the service of a poor princess whom everybody has forsaken, this is what must be done for me. The king is alone with a few gentlemen whom he may lose any day, and he is surrounded by the Scotch, whom he distrusts. I ask much, too much, perhaps, for I have no title to ask it. Go to England, join the king, be his friends, his bodyguard; be with him on the field of battle and in his house. Gentlemen, in exchange I can only promise you my love; next to my husband and my children, and before everyone else, you will have my prayers and a sister's love."
"Madame," said Athos, "when must we set out? we are ready!"
The queen, moved to tears, held out her hand, which they kissed, and then, after receiving letters for the king, they withdrew.
"Well," said Aramis, when they were alone, "what do you think of this business, my dear count?"
"Bad!" replied Athos. "Very bad!"
"But you entered on it with enthusiasm."
"As I shall ever do when a great principle is to be defended. Kings are only strong by the aid of the aristocracy; but aristocracy cannot exist without kings. Let us then support monarchy in order to support ourselves."
"We shall be murdered there," said Aramis. "I hate the English—they are so coarse, like all people who drink beer."
"Would it be better to remain here?" said Athos. "And take a turn in the Bastille, by the cardinal's order? Believe me, Aramis, there is little left to regret. We avoid imprisonment, and we take the part of heroes— the choice is easy!"
While Athos and Aramis were preparing to go to England on behalf of the king, Mazarin had decided to employ D'Artagnan and Porthos as his envoys to Oliver Cromwell.
"Monsieur D'Artagnan," said the cardinal, "do you wish to become a captain?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Your friend wishes to be made a baron?"
"At this very moment, my lord, he's dreaming that he is one."
"Then," said Mazarin, "take this dispatch, carry it to England, and when you get to London, tear off the outer envelope."
"And on our return, may we, my friend and I, rely on getting our promotion—he his barony, I my captaincy?"
"On the honour of Mazarin, yes."
"I would rather have another sort of oath than that," said D'Artagnan to himself as he went out.
Just as they were leaving Paris, a letter came from Athos, who had already gone.
"Dear D'Artagnan, dear Porthos,—My friends, perhaps this is the last time you will hear from me. I entrust certain papers which are at Bragelonne to your keeping; if in three months you do not hear of me, take possession of them. May God and the remembrance of our friendship support you always.—Your devoted friend, Athos."
Athos and Aramis were with Charles I. at Newcastle. The king had been sold by the Scotch to the English Parliament, and on the approach of Cromwell's army the king's troops refused to fight. Only fifteen men stood round the king when Cromwell's cavalry came charging down. Lord de Winter was shot dead by his own nephew, who was in Cromwell's army.
"Come, Aramis, now for the honour of France," said Athos, and the two Englishmen who were nearest to them fell mortally wounded.
At the same instant a tremendous shout filled the air, and thirty swords flashed before them. Suddenly a man sprang out of the English ranks, fell upon Athos, wound his muscular arms round him, and tearing his sword from him, said in his ear, "Silence! Yield—you yield to me, don't you?"
A giant from the English ranks at the same moment seized Aramis by the wrists, who struggled in vain to get free.
"I yield myself prisoner," said Aramis, giving up his sword to Porthos.
"D'Art——" exclaimed Athos; but the musketeer covered his mouth with his hand.
The ranks opened. D'Artagnan held the bridle of Athos' horse, and Porthos that of Aramis, and they led their prisoners off the field.
"We are all four lost if you give the least sign you know us," said D'Artagnan.
"The king—where is the king?" Athos exclaimed anxiously.
"Ah! We have got him!"
"Yes," said Aramis; "through a base act of treachery!"
Porthos pressed his friend's hand, and answered, "Yes; all is fair in war—stratagem as well as force. Look yonder!"
The squadron, which ought to have protected the king, was advancing to meet the English regiments.
The king, who was entirely surrounded, walked alone on foot. He caught sight of Athos and Aramis, and greeted them.
"Farewell, messieurs. The day has been unfortunate, but it is not your fault, thank God! But where is my old friend Winter?"
"Look for him with Strafford," said a voice.
Charles shuddered. He saw a corpse at his feet. It was Winter's.
That hour messengers were sent off in every direction over England and Europe to announce that Charles Stuart was now the prisoner of Oliver Cromwell. D'Artagnan not only accomplished the release of the prisoners, he also joined with his friends in a bold attempt to rescue Charles from his captors.
D'Artagnan at first naturally assumed they would all four return to France as quickly as possible; but Athos declared that he could not abandon the king, and still meant to save him if it were possible.
"But what can you do in a foreign land; in an enemy's country?" said D'Artagnan. "Did you promise the queen to storm the Tower of London? Come, Porthos, what do you think of this business?"
"Nothing good," said Porthos.
"Friend," said Athos, "our minds are made up! Ah, if we had you with us! With you, D'Artagnan, and you, Porthos—all four, and reunited for the first time for twenty years—we would dare, not only England but the three kingdoms together!"
"Very well," cried D'Artagnan furiously, "very well, since you wish it, let us leave our bones in this horrible land, where it is always cold, where the fine weather comes after a fog, and the fog after rain; in truth, whether we die here or elsewhere matters little, since we must die sooner or later."
"But your future career, D'Artagnan? Your ambition, Porthos?" said Athos.
"Our future, our ambition!" replied D'Artagnan bitterly. "What do we need to think of that for, if we are to save the king? The king saved, we shall assemble our friends together, reconquer England, and place him securely on the throne."
"And he shall make us dukes and peers," said Porthos joyfully at this cheerful prospect.
"Or he will forget us," added D'Artagnan.
"Then," said Athos, offering his hand to D'Artagnan, "I swear to you, my friend, by the God who hears us, I believe there is a power watching over us, and I look forward to our all meeting in France again."
"So be it!" said D'Artagnan; "but I confess I have quite a contrary conviction. However, 'tis settled; but I stay in England only on one condition, that I don't have to learn the language."
The attempt to rescue Charles from his guards on the way to London was only frustrated by the sudden arrival of General Harrison, with a large body of soldiers, and D'Artagnan and his friends made their escape by a hasty flight, and followed to London.
"We must see this tragedy played out to the end," said Athos. "Do not let us leave England while any hope remains."
And the others agreed.
The intrepid four were present at the trial of Charles I., and it was the voice of Athos that called out, "You lie!" when the prosecutor declared that the accusation against the king was put forward by the English people.
Fortunately, D'Artagnan managed to get Athos out of the court quickly, and then, followed by Porthos and Aramis, they mingled in the crowd outside undetected.
Sentence having been pronounced against the king, the only thing to be done by the four was to get rid of the London executioner; this meant at least a few days delay while another executioner was being procured. D'Artagnan undertook this difficult task, while Aramis was to personate Bishop Juxon, the royal chaplain, and explain to Charles the attempt being made to save him. Athos engaged to get everything ready for leaving England.
On the very night before the execution Aramis brought the king a message from D'Artagnan, "Tell the king that to-morrow, at ten o'clock at night, we shall carry him off." Aramis added, "He has said it, and he will do it."
The scaffold was already being constructed in Whitehall as he spoke, but D'Artagnan had the London executioner fast bound under lock and key in a cellar, and Athos had a light skiff waiting at Greenwich. Not only this, but at midnight these four wonderful men, thanks to Athos, who spoke excellent English, were also at work at the scaffold—having bribed the carpenter in charge to let them assist—and at the same time boring a hole in the wall. The scaffold, which had two lower stories, and was covered with black serge, was at the height of twenty feet, on a level with the window in the king's room; and the hole communicated with a narrow loft, between the floor of the king's room, and the ceiling of the one below it.
The plan was to pass through the hole into the loft, and cut out from below a piece of the flooring of the king's room, so as to form a kind of trap-door. The king was to escape through this on the following night, and, hidden by the black covering of the scaffold, was then to change his dress for that of a workman, and so pass the sentinels on duty, and reach the skiff that was waiting for him at Greenwich.
At nine o'clock in the morning Aramis, this time in attendance on Bishop Juxon, was once more in the king's room.
"Sire," he said, "you are saved! The London executioner has vanished, and there is no executioner nearer at hand than Bristol. The Count de la Fere is two feet below you; take the poker from the fireplace, and strike three times on the floor. He will answer you. He has the path ready for your majesty to escape by."
The king did as Aramis suggested, and in reply came three dull knocks from below.
"The Count de la Fere," said Aramis.
All was ready; nothing as far as D'Artagnan and Athos could see, had been overlooked; twenty-four hours hence would see the king beyond the reach of his adversaries.
And then just as Charles had satisfied himself that his life was saved, a Parliamentary officer and a file of soldiers entered the king's room to announce his immediate execution.
"Then it is for to-day?" asked the king.
"Were not you warned that it was to take place this morning?"
"Then I must die like a common criminal by the hand of the London executioner?"
"The London executioner has disappeared, but a man has offered his services instead. The execution will, therefore, take place at the appointed hour."
A fanatical Puritan, nephew of Lord de Winter—whom he slew at Newcastle—and a trusted lieutenant of Cromwell's did the work of the headsman, and upon Athos, waiting in concealment beneath the scaffold, fell drops of the king's blood.
When all was over the four hastened away in deep dejection to the skiff at Greenwich, and so to France. But when they had landed at Dunkirk it was plain to D'Artagnan that their troubles were not yet at an end.
"Porthos and I were sent by Cardinal Mazarin to fight for Cromwell; instead of fighting for Cromwell, we have served Charles I.; that's not the same thing at all."
However, D'Artagnan and Porthos, on their return to Paris, rendered such signal service to Mazarin and to the queen, by guarding them from the violence of the mob, and by quelling a riot, that D'Artagnan received his commission as captain of musketeers, and Porthos his barony.
The four old friends met once more in Paris before they separated. Aramis was returning to his convent, Athos and Porthos to their estates. As war had just broken out in Flanders, D'Artagnan made ready to go thither.
Then all four embraced, with tears in their eyes. And after that they departed on their various ways, not knowing whether they were ever to see each other again.