Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas, Pere - HTML preview
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Oliver Cromwell"Have you been to the general?" said Mordaunt to D'Artagnan and Porthos; "you know he sent for you after the action." "We want first to put our prisoners in a place of safety," replied D'Artagnan. "Do you know, sir, these gentlemen are each of them worth fifteen hundred pounds?"
"Oh, be assured," said Mordaunt, looking at them with an expression he vainly endeavoured to soften, "my soldiers will guard them, and guard them well, I promise you."
"I shall take better care of them myself," answered D'Artagnan; "besides, all they require is a good room, with sentinels, or their simple parole that they will not attempt escape. I will go and see about that, and then we shall have the honor of presenting ourselves to the general and receiving his commands for his eminence.""You think of starting at once, then?" inquired Mordaunt. "Our mission is ended, and there is nothing more to detain us now but the good pleasure of the great man to whom we were sent." The young man bit his lips and whispered to his sergeant: "You will follow these men and not lose sight of them; when you have discovered where they lodge, come and await me at the town gate." The sergeant made a sign of comprehension.
Instead of following the knot of prisoners that were being taken into the town, Mordaunt turned his steps toward the rising ground from whence Cromwell had witnessed the battle and on which he had just had his tent pitched.
Cromwell had given orders that no one was to be allowed admission; but the sentinel, who knew that Mordaunt was one of the most confidential friends of the general, thought the order did not extend to the young man. Mordaunt, therefore, raised the canvas, and saw Cromwell seated before a table, his head buried in his hands, his back being turned.
Whether he heard Mordaunt or not as he entered, Cromwell did not move. Mordaunt remained standing near the door. At last, after a few moments, Cromwell raised his head, and, as if he divined that some one was there, turned slowly around.
"I said I wished to be alone," he exclaimed, on seeing the young man. "They thought this order did not concern me, sir; nevertheless, if you wish it, I am ready to go.""Ah! is it you, Mordaunt?" said Cromwell, the cloud passing away from his face; "since you are here, it is well; you may remain." "I come to congratulate you." "To congratulate me -- what for?" "On the capture of Charles Stuart. You are now master of England." "I was much more really so two hours ago." "How so, general?" "Because England had need of me to take the tyrant, and now the tyrant is taken. Have you seen him?" "Yes, sir." said Mordaunt. "What is his bearing?" Mordaunt hesitated; but it seemed as though he was constrained to tell the truth. "Calm and dignified," said he. "What did he say?" "Some parting words to his friends." "His friends!" murmured Cromwell. "Has he any friends?" Then he added aloud, "Did he make any resistance?" "No, sir, with the exception of two or three friends every one deserted him; he had no means of resistance." "To whom did he give up his sword?" "He did not give it up; he broke it." "He did well; but instead of breaking it, he might have used it to still more advantage."
There was a momentary pause. "I heard that the colonel of the regiment that escorted Charles was killed," said Cromwell, staring very fixedly at Mordaunt."Yes, sir." "By whom?" inquired Cromwell. "By me." "What was his name?" "Lord Winter." "Your uncle?" exclaimed Cromwell. "My uncle," answered Mordaunt; "but traitors to England are no longer members of my family." Cromwell observed the young man a moment in silence, then, with that profound melancholy Shakespeare describes so well: "Mordaunt," he said, "you are a terrible servant." "When the Lord commands," said Mordaunt, "His commands are not to be disputed. Abraham raised the knife against Isaac, and Isaac was his son." "Yes," said Cromwell, "but the Lord did not suffer that sacrifice to be accomplished." "I have looked around me," said Mordaunt, "and I have seen neither goat nor kid caught among the bushes of the plain." Cromwell bowed. "You are strong among the strong, Mordaunt," he said; "and the Frenchmen, how did they behave?" "Most fearlessly." "Yes, yes," murmured Cromwell; "the French fight well; and if my glass was good and I mistake not, they were foremost in the fight." "They were," replied Mordaunt. "After you, however," said Cromwell. "It was the fault of their horses, not theirs." Another pause "And the Scotch?" "They kept their word and never stirred," said Mordaunt. "Wretched men!" "Their officers wish to see you, sir." "I have no time to see them. Are they paid?" "Yes, to-night."
"Let them be off and return to their own country, there to hide their shame, if its hills are high enough; I have nothing more to do with them nor they with me. And now go, Mordaunt.""Before I go," said Mordaunt, "I have some questions and a favor to ask you, sir." "A favor from me?" Mordaunt bowed. "I come to you, my leader, my head, my father, and I ask you, master, are you contented with me?" Cromwell looked at him with astonishment. The young man remained immovable. "Yes," said Cromwell; "you have done, since I knew you, not only your duty, but more than your duty; you have been a faithful friend, a cautious negotiator, a brave soldier." "Do you remember, sir it was my idea, the Scotch treaty, for giving up the king?" "Yes, the idea was yours. I had no such contempt for men before." "Was I not a good ambassador in France?" "Yes, for Mazarin has granted what I desire." "Have I not always fought for your glory and interests?" "Too ardently, perhaps; it is what I have just reproached you for. But what is the meaning of all these questions?"
"To tell you, my lord, that the moment has now arrived when, with a single word, you may recompense all these services."
"Oh!" said Oliver, with a slight curl of his lip, "I forgot that every service merits some reward and that up to this moment you have not been paid."
"Very well, Mordaunt," exclaimed Cromwell, pleased at having his opinion of the young man raised once more; "I will give them to you; I will not even ask who they are; do as you like with them."
"Thank you, sir!" exclaimed Mordaunt, "thank you; my life is always at your service, and should I lose it I should still owe you something; thank you; you have indeed repaid me munificently for my services."
"He has slain his uncle!" he murmured. "Alas! what are my servants? Possibly this one, who asks nothing or seems to ask nothing, has asked more in the eyes of Heaven than those who tax the country and steal the bread of the poor. Nobody serves me for nothing. Charles, who is my prisoner, may still have friends, but I have none!"And with a deep sigh he again sank into the reverie that had been interrupted by Mordaunt.
Whilst Mordaunt was making his way to Cromwell's tent, D'Artagnan and Porthos had brought their prisoners to the house which had been assigned to them as their dwelling at Newcastle.
The order given by Mordaunt to the sergeant had been heard by D'Artagnan, who accordingly, by an expressive glance, warned Athos and Aramis to exercise extreme caution. The prisoners, therefore, had remained silent as they marched along in company with their conquerors -- which they could do with the less difficulty since each of them had occupation enough in answering his own thoughts.
It would be impossible to describe Mousqueton's astonishment when from the threshold of the door he saw the four friends approaching, followed by a sergeant with a dozen men. He rubbed his eyes, doubting if he really saw before him Athos and Aramis; and forced at last to yield to evidence, he was on the point of breaking forth in exclamations when he encountered a glance from the eyes of Porthos, the repressive force of which he was not inclined to dispute.
Mousqueton remained glued to the door, awaiting the explanation of this strange occurrence. What upset him completely was that the four friends seemed to have no acquaintance with one another.
The house to which D'Artagnan and Porthos conducted Athos and Aramis was the one assigned to them by General Cromwell and of which they had taken possession on the previous evening. It was at the corner of two streets and had in the rear, bordering on the side street, stables and a sort of garden. The windows on the ground floor, according to a custom in provincial villages, were barred, so that they strongly resembled the windows of a prison.The two friends made the prisoners enter the house first, whilst they stood at the door, desiring Mousqueton to take the four horses to the stable. "Why don't we go in with them?" asked Porthos. "We must first see what the sergeant wishes us to do," replied D'Artagnan. The sergeant and his men took possession of the little garden. D'Artagnan asked them what they wished and why they had taken that position.
"We have had orders," answered the man, "to help you in taking care of your prisoners." There could be no fault to find with this arrangement; on the contrary, it seemed to be a delicate attention, to be gratefully received; D'Artagnan, therefore, thanked the man and gave him a crown piece to drink to General Cromwell's health.The sergeant answered that Puritans never drank, and put the crown piece in his pocket. "Ah!" said Porthos, "what a fearful day, my dear D'Artagnan!" "What! a fearful day, when to-day we find our friends?" "Yes; but under what circumstances?" "'Tis true that our position is an awkward one; but let us go in and see more clearly what is to be done." "Things look black enough," replied Porthos; "I understand now why Aramis advised me to strangle that horrible Mordaunt." "Silence!" cried the Gascon; "do not utter that name." "But," argued Porthos, "I speak French and they are all English." D'Artagnan looked at Porthos with that air of wonder which a cunning man cannot help feeling at displays of crass stupidity. But as Porthos on his side could not comprehend his astonishment, he merely pushed him indoors, saying, "Let us go in." They found Athos in profound despondency; Aramis looked first at Porthos and then at D'Artagnan, without speaking, but the latter understood his meaningful look. "You want to know how we came here? 'Tis easily guessed. Mazarin sent us with a letter to General Cromwell." "But how came you to fall into company with Mordaunt, whom I bade you distrust?" asked Athos. "And whom I advised you to strangle, Porthos," said Aramis. "Mazarin again. Cromwell had sent him to Mazarin. Mazarin sent us to Cromwell. There is a certain fatality in it." "Yes, you are right, D'Artagnan, a fatality that will separate and ruin us! So, my dear
Aramis, say no more about it and let us prepare to submit to destiny."
"Zounds! on the contrary, let us speak about it; for it was agreed among us, once for all, that we should always hold together, though engaged on opposing sides."
"Yes," added Athos, "I now ask you, D'Artagnan, what side you are on? Ah! behold for what end the wretched Mazarin has made use of you. Do you know in what crime you are to-day engaged? In the capture of a king, his degradation and his murder.""Oh! oh!" cried Porthos, "do you think so?" "You are exaggerating, Athos; we are not so far gone as that," replied the lieutenant.
"Good heavens! we are on the very eve of it. I say, why is the king taken prisoner? Those who wish to respect him as a master would not buy him as a slave. Do you think it is to replace him on the throne that Cromwell has paid for him two hundred thousand pounds sterling? They will kill him, you may be sure of it."
"I don't maintain the contrary," said D'Artagnan. "But what's that to us? I am here because I am a soldier and have to obey orders -- I have taken an oath to obey, and I do obey; but you who have taken no such oath, why are you here and what cause do you represent?"
"That most sacred in the world," said Athos; "the cause of misfortune, of religion, royalty. A friend, a wife, a daughter, have done us the honor to call us to their aid. We have served them to the best of our poor means, and God will recompense the will, forgive the want of power. You may see matters differently, D'Artagnan, and think otherwise. I will not attempt to argue with you, but I blame you."
"Heyday!" cried D'Artagnan, "what matters it to me, after all, if Cromwell, who's an Englishman, revolts against his king, who is a Scotchman? I am myself a Frenchman. I have nothing to do with these things -- why hold me responsible?""Yes," said Porthos.
"Because all gentlemen are brothers, because you are a gentleman, because the kings of all countries are the first among gentlemen, because the blind populace, ungrateful and brutal, always takes pleasure in pulling down what is above them. And you, you, D'Artagnan, a man sprung from the ancient nobility of France, bearing an honorable name, carrying a good sword, have helped to give up a king to beersellers, shopkeepers, and wagoners. Ah! D'Artagnan! perhaps you have done your duty as a soldier, but as a gentleman, I say that you are very culpable."D'Artagnan was chewing the stalk of a flower, unable to reply and thoroughly uncomfortable; for when turned from the eyes of Athos he encountered those of Aramis.
"And you, Porthos," continued the count, as if in consideration for D'Artagnan's embarrassment, "you, the best heart, the best friend, the best soldier that I know -- you, with a soul that makes you worthy of a birth on the steps of a throne, and who, sooner or later, must receive your reward from an intelligent king -- you, my dear Porthos, you, a gentleman in manners, in tastes and in courage, you are as culpable as D'Artagnan."Porthos blushed, but with pleasure rather than with confusion; and yet, bowing his head, as if humiliated, he said: "Yes, yes, my dear count, I feel that you are right." Athos arose.
"Come," he said, stretching out his hand to D'Artagnan, "come, don't be sullen, my dear son, for I have said all this to you, if not in the tone, at least with the feelings of a father. It would have been easier to me merely to have thanked you for preserving my life and not to have uttered a word of all this."
"Doubtless, doubtless, Athos. But here it is: you have sentiments, the devil knows what, such as every one can't entertain. Who could suppose that a sensible man could leave his house, France, his ward -- a charming youth, for we saw him in the camp -- to fly to the aid of a rotten, worm-eaten royalty, which is going to crumble one of these days like an old hovel. The sentiments you air are certainly fine, so fine that they are superhuman."
"However that may be, D'Artagnan," replied Athos, without falling into the snare which his Gascon friend had prepared for him by an appeal to his parental love, "however that may be, you know in the bottom of your heart that it is true; but I am wrong to dispute with my master. D'Artagnan, I am your prisoner -- treat me as such.""Ah! pardieu!" said D'Artagnan, "you know you will not be my prisoner very long." "No," said Aramis, "they will doubtless treat us like the prisoners of the Philipghauts." "And how were they treated?" asked D'Artagnan. "Why," said Aramis, "one-half were hanged and the other half were shot."
"Well, I," said D'Artagnan "I answer that while there remains a drop of blood in my veins you will be neither hanged nor shot. Sang Diou! let them come on! Besides -- do you see that door, Athos?""Yes; what then?" "Well, you can go out by that door whenever you please; for from this moment you are free as the air." "I recognize you there, my brave D'Artagnan," replied Athos; "but you are no longer our masters. That door is guarded, D'Artagnan; you know that." "Very well, you will force it," said Porthos. "There are only a dozen men at the most."
"That would be nothing for us four; it is too much for us two. No, divided as we now are, we must perish. See the fatal example: on the Vendomois road, D'Artagnan, you so brave, and you, Porthos, so valiant and so strong -- you were beaten; to-day Aramis and I are beaten in our turn. Now that never happened to us when we were four together. Let us die, then, as De Winter has died; as for me, I will fly only on condition that we all fly together.""Impossible," said D'Artagnan; "we are under Mazarin's orders." "I know it and I have nothing more to say; my arguments lead to nothing; doubtless they are bad, since they have not determined minds so just as yours."
"Besides," said Aramis, "had they taken effect it would be still better not to compromise two excellent friends like D'Artagnan and Porthos. Be assured, gentlemen, we shall do you honor in our dying. As for myself, I shall be proud to face the bullets, or even the rope, in company with you, Athos; for you have never seemed to me so grand as you are to-day."D'Artagnan said nothing, but, after having gnawed the flower stalk, he began to bite his nails. At last: "Do you imagine," he resumed, "that they mean to kill you? And wherefore should they do so? What interest have they in your death? Moreover, you are our prisoners." "Fool!" cried Aramis; "knowest thou not, then, Mordaunt? I have but exchanged with him one look, yet that look convinced me that we were doomed." "The truth is, I'm very sorry that I did not strangle him as you advised me," said Porthos.
"Eh! I make no account of the harm Mordaunt can do!" cried D'Artagnan. "Cap de Diou! if he troubles me too much I will crush him, the insect! Do not fly, then. It is useless; for I swear to you that you are as safe here as you were twenty years, ago -- you, Athos, in the Rue Ferou, and you, Aramis, in the Rue de Vaugirard.""Stop," cried Athos, extending his hand to one of the grated windows by which the room was lighted; "you will soon know what to expect, for here he is." "Who?" "Mordaunt." In fact, looking at the place to which Athos pointed, D'Artagnan saw a cavalier coming toward the house at full gallop. It was Mordaunt. D'Artagnan rushed out of the room. Porthos wanted to follow him. "Stay," said D'Artagnan, "and do not come till you hear me drum my fingers on the door." When Mordaunt arrived opposite the house he saw D'Artagnan on the threshold and the soldiers lying on the grass here and there, with their arms. "Halloo!" he cried, "are the prisoners still there?" "Yes, sir," answered the sergeant, uncovering. "'Tis well; order four men to conduct them to my lodging." Four men prepared to do so. "What is it?" said D'Artagnan, with that jeering manner which our readers have so often observed in him since they made his acquaintance. "What is the matter, if you please?" "Sir," replied Mordaunt, "I have ordered the two prisoners we made this morning to be conducted to my lodging." "Wherefore, sir? Excuse curiosity, but I wish to be enlightened on the subject." "Because these prisoners, sir, are at my disposal and I choose to dispose of them as I like."
"Allow me -- allow me, sir," said D'Artagnan, "to observe you are in error. The prisoners belong to those who take them and not to those who only saw them taken. You might have taken Lord Winter -- who, 'tis said, was your uncle -- prisoner, but you preferred killing him; 'tis well; we, that is, Monsieur du Vallon and I, could have killed our prisoners -- we preferred taking them."Mordaunt's very lips grew white with rage. D'Artagnan now saw that affairs were growing worse and he beat the guard's march upon the door. At the first beat Porthos rushed out and stood on the other side of the door. This movement was observed by Mordaunt.
"Sir!" he thus addressed D'Artagnan, "your resistance is useless; these prisoners have just been given me by my illustrious patron, Oliver Cromwell."
These words struck D'Artagnan like a thunderbolt. The blood mounted to his temples, his eyes became dim; he saw from what fountainhead the ferocious hopes of the young man arose, and he put his hand to the hilt of his sword.
"Ah!" he said, making a low bow, "why did you not begin by saying that, Monsieur Mordaunt? What! are you sent by General Oliver Cromwell, the most illustrious captain of the age?""I have this instant left him," replied Mordaunt, alighting, in order to give his horse to a soldier to hold. "Why did you not say so at once, my dear sir! all England is with Cromwell; and since you ask for my prisoners, I bend, sir, to your wishes. They are yours; take them."
Mordaunt, delighted, advanced, Porthos looking at D'Artagnan with open-mouthed astonishment. Then D'Artagnan trod on his foot and Porthos began to understand that this was merely acting.Mordaunt put his foot on the first step of the door and, with his hat in hand, prepared to pass by the two friends, motioning to the four men to follow him.
"But, pardon," said D'Artagnan, with the most charming smile and putting his hand on the young man's shoulder, "if the illustrious General Oliver Cromwell has disposed of our prisoners in your favour, he has, of course, made that act of donation in writing."Mordaunt stopped short.
"He has given you some little writing for me -- the least bit of paper which may show that you come in his name. Be pleased to give me that scrap of paper so that I may justify, by a pretext at least, my abandoning my countrymen. Otherwise, you see, although I am sure that General Oliver Cromwell can intend them no harm, it would have a bad appearance."Mordaunt recoiled; he felt the blow and discharged a terrible look at D'Artagnan, who responded by the most amiable expression that ever graced a human countenance.
"When I tell you a thing, sir," said Mordaunt, "you insult me by doubting it." "I!" cried D'Artagnan, "I doubt what you say!" God keep me from it, my dear Monsieur Mordaunt! On the contrary, I take you to be a worthy and accomplished gentleman. And then, sir, do you wish me to speak freely to you?" continued D'Artagnan, with his frank expression."Speak out, sir," said Mordaunt. "Monsieur du Vallon, yonder, is rich and has forty thousand francs yearly, so he does not care about money. I do not speak for him, but for myself." "Well, sir? What more?"
"Well -- I -- I'm not rich. In Gascony 'tis no dishonor, sir, nobody is rich; and Henry IV., of glorious memory, who was the king of the Gascons, as His Majesty Philip IV. is the king of the Spaniards, never had a penny in his pocket.""Go on, sir, I see what you wish to get at; and if it is simply what I think that stops you, I can obviate the difficulty."
"Ah, I knew well," said the Gascon, "that you were a man of talent. Well, here's the case, here's where the saddle hurts me, as we French say. I am an officer of fortune, nothing else; I have nothing but what my sword brings me in -- that is to say, more blows than banknotes. Now, on taking prisoners, this morning, two Frenchmen, who seemed to me of high birth -- in short, two knights of the Garter -- I said to myself, my fortune is made. I say two, because in such circumstances, Monsieur du Vallon, who is rich, always gives me his prisoners."Mordaunt, completely deceived by the wordy civility of D'Artagnan, smiled like a man who understands perfectly the reasons given him, and said: "I shall have the order signed directly, sir, and with it two thousand pistoles; meanwhile, let me take these men away." "No," replied D'Artagnan; "what signifies a delay of half an hour? I am a man of order, sir; let us do things in order." "Nevertheless," replied Mordaunt, "I could compel you; I command here."
"Ah, sir!" said D'Artagnan, "I see that although we have had the honor of traveling in your company you do not know us. We are gentlemen; we are, both of us, able to kill you and your eight men -- we two only. For Heaven's sake don't be obstinate, for when others are obstinate I am obstinate likewise, and then I become ferocious and headstrong, and there's my friend, who is even more headstrong and ferocious than myself. Besides, we are sent here by Cardinal Mazarin, and at this moment represent both the king and the cardinal, and are, therefore, as ambassadors, able to act with impunity, a thing that General Oliver Cromwell, who is assuredly as great a politician as he is a general, is quite the man to understand. Ask him then, for the written order. What will that cost you my dear Monsieur Mordaunt?""Yes, the written order," said Porthos, who now began to comprehend what D'Artagnan was aiming at, "we ask only for that."
However inclined Mordaunt was to have recourse to violence, he understood the reasons D'Artagnan had given him; besides, completely ignorant of the friendship which existed between the four Frenchmen, all his uneasiness disappeared when he heard of the plausible motive of the ransom. He decided, therefore, not only to fetch the order, but the two thousand pistoles, at which he estimated the prisoners. He therefore mounted his horse and disappeared.
"Good!" thought D'Artagnan; "a quarter of an hour to go to the tent, a quarter of an hour to return; it is more than we need." Then turning, without the least change of countenance, to Porthos, he said, looking him full in the face: "Friend Porthos, listen to this; first, not a syllable to either of our friends of what you have heard; it is unnecessary for them to know the service we are going to render them.""Very well; I understand."
"Go to the stable; you will find Mousqueton there; saddle your horses, put your pistols in your saddle-bags, take out the horses and lead them to the street below this, so that there will be nothing to do but mount them; all the rest is my business."Porthos made no remark, but obeyed, with the sublime confidence he had in his friend. "I go," he said, "only, shall I enter the chamber where those gentlemen are?" "No, it is not worth while." "Well, do me the kindness to take my purse. which I left on the mantelpiece." "All right."
He then proceeded, with his usual calm gait, to the stable and went into the very midst of the soldiery, who, foreigner as he was, could not help admiring his height and the enormous strength of his great limbs.At the corner of the street he met Mousqueton and took him with him.
D'Artagnan, meantime, went into the house, whistling a tune which he had begun before Porthos went away.
"My dear Athos, I have reflected on your arguments and I am convinced. I am sorry to have had anything to do with this matter. As you say, Mazarin is a knave. I have resolved to fly with you, not a word -- be ready. Your swords are in the corner; do not forget them, they are in many circumstances very useful; there is Porthos's purse, too."
"Do you see that street? There are the horses. Go out by the door, turn to the right, jump into your saddles, all will be right; don't be uneasy at anything except mistaking the signal. That will be the signal when I call out -- Jesus Seigneur!""But give us your word that you will come too, D'Artagnan," said Athos. "I swear I will, by Heaven." "'Tis settled," said Aramis; "at the cry `Jesus Seigneur' we go out, upset all that stands in our way, run to our horses, jump into our saddles, spur them; is that all?" "Exactly." "See, Aramis, as I have told you, D'Artagnan is first amongst us all," said Athos. "Very true," replied the Gascon, "but I always run away from compliments. Don't forget the signal: `Jesus Seigneur!'" and he went out as he came in, whistling the self-same air. The soldiers were playing or sleeping; two of them were singing in a corner, out of tune, the psalm: "On the rivers of Babylon." D'Artagnan called the sergeant. "My dear friend, General Cromwell has sent Monsieur Mordaunt to fetch me. Guard the prisoners well, I beg of you."
The sergeant made a sign, as much as to say he did not understand French, and D'Artagnan tried to make him comprehend by signs and gestures. Then he went into the stable; he found the five horses saddled, his own amongst the rest."Each of you take a horse by the bridle," he said to Porthos and Mousqueton; "turn to the left, so that Athos and Aramis may see you clearly from the window." "They are coming, then?" said Porthos. "In a moment." "You didn't forget my purse?" "No; be easy." "Good." Porthos and Mousqueton each took a horse by the bridle and proceeded to their post.
Then D'Artagnan, being alone, struck a light and lighted a small bit of tinder, mounted his horse and stopped at the door in the midst of the soldiers. There, caressing as he pretended, the animal with his hand, he put this bit of burning tinder in his ear. It was necessary to be as good a horseman as he was to risk such a scheme, for no sooner had the animal felt the burning tinder than he uttered a cry of pain and reared and jumped as if he had been mad.The soldiers, whom he was nearly trampling, ran away. "Help! help!" cried D'Artagnan; "stop -- my horse has the staggers." In an instant the horse's eyes grew bloodshot and he was white with foam. "Help!" cried D'Artagnan. "What! will you let me be killed? Jesus Seigneur!" No sooner had he uttered this cry than the door opened and Athos and Aramis rushed out. The coast, owing to the Gascon's stratagem, was clear. "The prisoners are escaping! the prisoners are escaping!" cried the sergeant. "Stop! stop!" cried D'Artagnan, giving rein to his famous steed, who, darting forth, overturned several men. "Stop! stop!" cried the soldiers, and ran for their arms. But the prisoners were in their saddles and lost no time hastening to the nearest gate.
In the middle of the street they saw Grimaud and Blaisois, who were coming to find their masters. With one wave of his hand Athos made Grimaud, who followed the little troop, understand everything, and they passed on like a whirlwind, D'Artagnan still directing them from behind with his voice.
They passed through the gate like apparitions, without the guards thinking of detaining them, and reached the open country.
All this time the soldiers were calling out, "Stop! stop!" and the sergeant, who began to see that he was the victim of an artifice, was almost in a frenzy of despair. Whilst all this was going on, a cavalier in full gallop was seen approaching. It was Mordaunt with the order in his hand."The prisoners!" he exclaimed, jumping off his horse.
The sergeant had not the courage to reply; he showed him the open door, the empty room. Mordaunt darted to the steps, understood all, uttered a cry, as if his very heart was pierced, and fell fainting on the stone steps.
Noble Natures Never Lose Their CourageIn Which It Is Shown That Under The Most Trying Circumstances Noble Natures Never Lose Their Courage, Nor Good Stomachs Their Appetites.
The little troop, without looking behind them or exchanging a word, fled at a rapid gallop, fording a little stream, of which none of them knew the name, and leaving on their left a town which Athos declared to be Durham. At last they came in sight of a small wood, and spurring their horses afresh, rode in its direction.
As soon as they had disappeared behind a green curtain sufficiently thick to conceal them from the sight of any one who might be in pursuit they drew up to hold a council together. The two grooms held the horses, that they might take a little rest without being unsaddled, and Grimaud was posted as sentinel."Come, first of all," said Athos to D'Artagnan, "my friend, that I may shake hands with you -- you, our rescuer -- you, the true hero of us all."
"Athos is right -- you have my adoration," said Aramis, in his turn pressing his hand. "To what are you not equal, with your superior intelligence, infallible eye, your arm of iron and your enterprising mind!""Now," said the Gascon, "that is all well, I accept for Porthos and myself everything -- thanks and compliments; we have plenty of time to spare." The two friends, recalled by D'Artagnan to what was also due to Porthos, pressed his hand in their turn. "And now," said Athos, "it is not our plan to run anywhere and like madmen, but we must map up our campaign. What shall we do?" "What are we going to do, i'faith? It is not very difficult to say." "Tell us, then, D'Artagnan."
"We are going to reach the nearest seaport, unite our little resources, hire a vessel and return to France. As for me I will give my last sou for it. Life is the greatest treasure, and speaking candidly, ours hangs by a thread.""What do you say to this, Du Vallon?" "I," said Porthos, "I am entirely of D'Artagnan's opinion; this is a `beastly' country, this England." "You are quite decided, then, to leave it?" asked Athos of D'Artagnan. "Egad! I don't see what is to keep me here." A glance was exchanged between Athos and Aramis. "Go, then, my friends," said the former, sighing. "How, go then?" exclaimed D'Artagnan. "Let us go, you mean?" "No, my friend," said Athos, "you must leave us." "Leave you!" cried D'Artagnan, quite bewildered at this unexpected announcement. "Bah!" said Porthos, "why separate, since we are all together?" "Because you can and ought to return to France; your mission is accomplished, but ours is not." "Your mission is not accomplished?" exclaimed D'Artagnan, looking in astonishment at Athos. "No, my friend," replied Athos, in his gentle but decided voice, "we came here to defend King Charles; we have but ill defended him -- it remains for us to save him!" "To save the king?" said D'Artagnan, looking at Aramis as he had looked at Athos. Aramis contented himself by making a sign with his head. D'Artagnan's countenance took an expression of the deepest compassion; he began to think he had to do with madmen.
"You cannot be speaking seriously, Athos!" said he; "the king is surrounded by an army, which is conducting him to London. This army is commanded by a butcher, or the son of a butcher -- it matters little -- Colonel Harrison. His majesty, I can assure you, will be tried on his arrival in London; I have heard enough from the lips of Oliver Cromwell to know what to expect."A second look was exchanged between Athos and Aramis. "And when the trial is ended there will be no delay in putting the sentence into execution," continued D'Artagnan. "And to what penalty do you think the king will be condemned?" asked Athos.
"The penalty of death, I greatly fear; they have gone too far for him to pardon them, and there is nothing left to them but one thing, and that is to kill him. Have you never heard what Oliver Cromwell said when he came to Paris and was shown the dungeon at Vincennes where Monsieur de Vendome was imprisoned?""What did he say?" asked Porthos. "`Princes must be knocked on the head.'" "I remember it," said Athos. "And you fancy he will not put his maxim into execution, now that he has got hold of the king?" "On the contrary, I am certain he will do so. But then that is all the more reason why we should not abandon the august head so threatened." "Athos, you are becoming mad."
"No, my friend," Athos gently replied, "but De Winter sought us out in France and introduced us, Monsieur d'Herblay and myself, to Madame Henrietta. Her majesty did us the honor to ask our aid for her husband. We engaged our word; our word included everything. It was our strength, our intelligence, our life, in short, that we promised. It remains now for us to keep our word. Is that your opinion, D'Herblay?""Yes," said Aramis, "we have promised."
"Then," continued Athos, "we have another reason; it is this -- listen: In France at this moment everything is poor and paltry. We have a king ten years old, who doesn't yet know what he wants; we have a queen blinded by a belated passion; we have a minister who governs France as he would govern a great farm -- that is to say, intent only on turning out all the gold he can by the exercise of Italian cunning and invention; we have princes who set up a personal and egotistic opposition, who will draw from Mazarin's hands only a few ingots of gold or some shreds of power granted as bribes. I have served them without enthusiasm -- God knows that I estimated them at their real value, and that they are not high in my esteem -- but on principle. To-day I am engaged in a different affair. I have encountered misfortune in a high place, a royal misfortune, a European misfortune; I attach myself to it. If we can succeed in saving the king it will be good; if we die for him it will be grand.""So you know beforehand you must perish!" said D'Artagnan. "We fear so, and our only regret is to die so far from both of you." "What will you do in a foreign land, an enemy's country?" "I traveled in England when I was young, I speak English like an Englishman, and
Aramis, too, knows something of the language. Ah! if we had you, my friends! With you, D'Artagnan, with you, Porthos -- all four reunited for the first time for twenty years -- we would dare not only England, but the three kingdoms put together!"
"And did you promise the queen," resumed D'Artagnan, petulantly, "to storm the Tower of London, to kill a hundred thousand soldiers, to fight victoriously against the wishes of the nation and the ambition of a man, and when that man is Cromwell? Do not exaggerate your duty. In Heaven's name, my dear Athos, do not make a useless sacrifice. When I see you merely, you look like a reasonable being; when you speak, I seem to have to do with a madman. Come, Porthos, join me; say frankly, what do you think of this business?""Nothing good," replied Porthos.
"Come," continued D'Artagnan, who, irritated that instead of listening to him Athos seemed to be attending to his own thoughts, "you have never found yourself the worse for my advice. Well, then, believe me, Athos, your mission is ended, and ended nobly; return to France with us.""Friend," said Athos, "our resolution is irrevocable." "Then you have some other motive unknown to us?"
Athos smiled and D'Artagnan struck his hand together in anger and muttered the most convincing reasons that he could discover; but to all these reasons Athos contented himself by replying with a calm, sweet smile and Aramis by nodding his head.
"Very well," cried D'Artagnan, at last, furious, "very well, since you wish it, let us leave our bones in this beggarly land, where it is always cold, where fine weather is a fog, fog is rain, and rain a deluge; where the sun represents the moon and the moon a cream cheese; in truth, whether we die here or elsewhere matters little, since we must die.""Only reflect, my good fellow," said Athos, "it is but dying rather sooner." "Pooh! a little sooner or a little later, it isn't worth quarreling over." "If I am astonished at anything," remarked Porthos, sententiously, "it is that it has not already happened." "Oh, it will happen, you may be sure," said D'Artagnan. "So it is agreed, and if Porthos makes no objection ---- " "I," said Porthos, "I will do whatever you please; and besides, I think what the Comte de la Fere said just now is very good."
"But your future career, D'Artagnan -- your ambition, Porthos?" "Our future, our ambition!" replied D'Artagnan, with feverish volubility. "Need we think of that since we are to save the king? The king saved -- we shall assemble our friends together -- we will head the Puritans -- reconquer England; we shall re-enter London -- place him securely on his throne ---- ""And he will make us dukes and peers," said Porthos, whose eyes sparkled with joy at this imaginary prospect. "Or he will forget us," added D'Artagnan. "Oh!" said Porthos.
"Well, that has happened, friend Porthos. It seems to me that we once rendered Anne of Austria a service not much less than that which to-day we are trying to perform for Charles I.; but, none the less, Anne of Austria has forgotten us for twenty years.""Well, in spite of that, D'Artagnan," said Athos, "you are not sorry that you were useful to her?" "No, indeed," said D'Artagnan; "I admit even that in my darkest moments I find consolation in that remembrance." "You see, then, D'Artagnan, though princes often are ungrateful, God never is." "Athos," said D'Artagnan, "I believe that were you to fall in with the devil, you would conduct yourself so well that you would take him with you to Heaven." "So, then?" said Athos, offering his hand to D'Artagnan. "'Tis settled," replied D'Artagnan. "I find England a charming country, and I stay -- but on one condition only." "What is it?" "That I am not forced to learn English."
"Well, now," said Athos, triumphantly, "I swear to you, my friend, by the God who hears us -- I believe that there is a power watching over us, and that we shall all four see France again.""So be it!" said D'Artagnan, "but I -- I confess I have a contrary conviction." "Our good D'Artagnan," said Aramis, "represents among us the opposition in parliament, which always says no, and always does aye."
"But in the meantime saves the country," added Athos. "Well, now that everything is decided," cried Porthos, rubbing his hands, "suppose we think of dinner! It seems to me that in the most critical positions of our lives we have always dined."
"Oh! yes, speak of dinner in a country where for a feast they eat boiled mutton, and as a treat drink beer. What the devil did you come to such a country for, Athos? But I forgot," added the Gascon, smiling, "pardon, I forgot you are no longer Athos; but never mind, let us hear your plan for dinner, Porthos.""My plan!" "Yes, have you a plan?" "No! I am hungry, that is all." "Pardieu, if that is all, I am hungry, too; but it is not everything to be hungry, one must find something to eat, unless we browse on the grass, like our horses ---- "
"Ah!" exclaimed Aramis, who was not quite so indifferent to the good things of the earth as Athos, "do you remember, when we were at Parpaillot, the beautiful oysters that we ate?""And the legs of mutton of the salt marshes," said Porthos, smacking his lips. "But," suggested D'Artagnan, "have we not our friend Mousqueton, who managed for us so well at Chantilly, Porthos?" "Yes," said Porthos, "we have Mousqueton, but since he has been steward, he has become very heavy; never mind, let us call him, and to make sure that he will reply agreeably ---- "Here! Mouston," cried Porthos. Mouston appeared, with a most piteous face. "What is the matter, my dear M. Mouston?" asked D'Artagnan. "Are you ill?" "Sir, I am very hungry," replied Mouston.
"Well, it is just for that reason that we have called you, my good M. Mouston. Could you not procure us a few of those nice little rabbits, and some of those delicious partridges, of which you used to make fricassees at the hotel ---- ? 'Faith, I do not remember the name of the hotel."
"At the hotel of ---- ," said Porthos; "by my faith -- nor do I remember it either." "It does not matter; and a few of those bottles of old Burgundy wine, which cured your master so quickly of his sprain!"
"Alas! sir," said Mousqueton, "I much fear that what you ask for are very rare things in this detestable and barren country, and I think we should do better to go and seek hospitality from the owner of a little house we see on the fringe of the forest.""How! is there a house in the neighborhood?" asked D'Artagnan. "Yes, sir," replied Mousqueton. "Well, let us, as you say, go and ask a dinner from the master of that house. What is your opinion, gentlemen, and does not M. Mouston's suggestion appear to you full of sense?" "Oh!" said Aramis, "suppose the master is a Puritan?"
"So much the better, mordioux!" replied D'Artagnan; "if he is a Puritan we will inform him of the capture of the king, and in honor of the news he will kill for us his fatted hens.""But if he should be a cavalier?" said Porthos. "In that case we will put on an air of mourning and he will pluck for us his black fowls." "You are very happy," exclaimed Athos, laughing, in spite of himself, at the sally of the irresistible Gascon; "for you see the bright side of everything." "What would you have?" said D'Artagnan. "I come from a land where there is not a cloud in the sky." "It is not like this, then," said Porthos stretching out his hand to assure himself whether a chill sensation he felt on his cheek was not really caused by a drop of rain. "Come, come," said D'Artagnan, "more reason why we should start on our journey. Halloo, Grimaud!" Grimaud appeared. "Well, Grimaud, my friend, have you seen anything?" asked the Gascon. "Nothing!" replied Grimaud.
"Those idiots!" cried Porthos, "they have not even pursued us. Oh! if we had been in their place!"
"Yes, they are wrong," said D'Artagnan. "I would willingly have said two words to Mordaunt in this little desert. It is an excellent spot for bringing down a man in proper style."
"What, my good fellow!" replied Athos, "wait awhile; we have scarcely left him two hours ago -- he does not know yet in what direction we came nor where we are. We may say that he is not equal to his mother when we put foot in France, if we are not poisoned or killed before then.""Meanwhile, let us dine," suggested Porthos. "I'faith, yes," said Athos, "for I am hungry." "Look out for the black fowls!" cried Aramis.
And the four friends, guided by Mousqueton, took up the way toward the house, already almost restored to their former gayety; for they were now, as Athos had said, all four once more united and of single mind.
Respect To Fallen Majesty
As our fugitives approached the house, they found the ground cut up, as if a considerable body of horsemen had preceded them. Before the door the traces were yet more apparent; these horsemen, whoever they might be, had halted there."Egad!" cried D'Artagnan, "it's quite clear that the king and his escort have been by here." "The devil!" said Porthos; "in that case they have eaten everything." "Bah!" said D'Artagnan, "they will have left a chicken, at least." He dismounted and knocked on the door. There was no response. He pushed open the door and found the first room empty and deserted. "Well?" cried Porthos. "I can see nobody," said D'Artagnan. "Aha!" "What?" "Blood!"
At this word the three friends leaped from their horses and entered. D'Artagnan had already opened the door of the second room, and from the expression of his face it was clear that he there beheld some extraordinary object.
The three friends drew near and discovered a young man stretched on the ground, bathed in a pool of blood. It was evident that he had attempted to regain his bed, but had not had sufficient strength to do so.Athos, who imagined that he saw him move, was the first to go up to him. "Well?" inquired D'Artagnan. "Well, if he is dead," said Athos, "he has not been so long, for he is still warm. But no, his heart is beating. Ho, there, my friend!"
The wounded man heaved a sigh. D'Artagnan took some water in the hollow of his hand and threw it upon his face. The man opened his eyes, made an effort to raise his head, and fell back again. The wound was in the top of his skull and blood was flawing copiously.
Aramis dipped a cloth into some water and applied it to the gash. Again the wounded man opened his eyes and looked in astonishment at these strangers, who appeared to pity him.
"You are among friends," said Athos, in English; "so cheer up, and tell us, if you have the strength to do so, what has happened?"
"Yes, that is he. Well, he thought of me, when he saw the king was taken, and as they were passing before the house he begged in the king's name that they would stop, as the king was hungry. They brought him into this room and placed sentinels at the doors and windows. Parry knew this room, as he had often been to see me when the king was at Newcastle. He knew that there was a trap-door communicating with a cellar, from which one could get into the orchard. He made a sign, which I understood, but the king's guards must have noticed it and held themselves on guard. I went out as if to fetch wood, passed through the subterranean passage into the cellar, and whilst Parry was gently bolting the door, pushed up the board and beckoned to the king to follow me. Alas! he would not. But Parry clasped his hands and implored him, and at last he agreed. I went on first, fortunately. The king was a few steps behind me, when suddenly I saw something rise up in front of me like a huge shadow. I wanted to cry out to warn the king, but that very moment I felt a blow as if the house was falling on my head, and fell insensible. When I came to myself again, I was stretched in the same place. I dragged myself as far as the yard. The king and his escort were no longer there. I spent perhaps an hour in coming from the yard to this place; then my strength gave out and I fainted again.""And now how are you feeling?" "Very ill," replied the wounded man. "Can we do anything for you?" asked Athos. "Help to put me on the bed; I think I shall feel better there." "Have you any one to depend on for assistance?" "My wife is at Durham and may return at any moment. But you -- is there nothing that you want?" "We came here with the intention of asking for something to eat." "Alas, they have taken everything; there isn't a morsel of bread in the house." "You hear, D'Artagnan?" said Athos; "we shall have to look elsewhere for our dinner." "It is all one to me now," said D'Artagnan; "I am no longer hungry." "Faith! neither am I," said Porthos.
They carried the man to his bed and called Grimaud to dress the wound. In the service of the four friends Grimaud had had so frequent occasion to make lint and bandages that he had become something of a surgeon.In the meantime the fugitives had returned to the first room, where they took counsel together. "Now," said Aramis, "we know how the matter stands. The king and his escort have gone this way; we had better take the opposite direction, eh?" Athos did not reply; he reflected.
"Yes," said Porthos, "let us take the opposite direction; if we follow the escort we shall find everything devoured and die of hunger. What a confounded country this England is! This is the first time I have gone without my dinner for ten years, and it is generally my best meal.""What do you think, D'Artagnan?" asked Athos. "Do you agree with Aramis?" "Not at all," said D'Artagnan; "I am precisely of the contrary opinion." "What! you would follow the escort?" exclaimed Porthos, in dismay. "No, I would join the escort." Athos's eyes shone with joy. "Join the escort!" cried Aramis.
"Let D'Artagnan speak," said Athos; "you know he always has wise advice to give." "Clearly," said D'Artagnan, "we must go where they will not look for us. Now, they will be far from looking for us among the Puritans; therefore, with the Puritans we must go.""Good, my friend, good!" said Athos. "It is excellent advice. I was about to give it when you anticipated me." "That, then, is your opinion?" asked Aramis.
"Yes. They will think we are trying to leave England and will search for us at the ports; meanwhile we shall reach London with the king. Once in London we shall be hard to find
-- without considering," continued Athos, throwing a glance at Aramis, "the chances that may come to us on the way."
"Egad!" cried D'Artagnan, "he's just the man I count upon. Colonel Harrison is one of our friends. We have met him twice at General Cromwell's. He knows that we were sent from France by Monsieur Mazarin; he will consider us as brothers. Besides, is he not a butcher's son? Well, then, Porthos shall show him how to knock down an ox with a blow of the fist, and I how to trip up a bull by taking him by the horns. That will insure his confidence."Athos smiled. "You are the best companion that I know, D'Artagnan," he said, offering his hand to the Gascon; "and I am very happy in having found you again, my dear son." This was, as we have seen, the term which Athos applied to D'Artagnan in his more expansive moods. At this moment Grimaud came in. He had stanched the wound and the man was better. The four friends took leave of him and asked if they could deliver any message for him to his brother.
"Tell him," answered the brave man, "to let the king know that they have not killed me outright. However insignificant I am, I am sure that his majesty is concerned for me and blames himself for my death.""Be easy," said D'Artagnan, "he will know all before night."
The little troop recommenced their march, and at the end of two hours perceived a considerable body of horsemen about half a league ahead.
"My dear friends," said D'Artagnan, "give your swords to Monsieur Mouston, who will return them to you at the proper time and place, and do not forget you are our prisoners."
D'Artagnan passed to the head of the column, and leaving his friends under the guard of Porthos, went straight to Harrison, who recognized him as having met him at Cromwell's and received him as politely as a man of his breeding and disposition could. It turned out as D'Artagnan had foreseen. The colonel neither had nor could have any suspicion.
They halted for the king to dine. This time, however, due precautions were taken to prevent any attempt at escape. In the large room of the hotel a small table was placed for him and a large one for the officers."Will you dine with me?" asked Harrison of D'Artagnan.
"Gad, I should be very happy, but I have my companion, Monsieur du Vallon, and the two prisoners, whom I cannot leave. Let us manage it better. Have a table set for us in a corner and send us whatever you like from yours.""Good," answered Harrison.
The matter was arranged as D'Artagnan had suggested, and when he returned he found the king already seated at his little table, where Parry waited on him, Harrison and his officers sitting together at another table, and, in a corner, places reserved for himself and his companions.The table at which the Puritan officers were seated was round, and whether by chance or coarse intention, Harrison sat with his back to the king. The king saw the four gentlemen come in, but appeared to take no notice of them. They sat down in such a manner as to turn their backs on nobody. The officers, table and that of the king were opposite to them.
"I'faith, colonel," said D'Artagnan, "we are very grateful for your gracious invitation; for without you we ran the risk of going without dinner, as we have without breakfast. My friend here, Monsieur du Vallon, shares my gratitude, for he was particularly hungry.""And I am so still," said Porthos bowing to Harrison.
"And how," said Harrison, laughing, "did this serious calamity of going without breakfast happen to you?"
"In a very simple manner, colonel," said D'Artagnan. "I was in a hurry to join you and took the road you had already gone by. You can understand our disappointment when, arriving at a pretty little house on the skirts of a wood, which at a distance had quite a gay appearance, with its red roof and green shutters, we found nothing but a poor wretch bathed -- Ah! colonel, pay my respects to the officer of yours who struck that blow."
"Yes," said Harrison, laughing, and looking over at one of the officers seated at his table. "When Groslow undertakes this kind of thing there's no need to go over the ground a second time.""Ah! it was this gentleman?" said D'Artagnan, bowing to the officer. "I am sorry he does not speak French, that I might tender him my compliments." "I am ready to receive and return them, sir," said the officer, in pretty good French, "for I resided three years in Paris." "Then, sir, allow me to assure you that your blow was so well directed that you have nearly killed your man." "Nearly? I thought I had quite," said Groslow. "No. It was a very near thing, but he is not dead." As he said this, D'Artagnan gave a glance at Parry, who was standing in front of the king, to show him that the news was meant for him. The king, too, who had listened in the greatest agony, now breathed again. "Hang it," said Groslow, "I thought I had succeeded better. If it were not so far from here to the house I would return and finish him." "And you would do well, if you are afraid of his recovering; for you know, if a wound in the head does not kill at once, it is cured in a week." And D'Artagnan threw a second glance toward Parry, on whose face such an expression of joy was manifested that Charles stretched out his hand to him, smiling. Parry bent over his master's hand and kissed it respectfully. "I've a great desire to drink the king's health," said Athos. "Let me propose it, then," said D'Artagnan.
"Do," said Aramis. Porthos looked at D'Artagnan, quite amazed at the resources with which his companion's Gascon sharpness continually supplied him. D'Artagnan took up his camp tin cup, filled it with wine and arose.
"Gentlemen," said he, "let us drink to him who presides at the repast. Here's to our colonel, and let him know that we are always at his commands as far as London and farther."
And as D'Artagnan, as he spoke, looked at Harrison, the colonel imagined the toast was for himself. He arose and bowed to the four friends, whose eyes were fixed on Charles, while Harrison emptied his glass without the slightest misgiving.The king, in return, looked at the four gentlemen and drank with a smile full of nobility and gratitude. "Come, gentlemen," cried Harrison, regardless of his illustrious captive, "let us be off." "Where do we sleep, colonel?" "At Thirsk," replied Harrison. "Parry," said the king, rising too, "my horse; I desire to go to Thirsk." "Egad!" said D'Artagnan to Athos, "your king has thoroughly taken me, and I am quite at his service." "If what you say is sincere," replied Athos, "he will never reach London." "How so?" "Because before then we shall have carried him off." "Well, this time, Athos," said D'Artagnan, "upon my word, you are mad." "Have you some plan in your head then?" asked Aramis. "Ay!" said Porthos, "the thing would not be impossible with a good plan." "I have none," said Athos; "but D'Artagnan will discover one." D'Artagnan shrugged his shoulders and they proceeded.
D'artagnan Hits On A Plan
As night closed in they arrived at Thirsk. The four friends appeared to be entire strangers to one another and indifferent to the precautions taken for guarding the king. They withdrew to a private house, and as they had reason every moment to fear for their safety, they occupied but one room and provided an exit, which might be useful in case of an attack. The lackeys were sent to their several posts, except that Grimaud lay on a truss of straw across the doorway.
D'Artagnan was thoughtful and seemed for the moment to have lost his usual loquacity. Porthos, who could never see anything that was not self-evident, talked to him as usual. He replied in monosyllables and Athos and Aramis looked significantly at one another.
Next morning D'Artagnan was the first to rise. He had been down to the stables, already taken a look at the horses and given the necessary orders for the day, whilst Athos and Aramis were still in bed and Porthos snoring.
At eight o'clock the march was resumed in the same order as the night before, except that D'Artagnan left his friends and began to renew the acquaintance which he had already struck up with Monsieur Groslow.Groslow, whom D'Artagnan's praises had greatly pleased, welcomed him with a gracious smile.
"Really, sir," D'Artagnan said to him, "I am pleased to find one with whom to talk in my own poor tongue. My friend, Monsieur du Vallon, is of a very melancholy disposition, so much so, that one can scarcely get three words out of him all day. As for our two prisoners, you can imagine that they are but little in the vein for conversation.""They are hot royalists," said Groslow. "The more reason they should be sulky with us for having captured the Stuart, for whom, I hope, you're preparing a pretty trial." "Why," said Groslow, "that is just what we are taking him to London for." "And you never by any chance lose sight of him, I presume?" "I should think not, indeed. You see he has a truly royal escort." "Ay, there's no fear in the daytime; but at night?" "We redouble our precautions." "And what method of surveillance do you employ?" "Eight men remain constantly in his room." "The deuce, he is well guarded, then. But besides these eight men, you doubtless place some guard outside?" "Oh, no! Just think. What would you have two men without arms do against eight armed men?" "Two men -- how do you mean?" "Yes, the king and his lackey." "Oh! then they allow the lackey to remain with him?" "Yes; Stuart begged this favor and Harrison consented. Under pretense that he's a king it appears he cannot dress or undress without assistance."
"Really, captain," said D'Artagnan, determined to continue on the laudatory tack on which he had commenced, "the more I listen to you the more surprised I am at the easy and elegant manner in which you speak French. You have lived three years in Paris? May I ask what you were doing there?""My father, who is a merchant, placed me with his correspondent, who in turn sent his son to join our house in London." "Were you pleased with Paris, sir?" "Yes, but you are much in want of a revolution like our own -- not against your king, who is a mere child, but against that lazar of an Italian, the queen's favorite." "Ah! I am quite of your opinion, sir, and we should soon make an end of Mazarin if we had only a dozen officers like yourself, without prejudices, vigilant and incorruptible." "But," said the officer, "I thought you were in his service and that it was he who sent you to General Cromwell."
"That is to say I am in the king's service, and that knowing he wanted to send some one to England, I solicited the appointment, so great was my desire to know the man of genius who now governs the three kingdoms. So that when he proposed to us to draw our swords in honor of old England you see how we snapped up the proposition.""Yes, I know that you charged by the side of Mordaunt." "On his right and left, sir. Ah! there's another brave and excellent young man." "Do you know him?" asked the officer. "Yes, very well. Monsieur du Vallon and myself came from France with him." "It appears, too, you kept him waiting a long time at Boulogne." "What would you have? I was like you, and had a king in keeping." "Aha!" said Groslow; "what king?" "Our own, to be sure, the little one -- Louis XIV." "And how long had you to take care of him?" "Three nights; and, by my troth, I shall always remember those three nights with a certain pleasure." "How do you mean?" "I mean that my friends, officers in the guards and mousquetaires, came to keep me company and we passed the night in feasting, drinking, dicing." "Ah true," said the Englishman, with a sigh; "you Frenchmen are born boon companions." "And don't you play, too, when you are on guard?" "Never," said the Englishman. "In that case you must be horribly bored, and have my sympathy." "The fact is, I look to my turn for keeping guard with horror. It's tiresome work to keep awake a whole night." "Yes, but with a jovial partner and dice, and guineas clinking on the cloth, the night passes like a dream. You don't like playing, then?" "On the contrary, I do." "Lansquenet, for instance?" "Devoted to it. I used to play almost every night in France." "And since your return to England?" "I have not handled a card or dice-box." "I sincerely pity you," said D'Artagnan, with an air of profound compassion. "Look here," said the Englishman. "Well?" "To-morrow I am on guard." "In Stuart's room?" "Yes; come and pass the night with me." "Impossible!" "Impossible! why so?" "I play with Monsieur du Vallon every night. Sometimes we don't go to bed at all!" "Well, what of that?" "Why, he would be annoyed if I did not play with him." "Does he play well?" "I have seen him lose as much as two thousand pistoles, laughing all the while till the tears rolled down." "Bring him with you, then." "But how about our prisoners?" "Let your servants guard them."
"Yes, and give them a chance of escaping," said D'Artagnan. "Why, one of them is a rich lord from Touraine and the other a knight of Malta, of noble family. We have arranged the ransom of each of them -- 2,000 on arriving in France. We are reluctant to leave for a single moment men whom our lackeys know to be millionaires. It is true we plundered them a little when we took them, and I will even confess that it is their purse that Monsieur du Vallon and I draw on in our nightly play. Still, they may have concealed some precious stone, some valuable diamond; so that we are like those misers who are unable to absent themselves from their treasures. We have made ourselves the constant guardians of our men, and while I sleep Monsieur du Vallon watches.""Ah! ah!" said Groslow.
"You see, then, why I must decline your polite invitation, which is especially attractive to me, because nothing is so wearisome as to play night after night with the same person; the chances always balance and at the month's end nothing is gained or lost." "Ah!" said Groslow, sighing; "there is something still more wearisome, and that is not to play at all.""I can understand that," said D'Artagnan. "But, come," resumed the Englishman, "are these men of yours dangerous?" "In what respect?" "Are they capable of attempting violence?" D'Artagnan burst out laughing at the idea.
"Jesus Dieu!" he cried; "one of them is trembling with fever, having failed to adapt himself to this charming country of yours, and the other is a knight of Malta, as timid as a young girl; and for greater security we have taken from them even their penknives and pocket scissors.""Well, then," said Groslow, "bring them with you." "But really ---- " said D'Artagnan. "I have eight men on guard, you know. Four of them can guard the king and the other four your prisoners. I'll manage it somehow, you will see." "But," said D'Artagnan, "now I think of it -- what is to prevent our beginning to-night?" "Nothing at all," said Groslow. "Just so. Come to us this evening and to-morrow we'll return your visit." "Capital! This evening with you, to-morrow at Stuart's, the next day with me." "You see, that with a little forethought one can lead a merry life anywhere and everywhere," said D'Artagnan. "Yes, with Frenchmen, and Frenchmen like you."
"And Monsieur du Vallon," added the other. "You will see what a fellow he is; a man who nearly killed Mazarin between two doors. They employ him because they are afraid of him. Ah, there he is calling me now. You'll excuse me, I know."They exchanged bows and D'Artagnan returned to his companions.
"What on earth can you have been saying to that bulldog?" exclaimed Porthos. "My dear fellow, don't speak like that of Monsieur Groslow. He's one of my most intimate friends.""One of your friends!" cried Porthos, "this butcher of unarmed farmers!" "Hush! my dear Porthos. Monsieur Groslow is perhaps rather hasty, it's true, but at bottom I have discovered two good qualities in him -- he is conceited and stupid." Porthos opened his eyes in amazement; Athos and Aramis looked at one another and smiled; they knew D'Artagnan, and knew that he did nothing without a purpose. "But," continued D'Artagnan, "you shall judge of him for yourself. He is coming to play with us this evening." "Oho!" said Porthos, his eyes glistening at the news. "Is he rich?" "He's the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in London." "And knows lansquenet?" "Adores it." "Basset?" "His mania.' "Biribi?" "Revels in it." "Good," said Porthos; "we shall pass an agreeable evening." "The more so, as it will be the prelude to a better." "How so?"
"We invite him to play to-night; he has invited us in return to-morrow. But wait. To-night we stop at Derby; and if there is a bottle of wine in the town let Mousqueton buy it. It will be well to prepare a light supper, of which you, Athos and Aramis, are not to partake
-- Athos, because I told him you had a fever; Aramis, because you are a knight of Malta and won't mix with fellows like us. Do you understand?"
"That's no doubt very fine," said Porthos; "but deuce take me if I understand at all." "Porthos, my friend, you know I am descended on the father's side from the Prophets and on the mother's from the Sybils, and that I only speak in parables and riddles. Let those who have ears hear and those who have eyes see; I can tell you nothing more at present.""Go ahead, my friend," said Athos; "I am sure that whatever you do is well done." "And you, Aramis, are you of that opinion?" "Entirely so, my dear D'Artagnan."
"Very good," said D'Artagnan; "here indeed are true believers; it is a pleasure to work miracles before them; they are not like that unbelieving Porthos, who must see and touch before he will believe.""The fact is," said Porthos, with an air of finesse, "I am rather incredulous." D'Artagnan gave him playful buffet on the shoulder, and as they had reached the station where they were to breakfast, the conversation ended there. At five in the evening they sent Mousqueton on before as agreed upon. Blaisois went with him. In crossing the principal street in Derby the four friends perceived Blaisois standing in the doorway of a handsome house. It was there a lodging was prepared for them.
At the hour agreed upon Groslow came. D'Artagnan received him as he would have done a friend of twenty years' standing. Porthos scanned him from head to foot and smiled when he discovered that in spite of the blow he had administered to Parry's brother, he was not nearly so strong as himself. Athos and Aramis suppressed as well as they could the disgust they felt in the presence of such coarseness and brutality.In short, Groslow seemed to be pleased with his reception.
Athos and Aramis kept themselves to their role. At midnight they withdrew to their chamber, the door of which was left open on the pretext of kindly consideration. Furthermore, D'Artagnan went with them, leaving Porthos at play with Groslow.Porthos gained fifty pistoles from Groslow, and found him a more agreeable companion than he had at first believed him to be.
As to Groslow, he promised himself that on the following evening he would recover from D'Artagnan what he had lost to Porthos, and on leaving reminded the Gascon of his appointment.
The next day was spent as usual. D'Artagnan went from Captain Groslow to Colonel Harrison and from Colonel Harrison to his friends. To any one not acquainted with him he seemed to be in his normal condition; but to his friends -- to Athos and Aramis -- was apparent a certain feverishness in his gayety."What is he contriving?" asked Aramis. "Wait," said Athos. Porthos said nothing, but he handled in his pocket the fifty pistoles he had gained from Groslow with a degree of satisfaction which betrayed itself in his whole bearing. Arrived at Ryston, D'Artagnan assembled his friends. His face had lost the expression of careless gayety it had worn like a mask the whole day. Athos pinched Aramis's hand. "The moment is at hand," he said. "Yes," returned D'Artagnan, who had overheard him, "to-night, gentlemen, we rescue the king." "D'Artagnan," said Athos, "this is no joke, I trust? It would quite cut me up."
"You are a very odd man, Athos," he replied, "to doubt me thus. Where and when have you seen me trifle with a friend's heart and a king's life? I have told you, and I repeat it, that to-night we rescue Charles I. You left it to me to discover the means and I have done so."Porthos looked at D'Artagnan with an expression of profound admiration. Aramis smiled as one who hopes. Athos was pale, and trembled in every limb. "Speak," said Athos. "We are invited," replied D'Artagnan, "to pass the night with M. Groslow. But do you know where?" "No." "In the king's room." "The king's room?" cried Athos. "Yes, gentlemen, in the king's room. Groslow is on guard there this evening, and to pass the time away he has invited us to keep him company." "All four of us?" asked Athos. "Pardieu! certainly, all four; we couldn't leave our prisoners, could we?" "Ah! ah!" said Aramis. "Tell us about it," said Athos, palpitating.
"We are going, then, we two with our swords, you with daggers. We four have got to master these eight fools and their stupid captain. Monsieur Porthos, what do you say to that?""I say it is easy enough," answered Porthos.
"We dress the king in Groslow's clothes. Mousqueton, Grimaud and Blaisois have our horses saddled at the end of the first street. We mount them and before daylight are twenty leagues distant."Athos placed his two hands on D'Artagnan's shoulders, and gazed at him with his calm, sad smile.
"I declare, my friend," said he, "that there is not a creature under the sky who equals you in prowess and in courage. Whilst we thought you indifferent to our sorrows, which you couldn't share without crime, you alone among us have discovered what we were searching for in vain. I repeat it, D'Artagnan, you are the best one among us; I bless and love you, my dear son.""And to think that I couldn't find that out," said Porthos, scratching his head; "it is so simple." "But," said Aramis, "if I understand rightly we are to kill them all, eh?" Athos shuddered and turned pale. "Mordioux!" answered D'Artagnan, "I believe we must. I confess I can discover no other safe and satisfactory way." "Let us see," said Aramis, "how are we to act?"
"I have arranged two plans. Firstly, at a given signal, which shall be the words `At last,' you each plunge a dagger into the heart of the soldier nearest to you. We, on our side, do the same. That will be four killed. We shall then be matched, four against the remaining five. If these five men give themselves up we gag them; if they resist, we kill them. If by chance our Amphitryon changes his mind and receives only Porthos and myself, why, then, we must resort to heroic measures and each give two strokes instead of one. It will take a little longer time and may make a greater disturbance, but you will be outside with swords and will rush in at the proper time."
"But if you yourselves should be struck?" said Athos. "Impossible!" said D'Artagnan; "those beer drinkers are too clumsy and awkward. Besides, you will strike at the throat, Porthos; it kills as quickly and prevents all outcry.""Very good," said Porthos; "it will be a nice little throat cutting." "Horrible, horrible," exclaimed Athos.
"Nonsense," said D'Artagnan; "you would do as much, Mr. Humanity, in a battle. But if you think the king's life is not worth what it must cost there's an end of the matter and I send to Groslow to say I am ill.""No, you are right," said Athos. At this moment a soldier entered to inform them that Groslow was waiting for them. "Where?" asked D'Artagnan. "In the room of the English Nebuchadnezzar," replied the staunch Puritan. "Good," replied Athos, whose blood mounted to his face at the insult offered to royalty; "tell the captain we are coming."
The Puritan then went out. The lackeys had been ordered to saddle eight horses and to wait, keeping together and without dismounting, at the corner of a street about twenty steps from the house where the king was lodged.
It was nine o'clock in the evening; the sentinels had been relieved at eight and Captain Groslow had been on guard for an hour. D'Artagnan and Porthos, armed with their swords, and Athos and Aramis, each carrying a concealed poniard, approached the house which for the time being was Charles Stuart's prison. The two latter followed their captors in the humble guise of captives, without arms."Od's bodikins," said Groslow, as the four friends entered, "I had almost given you up." D'Artagnan went up to him and whispered in his ear: "The fact is, we, that is, Monsieur du Vallon and I, hesitated a little." "And why?" D'Artagnan looked significantly toward Athos and Aramis. "Aha," said Groslow; "on account of political opinions? No matter. On the contrary," he added, laughing, "if they want to see their Stuart they shall see him.
"Are we to pass the night in the king's room?" asked D'Artagnan. "No, but in the one next to it, and as the door will remain open it comes to the same thing. Have you provided yourself with money? I assure you I intend to play the devil's game to-night."D'Artagnan rattled the gold in his pockets. "Very good," said Groslow, and opened the door of the room. "I will show you the way," and he went in first. D'Artagnan turned to look at his friends. Porthos was perfectly indifferent; Athos, pale, but resolute; Aramis was wiping a slight moisture from his brow.
The eight guards were at their posts. Four in the king's room, two at the door between the rooms and two at that by which the friends had entered. Athos smiled when he saw their bare swords; he felt it was no longer to be a butchery, but a fight, and he resumed his usual good humor.Charles was perceived through the door, lying dressed upon his bed, at the head of which Parry was seated, reading in a low voice a chapter from the Bible. A candle of coarse tallow on a black table lighted up the handsome and resigned face of the king and that of his faithful retainer, far less calm. From time to time Parry stopped, thinking the king, whose eyes were closed, was really asleep, but Charles would open his eyes and say with a smile: "Go on, my good Parry, I am listening."
Groslow advanced to the door of the king's room, replaced on his head the hat he had taken off to receive his guests, looked for a moment contemptuously at this simple, yet touching scene, then turning to D'Artagnan, assumed an air of triumph at what he had achieved."Capital!" cried the Gascon, "you would make a distinguished general." "And do you think," asked Groslow, "that Stuart will ever escape while I am on guard?" "No, to be sure," replied D'Artagnan; "unless, forsooth, the sky rains friends upon him." Groslow's face brightened.
It is impossible to say whether Charles, who kept his eyes constantly closed, had noticed the insolence of the Puritan captain, but the moment he heard the clear tone of D'Artagnan's voice his eyelids rose, in spite of himself.
Parry, too, started and stopped reading. "What are you thinking about?" said the king; "go on, my good Parry, unless you are tired."Parry resumed his reading. On a table in the next room were lighted candles, cards, two dice-boxes, and dice.
"Gentlemen," said Groslow, "I beg you will take your places. I will sit facing Stuart, whom I like so much to see, especially where he now is, and you, Monsieur d'Artagnan, opposite to me."Athos turned red with rage. D'Artagnan frowned at him.
"That's it," said D'Artagnan; "you, Monsieur le Comte de la Fere, to the right of Monsieur Groslow. You, Chevalier d'Herblay, to his left. Du Vallon next me. You'll bet for me and those gentlemen for Monsieur Groslow."By this arrangement D'Artagnan could nudge Porthos with his knee and make signs with his eyes to Athos and Aramis. At the names Comte de la Fere and Chevalier d'Herblay, Charles opened his eyes, and raising his noble head, in spite of himself, threw a glance at all the actors in the scene. At that moment Parry turned over several leaves of his Bible and read with a loud voice this verse in Jeremiah: "God said, `Hear ye the words of the prophets my servants, whom I have sent unto you."
The four friends exchanged glances. The words that Parry had read assured them that their presence was understood by the king and was assigned to its real motive. D'Artagnan's eyes sparkled with joy.
"You asked me just now if I was in funds," said D'Artagnan, placing some twenty pistoles upon the table. "Well, in my turn I advise you to keep a sharp lookout on your treasure, my dear Monsieur Groslow, for I can tell you we shall not leave this without robbing you of it.""Not without my defending it," said Groslow. "So much the better," said D'Artagnan. "Fight, my dear captain, fight. You know or you don't know, that that is what we ask of you."
"Oh! yes," said Groslow, bursting with his usual coarse laugh, "I know you Frenchmen want nothing but cuts and bruises."
Charles had heard and understood it all. A slight color mounted to his cheeks. The soldiers then saw him stretch his limbs, little by little, and under the pretense of much heat throw off the Scotch plaid which covered him.
Porthos, who had lost the fifty pistoles he had won the night before and thirty more besides, was very cross and questioned D'Artagnan with a nudge of the knee as to whether it would not soon be time to change the game. Athos and Aramis looked at him inquiringly. But D'Artagnan remained impassible.It struck ten. They heard the guard going its rounds. "How many rounds do they make a night?" asked D'Artagnan, drawing more pistoles from his pocket. "Five," answered Groslow, "one every two hours."
D'Artagnan glanced at Athos and Aramis and for the first time replied to Porthos's nudge of the knee by a nudge responsive. Meanwhile, the soldiers whose duty it was to remain in the king's room, attracted by that love of play so powerful in all men, had stolen little by little toward the table, and standing on tiptoe, lounged, watching the game, over the shoulders of D'Artagnan and Porthos. Those on the other side had followed their example, thus favoring the views of the four friends, who preferred having them close at hand to chasing them about the chamber. The two sentinels at the door still had their swords unsheathed, but they were leaning on them while they watched the game.
Athos seemed to grow calm as the critical moment approached. With his white, aristocratic hands he played with the louis, bending and straightening them again, as if they were made of pewter. Aramis, less self-controlled, fumbled continually with his hidden poniard. Porthos, impatient at his continued losses, kept up a vigorous play with his knee.
D'Artagnan turned, mechanically looking behind him, and between the figures of two soldiers he could see Parry standing up and Charles leaning on his elbow with his hands clasped and apparently offering a fervent prayer to God.
D'Artagnan saw that the moment was come. He darted a preparatory glance at Athos and Aramis, who slyly pushed their chairs a little back so as to leave themselves more space for action. He gave Porthos a second nudge of the knee and Porthos got up as if to stretch his legs and took care at the same time to ascertain that his sword could be drawn smoothly from the scabbard.
"Hang it!" cried D'Artagnan, "another twenty pistoles lost. Really, Captain Groslow, you are too much in fortune's way. This can't last," and he drew another twenty from his pocket. "One more turn, captain; twenty pistoles on one throw -- only one, the last."
At this word Athos and Aramis jumped up. Porthos drew back a step. Daggers and swords were just about to shine, when suddenly the door was thrown open and Harrison appeared in the doorway, accompanied by a man enveloped in a large cloak. Behind this man could be seen the glistening muskets of half a dozen soldiers.
Groslow jumped up, ashamed at being surprised in the midst of wine, cards, and dice. But Harrison paid not the least attention to him, and entering the king's room, followed by his companion:"Charles Stuart," said he, "an order has come to conduct you to London without stopping day or night. Prepare yourself, then, to start at once." "And by whom is this order given?" asked the king. "By General Oliver Cromwell. And here is Mr. Mordaunt, who has brought it and is charged with its execution." "Mordaunt!" muttered the four friends, exchanging glances.
D'Artagnan swept up the money that he and Porthos had lost and buried it in his huge pocket. Athos and Aramis placed themselves behind him. At this movement Mordaunt turned around, recognized them, and uttered an exclamation of savage delight."I'm afraid we are prisoners," whispered D'Artagnan to his friend.
"Not yet," replied Porthos. "Colonel, colonel," cried Mordaunt, "you are betrayed. These four Frenchmen have escaped from Newcastle, and no doubt want to carry off the king. Arrest them.""Ah! my young man," said D'Artagnan, drawing his sword, "that is an order sooner given than executed. Fly, friends, fly!" he added, whirling his sword around him.
The next moment he darted to the door and knocked down two of the soldiers who guarded it, before they had time to cock their muskets. Athos and Aramis followed him. Porthos brought up the rear, and before soldiers, officers, or colonel had time to recover their surprise all four were in the street."Fire!" cried Mordaunt; "fire upon them!" Three or four shots were fired, but with no other result than to show the four fugitives turning the corner of the street safe and sound. The horses were at the place fixed upon, and they leaped lightly into their saddles. "Forward!" cried D'Artagnan, "and spur for your dear lives!" They galloped away and took the road they had come by in the morning, namely, in the direction toward Scotland. A few hundred yards beyond the town D'Artagnan drew rein.
"Halt!" he cried, "this time we shall be pursued. We must let them leave the village and ride after us on the northern road, and when they have passed we will take the opposite direction."There was a stream close by and a bridge across it.
D'Artagnan led his horse under the arch of the bridge. The others followed. Ten minutes later they heard the rapid gallop of a troop of horsemen. A few minutes more and the troop passed over their heads.
As soon as the noise of the hoofs was lost in the distance D'Artagnan remounted the bank of the stream and scoured the plain, followed by his three friends, directing their course, as well as they could guess, toward London.
"This time," said D'Artagnan, when they were sufficiently distant to proceed at a trot, "I think all is lost and we have nothing better to do than to reach France. What do you say, Athos, to that proposition? Isn't it reasonable?"
"Yes, dear friend," Athos replied, "but you said a word the other day that was more than reasonable -- it was noble and generous. You said, `Let us die here!' I recall to you that word."
"Oh," said Porthos, "death is nothing: it isn't death that can disquiet us, since we don't know what it is. What troubles me is the idea of defeat. As things are turning out, I foresee that we must give battle to London, to the provinces, to all England, and certainly in the end we can't fail to be beaten.""We ought to witness this great tragedy even to its last scene," said Athos. "Whatever happens, let us not leave England before the crisis. Don't you agree with me, Aramis?"
"Entirely, my dear count. Then, too, I confess I should not be sorry to come across Mordaunt again. It appears to me that we have an account to settle with him, and that it is not our custom to leave a place without paying our debts, of this kind, at least."
"Ah! that's another thing," said D'Artagnan, "and I should not mind waiting in London a whole year for a chance of meeting this Mordaunt in question. Only let us lodge with some one on whom we can count; for I imagine, just now, that Noll Cromwell would not be inclined to trifle with us. Athos, do you know any inn in the whole town where one can find white sheets, roast beef reasonably cooked, and wine which is not made of hops and gin?"
"I think I know what you want," replied Athos. "De Winter took us to the house of a Spaniard, who, he said, had become naturalized as an Englishman by the guineas of his new compatriots. What do you say to it, Aramis?"
"Why, the idea of taking quarters with Senor Perez seems to me very reasonable, and for my part I agree to it. We will invoke the remembrance of that poor De Winter, for whom he seemed to have a great regard; we will tell him that we have come as amateurs to see what is going on; we will spend with him a guinea each per day; and I think that by taking all these precautions we can be quite undisturbed.""You forget, Aramis, one precaution of considerable importance." "What is that?" "The precaution of changing our clothes." "Changing our clothes!" exclaimed Porthos. "I don't see why; we are very comfortable in those we wear."
"To prevent recognition," said D'Artagnan. "Our clothes have a cut which would proclaim the Frenchman at first sight. Now, I don't set sufficient store on the cut of my jerkin to risk being hung at Tyburn or sent for change of scene to the Indies. I shall buy a chestnut-colored suit. I've remarked that your Puritans revel in that color.""But can you find your man?" said Aramis to Athos. "Oh! to be sure, yes. He lives at the Bedford Tavern, Greenhall Street. Besides, I can find my way about the city with my eyes shut." "I wish we were already there," said D'Artagnan; "and my advice is that we reach London before daybreak, even if we kill our horses." "Come on, then," said Athos, "for unless I am mistaken in my calculations we have only eight or ten leagues to go."
The friends urged on their horses and arrived, in fact, at about five o'clock in the morning. They were stopped and questioned at the gate by which they sought to enter the city, but Athos replied, in excellent English, that they had been sent forward by Colonel Harrison to announce to his colleague, Monsieur Bridge, the approach of the king. That reply led to several questions about the king's capture, and Athos gave details so precise and positive that if the gatekeepers had any suspicions they vanished completely. The way was therefore opened to the four friends with all sorts of Puritan congratulations.Athos was right. He went direct to the Bedford Tavern, and the host, who recognized him, was delighted to see him again with such a numerous and promising company. Though it was scarcely daylight our four travelers found the town in a great bustle, owing to the reported approach of Harrison and the king.
The plan of changing their clothes was unanimously adopted. The landlord sent out for every description of garment, as if he wanted to fit up his wardrobe. Athos chose a black coat, which gave him the appearance of a respectable citizen. Aramis, not wishing to part with his sword, selected a dark-blue cloak of a military cut. Porthos was seduced by a wine-colored doublet and sea-green breeches. D'Artagnan, who had fixed on his color beforehand, had only to select the shade, and looked in his chestnut suit exactly like a retired sugar dealer.
"Now," said D'Artagnan, "for the actual man. We must cut off our hair, that the populace may not insult us. As we no longer wear the sword of the gentleman we may as well have the head of the Puritan. This, as you know, is the important point of distinction between the Covenanter and the Cavalier."
They had not been long in the crowd before loud cries announced the king's arrival. A carriage had been sent to meet him, and the gigantic Porthos, who stood a head above the entire rabble, soon announced that he saw the royal equipage approaching. D'Artagnan raised himself on tiptoe, and as the carriage passed, saw Harrison at one window and Mordaunt at the other.
The next day, Athos, leaning out of his window, which looked upon the most populous part of the city, heard the Act of Parliament, which summoned the ex-king, Charles I., to the bar, publicly cried."Parliament indeed!" cried Athos. "Parliament can never have passed such an act as that." At this moment the landlord came in. "Did parliament pass this act?" Athos asked of him in English. "Yes, my lord, the pure parliament." "What do you mean by `the pure parliament'? Are there, then, two parliaments?"
"My friend," D'Artagnan interrupted, "as I don't understand English and we all understand Spanish, have the kindness to speak to us in that language, which, since it is your own, you must find pleasure in using when you have the chance.""Ah! excellent!" said Aramis. As to Porthos, all his attention was concentrated on the allurements of the breakfast table. "You were asking, then?" said the host in Spanish. "I asked," said Athos, in the same language, "if there are two parliaments, a pure and an impure?"
"Why, how extraordinary!" said Porthos, slowly raising his head and looking at his friends with an air of astonishment, "I understand English, then! I understand what you say!""That is because we are talking Spanish, my dear friend," said Athos. "Oh, the devil!" said Porthos, "I am sorry for that; it would have been one language more." "When I speak of the pure parliament," resumed the host, "I mean the one which Colonel Bridge has weeded."
"Ah! really," said D'Artagnan, "these people are very ingenious. When I go back to France I must suggest some such convenient course to Cardinal Mazarin and the coadjutor. One of them will weed the parliament in the name of the court, and the other in the name of the people; and then there won't be any parliament at all.""And who is this Colonel Bridge?" asked Aramis, "and how does he go to work to weed the parliament?"
"Colonel Bridge," replied the Spaniard, "is a retired wagoner, a man of much sense, who made one valuable observation whilst driving his team, namely, that where there happened to be a stone on the road, it was much easier to remove the stone than try and make the wheel pass over it. Now, of two hundred and fifty-one members who composed the parliament, there were one hundred and ninety-one who were in the way and might have upset his political wagon. He took them up, just as he formerly used to take up the stones from the road, and threw them out of the house.""Neat," remarked D'Artagnan. "Very!" "And all these one hundred and ninety-one were Royalists?" asked Athos. "Without doubt, senor; and you understand that they would have saved the king." "To be sure," said Porthos, with majestic common sense; "they were in the majority." "And you think," said Aramis, "he will consent to appear before such a tribunal?"
"He will be forced to do so," smiled the Spaniard. "Now, Athos!" said D'Artagnan, "do you begin to believe that it's a ruined cause, and that what with your Harrisons, Joyces, Bridges and Cromwells, we shall never get the upper hand?""The king will be delivered at the tribunal," said Athos; "the very silence of his supporters indicates that they are at work." D'Artagnan shrugged his shoulders. "But," said Aramis, "if they dare to condemn their king, it can only be to exile or imprisonment." D'Artagnan whistled a little air of incredulity. "We shall see," said Athos, "for we shall go to the sittings, I presume." "You will not have long to wait," said the landlord; "they begin to-morrow." "So, then, they drew up the indictments before the king was taken?" "Of course," said D'Artagnan; "they began the day he was sold." "And you know," said Aramis, "that it was our friend Mordaunt who made, if not the bargain, at least the overtures." "And you know," added D'Artagnan, "that whenever I catch him I will kill him, this Mordaunt." "And I, too," exclaimed Porthos. "And I, too," added Aramis. "Touching unanimity!" cried D'Artagnan, "which well becomes good citizens like us. Let us take a turn around the town and imbibe a little fog." "Yes," said Porthos, "'twill be at least a little change from beer."
The next morning King Charles I. was haled by a strong guard before the high court which was to judge him. All London was crowding to the doors of the house. The throng was terrific, and it was not till after much pushing and some fighting that our friends reached their destination. When they did so they found the three lower rows of benches already occupied; but being anxious not to be too conspicuous, all, with the exception of Porthos, who had a fancy to display his red doublet, were quite satisfied with their places, the more so as chance had brought them to the centre of their row, so that they were exactly opposite the arm-chair prepared for the royal prisoner.
Toward eleven o'clock the king entered the hall, surrounded by guards, but wearing his head covered, and with a calm expression turned to every side with a look of complete assurance, as if he were there to preside at an assembly of submissive subjects, rather than to meet the accusations of a rebel court.
The judges, proud of having a monarch to humiliate, evidently prepared to enjoy the right they had arrogated to themselves, and sent an officer to inform the king that it was customary for the accused to uncover his head.
Charles, without replying a single word, turned his head in another direction and pulled his felt hat over it. Then when the officer was gone he sat down in the arm-chair opposite the president and struck his boots with a little cane which he carried in his hand. Parry, who accompanied him, stood behind him.
D'Artagnan was looking at Athos, whose face betrayed all those emotions which the king, possessing more self-control, had banished from his own. This agitation in one so cold and calm as Athos, frightened him."I hope," he whispered to him, "that you will follow his majesty's example and not get killed for your folly in this den." "Set your mind at rest," replied Athos.
"Aha!" continued D'Artagnan, "it is clear that they are afraid of something or other; for look, the sentinels are being reinforced. They had only halberds before, now they have muskets. The halberds were for the audience in the rear; the muskets are for us.""Thirty, forty, fifty, sixty-five men," said Porthos, counting the reinforcements. "Ah!" said Aramis, "but you forget the officer."
D'Artagnan grew pale with rage. He recognized Mordaunt, who with bare sword was marshalling the musketeers behind the king and opposite the benches.
"Do you think they have recognized us?" said D'Artagnan. "In that case I should beat a retreat. I don't care to be shot in a box."
When the name of Colonel Fairfax was called, one of those brief but solemn silences ensued, which announced the absence of the members who had no wish to take a personal part in the trial."Colonel Fairfax," repeated Bradshaw. "Fairfax," answered a laughing voice, the silvery tone of which betrayed it as that of a woman, "is not such a fool as to be here."
A loud laugh followed these words, pronounced with that boldness which women draw from their own weakness -- a weakness which removes them beyond the power of vengeance."It is a woman's voice," cried Aramis; "faith, I would give a good deal if she is young and pretty." And he mounted on the bench to try and get a sight of her. "By my soul," said Aramis, "she is charming. Look D'Artagnan; everybody is looking at her; and in spite of Bradshaw's gaze she has not turned pale." "It is Lady Fairfax herself," said D'Artagnan. "Don't you remember, Porthos, we saw her at General Cromwell's?" The roll call continued. "These rascals will adjourn when they find that they are not in sufficient force," said the
Comte de la Fere.
"You don't know them. Athos, look at Mordaunt's smile. Is that the look of a man whose victim is likely to escape him? Ah, cursed basilisk, it will be a happy day for me when I can cross something more than a look with you."
"The king is really very handsome," said Porthos; "and look, too, though he is a prisoner, how carefully he is dressed. The feather in his hat is worth at least five-and-twenty pistoles. Look at it, Aramis."
The roll call finished, the president ordered them to read the act of accusation. Athos turned pale. A second time he was disappointed in his expectation. Notwithstanding the judges were so few the trial was to continue; the king then, was condemned in advance.
"I told you so, Athos," said D'Artagnan, shrugging his shoulders. "Now take your courage in both hands and hear what this gentleman in black is going to say about his sovereign, with full license and privilege."Never till then had a more brutal accusation or meaner insults tarnished kingly majesty.
Charles listened with marked attention, passing over the insults, noting the grievances, and, when hatred overflowed all bounds and the accuser turned executioner beforehand, replying with a smile of lofty scorn.
"The fact is," said D'Artagnan, "if men are punished for imprudence and triviality, this poor king deserves punishment. But it seems to me that that which he is just now undergoing is hard enough.""In any case," Aramis replied, "the punishment should fall not on the king, but on his ministers; for the first article of the constitution is, `The king can do no wrong.'"
"As for me," thought Porthos, giving Mordaunt his whole attention, "were it not for breaking in on the majesty of the situation I would leap down from the bench, reach Mordaunt in three bounds and strangle him; I would then take him by the feet and knock the life out of these wretched musketeers who parody the musketeers of France. Meantime, D'Artagnan, who is full of invention, would find some way to save the king. I must speak to him about it."
As to Athos, his face aflame, his fists clinched, his lips bitten till they bled, he sat there foaming with rage at that endless parliamentary insult and that long enduring royal patience; the inflexible arm and steadfast heart had given place to a trembling hand and a body shaken by excitement.At this moment the accuser concluded with these words: "The present accusation is preferred by us in the name of the English people." At these words there was a murmur along the benches, and a second voice, not that of a woman, but a man's, stout and furious, thundered behind D'Artagnan. "You lie!" it cried. "Nine-tenths of the English people are horrified at what you say." This voice was that of Athos, who, standing up with outstretched hand and quite out of his mind, thus assailed the public accuser.
King, judges, spectators, all turned their eyes to the bench where the four friends were seated. Mordaunt did the same and recognized the gentleman, around whom the three other Frenchmen were standing, pale and menacing. His eyes glittered with delight. He had discovered those to whose death he had devoted his life. A movement of fury called to his side some twenty of his musketeers, and pointing to the bench where his enemies were: "Fire on that bench!" he cried.
But with the rapidity of thought D'Artagnan seized Athos by the waist, and followed by Porthos with Aramis, leaped down from the benches, rushed into the passages, and flying down the staircase were lost in the crowd without, while the muskets within were pointed on some three thousand spectators, whose piteous cries and noisy alarm stopped the impulse already given to bloodshed.
Charles also had recognized the four Frenchmen. He put one hand on his heart to still its beating and the other over his eyes, that he might not witness the slaying of his faithful friends.
Mordaunt, pale and trembling with anger, rushed from the hall sword in hand, followed by six pikemen, pushing, inquiring and panting in the crowd; and then, having found nothing, returned.
The tumult was indescribable. More than half an hour passed before any one could make himself heard. The judges were looking for a new outbreak from the benches. The spectators saw the muskets leveled at them, and divided between fear and curiosity, remained noisy and excited.Quiet was at length restored. "What have you to say in your defense?" asked Bradshaw of the king. Then rising, with his head still covered, in the tone of a judge rather than a prisoner, Charles began.
"Before questioning me," he said, "reply to my question. I was free at Newcastle and had there concluded a treaty with both houses. Instead of performing your part of this contract, as I performed mine, you bought me from the Scotch, cheaply, I know, and that does honor to the economic talent of your government. But because you have paid the price of a slave, do you imagine that I have ceased to be your king? No. To answer you would be to forget it. I shall only reply to you when you have satisfied me of your right to question me. To answer you would be to acknowledge you as my judges, and I only acknowledge you as my executioners." And in the middle of a deathlike silence, Charles, calm, lofty, and with his head still covered, sat down again in his arm-chair.
"Why are not my Frenchmen here?" he murmured proudly and turning his eyes to the benches where they had appeared for a moment; "they would have seen that their friend was worthy of their defense while alive, and of their tears when dead."
"Well," said the president, seeing that Charles was determined to remain silent, "so be it. We will judge you in spite of your silence. You are accused of treason, of abuse of power, and murder. The evidence will support it. Go, and another sitting will accomplish what you have postponed in this."Charles rose and turned toward Parry, whom he saw pale and with his temples dewed with moisture. "Well, my dear Parry," said he, "what is the matter, and what can affect you in this manner?" "Oh, my king," said Parry, with tears in his eyes and in a tone of supplication, "do not look to the left as we leave the hall." "And why, Parry?" "Do not look, I implore you, my king." "But what is the matter? Speak," said Charles, attempting to look across the hedge of guards which surrounded him. "It is -- but you will not look, will you? -- it is because they have had the axe, with which criminals are executed, brought and placed there on the table. The sight is hideous." "Fools," said Charles, "do they take me for a coward, like themselves? You have done well to warn me. Thank you, Parry." When the moment arrived the king followed his guards out of the hall. As he passed the table on which the axe was laid, he stopped, and turning with a smile, said:
"Ah! the axe, an ingenious device, and well worthy of those who know not what a gentleman is; you frighten me not, executioner's axe," added he, touching it with the cane which he held in his hand, "and I strike you now, waiting patiently and Christianly for you to return the blow."
And shrugging his shoulders with unaffected contempt he passed on. When he reached the door a stream of people, who had been disappointed in not being able to get into the house and to make amends had collected to see him come out, stood on each side, as he passed, many among them glaring on him with threatening looks.
"How many people," thought he, "and not one true friend."
The king turned quickly around, with tears in his eyes and heart. It was an old soldier of the guards who could not see his king pass captive before him without rendering him this final homage. But the next moment the unfortunate man was nearly killed with heavy blows of sword-hilts, and among those who set upon him the king recognized Captain Groslow."Alas!" said Charles, "that is a severe chastisement for a very trifling fault."
He continued his walk, but he had scarcely gone a hundred paces, when a furious fellow, leaning between two soldiers, spat in the king's face, as once an infamous and accursed Jew spit in the face of Jesus of Nazareth. Loud roars of laughter and sullen murmurs arose together. The crowd opened and closed again, undulating like a stormy sea, and the king imagined that he saw shining in the midst of this living wave the bright eyes of Athos.Charles wiped his face and said with a sad smile: "Poor wretch, for half a crown he would do as much to his own father." The king was not mistaken. Athos and his friends, again mingling with the throng, were taking a last look at the martyr king.
When the soldier saluted Charles, Athos's heart bounded for joy; and that unfortunate, on coming to himself, found ten guineas that the French gentleman had slipped into his pocket. But when the cowardly insulter spat in the face of the captive monarch Athos grasped his dagger. But D'Artagnan stopped his hand and in a hoarse voice cried, "Wait!"
Athos stopped. D'Artagnan, leaning on Athos, made a sign to Porthos and Aramis to keep near them and then placed himself behind the man with the bare arms, who was still laughing at his own vile pleasantry and receiving the congratulations of several others.
The man took his way toward the city. The four friends followed him. The man, who had the appearance of being a butcher, descended a little steep and isolated street, looking on to the river, with two of his friends. Arrived at the bank of the river the three men perceived that they were followed, turned around, and looking insolently at the Frenchmen, passed some jests from one to another.
"I don't know English, Athos," said D'Artagnan; "but you know it and will interpret for me."
Then quickening their steps they passed the three men, but turned back immediately, and D'Artagnan walked straight up to the butcher and touching him on the chest with the tip of his finger, said to Athos:
Athos, pale as a ghost, repeated these words to the man, who, seeing the bodeful preparations that were making, put himself in an attitude of defense. Aramis, at this movement, drew his sword."No," cried D'Artagnan, "no steel. Steel is for gentlemen." And seizing the butcher by the throat: "Porthos," said he, "kill this fellow for me with a single blow."
Porthos raised his terrible fist, which whistled through the air like a sling, and the portentous mass fell with a smothered crash on the insulter's skull and crushed it. The man fell like an ox beneath the poleaxe. His companions, horror-struck, could neither move nor cry out."Tell them this, Athos," resumed D'Artagnan; "thus shall all die who forget that a captive man is sacred and that a captive king doubly represents the Lord." Athos repeated D'Artagnan's words. The fellows looked at the body of their companion, swimming in blood, and then recovering voice and legs together, ran screaming off. "Justice is done," said Porthos, wiping his forehead. "And now," said D'Artagnan to Athos, "entertain no further doubts about me; I undertake all that concerns the king."
The parliament condemned Charles to death, as might have been foreseen. Political judgments are generally vain formalities, for the same passions which give rise to the accusation ordain to the condemnation. Such is the atrocious logic of revolutions.
Although our friends were expecting that condemnation, it filled them with grief. D'Artagnan, whose mind was never more fertile in resources than in critical emergencies, swore again that he would try all conceivable means to prevent the denouement of the bloody tragedy. But by what means? As yet he could form no definite plan; all must depend on circumstances. Meanwhile, it was necessary at all hazards, in order to gain time, to put some obstacle in the way of the execution on the following day -- the day appointed by the judges. The only way of doing that was to cause the disappearance of the London executioner. The headsman out of the way, the sentence could not be executed. True, they could send for the headsman of the nearest town, but at least a day would be gained, and a day might be sufficient for the rescue. D'Artagnan took upon himself that more than difficult task.
Another thing, not less essential, was to warn Charles Stuart of the attempt to be made, so that he might assist his rescuers as much as possible, or at least do nothing to thwart their efforts. Aramis assumed that perilous charge. Charles Stuart had asked that Bishop Juxon might be permitted to visit him. Mordaunt had called on the bishop that very evening to apprise him of the religious desire expressed by the king and also of Cromwell's permission. Aramis determined to obtain from the bishop, through fear or by persuasion, consent that he should enter in the bishop's place, and clad in his sacerdotal robes, the prison at Whitehall.Finally, Athos undertook to provide, in any event, the means of leaving England -- in case either of failure or of success. The night having come they made an appointment to meet at eleven o'clock at the hotel, and each started out to fulfill his dangerous mission.
The palace of Whitehall was guarded by three regiments of cavalry and by the fierce anxiety of Cromwell, who came and went or sent his generals or his agents continually. Alone in his usual room, lighted by two candles, the condemned monarch gazed sadly on the luxury of his past greatness, just as at the last hour one sees the images of life more mildly brilliant than of yore.
Parry had not quitted his master, and since his condemnation had not ceased to weep. Charles, leaning on a table, was gazing at a medallion of his wife and daughter; he was waiting first for Juxon, then for martyrdom.
At times he thought of those brave French gentlemen who had appeared to him from a distance of a hundred leagues fabulous and unreal, like the forms that appear in dreams. In fact, he sometimes asked himself if all that was happening to him was not a dream, or at least the delirium of a fever. He rose and took a few steps as if to rouse himself from his torpor and went as far as the window; he saw glittering below him the muskets of the guards. He was thereupon constrained to admit that he was indeed awake and that his bloody dream was real.Charles returned in silence to his chair, rested his elbow on the table, bowed his head upon his hand and reflected.
"Alas!" he said to himself, "if I only had for a confessor one of those lights of the church, whose soul has sounded all the mysteries of life, all the littlenesses of greatness, perhaps his utterance would overawe the voice that wails within my soul. But I shall have a priest of vulgar mind, whose career and fortune I have ruined by my misfortune. He will speak to me of God and death, as he has spoken to many another dying man, not understanding that this one leaves his throne to an usurper, his children to the cold contempt of public charity."And he raised the medallion to his lips.
It was a dull, foggy night. A neighboring church clock slowly struck the hour. The flickering light of the two candles showed fitful phantom shadows in the lofty room. These were the ancestors of Charles, standing back dimly in their tarnished frames.
An awful sadness enveloped the heart of Charles. He buried his brow in his hands and thought of the world, so beautiful when one is about to leave it; of the caresses of children, so pleasing and so sweet, especially when one is parting from his children never to see them again; then of his wife, the noble and courageous woman who had sustained him to the last moment. He drew from his breast the diamond cross and the star of the Garter which she had sent him by those generous Frenchmen; he kissed it, and then, as he reflected, that she would never again see those things till he lay cold and mutilated in the tomb, there passed over him one of those icy shivers which may be called forerunners of death.
Then, in that chamber which recalled to him so many royal souvenirs, whither had come so many courtiers, the scene of so much flattering homage, alone with a despairing servant, whose feeble soul could afford no support to his own, the king at last yielded to sorrow, and his courage sank to a level with that feebleness, those shadows, and that wintry cold. That king, who was so grand, so sublime in the hour of death, meeting his fate with a smile of resignation on his lips, now in that gloomy hour wiped away a tear which had fallen on the table and quivered on the gold embroidered cloth.
Suddenly the door opened, an ecclesiastic in episcopal robes entered, followed by two guards, to whom the king waved an imperious gesture. The guards retired; the room resumed its obscurity."Juxon!" cried Charles, "Juxon, thank you, my last friend; you come at a fitting moment." The bishop looked anxiously at the man sobbing in the ingle-nook. "Come, Parry," said the king, "cease your tears." "If it's Parry," said the bishop, "I have nothing to fear; so allow me to salute your majesty and to tell you who I am and for what I am come." At this sight and this voice Charles was about to cry out, when Aramis placed his finger on his lips and bowed low to the king of England. "The chevalier!" murmured Charles. "Yes, sire," interrupted Aramis, raising his voice, "Bishop Juxon, the faithful knight of Christ, obedient to your majesty's wishes."
Charles clasped his hands, amazed and stupefied to find that these foreigners, without other motive than that which their conscience imposed on them, thus combated the will of a people and the destiny of a king."You!" he said, "you! how did you penetrate hither? If they recognize you, you are lost."
"Care not for me, sire; think only of yourself. You see, your friends are wakeful. I know not what we shall do yet, but four determined men can do much. Meanwhile, do not be surprised at anything that happens; prepare yourself for every emergency."Charles shook his head. "Do you know that I die to-morrow at ten o'clock?" "Something, your majesty, will happen between now and then to make the execution impossible." The king looked at Aramis with astonishment. At this moment a strange noise, like the unloading of a cart, and followed by a cry of pain, was heard beneath the window. "Do you hear?" said the king. "I hear," said Aramis, "but I understand neither the noise nor the cry of pain."
"I know not who can have uttered the cry," said the king, "but the noise is easily understood. Do you know that I am to be beheaded outside this window? Well, these boards you hear unloaded are the posts and planks to build my scaffold. Some workmen must have fallen underneath them and been hurt."
Aramis shuddered in spite of himself.
"I mean that at this hour the headsman has been got out of the way by force or persuasion. The scaffold will be ready by to-morrow, but the headsman will be wanting and they will put it off till the day after to-morrow.""What then?" said the king. "To-morrow night we shall rescue you." "How can that be?" cried the king, whose face was lighted up, in spite of himself, by a flash of joy. "Oh! sir," cried Parry, "may you and yours be blessed!" "How can it be?" repeated the king. "I must know, so that I may assist you if there is any chance."
"I know nothing about it," continued Aramis, "but the cleverest, the bravest, the most devoted of us four said to me when I left him, `Tell the king that to-morrow at ten o'clock at night, we shall carry him off.' He has said it and will do it.""Tell me the name of that generous friend," said the king, "that I may cherish for him an eternal gratitude, whether he succeeds or not." "D'Artagnan, sire, the same who had so nearly rescued you when Colonel Harrison made his untimely entrance." "You are, indeed, wonderful men," said the king; "if such things had been related to me I should not have believed them."
"Now, sire," resumed Aramis, "listen to me. Do not forget for a single instant that we are watching over your safety; observe the smallest gesture, the least bit of song, the least sign from any one near you; watch everything, hear everything, interpret everything."
"Oh, chevalier!" cried the king, "what can I say to you? There is no word, though it should come from the profoundest depth of my heart, that can express my gratitude. If you succeed I do not say that you will save a king; no, in presence of the scaffold as I am, royalty, I assure you, is a very small affair; but you will save a husband to his wife, a father to his children. Chevalier, take my hand; it is that of a friend who will love you to his last sigh."Aramis stooped to kiss the king's hand, but Charles clasped his and pressed it to his heart.
At this moment a man entered, without even knocking at the door. Aramis tried to withdraw his hand, but the king still held it. The man was one of those Puritans, half preacher and half soldier, who swarmed around Cromwell."What do you want, sir?" said the king. "I desire to know if the confession of Charles Stuart is at an end?" said the stranger. "And what is it to you?" replied the king; "we are not of the same religion." "All men are brothers," said the Puritan. "One of my brothers is about to die and I come to prepare him." "Bear with him," whispered Aramis; "it is doubtless some spy." "After my reverend lord bishop," said the king to the man, "I shall hear you with pleasure, sir." The man retired, but not before examining the supposed Juxon with an attention which did not escape the king.
"Chevalier," said the king, when the door was closed, "I believe you are right and that this man only came here with evil intentions. Take care that no misfortune befalls you when you leave.""I thank your majesty," said Aramis, "but under these robes I have a coat of mail, a pistol and a dagger." "Go, then, sir, and God keep you!"
The king accompanied him to the door, where Aramis pronounced his benediction upon him, and passing through the ante-rooms, filled with soldiers, jumped into his carriage and drove to the bishop's palace. Juxon was waiting for him impatiently.
"Well?" said he, on perceiving Aramis. "Everything has succeeded as I expected; spies, guards, satellites, all took me for you, and the king blesses you while waiting for you to bless him.""May God protect you, my son; for your example has given me at the same time hope and courage." Aramis resumed his own attire and left Juxon with the assurance that he might again have recourse to him.
He had scarcely gone ten yards in the street when he perceived that he was followed by a man, wrapped in a large cloak. He placed his hand on his dagger and stopped. The man came straight toward him. It was Porthos."My dear friend," cried Aramis. "You see, we had each our mission," said Porthos; "mine was to guard you and I am doing so. Have you seen the king?" "Yes, and all goes well." "We are to meet our friends at the hotel at eleven." It was then striking half-past ten by St. Paul's. Arrived at the hotel it was not long before Athos entered.
"All's well," he cried, as he entered; "I have hired a cedar wherry, as light as a canoe, as easy on the wing as any swallow. It is waiting for us at Greenwich, opposite the Isle of Dogs, manned by a captain and four men, who for the sum of fifty pounds sterling will keep themselves at our disposition three successive nights. Once on board we drop down the Thames and in two hours are on the open sea. In case I am killed, the captain's name is Roger and the skiff is called the Lightning. A handkerchief, tied at the four corners, is to be the signal."Next moment D'Artagnan entered. "Empty your pockets," said he; "I want a hundred pounds, and as for my own ---- " and he emptied them inside out. The sum was collected in a minute. D'Artagnan ran out and returned directly after. "There," said he, "it's done. Ough! and not without a deal of trouble, too."
"Has the executioner left London?" asked Athos. "Ah, you see that plan was not sure enough; he might go out by one gate and return by another.""Where is he, then?" "In the cellar." "The cellar -- what cellar?" "Our landlord's, to be sure. Mousqueton is propped against the door and here's the key." "Bravo!" said Aramis, "how did you manage it?" "Like everything else, with money; but it cost me dear." "How much?" asked Athos. "Five hundred pounds." "And where did you get so much money?" said Athos. "Had you, then, that sum?" "The queen's famous diamond," answered D'Artagnan, with a sigh. "Ah, true," said Aramis. "I recognized it on your finger." "You bought it back, then, from Monsieur des Essarts?" asked Porthos. "Yes, but it was fated that I should not keep it." "So, then, we are all right as regards the executioner," said Athos; "but unfortunately every executioner has his assistant, his man, or whatever you call him."
"And this one had his," said D'Artagnan; "but, as good luck would have it, just as I thought I should have two affairs to manage, our friend was brought home with a broken leg. In the excess of his zeal he had accompanied the cart containing the scaffolding as far as the king's window, and one of the crossbeams fell on his leg and broke it.""Ah!" cried Aramis, "that accounts for the cry I heard."
"Probably," said D'Artagnan, "but as he is a thoughtful young man he promised to send four expert workmen in his place to help those already at the scaffold, and wrote the moment he was brought home to Master Tom Lowe, an assistant carpenter and friend of his, to go down to Whitehall, with three of his friends. Here's the letter he sent by a messenger, for sixpence, who sold it to me for a guinea."
"And what on earth are you going to do with it?" asked Athos.
Athos uttered a cry of joy and admiration, ran to a closet and drew forth workmen's clothes, which the four friends immediately put on; they then left the hotel, Athos carrying a saw, Porthos a vise, Aramis an axe and D'Artagnan a hammer and some nails.The letter from the executioner's assistant satisfied the master carpenter that those were the men he expected.
The WorkmenToward midnight Charles heard a great noise beneath his window. It arose from blows of hammer and hatchet, clinking of pincers and cranching of saws.
Lying dressed upon his bed, the noise awoke him with a start and found a gloomy echo in his heart. He could not endure it, and sent Parry to ask the sentinel to beg the workmen to strike more gently and not disturb the last slumber of one who had been their king. The sentinel was unwilling to leave his post, but allowed Parry to pass.
Arriving at the window Parry found an unfinished scaffold, over which they were nailing a covering of black serge. Raised to the height of twenty feet, so as to be on a level with the window, it had two lower stories. Parry, odious as was this sight to him, sought for those among some eight or ten workmen who were making the most noise; and fixed on two men, who were loosening the last hooks of the iron balcony."My friends," said Parry, mounting the scaffold and standing beside them, "would you work a little more quietly? The king wishes to get a sleep."
One of the two, who was standing up, was of gigantic size and was driving a pick with all his might into the wall, whilst the other, kneeling beside him, was collecting the pieces of stone. The face of the first was lost to Parry in the darkness; but as the second turned around and placed his finger on his lips Parry started back in amazement."Very well, very well," said the workman aloud, in excellent English. "Tell the king that if he sleeps badly to-night he will sleep better to-morrow night." These blunt words, so terrible if taken literally, were received by the other workmen with a roar of laughter. But Parry withdrew, thinking he was dreaming.
Charles was impatiently awaiting his return. At the moment he re-entered, the sentinel who guarded the door put his head through the opening, curious as to what the king was doing. The king was lying on his bed, resting on his elbow. Parry closed the door and approaching the king, his face radiant with joy:"Sire," he said, in a low voice, "do you know who these workmen are who are making so much noise?" "I? No; how would you have me know?" Parry bent his head and whispered to the king: "It is the Comte de la Fere and his friends." "Raising my scaffold!" cried the king, astounded. "Yes, and at the same time making a hole in the wall."
The king clasped his hands and raised his eyes to Heaven; then leaping down from his bed he went to the window, and pulling aside the curtain tried to distinguish the figures outside, but in vain.Parry was not wrong. It was Athos he had recognized, and Porthos who was boring a hole through the wall.
This hole communicated with a kind of loft -- the space between the floor of the king's room and the ceiling of the one below it. Their plan was to pass through the hole they were making into this loft and cut out from below a piece of the flooring of the king's room, so as to form a kind of trap-door.
Through this the king was to escape the next night, and, hidden by the black covering of the scaffold, was to change his dress for that of a workman, slip out with his deliverers, pass the sentinels, who would suspect nothing, and so reach the skiff that was waiting for him at Greenwich.
Day gilded the tops of the houses. The aperture was finished and Athos passed through it, carrying the clothes destined for the king wrapped in black cloth, and the tools with which he was to open a communication with the king's room. He had only two hours' work to do to open communication with the king and, according to the calculations of the four friends, they had the entire day before them, since, the executioner being absent, another must be sent for to Bristol.
D'Artagnan returned to change his workman's clothes for his chestnut-colored suit, and Porthos to put on his red doublet. As for Aramis, he went off to the bishop's palace to see if he could possibly pass in with Juxon to the king's presence. All three agreed to meet at noon in Whitehall Place to see how things went on.
Before leaving the scaffold Aramis had approached the opening where Athos was concealed to tell him that he was about to make an attempt to gain another interview with the king.
"Adieu, then, and be of good courage," said Athos. "Report to the king the condition of affairs. Say to him that when he is alone it will help us if he will knock on the floor, for then I can continue my work in safety. Try, Aramis, to keep near the king. Speak loud, very loud, for they will be listening at the door. If there is a sentinel within the apartment, kill him without hesitation. If there are two, let Parry kill one and you the other. If there are three, let yourself be slain, but save the king.""Be easy," said Aramis; "I will take two poniards and give one to Parry. Is that all?"
"Yes, go; but urge the king strongly not to stand on false generosity. While you are fighting if there is a fight, he must flee. The trap once replaced over his head, you being on the trap, dead or alive, they will need at least ten minutes to find the hole by which he has escaped. In those ten minutes we shall have gained the road and the king will be saved.""Everything shall be done as you say, Athos. Your hand, for perhaps we shall not see each other again." Athos put his arm around Aramis's neck and embraced him. "For you," he said. "Now if I die, say to D'Artagnan that I love him as a son, and embrace him for me. Embrace also our good and brave Porthos. Adieu." "Adieu," said Aramis. "I am as sure now that the king will be saved as I am sure that I clasp the most loyal hand in the world."
Aramis parted from Athos, went down from the scaffold in his turn and took his way to the hotel, whistling the air of a song in praise of Cromwell. He found the other two friends sitting at table before a good fire, drinking a bottle of port and devouring a cold chicken. Porthos was cursing the infamous parliamentarians; D'Artagnan ate in silence, revolving in his mind the most audacious plans.Aramis related what had been agreed upon. D'Artagnan approved with a movement of the head and Porthos with his voice.
"Bravo!" he said; "besides, we shall be there at the time of the flight. What with D'Artagnan, Grimaud and Mousqueton, we can manage to dispatch eight of them. I say nothing about Blaisois, for he is only fit to hold the horses. Two minutes a man makes four minutes. Mousqueton will lose another, that's five; and in five minutes we shall have galloped a quarter of a league."Aramis swallowed a hasty mouthful, gulped a glass of wine and changed his clothes. "Now," said he, "I'm off to the bishop's. Take care of the executioner, D'Artagnan." "All right. Grimaud has relieved Mousqueton and has his foot on the cellar door." "Well, don't be inactive." "Inactive, my dear fellow! Ask Porthos. I pass my life upon my legs."
Aramis again presented himself at the bishop's. Juxon consented the more readily to take him with him, as he would require an assistant priest in case the king should wish to communicate. Dressed as Aramis had been the night before, the bishop got into his carriage, and the former, more disguised by his pallor and sad countenance than his deacon's dress, got in by his side. The carriage stopped at the door of the palace. It was about nine o'clock in the morning.
Nothing was changed. The ante-rooms were still full of soldiers, the passages still lined by guards. The king was already sanguine, but when he perceived Aramis his hope turned to joy. He embraced Juxon and pressed the hand of Aramis. The bishop affected to speak in a loud voice, before every one, of their previous interview. The king replied that the words spoken in that interview had borne their fruit, and that he desired another under the same conditions. Juxon turned to those present and begged them to leave him and his assistant alone with the king. Every one withdrew. As soon as the door was closed:
"Sire," said Aramis, speaking rapidly, "you are saved; the London executioner has vanished. His assistant broke his leg last night beneath your majesty's window -- the cry we heard was his -- and there is no executioner nearer at hand than Bristol.""But the Comte de la Fere?" asked the king. "Two feet below you; take the poker from the fireplace and strike three times on the floor. He will answer you." The king did so, and the moment after, three muffled knocks, answering the given signal, sounded beneath the floor. "So," said Charles, "he who knocks down there ---- " "Is the Comte de la Fere, sire," said Aramis. "He is preparing a way for your majesty to escape. Parry, for his part, will raise this slab of marble and a passage will be opened."
"Oh, Juxon," said the king, seizing the bishop's two hands in his own, "promise that you will pray all your life for this gentleman and for the other that you hear beneath your feet, and for two others also, who, wherever they may be, are on the watch for my safety.""Sire," replied Juxon, "you shall be obeyed."
Meanwhile, the miner underneath was heard working away incessantly, when suddenly an unexpected noise resounded in the passage. Aramis seized the poker and gave the signal to stop; the noise came nearer and nearer. It was that of a number of men steadily approaching. The four men stood motionless. All eyes were fixed on the door, which opened slowly and with a kind of solemnity.
A parliamentary officer, clothed in black and with a gravity that augured ill, entered, bowed to the king, and unfolding a parchment, read the sentence, as is usually done to criminals before their execution."What is this?" said Aramis to Juxon. Juxon replied with a sign which meant that he knew no more than Aramis about it. "Then it is for to-day?" asked the king. "Was not your majesty warned that it was to take place this morning?" "Then I must die like a common criminal by the hand of the London executioner?"
"The London executioner has disappeared, your majesty, but a man has offered his services instead. The execution will therefore only be delayed long enough for you to arrange your spiritual and temporal affairs."
A slight moisture on his brow was the only trace of emotion that Charles evinced, as he learned these tidings. But Aramis was livid. His heart ceased beating, he closed his eyes and leaned upon the table. Charles perceived it and took his hand.
"Come, my friend," said he, "courage." Then he turned to the officer. "Sir, I am ready. There is but little reason why I should delay you. Firstly, I wish to communicate; secondly, to embrace my children and bid them farewell for the last time. Will this be permitted me?""Certainly," replied the officer, and left the room. Aramis dug his nails into his flesh and groaned aloud. "Oh! my lord bishop," he cried, seizing Juxon's hands, "where is Providence? where is Providence?" "My son," replied the bishop, with firmness, "you see Him not, because the passions of the world conceal Him."
"My son," said the king to Aramis, "do not take it so to heart. You ask what God is doing. God beholds your devotion and my martyrdom, and believe me, both will have their reward. Ascribe to men, then, what is happening, and not to God. It is men who drive me to death; it is men who make you weep.""Yes, sire," said Aramis, "yes, you are right. It is men whom I should hold responsible, and I will hold them responsible."
"Be seated, Juxon," said the king, falling upon his knees. "I have now to confess to you. Remain, sir," he added to Aramis, who had moved to leave the room. "Remain, Parry. I have nothing to say that cannot be said before all."Juxon sat down, and the king, kneeling humbly before him, began his confession.
The mob had already assembled when the confession terminated. The king's children next arrived -- the Princess Charlotte, a beautiful, fair-haired child, with tears in her eyes, and the Duke of Gloucester, a boy eight or nine years old, whose tearless eyes and curling lip revealed a growing pride. He had wept all night long, but would not show his grief before the people.
Charles's heart melted within him at the sight of those two children, whom he had not seen for two years and whom he now met at the moment of death. He turned to brush away a tear, and then, summoning up all his firmness, drew his daughter toward him, recommending her to be pious and resigned. Then he took the boy upon his knee.
"My son," he said to him, "you saw a great number of people in the streets as you came here. These men are going to behead your father. Do not forget that. Perhaps some day they will want to make you king, instead of the Prince of Wales, or the Duke of York, your elder brothers. But you are not the king, my son, and can never be so while they are alive. Swear to me, then, never to let them put a crown upon your head unless you have a legal right to the crown. For one day -- listen, my son -- one day, if you do so, they will doom you to destruction, head and crown, too, and then you will not be able to die with a calm conscience, as I die. Swear, my son."The child stretched out his little hand toward that of his father and said, "I swear to your majesty." "Henry," said Charles, "call me your father." "Father," replied the child, "I swear to you that they shall kill me sooner than make me king." "Good, my child. Now kiss me; and you, too, Charlotte. Never forget me." "Oh! never, never!" cried both the children, throwing their arms around their father's neck. "Farewell," said Charles, "farewell, my children. Take them away, Juxon; their tears will deprive me of the courage to die." Juxon led them away, and this time the doors were left open.
Meanwhile, Athos, in his concealment, waited in vain the signal to recommence his work. Two long hours he waited in terrible inaction. A deathlike silence reigned in the room above. At last he determined to discover the cause of this stillness. He crept from his hole and stood, hidden by the black drapery, beneath the scaffold. Peeping out from the drapery, he could see the rows of halberdiers and musketeers around the scaffold and the first ranks of the populace swaying and groaning like the sea.
"What is the matter, then?" he asked himself, trembling more than the wind-swayed cloth he was holding back. "The people are hurrying on, the soldiers under arms, and among the spectators I see D'Artagnan. What is he waiting for? What is he looking at? Good God! have they allowed the headsman to escape?"
Suddenly the dull beating of muffled drums filled the square. The sound of heavy steps was heard above his head. The next moment the very planks of the scaffold creaked with the weight of an advancing procession, and the eager faces of the spectators confirmed what a last hope at the bottom of his heart had prevented him till then believing. At the same moment a well-known voice above him pronounced these words:"Colonel, I want to speak to the people." Athos shuddered from head to foot. It was the king speaking on the scaffold.
In fact, after taking a few drops of wine and a piece of bread, Charles, weary of waiting for death, had suddenly decided to go to meet it and had given the signal for movement. Then the two wings of the window facing the square had been thrown open, and the people had seen silently advancing from the interior of the vast chamber, first, a masked man, who, carrying an axe in his hand, was recognized as the executioner. He approached the block and laid his axe upon it. Behind him, pale indeed, but marching with a firm step, was Charles Stuart, who advanced between two priests, followed by a few superior officers appointed to preside at the execution and attended by two files of partisans who took their places on opposite sides of the scaffold.
The sight of the masked man gave rise to a prolonged sensation. Every one was full of curiosity as to who that unknown executioner could be who presented himself so opportunely to assure to the people the promised spectacle, when the people believed it had been postponed until the following day. All gazed at him searchingly.
But they could discern nothing but a man of middle height, dressed in black, apparently of a certain age, for the end of a gray beard peeped out from the bottom of the mask that hid his features.
The king's request had undoubtedly been acceded to by an affirmative sign, for in firm, sonorous accents, which vibrated in the depths of Athos's heart, the king began his speech, explaining his conduct and counseling the welfare of the kingdom.
"Oh!" said Athos to himself, "is it indeed possible that I hear what I hear and that I see what I see? Is it possible that God has abandoned His representative on earth and left him to die thus miserably? And I have not seen him! I have not said adieu to him!"A noise was heard like that the instrument of death would make if moved upon the block. "Do not touch the axe," said the king, and resumed his speech.
At the end of his speech the king looked tenderly around upon the people. Then unfastening the diamond ornament which the queen had sent him, he placed it in the hands of the priest who accompanied Juxon. Then he drew from his breast a little cross set in diamonds, which, like the order, had been the gift of Henrietta Maria."Sir," said he to the priest, "I shall keep this cross in my hand till the last moment. Take it from me when I am -- dead." "Yes, sire," said a voice, which Athos recognized as that of Aramis.
He then took his hat from his head and threw it on the ground. One by one he undid the buttons of his doublet, took it off and deposited it by the side of his hat. Then, as it was cold, he asked for his gown, which was brought to him.All the preparations were made with a frightful calmness. One would have thought the king was going to bed and not to his coffin. "Will these be in your way?" he said to the executioner, raising his long locks; "if so, they can be tied up."
Charles accompanied these words with a look designed to penetrate the mask of the unknown headsman. His calm, noble gaze forced the man to turn away his head. But after the searching look of the king he encountered the burning eyes of Aramis.The king, seeing that he did not reply, repeated his question. "It will do," replied the man, in a tremulous voice, "if you separate them across the neck." The king parted his hair with his hands, and looking at the block he said: "This block is very low, is there no other to be had?" "It is the usual block," answered the man in the mask. "Do you think you can behead me with a single blow?" asked the king. "I hope so," was the reply. There was something so strange in these three words that everybody, except the king, shuddered. "I do not wish to be taken by surprise," added the king. "I shall kneel down to pray; do not strike then." "When shall I strike?" "When I shall lay my head on the block and say `Remember!' then strike boldly." "Gentlemen," said the king to those around him, "I leave you to brave the tempest; I go before you to a kingdom which knows no storms. Farewell." He looked at Aramis and made a special sign to him with his head.
"Now," he continued, "withdraw a little and let me say my prayer, I beseech you. You, also, stand aside," he said to the masked man. "It is only for a moment and I know that I belong to you; but remember that you are not to strike till I give the signal."
Then he knelt down, made the sign of the cross, and lowering his face to the planks, as if he would have kissed them, said in a low tone, in French, "Comte de la Fere, are you there?""Yes, your majesty," he answered, trembling.
"Faithful friend, noble heart!" said the king, "I should not have been rescued. I have addressed my people and I have spoken to God; last of all I speak to you. To maintain a cause which I believed sacred I have lost the throne and my children their inheritance. A million in gold remains; it is buried in the cellars of Newcastle Keep. You only know that this money exists. Make use of it, then, whenever you think it will be most useful, for my eldest son's welfare. And now, farewell.""Farewell, saintly, martyred majesty," lisped Athos, chilled with terror. A moment's silence ensued and then, in a full, sonorous voice, the king exclaimed: "Remember!"
He had scarcely uttered the word when a heavy blow shook the scaffold and where Athos stood immovable a warm drop fell upon his brow. He reeled back with a shudder and the same moment the drops became a crimson cataract.
Athos fell on his knees and remained some minutes as if bewildered or stunned. At last he rose and taking his handkerchief steeped it in the blood of the martyred king. Then as the crowd gradually dispersed he leaped down, crept from behind the drapery, glided between two horses, mingled with the crowd and was the first to arrive at the inn.Having gained his room he raised his hand to his face, and observing that his fingers were covered with the monarch's blood, fell down insensible.
The Man In The Mask
The snow was falling thick and icy. Aramis was the next to come in and to discover Athos almost insensible. But at the first words he uttered the comte roused himself from the kind of lethargy in which he had sunk."Well," said Aramis, "beaten by fate!" "Beaten!" said Athos. "Noble and unhappy king!" "Are you wounded?" cried Aramis. "No, this is his blood." "Where were you, then?" "Where you left me -- under the scaffold." "Did you see it all?" "No, but I heard all. God preserve me from another such hour as I have just passed." "Then you know that I did not leave him?" "I heard your voice up to the last moment." "Here is the order he gave me and the cross I took from his hand; he desired they should be returned to the queen." "Then here is a handkerchief to wrap them in," replied Athos, drawing from his pocket the one he had steeped in the king's blood. "And what," he continued, "has been done with the poor body?" "By order of Cromwell royal honors will be accorded to it. The doctors are embalming the corpse, and when it is ready it will be placed in a lighted chapel." "Mockery," muttered Athos, savagely; "royal honors to one whom they have murdered!" "Well, cheer up!" said a loud voice from the staircase, which Porthos had just mounted. "We are all mortal, my poor friends."
"You are late, my dear Porthos." "Yes, there were some people on the way who delayed me. The wretches were dancing. I took one of them by the throat and three-quarters throttled him. Just then a patrol rode up. Luckily the man I had had most to do with was some minutes before he could speak, so I took advantage of his silence to walk off.""Have you seen D'Artagnan?" "We got separated in the crowd and I could not find him again."
"Oh!" said Athos, satirically, "I saw him. He was in the front row of the crowd, admirably placed for seeing; and as on the whole the sight was curious, he probably wished to stay to the end.""Ah Comte de la Fere," said a calm voice, though hoarse with running, "is it your habit to calumniate the absent?"
This reproof stung Athos to the heart, but as the impression produced by seeing D'Artagnan foremost in a coarse, ferocious crowd had been very strong, he contented himself with replying:
"I am not calumniating you, my friend. They were anxious about you here; I simply told them where you were. You didn't know King Charles; to you he was only a foreigner and you were not obliged to love him."So saying, he stretched out his hand, but the other pretended not to see it and he let it drop again slowly by his side. "Ugh! I am tired," cried D'Artagnan, sitting down. "Drink a glass of port," said Aramis; "it will refresh you."
"Yes, let us drink," said Athos, anxious to make it up by hobnobbing with D'Artagnan, "let us drink and get away from this hateful country. The felucca is waiting for us, you know; let us leave to-night, we have nothing more to do here.""You are in a hurry, sir count," said D'Artagnan. "But what would you have us to do here, now that the king is dead?"
"Go, sir count," replied D'Artagnan, carelessly; "you see nothing to keep you a little longer in England? Well, for my part, I, a bloodthirsty ruffian, who can go and stand close to a scaffold, in order to have a better view of the king's execution -- I remain."Athos turned pale. Every reproach his friend uttered struck deeply in his heart. "Ah! you remain in London?" said Porthos. "Yes. And you?" "Hang it!" said Porthos, a little perplexed between the two, "I suppose, as I came with you, I must go away with you. I can't leave you alone in this abominable country."
"Thanks, my worthy friend. So I have a little adventure to propose to you when the count is gone. I want to find out who was the man in the mask, who so obligingly offered to cut the king's throat.""A man in a mask?" cried Athos. "You did not let the executioner escape, then?" "The executioner is still in the cellar, where, I presume, he has had an interview with mine host's bottles. But you remind me. Mousqueton!" "Sir," answered a voice from the depths of the earth. "Let out your prisoner. All is over." "But," said Athos, "who is the wretch that has dared to raise his hand against his king?" "An amateur headsman," replied Aramis, "who however, does not handle the axe amiss." "Did you not see his face?" asked Athos. "He wore a mask." "But you, Aramis, who were close to him?" "I could see nothing but a gray beard under the fringe of the mask." "Then it must be a man of a certain age." "Oh!" said D'Artagnan, "that matters little. When one puts on a mask, it is not difficult to wear a beard under it." "I am sorry I did not follow him," said Porthos. "Well, my dear Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "that's the very thing it came into my head to do." Athos understood all now. "Pardon me, D'Artagnan," he said. "I have distrusted God; I could the more easily distrust you. Pardon me, my friend." "We will see about that presently," said D'Artagnan, with a slight smile. "Well, then?" said Aramis.
"Well, while I was watching -- not the king, as monsieur le comte thinks, for I know what it is to see a man led to death, and though I ought to be accustomed to the sight it always makes me ill -- while I was watching the masked executioner, the idea came to me, as I said, to find out who he was. Now, as we are wont to complete ourselves each by all the rest and to depend on one another for assistance, as one calls his other hand to aid the first, I looked around instinctively to see if Porthos was there; for I had seen you, Aramis, with the king, and you, count, I knew would be under the scaffold, and for that reason I forgive you," he added, offering Athos his hand, "for you must have suffered much. I was looking around for Porthos when I saw near me a head which had been broken, but which, for better or worse, had been patched with plaster and with black silk. `Humph!' thought I, `that looks like my handiwork; I fancy I must have mended that skull somewhere or other.' And, in fact, it was that unfortunate Scotchman, Parry's brother, you know, on whom Groslow amused himself by trying his strength. Well, this man was making signs to another at my left, and turning around I recognized the honest Grimaud. `Oh!' said I to him. Grimaud turned round with a jerk, recognized me, and pointed to the man in the mask. `Eh!' said he, which meant, `Do you see him?' `Parbleu!' I answered, and we perfectly understood one another. Well, everything was finished as you know. The mob dispersed. I made a sign to Grimaud and the Scotchman, and we all three retired into a corner of the square. I saw the executioner return into the king's room, change his clothes, put on a black hat and a large cloak and disappear. Five minutes later he came down the grand staircase."'You followed him?" cried Athos.
"I should think so, but not without difficulty. Every few minutes he turned around, and thus obliged us to conceal ourselves. I might have gone up to him and killed him. But I am not selfish, and I thought it might console you all a little to have a share in the matter. So we followed him through the lowest streets in the city, and in half an hour's time he stopped before a little isolated house. Grimaud drew out a pistol. `Eh?' said he, showing it. I held back his arm. The man in the mask stopped before a low door and drew out a key; but before he placed it in the lock he turned around to see if he was being followed. Grimaud and I got behind a tree, and the Scotchman having nowhere to hide himself, threw himself on his face in the road. Next moment the door opened and the man disappeared.""The scoundrel!" said Aramis. "While you have been returning hither he will have escaped and we shall never find him." "Come, now, Aramis," said D'Artagnan, "you must be taking me for some one else." "Nevertheless," said Athos, "in your absence ---- "
"Well, in my absence haven't I put in my place Grimaud and the Scotchman? Before he had taken ten steps beyond the door I had examined the house on all sides. At one of the doors, that by which he had entered, I placed our Scotchman, making a sign to him to follow the man wherever he might go, if he came out again. Then going around the house I placed Grimaud at the other exit, and here I am. Our game is beaten up. Now for the tally-ho."Athos threw himself into D'Artagnan's arms.
"Friend," he said, "you have been too good in pardoning me; I was wrong, a hundred times wrong. I ought to have known you better by this time; but we are all possessed of a malignant spirit, which bids us doubt.""Humph!" said Porthos. "Don't you think the executioner might be Master Cromwell, who, to make sure of this affair, undertook it himself?" "Ah! just so. Cromwell is stout and short, and this man thin and lanky, rather tall than otherwise." "Some condemned soldier, perhaps," suggested Athos, "whom they have pardoned at the price of regicide." "No, no," continued D'Artagnan, "it was not the measured step of a foot soldier, nor was it the gait of a horseman. If I am not mistaken we have to do with a gentleman." "A gentleman!" exclaimed Athos. "Impossible! It would be a dishonor to all the nobility." "Fine sport, by Jove!" cried Porthos, with a laugh that shook the windows. "Fine sport!" "Are you still bent on departure, Athos?" asked D'Artagnan. "No, I remain," replied Athos, with a threatening gesture that promised no good to whomsoever it was addressed. "Swords, then!" cried Aramis, "swords! let us not lose a moment."
The four friends resumed their own clothes, girded on their swords, ordered Mousqueton and Blaisois to pay the bill and to arrange everything for immediate departure, and wrapped in their large cloaks left in search of their game.
The night was dark, snow was falling, the streets were silent and deserted. D'Artagnan led the way through the intricate windings and narrow alleys of the city and ere long they had reached the house in question. For a moment D'Artagnan thought that Parry's brother had disappeared; but he was mistaken. The robust Scotchman, accustomed to the snows of his native hills, had stretched himself against a post, and like a fallen statue, insensible to the inclemency of the weather, had allowed the snow to cover him. He rose, however, as they approached.
"Come," said Athos, "here's another good servant. Really, honest men are not so scarce as I thought."
"Don't be in a hurry to weave crowns for our Scotchman. I believe the fellow is here on his own account, for I have heard that these gentlemen born beyond the Tweed are very vindictive. I should not like to be Groslow, if he meets him.""Well?" said Athos, to the man, in English. "No one has come out," he replied. "Then, Porthos and Aramis, will you remain with this man while we go around to Grimaud?" Grimaud had made himself a kind of sentry box out of a hollow willow, and as they drew near he put his head out and gave a low whistle. "Soho!" cried Athos. "Yes," said Grimaud. "Well, has anybody come out?" "No, but somebody has gone in." "A man or a woman?" "A man." "Ah! ah!" said D'Artagnan, "there are two of them, then!" "I wish there were four," said Athos; "the two parties would then be equal." "Perhaps there are four," said D'Artagnan. "What do you mean?" "Other men may have entered before them and waited for them." "We can find out," said Grimaud. At the same time he pointed to a window, through the shutters of which a faint light streamed. "That is true," said D'Artagnan, "let us call the others." They returned around the house to fetch Porthos and Aramis. "Have you seen anything?" they asked. "No, but we are going to," replied D'Artagnan, pointing to Grimaud, who had already climbed some five or six feet from the ground.
All four came up together. Grimaud continued to climb like a cat and succeeded at last in catching hold of a hook, which served to keep one of the shutters back when opened. Then resting his foot on a small ledge he made a sign to show all was right."Well?" asked D'Artagnan. Grimaud showed his closed hand, with two fingers spread out. "Speak," said Athos; "we cannot see your signs. How many are there?" "Two. One opposite to me, the other with his back to me." "Good. And the man opposite to you is ---- "The man I saw go in." "Do you know him?" "I thought I recognized him, and was not mistaken. Short and stout." "Who is it?" they all asked together in a low tone. "General Oliver Cromwell." The four friends looked at one another. "And the other?" asked Athos. "Thin and lanky." "The executioner," said D'Artagnan and Aramis at the same time. "I can see nothing but his back," resumed Grimaud. "But wait. He is moving; and if he has taken off his mask I shall be able to see. Ah ---- " And as if struck in the heart he let go the hook and dropped with a groan. "Did you see him?" they all asked. Yes," said Grimaud, with his hair standing on end. "The thin, spare man?" "Yes." "The executioner, in short?" asked Aramis. "Yes." "And who is it?" said Porthos. "He -- he -- is ---- " murmured Grimaud, pale as a ghost and seizing his master's hand. "Who? He?" asked Athos. "Mordaunt," replied Grimaud. D'Artagnan, Porthos and Aramis uttered a cry of joy. Athos stepped back and passed his hand across his brow. "Fatality!" he muttered.