Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas, Pere - HTML preview
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The day had begun to break when Athos arose and dressed himself. It was plain, by a paleness still greater than usual, and by those traces which loss of sleep leaves on the face, that he must have passed almost the whole of the night without sleeping. Contrary to the custom of a man so firm and decided, there was this morning in his personal appearance something tardy and irresolute.
He was occupied with the preparations for Raoul's departure and was seeking to gain time. In the first place he himself furbished a sword, which he drew from its perfumed leather sheath; he examined it to see if its hilt was well guarded and if the blade was firmly attached to the hilt. Then he placed at the bottom of the valise belonging to the young man a small bag of louis, called Olivain, the lackey who had followed him from Blois, and made him pack the valise under his own eyes, watchful to see that everything should be put in which might be useful to a young man entering on his first campaign.At length, after occupying about an hour in these preparations, he opened the door of the room in which the vicomte slept, and entered.
The sun, already high, penetrated into the room through the window, the curtains of which Raoul had neglected to close on the previous evening. He was still sleeping, his head gracefully reposing on his arm.
Athos approached and hung over the youth in an attitude full of tender melancholy; he looked long on this young man, whose smiling mouth and half closed eyes bespoke soft dreams and lightest slumber, as if his guardian angel watched over him with solicitude and affection. By degrees Athos gave himself up to the charms of his reverie in the proximity of youth, so pure, so fresh. His own youth seemed to reappear, bringing with it all those savoury remembrances, which are like perfumes more than thoughts. Between the past and the present was an ineffable abyss. But imagination has the wings of an angel of light and travels safely through or over the seas where we have been almost shipwrecked, the darkness in which our illusions are lost, the precipice whence our happiness has been hurled and swallowed up. He remembered that all the first part of his life had been embittered by a woman and he thought with alarm of the influence love might assume over so fine, and at the same time so vigorous an organization as that of Raoul.
In recalling all he had been through, he foresaw all that Raoul might suffer; and the expression of the deep and tender compassion which throbbed in his heart was pictured in the moist eye with which he gazed on the young man.
At this moment Raoul awoke, without a cloud on his face without weariness or lassitude; his eyes were fixed on those of Athos and perhaps he comprehended all that passed in the heart of the man who was awaiting his awakening as a lover awaits the awakening of his mistress, for his glance, in return, had all the tenderness of love.
"You are there, sir?" he said, respectfully.
"'Tis well," said Athos, "I will take care of that." They went downstairs, Raoul looking every now and then at the count to see if the moment of farewell was at hand, but Athos was silent. When they reached the steps Raoul saw three horses."Oh, sir! then you are going with me?" "I will accompany you a portion of the way," said Athos. Joy shone in Raoul's eyes and he leaped lightly to his saddle.
Athos mounted more slowly, after speaking in a low voice to the lackey, who, instead of following them immediately, returned to their rooms. Raoul, delighted at the count's companionship, perceived, or affected to perceive nothing of this byplay.
They set out, passing over the Pont Neuf; they pursued their way along the quay then called L'Abreuvoir Pepin, and went along by the walls of the Grand Chatelet. They proceeded to the Rue Saint Denis.After passing through the Porte Saint Denis, Athos looked at Raoul's way of riding and observed:
"Take care, Raoul! I have already often told you of this; you must not forget it, for it is a great defect in a rider. See! your horse is tired already, he froths at the mouth, whilst mine looks as if he had only just left the stable. You hold the bit too tight and so make his mouth hard, so that you will not be able to make him manoeuvre quickly. The safety of a cavalier often depends on the prompt obedience of his horse. In a week, remember, you will no longer be performing your manoeuvres for practice, but on a field of battle."Then suddenly, in order not to give too uncomfortable an importance to this observation: "See, Raoul!" he resumed; "what a fine plain for partridge shooting." The young man stored in his mind the admonition whilst he admired the delicate tenderness with which it was bestowed.
"I have remarked also another thing," said Athos, "which is, that in firing off your pistol you hold your arm too far outstretched. This tension lessens the accuracy of the aim. So in twelve times you thrice missed the mark.""Which you, sir, struck twelve times," answered Raoul, smiling. "Because I bent my arm and rested my hand on my elbow -- so; do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes, sir. I have fired since in that manner and have been quite successful." "What a cold wind!" resumed Athos; "a wintry blast. Apropos, if you fire -- and you will do so, for you are recommended to a young general who is very fond of powder -remember that in single combat, which often takes place in the cavalry, never to fire the first shot. He who fires the first shot rarely hits his man, for he fires with the apprehension of being disarmed, before an armed foe; then, whilst he fires, make your horse rear; that manoeuvre has saved my life several times.""I shall do so, if only in gratitude ---- "
"Eh!" cried Athos, "are not those fellows poachers they have arrested yonder? They are. Then another important thing, Raoul: should you be wounded in a battle, and fall from your horse, if you have any strength left, disentangle yourself from the line that your regiment has formed; otherwise, it may be driven back and you will be trampled to death by the horses. At all events, should you be wounded, write to me that very instant, or get some one at once to write to me. We are judges of wounds, we old soldiers," Athos added, smiling."Thank you, sir," answered the young man, much moved. They arrived that very moment at the gate of the town, guarded by two sentinels. "Here comes a young gentleman," said one of them, "who seems as if he were going to join the army." "How do you make that out?" inquired Athos. "By his manner, sir, and his age; he's the second to-day." "Has a young man, such as I am, gone through this morning, then?" asked Raoul. "Faith, yes, with a haughty presence, a fine equipage; such as the son of a noble house would have." "He will be my companion on the journey, sir," cried Raoul. "Alas! he cannot make me forget what I shall have lost!" Thus talking, they traversed the streets, full of people on account of the fete, and arrived opposite the old cathedral, where first mass was going on.
"Let us alight; Raoul," said Athos. "Olivain, take care of our horses and give me my sword."
The two gentlemen then went into the church. Athos gave Raoul some of the holy water. A love as tender as that of a lover for his mistress dwells, undoubtedly, in some paternal hearts toward a son.
The verger opened the iron grating that guarded the royal tombs and stood on the topmost step, whilst Athos and Raoul descended. The sepulchral depths of the descent were dimly lighted by a silver lamp on the lowest step; and just below this lamp there was laid, wrapped in a flowing mantle of violet velvet, worked with fleurs-de-lis of gold, a catafalque resting on trestles of oak. The young man, prepared for this scene by the state of his own feelings, which were mournful, and by the majesty of the cathedral which he had passed through, descended in a slow and solemn manner and stood with head uncovered before these mortal spoils of the last king, who was not to be placed by the side of his forefathers until his successor should take his place there; and who appeared to abide on that spot, that he might thus address human pride, so sure to be exalted by the glories of a throne: "Dust of the earth! Here I await thee!"There was profound silence. Then Athos raised his hand and pointing to the coffin:
"This temporary sepulture is," he said, "that of a man who was of feeble mind, yet one whose reign was full of great events; because over this king watched the spirit of another man, even as this lamp keeps vigil over this coffin and illumines it. He whose intellect was thus supreme, Raoul, was the actual sovereign; the other, nothing but a phantom to whom he lent a soul; and yet, so powerful is majesty amongst us, this man has not even the honor of a tomb at the feet of him in whose service his life was worn away. Remember, Raoul, this! If Richelieu made the king, by comparison, seem small, he made royalty great. The Palace of the Louvre contains two things -- the king, who must die, and royalty, which never dies. The minister, so feared, so hated by his master, has descended into the tomb, drawing after him the king, whom he would not leave alone on earth, lest his work should be destroyed. So blind were his contemporaries that they regarded the cardinal's death as a deliverance; and I, even I, opposed the designs of the great man who held the destinies of France within the hollow of his hand. Raoul, learn how to distinguish the king from royalty; the king is but a man; royalty is the gift of God. Whenever you hesitate as to whom you ought to serve, abandon the exterior, the material appearance for the invisible principle, for the invisible principle is everything. Raoul, I seem to read your future destiny as through a cloud. It will be happier, I think, than ours has been. Different in your fate from us, you will have a king without a minister, whom you may serve, love, respect. Should the king prove a tyrant, for power begets tyranny, serve, love, respect royalty, that Divine right, that celestial spark which makes this dust still powerful and holy, so that we -- gentlemen, nevertheless, of rank and condition -- are as nothing in comparison with the cold corpse there extended."
"I shall adore God, sir," said Raoul, "respect royalty and ever serve the king. And if death be my lot, I hope to die for the king, for royalty and for God. Have I, sir, comprehended your instructions?"
"It was worn by my father, a loyal gentleman. I have worn it in my turn and it has sometimes not been disgraced when the hilt was in my hand and the sheath at my side. Should your hand still be too weak to use this sword, Raoul, so much the better. You will have the more time to learn to draw it only when it ought to be used."
"Sir," replied Raoul, putting the sword to his lips as he received it from the count, "I owe you everything and yet this sword is the most precious gift you have yet made me. I will wear it, I swear to you, as a grateful man should do.""'Tis well; arise, vicomte, embrace me." Raoul arose and threw himself with emotion into the count's arms. "Adieu," faltered the count, who felt his heart die away within him; "adieu, and think of me."
"Oh! for ever and ever!" cried the youth; "oh! I swear to you, sir, should any harm befall me, your name will be the last name that I shall utter, the remembrance of you my last thought."Athos hastened upstairs to conceal his emotion, and regained with hurried steps the porch where Olivain was waiting with the horses.
"Olivain," said Athos, showing the servant Raoul's shoulder-belt, "tighten the buckle of the sword, it falls too low. You will accompany monsieur le vicomte till Grimaud rejoins you. You know, Raoul, Grimaud is an old and zealous servant; he will follow you.""Yes, sir," answered Raoul. "Now to horse, that I may see you depart!" Raoul obeyed. "Adieu, Raoul," said the count; "adieu, my dearest boy!" "Adieu, sir, adieu, my beloved protector."
Athos waved his hand -- he dared not trust himself to speak: and Raoul went away, his head uncovered. Athos remained motionless, looking after him until he turned the corner of the street.Then the count threw the bridle of his horse into the hands of a peasant, remounted the steps, went into the cathedral, there to kneel down in the darkest corner and pray.
Meanwhile time was passing on for the prisoner, as well as for those who were preparing his escape; only for him it passed more slowly. Unlike other men, who enter with ardor upon a perilous resolution and grow cold as the moment of execution approaches, the Duc de Beaufort, whose buoyant courage had become a proverb, seemed to push time before him and sought most eagerly to hasten the hour of action. In his escape alone, apart from his plans for the future, which, it must be admitted, were for the present sufficiently vague and uncertain, there was a beginning of vengeance which filled his heart. In the first place his escape would be a serious misfortune to Monsieur de Chavigny, whom he hated for the petty persecutions he owed to him. It would be a still worse affair for Mazarin, whom he execrated for the greater offences he had committed. It may be observed that there was a proper proportion in his sentiments toward the governor of the prison and the minister -- toward the subordinate and the master.
Then Monsieur de Beaufort, who was so familiar with the interior of the Palais Royal, though he did not know the relations existing between the queen and the cardinal, pictured to himself, in his prison, all that dramatic excitement which would ensue when the rumor should run from the minister's cabinet to the chamber of Anne of Austria: "Monsieur de Beaufort has escaped!" Whilst saying that to himself, Monsieur de Beaufort smiled pleasantly and imagined himself already outside, breathing the air of the plains and the forests, pressing a strong horse between his knees and crying out in a loud voice, "I am free!"
It is true that on coming to himself he found that he was still within four walls; he saw La Ramee twirling his thumbs ten feet from him, and his guards laughing and drinking in the ante-chamber. The only thing that was pleasant to him in that odious tableau -- such is the instability of the human mind -- was the sullen face of Grimaud, for whom he had at first conceived such a hatred and who now was all his hope. Grimaud seemed to him an Antinous. It is needless to say that this transformation was visible only to the prisoner's feverish imagination. Grimaud was still the same, and therefore he retained the entire confidence of his superior, La Ramee, who now relied upon him more than he did upon himself, for, as we have said, La Ramee felt at the bottom of his heart a certain weakness for Monsieur de Beaufort.
And so the good La Ramee made a festivity of the little supper with his prisoner. He had but one fault -- he was a gourmand; he had found the pates good, the wine excellent. Now the successor of Pere Marteau had promised him a pate of pheasant instead of a pate of fowl, and Chambertin wine instead of Macon. All this, set off by the presence of that excellent prince, who was so good-natured, who invented so droll tricks against Monsieur de Chavigny and so fine jokes against Mazarin, made for La Ramee the approaching Pentecost one of the four great feasts of the year. He therefore looked forward to six o'clock with as much impatience as the duke himself.
Since daybreak La Ramee had been occupied with the preparations, and trusting no one but himself, he had visited personally the successor of Pere Marteau. The latter had surpassed himself; he showed La Ramee a monstrous pate, ornamented with Monsieur de Beaufort's coat-of-arms. It was empty as yet, but a pheasant and two partridges were lying near it. La Ramee's mouth watered and he returned to the duke's chamber rubbing his hands. To crown his happiness, Monsieur de Chavigny had started on a journey that morning and in his absence La Ramee was deputy-governor of the chateau.
In the course of the forenoon Monsieur de Beaufort had a game of tennis with La Ramee; a sign from Grimaud put him on the alert. Grimaud, going in advance, followed the course which they were to take in the evening. The game was played in an inclosure called the little court of the chateau, a place quite deserted except when Monsieur de Beaufort was playing; and even then the precaution seemed superfluous, the wall was so high.
There were three gates to open before reaching the inclosure, each by a different key. When they arrived Grimaud went carelessly and sat down by a loophole in the wall, letting his legs dangle outside. It was evident that there the rope ladder was to be attached.This manoeuvre, transparent to the Duc de Beaufort, was quite unintelligible to La Ramee.
The game at tennis, which, upon a sign from Grimaud, Monsieur de Beaufort had consented to play, began in the afternoon. The duke was in full strength and beat La Ramee completely.
Four of the guards, who were constantly near the prisoner, assisted in picking up the tennis balls. When the game was over, the duke, laughing at La Ramee for his bad play, offered these men two louis d'or to go and drink his health, with their four other comrades.The guards asked permission of La Ramee, who gave it to them, but not till the evening, however; until then he had business and the prisoner was not to be left alone.
Six o'clock came and, although they were not to sit down to table until seven o'clock, dinner was ready and served up. Upon a sideboard appeared the colossal pie with the duke's arms on it, and seemingly cooked to a turn, as far as one could judge by the golden color which illuminated the crust.The rest of the dinner was to come.
Every one was impatient, La Ramee to sit down to table, the guards to go and drink, the duke to escape.
Grimaud alone was calm as ever. One might have fancied that Athos had educated him with the express forethought of such a great event.
There were moments when, looking at Grimaud, the duke asked himself if he was not dreaming and if that marble figure was really at his service and would grow animated when the moment came for action.
La Ramee sent away the guards, desiring them to drink to the duke's health, and as soon as they were gone shut all the doors, put the keys in his pocket and showed the table to the prince with an air that signified:"Whenever my lord pleases."
The prince looked at Grimaud, Grimaud looked at the clock; it was hardly a quarter-past six. The escape was fixed to take place at seven o'clock; there was therefore threequarters of an hour to wait.
The duke, in order to pass away another quarter of an hour, pretended to be reading something that interested him and muttered that he wished they would allow him to finish his chapter. La Ramee went up to him and looked over his shoulder to see what sort of a book it was that had so singular an influence over the prisoner as to make him put off taking his dinner.It was "Caesar's Commentaries," which La Ramee had lent him, contrary to the orders of the governor; and La Ramee resolved never again to disobey these injunctions. Meantime he uncorked the bottles and went to smell if the pie was good. At half-past six the duke arose and said very gravely: "Certainly, Caesar was the greatest man of ancient times." "You think so, my lord?" answered La Ramee. "Yes." "Well, as for me, I prefer Hannibal." "And why, pray, Master La Ramee?" asked the duke. "Because he left no Commentaries," replied La Ramee, with his coarse laugh.
The duke vouchsafed no reply, but sitting down at the table made a sign that La Ramee should seat himself opposite. There is nothing so expressive as the face of an epicure who finds himself before a well spread table, so La Ramee, when receiving his plate of soup from Grimaud, presented a type of perfect bliss.
The duke smiled.
"You are right, my lord duke," answered the officer; "I don't know any pleasanter sight on earth than a well covered table; and when, added to that, he who does the honors is the grandson of Henry IV., you will, my lord duke, easily comprehend that the honor fairly doubles the pleasure one enjoys."The duke, in his turn, bowed, and an imperceptible smile appeared on the face of Grimaud, who kept behind La Ramee. "My dear La Ramee," said the duke, "you are the only man to turn such faultless compliments." "No, my lord duke," replied La Ramee, in the fullness of his heart; "I say what I think; there is no compliment in what I say to you ---- " "Then you are attached to me?" asked the duke. "To own the truth, I should be inconsolable if you were to leave Vincennes." "A droll way of showing your affliction." The duke meant to say "affection."
"But, my lord," returned La Ramee, "what would you do if you got out? Every folly you committed would embroil you with the court and they would put you into the Bastile, instead of Vincennes. Now, Monsieur de Chavigny is not amiable, I allow, but Monsieur du Tremblay is considerably worse.""Indeed!" exclaimed the duke, who from time to time looked at the clock, the fingers of which seemed to move with sickening slowness.
"But what can you expect from the brother of a capuchin monk, brought up in the school of Cardinal Richelieu? Ah, my lord, it is a great happiness that the queen, who always wished you well, had a fancy to send you here, where there's a promenade and a tennis court, good air, and a good table.""In short," answered the duke, "if I comprehend you aright, La Ramee, I am ungrateful for having ever thought of leaving this place?" "Oh! my lord duke, 'tis the height of ingratitude; but your highness has never seriously thought of it?" "Yes," returned the duke, "I must confess I sometimes think of it." "Still by one of your forty methods, your highness?" "Yes, yes, indeed." "My lord," said La Ramee, "now we are quite at our ease and enjoying ourselves, pray tell me one of those forty ways invented by your highness." "Willingly," answered the duke, "give me the pie!"
"I am listening," said La Ramee, leaning back in his armchair and raising his glass of Madeira to his lips, and winking his eye that he might see the sun through the rich liquid that he was about to taste.The duke glanced at the clock. In ten minutes it would strike seven.
Grimaud placed the pie before the duke, who took a knife with a silver blade to raise the upper crust; but La Ramee, who was afraid of any harm happening to this fine work of art, passed his knife, which had an iron blade, to the duke."Thank you, La Ramee," said the prisoner. "Well, my lord! this famous invention of yours?" "Must I tell you," replied the duke, "on what I most reckon and what I determine to try first?" "Yes, that's the thing, my lord!" cried his custodian, gaily. "Well, I should hope, in the first instance, to have for keeper an honest fellow like you." "And you have me, my lord. Well?"
"Having, then, a keeper like La Ramee, I should try also to have introduced to him by some friend or other a man who would be devoted to me, who would assist me in my flight.""Come, come," said La Ramee, "that's not a bad idea." "Capital, isn't it? for instance, the former servingman of some brave gentleman, an enemy himself to Mazarin, as every gentleman ought to be." "Hush! don't let us talk politics, my lord." "Then my keeper would begin to trust this man and to depend upon him, and I should have news from those without the prison walls." "Ah, yes! but how can the news be brought to you?" "Nothing easier; in a game of tennis, for example." "In a game of tennis?" asked La Ramee, giving more serious attention to the duke's words.
"Yes; see, I send a ball into the moat; a man is there who picks it up; the ball contains a letter. Instead of returning the ball to me when I call for it from the top of the wall, he throws me another; that other ball contains a letter. Thus we have exchanged ideas and no one has seen us do it.""The devil it does! The devil it does!" said La Ramee, scratching his head; "you are in the wrong to tell me that, my lord. I shall have to watch the men who pick up balls." The duke smiled. "But," resumed La Ramee, "that is only a way of corresponding." "And that is a great deal, it seems to me." "But not enough." "Pardon me; for instance, I say to my friends, Be on a certain day, on a certain hour, at the other side of the moat with two horses." "Well, what then?" La Ramee began to be uneasy; "unless the horses have wings to mount the ramparts and come and fetch you." "That's not needed. I have," replied the duke, "a way of descending from the ramparts." "What?" "A rope ladder." "Yes, but," answered La Ramee, trying to laugh, "a ladder of ropes can't be sent around a ball, like a letter." "No, but it may be sent in something else." "In something else -- in something else? In what?" "In a pate, for example."
"In a pate?" said La Ramee. "Yes. Let us suppose one thing," replied the duke "let us suppose, for instance, that my maitre d'hotel, Noirmont, has purchased the shop of Pere Marteau ---- ""Well?" said La Ramee, shuddering.
"Well, La Ramee, who is a gourmand, sees his pates, thinks them more attractive than those of Pere Marteau and proposes to me that I shall try them. I consent on condition that La Ramee tries them with me. That we may be more at our ease, La Ramee removes the guards, keeping only Grimaud to wait on us. Grimaud is the man whom a friend has sent to second me in everything. The moment for my escape is fixed -- seven o'clock. Well, at a few minutes to seven ---- ""At a few minutes to seven?" cried La Ramee, cold sweat upon his brow.
"At a few minutes to seven," returned the duke (suiting the action to the words), "I raise the crust of the pie; I find in it two poniards, a ladder of rope, and a gag. I point one of the poniards at La Ramee's breast and I say to him, `My friend, I am sorry for it, but if thou stirrest, if thou utterest one cry, thou art a dead man!'"
The duke, in pronouncing these words, suited, as we have said, the action to the words. He was standing near the officer and he directed the point of the poniard in such a manner, close to La Ramee's heart, that there could be no doubt in the mind of that individual as to his determination. Meanwhile, Grimaud, still mute as ever, drew from the pie the other poniard, the rope ladder and the gag.La Ramee followed all these objects with his eyes, his alarm every moment increasing. "Oh, my lord," he cried, with an expression of stupefaction in his face; "you haven't the heart to kill me!" "No; not if thou dost not oppose my flight." "But, my lord, if I allow you to escape I am a ruined man." "I will compensate thee for the loss of thy place." "You are determined to leave the chateau?" "By Heaven and earth! This night I am determined to be free." "And if I defend myself, or call, or cry out?" "I will kill thee, on the honor of a gentleman." At this moment the clock struck. "Seven o'clock!" said Grimaud, who had not spoken a word.
La Ramee made one movement, in order to satisfy his conscience. The duke frowned, the officer felt the point of the poniard, which, having penetrated through his clothes, was close to his heart."Let us dispatch," said the duke. "My lord, one last favor." "What? speak, make haste." "Bind my arms, my lord, fast." "Why bind thee?" "That I may not be considered as your accomplice." "Your hands?" asked Grimaud. "Not before me, behind me." "But with what?" asked the duke. "With your belt, my lord!" replied La Ramee. The duke undid his belt and gave it to Grimaud, who tied La Ramee in such a way as to satisfy him. "Your feet, too," said Grimaud. La Ramee stretched out his legs, Grimaud took a table-cloth, tore it into strips and tied La Ramee's feet together.
"Now, my lord," said the poor man, "let me have the poire d'angoisse. I ask for it; without it I should be tried in a court of justice because I did not raise the alarm. Thrust it into my mouth, my lord, thrust it in."Grimaud prepared to comply with this request, when the officer made a sign as if he had something to say. "Speak," said the duke. "Now, my lord, do not forget, if any harm happens to me on your account, that I have a wife and four children." "Rest assured; put the gag in, Grimaud."
In a second La Ramee was gagged and laid prostrate. Two or three chairs were thrown down as if there had been a struggle. Grimaud then took from the pocket of the officer all the keys it contained and first opened the door of the room in which they were, then shut it and double-locked it, and both he and the duke proceeded rapidly down the gallery which led to the little inclosure. At last they reached the tennis court. It was completely deserted. No sentinels, no one at any of the windows. The duke ran to the rampart and perceived on the other side of the ditch, three cavaliers with two riding horses. The duke exchanged a signal with them. It was indeed for him that they were there.Grimaud, meantime, undid the means of escape.
This was not, however, a rope ladder, but a ball of silk cord, with a narrow board which was to pass between the legs, the ball to unwind itself by the weight of the person who sat astride upon the board."Go!" said the duke. "First, my lord?" inquired Grimaud. "Certainly. If I am caught, I risk nothing but being taken back again to prison. If they catch thee, thou wilt be hung." "True," replied Grimaud. And instantly, Grimaud, sitting upon the board as if on horseback, commenced his perilous descent.
The duke followed him with his eyes, with involuntary terror. He had gone down about three-quarters of the length of the wall when the cord broke. Grimaud fell -- precipitated into the moat.The duke uttered a cry, but Grimaud did not give a single moan. He must have been dreadfully hurt, for he did not stir from the place where he fell.
Immediately one of the men who were waiting slipped down into the moat, tied under Grimaud's shoulders the end of a cord, and the remaining two, who held the other end, drew Grimaud to them."Descend, my lord," said the man in the moat. "There are only fifteen feet more from the top down here, and the grass is soft."
The duke had already begun to descend. His task was the more difficult, as there was no board to support him. He was obliged to let himself down by his hands and from a height of fifty feet. But as we have said he was active, strong, and full of presence of mind. In less than five minutes he arrived at the end of the cord. He was then only fifteen feet from the ground, as the gentlemen below had told him. He let go the rope and fell upon his feet, without receiving any injury.
He instantly began to climb up the slope of the moat, on the top of which he met De Rochefort. The other two gentlemen were unknown to him. Grimaud, in a swoon, was tied securely to a horse."Gentlemen," said the duke, "I will thank you later; now we have not a moment to lose. On, then! on! those who love me, follow me!" And he jumped on his horse and set off at full gallop, snuffing the fresh air in his triumph and shouting out, with an expression of face which it would be impossible to describe: "Free! free! free!"
The Timely Arrival Of D'artagnan In ParisAt Blois, D'Artagnan received the money paid to him by Mazarin for any future service he might render the cardinal.
From Blois to Paris was a journey of four days for ordinary travelers, but D'Artagnan arrived on the third day at the Barriere Saint Denis. In turning the corner of the Rue Montmartre, in order to reach the Rue Tiquetonne and the Hotel de la Chevrette, where he had appointed Porthos to meet him, he saw at one of the windows of the hotel, that friend himself dressed in a sky-blue waistcoat, embroidered with silver, and gaping, till he showed every one of his white teeth; whilst the people passing by admiringly gazed at this gentleman, so handsome and so rich, who seemed to weary of his riches and his greatness.D'Artagnan and Planchet had hardly turned the corner when Porthos recognized them. "Eh! D'Artagnan!" he cried. "Thank God you have come!" "Eh! good-day, dear friend!" replied D'Artagnan. Porthos came down at once to the threshold of the hotel. "Ah, my dear friend!" he cried, "what bad stabling for my horses here." "Indeed!" said D'Artagnan; "I am most unhappy to hear it, on account of those fine animals."
"And I, also -- I was also wretchedly off," he answered, moving backward and forward as he spoke; "and had it not been for the hostess," he added, with his air of vulgar selfcomplacency, "who is very agreeable and understands a joke, I should have got a lodging elsewhere."
The pretty Madeleine, who had approached during this colloquy, stepped back and turned pale as death on hearing Porthos's words, for she thought the scene with the Swiss was about to be repeated. But to her great surprise D'Artagnan remained perfectly calm, and instead of being angry he laughed, and said to Porthos:"Yes, I understand, the air of La Rue Tiquetonne is not like that of Pierrefonds; but console yourself, I will soon conduct you to one much better." "When will you do that?" "Immediately, I hope."
"Ah! so much the better!" To that exclamation of Porthos's succeeded a groaning, low and profound, which seemed to come from behind a door. D'Artagnan, who had just dismounted, then saw, outlined against the wall, the enormous stomach of Mousqueton, whose down-drawn mouth emitted sounds of distress.
"And you, too, my poor Monsieur Mouston, are out of place in this poor hotel, are you not?" asked D'Artagnan, in that rallying tone which may indicate either compassion or mockery."He finds the cooking detestable," replied Porthos. "Why, then, doesn't he attend to it himself, as at Chantilly?"
"Ah, monsieur, I have not here, as I had there, the ponds of monsieur le prince, where I could catch those beautiful carp, nor the forests of his highness to provide me with partridges. As for the cellar, I have searched every part and poor stuff I found.""Monsieur Mouston," said D'Artagnan, "I should indeed condole with you had I not at this moment something very pressing to attend to." Then taking Porthos aside: "My dear Du Vallon," he said, "here you are in full dress most fortunately, for I am going to take you to the cardinal's." "Gracious me! really!" exclaimed Porthos, opening his great wondering eyes. "Yes, my friend." "A presentation? indeed!" "Does that alarm you?" "No, but it agitates me." "Oh! don't be distressed; you have to deal with a cardinal of another kind. This one will not oppress you by his dignity." "'Tis the same thing -- you understand me, D'Artagnan -- a court." "There's no court now. Alas!" "The queen!" "I was going to say, there's no longer a queen. The queen! Rest assured, we shall not see her." "And you say that we are going from here to the Palais Royal?" "Immediately. Only, that there may be no delay, I shall borrow one of your horses." "Certainly; all the four are at your service." "Oh, I need only one of them for the time being." "Shall we take our valets?" "Yes, you may as well take Mousqueton. As to Planchet, he has certain reasons for not going to court." "And what are they?" "Oh, he doesn't stand well with his eminence." "Mouston," said Porthos, "saddle Vulcan and Bayard." "And for myself, monsieur, shall I saddle Rustaud?" "No, take a more stylish horse, Phoebus or Superbe; we are going with some ceremony." "Ah," said Mousqueton, breathing more freely, "you are only going, then, to make a visit?" "Oh! yes, of course, Mouston; nothing else. But to avoid risk, put the pistols in the holsters. You will find mine on my saddle, already loaded." Mouston breathed a sigh; he couldn't understand visits of ceremony made under arms. "Indeed," said Porthos, looking complacently at his old lackey as he went away, "you are right, D'Artagnan; Mouston will do; Mouston has a very fine appearance." D'Artagnan smiled. "But you, my friend -- are you not going to change your dress?" "No, I shall go as I am. This traveling dress will serve to show the cardinal my haste to obey his commands."
They set out on Vulcan and Bayard, followed by Mousqueton on Phoebus, and arrived at the Palais Royal at about a quarter to seven. The streets were crowded, for it was the day of Pentecost, and the crowd looked in wonder at these two cavaliers; one as fresh as if he had come out of a bandbox, the other so covered with dust that he looked as if he had but just come off a field of battle.
Mousqueton also attracted attention; and as the romance of Don Quixote was then the fashion, they said that he was Sancho, who, after having lost one master, had found two.
"Courage!" he whispered to Porthos, as they proceeded. "Do not be intimidated. Believe me, the eye of the eagle is closed forever. We have only the vulture to deal with. Hold yourself as bolt upright as on the day of the bastion of St. Gervais, and do not bow too low to this Italian; that might give him a poor idea of you.""Good!" answered Porthos. "Good!"
Mazarin was in his study, working at a list of pensions and benefices, of which he was trying to reduce the number. He saw D'Artagnan and Porthos enter with internal pleasure, yet showed no joy in his countenance."Ah! you, is it? Monsieur le lieutenant, you have been very prompt. 'Tis well. Welcome to ye." "Thanks, my lord. Here I am at your eminence's service, as well as Monsieur du Vallon, one of my old friends, who used to conceal his nobility under the name of Porthos." Porthos bowed to the cardinal. "A magnificent cavalier," remarked Mazarin. Porthos turned his head to the right and to the left, and drew himself up with a movement full of dignity. "The best swordsman in the kingdom, my lord," said D'Artagnan. Porthos bowed to his friend.
Mazarin was as fond of fine soldiers as, in later times, Frederick of Prussia used to be. He admired the strong hands, the broad shoulders and the steady eye of Porthos. He seemed to see before him the salvation of his administration and of the kingdom, sculptured in flesh and bone. He remembered that the old association of musketeers was composed of four persons."And your two other friends?" he asked. Porthos opened his mouth, thinking it a good opportunity to put in a word in his turn; D'Artagnan checked him by a glance from the corner of his eye. "They are prevented at this moment, but will join us later." Mazarin coughed a little. "And this gentleman, being disengaged, takes to the service willingly?" he asked. "Yes, my lord, and from pure devotion to the cause, for Monsieur de Bracieux is rich." "Rich!" said Mazarin, whom that single word always inspired with a great respect. "Fifty thousand francs a year," said Porthos. These were the first words he had spoken. "From pure zeal?" resumed Mazarin, with his artful smile; "from pure zeal and devotion then?" "My lord has, perhaps, no faith in those words?" said D'Artagnan. "Have you, Monsieur le Gascon?" asked Mazarin, supporting his elbows on his desk and his chin on his hands.
"I," replied the Gascon, "I believe in devotion as a word at one's baptism, for instance, which naturally comes before one's proper name; every one is naturally more or less devout, certainly; but there should be at the end of one's devotion something to gain.""And your friend, for instance; what does he expect to have at the end of his devotion?"
"Well, my lord, my friend has three magnificent estates: that of Vallon, at Corbeil; that of Bracieux, in the Soissonais; and that of Pierrefonds, in the Valois. Now, my lord, he would like to have one of his three estates erected into a barony.""Only that?" said Mazarin, his eyes twinkling with joy on seeing that he could pay for Porthos's devotion without opening his purse; "only that? That can be managed." "I shall be baron!" explained Porthos, stepping forward. "I told you so," said D'Artagnan, checking him with his hand; "and now his eminence confirms it." "And you, Monsieur D'Artagnan, what do you want?" "My lord," said D'Artagnan, "it is twenty years since Cardinal de Richelieu made me lieutenant." "Yes, and you would be gratified if Cardinal Mazarin should make you captain."
D'Artagnan bowed. "Well, that is not impossible. We will see, gentlemen, we will see. Now, Monsieur de Vallon," said Mazarin, "what service do you prefer, in the town or in the country?"Porthos opened his mouth to reply. "My lord," said D'Artagnan, "Monsieur de Vallon is like me, he prefers service extraordinary -- that is to say, enterprises that are considered mad and impossible." That boastfulness was not displeasing to Mazarin; he fell into meditation. "And yet," he said, "I must admit that I sent for you to appoint you to quiet service; I have certain apprehensions -- well, what is the meaning of that?" In fact, a great noise was heard in the ante-chamber; at the same time the door of the study was burst open and a man, covered with dust, rushed into it, exclaiming: "My lord the cardinal! my lord the cardinal!"
Mazarin thought that some one was going to assassinate him and he drew back, pushing his chair on the castors. D'Artagnan and Porthos moved so as to plant themselves between the person entering and the cardinal."Well, sir," exclaimed Mazarin, "what's the matter? and why do you rush in here, as if you were about to penetrate a crowded market-place?" "My lord," replied the messenger, "I wish to speak to your eminence in secret. I am Monsieur du Poins, an officer in the guards, on duty at the donjon of Vincennes." Mazarin, perceiving by the paleness and agitation of the messenger that he had something of importance to say, made a sign that D'Artagnan and Porthos should give place. D'Artagnan and Porthos withdrew to a corner of the cabinet. "Speak, monsieur, speak at once!" said Mazarin "What is the matter?" "The matter is, my lord, that the Duc de Beaufort has contrived to escape from the Chateau of Vincennes." Mazarin uttered a cry and became paler than the man who had brought the news. He fell back, almost fainting, in his chair. "Escaped? Monsieur de Beaufort escaped?" "My lord, I saw him run off from the top of the terrace." "And you did not fire on him?" "He was out of range." "Monsieur de Chavigny -- where was he?" "Absent." "And La Ramee?" "Was found locked up in the prisoner's room, a gag in his mouth and a poniard near him." "But the man who was under him?" "Was an accomplice of the duke's and escaped along with him." Mazarin groaned.
"My lord," said D'Artagnan, advancing toward the cardinal, "it seems to me that your eminence is losing precious time. It may still be possible to overtake the prisoner. France is large; the nearest frontier is sixty leagues distant.""And who is to pursue him?" cried Mazarin. "I, pardieu!" "And you would arrest him?" "Why not?" "You would arrest the Duc de Beaufort, armed, in the field?" "If your eminence should order me to arrest the devil, I would seize him by the horns and would bring him in." "So would I," said Porthos. "So would you!" said Mazarin, looking with astonishment at those two men. "But the duke will not yield himself without a furious battle." "Very well," said D'Artagnan, his eyes aflame, "battle! It is a long time since we have had a battle, eh, Porthos?" "Battle!" cried Porthos. "And you think you can catch him?" "Yes, if we are better mounted than he." "Go then, take what guards you find here, and pursue him." "You command us, my lord, to do so?"
"And I sign my orders," said Mazarin, taking a piece of paper and writing some lines; "Monsieur du Vallon, your barony is on the back of the Duc de Beaufort's horse; you have nothing to do but to overtake it. As for you, my dear lieutenant, I promise you nothing; but if you bring him back to me, dead or alive, you may ask all you wish.""To horse, Porthos!" said D'Artagnan, taking his friend by the hand. "Here I am," smiled Porthos, with his sublime composure.
They descended the great staircase, taking with them all the guards they found on their road, and crying out, "To arms! To arms!" and immediately put spur to horse, which set off along the Rue Saint Honore with the speed of the whirlwind."Well, baron, I promise you some good exercise!" said the Gascon. "Yes, my captain."
As they went, the citizens, awakened, left their doors and the street dogs followed the cavaliers, barking. At the corner of the Cimetiere Saint Jean, D'Artagnan upset a man; it was too insignificant an occurrence to delay people so eager to get on. The troop continued its course as though their steeds had wings.Alas! there are no unimportant events in this world and we shall see that this apparently slight incident came near endangering the monarchy.
An Adventure On The High Road
The musketeers rode the whole length of the Faubourg Saint Antoine and of the road to Vincennes, and soon found themselves out of the town, then in a forest and then within sight of a village.
The horses seemed to become more lively with each successive step; their nostrils reddened like glowing furnaces. D'Artagnan, freely applying his spurs, was in advance of Porthos two feet at the most; Mousqueton followed two lengths behind; the guards were scattered according to the varying excellence of their respective mounts.
From the top of an eminence D'Artagnan perceived a group of people collected on the other side of the moat, in front of that part of the donjon which looks toward Saint Maur. He rode on, convinced that in this direction he would gain intelligence of the fugitive. In five minutes he had arrived at the place, where the guards joined him, coming up one by one.
The several members of that group were much excited. They looked at the cord, still hanging from the loophole and broken at about twenty feet from the ground. Their eyes measured the height and they exchanged conjectures. On the top of the wall sentinels went and came with a frightened air.A few soldiers, commanded by a sergeant, drove away idlers from the place where the duke had mounted his horse. D'Artagnan went straight to the sergeant. "My officer," said the sergeant, "it is not permitted to stop here." "That prohibition is not for me," said D'Artagnan. "Have the fugitives been pursued?" "Yes, my officer; unfortunately, they are well mounted." "How many are there?" "Four, and a fifth whom they carried away wounded." "Four!" said D'Artagnan, looking at Porthos. "Do you hear, baron? They are only four!" A joyous smile lighted Porthos's face. "How long a start have they?" "Two hours and a quarter, my officer." "Two hours and a quarter -- that is nothing; we are well mounted, are we not, Porthos?" Porthos breathed a sigh; he thought of what was in store for his poor horses. "Very good," said D'Artagnan; "and now in what direction did they set out?" "That I am forbidden to tell." D'Artagnan drew from his pocket a paper. "Order of the king," he said. "Speak to the governor, then." "And where is the governor?" "In the country." Anger mounted to D'Artagnan's face; he frowned and his cheeks were colored. "Ah, you scoundrel!" he said to the sergeant, "I believe you are impudent to me! Wait!" He unfolded the paper, presented it to the sergeant with one hand and with the other took a pistol from his holsters and cocked it. "Order of the king, I tell you. Read and answer, or I will blow out your brains!" The sergeant saw that D'Artagnan was in earnest. "The Vendomois road," he replied. "And by what gate did they go out?" "By the Saint Maur gate." "If you are deceiving me, rascal, you will be hanged to-morrow." "And if you catch up with them you won't come back to hang me," murmured the sergeant. D'Artagnan shrugged his shoulders, made a sign to his escort and started. "This way, gentlemen, this way!" he cried, directing his course toward the gate that had been pointed out.
But, now that the duke had escaped, the concierge had seen fit to fasten the gate with a double lock. It was necessary to compel him to open it, as the sergeant had been compelled to speak, and this took another ten minutes. This last obstacle having been overcome, the troop pursued their course with their accustomed ardor; but some of the horses could no longer sustain this pace; three of them stopped after an hour's gallop, and one fell down.
D'Artagnan, who never turned his head, did not perceive it. Porthos told him of it in his calm manner.
At the end of another two hours the horses had gone twelve leagues without stopping; their legs began to tremble, and the foam they shed whitened the doublets of their masters."Let us rest here an instant to give these poor creatures breathing time," said Porthos. "Let us rather kill them! yes, kill them!" cried D'Artagnan; "I see fresh tracks; 'tis not a quarter of an hour since they passed this place." In fact, the road was trodden by horses' feet, visible even in the approaching gloom of evening. They set out; after a run of two leagues, Mousqueton's horse sank. "Gracious me!" said Porthos, "there's Phoebus ruined." "The cardinal will pay you a hundred pistoles." "I'm above that." "Let us set out again, at full gallop." "Yes, if we can." But at last the lieutenant's horse refused to go on; he could not breathe; one last spur, instead of making him advance, made him fall. "The devil!" exclaimed Porthos; "there's Vulcan foundered." "Zounds!" cried D'Artagnan, "then we must stop! Give me your horse, Porthos. What the devil are you doing?" "By Jove, I am falling, or rather, Bayard is falling," answered Porthos. All three then cried: "All's over." "Hush!" said D'Artagnan. "What is it?" "I hear a horse." "It belongs to one of our companions, who is overtaking us." "No," said D'Artagnan, "it is in advance." "That is another thing," said Porthos; and he listened toward the quarter indicated by D'Artagnan. "Monsieur," said Mousqueton, who, abandoning his horse on the high road, had come on foot to rejoin his master, "Phoebus could no longer hold out and ---- " "Silence!" said Porthos. In fact, at that moment a second neighing was borne to them on the night wind. "It is five hundred feet from here, in advance," said D'Artagnan. "True, monsieur," said Mousqueton; "and five hundred feet from here is a small huntinghouse." "Mousqueton, thy pistols," said D'Artagnan. "I have them at hand, monsieur." "Porthos, take yours from your holsters." "I have them." "Good!" said D'Artagnan, seizing his own; "now you understand, Porthos?" "Not too well." "We are out on the king's service." "Well?" "For the king's service we need horses." "That is true," said Porthos.
"Then not a word, but set to work!" They went on through the darkness, silent as phantoms; they saw a light glimmering in the midst of some trees."Yonder is the house, Porthos," said the Gascon; "let me do what I please and do you what I do."
They glided from tree to tree till they arrived at twenty steps from the house unperceived and saw by means of a lantern suspended under a hut, four fine horses. A groom was rubbing them down; near them were saddles and bridles.D'Artagnan approached quickly, making a sign to his two companions to remain a few steps behind. "I buy those horses," he said to the groom. The groom turned toward him with a look of surprise, but made no reply. "Didn't you hear, fellow?" "Yes, I heard." "Why, then, didn't you reply?" "Because these horses are not to be sold," was the reply. "I take them, then," said the lieutenant. And he took hold of one within his reach; his two companions did the same thing. "Sir," cried the groom, "they have traversed six leagues and have only been unsaddled half an hour." "Half an hour's rest is enough " replied the Gascon. The groom cried aloud for help. A kind of steward appeared, just as D'Artagnan and his companions were prepared to mount. The steward attempted to expostulate. "My dear friend," cried the lieutenant, "if you say a word I will blow out your brains." "But, sir," answered the steward, "do you know that these horses belong to Monsieur de Montbazon?" "So much the better; they must be good animals, then."
"Sir, I shall call my people." "And I, mine; I've ten guards behind me, don't you hear them gallop? and I'm one of the king's musketeers. Come, Porthos; come, Mousqueton."They all mounted the horses as quickly as possible. "Halloo! hi! hi!" cried the steward; "the house servants, with the carbines!" "On! on!" cried D'Artagnan; "there'll be firing! on!" They all set off, swift as the wind. "Here!" cried the steward, "here!" whilst the groom ran to a neighboring building. "Take care of your horses!" cried D'Artagnan to him. "Fire!" replied the steward. A gleam, like a flash of lightning, illumined the road, and with the flash was heard the whistling of balls, which were fired wildly in the air. "They fire like grooms," said Porthos. "In the time of the cardinal people fired better than that, do you remember the road to Crevecoeur, Mousqueton?" "Ah, sir! my left side still pains me!" "Are you sure we are on the right track, lieutenant?" "Egad, didn't you hear? these horses belong to Monsieur de Montbazon; well, Monsieur de Montbazon is the husband of Madame de Montbazon ---- " "And ---- " "And Madame de Montbazon is the mistress of the Duc de Beaufort." "Ah! I understand," replied Porthos; "she has ordered relays of horses." "Exactly so." "And we are pursuing the duke with the very horses he has just left?" "My dear Porthos, you are really a man of most superior understanding," said D'Artagnan, with a look as if he spoke against his conviction. "Pooh!" replied Porthos, "I am what I am." They rode on for an hour, till the horses were covered with foam and dust. "Zounds! what is yonder?" cried D'Artagnan. "You are very lucky if you see anything such a night as this," said Porthos. "Something bright." "I, too," cried Mousqueton, "saw them also." "Ah! ah! have we overtaken them?" "Good! a dead horse!" said D'Artagnan, pulling up his horse, which shied; "it seems their horses, too, are breaking down, as well as ours." "I seem to hear the noise of a troop of horsemen," exclaimed Porthos, leaning over his horse's mane. "Impossible." "They appear to be numerous." "Then 'tis something else." "Another horse!" said Porthos. "Dead?" "No, dying." "Saddled?" "Yes, saddled and bridled." "Then we are upon the fugitives." "Courage, we have them!" "But if they are numerous," observed Mousqueton, "'tis not we who have them, but they who have us." "Nonsense!" cried D'Artagnan, "they'll suppose us to be stronger than themselves, as we're in pursuit; they'll be afraid and will disperse." "Certainly," remarked Porthos. "Ah! do you see?" cried the lieutenant. "The lights again! this time I, too, saw them," said Porthos. "On! on! forward! forward!" cried D'Artagnan, in his stentorian voice; "we shall laugh over all this in five minutes."
And they darted on anew. The horses, excited by pain and emulation, raced over the dark road, in the midst of which was now seen a moving mass, denser and more obscure than the rest of the horizon.
They rode on in this way for ten minutes. Suddenly two dark forms seemed to separate from the mass, advanced, grew in size, and as they loomed up larger and larger, assumed the appearance of two horsemen."Aha!" cried D'Artagnan, "they're coming toward us." "So much the worse for them," said Porthos. "Who goes there?" cried a hoarse voice.
The three horsemen made no reply, stopped not, and all that was heard was the noise of swords drawn from the scabbards and the cocking of the pistols with which the two phantoms were armed."Bridle in mouth!" said D'Artagnan. Porthos understood him and he and the lieutenant each drew with the left hand a pistol from their bolsters and cocked it in their turn. "Who goes there?" was asked a second time. "Not a step forward, or you're dead men." "Stuff!" cried Porthos, almost choked with dust and chewing his bridle as a horse chews his bit. "Stuff and nonsense; we have seen plenty of dead men in our time." Hearing these words, the two shadows blockaded the road and by the light of the stars might be seen the shining of their arms. "Back!" shouted D'Artagnan, "or you are dead!"
Two shots were the reply to this threat; but the assailants attacked their foes with such velocity that in a moment they were upon them; a third pistol-shot was heard, aimed by D'Artagnan, and one of his adversaries fell. As for Porthos, he assaulted the foe with such violence that, although his sword was thrust aside, the enemy was thrown off his horse and fell about ten steps from it."Finish, Mouston, finish the work!" cried Porthos. And he darted on beside his friend, who had already begun a fresh pursuit. "Well?" said Porthos. "I've broken my man's skull," cried D'Artagnan. "And you ---- "
"I've only thrown the fellow down, but hark!" Another shot of a carbine was heard. It was Mousqueton, who was obeying his master's command."On! on!" cried D'Artagnan; "all goes well! we have the first throw." "Ha! ha!" answered Porthos, "behold, other players appear." And in fact, two other cavaliers made their appearance, detached, as it seemed, from the principal group; they again disputed the road. This time the lieutenant did not wait for the opposite party to speak. "Stand aside!" he cried; "stand off the road!" "What do you want?" asked a voice. "The duke!" Porthos and D'Artagnan roared out both at once. A burst of laughter was the answer, but finished with a groan. D'Artagnan had, with his sword, cut in two the poor wretch who had laughed. At the same time Porthos and his adversary fired on each other and D'Artagnan turned to him. "Bravo! you've killed him, I think." "No, wounded his horse only." "What would you have, my dear fellow? One doesn't hit the bull's-eye every time; it is something to hit inside the ring. Ho! parbleau! what is the matter with my horse?" "Your horse is falling," said Porthos, reining in his own.
In truth, the lieutenant's horse stumbled and fell on his knees; then a rattling in his throat was heard and he lay down to die. He had received in the chest the bullet of D'Artagnan's first adversary. D'Artagnan swore loud enough to be heard in the skies."Does your honor want a horse?" asked Mousqueton. "Zounds! want one!" cried the Gascon. "Here's one, your honor ---- " "How the devil hast thou two horses?" asked D'Artagnan, jumping on one of them. "Their masters are dead! I thought they might be useful, so I took them." Meantime Porthos had reloaded his pistols. "Be on the qui vive!" cried D'Artagnan. "Here are two other cavaliers." As he spoke, two horsemen advanced at full speed. "Ho! your honor!" cried Mousqueton, "the man you upset is getting up." "Why didn't thou do as thou didst to the first man?" said Porthos. "I held the horses, my hands were full, your honor." A shot was fired that moment; Mousqueton shrieked with pain. "Ah, sir! I'm hit in the other side! exactly opposite the other! This hurt is just the fellow of the one I had on the road to Amiens."
Porthos turned around like a lion, plunged on the dismounted cavalier, who tried to draw his sword; but before it was out of the scabbard, Porthos, with the hilt of his had struck him such a terrible blow on the head that he fell like an ox beneath the butcher's knife.Mousqueton, groaning, slipped from his horse, his wound not allowing him to keep the saddle. On perceiving the cavaliers, D'Artagnan had stopped and charged his pistol afresh; besides, his horse, he found, had a carbine on the bow of the saddle. "Here I am!" exclaimed Porthos. "Shall we wait, or shall we charge?" "Let us charge them," answered the Gascon. "Charge!" cried Porthos. They spurred on their horses; the other cavaliers were only twenty steps from them. "For the king!" cried D'Artagnan. "The king has no authority here!" answered a deep voice, which seemed to proceed from a cloud, so enveloped was the cavalier in a whirlwind of dust. "'Tis well, we will see if the king's name is not a passport everywhere," replied the Gascon.
"See!" answered the voice. Two shots were fired at once, one by D'Artagnan, the other by the adversary of Porthos. D'Artagnan's ball took off his enemy's hat. The ball fired by Porthos's foe went through the throat of his horse, which fell, groaning."For the last time, where are you going?" "To the devil!" answered D'Artagnan. "Good! you may be easy, then -- you'll get there."
D'Artagnan then saw a musket-barrel leveled at him; he had no time to draw from his holsters. He recalled a bit of advice which Athos had once given him, and made his horse rear.The ball struck the animal full in front. D'Artagnan felt his horse giving way under him and with his wonderful agility threw himself to one side.
"Ah! this," cried the voice, the tone of which was at once polished and jeering, "this is nothing but a butchery of horses and not a combat between men. To the sword, sir! the sword!"And he jumped off his horse. "To the swords! be it so!" replied D'Artagnan; "that is exactly what I want."
D'Artagnan, in two steps, was engaged with the foe, whom, according to custom, he attacked impetuously, but he met this time with a skill and a strength of arm that gave him pause. Twice he was obliged to step back; his opponent stirred not one inch. D'Artagnan returned and again attacked him.Twice or thrice thrusts were attempted on both sides, without effect; sparks were emitted from the swords like water spouting forth.
At last D'Artagnan thought it was time to try one of his favorite feints in fencing. He brought it to bear, skillfully executed it with the rapidity of lightning, and struck the blow with a force which he fancied would prove irresistible.The blow was parried. "'Sdeath!" he cried, with his Gascon accent. At this exclamation his adversary bounded back and, bending his bare head, tried to distinguish in the gloom the features of the lieutenant. As to D'Artagnan, afraid of some feint, he still stood on the defensive. "Have a care," cried Porthos to his opponent; "I've still two pistols charged." "The more reason you should fire the first!" cried his foe. Porthos fired; the flash threw a gleam of light over the field of battle. As the light shone on them a cry was heard from the other two combatants. "Athos!" exclaimed D'Artagnan. "D'Artagnan!" ejaculated Athos. Athos raised his sword; D'Artagnan lowered his. "Aramis!" cried Athos, "don't fire!" "Ah! ha! is it you, Aramis?" said Porthos. And he threw away his pistol. Aramis pushed his back into his saddle-bags and sheathed his sword. "My son!" exclaimed Athos, extending his hand to D'Artagnan. This was the name which he gave him in former days, in their moments of tender intimacy. "Athos!" cried D'Artagnan, wringing his hands. "So you defend him! And I, who have sworn to take him dead or alive, I am dishonored -- and by you!" "Kill me!" replied Athos, uncovering his breast, "if your honor requires my death."
"Oh! woe is me! woe is me!" cried the lieutenant; "there's only one man in the world who could stay my hand; by a fatality that very man bars my way. What shall I say to the cardinal?"
"You can tell him, sir," answered a voice which was the voice of high command in the battle-field, "that he sent against me the only two men capable of getting the better of four men; of fighting man to man, without discomfiture, against the Comte de la Fere and the Chevalier d'Herblay, and of surrendering only to fifty men!"The prince!" exclaimed at the same moment Athos and Aramis, unmasking as they addressed the Duc de Beaufort, whilst D'Artagnan and Porthos stepped backward. "Fifty cavaliers!" cried the Gascon and Porthos. "Look around you, gentlemen, if you doubt the fact," said the duke. The two friends looked to the right, to the left; they were encompassed by a troop of horsemen.
"Hearing the noise of the fight," resumed the duke, "I fancied you had about twenty men with you, so I came back with those around me, tired of always running away, and wishing to draw my sword in my own cause; but you are only two.""Yes, my lord; but, as you have said, two that are a match for twenty," said Athos. "Come, gentlemen, your swords," said the duke. "Our swords!" cried D'Artagnan, raising his head and regaining his self-possession. "Never!" "Never!" added Porthos. Some of the men moved toward them. "One moment, my lord," whispered Athos, and he said something in a low voice.
"As you will," replied the duke. "I am too much indebted to you to refuse your first request. Gentlemen," he said to his escort, "withdraw. Monsieur d'Artagnan, Monsieur du Vallon, you are free."The order was obeyed; D'Artagnan and Porthos then found themselves in the centre of a large circle. "Now, D'Herblay," said Athos, "dismount and come here." Aramis dismounted and went to Porthos, whilst Athos approached D'Artagnan. All four once more together. "Friends!" said Athos, "do you regret you have not shed our blood?" "No," replied D'Artagnan; "I regret to see that we, hitherto united, are opposed to each other. Ah! nothing will ever go well with us hereafter!" "Oh, Heaven! No, all is over!" said Porthos. "Well, be on our side now," resumed Aramis.
"Silence, D'Herblay!" cried Athos; "such proposals are not to be made to gentlemen such as these. 'Tis a matter of conscience with them, as with us."
"Meantime, here we are, enemies!" said Porthos. "Gramercy! who would ever have thought it?"
"Gentlemen," he said, "this is a serious business and my heart bleeds as if you had pierced it through and through. Yes, we are severed; there is the great, the distressing truth! But we have not as yet declared war; perhaps we shall have to make certain conditions, therefore a solemn conference is indispensable.""For my own part, I demand it," said Aramis. "I accept it," interposed D'Artagnan, proudly. Porthos bowed, as if in assent. "Let us choose a place of rendezvous," continued Athos, "and in a last interview arrange our mutual position and the conduct we are to maintain toward each other." "Good!" the other three exclaimed. "Well, then, the place?" "Will the Place Royale suit you?" asked D'Artagnan. "In Paris?" "Yes." Athos and Aramis looked at each other. "The Place Royale -- be it so!" replied Athos. "When?" "To-morrow evening, if you like!" "At what hour?" "At ten in the evening, if that suits you; by that time we shall have returned."
"Good." "There," continued Athos, "either peace or war will be decided; honor, at all events, will be maintained!""Alas!" murmured D'Artagnan, "our honor as soldiers is lost to us forever!"
"D'Artagnan," said Athos, gravely, "I assure you that you do me wrong in dwelling so upon that. What I think of is, that we have crossed swords as enemies. Yes," he continued, sadly shaking his head, "Yes, it is as you said, misfortune, indeed, has overtaken us. Come, Aramis.""And we, Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "will return, carrying our shame to the cardinal." "And tell him," cried a voice, "that I am not too old yet for a man of action." D'Artagnan recognized the voice of De Rochefort. "Can I do anything for you, gentlemen?" asked the duke. "Bear witness that we have done all that we could."
"That shall be testified to, rest assured. Adieu! we shall meet soon, I trust, in Paris, where you shall have your revenge." The duke, as he spoke, kissed his hand, spurred his horse into a gallop and disappeared, followed by his troop, who were soon lost in distance and darkness.D'Artagnan and Porthos were now alone with a man who held by the bridles two horses; they thought it was Mousqueton and went up to him. "What do I see?" cried the lieutenant. "Grimaud, is it thou?" Grimaud signified that he was not mistaken. "And whose horses are these?" cried D'Artagnan. "Who has given them to us?" said Porthos. "The Comte de la Fere." "Athos! Athos!" muttered D'Artagnan; "you think of every one; you are indeed a nobleman! Whither art thou going, Grimaud?" "To join the Vicomte de Bragelonne in Flanders, your honor." They were taking the road toward Paris, when groans, which seemed to proceed from a ditch, attracted their attention. "What is that?" asked D'Artagnan. "It is I -- Mousqueton," said a mournful voice, whilst a sort of shadow arose out of the side of the road. Porthos ran to him. "Art thou dangerously wounded, my dear Mousqueton?" he said. "No, sir, but I am severely." "What can we do?" said D'Artagnan; "we must return to Paris."
"I will take care of Mousqueton," said Grimaud; and he gave his arm to his old comrade, whose eyes were full of tears, nor could Grimaud tell whether the tears were caused by wounds or by the pleasure of seeing him again.
D'Artagnan and Porthos went on, meantime, to Paris. They were passed by a sort of courier, covered with dust, the bearer of a letter from the duke to the cardinal, giving testimony to the valor of D'Artagnan and Porthos.Mazarin had passed a very bad night when this letter was brought to him, announcing that the duke was free and that he would henceforth raise up mortal strife against him.
"What consoles me," said the cardinal after reading the letter, "is that, at least, in this chase, D'Artagnan has done me one good turn -- he has destroyed Broussel. This Gascon is a precious fellow; even his misadventures are of use."The cardinal referred to that man whom D'Artagnan upset at the corner of the Cimetiere Saint Jean in Paris, and who was no other than the Councillor Broussel.
The Four Old Friends Prepare To Meet Again
"Well," said Porthos, seated in the courtyard of the Hotel de la Chevrette, to D'Artagnan, who, with a long and melancholy face, had returned from the Palais Royal; "did he receive you ungraciously, my dear friend?""I'faith, yes! a brute, that cardinal. What are you eating there, Porthos?" "I am dipping a biscuit in a glass of Spanish wine; do the same." "You are right. Gimblou, a glass of wine." "Well, how has all gone off?" "Zounds! you know there's only one way of saying things, so I went in and said, `My lord, we were not the strongest party.' "`Yes, I know that,' he said, `but give me the particulars.'
"You know, Porthos, I could not give him the particulars without naming our friends; to name them would be to commit them to ruin, so I merely said they were fifty and we were two."`There was firing, nevertheless, I heard,' he said; `and your swords -- they saw the light of day, I presume?' "`That is, the night, my lord,' I answered. "`Ah!' cried the cardinal, `I thought you were a Gascon, my friend?' "`I am a Gascon,' said I, `only when I succeed.' The answer pleased him and he laughed.
"`That will teach me,' he said, `to have my guards provided with better horses; for if they had been able to keep up with you and if each one of them had done as much as you and your friend, you would have kept your word and would have brought him back to me dead or alive.'""Well, there's nothing bad in that, it seems to me," said Porthos. "Oh, mon Dieu! no, nothing at all. It was the way in which he spoke. It is incredible how these biscuit soak up wine! They are veritable sponges! Gimblou, another bottle." The bottle was brought with a promptness which showed the degree of consideration D'Artagnan enjoyed in the establishment. He continued: "So I was going away, but he called me back. "`You have had three horses foundered or killed?' he asked me. "`Yes, my lord.' "`How much were they worth?'" "Why," said Porthos, "that was very good of him, it seems to me." "`A thousand pistoles,' I said." "A thousand pistoles!" Porthos exclaimed. "Oh! oh! that is a large sum. If he knew anything about horses he would dispute the price."
"Faith! he was very much inclined to do so, the contemptible fellow. He made a great start and looked at me. I also looked at him; then he understood, and putting his hand into a drawer, he took from it a quantity of notes on a bank in Lyons.""For a thousand pistoles?" "For a thousand pistoles -- just that amount, the beggar; not one too many." "And you have them?" "They are here." "Upon my word, I think he acted very generously." "Generously! to men who had risked their lives for him, and besides had done him a great service?" "A great service -- what was that?" "Why, it seems that I crushed for him a parliament councillor." "What! that little man in black that you upset at the corner of Saint Jean Cemetery?"
"That's the man, my dear fellow; he was an annoyance to the cardinal. Unfortunately, I didn't crush him flat. It seems that he came to himself and that he will continue to be an annoyance.""See that, now!" said Porthos; "and I turned my horse aside from going plump on to him! That will be for another time." "He owed me for the councillor, the pettifogger!" "But," said Porthos, "if he was not crushed completely ---- " "Ah! Monsieur de Richelieu would have said, `Five hundred crowns for the councillor.' Well, let's say no more about it. How much were your animals worth, Porthos?" "Ah, if poor Mousqueton were here he could tell you to a fraction." "No matter; you can tell within ten crowns." "Why, Vulcan and Bayard cost me each about two hundred pistoles, and putting Phoebus at a hundred and fifty, we should be pretty near the amount." "There will remain, then, four hundred and fifty pistoles," said D'Artagnan, contentedly. "Yes," said Porthos, "but there are the equipments." "That is very true. Well, how much for the equipments?" "If we say one hundred pistoles for the three ---- " "Good for the hundred pistoles; there remains, then, three hundred and fifty." Porthos made a sign of assent. "We will give the fifty pistoles to the hostess for our expenses," said D'Artagnan, "and share the three hundred." "We will share," said Porthos. "A paltry piece of business!" murmured D'Artagnan crumpling his note. "Pooh!" said Porthos, "it is always that. But tell me ---- " "What?" "Didn't he speak of me in any way?"
"Ah! yes, indeed!" cried D'Artagnan, who was afraid of disheartening his friend by telling him that the cardinal had not breathed a word about him; "yes, surely, he said ---- ""He said?" resumed Porthos.
"Stop, I want to remember his exact words. He said, `As to your friend, tell him he may sleep in peace.'"
"Good, very good," said Porthos; "that signified as clear as daylight that he still intends to make me a baron."
"Yes, yes, but they took part with the princes without apprising us of it. Athos and Aramis have played a game with me which alarms me. We discovered yesterday the truth; what is the use of going to-day to learn something else?""You really have some distrust, then?" said Porthos.
"Of Aramis, yes, since he has become an abbe. You can't imagine, my dear fellow, the sort of man he is. He sees us on the road which leads him to a bishopric, and perhaps will not be sorry to get us out of his way.""Ah, as regards Aramis, that is another thing," said Porthos, "and it wouldn't surprise me at all." "Perhaps Monsieur de Beaufort will try, in his turn, to lay hands on us." "Nonsense! He had us in his power and he let us go. Besides we can be on our guard; let us take arms, let Planchet post himself behind us with his carbine." "Planchet is a Frondeur," answered D'Artagnan.
"Devil take these civil wars! one can no more now reckon on one's friends than on one's footmen," said Porthos. "Ah! if Mousqueton were here! there's a fellow who will never desert me!"
"So long as you are rich! Ah! my friend! 'tis not civil war that disunites us. It is that we are each of us twenty years older; it is that the honest emotions of youth have given place to suggestions of interest, whispers of ambition, counsels of selfishness. Yes, you are right; let us go, Porthos, but let us go well armed; were we not to keep the rendezvous, they would declare we were afraid. Halloo! Planchet! here! saddle our horses, take your carbine.""Whom are we going to attack, sir?" "No one; a mere matter of precaution," answered the Gascon. "You know, sir, that they wished to murder that good councillor, Broussel, the father of the people?" "Really, did they?" said D'Artagnan.
"Yes, but he has been avenged. He was carried home in the arms of the people. His house has been full ever since. He has received visits from the coadjutor, from Madame de Longueville, and the Prince de Conti; Madame de Chevreuse and Madame de Vendome have left their names at his door. And now, whenever he wishes ---- ""Well, whenever he wishes?" Planchet began to sing: "Un vent de fronde S'est leve ce matin; Je crois qu'il gronde Contre le Mazarin. Un vent de fronde S'est leve ce matin."
"It doesn't surprise me," said D'Artagnan, in a low tone to Porthos, "that Mazarin would have been much better satisfied had I crushed the life out of his councillor." "You understand, then, monsieur," resumed Planchet, "that if it were for some enterprise like that undertaken against Monsieur Broussel that you should ask me to take my carbine
Whilst all this was going on, Athos and Aramis were entering Paris by the Faubourg St. Antoine. They had taken some refreshment on the road and hastened on, that they might not fail at the appointed place. Bazin was their only attendant, for Grimaud had stayed behind to take care of Mousqueton. As they were passing onward, Athos proposed that they should lay aside their arms and military costume, and assume a dress more suited to the city."Oh, no, dear count!" cried Aramis, "is it not a warlike encounter that we are going to?" "What do you mean, Aramis?" "That the Place Royale is the termination to the main road to Vendomois, and nothing else." "What! our friends?" "Are become our most dangerous enemies, Athos. Let us be on our guard." "Oh! my dear D'Herblay!"
"Who can say whether D'Artagnan may not have betrayed us to the cardinal? who can tell whether Mazarin may not take advantage of this rendezvous to seize us?" "What! Aramis, you think that D'Artagnan, that Porthos, would lend their hands to such an infamy?""Among friends, my dear Athos, no, you are right; but among enemies it would be only a stratagem." Athos crossed his arms and bowed his noble head.
"What can you expect, Athos? Men are so made; and we are not always twenty years old. We have cruelly wounded, as you know, that personal pride by which D'Artagnan is blindly governed. He has been beaten. Did you not observe his despair on the journey? As to Porthos, his barony was perhaps dependent on that affair. Well, he found us on his road and will not be baron this time. Perhaps that famous barony will have something to do with our interview this evening. Let us take our precautions, Athos.""But suppose they come unarmed? What a disgrace to us." "Oh, never fear! besides, if they do, we can easily make an excuse; we came straight off a journey and are insurgents, too."
"An excuse for us! to meet D'Artagnan with a false excuse! to have to make a false excuse to Porthos! Oh, Aramis!" continued Athos, shaking his head mournfully, "upon my soul, you make me the most miserable of men; you disenchant a heart not wholly dead to friendship. Go in whatever guise you choose; for my part, I shall go unarmed."
"No, for I will not allow you to do so. 'Tis not one man, not Athos only, not the Comte de la Fere whom you will ruin by this amiable weakness, but a whole party to whom you belong and who depend upon you.""Be it so then," replied Athos, sorrowfully. And they pursued their road in mournful silence.
Scarcely had they reached by the Rue de la Mule the iron gate of the Place Royale, when they perceived three cavaliers, D'Artagnan, Porthos, and Planchet, the two former wrapped up in their military cloaks under which their swords were hidden, and Planchet, his musket by his side. They were waiting at the entrance of the Rue Sainte Catharine, and their horses were fastened to the rings of the arcade. Athos, therefore, commanded Bazin to fasten up his horse and that of Aramis in the same manner.They then advanced two and two, and saluted each other politely.
"Now where will it be agreeable to you that we hold our conference?" inquired Aramis, perceiving that people were stopping to look at them, supposing that they were going to engage in one of those far-famed duels still extant in the memory of the Parisians, and especially the inhabitants of the Place Royale.
"The gate is shut," said Aramis, "but if these gentlemen like a cool retreat under the trees, and perfect seclusion, I will get the key from the Hotel de Rohan and we shall be well suited."
"Attention, then!" Athos did not lose sight of the two speakers. Aramis opened the gate and faced around in order that D'Artagnan and Porthos might enter. In passing through the gate, the hilt of the lieutenant's sword was caught in the grating and he was obliged to pull off his cloak; in doing so he showed the butt end of his pistols and a ray of the moon was reflected on the shining metal."Do you see?" whispered Aramis to Athos, touching his shoulder with one hand and pointing with the other to the arms which the Gascon wore under his belt. "Alas! I do!" replied Athos, with a deep sigh.
He entered third, and Aramis, who shut the gate after him, last. The two serving-men waited without; but as if they likewise mistrusted each other, they kept their respective distances.
The Place Royale
They proceeded silently to the centre of the Place, but as at this very moment the moon had just emerged from behind a cloud, they thought they might be observed if they remained on that spot and therefore regained the shade of the lime-trees.There were benches here and there; the four gentlemen stopped near them; at a sign from Athos, Porthos and D'Artagnan sat down, the two others stood in front of them. After a few minutes of silent embarrassment, Athos spoke. "Gentlemen," he said, "our presence here is the best proof of former friendship; not one of us has failed the others at this rendezvous; not one has, therefore, to reproach himself." "Hear me, count," replied D'Artagnan; "instead of making compliments to each other, let us explain our conduct to each other, like men of right and honest hearts." "I wish for nothing more; have you any cause of complaint against me or Monsieur d'Herblay? If so, speak out," answered Athos.
"I have," replied D'Artagnan. "When I saw you at your chateau at Bragelonne, I made certain proposals to you which you perfectly understood; instead of answering me as a friend, you played with me as a child; the friendship, therefore, that you boast of was not broken yesterday by the shock of swords, but by your dissimulation at your castle.""D'Artagnan!" said Athos, reproachfully.
"You asked for candor and you have it. You ask what I have against you; I tell you. And I have the same sincerity to show you, if you wish, Monsieur d'Herblay; I acted in a similar way to you and you also deceived me."
"Really, monsieur, you say strange things," said Aramis. "You came seeking me to make to me certain proposals, but did you make them? No, you sounded me, nothing more. Very well what did I say to you? that Mazarin was contemptible and that I wouldn't serve Mazarin. But that is all. Did I tell you that I wouldn't serve any other? On the contrary, I gave you to understand, I think, that I adhered to the princes. We even joked very pleasantly, if I remember rightly, on the very probable contingency of your being charged by the cardinal with my arrest. Were you a party man? There is no doubt of that. Well, why should not we, too, belong to a party? You had your secret and we had ours; we didn't exchange them. So much the better; it proves that we know how to keep our secrets.""I do not reproach you, monsieur," said D'Artagnan; "'tis only because Monsieur de la Fere has spoken of friendship that I question your conduct." "And what do you find in it that is worthy of blame?" asked Aramis, haughtily. The blood mounted instantly to the temples of D'Artagnan, who arose, and replied: "I consider it worthy conduct of a pupil of Jesuits." On seeing D'Artagnan rise, Porthos rose also; these four men were therefore all standing at the same time, with a menacing aspect, opposite to each other. Upon hearing D'Artagnan's reply, Aramis seemed about to draw his sword, when Athos prevented him.
"D'Artagnan," he said, "you are here to-night, still infuriated by yesterday's adventure. I believed your heart noble enough to enable a friendship of twenty years to overcome an affront of a quarter of an hour. Come, do you really think you have anything to say against me? Say it then; if I am in fault I will avow the error."
The grave and harmonious tones of that beloved voice seemed to have still its ancient influence, whilst that of Aramis, which had become harsh and tuneless in his moments of ill-humor, irritated him. He answered therefore:
"I think, monsieur le comte, that you had something to communicate to me at your chateau of Bragelonne, and that gentleman" -- he pointed to Aramis -- "had also something to tell me when I was in his convent. At that time I was not concerned in the adventure, in the course of which you have so successfully estopped me! However, because I was prudent you must not take me for a fool. If I had wished to widen the breach between those whom Monsieur d'Herblay chooses to receive with a rope ladder and those whom he receives with a wooden ladder, I could have spoken out.""What are you meddling with?" cried Aramis, pale with anger, suspecting that D'Artagnan had acted as a spy on him and had seen him with Madame de Longueville.
"I never meddle save with what concerns me, and I know how to make believe that I haven't seen what does not concern me; but I hate hypocrites, and among that number I place musketeers who are abbes and abbes who are musketeers; and," he added, turning to Porthos "here's a gentleman who's of the same opinion as myself."Porthos, who had not spoken one word, answered merely by a word and a gesture. He said "yes" and he put his hand on his sword.
Aramis started back and drew his. D'Artagnan bent forward, ready either to attack or to stand on his defense.
Athos at that moment extended his hand with the air of supreme command which characterized him alone, drew out his sword and the scabbard at the same time, broke the blade in the sheath on his knee and threw the pieces to his right. Then turning to Aramis:
"Never!" exclaimed Athos, raising his right hand to Heaven, "never! I swear before God, who seeth us, and who, in the darkness of this night heareth us, never shall my sword cross yours, never my eye express a glance of anger, nor my heart a throb of hatred, at you. We lived together, we loved, we hated together; we shed, we mingled our blood together, and too probably, I may still add, that there may be yet a bond between us closer even than that of friendship; perhaps there may be the bond of crime; for we four, we once did condemn, judge and slay a human being whom we had not any right to cut off from this world, although apparently fitter for hell than for this life. D'Artagnan, I have always loved you as my son; Porthos, we slept six years side by side; Aramis is your brother as well as mine, and Aramis has once loved you, as I love you now and as I have ever loved you. What can Cardinal Mazarin be to us, to four men who compelled such a man as Richelieu to act as we pleased? What is such or such a prince to us, who fixed the diadem upon a great queen's head? D'Artagnan, I ask your pardon for having yesterday crossed swords with you; Aramis does the same to Porthos; now hate me if you can; but for my own part, I shall ever, even if you do hate me, retain esteem and friendship for you. I repeat my words, Aramis, and then, if you desire it, and if they desire it, let us separate forever from our old friends."There was a solemn, though momentary silence, which was broken by Aramis.
"I swear," he said, with a calm brow and kindly glance, but in a voice still trembling with recent emotion, "I swear that I no longer bear animosity to those who were once my friends. I regret that I ever crossed swords with you, Porthos; I swear not only that it shall never again be pointed at your breast, but that in the bottom of my heart there will never in future be the slightest hostile sentiment; now, Athos, come."
Athos was about to retire. "Oh! no! no! do not go away!" exclaimed D'Artagnan, impelled by one of those irresistible impulses which showed the nobility of his nature, the native brightness of his character; "I swear that I would give the last drop of my blood and the last fragment of my limbs to preserve the friendship of such a friend as you, Athos -- of such a man as you, Aramis." And he threw himself into the arms of Athos."My son!" exclaimed Athos, pressing him in his arms.
"And as for me," said Porthos, "I swear nothing, but I'm choked. Forsooth! If I were obliged to fight against you, I think I should allow myself to be pierced through and through, for I never loved any one but you in the wide world;" and honest Porthos burst into tears as he embraced Athos.
"My friends," said Athos, "this is what I expected from such hearts as yours. Yes, I have said it and I now repeat it: our destinies are irrevocably united, although we now pursue divergent roads. I respect your convictions, and whilst we fight for opposite sides, let us remain friends. Ministers, princes, kings, will pass away like mountain torrents; civil war, like a forest flame; but we -- we shall remain; I have a presentiment that we shall."
"Yes," replied D'Artagnan, "let us still be musketeers, and let us retain as our battlestandard that famous napkin of the bastion St. Gervais, on which the great cardinal had three fleurs-de-lis embroidered."
"Be it so," cried Aramis. "Cardinalists or Frondeurs, what matters it? Let us meet again as capital seconds in a duel, devoted friends in business, merry companions in our ancient pleasures."
"And whenever," added Athos, "we meet in battle, at this word, `Place Royale!' let us put our swords into our left hands and shake hands with the right, even in the very lust and music of the hottest carnage.""You speak charmingly," said Porthos. "And are the first of men!" added D'Artagnan. "You excel us all." Athos smiled with ineffable pleasure. "'Tis then all settled. Gentlemen, your hands; are we not pretty good Christians?" "Egad!" said D'Artagnan, "by Heaven! yes." "We should be so on this occasion, if only to be faithful to our oath," said Aramis. "Ah, I'm ready to do what you will," cried Porthos; "even to swear by Mahomet. Devil take me if I've ever been so happy as at this moment." And he wiped his eyes, still moist. "Has not one of you a cross?" asked Athos. Aramis smiled and drew from his vest a cross of diamonds, which was hung around his neck by a chain of pearls. "Here is one," he said.
"Well," resumed Athos, "swear on this cross, which, in spite of its magnificent material, is still a cross; swear to be united in spite of everything, and forever, and may this oath bind us to each other, and even, also, our descendants! Does this oath satisfy you?""Yes," said they all, with one accord. "Ah, traitor!" muttered D'Artagnan, leaning toward Aramis and whispering in his ear, "you have made us swear on the crucifix of a Frondeuse."
The Ferry Across The OiseWe hope that the reader has not quite forgotten the young traveler whom we left on the road to Flanders.
In losing sight of his guardian, whom he had quitted, gazing after him in front of the royal basilican, Raoul spurred on his horse, in order not only to escape from his own melancholy reflections, but also to hide from Olivain the emotion his face might betray.
One hour's rapid progress, however, sufficed to disperse the gloomy fancies that had clouded the young man's bright anticipations; and the hitherto unfelt pleasure of freedom
-- a pleasure which is sweet even to those who have never known dependence -- seemed to Raoul to gild not only Heaven and earth, but especially that blue but dim horizon of life we call the future.
Nevertheless, after several attempts at conversation with Olivain he foresaw that many days passed thus would prove exceedingly dull; and the count's agreeable voice, his gentle and persuasive eloquence, recurred to his mind at the various towns through which they journeyed and about which he had no longer any one to give him those interesting details which he would have drawn from Athos, the most amusing and the best informed of guides. Another recollection contributed also to sadden Raoul: on their arrival at Sonores he had perceived, hidden behind a screen of poplars, a little chateau which so vividly recalled that of La Valliere to his mind that he halted for nearly ten minutes to gaze at it, and resumed his journey with a sigh too abstracted even to reply to Olivain's respectful inquiry about the cause of so much fixed attention. The aspect of external objects is often a mysterious guide communicating with the fibres of memory, which in spite of us will arouse them at times; this thread, like that of Ariadne, when once unraveled will conduct one through a labyrinth of thought, in which one loses one's self in endeavoring to follow that phantom of the past which is called recollection.
Now the sight of this chateau had taken Raoul back fifty leagues westward and had caused him to review his life from the moment when he had taken leave of little Louise to that in which he had seen her for the first time; and every branch of oak, every gilded weathercock on roof of slates, reminded him that, instead of returning to the friends of his childhood, every instant estranged him further and that perhaps he had even left them forever.
With a full heart and burning head he desired Olivain to lead on the horses to a wayside inn, which he observed within gunshot range, a little in advance of the place they had reached.
As for himself, he dismounted and remained under a beautiful group of chestnuts in flower, amidst which were murmuring a multitude of happy bees, and bade Olivain send the host to him with writing paper and ink, to be placed on a table which he found there, conveniently ready. Olivain obeyed and continued on his way, whilst Raoul remained sitting, with his elbow leaning on the table, from time to time gently shaking the flowers from his head, which fell upon him like snow, and gazing vaguely on the charming landscape spread out before him, dotted over with green fields and groups of trees. Raoul had been there about ten minutes, during five of which he was lost in reverie, when there appeared within the circle comprised in his rolling gaze a man with a rubicund face, who, with a napkin around his body, another under his arm, and a white cap upon his head, approached him, holding paper, pen and ink in hand.
"Ha! ha!" laughed the apparition, "every gentleman seems to have the same fancy, for not a quarter of an hour ago a young lad, well mounted like you, as tall as you and of about your age, halted before this clump of trees and had this table and this chair brought here, and dined here, with an old gentleman who seemed to be his tutor, upon a pie, of which they haven't left a mouthful, and two bottles of Macon wine, of which they haven't left a drop, but fortunately we have still some of the same wine and some of the same pies left, and if your worship will but give your orders ---- "
"No, friend " replied Raoul, smiling, "I am obliged to you, but at this moment I want nothing but the things for which I have asked -- only I shall be very glad if the ink prove black and the pen good; upon these conditions I will pay for the pen the price of the bottle, and for the ink the price of the pie.""Very well, sir," said the host, "I'll give the pie and the bottle of wine to your servant, and in this way you will have the pen and ink into the bargain."
"Do as you like," said Raoul, who was beginning his apprenticeship with that particular class of society, who, when there were robbers on the highroads, were connected with them, and who, since highwaymen no longer exist, have advantageously and aptly filled their vacant place.
The host, his mind at ease about his bill, placed pen, ink and paper upon the table. By a lucky chance the pen was tolerably good and Raoul began to write. The host remained standing in front of him, looking with a kind of involuntary admiration at his handsome face, combining both gravity and sweetness of expression. Beauty has always been and always will be all-powerful.
"He's not a guest like the other one here just now," observed mine host to Olivain, who had rejoined his master to see if he wanted anything, "and your young master has no appetite.""My master had appetite enough three days ago, but what can one do? he lost it the day before yesterday."
And Olivain and the host took their way together toward the inn, Olivain, according to the custom of serving-men well pleased with their place, relating to the tavern-keeper all that he could say in favor of the young gentleman; whilst Raoul wrote on thus: "Sir, -- After a four hours' march I stop to write to you, for I miss you every moment, and I am always on the point of turning my head as if to reply when you speak to me. I was so bewildered by your departure and so overcome with grief at our separation, that I am sure I was able to but very feebly express all the affection and gratitude I feel toward you. You will forgive me, sir, for your heart is of such a generous nature that you can well understand all that has passed in mine. I entreat you to write to me, for you form a part of my existence, and, if I may venture to tell you so, I also feel anxious. It seemed to me as if you were yourself preparing for some dangerous undertaking, about which I did not dare to question you, since you told me nothing. I have, therefore, as you see, great need of hearing from you. Now that you are no longer beside me I am afraid every moment of erring. You sustained me powerfully, sir, and I protest to you that to-day I feel very lonely. Will you have the goodness, sir, should you receive news from Blois, to send me a few lines about my little friend Mademoiselle de la Valliere, about whose health, when we left, so much anxiety was felt? You can understand, honored and dear guardian, how precious and indispensable to me is the remembrance of the years that I have passed with you. I hope that you will sometimes, too, think of me, and if at certain hours you should miss me, if you should feel any slight regret at my absence, I shall be overwhelmed with joy at the thought that you appreciate my affection for and my devotion to yourself, and that I have been able to prove them to you whilst I had the happiness of living with you."
After finishing this letter Raoul felt more composed; he looked well around him to see if Olivain and the host might not be watching him, whilst he impressed a kiss upon the paper, a mute and touching caress, which the heart of Athos might well divine on opening the letter.
During this time Olivain had finished his bottle and eaten his pie; the horses were also refreshed. Raoul motioned to the host to approach, threw a crown upon the table, mounted his horse, and posted his letter at Senlis. The rest that had been thus afforded to men and horses enabled them to continue their journey at a good round pace. At Verberie, Raoul desired Olivain to make some inquiry about the young man who was preceding them; he had been observed to pass only three-quarters of an hour previously, but he was well mounted, as the tavern-keeper had already said, and rode at a rapid pace."Let us try and overtake this gentleman," said Raoul to Olivain; "like ourselves he is on his way to join the army and may prove agreeable company."
It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when Raoul arrived at Compiegne; there he dined heartily and again inquired about the young gentleman who was in advance of them. He had stopped, like Raoul, at the Hotel of the Bell and Bottle, the best at Compiegne; and had started again on his journey, saying that he should sleep at Noyon."Well, let us sleep at Noyon," said Raoul.
"Sir," replied Olivain, respectfully, "allow me to remark that we have already much fatigued the horses this morning. I think it would be well to sleep here and to start again very early to-morrow. Eighteen leagues is enough for the first stage."
"The Comte de la Fere wished me to hasten on," replied Raoul, "that I might rejoin the prince on the morning of the fourth day; let us push on, then, to Noyon; it will be a stage similar to those we traveled from Blois to Paris. We shall arrive at eight o'clock. The horses will have a long night's rest, and at five o'clock to-morrow morning we can be again on the road."
"Go on, go on," said he, between his teeth, "expend your ardor the first day; to-morrow, instead of journeying twenty leagues, you will travel ten, the day after to-morrow, five, and in three days you will be in bed. There you must rest; young people are such braggarts."
It was easy to see that Olivain had not been taught in the school of the Planchets and the Grimauds. Raoul really felt tired, but he was desirous of testing his strength, and, brought up in the principles of Athos and certain of having heard him speak a thousand times of stages of twenty-five leagues, he did not wish to fall far short of his model. D'Artagnan, that man of iron, who seemed to be made of nerve and muscle only, had struck him with admiration. Therefore, in spite of Olivain's remarks, he continued to urge his steed more and more, and following a pleasant little path, leading to a ferry, and which he had been assured shortened the journey by the distance of one league, he arrived at the summit of a hill and perceived the river flowing before him. A little troop of men on horseback were waiting on the edge of the stream, ready to embark. Raoul did not doubt this was the gentleman and his escort; he called out to him, but they were too distant to be heard; then, in spite of the weariness of his beast, he made it gallop but the rising ground soon deprived him of all sight of the travelers, and when he had again attained a new height, the ferryboat had left the shore and was making for the opposite bank. Raoul, seeing that he could not arrive in time to cross the ferry with the travelers, halted to wait for Olivain. At this moment a shriek was heard that seemed to come from the river. Raoul turned toward the side whence the cry had sounded, and shaded his eyes from the glare of the setting sun with his hand."Olivain!" he exclaimed, "what do I see below there?" A second scream, more piercing than the first, now sounded. "Oh, sir!" cried Olivain, "the rope which holds the ferryboat has broken and the boat is drifting. But what do I see in the water -- something struggling?" "Oh, yes," exclaimed Raoul, fixing his glance on one point in the stream, splendidly illumined by the setting sun, "a horse, a rider!"
"They are sinking!" cried Olivain in his turn. It was true, and Raoul was convinced that some accident had happened and that a man was drowning; he gave his horse its head, struck his spurs into its sides, and the animal, urged by pain and feeling that he had space open before him, bounded over a kind of paling which inclosed the landing place, and fell into the river, scattering to a distance waves of white froth."Ah, sir!" cried Olivain, "what are you doing? Good God!"
Raoul was directing his horse toward the unhappy man in danger. This was, in fact, a custom familiar to him. Having been brought up on the banks of the Loire, he might have been said to have been cradled on its waves; a hundred times he had crossed it on horseback, a thousand times had swum across. Athos, foreseeing the period when he should make a soldier of the viscount, had inured him to all kinds of arduous undertakings."Oh, heavens!" continued Olivain, in despair, "what would the count say if he only saw you now!" "The count would do as I do," replied Raoul, urging his horse vigorously forward. "But I -- but I," cried Olivain, pale and disconsolate rushing about on the shore, "how shall I cross?"
"Leap, coward!" cried Raoul, swimming on; then addressing the traveler, who was struggling twenty yards in front of him: "Courage, sir!" said he, "courage! we are coming to your aid."Olivain advanced, retired, then made his horse rear -- turned it and then, struck to the core by shame, leaped, as Raoul had done, only repeating: "I am a dead man! we are lost!"
In the meantime, the ferryboat had floated away, carried down by the stream, and the shrieks of those whom it contained resounded more and more. A man with gray hair had thrown himself from the boat into the river and was swimming vigorously toward the person who was drowning; but being obliged to go against the current he advanced but slowly. Raoul continued his way and was visibly gaining ground; but the horse and its rider, of whom he did not lose sight, were evidently sinking. The nostrils of the horse were no longer above water, and the rider, who had lost the reins in struggling, fell with his head back and his arms extended. One moment longer and all would disappear."Courage!" cried Raoul, "courage!" "Too late!" murmured the young man, "too late!"
The water closed above his head and stifled his voice. Raoul sprang from his horse, to which he left the charge of its own preservation, and in three or four strokes was at the gentleman's side; he seized the horse at once by the curb and raised its head above water; the animal began to breathe again and, as if he comprehended that they had come to his aid, redoubled his efforts. Raoul at the same time seized one of the young man's hands and placed it on the mane, which it grasped with the tenacity of a drowning man. Thus, sure that the rider would not release his hold, Raoul now only directed his attention to the horse, which he guided to the opposite bank, helping it to cut through the water and encouraging it with words.All at once the horse stumbled against a ridge and then placed its foot on the sand. "Saved!" exclaimed the man with gray hair, who also touched bottom.
"Saved!" mechanically repeated the young gentleman, releasing the mane and sliding from the saddle into Raoul's arms; Raoul was but ten yards from the shore; there he bore the fainting man, and laying him down upon the grass, unfastened the buttons of his collar and unhooked his doublet. A moment later the gray-headed man was beside him. Olivain managed in his turn to land, after crossing himself repeatedly; and the people in the ferryboat guided themselves as well as they were able toward the bank, with the aid of a pole which chanced to be in the boat.
Thanks to the attentions of Raoul and the man who accompanied the young gentleman, the color gradually returned to the pale cheeks of the dying man, who opened his eyes, at first entirely bewildered, but who soon fixed his gaze upon the person who had saved him."Ah, sir," he exclaimed, "it was you! Without you I was a dead man -- thrice dead." "But one recovers, sir, as you perceive," replied Raoul, "and we have but had a little bath." "Oh! sir, what gratitude I feel!" exclaimed the man with gray hair. "Ah, there you are, my good D'Arminges; I have given you a great fright, have I not? but it is your own fault. You were my tutor, why did you not teach me to swim?" "Oh, monsieur le comte," replied the old man, "had any misfortune happened to you, I should never have dared to show myself to the marshal again." "But how did the accident happen?" asked Raoul.
"Oh, sir, in the most natural way possible," replied he to whom they had given the title of count. "We were about a third of the way across the river when the cord of the ferryboat broke. Alarmed by the cries and gestures of the boatmen, my horse sprang into the water. I cannot swim, and dared not throw myself into the river. Instead of aiding the movements of my horse, I paralyzed them; and I was just going to drown myself with the best grace in the world, when you arrived just in time to pull me out of the water; therefore, sir, if you will agree, henceforward we are friends until death.""Sir," replied Raoul, bowing, "I am entirely at your service, I assure you."
"I am called the Count de Guiche," continued the young man; "my father is the Marechal de Grammont; and now that you know who I am, do me the honor to inform me who you are.""I am the Viscount de Bragelonne," answered Raoul, blushing at being unable to name his father, as the Count de Guiche had done. "Viscount, your countenance, your goodness and your courage incline me toward you; my gratitude is already due. Shake hands -- I crave your friendship." "Sir," said Raoul, returning the count's pressure of the hand, "I like you already, from my heart; pray regard me as a devoted friend, I beseech you." And now, where are you going, viscount?" inquired De Guiche. "To join the army, under the prince, count." "And I, too!" exclaimed the young man, in a transport of joy. "Oh, so much the better, we will fire the first shot together."
"It is well; be friends," said the tutor; "young as you both are, you were perhaps born under the same star and were destined to meet. And now," continued he, "you must change your clothes; your servants, to whom I gave directions the moment they had left the ferryboat, ought to be already at the inn. Linen and wine are both being warmed; come."The young men had no objection to this proposition; on the contrary, they thought it very timely.
They mounted again at once, whilst looks of admiration passed between them. They were indeed two elegant horsemen, with figures slight and upright, noble faces, bright and proud looks, loyal and intelligent smiles.De Guiche might have been about eighteen years of age, but he was scarcely taller than Raoul, who was only fifteen.
The halt at Noyon was but brief, every one there being wrapped in profound sleep. Raoul had desired to be awakened should Grimaud arrive, but Grimaud did not arrive. Doubtless, too, the horses on their part appreciated the eight hours of repose and the abundant stabling which was granted them. The Count de Guiche was awakened at five o'clock in the morning by Raoul, who came to wish him good-day. They breakfasted in haste, and at six o'clock had already gone ten miles.
The young count's conversation was most interesting to Raoul, therefore he listened much, whilst the count talked well and long. Brought up in Paris, where Raoul had been but once; at the court, which Raoul had never seen; his follies as page; two duels, which he had already found the means of fighting, in spite of the edicts against them and, more especially, in spite of his tutor's vigilance -- these things excited the greatest curiosity in Raoul. Raoul had only been at M. Scarron's house; he named to Guiche the people whom he had seen there. Guiche knew everybody -- Madame de Neuillan, Mademoiselle d'Aubigne, Mademoiselle de Scudery, Mademoiselle Paulet, Madame de Chevreuse. He criticised everybody humorously. Raoul trembled, lest he should laugh among the rest at Madame de Chevreuse, for whom he entertained deep and genuine sympathy, but either instinctively, or from affection for the duchess, he said everything in her favor. His praises increased Raoul's friendship twofold. Then came the question of gallantry and love affairs. Under this head, also, Bragelonne had much more to hear than to tell. He listened attentively and fancied that he discovered through three or four rather frivolous adventures, that the count, like himself, had a secret to hide in the depths of his heart.
De Guiche, as we have said before, had been educated at the court, and the intrigues of this court were not unknown to him. It was the same court of which Raoul had so often heard the Comte de la Fere speak, except that its aspect had much changed since the period when Athos had himself been part of it; therefore everything which the Count de Guiche related was new to his traveling companion. The young count, witty and caustic, passed all the world in review; the queen herself was not spared, and Cardinal Mazarin came in for his share of ridicule.
The day passed away as rapidly as an hour. The count's tutor, a man of the world and a bon vivant, up to his eyes in learning, as his pupil described him, often recalled the profound erudition, the witty and caustic satire of Athos to Raoul; but as regarded grace, delicacy, and nobility of external appearance, no one in these points was to be compared to the Comte de la Fere.
The horses, which were more kindly used than on the previous day, stopped at Arras at four o'clock in the evening. They were approaching the scene of war; and as bands of Spaniards sometimes took advantage of the night to make expeditions even as far as the neighborhood of Arras, they determined to remain in the town until the morrow. The French army held all between Pont-a-Marc as far as Valenciennes, falling back upon Douai. The prince was said to be in person at Bethune.
The enemy's army extended from Cassel to Courtray; and as there was no species of violence or pillage it did not commit, the poor people on the frontier quitted their isolated dwellings and fled for refuge into the strong cities which held out a shelter to them. Arras was encumbered with fugitives. An approaching battle was much spoken of, the prince having manoeuvred, until that movement, only in order to await a reinforcement that had just reached him.
The young men congratulated themselves on having arrived so opportunely. The evening was employed in discussing the war; the grooms polished their arms; the young men loaded the pistols in case of a skirmish, and they awoke in despair, having both dreamed that they had arrived too late to participate in the battle. In the morning it was rumored that Prince de Conde had evacuated Bethune and fallen back on Carvin, leaving, however, a strong garrison in the former city.
But as there was nothing positively certain in this report, the young warriors decided to continue their way toward Bethune, free on the road to diverge to the right and march to Carvin if necessary.
The count's tutor was well acquainted with the country; he consequently proposed to take a crossroad, which lay between that of Lens and that of Bethune. They obtained information at Ablain, and a statement of their route was left for Grimaud. About seven o'clock in the morning they set out. De Guiche, who was young and impulsive, said to Raoul, "Here we are, three masters and three servants. Our valets are well armed and yours seems to be tough enough.""I have never seen him put to the test," replied Raoul, "but he is a Breton, which promises something."
"Yes, yes," resumed De Guiche; "I am sure he can fire a musket when required. On my side I have two sure men, who have been in action with my father. We therefore represent six fighting men; if we should meet a little troop of enemies, equal or even superior in number to our own, shall we charge them, Raoul?""Certainly, sir," replied the viscount.
"Holloa! young people -- stop there!" said the tutor, joining in the conversation. "Zounds! how you manoeuvre my instructions, count! You seem to forget the orders I received to conduct you safe and sound to his highness the prince! Once with the army you may be killed at your good pleasure; but until that time, I warn you that in my capacity of general of the army I shall order a retreat and turn my back on the first red coat we come across." De Guiche and Raoul glanced at each other, smiling.
They arrived at Ablain without accident. There they inquired and learned that the prince had in reality quitted Bethune and stationed himself between Cambria and La Venthie. Therefore, leaving directions at every place for Grimaud, they took a crossroad which conducted the little troop by the bank of a small stream flowing into the Lys. The country was beautiful, intersected by valleys as green as the emerald. Here and there they passed little copses crossing the path which they were following. In anticipation of some ambuscade in each of these little woods the tutor placed his two servants at the head of the band, thus forming the advance guard. Himself and the two young men represented the body of the army, whilst Olivain, with his rifle upon his knee and his eyes upon the watch, protected the rear.
They had observed for some time before them, on the horizon, a rather thick wood; and when they had arrived at a distance of a hundred steps from it, Monsieur d'Arminges took his usual precautions and sent on in advance the count's two grooms. The servants had just disappeared under the trees, followed by the tutor, and the young men were laughing and talking about a hundred yards off. Olivain was at the same distance in the rear, when suddenly there resounded five or six musket-shots. The tutor cried halt; the young men obeyed, pulling up their steeds, and at the same moment the two valets were seen returning at a gallop.The young men, impatient to learn the cause of the firing, spurred on toward the servants. The tutor followed them. "Were you stopped?" eagerly inquired the two youths.
"No," replied the servants, "it is even probable that we have not been seen; the shots were fired about a hundred paces in advance of us, in the thickest part of the wood, and we returned to ask your advice.""My advice is this," said Monsieur d'Arminges, "and if needs be, my will, that we beat a retreat. There may be an ambuscade concealed in this wood." "Did you see nothing there?" asked the count. "I thought I saw," said one of the servants, "horsemen dressed in yellow, creeping along the bed of the stream. "That's it," said the tutor. "We have fallen in with a party of Spaniards. Come back, sirs, back."
The two youths looked at each other, and at this moment a pistol-shot and cries for help were heard. Another glance between the young men convinced them both that neither had any wish to go back, and as the tutor had already turned his horse's head, they both spurred forward, Raoul crying: "Follow me, Olivain!" and the Count de Guiche: "Follow, Urban and Planchet!" And before the tutor could recover from his surprise they had both disappeared into the forest. Whilst they spurred their steeds they held their pistols ready also. In five minutes they arrived at the spot whence the noise had proceeded, and then restraining their horses, they advanced cautiously."Hush," whispered De Guiche, "these are cavaliers." "Yes, three on horseback and three who have dismounted." "Can you see what they are doing?" "Yes, they appear to be searching a wounded or dead man." "It is some cowardly assassination," said De Guiche. "They are soldiers, though," resumed De Bragelonne. "Yes, skirmishers; that is to say, highway robbers." "At them!" cried Raoul. "At them!" echoed De Guiche. "Oh! gentlemen! gentlemen! in the name of Heaven!" cried the poor tutor. But he was not listened to, and his cries only served to arouse the attention of the Spaniards.
The men on horseback at once rushed at the two youths, leaving the three others to complete the plunder of the dead or wounded travelers; for on approaching nearer, instead of one extended figure, the young men discovered two. De Guiche fired the first shot at ten paces and missed his man; and the Spaniard, who had advanced to meet Raoul, aimed in his turn, and Raoul felt a pain in the left arm, similar to that of a blow from a whip. He let off his fire at but four paces. Struck in the breast and extending his arms, the Spaniard fell back on the crupper, and the terrified horse, turning around, carried him off.
Raoul at this moment perceived the muzzle of a gun pointed at him, and remembering the recommendation of Athos, he, with the rapidity of lightning, made his horse rear as the shot was fired. His horse bounded to one side, losing its footing, and fell, entangling Raoul's leg under its body. The Spaniard sprang forward and seized the gun by its muzzle, in order to strike Raoul on the head with the butt. In the position in which Raoul lay, unfortunately, he could neither draw his sword from the scabbard, nor his pistols from their holsters. The butt end of the musket hovered over his head, and he could scarcely restrain himself from closing his eyes, when with one bound Guiche reached the Spaniard and placed a pistol at his throat. "Yield!" he cried, "or you are a dead man!" The musket fell from the soldier's hands, who yielded on the instant. Guiche summoned one of his grooms, and delivering the prisoner into his charge, with orders to shoot him through the head if he attempted to escape, he leaped from his horse and approached Raoul.
"Faith, sir," said Raoul, smiling, although his pallor betrayed the excitement consequent on a first affair, "you are in a great hurry to pay your debts and have not been long under any obligation to me. Without your aid," continued he, repeating the count's words "I should have been a dead man -- thrice dead."
"My antagonist took flight," replied De Guiche "and left me at liberty to come to your assistance. But are you seriously wounded? I see you are covered with blood!"
"I believe," said Raoul, "that I have got something like a scratch on the arm. If you will help me to drag myself from under my horse I hope nothing need prevent us continuing our journey."
Monsieur d'Arminges and Olivain had already dismounted and were attempting to raise the struggling horse. At last Raoul succeeded in drawing his foot from the stirrup and his leg from under the animal, and in a second he was on his feet again."Nothing broken?" asked De Guiche. "Faith, no, thank Heaven!" replied Raoul; "but what has become of the poor wretches whom these scoundrels were murdering?" "I fear we arrived too late. They have killed them, I think, and taken flight, carrying off their booty. My servants are examining the bodies."
"Let us go and see whether they are quite dead, or if they can still be helped," suggested Raoul. "Olivain, we have come into possession of two horses, but I have lost my own. Take for yourself the better of the two and give me yours."They approached the spot where the unfortunate victims lay.
Two men lay prone upon the ground, one bathed in blood and motionless, with his face toward the earth; this one was dead. The other leaned against a tree, supported there by the two valets, and was praying fervently, with clasped hands and eyes raised to Heaven. He had received a ball in his thigh, which had broken the bone. The young men first approached the dead man."He is a priest," said Bragelonne, "he has worn the tonsure. Oh, the scoundrels! to lift their hands against a minister of God."
"Come here, sir," said Urban, an old soldier who had served under the cardinal duke in all his campaigns; "come here, there is nothing to be done with him, whilst we may perhaps be able to save the other."The wounded man smiled sadly. "Save me! Oh, no!" said he, "but help me to die, if you can." "Are you a priest?" asked Raoul. "No sir." "I ask, as your unfortunate companion appeared to me to belong to the church."
"He is the curate of Bethune, sir, and was carrying the holy vessels belonging to his church, and the treasure of the chapter, to a safe place, the prince having abandoned our town yesterday; and as it was known that bands of the enemy were prowling about the country, no one dared to accompany the good man, so I offered to do so."And, sir," continued the wounded man, "I suffer much and would like, if possible, to be carried to some house." "Where you can be relieved?" asked De Guiche. "No, where I can confess." "But perhaps you are not so dangerously wounded as you think," said Raoul. "Sir," replied the wounded man, "believe me, there is no time to lose; the ball has broken the thigh bone and entered the intestines."
"Are you a surgeon?" asked De Guiche. "No, but I know a little about wounds, and mine, I know, is mortal. Try, therefore, either to carry me to some place where I may see a priest or take the trouble to send one to me here. It is my soul that must be saved; as for my body, it is lost.""To die whilst doing a good deed! It is impossible. God will help you."
"Gentlemen, in the name of Heaven!" said the wounded man, collecting all his forces, as if to get up, "let us not lose time in useless words. Either help me to gain the nearest village or swear to me on your salvation that you will send me the first monk, the first cure, the first priest you may meet. But," he added in a despairing tone, "perhaps no one will dare to come for it is known that the Spaniards are ranging through the country, and I shall die without absolution. My God! my God! Good God! good God!" added the wounded man, in an accent of terror which made the young men shudder; "you will not allow that? that would be too terrible!"
"Calm yourself, sir," replied De Guiche. "I swear to you, you shall receive the consolation that you ask. Only tell us where we shall find a house at which we can demand aid and a village from which we can fetch a priest."
"Thank you, and God reward you! About half a mile from this, on the same road, there is an inn, and about a mile further on, after leaving the inn, you will reach the village of Greney. There you must find the curate, or if he is not at home, go to the convent of the Augustines, which is the last house on the right, and bring me one of the brothers. Monk or priest, it matters not, provided only that he has received from holy church the power of absolving in articulo mortis."
"Monsieur d'Arminges," said De Guiche, "remain beside this unfortunate man and see that he is removed as gently as possible. The vicomte and myself will go and find a priest.""Go, sir," replied the tutor; "but in Heaven's name do not expose yourself to danger!" "Do not fear. Besides, we are safe for to-day; you know the axiom, `Non bis in idem.'" "Courage, sir," said Raoul to the wounded man. "We are going to execute your wishes." "May Heaven prosper you!" replied the dying man, with an accent of gratitude impossible to describe.
The two young men galloped off in the direction mentioned and in ten minutes reached the inn. Raoul, without dismounting, called to the host and announced that a wounded man was about to be brought to his house and begged him in the meantime to prepare everything needful. He desired him also, should he know in the neighborhood any doctor or chirurgeon, to fetch him, taking on himself the payment of the messenger. The host, who saw two young noblemen, richly clad, promised everything they required, and our two cavaliers, after seeing that preparations for the reception were actually begun, started off again and proceeded rapidly toward Greney.
They had gone rather more than a league and had begun to descry the first houses of the village, the red-tiled roofs of which stood out from the green trees which surrounded them, when, coming toward them mounted on a mule, they perceived a poor monk, whose large hat and gray worsted dress made them take him for an Augustine brother. Chance for once seemed to favor them in sending what they were so assiduously seeking. He was a man about twenty-two or twenty-three years old, but who appeared much older from ascetic exercises. His complexion was pale, not of that deadly pallor which is a kind of neutral beauty, but of a bilious, yellow hue; his colorless hair was short and scarcely extended beyond the circle formed by the hat around his head, and his light blue eyes seemed destitute of any expression."Sir," began Raoul, with his usual politeness, "are you an ecclesiastic?" "Why do you ask me that?" replied the stranger, with a coolness which was barely civil. "Because we want to know," said De Guiche, haughtily. The stranger touched his mule with his heel and continued his way. In a second De Guiche had sprung before him and barred his passage. "Answer, sir," exclaimed he; "you have been asked politely, and every question is worth an answer." "I suppose I am free to say or not to say who I am to two strangers who take a fancy to ask me." It was with difficulty that De Guiche restrained the intense desire he had of breaking the monk's bones.
"In the first place," he said, making an effort to control himself, "we are not people who may be treated anyhow; my friend there is the Viscount of Bragelonne and I am the Count de Guiche. Nor was it from caprice we asked the question, for there is a wounded and dying man who demands the succor of the church. If you be a priest, I conjure you in the name of humanity to follow me to aid this man; if you be not, it is a different matter, and I warn you in the name of courtesy, of which you appear profoundly ignorant, that I shall chastise you for your insolence."The pale face of the monk became so livid and his smile so strange, that Raoul, whose eyes were still fixed upon him, felt as if this smile had struck to his heart like an insult. "He is some Spanish or Flemish spy," said he, putting his hand to his pistol. A glance, threatening and transient as lightning, replied to Raoul. "Well, sir," said De Guiche, "are you going to reply?" "I am a priest," said the young man.
"Then, father," said Raoul, forcing himself to convey a respect by speech that did not come from his heart, "if you are a priest you have an opportunity, as my friend has told you, of exercising your vocation. At the next inn you will find a wounded man, now being attended by our servants, who has asked the assistance of a minister of God.""I will go," said the monk. And he touched his mule.
"If you do not go, sir," said De Guiche, "remember that we have two steeds able to catch your mule and the power of having you seized wherever you may be; and then I swear your trial will be summary; one can always find a tree and a cord."The monk's eye again flashed, but that was all; he merely repeated his phrase, "I will go," -- and he went. "Let us follow him," said De Guiche; "it will be the surest plan." "I was about to propose so doing," answered De Bragelonne. In the space of five minutes the monk turned around to ascertain whether he was followed or not. "You see," said Raoul, "we have done wisely." "What a horrible face that monk has," said De Guiche. "Horrible!" replied Raoul, "especially in expression."
"Yes, yes," said De Guiche, "a strange face; but these monks are subject to such degrading practices; their fasts make them pale, the blows of the discipline make them hypocrites, and their eyes become inflamed through weeping for the good things of this life we common folk enjoy, but they have lost."
"Well," said Raoul, "the poor man will get his priest, but, by Heaven, the penitent appears to me to have a better conscience than the confessor. I confess I am accustomed to priests of a very different appearance."
"Ah!" exclaimed De Guiche, "you must understand that this is one of those wandering brothers, who go begging on the high road until some day a benefice falls down from Heaven on them; they are mostly foreigners -- Scotch, Irish or Danish. I have seen them before."
"Pshaw!" said De Guiche. "Absolution comes not from him who administers it, but from God. However, for my part, I would rather die unshriven than have anything to say to such a confessor. You are of my opinion, are you not, viscount? and I see you playing with the pommel of your sword, as if you had a great inclination to break the holy father's head."
"Yes, count, it is a strange thing and one which might astonish you, but I feel an indescribable horror at the sight of yonder man. Have you ever seen a snake rise up on your path?""Never," answered De Guiche.
"Well, it has happened to me to do so in our Blaisois forests, and I remember that the first time I encountered one with its eyes fixed upon me, curled up, swinging its head and pointing its tongue, I remained fixed, pale and as though fascinated, until the moment when the Comte de la Fere ---- ""Your father?" asked De Guiche. "No, my guardian," replied Raoul, blushing. "Very well ---- "
"Until the moment when the Comte de la Fere," resumed Raoul, "said, `Come, Bragelonne, draw your sword;' then only I rushed upon the reptile and cut it in two, just at the moment when it was rising on its tail and hissing, ere it sprang upon me. Well, I vow I felt exactly the same sensation at sight of that man when he said, `Why do you ask me that?' and looked so strangely at me.""Then you regret that you did not cut your serpent in two morsels?" "Faith, yes, almost," said Raoul.
They had now arrived within sight of the little inn and could see on the opposite side the procession bearing the wounded man and guided by Monsieur d'Arminges. The youths spurred on.
"There is the wounded man," said De Guiche, passing close to the Augustine brother. "Be good enough to hurry yourself a little, monsieur monk."
As for Raoul, he avoided the monk by the whole width of the road and passed him, turning his head away in repulsion.
The young men rode up to the wounded man to announce that they were followed by the priest. He raised himself to glance in the direction which they pointed out, saw the monk, and fell back upon the litter, his face illumined by joy.
"And now," said the youths, "we have done all we can for you; and as we are in haste to rejoin the prince's army we must continue our journey. You will excuse us, sir, but we are told that a battle is expected and we do not wish to arrive the day after it."
"Go, my young sirs," said the sick man, "and may you both be blessed for your piety. You have done for me, as you promised, all that you could do. As for me I can only repeat, may God protect you and all dear to you!""Sir," said De Guiche to his tutor, "we will precede you, and you can rejoin us on the road to Cambrin." The host was at his door and everything was prepared -- bed, bandages, and lint; and a groom had gone to Lens, the nearest village, for a doctor. "Everything," said he to Raoul, "shall be done as you desire; but you will not stop to have your wound dressed?"
"Oh, my wound -- mine -- 'tis nothing," replied the viscount; "it will be time to think about it when we next halt; only have the goodness, should you see a cavalier who makes inquiries about a young man on a chestnut horse followed by a servant, to tell him, in fact, that you have seen me, but that I have continued my journey and intend to dine at Mazingarbe and to stop at Cambrin. This cavalier is my attendant.""Would it not be safer and more certain if I should ask him his name and tell him yours?" demanded the host. "There is no harm in over-precaution. I am the Viscount de Bragelonne and he is called Grimaud."
At this moment the wounded man arrived from one direction and the monk from the other, the latter dismounting from his mule and desiring that it should be taken to the stables without being unharnessed."Sir monk," said De Guiche, "confess well that brave man; and be not concerned for your expenses or for those of your mule; all is paid."
"Thanks, monsieur," said the monk, with one of those smiles that made Bragelonne shudder.
"Come, count," said Raoul, who seemed instinctively to dislike the vicinity of the Augustine; "come, I feel ill here," and the two young men spurred on.
The litter, borne by two servants, now entered the house. The host and his wife were standing on the steps, whilst the unhappy man seemed to suffer dreadful pain and yet to be concerned only to know if he was followed by the monk. At sight of this pale, bleeding man, the wife grasped her husband's arm."Well, what's the matter?" asked the latter, "are you going to be ill just now?" "No, but look," replied the hostess, pointing to the wounded man; "I ask you if you recognize him?" "That man -- wait a bit." "Ah! I see you know him," exclaimed the wife; "for you have become pale in your turn." "Truly," cried the host, "misfortune is coming on our house; it is the former executioner of Bethune." "The former executioner of Bethune!" murmured the young monk, shrinking back and showing on his countenance the feeling of repugnance which his penitent inspired. Monsieur d'Arminges, who was at the door, perceived his hesitation.
"Sir monk," said he, "whether he is now or has been an executioner, this unfortunate being is none the less a man. Render to him, then, the last service he can by any possibility ask of you, and your work will be all the more meritorious."
The monk made no reply, but silently wended his way to the room where the two valets had deposited the dying man on a bed. D'Arminges and Olivain and the two grooms then mounted their horses, and all four started off at a quick trot to rejoin Raoul and his companion. Just as the tutor and his escort disappeared in their turn, a new traveler stopped on the threshold of the inn."What does your worship want?" demanded the host, pale and trembling from the discovery he had just made. The traveler made a sign as if he wished to drink, and then pointed to his horse and gesticulated like a man who is brushing something. "Ah, diable!" said the host to himself; "this man seems dumb. And where will your worship drink?" "There," answered the traveler, pointing to the table. "I was mistaken," said the host, "he's not quite dumb. And what else does your worship wish for?" "To know if you have seen a young man pass, fifteen years of age, mounted on a chestnut horse and followed by a groom?" "The Viscount de Bragelonne? "Just so." "Then you are called Monsieur Grimaud?" The traveler made a sign of assent. "Well, then," said the host, "your young master was here a quarter of an hour ago; he will dine at Mazingarbe and sleep at Cambrin." "How far is Mazingarbe?" "Two miles and a half." "Thank you."
Grimaud was drinking his wine silently and had just placed his glass on the table to be filled a second time, when a terrific scream resounded from the room occupied by the monk and the dying man. Grimaud sprang up."What is that?" said he; "whence comes that cry?" "From the wounded man's room," replied the host. "What wounded man?" "The former executioner of Bethune, who has just been brought in here, assassinated by Spaniards, and who is now being confessed by an Augustine friar." "The old executioner of Bethune," muttered Grimaud; "a man between fifty-five and sixty, tall, strong, swarthy, black hair and beard?"
"That is he, except that his beard has turned gray and his hair is white; do you know him?" asked the host.
"I have seen him once," replied Grimaud, a cloud darkening his countenance at the picture so suddenly summoned to the bar of recollection.
The same silence, and then, ere the host could oppose his design, Grimaud seized a pair of pincers he perceived in a corner and forced the bolt. The room was inundated with blood, dripping from the mattresses upon which lay the wounded man, speechless; the monk had disappeared."The monk!" cried the host; "where is the monk?" Grimaud sprang toward an open window which looked into the courtyard. "He has escaped by this means," exclaimed he. "Do you think so?" said the host, bewildered; "boy, see if the mule belonging to the monk is still in the stable." "There is no mule," cried he to whom this question was addressed.
The host clasped his hands and looked around him suspiciously, whilst Grimaud knit his brows and approached the wounded man, whose worn, hard features awoke in his mind such awful recollections of the past.
"There can be no longer any doubt but that it is himself," said he.
Making no reply, Grimaud opened the poor man's jacket to feel if the heart beat, whilst the host approached in his turn; but in a moment they both fell back, the host uttering a cry of horror and Grimaud becoming pallid. The blade of a dagger was buried up to the hilt in the left side of the executioner."Run! run for help!" cried Grimaud, "and I will remain beside him here." The host quitted the room in agitation, and as for his wife, she had fled at the sound of her husband's cries.
This is what had taken place: We have seen that it was not of his own free will, but, on the contrary, very reluctantly, that the monk attended the wounded man who had been recommended to him in so strange a manner. Perhaps he would have sought to escape by flight had he seen any possibility of doing so. He was restrained by the threats of the two gentlemen and by the presence of their attendants, who doubtless had received their instructions. And besides, he considered it most expedient, without exhibiting too much ill-will, to follow to the end his role as confessor.
The monk entered the chamber and approached the bed of the wounded man. The executioner searched his face with the quick glance peculiar to those who are about to die and have no time to lose. He made a movement of surprise and said:"Father, you are very young." "Men who bear my robe have no, age," replied the monk, dryly. "Alas, speak to me more gently, father; in my last moments I need a friend." "Do you suffer much?" asked the monk. "Yes, but in my soul much more than in my body." "We will save your soul," said the young man; "but are you really the executioner of Bethune, as these people say?"
"That is to say," eagerly replied the wounded man, who doubtless feared that the name of executioner would take from him the last help that he could claim -- "that is to say, I was, but am no longer; it is fifteen years since I gave up the office. I still assist at executions, but no longer strike the blow myself -- no, indeed.""You have, then, a repugnance to your profession?"
"So long as I struck in the name of the law and of justice my profession allowed me to sleep quietly, sheltered as I was by justice and law; but since that terrible night when I became an instrument of private vengeance and when with personal hatred I raised the sword over one of God's creatures -- since that day ---- "The executioner paused and shook his head with an expression of despair.
"Tell me about it," said the monk, who, sitting on the foot of the bed, began to be interested in a story so strangely introduced.
"Ah!" cried the dying man, with all the effusiveness of a grief declared after long suppression, "ah! I have sought to stifle remorse by twenty years of good deeds; I have assuaged the natural ferocity of those who shed blood; on every occasion I have exposed my life to save those who were in danger, and I have preserved lives in exchange for that I took away. That is not all; the money gained in the exercise of my profession I have distributed to the poor; I have been assiduous in attending church and those who formerly fled from me have become accustomed to seeing me. All have forgiven me, some have even loved me; but I think that God has not pardoned me, for the memory of that execution pursues me constantly and every night I see that woman's ghost rising before me."
"You also!" exclaimed the executioner, "you use that word which sounds ever in my ears
-- `assassinated!' I have assassinated, then, and not executed! I am an assassin, then, and not an officer of justice!" and he closed his eyes with a groan.
"Oh, father," continued the executioner, without opening his eyes, as if he feared on opening them to see some frightful object, "it is especially when night comes on and when I have to cross a river, that this terror which I have been unable to conquer comes upon me; it then seems as if my hand grew heavy, as if the cutlass was still in its grasp, as if the water had the color of blood, and all the voices of nature -- the whispering of the trees, the murmur of the wind, the lapping of the wave -- united in a voice tearful, despairing, terrible, crying to me, `Place for the justice of God!'""Delirium!" murmured the monk, shaking his head. The executioner opened his eyes, turned toward the young man and grasped his arm.
"`Delirium,'" he repeated; "`delirium,' do you say? Oh, no! I remember too well. It was evening; I had thrown the body into the river and those words which my remorse repeats to me are those which I in my pride pronounced. After being the instrument of human justice I aspired to be that of the justice of God.""But let me see, how was it done? Speak," said the monk.
"It was at night. A man came to me and showed me an order and I followed him. Four other noblemen awaited me. They led me away masked. I reserved the right of refusing if the office they required of me should seem unjust. We traveled five or six leagues, serious, silent, and almost without speaking. At length, through the window of a little hut, they showed me a woman sitting, leaning on a table, and said, `there is the person to be executed.'""Horrible!" said the monk. "And you obeyed?"
"Father, that woman was a monster. It was said that she had poisoned her second husband; she had tried to assassinate her brother-in-law; she had just poisoned a young woman who was her rival, and before leaving England she had, it was believed, caused the favorite of the king to be murdered.""Buckingham?" cried the monk. "Yes, Buckingham." "The woman was English, then?" "No, she was French, but she had married in England." The monk turned pale, wiped his brow and went and bolted the door. The executioner thought that he had abandoned him and fell back, groaning, upon his bed. "No, no; I am here," said the monk, quickly coming back to him. "Go on; who were those men?" "One of them was a foreigner, English, I think. The four others were French and wore the uniform of musketeers." "Their names?" asked the monk. "I don't know them, but the four other noblemen called the Englishman `my lord.'" "Was the woman handsome?"
"Young and beautiful. Oh, yes, especially beautiful. I see her now, as on her knees at my feet, with her head thrown back, she begged for life. I have never understood how I could have laid low a head so beautiful, with a face so pale."
The monk seemed agitated by a strange emotion; he trembled all over; he seemed eager to put a question which yet he dared not ask. At length, with a violent effort at selfcontrol:"The name of that woman?" he said. "I don't know what it was. As I have said, she was twice married, once in France, the second time in England." "She was young, you say?" "Twenty-five years old." "Beautiful?" "Ravishingly." "Blond?" "Yes." "Abundance of hair -- falling over her shoulders?" "Yes." "Eyes of an admirable expression?" "When she chose. Oh, yes, it is she!" "A voice of strange sweetness?" "How do you know it?" The executioner raised himself on his elbow and gazed with a frightened air at the monk, who became livid.
"And you killed her?" the monk exclaimed. "You were the tool of those cowards who dared not kill her themselves? You had no pity for that youthfulness, that beauty, that weakness? you killed that woman?""Alas! I have already told you, father, that woman, under that angelic appearance, had an infernal soul, and when I saw her, when I recalled all the evil she had done to me ---- " "To you? What could she have done to you? Come, tell me!" "She had seduced and ruined my brother, a priest. She had fled with him from her convent." "With your brother?" "Yes, my brother was her first lover, and she caused his death. Oh, father, do not look in that way at me! Oh, I am guilty, then; you will not pardon me?" The monk recovered his usual expression. "Yes, yes," he said, "I will pardon you if you tell me all." "Oh!" cried the executioner, "all! all! all!" "Answer, then. If she seduced your brother -- you said she seduced him, did you not?" "Yes." "If she caused his death -- you said that she caused his death?" "Yes," repeated the executioner. "Then you must know what her name was as a young girl." "Oh, mon Dieu!" cried the executioner, "I think I am dying. Absolution, father! absolution." "Tell me her name and I will give it." "Her name was ---- My God, have pity on me!" murmured the executioner; and he fell back on the bed, pale, trembling, and apparently about to die. "Her name!" repeated the monk, bending over him as if to tear from him the name if he would not utter it; "her name! Speak, or no absolution!" The dying man collected all his forces. The monk's eyes glittered. "Anne de Bueil," murmured the wounded man. "Anne de Bueil!" cried the monk, standing up and lifting his hands to Heaven. "Anne de Bueil! You said Anne de Bueil, did you not?" "Yes, yes, that was her name; and now absolve me, for I am dying." "I, absolve you!" cried the priest, with a laugh which made the dying man's hair stand on end; "I, absolve you? I am not a priest." "You are not a priest!" cried the executioner. "What, then, are you?" "I am about to tell you, wretched man." "Oh, mon Dieu!" "I am John Francis de Winter." "I do not know you," said the executioner. "Wait, wait; you are going to know me. I am John Francis de Winter," he repeated, "and that woman ---- " "Well, that woman?" "Was my mother!" The executioner uttered the first cry, that terrible cry which had been first heard. "Oh, pardon me, pardon me!" he murmured; "if not in the name of God, at least in your own name; if not as priest, then as son." "Pardon you!" cried the pretended monk, "pardon you! Perhaps God will pardon you, but I, never!" "For pity's sake," said the executioner, extending his arms.
"No pity for him who had no pity! Die, impenitent, die in despair, die and be damned!" And drawing a poniard from beneath his robe he thrust it into the breast of the wounded man, saying, "Here is my absolution!"Then was heard that second cry, not so loud as the first and followed by a long groan.
The executioner, who had lifted himself up, fell back upon his bed. As to the monk, without withdrawing the poniard from the wound, he ran to the window, opened it, leaped out into the flowers of a small garden, glided onward to the stable, took out his mule, went out by a back gate, ran to a neighbouring thicket, threw off his monkish garb, took from his valise the complete habiliment of a cavalier, clothed himself in it, went on foot to the first post, secured there a horse and continued with a loose rein his journey to Paris.
Grimaud SpeaksGrimaud was left alone with the executioner, who in a few moments opened his eyes. "Help, help," he murmured; "oh, God! have I not a single friend in the world who will aid me either to live or to die?" "Take courage," said Grimaud; "they are gone to find assistance." "Who are you?" asked the wounded man, fixing his half opened eyes on Grimaud. "An old acquaintance," replied Grimaud. "You?" and the wounded man sought to recall the features of the person now before him. "Under what circumstances did we meet?" he asked again. "One night, twenty years ago, my master fetched you from Bethune and conducted you to Armentieres." "I know you well now," said the executioner; "you were one of the four grooms." "Just so." "Where do you come from now?"
"I was passing by and drew up at this inn to rest my horse. They told me the executioner of Bethune was here and wounded, when you uttered two piercing cries. At the first we ran to the door and at the second forced it open.""And the monk?" exclaimed the executioner, "did you see the monk?" "What monk?" "The monk that was shut in with me." "No, he was no longer here; he appears to have fled by the window. Was he the man that stabbed you?" "Yes," said the executioner. Grimaud moved as if to leave the room. "What are you going to do?" asked the wounded man. "He must be apprehended." "Do not attempt it; he has revenged himself and has done well. Now I may hope that God will forgive me, since my crime is expiated." "Explain yourself." said Grimaud. "The woman whom you and your masters commanded me to kill ---- " "Milady?" "Yes, Milady; it is true you called her thus." "What has the monk to do with this Milady?" "She was his mother." Grimaud trembled and stared at the dying man in a dull and leaden manner. "His mother!" he repeated. "Yes, his mother." "But does he know this secret, then?" "I mistook him for a monk and revealed it to him in confession."
"Unhappy man!" cried Grimaud, whose face was covered with sweat at the bare idea of the evil results such a revelation might cause; "unhappy man, you named no one, I hope?""I pronounced no name, for I knew none, except his mother's, as a young girl, and it was by this name that he recognized her, but he knows that his uncle was among her judges." Thus speaking, he fell back exhausted. Grimaud, wishing to relieve him, advanced his hand toward the hilt of the dagger. "Touch me not!" said the executioner; "if this dagger is withdrawn I shall die." Grimaud remained with his hand extended; then, striking his forehead, he exclaimed: "Oh! if this man should ever discover the names of the others, my master is lost." "Haste! haste to him and warn him," cried the wounded man, "if he still lives; warn his friends, too. My death, believe me, will not be the end of this atrocious misadventure." "Where was the monk going?" asked Grimaud. "Toward Paris." "Who stopped him?" "Two young gentlemen, who were on their way to join the army and the name of one of whom I heard his companion mention -- the Viscount de Bragelonne."
"And it was this young man who brought the monk to you? Then it was the will of God that it should be so and this it is which makes it all so awful," continued Grimaud. "And yet that woman deserved her fate; do you not think so?""On one's death-bed the crimes of others appear very small in comparison with one's own," said the executioner; and falling back exhausted he closed his eyes.
Grimaud was reluctant to leave the man alone and yet he perceived the necessity of starting at once to bear these tidings to the Comte de la Fere. Whilst he thus hesitated the host re-entered the room, followed not only by a surgeon, but by many other persons, whom curiosity had attracted to the spot. The surgeon approached the dying man, who seemed to have fainted."We must first extract the steel from the side," said he, shaking his head in a significant manner.
The prophecy which the wounded man had just uttered recurred to Grimaud, who turned away his head. The weapon, as we have already stated, was plunged into the body to the hilt, and as the surgeon, taking it by the end, drew it forth, the wounded man opened his eyes and fixed them on him in a manner truly frightful. When at last the blade had been entirely withdrawn, a red froth issued from the mouth of the wounded man and a stream of blood spouted afresh from the wound when he at length drew breath; then, fixing his eyes upon Grimaud with a singular expression, the dying man uttered the last death-rattle and expired.
Then Grimaud, lifting the dagger from the pool of blood which was gliding along the room, to the horror of all present, made a sign to the host to follow him, paid him with a generosity worthy of his master and again mounted his horse. Grimaud's first intention had been to return to Paris, but he remembered the anxiety which his prolonged absence might occasion Raoul, and reflecting that there were now only two miles between the vicomte and himself and a quarter of an hour's riding would unite them, and that the going, returning and explanation would not occupy an hour, he put spurs to his horse and a few minutes after had reached the only inn of Mazingarbe.
Raoul was seated at table with the Count de Guiche and his tutor, when all at once the door opened and Grimaud presented himself, travel-stained, dirty, and sprinkled with the blood of the unhappy executioner.
"Grimaud, my good Grimaud!" exclaimed Raoul "here you are at last! Excuse me, sirs, this is not a servant, but a friend. How did you leave the count?" continued he. "Does he regret me a little? Have you seen him since I left him? Answer, for I have many things to tell you, too; indeed, the last three days some odd adventures have happened -- but what is the matter? how pale you are! and blood, too! What is this?""It is the blood of the unfortunate man whom you left at the inn and who died in my arms." "In your arms? -- that man! but know you who he was?" "He used to be the headsman of Bethune." "You knew him? and he is dead?" "Yes."
"Well, sir," said D'Arminges, "it is the common lot; even an executioner is not exempted. I had a bad opinion of him the moment I saw his wound, and since he asked for a monk you know that it was his opinion, too, that death would follow."At the mention of the monk, Grimaud became pale. "Come, come," continued D'Arminges, "to dinner;" for like most men of his age and generation he did not allow sentiment or sensibility to interfere with a repast. "You are right, sir," said Raoul. "Come, Grimaud, order dinner for yourself and when you have rested a little we can talk." "No, sir, no," said Grimaud. "I cannot stop a moment; I must start for Paris again immediately." "What? You start for Paris? You are mistaken; it is Olivain who leaves me; you are to remain." "On the contrary, Olivain is to stay and I am to go. I have come for nothing else but to tell you so." "But what is the meaning of this change?" "I cannot tell you." "Explain yourself." "I cannot explain myself." "Come, tell me, what is the joke?" "Monsieur le vicomte knows that I never joke."
"Yes, but I know also that Monsieur le Comte de la Fere arranged that you were to remain with me and that Olivain should return to Paris. I shall follow the count's directions.""Not under present circumstances, monsieur." "Perhaps you mean to disobey me?" "Yes, monsieur, I must." "You persist, then?" "Yes, I am going; may you be happy, monsieur," and Grimaud saluted and turned toward the door to go out. Raoul, angry and at the same time uneasy, ran after him and seized him by the arm. "Grimaud!" he cried; "remain; I wish it." "Then," replied Grimaud, "you wish me to allow monsieur le comte to be killed." He saluted and made a movement to depart. "Grimaud, my friend," said the viscount, "will you leave me thus, in such anxiety? Speak, speak, in Heaven's name!" And Raoul fell back trembling upon his chair. "I can tell you but one thing, sir, for the secret you wish to know is not my own. You met a monk, did you not?" "Yes." The young men looked at each other with an expression of fear. "You conducted him to the wounded man and you had time to observe him, and perhaps you would know him again were you to meet him."
"Yes, yes!" cried both young men. "Very well; if ever you meet him again, wherever it may be, whether on the high road or in the street or in a church, anywhere that he or you may be, put your foot on his neck and crush him without pity, without mercy, as you would crush a viper or a scorpion! destroy him utterly and quit him not until he is dead; the lives of five men are not safe, in my opinion, as long as he is on the earth."
And without adding another word, Grimaud, profiting by the astonishment and terror into which he had thrown his auditors, rushed from the room. Two minutes later the thunder of a horse's hoofs was heard upon the road; it was Grimaud, on his way to Paris. When once in the saddle Grimaud reflected on two things; first, that at the pace he was going his horse would not carry him ten miles, and secondly, that he had no money. But Grimaud's ingenuity was more prolific than his speech, and therefore at the first halt he sold his steed and with the money obtained from the purchase took post horses.