{tocify}

The Three Musketeers

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


46. 
THE BASTION SAINT-GERVAIS


On arriving at the lodgings of his three friends, d’Artagnan found them assembled in the same chamber. Athos was meditating; Porthos was twisting his mustache; Aramis was saying his prayers in a charming little Book of Hours, bound in blue velvet.

“Pardieu, gentlemen,” said he. “I hope what you have to tell me is worth the trouble, or else, I warn you, I will not pardon you for making me come here instead of getting a little rest after a night spent in taking and dismantling a bastion. Ah, why were you not there, gentlemen? It was warm work.”

“We were in a place where it was not very cold,” replied Porthos, giving his mustache a twist which was peculiar to him.

“Hush!” said Athos.

“Oh, oh!” said d’Artagnan, comprehending the slight frown of the Musketeer. “It appears there is something fresh aboard.”

“Aramis,” said Athos, “you went to breakfast the day before yesterday at the inn of the Parpaillot, I believe?”

“Yes.”

“How did you fare?”

“For my part, I ate but little. The day before yesterday was a fish day, and they had nothing but meat.”

“What,” said Athos, “no fish at a seaport?”

“They say,” said Aramis, resuming his pious reading, “that the dyke which the cardinal is making drives them all out into the open sea.”

“But that is not quite what I mean to ask you, Aramis,” replied Athos. “I want to know if you were left alone, and nobody interrupted you.”

“Why, I think there were not many intruders. Yes, Athos, I know what you mean: we shall do very well at the Parpaillot.”

“Let us go to the Parpaillot, then, for here the walls are like sheets of paper.”

D’Artagnan, who was accustomed to his friend’s manner of acting, and who perceived immediately, by a word, a gesture, or a sign from him, that the circumstances were serious, took Athos’s arm, and went out without saying anything. Porthos followed, chatting with Aramis.

On their way they met Grimaud. Athos made him a sign to come with them. Grimaud, according to custom, obeyed in silence; the poor lad had nearly come to the pass of forgetting how to speak.

They arrived at the drinking room of the Parpaillot. It was seven o’clock in the morning, and daylight began to appear. The three friends ordered breakfast, and went into a room in which the host said they would not be disturbed.

Unfortunately, the hour was badly chosen for a private conference. The morning drum had just been beaten; everyone shook off the drowsiness of night, and to dispel the humid morning air, came to take a drop at the inn. Dragoons, Swiss, Guardsmen, Musketeers, light-horsemen, succeeded one another with a rapidity which might answer the purpose of the host very well, but agreed badly with the views of the four friends. Thus they applied very curtly to the salutations, healths, and jokes of their companions.

“I see how it will be,” said Athos: “we shall get into some pretty quarrel or other, and we have no need of one just now. D’Artagnan, tell us what sort of a night you have had, and we will describe ours afterward.”

“Ah, yes,” said a light-horseman, with a glass of brandy in his hand, which he sipped slowly. “I hear you gentlemen of the Guards have been in the trenches tonight, and that you did not get much the best of the Rochellais.”

D’Artagnan looked at Athos to know if he ought to reply to this intruder who thus mixed unasked in their conversation.

“Well,” said Athos, “don’t you hear Monsieur de Busigny, who does you the honor to ask you a question? Relate what has passed during the night, since these gentlemen desire to know it.”

“Have you not taken a bastion?” said a Swiss, who was drinking rum out of a beer glass.

“Yes, monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, bowing, “we have had that honor. We even have, as you may have heard, introduced a barrel of powder under one of the angles, which in blowing up made a very pretty breach. Without reckoning that as the bastion was not built yesterday all the rest of the building was badly shaken.”

“And what bastion is it?” asked a dragoon, with his saber run through a goose which he was taking to be cooked.

“The bastion St. Gervais,” replied d’Artagnan, “from behind which the Rochellais annoyed our workmen.”

“Was that affair hot?”

“Yes, moderately so. We lost five men, and the Rochellais eight or ten.”

“Balzempleu!” said the Swiss, who, notwithstanding the admirable collection of oaths possessed by the German language, had acquired a habit of swearing in French.

“But it is probable,” said the light-horseman, “that they will send pioneers this morning to repair the bastion.”

“Yes, that’s probable,” said d’Artagnan.

“Gentlemen,” said Athos, “a wager!”

“Ah, wooi, a vager!” cried the Swiss.

“What is it?” said the light-horseman.

“Stop a bit,” said the dragoon, placing his saber like a spit upon the two large iron dogs which held the firebrands in the chimney, “stop a bit, I am in it. You cursed host! a dripping pan immediately, that I may not lose a drop of the fat of this estimable bird.”

“You was right,” said the Swiss; “goose grease is kood with basdry.”

“There!” said the dragoon. “Now for the wager! We listen, Monsieur Athos.”

“Yes, the wager!” said the light-horseman.

“Well, Monsieur de Busigny, I will bet you,” said Athos, “that my three companions, Messieurs Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan, and myself, will go and breakfast in the bastion St. Gervais, and we will remain there an hour, by the watch, whatever the enemy may do to dislodge us.”

Porthos and Aramis looked at each other; they began to comprehend.

“But,” said d’Artagnan, in the ear of Athos, “you are going to get us all killed without mercy.”

“We are much more likely to be killed,” said Athos, “if we do not go.”

“My faith, gentlemen,” said Porthos, turning round upon his chair and twisting his mustache, “that’s a fair bet, I hope.”

“I take it,” said M. de Busigny; “so let us fix the stake.”

“You are four gentlemen,” said Athos, “and we are four; an unlimited dinner for eight. Will that do?”

“Capitally,” replied M. de Busigny.

“Perfectly,” said the dragoon.

“That shoots me,” said the Swiss.

The fourth auditor, who during all this conversation had played a mute part, made a sign of the head in proof that he acquiesced in the proposition.

“The breakfast for these gentlemen is ready,” said the host.

“Well, bring it,” said Athos.

The host obeyed. Athos called Grimaud, pointed to a large basket which lay in a corner, and made a sign to him to wrap the viands up in the napkins.

Grimaud understood that it was to be a breakfast on the grass, took the basket, packed up the viands, added the bottles, and then took the basket on his arm.

“But where are you going to eat my breakfast?” asked the host.

“What matter, if you are paid for it?” said Athos, and he threw two pistoles majestically on the table.

“Shall I give you the change, my officer?” said the host.

“No, only add two bottles of champagne, and the difference will be for the napkins.”

The host had not quite so good a bargain as he at first hoped for, but he made amends by slipping in two bottles of Anjou wine instead of two bottles of champagne.

“Monsieur de Busigny,” said Athos, “will you be so kind as to set your watch with mine, or permit me to regulate mine by yours?”

“Which you please, monsieur!” said the light-horseman, drawing from his fob a very handsome watch, studded with diamonds; “half past seven.”

“Thirty-five minutes after seven,” said Athos, “by which you perceive I am five minutes faster than you.”

And bowing to all the astonished persons present, the young men took the road to the bastion St. Gervais, followed by Grimaud, who carried the basket, ignorant of where he was going but in the passive obedience which Athos had taught him not even thinking of asking.

As long as they were within the circle of the camp, the four friends did not exchange one word; besides, they were followed by the curious, who, hearing of the wager, were anxious to know how they would come out of it. But when once they passed the line of circumvallation and found themselves in the open plain, d’Artagnan, who was completely ignorant of what was going forward, thought it was time to demand an explanation.

“And now, my dear Athos,” said he, “do me the kindness to tell me where we are going?”

“Why, you see plainly enough we are going to the bastion.”

“But what are we going to do there?”

“You know well that we go to breakfast there.”

“But why did we not breakfast at the Parpaillot?”

“Because we have very important matters to communicate to one another, and it was impossible to talk five minutes in that inn without being annoyed by all those importunate fellows, who keep coming in, saluting you, and addressing you. Here at least,” said Athos, pointing to the bastion, “they will not come and disturb us.”

“It appears to me,” said d’Artagnan, with that prudence which allied itself in him so naturally with excessive bravery, “that we could have found some retired place on the downs or the seashore.”

“Where we should have been seen all four conferring together, so that at the end of a quarter of an hour the cardinal would have been informed by his spies that we were holding a council.”

“Yes,” said Aramis, “Athos is right: ANIMADVERTUNTUR IN DESERTIS.”

“A desert would not have been amiss,” said Porthos; “but it behooved us to find it.”

“There is no desert where a bird cannot pass over one’s head, where a fish cannot leap out of the water, where a rabbit cannot come out of its burrow, and I believe that bird, fish, and rabbit each becomes a spy of the cardinal. Better, then, pursue our enterprise; from which, besides, we cannot retreat without shame. We have made a wager—a wager which could not have been foreseen, and of which I defy anyone to divine the true cause. We are going, in order to win it, to remain an hour in the bastion. Either we shall be attacked, or not. If we are not, we shall have all the time to talk, and nobody will hear us—for I guarantee the walls of the bastion have no ears; if we are, we will talk of our affairs just the same. Moreover, in defending ourselves, we shall cover ourselves with glory. You see that everything is to our advantage.”

“Yes,” said d’Artagnan; “but we shall indubitably attract a ball.”

“Well, my dear,” replied Athos, “you know well that the balls most to be dreaded are not from the enemy.”

“But for such an expedition we surely ought to have brought our muskets.”

“You are stupid, friend Porthos. Why should we load ourselves with a useless burden?”

“I don’t find a good musket, twelve cartridges, and a powder flask very useless in the face of an enemy.”

“Well,” replied Athos, “have you not heard what d’Artagnan said?”

“What did he say?” demanded Porthos.

“D’Artagnan said that in the attack of last night eight or ten Frenchmen were killed, and as many Rochellais.”

“What then?”

“The bodies were not plundered, were they? It appears the conquerors had something else to do.”

“Well?”

“Well, we shall find their muskets, their cartridges, and their flasks; and instead of four musketoons and twelve balls, we shall have fifteen guns and a hundred charges to fire.”

“Oh, Athos!” said Aramis, “truly you are a great man.”

Porthos nodded in sign of agreement. D’Artagnan alone did not seem convinced.

Grimaud no doubt shared the misgivings of the young man, for seeing that they continued to advance toward the bastion—something he had till then doubted—he pulled his master by the skirt of his coat.

“Where are we going?” asked he, by a gesture.

Athos pointed to the bastion.

“But,” said Grimaud, in the same silent dialect, “we shall leave our skins there.”

Athos raised his eyes and his finger toward heaven.

Grimaud put his basket on the ground and sat down with a shake of the head.

Athos took a pistol from his belt, looked to see if it was properly primed, cocked it, and placed the muzzle close to Grimaud’s ear.

Grimaud was on his legs again as if by a spring. Athos then made him a sign to take up his basket and to walk on first. Grimaud obeyed. All that Grimaud gained by this momentary pantomime was to pass from the rear guard to the vanguard.

Arrived at the bastion, the four friends turned round.

More than three hundred soldiers of all kinds were assembled at the gate of the camp; and in a separate group might be distinguished M. de Busigny, the dragoon, the Swiss, and the fourth bettor.

Athos took off his hat, placed it on the end of his sword, and waved it in the air.

All the spectators returned him his salute, accompanying this courtesy with a loud hurrah which was audible to the four; after which all four disappeared in the bastion, whither Grimaud had preceded them.


47. 
THE COUNCIL OF THE MUSKETEERS


As Athos had foreseen, the bastion was only occupied by a dozen corpses, French and Rochellais.

“Gentlemen,” said Athos, who had assumed the command of the expedition, “while Grimaud spreads the table, let us begin by collecting the guns and cartridges together. We can talk while performing that necessary task. These gentlemen,” added he, pointing to the bodies, “cannot hear us.”

“But we could throw them into the ditch,” said Porthos, “after having assured ourselves they have nothing in their pockets.”

“Yes,” said Athos, “that’s Grimaud’s business.”

“Well, then,” cried d’Artagnan, “pray let Grimaud search them and throw them over the walls.”

“Heaven forfend!” said Athos; “they may serve us.”

“These bodies serve us?” said Porthos. “You are mad, dear friend.”

“Judge not rashly, say the gospel and the cardinal,” replied Athos. “How many guns, gentlemen?”

“Twelve,” replied Aramis.

“How many shots?”

“A hundred.”

“That’s quite as many as we shall want. Let us load the guns.”

The four Musketeers went to work; and as they were loading the last musket Grimaud announced that the breakfast was ready.

Athos replied, always by gestures, that that was well, and indicated to Grimaud, by pointing to a turret that resembled a pepper caster, that he was to stand as sentinel. Only, to alleviate the tediousness of the duty, Athos allowed him to take a loaf, two cutlets, and a bottle of wine.

“And now to table,” said Athos.

The four friends seated themselves on the ground with their legs crossed like Turks, or even tailors.

“And now,” said d’Artagnan, “as there is no longer any fear of being overheard, I hope you are going to let me into your secret.”

“I hope at the same time to procure you amusement and glory, gentlemen,” said Athos. “I have induced you to take a charming promenade; here is a delicious breakfast; and yonder are five hundred persons, as you may see through the loopholes, taking us for heroes or madmen—two classes of imbeciles greatly resembling each other.”

“But the secret!” said d’Artagnan.

“The secret is,” said Athos, “that I saw Milady last night.”

D’Artagnan was lifting a glass to his lips; but at the name of Milady, his hand trembled so, that he was obliged to put the glass on the ground again for fear of spilling the contents.”

“You saw your wi—”

“Hush!” interrupted Athos. “You forget, my dear, you forget that these gentlemen are not initiated into my family affairs like yourself. I have seen Milady.”

“Where?” demanded d’Artagnan.

“Within two leagues of this place, at the inn of the Red Dovecot.”

“In that case I am lost,” said d’Artagnan.

“Not so bad yet,” replied Athos; “for by this time she must have quit the shores of France.”

D’Artagnan breathed again.

“But after all,” asked Porthos, “who is Milady?”

“A charming woman!” said Athos, sipping a glass of sparkling wine. “Villainous host!” cried he, “he has given us Anjou wine instead of champagne, and fancies we know no better! Yes,” continued he, “a charming woman, who entertained kind views toward our friend d’Artagnan, who, on his part, has given her some offense for which she tried to revenge herself a month ago by having him killed by two musket shots, a week ago by trying to poison him, and yesterday by demanding his head of the cardinal.”

“What! by demanding my head of the cardinal?” cried d’Artagnan, pale with terror.

“Yes, that is true as the Gospel,” said Porthos; “I heard her with my own ears.”

“I also,” said Aramis.

“Then,” said d’Artagnan, letting his arm fall with discouragement, “it is useless to struggle longer. I may as well blow my brains out, and all will be over.”

“That’s the last folly to be committed,” said Athos, “seeing it is the only one for which there is no remedy.”

“But I can never escape,” said d’Artagnan, “with such enemies. First, my stranger of Meung; then de Wardes, to whom I have given three sword wounds; next Milady, whose secret I have discovered; finally, the cardinal, whose vengeance I have balked.”

“Well,” said Athos, “that only makes four; and we are four—one for one. Pardieu! if we may believe the signs Grimaud is making, we are about to have to do with a very different number of people. What is it, Grimaud? Considering the gravity of the occasion, I permit you to speak, my friend; but be laconic, I beg. What do you see?”

“A troop.”

“Of how many persons?”

“Twenty men.”

“What sort of men?”

“Sixteen pioneers, four soldiers.”

“How far distant?”

“Five hundred paces.”

“Good! We have just time to finish this fowl and to drink one glass of wine to your health, d’Artagnan.”

“To your health!” repeated Porthos and Aramis.

“Well, then, to my health! although I am very much afraid that your good wishes will not be of great service to me.”

“Bah!” said Athos, “God is great, as say the followers of Mohammed, and the future is in his hands.”

Then, swallowing the contents of his glass, which he put down close to him, Athos arose carelessly, took the musket next to him, and drew near to one of the loopholes.

Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan followed his example. As to Grimaud, he received orders to place himself behind the four friends in order to reload their weapons.

“Pardieu!” said Athos, “it was hardly worth while to distribute ourselves for twenty fellows armed with pickaxes, mattocks, and shovels. Grimaud had only to make them a sign to go away, and I am convinced they would have left us in peace.”

“I doubt that,” replied d’Artagnan, “for they are advancing very resolutely. Besides, in addition to the pioneers, there are four soldiers and a brigadier, armed with muskets.”

“That’s because they don’t see us,” said Athos.

“My faith,” said Aramis, “I must confess I feel a great repugnance to fire on these poor devils of civilians.”

“He is a bad priest,” said Porthos, “who has pity for heretics.”

“In truth,” said Athos, “Aramis is right. I will warn them.”

“What the devil are you going to do?” cried d’Artagnan, “you will be shot.”

But Athos heeded not his advice. Mounting on the breach, with his musket in one hand and his hat in the other, he said, bowing courteously and addressing the soldiers and the pioneers, who, astonished at this apparition, stopped fifty paces from the bastion: “Gentlemen, a few friends and myself are about to breakfast in this bastion. Now, you know nothing is more disagreeable than being disturbed when one is at breakfast. We request you, then, if you really have business here, to wait till we have finished our repast, or to come again a short time hence; unless, which would be far better, you form the salutary resolution to quit the side of the rebels, and come and drink with us to the health of the King of France.”

“Take care, Athos!” cried d’Artagnan; “don’t you see they are aiming?”

“Yes, yes,” said Athos; “but they are only civilians—very bad marksmen, who will be sure not to hit me.”

In fact, at the same instant four shots were fired, and the balls were flattened against the wall around Athos, but not one touched him.

Four shots replied to them almost instantaneously, but much better aimed than those of the aggressors; three soldiers fell dead, and one of the pioneers was wounded.

“Grimaud,” said Athos, still on the breach, “another musket!”

Grimaud immediately obeyed. On their part, the three friends had reloaded their arms; a second discharge followed the first. The brigadier and two pioneers fell dead; the rest of the troop took to flight.

“Now, gentlemen, a sortie!” cried Athos.

And the four friends rushed out of the fort, gained the field of battle, picked up the four muskets of the privates and the half-pike of the brigadier, and convinced that the fugitives would not stop till they reached the city, turned again toward the bastion, bearing with them the trophies of their victory.

“Reload the muskets, Grimaud,” said Athos, “and we, gentlemen, will go on with our breakfast, and resume our conversation. Where were we?”

“I recollect you were saying,” said d’Artagnan, “that after having demanded my head of the cardinal, Milady had quit the shores of France. Whither goes she?” added he, strongly interested in the route Milady followed.

“She goes into England,” said Athos.

“With what view?”

“With the view of assassinating, or causing to be assassinated, the Duke of Buckingham.”

D’Artagnan uttered an exclamation of surprise and indignation.

“But this is infamous!” cried he.

“As to that,” said Athos, “I beg you to believe that I care very little about it. Now you have done, Grimaud, take our brigadier’s half-pike, tie a napkin to it, and plant it on top of our bastion, that these rebels of Rochellais may see that they have to deal with brave and loyal soldiers of the king.”

Grimaud obeyed without replying. An instant afterward, the white flag was floating over the heads of the four friends. A thunder of applause saluted its appearance; half the camp was at the barrier.

“How?” replied d’Artagnan, “you care little if she kills Buckingham or causes him to be killed? But the duke is our friend.”

“The duke is English; the duke fights against us. Let her do what she likes with the duke; I care no more about him than an empty bottle.” And Athos threw fifteen paces from him an empty bottle from which he had poured the last drop into his glass.

“A moment,” said d’Artagnan. “I will not abandon Buckingham thus. He gave us some very fine horses.”

“And moreover, very handsome saddles,” said Porthos, who at the moment wore on his cloak the lace of his own.

“Besides,” said Aramis, “God desires the conversion and not the death of a sinner.”

“Amen!” said Athos, “and we will return to that subject later, if such be your pleasure; but what for the moment engaged my attention most earnestly, and I am sure you will understand me, d’Artagnan, was the getting from this woman a kind of carte blanche which she had extorted from the cardinal, and by means of which she could with impunity get rid of you and perhaps of us.”

“But this creature must be a demon!” said Porthos, holding out his plate to Aramis, who was cutting up a fowl.

“And this carte blanche,” said d’Artagnan, “this carte blanche, does it remain in her hands?”

“No, it passed into mine; I will not say without trouble, for if I did I should tell a lie.”

“My dear Athos, I shall no longer count the number of times I am indebted to you for my life.”

“Then it was to go to her that you left us?” said Aramis.

“Exactly.”

“And you have that letter of the cardinal?” said d’Artagnan.

“Here it is,” said Athos; and he took the invaluable paper from the pocket of his uniform. D’Artagnan unfolded it with one hand, whose trembling he did not even attempt to conceal, to read:

“Dec. 3, 1627

“It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.

“RICHELIEU”

“In fact,” said Aramis, “it is an absolution according to rule.”

“That paper must be torn to pieces,” said d’Artagnan, who fancied he read in it his sentence of death.

“On the contrary,” said Athos, “it must be preserved carefully. I would not give up this paper if covered with as many gold pieces.”

“And what will she do now?” asked the young man.

“Why,” replied Athos, carelessly, “she is probably going to write to the cardinal that a damned Musketeer, named Athos, has taken her safe-conduct from her by force; she will advise him in the same letter to get rid of his two friends, Aramis and Porthos, at the same time. The cardinal will remember that these are the same men who have often crossed his path; and then some fine morning he will arrest d’Artagnan, and for fear he should feel lonely, he will send us to keep him company in the Bastille.”

“Go to! It appears to me you make dull jokes, my dear,” said Porthos.

“I do not jest,” said Athos.

“Do you know,” said Porthos, “that to twist that damned Milady’s neck would be a smaller sin than to twist those of these poor devils of Huguenots, who have committed no other crime than singing in French the psalms we sing in Latin?”

“What says the abbé?” asked Athos, quietly.

“I say I am entirely of Porthos’s opinion,” replied Aramis.

“And I, too,” said d’Artagnan.

“Fortunately, she is far off,” said Porthos, “for I confess she would worry me if she were here.”

“She worries me in England as well as in France,” said Athos.

“She worries me everywhere,” said d’Artagnan.

“But when you held her in your power, why did you not drown her, strangle her, hang her?” said Porthos. “It is only the dead who do not return.”

“You think so, Porthos?” replied the Musketeer, with a sad smile which d’Artagnan alone understood.

“I have an idea,” said d’Artagnan.

“What is it?” said the Musketeers.

“To arms!” cried Grimaud.

The young men sprang up, and seized their muskets.

This time a small troop advanced, consisting of from twenty to twenty-five men; but they were not pioneers, they were soldiers of the garrison.

“Shall we return to the camp?” said Porthos. “I don’t think the sides are equal.”

“Impossible, for three reasons,” replied Athos. “The first, that we have not finished breakfast; the second, that we still have some very important things to say; and the third, that it yet wants ten minutes before the lapse of the hour.”

“Well, then,” said Aramis, “we must form a plan of battle.”

“That’s very simple,” replied Athos. “As soon as the enemy are within musket shot, we must fire upon them. If they continue to advance, we must fire again. We must fire as long as we have loaded guns. If those who remain of the troop persist in coming to the assault, we will allow the besiegers to get as far as the ditch, and then we will push down upon their heads that strip of wall which keeps its perpendicular by a miracle.”

“Bravo!” cried Porthos. “Decidedly, Athos, you were born to be a general, and the cardinal, who fancies himself a great soldier, is nothing beside you.”

“Gentlemen,” said Athos, “no divided attention, I beg; let each one pick out his man.”

“I cover mine,” said d’Artagnan.

“And I mine,” said Porthos.

“And I mine,” said Aramis.

“Fire, then,” said Athos.

The four muskets made but one report, but four men fell.

The drum immediately beat, and the little troop advanced at charging pace.

Then the shots were repeated without regularity, but always aimed with the same accuracy. Nevertheless, as if they had been aware of the numerical weakness of the friends, the Rochellais continued to advance in quick time.

With every three shots at least two men fell; but the march of those who remained was not slackened.

Arrived at the foot of the bastion, there were still more than a dozen of the enemy. A last discharge welcomed them, but did not stop them; they jumped into the ditch, and prepared to scale the breach.

“Now, my friends,” said Athos, “finish them at a blow. To the wall; to the wall!”

And the four friends, seconded by Grimaud, pushed with the barrels of their muskets an enormous sheet of the wall, which bent as if pushed by the wind, and detaching itself from its base, fell with a horrible crash into the ditch. Then a fearful crash was heard; a cloud of dust mounted toward the sky—and all was over!

“Can we have destroyed them all, from the first to the last?” said Athos.

“My faith, it appears so!” said d’Artagnan.

“No,” cried Porthos; “there go three or four, limping away.”

In fact, three or four of these unfortunate men, covered with dirt and blood, fled along the hollow way, and at length regained the city. These were all who were left of the little troop.

Athos looked at his watch.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “we have been here an hour, and our wager is won; but we will be fair players. Besides, d’Artagnan has not told us his idea yet.”

And the Musketeer, with his usual coolness, reseated himself before the remains of the breakfast.

“My idea?” said d’Artagnan.

“Yes; you said you had an idea,” said Athos.

“Oh, I remember,” said d’Artagnan. “Well, I will go to England a second time; I will go and find Buckingham.”

“You shall not do that, d’Artagnan,” said Athos, coolly.

“And why not? Have I not been there once?”

“Yes; but at that period we were not at war. At that period Buckingham was an ally, and not an enemy. What you would now do amounts to treason.”

D’Artagnan perceived the force of this reasoning, and was silent.

“But,” said Porthos, “I think I have an idea, in my turn.”

“Silence for Monsieur Porthos’s idea!” said Aramis.

“I will ask leave of absence of Monsieur de Tréville, on some pretext or other which you must invent; I am not very clever at pretexts. Milady does not know me; I will get access to her without her suspecting me, and when I catch my beauty, I will strangle her.”

“Well,” replied Athos, “I am not far from approving the idea of Monsieur Porthos.”

“For shame!” said Aramis. “Kill a woman? No, listen to me; I have the true idea.”

“Let us see your idea, Aramis,” said Athos, who felt much deference for the young Musketeer.

“We must inform the queen.”

“Ah, my faith, yes!” said Porthos and d’Artagnan, at the same time; “we are coming nearer to it now.”

“Inform the queen!” said Athos; “and how? Have we relations with the court? Could we send anyone to Paris without its being known in the camp? From here to Paris it is a hundred and forty leagues; before our letter was at Angers we should be in a dungeon.”

“As to remitting a letter with safety to her Majesty,” said Aramis, coloring, “I will take that upon myself. I know a clever person at Tours—”

Aramis stopped on seeing Athos smile.

“Well, do you not adopt this means, Athos?” said d’Artagnan.

“I do not reject it altogether,” said Athos; “but I wish to remind Aramis that he cannot quit the camp, and that nobody but one of ourselves is trustworthy; that two hours after the messenger has set out, all the Capuchins, all the police, all the black caps of the cardinal, will know your letter by heart, and you and your clever person will be arrested.”

“Without reckoning,” objected Porthos, “that the queen would save Monsieur de Buckingham, but would take no heed of us.”

“Gentlemen,” said d’Artagnan, “what Porthos says is full of sense.”

“Ah, ah! but what’s going on in the city yonder?” said Athos.

“They are beating the general alarm.”

The four friends listened, and the sound of the drum plainly reached them.

“You see, they are going to send a whole regiment against us,” said Athos.

“You don’t think of holding out against a whole regiment, do you?” said Porthos.

“Why not?” said the Musketeer. “I feel myself quite in a humor for it; and I would hold out before an army if we had taken the precaution to bring a dozen more bottles of wine.”

“Upon my word, the drum draws near,” said d’Artagnan.

“Let it come,” said Athos. “It is a quarter of an hour’s journey from here to the city, consequently a quarter of an hour’s journey from the city to hither. That is more than time enough for us to devise a plan. If we go from this place we shall never find another so suitable. Ah, stop! I have it, gentlemen; the right idea has just occurred to me.”

“Tell us.”

“Allow me to give Grimaud some indispensable orders.”

Athos made a sign for his lackey to approach.

“Grimaud,” said Athos, pointing to the bodies which lay under the wall of the bastion, “take those gentlemen, set them up against the wall, put their hats upon their heads, and their guns in their hands.”

“Oh, the great man!” cried d’Artagnan. “I comprehend now.”

“You comprehend?” said Porthos.

“And do you comprehend, Grimaud?” said Aramis.

Grimaud made a sign in the affirmative.

“That’s all that is necessary,” said Athos; “now for my idea.”

“I should like, however, to comprehend,” said Porthos.

“That is useless.”

“Yes, yes! Athos’s idea!” cried Aramis and d’Artagnan, at the same time.

“This Milady, this woman, this creature, this demon, has a brother-in-law, as I think you told me, d’Artagnan?”

“Yes, I know him very well; and I also believe that he has not a very warm affection for his sister-in-law.”

“There is no harm in that. If he detested her, it would be all the better,” replied Athos.

“In that case we are as well off as we wish.”

“And yet,” said Porthos, “I would like to know what Grimaud is about.”

“Silence, Porthos!” said Aramis.

“What is her brother-in-law’s name?”

“Lord de Winter.”

“Where is he now?”

“He returned to London at the first sound of war.”

“Well, there’s just the man we want,” said Athos. “It is he whom we must warn. We will have him informed that his sister-in-law is on the point of having someone assassinated, and beg him not to lose sight of her. There is in London, I hope, some establishment like that of the Magdalens, or of the Repentant Daughters. He must place his sister in one of these, and we shall be in peace.”

“Yes,” said d’Artagnan, “till she comes out.”

“Ah, my faith!” said Athos, “you require too much, d’Artagnan. I have given you all I have, and I beg leave to tell you that this is the bottom of my sack.”

“But I think it would be still better,” said Aramis, “to inform the queen and Lord de Winter at the same time.”

“Yes; but who is to carry the letter to Tours, and who to London?”

“I answer for Bazin,” said Aramis.

“And I for Planchet,” said d’Artagnan.

“Ay,” said Porthos, “if we cannot leave the camp, our lackeys may.”

“To be sure they may; and this very day we will write the letters,” said Aramis. “Give the lackeys money, and they will start.”

“We will give them money?” replied Athos. “Have you any money?”

The four friends looked at one another, and a cloud came over the brows which but lately had been so cheerful.

“Look out!” cried d’Artagnan, “I see black points and red points moving yonder. Why did you talk of a regiment, Athos? It is a veritable army!”

“My faith, yes,” said Athos; “there they are. See the sneaks come, without drum or trumpet. Ah, ah! have you finished, Grimaud?”

Grimaud made a sign in the affirmative, and pointed to a dozen bodies which he had set up in the most picturesque attitudes. Some carried arms, others seemed to be taking aim, and the remainder appeared merely to be sword in hand.

“Bravo!” said Athos; “that does honor to your imagination.”

“All very well,” said Porthos, “but I should like to understand.”

“Let us decamp first, and you will understand afterward.”

“A moment, gentlemen, a moment; give Grimaud time to clear away the breakfast.”

“Ah, ah!” said Aramis, “the black points and the red points are visibly enlarging. I am of d’Artagnan’s opinion; we have no time to lose in regaining our camp.”

“My faith,” said Athos, “I have nothing to say against a retreat. We bet upon one hour, and we have stayed an hour and a half. Nothing can be said; let us be off, gentlemen, let us be off!”

Grimaud was already ahead, with the basket and the dessert. The four friends followed, ten paces behind him.

“What the devil shall we do now, gentlemen?” cried Athos.

“Have you forgotten anything?” said Aramis.

“The white flag, morbleu! We must not leave a flag in the hands of the enemy, even if that flag be but a napkin.”

And Athos ran back to the bastion, mounted the platform, and bore off the flag; but as the Rochellais had arrived within musket range, they opened a terrible fire upon this man, who appeared to expose himself for pleasure’s sake.

But Athos might be said to bear a charmed life. The balls passed and whistled all around him; not one struck him.

Athos waved his flag, turning his back on the guards of the city, and saluting those of the camp. On both sides loud cries arose—on the one side cries of anger, on the other cries of enthusiasm.

A second discharge followed the first, and three balls, by passing through it, made the napkin really a flag. Cries were heard from the camp, “Come down! come down!”

Athos came down; his friends, who anxiously awaited him, saw him returned with joy.

“Come along, Athos, come along!” cried d’Artagnan; “now we have found everything except money, it would be stupid to be killed.”

But Athos continued to march majestically, whatever remarks his companions made; and they, finding their remarks useless, regulated their pace by his.

Grimaud and his basket were far in advance, out of the range of the balls.

At the end of an instant they heard a furious fusillade.

“What’s that?” asked Porthos, “what are they firing at now? I hear no balls whistle, and I see nobody!”

“They are firing at the corpses,” replied Athos.

“But the dead cannot return their fire.”

“Certainly not! They will then fancy it is an ambuscade, they will deliberate; and by the time they have found out the pleasantry, we shall be out of the range of their balls. That renders it useless to get a pleurisy by too much haste.”

“Oh, I comprehend now,” said the astonished Porthos.

“That’s lucky,” said Athos, shrugging his shoulders.

On their part, the French, on seeing the four friends return at such a step, uttered cries of enthusiasm.

At length a fresh discharge was heard, and this time the balls came rattling among the stones around the four friends, and whistling sharply in their ears. The Rochellais had at last taken possession of the bastion.

“These Rochellais are bungling fellows,” said Athos; “how many have we killed of them—a dozen?”

“Or fifteen.”

“How many did we crush under the wall?”

“Eight or ten.”

“And in exchange for all that not even a scratch! Ah, but what is the matter with your hand, d’Artagnan? It bleeds, seemingly.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” said d’Artagnan.

“A spent ball?”

“Not even that.”

“What is it, then?”

We have said that Athos loved d’Artagnan like a child, and this somber and inflexible personage felt the anxiety of a parent for the young man.

“Only grazed a little,” replied d’Artagnan; “my fingers were caught between two stones—that of the wall and that of my ring—and the skin was broken.”

“That comes of wearing diamonds, my master,” said Athos, disdainfully.

“Ah, to be sure,” cried Porthos, “there is a diamond. Why the devil, then, do we plague ourselves about money, when there is a diamond?”

“Stop a bit!” said Aramis.

“Well thought of, Porthos; this time you have an idea.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Porthos, drawing himself up at Athos’s compliment; “as there is a diamond, let us sell it.”

“But,” said d’Artagnan, “it is the queen’s diamond.”

“The stronger reason why it should be sold,” replied Athos. “The queen saving Monsieur de Buckingham, her lover; nothing more just. The queen saving us, her friends; nothing more moral. Let us sell the diamond. What says Monsieur the Abbé? I don’t ask Porthos; his opinion has been given.”

“Why, I think,” said Aramis, blushing as usual, “that his ring not coming from a mistress, and consequently not being a love token, d’Artagnan may sell it.”

“My dear Aramis, you speak like theology personified. Your advice, then, is—”

“To sell the diamond,” replied Aramis.

“Well, then,” said d’Artagnan, gaily, “let us sell the diamond, and say no more about it.”

The fusillade continued; but the four friends were out of reach, and the Rochellais only fired to appease their consciences.

“My faith, it was time that idea came into Porthos’s head. Here we are at the camp; therefore, gentlemen, not a word more of this affair. We are observed; they are coming to meet us. We shall be carried in triumph.”

In fact, as we have said, the whole camp was in motion. More than two thousand persons had assisted, as at a spectacle, in this fortunate but wild undertaking of the four friends—an undertaking of which they were far from suspecting the real motive. Nothing was heard but cries of “Live the Musketeers! Live the Guards!” M. de Busigny was the first to come and shake Athos by the hand, and acknowledge that the wager was lost. The dragoon and the Swiss followed him, and all their comrades followed the dragoon and the Swiss. There was nothing but felicitations, pressures of the hand, and embraces; there was no end to the inextinguishable laughter at the Rochellais. The tumult at length became so great that the cardinal fancied there must be some riot, and sent La Houdiniere, his captain of the Guards, to inquire what was going on.

The affair was described to the messenger with all the effervescence of enthusiasm.

“Well?” asked the cardinal, on seeing La Houdiniere return.

“Well, monseigneur,” replied the latter, “three Musketeers and a Guardsman laid a wager with Monsieur de Busigny that they would go and breakfast in the bastion St. Gervais; and while breakfasting they held it for two hours against the enemy, and have killed I don’t know how many Rochellais.”

“Did you inquire the names of those three Musketeers?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“What are their names?”

“Messieurs Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.”

“Still my three brave fellows!” murmured the cardinal. “And the Guardsman?”

“D’Artagnan.”

“Still my young scapegrace. Positively, these four men must be on my side.”

The same evening the cardinal spoke to M. de Tréville of the exploit of the morning, which was the talk of the whole camp. M. de Tréville, who had received the account of the adventure from the mouths of the heroes of it, related it in all its details to his Eminence, not forgetting the episode of the napkin.

“That’s well, Monsieur de Tréville,” said the cardinal; “pray let that napkin be sent to me. I will have three fleur-de-lis embroidered on it in gold, and will give it to your company as a standard.”

“Monseigneur,” said M. de Tréville, “that will be unjust to the Guardsmen. Monsieur d’Artagnan is not with me; he serves under Monsieur Dessessart.”

“Well, then, take him,” said the cardinal; “when four men are so much attached to one another, it is only fair that they should serve in the same company.”

That same evening M. de Tréville announced this good news to the three Musketeers and d’Artagnan, inviting all four to breakfast with him next morning.

D’Artagnan was beside himself with joy. We know that the dream of his life had been to become a Musketeer. The three friends were likewise greatly delighted.

“My faith,” said d’Artagnan to Athos, “you had a triumphant idea! As you said, we have acquired glory, and were enabled to carry on a conversation of the highest importance.”

“Which we can resume now without anybody suspecting us, for, with the help of God, we shall henceforth pass for cardinalists.”

That evening d’Artagnan went to present his respects to M. Dessessart, and inform him of his promotion.

M. Dessessart, who esteemed d’Artagnan, made him offers of help, as this change would entail expenses for equipment.

D’Artagnan refused; but thinking the opportunity a good one, he begged him to have the diamond he put into his hand valued, as he wished to turn it into money.

The next day, M. Dessessart’s valet came to d’Artagnan’s lodging, and gave him a bag containing seven thousand livres.

This was the price of the queen’s diamond.


48. 
A FAMILY AFFAIR


Athos had invented the phrase, family affair. A family affair was not subject to the investigation of the cardinal; a family affair concerned nobody. People might employ themselves in a family affair before all the world. Therefore Athos had invented the phrase, family affair.

Aramis had discovered the idea, the lackeys.

Porthos had discovered the means, the diamond.

D’Artagnan alone had discovered nothing—he, ordinarily the most inventive of the four; but it must be also said that the very name of Milady paralyzed him.

Ah! no, we were mistaken; he had discovered a purchaser for his diamond.

The breakfast at M. de Tréville’s was as gay and cheerful as possible. D’Artagnan already wore his uniform—for being nearly of the same size as Aramis, and as Aramis was so liberally paid by the publisher who purchased his poem as to allow him to buy everything double, he sold his friend a complete outfit.

D’Artagnan would have been at the height of his wishes if he had not constantly seen Milady like a dark cloud hovering in the horizon.

After breakfast, it was agreed that they should meet again in the evening at Athos’s lodging, and there finish their plans.

D’Artagnan passed the day in exhibiting his Musketeer’s uniform in every street of the camp.

In the evening, at the appointed hour, the four friends met. There only remained three things to decide—what they should write to Milady’s brother; what they should write to the clever person at Tours; and which should be the lackeys to carry the letters.

Everyone offered his own. Athos talked of the discretion of Grimaud, who never spoke a word but when his master unlocked his mouth. Porthos boasted of the strength of Mousqueton, who was big enough to thrash four men of ordinary size. Aramis, confiding in the address of Bazin, made a pompous eulogium on his candidate. Finally, d’Artagnan had entire faith in the bravery of Planchet, and reminded them of the manner in which he had conducted himself in the ticklish affair of Boulogne.

These four virtues disputed the prize for a length of time, and gave birth to magnificent speeches which we do not repeat here for fear they should be deemed too long.

“Unfortunately,” said Athos, “he whom we send must possess in himself alone the four qualities united.”

“But where is such a lackey to be found?”

“Not to be found!” cried Athos. “I know it well, so take Grimaud.”

“Take Mousqueton.”

“Take Bazin.”

“Take Planchet. Planchet is brave and shrewd; they are two qualities out of the four.”

“Gentlemen,” said Aramis, “the principal question is not to know which of our four lackeys is the most discreet, the most strong, the most clever, or the most brave; the principal thing is to know which loves money the best.”

“What Aramis says is very sensible,” replied Athos; “we must speculate upon the faults of people, and not upon their virtues. Monsieur Abbé, you are a great moralist.”

“Doubtless,” said Aramis, “for we not only require to be well served in order to succeed, but moreover, not to fail; for in case of failure, heads are in question, not for our lackeys—”

“Speak lower, Aramis,” said Athos.

“That’s wise—not for the lackeys,” resumed Aramis, “but for the master—for the masters, we may say. Are our lackeys sufficiently devoted to us to risk their lives for us? No.”

“My faith,” said d’Artagnan. “I would almost answer for Planchet.”

“Well, my dear friend, add to his natural devotedness a good sum of money, and then, instead of answering for him once, answer for him twice.”

“Why, good God! you will be deceived just the same,” said Athos, who was an optimist when things were concerned, and a pessimist when men were in question. “They will promise everything for the sake of the money, and on the road fear will prevent them from acting. Once taken, they will be pressed; when pressed, they will confess everything. What the devil! we are not children. To reach England”—Athos lowered his voice—“all France, covered with spies and creatures of the cardinal, must be crossed. A passport for embarkation must be obtained; and the party must be acquainted with English in order to ask the way to London. Really, I think the thing very difficult.”

“Not at all,” cried d’Artagnan, who was anxious the matter should be accomplished; “on the contrary, I think it very easy. It would be, no doubt, parbleu, if we write to Lord de Winter about affairs of vast importance, of the horrors of the cardinal—”

“Speak lower!” said Athos.

“—of intrigues and secrets of state,” continued d’Artagnan, complying with the recommendation. “There can be no doubt we would all be broken on the wheel; but for God’s sake, do not forget, as you yourself said, Athos, that we only write to him concerning a family affair; that we only write to him to entreat that as soon as Milady arrives in London he will put it out of her power to injure us. I will write to him, then, nearly in these terms.”

“Let us see,” said Athos, assuming in advance a critical look.

“Monsieur and dear friend—”

“Ah, yes! Dear friend to an Englishman,” interrupted Athos; “well commenced! Bravo, d’Artagnan! Only with that word you would be quartered instead of being broken on the wheel.”

“Well, perhaps. I will say, then, Monsieur, quite short.”

“You may even say, My Lord,” replied Athos, who stickled for propriety.

“My Lord, do you remember the little goat pasture of the Luxembourg?”

“Good, the Luxembourg! One might believe this is an allusion to the queen-mother! That’s ingenious,” said Athos.

“Well, then, we will put simply, My Lord, do you remember a certain little enclosure where your life was spared?”

“My dear d’Artagnan, you will never make anything but a very bad secretary. Where your life was spared! For shame! that’s unworthy. A man of spirit is not to be reminded of such services. A benefit reproached is an offense committed.”

“The devil!” said d’Artagnan, “you are insupportable. If the letter must be written under your censure, my faith, I renounce the task.”

“And you will do right. Handle the musket and the sword, my dear fellow. You will come off splendidly at those two exercises; but pass the pen over to Monsieur Abbé. That’s his province.”

“Ay, ay!” said Porthos; “pass the pen to Aramis, who writes theses in Latin.”

“Well, so be it,” said d’Artagnan. “Draw up this note for us, Aramis; but by our Holy Father the Pope, cut it short, for I shall prune you in my turn, I warn you.”

“I ask no better,” said Aramis, with that ingenious air of confidence which every poet has in himself; “but let me be properly acquainted with the subject. I have heard here and there that this sister-in-law was a hussy. I have obtained proof of it by listening to her conversation with the cardinal.”

“Lower! SACRE BLEU!” said Athos.

“But,” continued Aramis, “the details escape me.”

“And me also,” said Porthos.

D’Artagnan and Athos looked at each other for some time in silence. At length Athos, after serious reflection and becoming more pale than usual, made a sign of assent to d’Artagnan, who by it understood he was at liberty to speak.

“Well, this is what you have to say,” said d’Artagnan: “My Lord, your sister-in-law is an infamous woman, who wished to have you killed that she might inherit your wealth; but she could not marry your brother, being already married in France, and having been—” d’Artagnan stopped, as if seeking for the word, and looked at Athos.

“Repudiated by her husband,” said Athos.

“Because she had been branded,” continued d’Artagnan.

“Bah!” cried Porthos. “Impossible! What do you say—that she wanted to have her brother-in-law killed?”

“Yes.”

“She was married?” asked Aramis.

“Yes.”

“And her husband found out that she had a fleur-de-lis on her shoulder?” cried Porthos.

“Yes.”

These three yeses had been pronounced by Athos, each with a sadder intonation.

“And who has seen this fleur-de-lis?” inquired Aramis.

“D’Artagnan and I. Or rather, to observe the chronological order, I and d’Artagnan,” replied Athos.

“And does the husband of this frightful creature still live?” said Aramis.

“He still lives.”

“Are you quite sure of it?”

“I am he.”

There was a moment of cold silence, during which everyone was affected according to his nature.

“This time,” said Athos, first breaking the silence, “d’Artagnan has given us an excellent program, and the letter must be written at once.”

“The devil! You are right, Athos,” said Aramis; “and it is a rather difficult matter. The chancellor himself would be puzzled how to write such a letter, and yet the chancellor draws up an official report very readily. Never mind! Be silent, I will write.”

Aramis accordingly took the quill, reflected for a few moments, wrote eight or ten lines in a charming little female hand, and then with a voice soft and slow, as if each word had been scrupulously weighed, he read the following:

“My Lord, The person who writes these few lines had the honor of crossing swords with you in the little enclosure of the Rue d’Enfer. As you have several times since declared yourself the friend of that person, he thinks it his duty to respond to that friendship by sending you important information. Twice you have nearly been the victim of a near relative, whom you believe to be your heir because you are ignorant that before she contracted a marriage in England she was already married in France. But the third time, which is the present, you may succumb. Your relative left La Rochelle for England during the night. Watch her arrival, for she has great and terrible projects. If you require to know positively what she is capable of, read her past history on her left shoulder.”

“Well, now that will do wonderfully well,” said Athos. “My dear Aramis, you have the pen of a secretary of state. Lord de Winter will now be upon his guard if the letter should reach him; and even if it should fall into the hands of the cardinal, we shall not be compromised. But as the lackey who goes may make us believe he has been to London and may stop at Chatellerault, let us give him only half the sum promised him, with the letter, with an agreement that he shall have the other half in exchange for the reply. Have you the diamond?” continued Athos.

“I have what is still better. I have the price;” and d’Artagnan threw the bag upon the table. At the sound of the gold Aramis raised his eyes and Porthos started. As to Athos, he remained unmoved.

“How much in that little bag?”

“Seven thousand livres, in louis of twelve francs.”

“Seven thousand livres!” cried Porthos. “That poor little diamond was worth seven thousand livres?”

“It appears so,” said Athos, “since here they are. I don’t suppose that our friend d’Artagnan has added any of his own to the amount.”

“But, gentlemen, in all this,” said d’Artagnan, “we do not think of the queen. Let us take some heed of the welfare of her dear Buckingham. That is the least we owe her.”

“That’s true,” said Athos; “but that concerns Aramis.”

“Well,” replied the latter, blushing, “what must I say?”

“Oh, that’s simple enough!” replied Athos. “Write a second letter for that clever personage who lives at Tours.”

Aramis resumed his pen, reflected a little, and wrote the following lines, which he immediately submitted to the approbation of his friends.

“My dear cousin.”

“Ah, ah!” said Athos. “This clever person is your relative, then?”

“Cousin-german.”

“Go on, to your cousin, then!”

Aramis continued:

“My dear Cousin, His Eminence, the cardinal, whom God preserve for the happiness of France and the confusion of the enemies of the kingdom, is on the point of putting an end to the hectic rebellion of La Rochelle. It is probable that the succor of the English fleet will never even arrive in sight of the place. I will even venture to say that I am certain M. de Buckingham will be prevented from setting out by some great event. His Eminence is the most illustrious politician of times past, of times present, and probably of times to come. He would extinguish the sun if the sun incommoded him. Give these happy tidings to your sister, my dear cousin. I have dreamed that the unlucky Englishman was dead. I cannot recollect whether it was by steel or by poison; only of this I am sure, I have dreamed he was dead, and you know my dreams never deceive me. Be assured, then, of seeing me soon return.”

“Capital!” cried Athos; “you are the king of poets, my dear Aramis. You speak like the Apocalypse, and you are as true as the Gospel. There is nothing now to do but to put the address to this letter.”

“That is easily done,” said Aramis.

He folded the letter fancifully, and took up his pen and wrote:

“To Mlle. Michon, seamstress, Tours.”

The three friends looked at one another and laughed; they were caught.

“Now,” said Aramis, “you will please to understand, gentlemen, that Bazin alone can carry this letter to Tours. My cousin knows nobody but Bazin, and places confidence in nobody but him; any other person would fail. Besides, Bazin is ambitious and learned; Bazin has read history, gentlemen, he knows that Sixtus the Fifth became Pope after having kept pigs. Well, as he means to enter the Church at the same time as myself, he does not despair of becoming Pope in his turn, or at least a cardinal. You can understand that a man who has such views will never allow himself to be taken, or if taken, will undergo martyrdom rather than speak.”

“Very well,” said d’Artagnan, “I consent to Bazin with all my heart, but grant me Planchet. Milady had him one day turned out of doors, with sundry blows of a good stick to accelerate his motions. Now, Planchet has an excellent memory; and I will be bound that sooner than relinquish any possible means of vengeance, he will allow himself to be beaten to death. If your arrangements at Tours are your arrangements, Aramis, those of London are mine. I request, then, that Planchet may be chosen, more particularly as he has already been to London with me, and knows how to speak correctly: London, sir, if you please, and my master, Lord d’Artagnan. With that you may be satisfied he can make his way, both going and returning.”

“In that case,” said Athos, “Planchet must receive seven hundred livres for going, and seven hundred livres for coming back; and Bazin, three hundred livres for going, and three hundred livres for returning—that will reduce the sum to five thousand livres. We will each take a thousand livres to be employed as seems good, and we will leave a fund of a thousand livres under the guardianship of Monsieur Abbé here, for extraordinary occasions or common wants. Will that do?”

“My dear Athos,” said Aramis, “you speak like Nestor, who was, as everyone knows, the wisest among the Greeks.”

“Well, then,” said Athos, “it is agreed. Planchet and Bazin shall go. Everything considered, I am not sorry to retain Grimaud; he is accustomed to my ways, and I am particular. Yesterday’s affair must have shaken him a little; his voyage would upset him quite.”

Planchet was sent for, and instructions were given him. The matter had been named to him by d’Artagnan, who in the first place pointed out the money to him, then the glory, and then the danger.

“I will carry the letter in the lining of my coat,” said Planchet; “and if I am taken I will swallow it.”

“Well, but then you will not be able to fulfill your commission,” said d’Artagnan.

“You will give me a copy this evening, which I shall know by heart tomorrow.”

D’Artagnan looked at his friends, as if to say, “Well, what did I tell you?”

“Now,” continued he, addressing Planchet, “you have eight days to get an interview with Lord de Winter; you have eight days to return—in all sixteen days. If, on the sixteenth day after your departure, at eight o’clock in the evening you are not here, no money—even if it be but five minutes past eight.”

“Then, monsieur,” said Planchet, “you must buy me a watch.”

“Take this,” said Athos, with his usual careless generosity, giving him his own, “and be a good lad. Remember, if you talk, if you babble, if you get drunk, you risk your master’s head, who has so much confidence in your fidelity, and who answers for you. But remember, also, that if by your fault any evil happens to d’Artagnan, I will find you, wherever you may be, for the purpose of ripping up your belly.”

“Oh, monsieur!” said Planchet, humiliated by the suspicion, and moreover, terrified at the calm air of the Musketeer.

“And I,” said Porthos, rolling his large eyes, “remember, I will skin you alive.”

“Ah, monsieur!”

“And I,” said Aramis, with his soft, melodius voice, “remember that I will roast you at a slow fire, like a savage.”

“Ah, monsieur!”

Planchet began to weep. We will not venture to say whether it was from terror created by the threats or from tenderness at seeing four friends so closely united.

D’Artagnan took his hand. “See, Planchet,” said he, “these gentlemen only say this out of affection for me, but at bottom they all like you.”

“Ah, monsieur,” said Planchet, “I will succeed or I will consent to be cut in quarters; and if they do cut me in quarters, be assured that not a morsel of me will speak.”

It was decided that Planchet should set out the next day, at eight o’clock in the morning, in order, as he had said, that he might during the night learn the letter by heart. He gained just twelve hours by this engagement; he was to be back on the sixteenth day, by eight o’clock in the evening.

In the morning, as he was mounting his horse, d’Artagnan, who felt at the bottom of his heart a partiality for the duke, took Planchet aside.

“Listen,” said he to him. “When you have given the letter to Lord de Winter and he has read it, you will further say to him: Watch over his Grace Lord Buckingham, for they wish to assassinate him. But this, Planchet, is so serious and important that I have not informed my friends that I would entrust this secret to you; and for a captain’s commission I would not write it.”

“Be satisfied, monsieur,” said Planchet, “you shall see if confidence can be placed in me.”

Mounted on an excellent horse, which he was to leave at the end of twenty leagues in order to take the post, Planchet set off at a gallop, his spirits a little depressed by the triple promise made him by the Musketeers, but otherwise as light-hearted as possible.

Bazin set out the next day for Tours, and was allowed eight days for performing his commission.

The four friends, during the period of these two absences, had, as may well be supposed, the eye on the watch, the nose to the wind, and the ear on the hark. Their days were passed in endeavoring to catch all that was said, in observing the proceeding of the cardinal, and in looking out for all the couriers who arrived. More than once an involuntary trembling seized them when called upon for some unexpected service. They had, besides, to look constantly to their own proper safety; Milady was a phantom which, when it had once appeared to people, did not allow them to sleep very quietly.

On the morning of the eighth day, Bazin, fresh as ever, and smiling, according to custom, entered the cabaret of the Parpaillot as the four friends were sitting down to breakfast, saying, as had been agreed upon: “Monsieur Aramis, the answer from your cousin.”

The four friends exchanged a joyful glance; half of the work was done. It is true, however, that it was the shorter and easier part.

Aramis, blushing in spite of himself, took the letter, which was in a large, coarse hand and not particular for its orthography.

“Good God!” cried he, laughing, “I quite despair of my poor Michon; she will never write like Monsieur de Voiture.”

“What does you mean by boor Michon?” said the Swiss, who was chatting with the four friends when the letter came.

“Oh, pardieu, less than nothing,” said Aramis; “a charming little seamstress, whom I love dearly and from whose hand I requested a few lines as a sort of keepsake.”

“The duvil!” said the Swiss, “if she is as great a lady as her writing is large, you are a lucky fellow, gomrade!”

Aramis read the letter, and passed it to Athos.

“See what she writes to me, Athos,” said he.

Athos cast a glance over the epistle, and to disperse all the suspicions that might have been created, read aloud:

“My cousin,

“My sister and I are skillful in interpreting dreams, and even entertain great fear of them; but of yours it may be said, I hope, every dream is an illusion. Adieu! Take care of yourself, and act so that we may from time to time hear you spoken of.

“MARIE MICHON”

“And what dream does she mean?” asked the dragoon, who had approached during the reading.

“Yez; what’s the dream?” said the Swiss.

“Well, pardieu!” said Aramis, “it was only this: I had a dream, and I related it to her.”

“Yez, yez,” said the Swiss; “it’s simple enough to dell a dream, but I neffer dream.”

“You are very fortunate,” said Athos, rising; “I wish I could say as much!”

“Neffer,” replied the Swiss, enchanted that a man like Athos could envy him anything. “Neffer, neffer!”

D’Artagnan, seeing Athos rise, did likewise, took his arm, and went out.

Porthos and Aramis remained behind to encounter the jokes of the dragoon and the Swiss.

As to Bazin, he went and lay down on a truss of straw; and as he had more imagination than the Swiss, he dreamed that Aramis, having become pope, adorned his head with a cardinal’s hat.

But, as we have said, Bazin had not, by his fortunate return, removed more than a part of the uneasiness which weighed upon the four friends. The days of expectation are long, and d’Artagnan, in particular, would have wagered that the days were forty-four hours. He forgot the necessary slowness of navigation; he exaggerated to himself the power of Milady. He credited this woman, who appeared to him the equal of a demon, with agents as supernatural as herself; at the least noise, he imagined himself about to be arrested, and that Planchet was being brought back to be confronted with himself and his friends. Still further, his confidence in the worthy Picard, at one time so great, diminished day by day. This anxiety became so great that it even extended to Aramis and Porthos. Athos alone remained unmoved, as if no danger hovered over him, and as if he breathed his customary atmosphere.

On the sixteenth day, in particular, these signs were so strong in d’Artagnan and his two friends that they could not remain quiet in one place, and wandered about like ghosts on the road by which Planchet was expected.

“Really,” said Athos to them, “you are not men but children, to let a woman terrify you so! And what does it amount to, after all? To be imprisoned. Well, but we should be taken out of prison; Madame Bonacieux was released. To be decapitated? Why, every day in the trenches we go cheerfully to expose ourselves to worse than that—for a bullet may break a leg, and I am convinced a surgeon would give us more pain in cutting off a thigh than an executioner in cutting off a head. Wait quietly, then; in two hours, in four, in six hours at latest, Planchet will be here. He promised to be here, and I have very great faith in Planchet, who appears to me to be a very good lad.”

“But if he does not come?” said d’Artagnan.

“Well, if he does not come, it will be because he has been delayed, that’s all. He may have fallen from his horse, he may have cut a caper from the deck; he may have traveled so fast against the wind as to have brought on a violent catarrh. Eh, gentlemen, let us reckon upon accidents! Life is a chaplet of little miseries which the philosopher counts with a smile. Be philosophers, as I am, gentlemen; sit down at the table and let us drink. Nothing makes the future look so bright as surveying it through a glass of chambertin.”

“That’s all very well,” replied d’Artagnan; “but I am tired of fearing when I open a fresh bottle that the wine may come from the cellar of Milady.”

“You are very fastidious,” said Athos; “such a beautiful woman!”

“A woman of mark!” said Porthos, with his loud laugh.

Athos started, passed his hand over his brow to remove the drops of perspiration that burst forth, and rose in his turn with a nervous movement he could not repress.

The day, however, passed away; and the evening came on slowly, but finally it came. The bars were filled with drinkers. Athos, who had pocketed his share of the diamond, seldom quit the Parpaillot. He had found in M. de Busigny, who, by the by, had given them a magnificent dinner, a partner worthy of his company. They were playing together, as usual, when seven o’clock sounded; the patrol was heard passing to double the posts. At half past seven the retreat was sounded.

“We are lost,” said d’Artagnan, in the ear of Athos.

“You mean to say we have lost,” said Athos, quietly, drawing four pistoles from his pocket and throwing them upon the table. “Come, gentlemen,” said he, “they are beating the tattoo. Let us to bed!”

And Athos went out of the Parpaillot, followed by d’Artagnan. Aramis came behind, giving his arm to Porthos. Aramis mumbled verses to himself, and Porthos from time to time pulled a hair or two from his mustache, in sign of despair.

But all at once a shadow appeared in the darkness the outline of which was familiar to d’Artagnan, and a well-known voice said, “Monsieur, I have brought your cloak; it is chilly this evening.”

“Planchet!” cried d’Artagnan, beside himself with joy.

“Planchet!” repeated Aramis and Porthos.

“Well, yes, Planchet, to be sure,” said Athos, “what is there so astonishing in that? He promised to be back by eight o’clock, and eight is striking. Bravo, Planchet, you are a lad of your word, and if ever you leave your master, I will promise you a place in my service.”

“Oh, no, never,” said Planchet, “I will never leave Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

At the same time d’Artagnan felt that Planchet slipped a note into his hand.

D’Artagnan felt a strong inclination to embrace Planchet as he had embraced him on his departure; but he feared lest this mark of affection, bestowed upon his lackey in the open street, might appear extraordinary to passers-by, and he restrained himself.

“I have the note,” said he to Athos and to his friends.

“That’s well,” said Athos, “let us go home and read it.”

The note burned the hand of d’Artagnan. He wished to hasten their steps; but Athos took his arm and passed it under his own, and the young man was forced to regulate his pace by that of his friend.

At length they reached the tent, lit a lamp, and while Planchet stood at the entrance that the four friends might not be surprised, d’Artagnan, with a trembling hand, broke the seal and opened the so anxiously expected letter.

It contained half a line, in a hand perfectly British, and with a conciseness as perfectly Spartan:

Thank you; be easy.

d’Artagnan translated this for the others.

Athos took the letter from the hands of d’Artagnan, approached the lamp, set fire to the paper, and did not let go till it was reduced to a cinder.

Then, calling Planchet, he said, “Now, my lad, you may claim your seven hundred livres, but you did not run much risk with such a note as that.”

“I am not to blame for having tried every means to compress it,” said Planchet.

“Well!” cried d’Artagnan, “tell us all about it.”

“Dame, that’s a long job, monsieur.”

“You are right, Planchet,” said Athos; “besides, the tattoo has been sounded, and we should be observed if we kept a light burning much longer than the others.”

“So be it,” said d’Artagnan. “Go to bed, Planchet, and sleep soundly.”

“My faith, monsieur! that will be the first time I have done so for sixteen days.”

“And me, too!” said d’Artagnan.

“And me, too!” said Porthos.

“And me, too!” said Aramis.

“Well, if you will have the truth, and me, too!” said Athos.