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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XXV. In Which Porthos Thinks He Is Pursuing a Duchy.


Aramis and Porthos, having profited by the time granted them by Fouquet, did honor to the French cavalry by their speed. Porthos did not clearly understand on what kind of mission he was forced to display so much velocity; but as he saw Aramis spurring on furiously, he, Porthos, spurred on in the same way. They had soon, in this manner, placed twelve leagues between them and Vaux; they were then obliged to change horses, and organize a sort of post arrangement. It was during a relay that Porthos ventured to interrogate Aramis discreetly.

“Hush!” replied the latter, “know only that our fortune depends on our speed.”

As if Porthos had still been the musketeer, without a sou or a maille of 1626, he pushed forward. That magic word “fortune” always means something in the human ear. It means enough for those who have nothing; it means too much for those who have enough.

“I shall be made a duke!” said Porthos, aloud. He was speaking to himself.

“That is possible,” replied Aramis, smiling after his own fashion, as Porthos’s horse passed him. Aramis felt, notwithstanding, as though his brain were on fire; the activity of the body had not yet succeeded in subduing that of the mind. All there is of raging passion, mental toothache or mortal threat, raged, gnawed and grumbled in the thoughts of the unhappy prelate. His countenance exhibited visible traces of this rude combat. Free on the highway to abandon himself to every impression of the moment, Aramis did not fail to swear at every start of his horse, at every inequality in the road. Pale, at times inundated with boiling sweats, then again dry and icy, he flogged his horses till the blood streamed from their sides. Porthos, whose dominant fault was not sensibility, groaned at this. Thus traveled they on for eight long hours, and then arrived at Orleans. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Aramis, on observing this, judged that nothing showed pursuit to be a possibility. It would be without example that a troop capable of taking him and Porthos should be furnished with relays sufficient to perform forty leagues in eight hours. Thus, admitting pursuit, which was not at all manifest, the fugitives were five hours in advance of their pursuers.

Aramis thought that there might be no imprudence in taking a little rest, but that to continue would make the matter more certain. Twenty leagues more, performed with the same rapidity, twenty more leagues devoured, and no one, not even D’Artagnan, could overtake the enemies of the king. Aramis felt obliged, therefore, to inflict upon Porthos the pain of mounting on horseback again. They rode on till seven o’clock in the evening, and had only one post more between them and Blois. But here a diabolical accident alarmed Aramis greatly. There were no horses at the post. The prelate asked himself by what infernal machination his enemies had succeeded in depriving him of the means of going further,—he who never recognized chance as a deity, who found a cause for every accident, preferred believing that the refusal of the postmaster, at such an hour, in such a country, was the consequence of an order emanating from above: an order given with a view of stopping short the king-maker in the midst of his flight. But at the moment he was about to fly into a passion, so as to procure either a horse or an explanation, he was struck with the recollection that the Comte de la Fere lived in the neighborhood.

“I am not traveling,” said he; “I do not want horses for a whole stage. Find me two horses to go and pay a visit to a nobleman of my acquaintance who resides near this place.”

“What nobleman?” asked the postmaster.

“M. le Comte de la Fere.”

“Oh!” replied the postmaster, uncovering with respect, “a very worthy nobleman. But, whatever may be my desire to make myself agreeable to him, I cannot furnish you with horses, for all mine are engaged by M. le Duc de Beaufort.”

“Indeed!” said Aramis, much disappointed.

“Only,” continued the postmaster, “if you will put up with a little carriage I have, I will harness an old blind horse who has still his legs left, and peradventure will draw you to the house of M. le Comte de la Fere.”

“It is worth a louis,” said Aramis.

“No, monsieur, such a ride is worth no more than a crown; that is what M. Grimaud, the comte’s intendant, always pays me when he makes use of that carriage; and I should not wish the Comte de la Fere to have to reproach me with having imposed on one of his friends.”

“As you please,” said Aramis, “particularly as regards disobliging the Comte de la Fere; only I think I have a right to give you a louis for your idea.”

“Oh! doubtless,” replied the postmaster with delight. And he himself harnessed the ancient horse to the creaking carriage. In the meantime Porthos was curious to behold. He imagined he had discovered a clew to the secret, and he felt pleased, because a visit to Athos, in the first place, promised him much satisfaction, and, in the next, gave him the hope of finding at the same time a good bed and good supper. The master, having got the carriage ready, ordered one of his men to drive the strangers to La Fere. Porthos took his seat by the side of Aramis, whispering in his ear, “I understand.”

“Aha!” said Aramis, “and what do you understand, my friend?”

“We are going, on the part of the king, to make some great proposal to Athos.”

“Pooh!” said Aramis.

“You need tell me nothing about it,” added the worthy Porthos, endeavoring to reseat himself so as to avoid the jolting, “you need tell me nothing, I shall guess.”

“Well! do, my friend; guess away.”

They arrived at Athos’s dwelling about nine o’clock in the evening, favored by a splendid moon. This cheerful light rejoiced Porthos beyond expression; but Aramis appeared annoyed by it in an equal degree. He could not help showing something of this to Porthos, who replied—“Ay! ay! I guess how it is! the mission is a secret one.”

These were his last words in the carriage. The driver interrupted him by saying, “Gentlemen, we have arrived.”

Porthos and his companion alighted before the gate of the little chateau, where we are about to meet again our old acquaintances Athos and Bragelonne, the latter of whom had disappeared since the discovery of the infidelity of La Valliere. If there be one saying truer than another, it is this: great griefs contain within themselves the germ of consolation. This painful wound, inflicted upon Raoul, had drawn him nearer to his father again; and God knows how sweet were the consolations which flowed from the eloquent mouth and generous heart of Athos. The wound was not cicatrized, but Athos, by dint of conversing with his son and mixing a little more of his life with that of the young man, had brought him to understand that this pang of a first infidelity is necessary to every human existence; and that no one has loved without encountering it. Raoul listened, again and again, but never understood. Nothing replaces in the deeply afflicted heart the remembrance and thought of the beloved object. Raoul then replied to the reasoning of his father:

“Monsieur, all that you tell me is true; I believe that no one has suffered in the affections of the heart so much as you have; but you are a man too great by reason of intelligence, and too severely tried by adverse fortune not to allow for the weakness of the soldier who suffers for the first time. I am paying a tribute that will not be paid a second time; permit me to plunge myself so deeply in my grief that I may forget myself in it, that I may drown even my reason in it.”

“Raoul! Raoul!”

“Listen, monsieur. Never shall I accustom myself to the idea that Louise, the chastest and most innocent of women, has been able to so basely deceive a man so honest and so true a lover as myself. Never can I persuade myself that I see that sweet and noble mask change into a hypocritical lascivious face. Louise lost! Louise infamous! Ah! monseigneur, that idea is much more cruel to me than Raoul abandoned—Raoul unhappy!”

Athos then employed the heroic remedy. He defended Louise against Raoul, and justified her perfidy by her love. “A woman who would have yielded to a king because he is a king,” said he, “would deserve to be styled infamous; but Louise loves Louis. Young, both, they have forgotten, he his rank, she her vows. Love absolves everything, Raoul. The two young people love each other with sincerity.”

And when he had dealt this severe poniard-thrust, Athos, with a sigh, saw Raoul bound away beneath the rankling wound, and fly to the thickest recesses of the wood, or the solitude of his chamber, whence, an hour after, he would return, pale, trembling, but subdued. Then, coming up to Athos with a smile, he would kiss his hand, like the dog who, having been beaten, caresses a respected master, to redeem his fault. Raoul redeemed nothing but his weakness, and only confessed his grief. Thus passed away the days that followed that scene in which Athos had so violently shaken the indomitable pride of the king. Never, when conversing with his son, did he make any allusion to that scene; never did he give him the details of that vigorous lecture, which might, perhaps, have consoled the young man, by showing him his rival humbled. Athos did not wish that the offended lover should forget the respect due to his king. And when Bragelonne, ardent, angry, and melancholy, spoke with contempt of royal words, of the equivocal faith which certain madmen draw from promises that emanate from thrones, when, passing over two centuries, with that rapidity of a bird that traverses a narrow strait to go from one continent to the other, Raoul ventured to predict the time in which kings would be esteemed as less than other men, Athos said to him, in his serene, persuasive voice, “You are right, Raoul; all that you say will happen; kings will lose their privileges, as stars which have survived their aeons lose their splendor. But when that moment comes, Raoul, we shall be dead. And remember well what I say to you. In this world, all, men, women, and kings, must live for the present. We can only live for the future for God.”

This was the manner in which Athos and Raoul were, as usual, conversing, and walking backwards and forwards in the long alley of limes in the park, when the bell which served to announce to the comte either the hour of dinner or the arrival of a visitor, was rung; and, without attaching any importance to it, he turned towards the house with his son; and at the end of the alley they found themselves in the presence of Aramis and Porthos.






Chapter XXVI. The Last Adieux.


Raoul uttered a cry, and affectionately embraced Porthos. Aramis and Athos embraced like old men; and this embrace itself being a question for Aramis, he immediately said, “My friend, we have not long to remain with you.”

“Ah!” said the comte.

“Only time to tell you of my good fortune,” interrupted Porthos.

“Ah!” said Raoul.

Athos looked silently at Aramis, whose somber air had already appeared to him very little in harmony with the good news Porthos hinted.

“What is the good fortune that has happened to you? Let us hear it,” said Raoul, with a smile.

“The king has made me a duke,” said the worthy Porthos, with an air of mystery, in the ear of the young man, “a duke by brevet.”

But the asides of Porthos were always loud enough to be heard by everybody. His murmurs were in the diapason of ordinary roaring. Athos heard him, and uttered an exclamation which made Aramis start. The latter took Athos by the arm, and, after having asked Porthos’s permission to say a word to his friend in private, “My dear Athos,” he began, “you see me overwhelmed with grief and trouble.”

“With grief and trouble, my dear friend?” cried the comte; “oh, what?”

“In two words. I have conspired against the king; that conspiracy has failed, and, at this moment, I am doubtless pursued.”

“You are pursued!—a conspiracy! Eh! my friend, what do you tell me?”

“The saddest truth. I am entirely ruined.”

“Well, but Porthos—this title of duke—what does all that mean?”

“That is the subject of my severest pain; that is the deepest of my wounds. I have, believing in infallible success, drawn Porthos into my conspiracy. He threw himself into it, as you know he would do, with all his strength, without knowing what he was about; and now he is as much compromised as myself—as completely ruined as I am.”

“Good God!” And Athos turned towards Porthos, who was smiling complacently.

“I must make you acquainted with the whole. Listen to me,” continued Aramis; and he related the history as we know it. Athos, during the recital, several times felt the sweat break from his forehead. “It was a great idea,” said he, “but a great error.”

“For which I am punished, Athos.”

“Therefore, I will not tell you my entire thought.”

“Tell it, nevertheless.”

“It is a crime.”

“A capital crime; I know it is. Lese majeste.”

“Porthos! poor Porthos!”

“What would you advise me to do? Success, as I have told you, was certain.”

“M. Fouquet is an honest man.”

“And I a fool for having so ill-judged him,” said Aramis. “Oh, the wisdom of man! Oh, millstone that grinds the world! and which is one day stopped by a grain of sand which has fallen, no one knows how, between its wheels.”

“Say by a diamond, Aramis. But the thing is done. How do you think of acting?”

“I am taking away Porthos. The king will never believe that that worthy man has acted innocently. He never can believe that Porthos has thought he was serving the king, whilst acting as he has done. His head would pay my fault. It shall not, must not, be so.”

“You are taking him away, whither?”

“To Belle-Isle, at first. That is an impregnable place of refuge. Then, I have the sea, and a vessel to pass over into England, where I have many relations.”

“You? in England?”

“Yes, or else in Spain, where I have still more.”

“But, our excellent Porthos! you ruin him, for the king will confiscate all his property.”

“All is provided for. I know how, when once in Spain, to reconcile myself with Louis XIV., and restore Porthos to favor.”

“You have credit, seemingly, Aramis!” said Athos, with a discreet air.

“Much; and at the service of my friends.”

These words were accompanied by a warm pressure of the hand.

“Thank you,” replied the comte.

“And while we are on this head,” said Aramis, “you also are a malcontent; you also, Raoul, have griefs to lay to the king. Follow our example; pass over into Belle-Isle. Then we shall see, I guarantee upon my honor, that in a month there will be war between France and Spain on the subject of this son of Louis XIII., who is an Infante likewise, and whom France detains inhumanly. Now, as Louis XIV. would have no inclination for a war on that subject, I will answer for an arrangement, the result of which must bring greatness to Porthos and to me, and a duchy in France to you, who are already a grandee of Spain. Will you join us?”

“No; for my part I prefer having something to reproach the king with; it is a pride natural to my race to pretend to a superiority over royal races. Doing what you propose, I should become the obliged of the king; I should certainly be the gainer on that ground, but I should be a loser in my conscience.—No, thank you!”

“Then give me two things, Athos,—your absolution.”

“Oh! I give it you if you really wished to avenge the weak and oppressed against the oppressor.”

“That is sufficient for me,” said Aramis, with a blush which was lost in the obscurity of the night. “And now, give me your two best horses to gain the second post, as I have been refused any under the pretext of the Duc de Beaufort being traveling in this country.”

“You shall have the two best horses, Aramis; and again I recommend poor Porthos strongly to your care.”

“Oh! I have no fear on that score. One word more: do you think I am maneuvering for him as I ought?”

“The evil being committed, yes; for the king would not pardon him, and you have, whatever may be said, always a supporter in M. Fouquet, who will not abandon you, he being himself compromised, notwithstanding his heroic action.”

“You are right. And that is why, instead of gaining the sea at once, which would proclaim my fear and guilt, that is why I remain upon French ground. But Belle-Isle will be for me whatever ground I wish it to be, English, Spanish, or Roman; all will depend, with me, on the standard I shall think proper to unfurl.”

“How so?”

“It was I who fortified Belle-Isle; and, so long as I defend it, nobody can take Belle-Isle from me. And then, as you have said just now, M. Fouquet is there. Belle-Isle will not be attacked without the signature of M. Fouquet.”

“That is true. Nevertheless, be prudent. The king is both cunning and strong.” Aramis smiled.

“I again recommend Porthos to you,” repeated the count, with a sort of cold persistence.

“Whatever becomes of me, count,” replied Aramis, in the same tone, “our brother Porthos will fare as I do—or better.”

Athos bowed whilst pressing the hand of Aramis, and turned to embrace Porthos with emotion.

“I was born lucky, was I not?” murmured the latter, transported with happiness, as he folded his cloak round him.

“Come, my dear friend,” said Aramis.

Raoul had gone out to give orders for the saddling of the horses. The group was already divided. Athos saw his two friends on the point of departure, and something like a mist passed before his eyes and weighed upon his heart.

“It is strange,” thought he, “whence comes the inclination I feel to embrace Porthos once more?” At that moment Porthos turned round, and he came towards his old friend with open arms. This last endearment was tender as in youth, as in times when hearts were warm—life happy. And then Porthos mounted his horse. Aramis came back once more to throw his arms round the neck of Athos. The latter watched them along the high-road, elongated by the shade, in their white cloaks. Like phantoms they seemed to enlarge on their departure from the earth, and it was not in the mist, but in the declivity of the ground that they disappeared. At the end of the perspective, both seemed to have given a spring with their feet, which made them vanish as if evaporated into cloud-land.

Then Athos, with a very heavy heart, returned towards the house, saying to Bragelonne, “Raoul, I don’t know what it is that has just told me that I have seen those two for the last time.”

“It does not astonish me, monsieur, that you should have such a thought,” replied the young man, “for I have at this moment the same, and think also that I shall never see Messieurs du Vallon and d’Herblay again.”

“Oh! you,” replied the count, “you speak like a man rendered sad by a different cause; you see everything in black; you are young, and if you chance never to see those old friends again, it will because they no longer exist in the world in which you have yet many years to pass. But I—”

Raoul shook his head sadly, and leaned upon the shoulder of the count, without either of them finding another word in their hearts, which were ready to overflow.

All at once a noise of horses and voices, from the extremity of the road to Blois, attracted their attention that way. Flambeaux-bearers shook their torches merrily among the trees of their route, and turned round, from time to time, to avoid distancing the horsemen who followed them. These flames, this noise, this dust of a dozen richly caparisoned horses, formed a strange contrast in the middle of the night with the melancholy and almost funereal disappearance of the two shadows of Aramis and Porthos. Athos went towards the house; but he had hardly reached the parterre, when the entrance gate appeared in a blaze; all the flambeaux stopped and appeared to enflame the road. A cry was heard of “M. le Duc de Beaufort”—and Athos sprang towards the door of his house. But the duke had already alighted from his horse, and was looking around him.

“I am here, monseigneur,” said Athos.

“Ah! good evening, dear count,” said the prince, with that frank cordiality which won him so many hearts. “Is it too late for a friend?”

“Ah! my dear prince, come in!” said the count.

And, M. de Beaufort leaning on the arm of Athos, they entered the house, followed by Raoul, who walked respectfully and modestly among the officers of the prince, with several of whom he was acquainted.






Chapter XXVII. Monsieur de Beaufort.


The prince turned round at the moment when Raoul, in order to leave him alone with Athos, was shutting the door, and preparing to go with the other officers into an adjoining apartment.

“Is that the young man I have heard M. le Prince speak so highly of?” asked M. de Beaufort.

“It is, monseigneur.”

“He is quite the soldier; let him stay, count, we cannot spare him.”

“Remain, Raoul, since monseigneur permits it,” said Athos.

“Ma foi! he is tall and handsome!” continued the duke. “Will you give him to me, monseigneur, if I ask him of you?”

“How am I to understand you, monseigneur?” said Athos.

“Why, I call upon you to bid you farewell.”

“Farewell!”

“Yes, in good truth. Have you no idea of what I am about to become?”

“Why, I suppose, what you have always been, monseigneur,—a valiant prince, and an excellent gentleman.”

“I am going to become an African prince,—a Bedouin gentleman. The king is sending me to make conquests among the Arabs.”

“What is this you tell me, monseigneur?”

“Strange, is it not? I, the Parisian par essence, I who have reigned in the faubourgs, and have been called King of the Halles,—I am going to pass from the Place Maubert to the minarets of Gigelli; from a Frondeur I am becoming an adventurer!”

“Oh, monseigneur, if you did not yourself tell me that—”

“It would not be credible, would it? Believe me, nevertheless, and we have but to bid each other farewell. This is what comes of getting into favor again.”

“Into favor?”

“Yes. You smile. Ah, my dear count, do you know why I have accepted this enterprise, can you guess?”

“Because your highness loves glory above—everything.”

“Oh! no; there is no glory in firing muskets at savages. I see no glory in that, for my part, and it is more probable that I shall there meet with something else. But I have wished, and still wish earnestly, my dear count, that my life should have that last facet, after all the whimsical exhibitions I have seen myself make during fifty years. For, in short, you must admit that it is sufficiently strange to be born the grandson of a king, to have made war against kings, to have been reckoned among the powers of the age, to have maintained my rank, to feel Henry IV. within me, to be great admiral of France—and then to go and get killed at Gigelli, among all those Turks, Saracens, and Moors.”

“Monseigneur, you harp with strange persistence on that theme,” said Athos, in an agitated voice. “How can you suppose that so brilliant a destiny will be extinguished in that remote and miserable scene?”

“And can you believe, upright and simple as you are, that if I go into Africa for this ridiculous motive, I will not endeavor to come out of it without ridicule? Shall I not give the world cause to speak of me? And to be spoken of, nowadays, when there are Monsieur le Prince, M. de Turenne, and many others, my contemporaries, I, admiral of France, grandson of Henry IV., king of Paris, have I anything left but to get myself killed? Cordieu! I will be talked of, I tell you; I shall be killed whether or not; if not there, somewhere else.”

“Why, monseigneur, this is mere exaggeration; and hitherto you have shown nothing exaggerated save in bravery.”

“Peste! my dear friend, there is bravery in facing scurvy, dysentery, locusts, poisoned arrows, as my ancestor St. Louis did. Do you know those fellows still use poisoned arrows? And then, you know me of old, I fancy, and you know that when I once make up my mind to a thing, I perform it in grim earnest.”

“Yes, you made up your mind to escape from Vincennes.”

“Ay, but you aided me in that, my master; and, a propos, I turn this way and that, without seeing my old friend, M. Vaugrimaud. How is he?”

“M. Vaugrimaud is still your highness’s most respectful servant,” said Athos, smiling.

“I have a hundred pistoles here for him, which I bring as a legacy. My will is made, count.”

“Ah! monseigneur! monseigneur!”

“And you may understand that if Grimaud’s name were to appear in my will—” The duke began to laugh; then addressing Raoul, who, from the commencement of this conversation, had sunk into a profound reverie, “Young man,” said he, “I know there is to be found here a certain De Vouvray wine, and I believe—” Raoul left the room precipitately to order the wine. In the meantime M. de Beaufort took the hand of Athos.

“What do you mean to do with him?” asked he.

“Nothing at present, monseigneur.”

“Ah! yes, I know; since the passion of the king for La Valliere.”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“That is all true, then, is it? I think I know her, that little La Valliere. She is not particularly handsome, if I remember right?”

“No, monseigneur,” said Athos.

“Do you know whom she reminds me of?”

“Does she remind your highness of any one?”

“She reminds me of a very agreeable girl, whose mother lived in the Halles.”

“Ah! ah!” said Athos, smiling.

“Oh! the good old times,” added M. de Beaufort. “Yes, La Valliere reminds me of that girl.”

“Who had a son, had she not?” 3

“I believe she had,” replied the duke, with careless naivete and a complaisant forgetfulness, of which no words could translate the tone and the vocal expression. “Now, here is poor Raoul, who is your son, I believe.”

“Yes, he is my son, monseigneur.”

“And the poor lad has been cut out by the king, and he frets.”

“Still better, monseigneur, he abstains.”

“You are going to let the boy rust in idleness; it is a mistake. Come, give him to me.”

“My wish is to keep him at home, monseigneur. I have no longer anything in the world but him, and as long as he likes to remain—”

“Well, well,” replied the duke. “I could, nevertheless, have soon put matters to rights again. I assure you, I think he has in him the stuff of which marechals of France are made; I have seen more than one produced from less likely rough material.”

“That is very possible, monseigneur; but it is the king who makes marechals of France, and Raoul will never accept anything of the king.”

Raoul interrupted this conversation by his return. He preceded Grimaud, whose still steady hands carried the plateau with one glass and a bottle of the duke’s favorite wine. On seeing his old protege, the duke uttered an exclamation of pleasure.

“Grimaud! Good evening, Grimaud!” said he; “how goes it?”

The servant bowed profoundly, as much gratified as his noble interlocutor.

“Two old friends!” said the duke, shaking honest Grimaud’s shoulder after a vigorous fashion; which was followed by another still more profound and delighted bow from Grimaud.

“But what is this, count, only one glass?”

“I should not think of drinking with your highness, unless your highness permitted me,” replied Athos, with noble humility.

“Cordieu! you were right to bring only one glass, we will both drink out of it, like two brothers in arms. Begin, count.”

“Do me the honor,” said Athos, gently putting back the glass.

“You are a charming friend,” replied the Duc de Beaufort, who drank, and passed the goblet to his companion. “But that is not all,” continued he, “I am still thirsty, and I wish to do honor to this handsome young man who stands here. I carry good luck with me, vicomte,” said he to Raoul; “wish for something while drinking out of my glass, and may the black plague grab me if what you wish does not come to pass!” He held the goblet to Raoul, who hastily moistened his lips, and replied with the same promptitude:

“I have wished for something, monseigneur.” His eyes sparkled with a gloomy fire, and the blood mounted to his cheeks; he terrified Athos, if only with his smile.

“And what have you wished for?” replied the duke, sinking back into his fauteuil, whilst with one hand he returned the bottle to Grimaud, and with the other gave him a purse.

“Will you promise me, monseigneur, to grant me what I wish for?”

“Pardieu! That is agreed upon.”

“I wished, monsieur le duc, to go with you to Gigelli.”

Athos became pale, and was unable to conceal his agitation. The duke looked at his friend, as if desirous to assist him to parry this unexpected blow.

“That is difficult, my dear vicomte, very difficult,” added he, in a lower tone of voice.

“Pardon me, monseigneur, I have been indiscreet,” replied Raoul, in a firm voice; “but as you yourself invited me to wish—”

“To wish to leave me?” said Athos.

“Oh! monsieur—can you imagine—”

“Well, mordieu!” cried the duke, “the young vicomte is right! What can he do here? He will go moldy with grief.”

Raoul blushed, and the excitable prince continued: “War is a distraction: we gain everything by it; we can only lose one thing by it—life—then so much the worse!”

“That is to say, memory,” said Raoul, eagerly; “and that is to say, so much the better!”

He repented of having spoken so warmly when he saw Athos rise and open the window; which was, doubtless, to conceal his emotion. Raoul sprang towards the comte, but the latter had already overcome his emotion, and turned to the lights with a serene and impassible countenance. “Well, come,” said the duke, “let us see! Shall he go, or shall he not? If he goes, comte, he shall be my aide-de-camp, my son.”

“Monseigneur!” cried Raoul, bending his knee.

“Monseigneur!” cried Athos, taking the hand of the duke; “Raoul shall do just as he likes.”

“Oh! no, monsieur, just as you like,” interrupted the young man.

“Par la corbleu!” said the prince in his turn, “it is neither the comte nor the vicomte that shall have his way, it is I. I will take him away. The marine offers a superb fortune, my friend.”

Raoul smiled again so sadly, that this time Athos felt his heart penetrated by it, and replied to him by a severe look. Raoul comprehended it all; he recovered his calmness, and was so guarded, that not another word escaped him. The duke at length rose, on observing the advanced hour, and said, with animation, “I am in great haste, but if I am told I have lost time in talking with a friend, I will reply I have gained—on the balance—a most excellent recruit.”

“Pardon me, monsieur le duc,” interrupted Raoul, “do not tell the king so, for it is not the king I wish to serve.”

“Eh! my friend, whom, then, will you serve? The times are past when you might have said, ‘I belong to M. de Beaufort.’ No, nowadays, we all belong to the king, great or small. Therefore, if you serve on board my vessels, there can be nothing equivocal about it, my dear vicomte; it will be the king you will serve.”

Athos waited with a kind of impatient joy for the reply about to be made to this embarrassing question by Raoul, the intractable enemy of the king, his rival. The father hoped that the obstacle would overcome the desire. He was thankful to M. de Beaufort, whose lightness or generous reflection had thrown an impediment in the way of the departure of a son, now his only joy. But Raoul, still firm and tranquil, replied: “Monsieur le duc, the objection you make I have already considered in my mind. I will serve on board your vessels, because you do me the honor to take me with you; but I shall there serve a more powerful master than the king: I shall serve God!”

“God! how so?” said the duke and Athos together.

“My intention is to make profession, and become a knight of Malta,” added Bragelonne, letting fall, one by one, words more icy than the drops which fall from the bare trees after the tempests of winter. 4

Under this blow Athos staggered and the prince himself was moved. Grimaud uttered a heavy groan, and let fall the bottle, which was broken without anybody paying attention. M. de Beaufort looked the young man in the face, and read plainly, though his eyes were cast down, the fire of resolution before which everything must give way. As to Athos, he was too well acquainted with that tender, but inflexible soul; he could not hope to make it deviate from the fatal road it had just chosen. He could only press the hand the duke held out to him. “Comte, I shall set off in two days for Toulon,” said M. de Beaufort. “Will you meet me at Paris, in order that I may know your determination?”

“I will have the honor of thanking you there, mon prince, for all your kindness,” replied the comte.

“And be sure to bring the vicomte with you, whether he follows me or does not follow me,” added the duke; “he has my word, and I only ask yours.”

Having thrown a little balm upon the wound of the paternal heart, he pulled the ear of Grimaud, whose eyes sparkled more than usual, and regained his escort in the parterre. The horses, rested and refreshed, set off with spirit through the lovely night, and soon placed a considerable distance between their master and the chateau.

Athos and Bragelonne were again face to face. Eleven o’clock was striking. The father and son preserved a profound silence towards each other, where an intelligent observer would have expected cries and tears. But these two men were of such a nature that all emotion following their final resolutions plunged itself so deep into their hearts that it was lost forever. They passed, then, silently and almost breathlessly, the hour that preceded midnight. The clock, by striking, alone pointed out to them how many minutes had lasted the painful journey made by their souls in the immensity of their remembrances of the past and fear of the future. Athos rose first, saying, “it is late, then.... Till to-morrow.”

Raoul rose, and in his turn embraced his father. The latter held him clasped to his breast, and said, in a tremulous voice, “In two days, you will have left me, my son—left me forever, Raoul!”

“Monsieur,” replied the young man, “I had formed a determination, that of piercing my heart with my sword; but you would have thought that cowardly. I have renounced that determination, and therefore we must part.”

“You leave me desolate by going, Raoul.”

“Listen to me again, monsieur, I implore you. If I do not go, I shall die here of grief and love. I know how long a time I have to live thus. Send me away quickly, monsieur, or you will see me basely die before your eyes—in your house—this is stronger than my will—stronger than my strength—you may plainly see that within one month I have lived thirty years, and that I approach the end of my life.”

“Then,” said Athos, coldly, “you go with the intention of getting killed in Africa? Oh, tell me! do not lie!”

Raoul grew deadly pale, and remained silent for two seconds, which were to his father two hours of agony. Then, all at once: “Monsieur,” said he, “I have promised to devote myself to God. In exchange for the sacrifice I make of my youth and liberty, I will only ask of Him one thing, and that is, to preserve me for you, because you are the only tie which attaches me to this world. God alone can give me the strength not to forget that I owe you everything, and that nothing ought to stand in my esteem before you.”

Athos embraced his son tenderly, and said:

“You have just replied to me on the word of honor of an honest man; in two days we shall be with M. de Beaufort at Paris, and you will then do what will be proper for you to do. You are free, Raoul; adieu.”

And he slowly gained his bedroom. Raoul went down into the garden, and passed the night in the alley of limes.