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The Three Musketeers

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25. 
PORTHOS


Instead of returning directly home, d’Artagnan alighted at the door of M. de Tréville, and ran quickly up the stairs. This time he had decided to relate all that had passed. M. de Tréville would doubtless give him good advice as to the whole affair. Besides, as M. de Tréville saw the queen almost daily, he might be able to draw from her Majesty some intelligence of the poor young woman, whom they were doubtless making pay very dearly for her devotedness to her mistress.

M. de Tréville listened to the young man’s account with a seriousness which proved that he saw something else in this adventure besides a love affair. When d’Artagnan had finished, he said, “Hum! All this savors of his Eminence, a league off.”

“But what is to be done?” said d’Artagnan.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, at present, but quitting Paris, as I told you, as soon as possible. I will see the queen; I will relate to her the details of the disappearance of this poor woman, of which she is no doubt ignorant. These details will guide her on her part, and on your return, I shall perhaps have some good news to tell you. Rely on me.”

D’Artagnan knew that, although a Gascon, M. de Tréville was not in the habit of making promises, and that when by chance he did promise, he more than kept his word. He bowed to him, then, full of gratitude for the past and for the future; and the worthy captain, who on his side felt a lively interest in this young man, so brave and so resolute, pressed his hand kindly, wishing him a pleasant journey.

Determined to put the advice of M. de Tréville in practice instantly, d’Artagnan directed his course toward the Rue des Fossoyeurs, in order to superintend the packing of his valise. On approaching the house, he perceived M. Bonacieux in morning costume, standing at his threshold. All that the prudent Planchet had said to him the preceding evening about the sinister character of the old man recurred to the mind of d’Artagnan, who looked at him with more attention than he had done before. In fact, in addition to that yellow, sickly paleness which indicates the insinuation of the bile in the blood, and which might, besides, be accidental, d’Artagnan remarked something perfidiously significant in the play of the wrinkled features of his countenance. A rogue does not laugh in the same way that an honest man does; a hypocrite does not shed the tears of a man of good faith. All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face.

It appeared, then, to d’Artagnan that M. Bonacieux wore a mask, and likewise that that mask was most disagreeable to look upon. In consequence of this feeling of repugnance, he was about to pass without speaking to him, but, as he had done the day before, M. Bonacieux accosted him.

“Well, young man,” said he, “we appear to pass rather gay nights! Seven o’clock in the morning! Peste! You seem to reverse ordinary customs, and come home at the hour when other people are going out.”

“No one can reproach you for anything of the kind, Monsieur Bonacieux,” said the young man; “you are a model for regular people. It is true that when a man possesses a young and pretty wife, he has no need to seek happiness elsewhere. Happiness comes to meet him, does it not, Monsieur Bonacieux?”

Bonacieux became as pale as death, and grinned a ghastly smile.

“Ah, ah!” said Bonacieux, “you are a jocular companion! But where the devil were you gladding last night, my young master? It does not appear to be very clean in the crossroads.”

D’Artagnan glanced down at his boots, all covered with mud; but that same glance fell upon the shoes and stockings of the mercer, and it might have been said they had been dipped in the same mud heap. Both were stained with splashes of mud of the same appearance.

Then a sudden idea crossed the mind of d’Artagnan. That little stout man, short and elderly, that sort of lackey, dressed in dark clothes, treated without ceremony by the men wearing swords who composed the escort, was Bonacieux himself. The husband had presided at the abduction of his wife.

A terrible inclination seized d’Artagnan to grasp the mercer by the throat and strangle him; but, as we have said, he was a very prudent youth, and he restrained himself. However, the revolution which appeared upon his countenance was so visible that Bonacieux was terrified at it, and he endeavored to draw back a step or two; but as he was standing before the half of the door which was shut, the obstacle compelled him to keep his place.

“Ah, but you are joking, my worthy man!” said d’Artagnan. “It appears to me that if my boots need a sponge, your stockings and shoes stand in equal need of a brush. May you not have been philandering a little also, Monsieur Bonacieux? Oh, the devil! That’s unpardonable in a man of your age, and who besides, has such a pretty wife as yours.”

“Oh, Lord! no,” said Bonacieux, “but yesterday I went to St. Mande to make some inquiries after a servant, as I cannot possibly do without one; and the roads were so bad that I brought back all this mud, which I have not yet had time to remove.”

The place named by Bonacieux as that which had been the object of his journey was a fresh proof in support of the suspicions d’Artagnan had conceived. Bonacieux had named Mande because Mande was in an exactly opposite direction from St. Cloud. This probability afforded him his first consolation. If Bonacieux knew where his wife was, one might, by extreme means, force the mercer to open his teeth and let his secret escape. The question, then, was how to change this probability into a certainty.

“Pardon, my dear Monsieur Bonacieux, if I don’t stand upon ceremony,” said d’Artagnan, “but nothing makes one so thirsty as want of sleep. I am parched with thirst. Allow me to take a glass of water in your apartment; you know that is never refused among neighbors.”

Without waiting for the permission of his host, d’Artagnan went quickly into the house, and cast a rapid glance at the bed. It had not been used. Bonacieux had not been abed. He had only been back an hour or two; he had accompanied his wife to the place of her confinement, or else at least to the first relay.

“Thanks, Monsieur Bonacieux,” said d’Artagnan, emptying his glass, “that is all I wanted of you. I will now go up into my apartment. I will make Planchet brush my boots; and when he has done, I will, if you like, send him to you to brush your shoes.”

He left the mercer quite astonished at his singular farewell, and asking himself if he had not been a little inconsiderate.

At the top of the stairs he found Planchet in a great fright.

“Ah, monsieur!” cried Planchet, as soon as he perceived his master, “here is more trouble. I thought you would never come in.”

“What’s the matter now, Planchet?” demanded d’Artagnan.

“Oh! I give you a hundred, I give you a thousand times to guess, monsieur, the visit I received in your absence.”

“When?”

“About half an hour ago, while you were at Monsieur de Tréville’s.”

“Who has been here? Come, speak.”

“Monsieur de Cavois.”

“Monsieur de Cavois?”

“In person.”

“The captain of the cardinal’s Guards?”

“Himself.”

“Did he come to arrest me?”

“I have no doubt that he did, monsieur, for all his wheedling manner.”

“Was he so sweet, then?”

“Indeed, he was all honey, monsieur.”

“Indeed!”

“He came, he said, on the part of his Eminence, who wished you well, and to beg you to follow him to the Palais-Royal*.”

* It was called the Palais-Cardinal before Richelieu gave it to the King.

“What did you answer him?”

“That the thing was impossible, seeing that you were not at home, as he could see.”

“Well, what did he say then?”

“That you must not fail to call upon him in the course of the day; and then he added in a low voice, ‘Tell your master that his Eminence is very well disposed toward him, and that his fortune perhaps depends upon this interview.’”

“The snare is rather maladroit for the cardinal,” replied the young man, smiling.

“Oh, I saw the snare, and I answered you would be quite in despair on your return.

“‘Where has he gone?’ asked Monsieur de Cavois.

“‘To Troyes, in Champagne,’ I answered.

“‘And when did he set out?’

“‘Yesterday evening.’”

“Planchet, my friend,” interrupted d’Artagnan, “you are really a precious fellow.”

“You will understand, monsieur, I thought there would be still time, if you wish, to see Monsieur de Cavois to contradict me by saying you were not yet gone. The falsehood would then lie at my door, and as I am not a gentleman, I may be allowed to lie.”

“Be of good heart, Planchet, you shall preserve your reputation as a veracious man. In a quarter of an hour we set off.”

“That’s the advice I was about to give Monsieur; and where are we going, may I ask, without being too curious?”

“Pardieu! In the opposite direction to that which you said I was gone. Besides, are you not as anxious to learn news of Grimaud, Mousqueton, and Bazin as I am to know what has become of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis?”

“Yes, monsieur,” said Planchet, “and I will go as soon as you please. Indeed, I think provincial air will suit us much better just now than the air of Paris. So then—”

“So then, pack up our luggage, Planchet, and let us be off. On my part, I will go out with my hands in my pockets, that nothing may be suspected. You may join me at the Hôtel des Gardes. By the way, Planchet, I think you are right with respect to our host, and that he is decidedly a frightfully low wretch.”

“Ah, monsieur, you may take my word when I tell you anything. I am a physiognomist, I assure you.”

D’Artagnan went out first, as had been agreed upon. Then, in order that he might have nothing to reproach himself with, he directed his steps, for the last time, toward the residences of his three friends. No news had been received of them; only a letter, all perfumed and of an elegant writing in small characters, had come for Aramis. D’Artagnan took charge of it. Ten minutes afterward Planchet joined him at the stables of the Hôtel des Gardes. D’Artagnan, in order that there might be no time lost, had saddled his horse himself.

“That’s well,” said he to Planchet, when the latter added the portmanteau to the equipment. “Now saddle the other three horses.”

“Do you think, then, monsieur, that we shall travel faster with two horses apiece?” said Planchet, with his shrewd air.

“No, Monsieur Jester,” replied d’Artagnan; “but with our four horses we may bring back our three friends, if we should have the good fortune to find them living.”

“Which is a great chance,” replied Planchet, “but we must not despair of the mercy of God.”

“Amen!” said d’Artagnan, getting into his saddle.

As they went from the Hôtel des Gardes, they separated, leaving the street at opposite ends, one having to quit Paris by the Barrière de la Villette and the other by the Barrière Montmartre, to meet again beyond St. Denis—a strategic maneuver which, having been executed with equal punctuality, was crowned with the most fortunate results. D’Artagnan and Planchet entered Pierrefitte together.

Planchet was more courageous, it must be admitted, by day than by night. His natural prudence, however, never forsook him for a single instant. He had forgotten not one of the incidents of the first journey, and he looked upon everybody he met on the road as an enemy. It followed that his hat was forever in his hand, which procured him some severe reprimands from d’Artagnan, who feared that his excess of politeness would lead people to think he was the lackey of a man of no consequence.

Nevertheless, whether the passengers were really touched by the urbanity of Planchet or whether this time nobody was posted on the young man’s road, our two travelers arrived at Chantilly without any accident, and alighted at the tavern of Great St. Martin, the same at which they had stopped on their first journey.

The host, on seeing a young man followed by a lackey with two extra horses, advanced respectfully to the door. Now, as they had already traveled eleven leagues, d’Artagnan thought it time to stop, whether Porthos were or were not in the inn. Perhaps it would not be prudent to ask at once what had become of the Musketeer. The result of these reflections was that d’Artagnan, without asking information of any kind, alighted, commended the horses to the care of his lackey, entered a small room destined to receive those who wished to be alone, and desired the host to bring him a bottle of his best wine and as good a breakfast as possible—a desire which further corroborated the high opinion the innkeeper had formed of the traveler at first sight.

D’Artagnan was therefore served with miraculous celerity. The regiment of the Guards was recruited among the first gentlemen of the kingdom; and d’Artagnan, followed by a lackey, and traveling with four magnificent horses, despite the simplicity of his uniform, could not fail to make a sensation. The host desired himself to serve him; which d’Artagnan perceiving, ordered two glasses to be brought, and commenced the following conversation.

“My faith, my good host,” said d’Artagnan, filling the two glasses, “I asked for a bottle of your best wine, and if you have deceived me, you will be punished in what you have sinned; for seeing that I hate drinking by myself, you shall drink with me. Take your glass, then, and let us drink. But what shall we drink to, so as to avoid wounding any susceptibility? Let us drink to the prosperity of your establishment.”

“Your Lordship does me much honor,” said the host, “and I thank you sincerely for your kind wish.”

“But don’t mistake,” said d’Artagnan, “there is more selfishness in my toast than perhaps you may think—for it is only in prosperous establishments that one is well received. In hôtels that do not flourish, everything is in confusion, and the traveler is a victim to the embarrassments of his host. Now, I travel a great deal, particularly on this road, and I wish to see all innkeepers making a fortune.”

“It seems to me,” said the host, “that this is not the first time I have had the honor of seeing Monsieur.”

“Bah, I have passed perhaps ten times through Chantilly, and out of the ten times I have stopped three or four times at your house at least. Why I was here only ten or twelve days ago. I was conducting some friends, Musketeers, one of whom, by the by, had a dispute with a stranger—a man who sought a quarrel with him, for I don’t know what.”

“Exactly so,” said the host; “I remember it perfectly. It is not Monsieur Porthos that your Lordship means?”

“Yes, that is my companion’s name. My God, my dear host, tell me if anything has happened to him?”

“Your Lordship must have observed that he could not continue his journey.”

“Why, to be sure, he promised to rejoin us, and we have seen nothing of him.”

“He has done us the honor to remain here.”

“What, he had done you the honor to remain here?”

“Yes, monsieur, in this house; and we are even a little uneasy—”

“On what account?”

“Of certain expenses he has contracted.”

“Well, but whatever expenses he may have incurred, I am sure he is in a condition to pay them.”

“Ah, monsieur, you infuse genuine balm into my blood. We have made considerable advances; and this very morning the surgeon declared that if Monsieur Porthos did not pay him, he should look to me, as it was I who had sent for him.”

“Porthos is wounded, then?”

“I cannot tell you, monsieur.”

“What! You cannot tell me? Surely you ought to be able to tell me better than any other person.”

“Yes; but in our situation we must not say all we know—particularly as we have been warned that our ears should answer for our tongues.”

“Well, can I see Porthos?”

“Certainly, monsieur. Take the stairs on your right; go up the first flight and knock at Number One. Only warn him that it is you.”

“Why should I do that?”

“Because, monsieur, some mischief might happen to you.”

“Of what kind, in the name of wonder?”

“Monsieur Porthos may imagine you belong to the house, and in a fit of passion might run his sword through you or blow out your brains.”

“What have you done to him, then?”

“We have asked him for money.”

“The devil! Ah, I can understand that. It is a demand that Porthos takes very ill when he is not in funds; but I know he must be so at present.”

“We thought so, too, monsieur. As our house is carried on very regularly, and we make out our bills every week, at the end of eight days we presented our account; but it appeared we had chosen an unlucky moment, for at the first word on the subject, he sent us to all the devils. It is true he had been playing the day before.”

“Playing the day before! And with whom?”

“Lord, who can say, monsieur? With some gentleman who was traveling this way, to whom he proposed a game of lansquenet.”

“That’s it, then, and the foolish fellow lost all he had?”

“Even to his horse, monsieur; for when the gentleman was about to set out, we perceived that his lackey was saddling Monsieur Porthos’s horse, as well as his master’s. When we observed this to him, he told us all to trouble ourselves about our own business, as this horse belonged to him. We also informed Monsieur Porthos of what was going on; but he told us we were scoundrels to doubt a gentleman’s word, and that as he had said the horse was his, it must be so.”

“That’s Porthos all over,” murmured d’Artagnan.

“Then,” continued the host, “I replied that as from the moment we seemed not likely to come to a good understanding with respect to payment, I hoped that he would have at least the kindness to grant the favor of his custom to my brother host of the Golden Eagle; but Monsieur Porthos replied that, my house being the best, he should remain where he was. This reply was too flattering to allow me to insist on his departure. I confined myself then to begging him to give up his chamber, which is the handsomest in the hôtel, and to be satisfied with a pretty little room on the third floor; but to this Monsieur Porthos replied that as he every moment expected his mistress, who was one of the greatest ladies in the court, I might easily comprehend that the chamber he did me the honor to occupy in my house was itself very mean for the visit of such a personage. Nevertheless, while acknowledging the truth of what he said, I thought proper to insist; but without even giving himself the trouble to enter into any discussion with me, he took one of his pistols, laid it on his table, day and night, and said that at the first word that should be spoken to him about removing, either within the house or out of it, he would blow out the brains of the person who should be so imprudent as to meddle with a matter which only concerned himself. Since that time, monsieur, nobody entered his chamber but his servant.”

“What! Mousqueton is here, then?”

“Oh, yes, monsieur. Five days after your departure, he came back, and in a very bad condition, too. It appears that he had met with disagreeableness, likewise, on his journey. Unfortunately, he is more nimble than his master; so that for the sake of his master, he puts us all under his feet, and as he thinks we might refuse what he asked for, he takes all he wants without asking at all.”

“The fact is,” said d’Artagnan, “I have always observed a great degree of intelligence and devotedness in Mousqueton.”

“That is possible, monsieur; but suppose I should happen to be brought in contact, even four times a year, with such intelligence and devotedness—why, I should be a ruined man!”

“No, for Porthos will pay you.”

“Hum!” said the host, in a doubtful tone.

“The favorite of a great lady will not be allowed to be inconvenienced for such a paltry sum as he owes you.”

“If I durst say what I believe on that head—”

“What you believe?”

“I ought rather to say, what I know.”

“What you know?”

“And even what I am sure of.”

“And of what are you so sure?”

“I would say that I know this great lady.”

“You?”

“Yes; I.”

“And how do you know her?”

“Oh, monsieur, if I could believe I might trust in your discretion.”

“Speak! By the word of a gentleman, you shall have no cause to repent of your confidence.”

“Well, monsieur, you understand that uneasiness makes us do many things.”

“What have you done?”

“Oh, nothing which was not right in the character of a creditor.”

“Well?”

“Monsieur Porthos gave us a note for his duchess, ordering us to put it in the post. This was before his servant came. As he could not leave his chamber, it was necessary to charge us with this commission.”

“And then?”

“Instead of putting the letter in the post, which is never safe, I took advantage of the journey of one of my lads to Paris, and ordered him to convey the letter to this duchess himself. This was fulfilling the intentions of Monsieur Porthos, who had desired us to be so careful of this letter, was it not?”

“Nearly so.”

“Well, monsieur, do you know who this great lady is?”

“No; I have heard Porthos speak of her, that’s all.”

“Do you know who this pretended duchess is?

“I repeat to you, I don’t know her.”

“Why, she is the old wife of a procurator* of the Châtelet, monsieur, named Madame Coquenard, who, although she is at least fifty, still gives herself jealous airs. It struck me as very odd that a princess should live in the Rue aux Ours.”

* Attorney

“But how do you know all this?”

“Because she flew into a great passion on receiving the letter, saying that Monsieur Porthos was a weathercock, and that she was sure it was for some woman he had received this wound.”

“Has he been wounded, then?”

“Oh, good Lord! What have I said?”

“You said that Porthos had received a sword cut.”

“Yes, but he has forbidden me so strictly to say so.”

“And why so.”

“Zounds, monsieur! Because he had boasted that he would perforate the stranger with whom you left him in dispute; whereas the stranger, on the contrary, in spite of all his rodomontades quickly threw him on his back. As Monsieur Porthos is a very boastful man, he insists that nobody shall know he has received this wound except the duchess, whom he endeavored to interest by an account of his adventure.”

“It is a wound that confines him to his bed?”

“Ah, and a master stroke, too, I assure you. Your friend’s soul must stick tight to his body.”

“Were you there, then?”

“Monsieur, I followed them from curiosity, so that I saw the combat without the combatants seeing me.”

“And what took place?”

“Oh! The affair was not long, I assure you. They placed themselves on guard; the stranger made a feint and a lunge, and that so rapidly that when Monsieur Porthos came to the parade, he had already three inches of steel in his breast. He immediately fell backward. The stranger placed the point of his sword at his throat; and Monsieur Porthos, finding himself at the mercy of his adversary, acknowledged himself conquered. Upon which the stranger asked his name, and learning that it was Porthos, and not d’Artagnan, he assisted him to rise, brought him back to the hôtel, mounted his horse, and disappeared.”

“So it was with Monsieur d’Artagnan this stranger meant to quarrel?”

“It appears so.”

“And do you know what has become of him?”

“No, I never saw him until that moment, and have not seen him since.”

“Very well; I know all that I wish to know. Porthos’s chamber is, you say, on the first story, Number One?”

“Yes, monsieur, the handsomest in the inn—a chamber that I could have let ten times over.”

“Bah! Be satisfied,” said d’Artagnan, laughing, “Porthos will pay you with the money of the Duchess Coquenard.”

“Oh, monsieur, procurator’s wife or duchess, if she will but loosen her pursestrings, it will be all the same; but she positively answered that she was tired of the exigencies and infidelities of Monsieur Porthos, and that she would not send him a denier.”

“And did you convey this answer to your guest?”

“We took good care not to do that; he would have found in what fashion we had executed his commission.”

“So that he still expects his money?”

“Oh, Lord, yes, monsieur! Yesterday he wrote again; but it was his servant who this time put the letter in the post.”

“Do you say the procurator’s wife is old and ugly?”

“Fifty at least, monsieur, and not at all handsome, according to Pathaud’s account.”

“In that case, you may be quite at ease; she will soon be softened. Besides, Porthos cannot owe you much.”

“How, not much! Twenty good pistoles, already, without reckoning the doctor. He denies himself nothing; it may easily be seen he has been accustomed to live well.”

“Never mind; if his mistress abandons him, he will find friends, I will answer for it. So, my dear host, be not uneasy, and continue to take all the care of him that his situation requires.”

“Monsieur has promised me not to open his mouth about the procurator’s wife, and not to say a word of the wound?”

“That’s agreed; you have my word.”

“Oh, he would kill me!”

“Don’t be afraid; he is not so much of a devil as he appears.”

Saying these words, d’Artagnan went upstairs, leaving his host a little better satisfied with respect to two things in which he appeared to be very much interested—his debt and his life.

At the top of the stairs, upon the most conspicuous door of the corridor, was traced in black ink a gigantic number “1.” d’Artagnan knocked, and upon the bidding to come in which came from inside, he entered the chamber.

Porthos was in bed, and was playing a game at lansquenet with Mousqueton, to keep his hand in; while a spit loaded with partridges was turning before the fire, and on each side of a large chimneypiece, over two chafing dishes, were boiling two stewpans, from which exhaled a double odor of rabbit and fish stews, rejoicing to the smell. In addition to this he perceived that the top of a wardrobe and the marble of a commode were covered with empty bottles.

At the sight of his friend, Porthos uttered a loud cry of joy; and Mousqueton, rising respectfully, yielded his place to him, and went to give an eye to the two stewpans, of which he appeared to have the particular inspection.

“Ah, pardieu! Is that you?” said Porthos to d’Artagnan. “You are right welcome. Excuse my not coming to meet you; but,” added he, looking at d’Artagnan with a certain degree of uneasiness, “you know what has happened to me?”

“No.”

“Has the host told you nothing, then?”

“I asked after you, and came up as soon as I could.”

Porthos seemed to breathe more freely.

“And what has happened to you, my dear Porthos?” continued d’Artagnan.

“Why, on making a thrust at my adversary, whom I had already hit three times, and whom I meant to finish with the fourth, I put my foot on a stone, slipped, and strained my knee.”

“Truly?”

“Honor! Luckily for the rascal, for I should have left him dead on the spot, I assure you.”

“And what has became of him?”

“Oh, I don’t know; he had enough, and set off without waiting for the rest. But you, my dear d’Artagnan, what has happened to you?”

“So that this strain of the knee,” continued d’Artagnan, “my dear Porthos, keeps you in bed?”

“My God, that’s all. I shall be about again in a few days.”

“Why did you not have yourself conveyed to Paris? You must be cruelly bored here.”

“That was my intention; but, my dear friend, I have one thing to confess to you.”

“What’s that?”

“It is that as I was cruelly bored, as you say, and as I had the seventy-five pistoles in my pocket which you had distributed to me, in order to amuse myself I invited a gentleman who was traveling this way to walk up, and proposed a cast of dice. He accepted my challenge, and, my faith, my seventy-five pistoles passed from my pocket to his, without reckoning my horse, which he won into the bargain. But you, my dear d’Artagnan?”

“What can you expect, my dear Porthos; a man is not privileged in all ways,” said d’Artagnan. “You know the proverb ‘Unlucky at play, lucky in love.’ You are too fortunate in your love for play not to take its revenge. What consequence can the reverses of fortune be to you? Have you not, happy rogue that you are—have you not your duchess, who cannot fail to come to your aid?”

“Well, you see, my dear d’Artagnan, with what ill luck I play,” replied Porthos, with the most careless air in the world. “I wrote to her to send me fifty louis or so, of which I stood absolutely in need on account of my accident.”

“Well?”

“Well, she must be at her country seat, for she has not answered me.”

“Truly?”

“No; so I yesterday addressed another epistle to her, still more pressing than the first. But you are here, my dear fellow, let us speak of you. I confess I began to be very uneasy on your account.”

“But your host behaves very well toward you, as it appears, my dear Porthos,” said d’Artagnan, directing the sick man’s attention to the full stewpans and the empty bottles.

“So, so,” replied Porthos. “Only three or four days ago the impertinent jackanapes gave me his bill, and I was forced to turn both him and his bill out of the door; so that I am here something in the fashion of a conqueror, holding my position, as it were, my conquest. So you see, being in constant fear of being forced from that position, I am armed to the teeth.”

“And yet,” said d’Artagnan, laughing, “it appears to me that from time to time you must make sorties.” And he again pointed to the bottles and the stewpans.

“Not I, unfortunately!” said Porthos. “This miserable strain confines me to my bed; but Mousqueton forages, and brings in provisions. Friend Mousqueton, you see that we have a reinforcement, and we must have an increase of supplies.”

“Mousqueton,” said d’Artagnan, “you must render me a service.”

“What, monsieur?”

“You must give your recipe to Planchet. I may be besieged in my turn, and I shall not be sorry for him to be able to let me enjoy the same advantages with which you gratify your master.”

“Lord, monsieur! There is nothing more easy,” said Mousqueton, with a modest air. “One only needs to be sharp, that’s all. I was brought up in the country, and my father in his leisure time was something of a poacher.”

“And what did he do the rest of his time?”

“Monsieur, he carried on a trade which I have always thought satisfactory.”

“Which?”

“As it was a time of war between the Catholics and the Huguenots, and as he saw the Catholics exterminate the Huguenots and the Huguenots exterminate the Catholics—all in the name of religion—he adopted a mixed belief which permitted him to be sometimes Catholic, sometimes a Huguenot. Now, he was accustomed to walk with his fowling piece on his shoulder, behind the hedges which border the roads, and when he saw a Catholic coming alone, the Protestant religion immediately prevailed in his mind. He lowered his gun in the direction of the traveler; then, when he was within ten paces of him, he commenced a conversation which almost always ended by the traveler’s abandoning his purse to save his life. It goes without saying that when he saw a Huguenot coming, he felt himself filled with such ardent Catholic zeal that he could not understand how, a quarter of an hour before, he had been able to have any doubts upon the superiority of our holy religion. For my part, monsieur, I am Catholic—my father, faithful to his principles, having made my elder brother a Huguenot.”

“And what was the end of this worthy man?” asked d’Artagnan.

“Oh, of the most unfortunate kind, monsieur. One day he was surprised in a lonely road between a Huguenot and a Catholic, with both of whom he had before had business, and who both knew him again; so they united against him and hanged him on a tree. Then they came and boasted of their fine exploit in the cabaret of the next village, where my brother and I were drinking.”

“And what did you do?” said d’Artagnan.

“We let them tell their story out,” replied Mousqueton. “Then, as in leaving the cabaret they took different directions, my brother went and hid himself on the road of the Catholic, and I on that of the Huguenot. Two hours after, all was over; we had done the business of both, admiring the foresight of our poor father, who had taken the precaution to bring each of us up in a different religion.”

“Well, I must allow, as you say, your father was a very intelligent fellow. And you say in his leisure moments the worthy man was a poacher?”

“Yes, monsieur, and it was he who taught me to lay a snare and ground a line. The consequence is that when I saw our laborers, which did not at all suit two such delicate stomachs as ours, I had recourse to a little of my old trade. While walking near the wood of Monsieur le Prince, I laid a few snare in the runs; and while reclining on the banks of his Highness’s pieces of water, I slipped a few lines into his fish ponds. So that now, thanks be to God, we do not want, as Monsieur can testify, for partridges, rabbits, carp or eels—all light, wholesome food, suitable for the sick.”

“But the wine,” said d’Artagnan, “who furnishes the wine? Your host?”

“That is to say, yes and no.”

“How yes and no?”

“He furnishes it, it is true, but he does not know that he has that honor.”

“Explain yourself, Mousqueton; your conversation is full of instructive things.”

“That is it, monsieur. It has so chanced that I met with a Spaniard in my peregrinations who had seen many countries, and among them the New World.”

“What connection can the New World have with the bottles which are on the commode and the wardrobe?”

“Patience, monsieur, everything will come in its turn.”

“This Spaniard had in his service a lackey who had accompanied him in his voyage to Mexico. This lackey was my compatriot; and we became the more intimate from there being many resemblances of character between us. We loved sporting of all kinds better than anything; so that he related to me how in the plains of the Pampas the natives hunt the tiger and the wild bull with simple running nooses which they throw to a distance of twenty or thirty paces the end of a cord with such nicety; but in face of the proof I was obliged to acknowledge the truth of the recital. My friend placed a bottle at the distance of thirty paces, and at each cast he caught the neck of the bottle in his running noose. I practiced this exercise, and as nature has endowed me with some faculties, at this day I can throw the lasso with any man in the world. Well, do you understand, monsieur? Our host has a well-furnished cellar the key of which never leaves him; only this cellar has a ventilating hole. Now through this ventilating hole I throw my lasso, and as I now know in which part of the cellar is the best wine, that’s my point for sport. You see, monsieur, what the New World has to do with the bottles which are on the commode and the wardrobe. Now, will you taste our wine, and without prejudice say what you think of it?”

“Thank you, my friend, thank you; unfortunately, I have just breakfasted.”

“Well,” said Porthos, “arrange the table, Mousqueton, and while we breakfast, d’Artagnan will relate to us what has happened to him during the ten days since he left us.”

“Willingly,” said d’Artagnan.

While Porthos and Mousqueton were breakfasting, with the appetites of convalescents and with that brotherly cordiality which unites men in misfortune, d’Artagnan related how Aramis, being wounded, was obliged to stop at Crèvecœur, how he had left Athos fighting at Amiens with four men who accused him of being a coiner, and how he, d’Artagnan, had been forced to run the Comtes de Wardes through the body in order to reach England.

But there the confidence of d’Artagnan stopped. He only added that on his return from Great Britain he had brought back four magnificent horses—one for himself, and one for each of his companions; then he informed Porthos that the one intended for him was already installed in the stable of the tavern.

At this moment Planchet entered, to inform his master that the horses were sufficiently refreshed and that it would be possible to sleep at Clermont.

As d’Artagnan was tolerably reassured with regard to Porthos, and as he was anxious to obtain news of his two other friends, he held out his hand to the wounded man, and told him he was about to resume his route in order to continue his researches. For the rest, as he reckoned upon returning by the same route in seven or eight days, if Porthos were still at the Great St. Martin, he would call for him on his way.

Porthos replied that in all probability his sprain would not permit him to depart yet awhile. Besides, it was necessary he should stay at Chantilly to wait for the answer from his duchess.

D’Artagnan wished that answer might be prompt and favorable; and having again recommended Porthos to the care of Mousqueton, and paid his bill to the host, he resumed his route with Planchet, already relieved of one of his led horses.


26. 
ARAMIS AND HIS THESIS


D’Artagnan had said nothing to Porthos of his wound or of his procurator’s wife. Our Béarnais was a prudent lad, however young he might be. Consequently he had appeared to believe all that the vainglorious Musketeer had told him, convinced that no friendship will hold out against a surprised secret. Besides, we feel always a sort of mental superiority over those whose lives we know better than they suppose. In his projects of intrigue for the future, and determined as he was to make his three friends the instruments of his fortune, d’Artagnan was not sorry at getting into his grasp beforehand the invisible strings by which he reckoned upon moving them.

And yet, as he journeyed along, a profound sadness weighed upon his heart. He thought of that young and pretty Mme. Bonacieux who was to have paid him the price of his devotedness; but let us hasten to say that this sadness possessed the young man less from the regret of the happiness he had missed, than from the fear he entertained that some serious misfortune had befallen the poor woman. For himself, he had no doubt she was a victim of the cardinal’s vengeance; and, as was well known, the vengeance of his Eminence was terrible. How he had found grace in the eyes of the minister, he did not know; but without doubt M. de Cavois would have revealed this to him if the captain of the Guards had found him at home.

Nothing makes time pass more quickly or more shortens a journey than a thought which absorbs in itself all the faculties of the organization of him who thinks. External existence then resembles a sleep of which this thought is the dream. By its influence, time has no longer measure, space has no longer distance. We depart from one place, and arrive at another, that is all. Of the interval passed, nothing remains in the memory but a vague mist in which a thousand confused images of trees, mountains, and landscapes are lost. It was as a prey to this hallucination that d’Artagnan traveled, at whatever pace his horse pleased, the six or eight leagues that separated Chantilly from Crèvecœur, without his being able to remember on his arrival in the village any of the things he had passed or met with on the road.

There only his memory returned to him. He shook his head, perceived the cabaret at which he had left Aramis, and putting his horse to the trot, he shortly pulled up at the door.

This time it was not a host but a hostess who received him. D’Artagnan was a physiognomist. His eye took in at a glance the plump, cheerful countenance of the mistress of the place, and he at once perceived there was no occasion for dissembling with her, or of fearing anything from one blessed with such a joyous physiognomy.

“My good dame,” asked d’Artagnan, “can you tell me what has become of one of my friends, whom we were obliged to leave here about a dozen days ago?”

“A handsome young man, three- or four-and-twenty years old, mild, amiable, and well made?”

“That is he—wounded in the shoulder.”

“Just so. Well, monsieur, he is still here.”

“Ah, pardieu! My dear dame,” said d’Artagnan, springing from his horse, and throwing the bridle to Planchet, “you restore me to life; where is this dear Aramis? Let me embrace him, I am in a hurry to see him again.”

“Pardon, monsieur, but I doubt whether he can see you at this moment.”

“Why so? Has he a lady with him?”

“Jesus! What do you mean by that? Poor lad! No, monsieur, he has not a lady with him.”

“With whom is he, then?”

“With the curate of Montdidier and the superior of the Jesuits of Amiens.”

“Good heavens!” cried d’Artagnan, “is the poor fellow worse, then?”

“No, monsieur, quite the contrary; but after his illness grace touched him, and he determined to take orders.”

“That’s it!” said d’Artagnan, “I had forgotten that he was only a Musketeer for a time.”

“Monsieur still insists upon seeing him?”

“More than ever.”

“Well, monsieur has only to take the right-hand staircase in the courtyard, and knock at Number Five on the second floor.”

D’Artagnan walked quickly in the direction indicated, and found one of those exterior staircases that are still to be seen in the yards of our old-fashioned taverns. But there was no getting at the place of sojourn of the future abbé; the defiles of the chamber of Aramis were as well guarded as the gardens of Armida. Bazin was stationed in the corridor, and barred his passage with the more intrepidity that, after many years of trial, Bazin found himself near a result of which he had ever been ambitious.

In fact, the dream of poor Bazin had always been to serve a churchman; and he awaited with impatience the moment, always in the future, when Aramis would throw aside the uniform and assume the cassock. The daily-renewed promise of the young man that the moment would not long be delayed, had alone kept him in the service of a Musketeer—a service in which, he said, his soul was in constant jeopardy.

Bazin was then at the height of joy. In all probability, this time his master would not retract. The union of physical pain with moral uneasiness had produced the effect so long desired. Aramis, suffering at once in body and mind, had at length fixed his eyes and his thoughts upon religion, and he had considered as a warning from heaven the double accident which had happened to him; that is to say, the sudden disappearance of his mistress and the wound in his shoulder.

It may be easily understood that in the present disposition of his master nothing could be more disagreeable to Bazin than the arrival of d’Artagnan, which might cast his master back again into that vortex of mundane affairs which had so long carried him away. He resolved, then, to defend the door bravely; and as, betrayed by the mistress of the inn, he could not say that Aramis was absent, he endeavored to prove to the newcomer that it would be the height of indiscretion to disturb his master in his pious conference, which had commenced with the morning and would not, as Bazin said, terminate before night.

But d’Artagnan took very little heed of the eloquent discourse of M. Bazin; and as he had no desire to support a polemic discussion with his friend’s valet, he simply moved him out of the way with one hand, and with the other turned the handle of the door of Number Five. The door opened, and d’Artagnan went into the chamber.

Aramis, in a black gown, his head enveloped in a sort of round flat cap, not much unlike a calotte, was seated before an oblong table, covered with rolls of paper and enormous volumes in folio. At his right hand was placed the superior of the Jesuits, and on his left the curate of Montdidier. The curtains were half drawn, and only admitted the mysterious light calculated for beatific reveries. All the mundane objects that generally strike the eye on entering the room of a young man, particularly when that young man is a Musketeer, had disappeared as if by enchantment; and for fear, no doubt, that the sight of them might bring his master back to ideas of this world, Bazin had laid his hands upon sword, pistols, plumed hat, and embroideries and laces of all kinds and sorts. In their stead d’Artagnan thought he perceived in an obscure corner a discipline cord suspended from a nail in the wall.

At the noise made by d’Artagnan in entering, Aramis lifted up his head, and beheld his friend; but to the great astonishment of the young man, the sight of him did not produce much effect upon the Musketeer, so completely was his mind detached from the things of this world.

“Good day, dear d’Artagnan,” said Aramis; “believe me, I am glad to see you.”

“So am I delighted to see you,” said d’Artagnan, “although I am not yet sure that it is Aramis I am speaking to.”

“To himself, my friend, to himself! But what makes you doubt it?”

“I was afraid I had made a mistake in the chamber, and that I had found my way into the apartment of some churchman. Then another error seized me on seeing you in company with these gentlemen—I was afraid you were dangerously ill.”

The two men in black, who guessed d’Artagnan’s meaning, darted at him a glance which might have been thought threatening; but d’Artagnan took no heed of it.

“I disturb you, perhaps, my dear Aramis,” continued d’Artagnan, “for by what I see, I am led to believe that you are confessing to these gentlemen.”

Aramis colored imperceptibly. “You disturb me? Oh, quite the contrary, dear friend, I swear; and as a proof of what I say, permit me to declare I am rejoiced to see you safe and sound.”

“Ah, he’ll come round,” thought d’Artagnan; “that’s not bad!”

“This gentleman, who is my friend, has just escaped from a serious danger,” continued Aramis, with unction, pointing to d’Artagnan with his hand, and addressing the two ecclesiastics.

“Praise God, monsieur,” replied they, bowing together.

“I have not failed to do so, your Reverences,” replied the young man, returning their salutation.

“You arrive in good time, dear d’Artagnan,” said Aramis, “and by taking part in our discussion may assist us with your intelligence. Monsieur the Principal of Amiens, Monsieur the Curate of Montdidier, and I are arguing certain theological questions in which we have been much interested; I shall be delighted to have your opinion.”

“The opinion of a swordsman can have very little weight,” replied d’Artagnan, who began to be uneasy at the turn things were taking, “and you had better be satisfied, believe me, with the knowledge of these gentlemen.”

The two men in black bowed in their turn.

“On the contrary,” replied Aramis, “your opinion will be very valuable. The question is this: Monsieur the Principal thinks that my thesis ought to be dogmatic and didactic.”

“Your thesis! Are you then making a thesis?”

“Without doubt,” replied the Jesuit. “In the examination which precedes ordination, a thesis is always a requisite.”

“Ordination!” cried d’Artagnan, who could not believe what the hostess and Bazin had successively told him; and he gazed, half stupefied, upon the three persons before him.

“Now,” continued Aramis, taking the same graceful position in his easy chair that he would have assumed in bed, and complacently examining his hand, which was as white and plump as that of a woman, and which he held in the air to cause the blood to descend, “now, as you have heard, d’Artagnan, Monsieur the Principal is desirous that my thesis should be dogmatic, while I, for my part, would rather it should be ideal. This is the reason why Monsieur the Principal has proposed to me the following subject, which has not yet been treated upon, and in which I perceive there is matter for magnificent elaboration-‘Utraque manus in benedicendo clericis inferioribus necessaria est.’”

D’Artagnan, whose erudition we are well acquainted with, evinced no more interest on hearing this quotation than he had at that of M. de Tréville in allusion to the gifts he pretended that d’Artagnan had received from the Duke of Buckingham.

“Which means,” resumed Aramis, that he might perfectly understand, “‘The two hands are indispensable for priests of the inferior orders, when they bestow the benediction.’”

“An admirable subject!” cried the Jesuit.

“Admirable and dogmatic!” repeated the curate, who, about as strong as d’Artagnan with respect to Latin, carefully watched the Jesuit in order to keep step with him, and repeated his words like an echo.

As to d’Artagnan, he remained perfectly insensible to the enthusiasm of the two men in black.

“Yes, admirable! prorsus admirabile!” continued Aramis; “but which requires a profound study of both the Scriptures and the Fathers. Now, I have confessed to these learned ecclesiastics, and that in all humility, that the duties of mounting guard and the service of the king have caused me to neglect study a little. I should find myself, therefore, more at my ease, facilius natans, in a subject of my own choice, which would be to these hard theological questions what morals are to metaphysics in philosophy.”

D’Artagnan began to be tired, and so did the curate.

“See what an exordium!” cried the Jesuit.

“Exordium,” repeated the curate, for the sake of saying something. “Quemadmodum inter cœlorum immensitatem.”

Aramis cast a glance upon d’Artagnan to see what effect all this produced, and found his friend gaping enough to split his jaws.

“Let us speak French, my father,” said he to the Jesuit; “Monsieur d’Artagnan will enjoy our conversation better.”

“Yes,” replied d’Artagnan; “I am fatigued with reading, and all this Latin confuses me.”

“Certainly,” replied the Jesuit, a little put out, while the curate, greatly delighted, turned upon d’Artagnan a look full of gratitude. “Well, let us see what is to be derived from this gloss. Moses, the servant of God-he was but a servant, please to understand-Moses blessed with the hands; he held out both his arms while the Hebrews beat their enemies, and then he blessed them with his two hands. Besides, what does the Gospel say? Imponite manus, and not manum-place the hands, not the hand.”

“Place the hands,” repeated the curate, with a gesture.

“St. Peter, on the contrary, of whom the Popes are the successors,” continued the Jesuit; “porrige digitos-present the fingers. Are you there, now?”

“Certes,” replied Aramis, in a pleased tone, “but the thing is subtle.”

“The fingers,” resumed the Jesuit, “St. Peter blessed with the fingers. The Pope, therefore blesses with the fingers. And with how many fingers does he bless? With three fingers, to be sure-one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost.”

All crossed themselves. D’Artagnan thought it was proper to follow this example.

“The Pope is the successor of St. Peter, and represents the three divine powers; the rest—ordines inferiores—of the ecclesiastical hierarchy bless in the name of the holy archangels and angels. The most humble clerks such as our deacons and sacristans, bless with holy water sprinklers, which resemble an infinite number of blessing fingers. There is the subject simplified. Argumentum omni denudatum ornamento. I could make of that subject two volumes the size of this,” continued the Jesuit; and in his enthusiasm he struck a St. Chrysostom in folio, which made the table bend beneath its weight.

D’Artagnan trembled.

“Certes,” said Aramis, “I do justice to the beauties of this thesis; but at the same time I perceive it would be overwhelming for me. I had chosen this text-tell me, dear d’Artagnan, if it is not to your taste—‘Non inutile est desiderium in oblatione’; that is, ‘A little regret is not unsuitable in an offering to the Lord.’”

“Stop there!” cried the Jesuit, “for that thesis touches closely upon heresy. There is a proposition almost like it in the Augustinus of the heresiarch Jansenius, whose book will sooner or later be burned by the hands of the executioner. Take care, my young friend. You are inclining toward false doctrines, my young friend; you will be lost.”

“You will be lost,” said the curate, shaking his head sorrowfully.

“You approach that famous point of free will which is a mortal rock. You face the insinuations of the Pelagians and the semi-Pelagians.”

“But, my Reverend—” replied Aramis, a little amazed by the shower of arguments that poured upon his head.

“How will you prove,” continued the Jesuit, without allowing him time to speak, “that we ought to regret the world when we offer ourselves to God? Listen to this dilemma: God is God, and the world is the devil. To regret the world is to regret the devil; that is my conclusion.”

“And that is mine also,” said the curate.

“But, for heaven’s sake-” resumed Aramis.

“Desideras diabolum, unhappy man!” cried the Jesuit.

“He regrets the devil! Ah, my young friend,” added the curate, groaning, “do not regret the devil, I implore you!”

D’Artagnan felt himself bewildered. It seemed to him as though he were in a madhouse, and was becoming as mad as those he saw. He was, however, forced to hold his tongue from not comprehending half the language they employed.

“But listen to me, then,” resumed Aramis with politeness mingled with a little impatience. “I do not say I regret; no, I will never pronounce that sentence, which would not be orthodox.”

The Jesuit raised his hands toward heaven, and the curate did the same.

“No; but pray grant me that it is acting with an ill grace to offer to the Lord only that with which we are perfectly disgusted! Don’t you think so, d’Artagnan?”

“I think so, indeed,” cried he.

The Jesuit and the curate quite started from their chairs.

“This is the point of departure; it is a syllogism. The world is not wanting in attractions. I quit the world; then I make a sacrifice. Now, the Scripture says positively, ‘Make a sacrifice unto the Lord.’”

“That is true,” said his antagonists.

“And then,” said Aramis, pinching his ear to make it red, as he rubbed his hands to make them white, “and then I made a certain rondeau upon it last year, which I showed to Monsieur Voiture, and that great man paid me a thousand compliments.”

“A rondeau!” said the Jesuit, disdainfully.

“A rondeau!” said the curate, mechanically.

“Repeat it! Repeat it!” cried d’Artagnan; “it will make a little change.”

“Not so, for it is religious,” replied Aramis; “it is theology in verse.”

“The devil!” said d’Artagnan.

“Here it is,” said Aramis, with a little look of diffidence, which, however, was not exempt from a shade of hypocrisy:

“Vous qui pleurez un passé plein de charmes,
    Et qui trainez des jours infortunés,
    Tous vos malheurs se verront terminés,
Quand à Dieu seul vous offrirez vos larmes,
        Vous qui pleurez!”

“You who weep for pleasures fled,
    While dragging on a life of care,
    All your woes will melt in air,
If to God your tears are shed,
        You who weep!”

d’Artagnan and the curate appeared pleased. The Jesuit persisted in his opinion. “Beware of a profane taste in your theological style. What says Augustine on this subject: ‘Severus sit clericorum verbo.’”

“Yes, let the sermon be clear,” said the curate.

“Now,” hastily interrupted the Jesuit, on seeing that his acolyte was going astray, “now your thesis would please the ladies; it would have the success of one of Monsieur Patru’s pleadings.”

“Please God!” cried Aramis, transported.

“There it is,” cried the Jesuit; “the world still speaks within you in a loud voice, altisimâ voce. You follow the world, my young friend, and I tremble lest grace prove not efficacious.”

“Be satisfied, my reverend father, I can answer for myself.”

“Mundane presumption!”

“I know myself, Father; my resolution is irrevocable.”

“Then you persist in continuing that thesis?”

“I feel myself called upon to treat that, and no other. I will see about the continuation of it, and tomorrow I hope you will be satisfied with the corrections I shall have made in consequence of your advice.”

“Work slowly,” said the curate; “we leave you in an excellent tone of mind.”

“Yes, the ground is all sown,” said the Jesuit, “and we have not to fear that one portion of the seed may have fallen upon stone, another upon the highway, or that the birds of heaven have eaten the rest, aves cœli comederunt illam.”

“Plague stifle you and your Latin!” said d’Artagnan, who began to feel all his patience exhausted.

“Farewell, my son,” said the curate, “till tomorrow.”

“Till tomorrow, rash youth,” said the Jesuit. “You promise to become one of the lights of the Church. Heaven grant that this light prove not a devouring fire!”

D’Artagnan, who for an hour past had been gnawing his nails with impatience, was beginning to attack the quick.

The two men in black rose, bowed to Aramis and d’Artagnan, and advanced toward the door. Bazin, who had been standing listening to all this controversy with a pious jubilation, sprang toward them, took the breviary of the curate and the missal of the Jesuit, and walked respectfully before them to clear their way.

Aramis conducted them to the foot of the stairs, and then immediately came up again to d’Artagnan, whose senses were still in a state of confusion.

When left alone, the two friends at first kept an embarrassed silence. It however became necessary for one of them to break it first, and as d’Artagnan appeared determined to leave that honor to his companion, Aramis said, “you see that I am returned to my fundamental ideas.”

“Yes, efficacious grace has touched you, as that gentleman said just now.”

“Oh, these plans of retreat have been formed for a long time. You have often heard me speak of them, have you not, my friend?”

“Yes; but I confess I always thought you jested.”

“With such things! Oh, d’Artagnan!”

“The devil! Why, people jest with death.”

“And people are wrong, d’Artagnan; for death is the door which leads to perdition or to salvation.”

“Granted; but if you please, let us not theologize, Aramis. You must have had enough for today. As for me, I have almost forgotten the little Latin I have ever known. Then I confess to you that I have eaten nothing since ten o’clock this morning, and I am devilish hungry.”

“We will dine directly, my friend; only you must please to remember that this is Friday. Now, on such a day I can neither eat flesh nor see it eaten. If you can be satisfied with my dinner-it consists of cooked tetragones and fruits.”

“What do you mean by tetragones?” asked d’Artagnan, uneasily.

“I mean spinach,” replied Aramis; “but on your account I will add some eggs, and that is a serious infraction of the rule-for eggs are meat, since they engender chickens.”

“This feast is not very succulent; but never mind, I will put up with it for the sake of remaining with you.”

“I am grateful to you for the sacrifice,” said Aramis; “but if your body be not greatly benefited by it, be assured your soul will.”

“And so, Aramis, you are decidedly going into the Church? What will our two friends say? What will Monsieur de Tréville say? They will treat you as a deserter, I warn you.”

“I do not enter the Church; I re-enter it. I deserted the Church for the world, for you know that I forced myself when I became a Musketeer.”

“I? I know nothing about it.”

“You don’t know I quit the seminary?”

“Not at all.”

“This is my story, then. Besides, the Scriptures say, ‘Confess yourselves to one another,’ and I confess to you, d’Artagnan.”

“And I give you absolution beforehand. You see I am a good sort of a man.”

“Do not jest about holy things, my friend.”

“Go on, then, I listen.”

“I had been at the seminary from nine years old; in three days I should have been twenty. I was about to become an abbé, and all was arranged. One evening I went, according to custom, to a house which I frequented with much pleasure: when one is young, what can be expected?—one is weak. An officer who saw me, with a jealous eye, reading the Lives of the Saints to the mistress of the house, entered suddenly and without being announced. That evening I had translated an episode of Judith, and had just communicated my verses to the lady, who gave me all sorts of compliments, and leaning on my shoulder, was reading them a second time with me. Her pose, which I must admit was rather free, wounded this officer. He said nothing; but when I went out he followed, and quickly came up with me. ‘Monsieur the Abbé,’ said he, ‘do you like blows with a cane?’ ‘I cannot say, monsieur,’ answered I; ‘no one has ever dared to give me any.’ ‘Well, listen to me, then, Monsieur the Abbé! If you venture again into the house in which I have met you this evening, I will dare it myself.’ I really think I must have been frightened. I became very pale; I felt my legs fail me; I sought for a reply, but could find none-I was silent. The officer waited for his reply, and seeing it so long coming, he burst into a laugh, turned upon his heel, and re-entered the house. I returned to the seminary.

“I am a gentleman born, and my blood is warm, as you may have remarked, my dear d’Artagnan. The insult was terrible, and although unknown to the rest of the world, I felt it live and fester at the bottom of my heart. I informed my superiors that I did not feel myself sufficiently prepared for ordination, and at my request the ceremony was postponed for a year. I sought out the best fencing master in Paris, I made an agreement with him to take a lesson every day, and every day for a year I took that lesson. Then, on the anniversary of the day on which I had been insulted, I hung my cassock on a peg, assumed the costume of a cavalier, and went to a ball given by a lady friend of mine and to which I knew my man was invited. It was in the Rue des France-Bourgeois, close to La Force. As I expected, my officer was there. I went up to him as he was singing a love ditty and looking tenderly at a lady, and interrupted him exactly in the middle of the second couplet. ‘Monsieur,’ said I, ‘does it still displease you that I should frequent a certain house of La Rue Payenne? And would you still cane me if I took it into my head to disobey you? The officer looked at me with astonishment, and then said, ‘What is your business with me, monsieur? I do not know you.’ ‘I am,’ said I, ‘the little abbé who reads Lives of the Saints, and translates Judith into verse.’ ‘Ah, ah! I recollect now,’ said the officer, in a jeering tone; ‘well, what do you want with me?’ ‘I want you to spare time to take a walk with me.’ ‘Tomorrow morning, if you like, with the greatest pleasure.’ ‘No, not tomorrow morning, if you please, but immediately.’ ‘If you absolutely insist.’ ‘I do insist upon it.’ ‘Come, then. Ladies,’ said the officer, ‘do not disturb yourselves; allow me time just to kill this gentleman, and I will return and finish the last couplet.’

“We went out. I took him to the Rue Payenne, to exactly the same spot where, a year before, at the very same hour, he had paid me the compliment I have related to you. It was a superb moonlight night. We immediately drew, and at the first pass I laid him stark dead.”

“The devil!” cried d’Artagnan.

“Now,” continued Aramis, “as the ladies did not see the singer come back, and as he was found in the Rue Payenne with a great sword wound through his body, it was supposed that I had accommodated him thus; and the matter created some scandal which obliged me to renounce the cassock for a time. Athos, whose acquaintance I made about that period, and Porthos, who had in addition to my lessons taught me some effective tricks of fence, prevailed upon me to solicit the uniform of a Musketeer. The king entertained great regard for my father, who had fallen at the siege of Arras, and the uniform was granted. You may understand that the moment has come for me to re-enter the bosom of the Church.”

“And why today, rather than yesterday or tomorrow? What has happened to you today, to raise all these melancholy ideas?”

“This wound, my dear d’Artagnan, has been a warning to me from heaven.”

“This wound? Bah, it is now nearly healed, and I am sure it is not that which gives you the most pain.”

“What, then?” said Aramis, blushing.

“You have one at heart, Aramis, one deeper and more painful—a wound made by a woman.”

The eye of Aramis kindled in spite of himself.

“Ah,” said he, dissembling his emotion under a feigned carelessness, “do not talk of such things, and suffer love pains? Vanitas vanitatum! According to your idea, then, my brain is turned. And for whom—for some grisette, some chambermaid with whom I have trifled in some garrison? Fie!”

“Pardon, my dear Aramis, but I thought you carried your eyes higher.”

“Higher? And who am I, to nourish such ambition? A poor Musketeer, a beggar, an unknown—who hates slavery, and finds himself ill-placed in the world.”

“Aramis, Aramis!” cried d’Artagnan, looking at his friend with an air of doubt.

“Dust I am, and to dust I return. Life is full of humiliations and sorrows,” continued he, becoming still more melancholy; “all the ties which attach him to life break in the hand of man, particularly the golden ties. Oh, my dear d’Artagnan,” resumed Aramis, giving to his voice a slight tone of bitterness, “trust me! Conceal your wounds when you have any; silence is the last joy of the unhappy. Beware of giving anyone the clue to your griefs; the curious suck our tears as flies suck the blood of a wounded hart.”

“Alas, my dear Aramis,” said d’Artagnan, in his turn heaving a profound sigh, “that is my story you are relating!”

“How?”

“Yes; a woman whom I love, whom I adore, has just been torn from me by force. I do not know where she is or whither they have conducted her. She is perhaps a prisoner; she is perhaps dead!”

“Yes, but you have at least this consolation, that you can say to yourself she has not quit you voluntarily, that if you learn no news of her, it is because all communication with you is interdicted; while I—”

“Well?”

“Nothing,” replied Aramis, “nothing.”

“So you renounce the world, then, forever; that is a settled thing—a resolution registered!”

“Forever! You are my friend today; tomorrow you will be no more to me than a shadow, or rather, even, you will no longer exist. As for the world, it is a sepulcher and nothing else.”

“The devil! All this is very sad which you tell me.”

“What will you? My vocation commands me; it carries me away.”

D’Artagnan smiled, but made no answer.

Aramis continued, “And yet, while I do belong to the earth, I wish to speak of you—of our friends.”

“And on my part,” said d’Artagnan, “I wished to speak of you, but I find you so completely detached from everything! To love you cry, ‘Fie! Friends are shadows! The world is a sepulcher!’”

“Alas, you will find it so yourself,” said Aramis, with a sigh.

“Well, then, let us say no more about it,” said d’Artagnan; “and let us burn this letter, which, no doubt, announces to you some fresh infidelity of your grisette or your chambermaid.”

“What letter?” cried Aramis, eagerly.

“A letter which was sent to your abode in your absence, and which was given to me for you.”

“But from whom is that letter?”

“Oh, from some heartbroken waiting woman, some desponding grisette; from Madame de Chevreuse’s chambermaid, perhaps, who was obliged to return to Tours with her mistress, and who, in order to appear smart and attractive, stole some perfumed paper, and sealed her letter with a duchess’s coronet.”

“What do you say?”

“Hold! I must have lost it,” said the young man maliciously, pretending to search for it. “But fortunately the world is a sepulcher; the men, and consequently the women, are but shadows, and love is a sentiment to which you cry, ‘Fie! Fie!’”

“D’Artagnan, d’Artagnan,” cried Aramis, “you are killing me!”

“Well, here it is at last!” said d’Artagnan, as he drew the letter from his pocket.

Aramis made a bound, seized the letter, read it, or rather devoured it, his countenance radiant.

“This same waiting maid seems to have an agreeable style,” said the messenger, carelessly.

“Thanks, d’Artagnan, thanks!” cried Aramis, almost in a state of delirium. “She was forced to return to Tours; she is not faithless; she still loves me! Come, my friend, come, let me embrace you. Happiness almost stifles me!”

The two friends began to dance around the venerable St. Chrysostom, kicking about famously the sheets of the thesis, which had fallen on the floor.

At that moment Bazin entered with the spinach and the omelet.

“Be off, you wretch!” cried Aramis, throwing his skullcap in his face. “Return whence you came; take back those horrible vegetables, and that poor kickshaw! Order a larded hare, a fat capon, mutton leg dressed with garlic, and four bottles of old Burgundy.”

Bazin, who looked at his master, without comprehending the cause of this change, in a melancholy manner, allowed the omelet to slip into the spinach, and the spinach onto the floor.

“Now this is the moment to consecrate your existence to the King of kings,” said d’Artagnan, “if you persist in offering him a civility. Non inutile desiderium oblatione.”

“Go to the devil with your Latin. Let us drink, my dear d’Artagnan, morbleu! Let us drink while the wine is fresh! Let us drink heartily, and while we do so, tell me a little of what is going on in the world yonder.”


27. 
THE WIFE OF ATHOS


We have now to search for Athos,” said d’Artagnan to the vivacious Aramis, when he had informed him of all that had passed since their departure from the capital, and an excellent dinner had made one of them forget his thesis and the other his fatigue.

“Do you think, then, that any harm can have happened to him?” asked Aramis. “Athos is so cool, so brave, and handles his sword so skillfully.”

“No doubt. Nobody has a higher opinion of the courage and skill of Athos than I have; but I like better to hear my sword clang against lances than against staves. I fear lest Athos should have been beaten down by serving men. Those fellows strike hard, and don’t leave off in a hurry. This is why I wish to set out again as soon as possible.”

“I will try to accompany you,” said Aramis, “though I scarcely feel in a condition to mount on horseback. Yesterday I undertook to employ that cord which you see hanging against the wall, but pain prevented my continuing the pious exercise.”

“That’s the first time I ever heard of anybody trying to cure gunshot wounds with cat-o’-nine-tails; but you were ill, and illness renders the head weak, therefore you may be excused.”

“When do you mean to set out?”

“Tomorrow at daybreak. Sleep as soundly as you can tonight, and tomorrow, if you can, we will take our departure together.”

“Till tomorrow, then,” said Aramis; “for iron-nerved as you are, you must need repose.”

The next morning, when d’Artagnan entered Aramis’s chamber, he found him at the window.

“What are you looking at?” asked d’Artagnan.

“My faith! I am admiring three magnificent horses which the stable boys are leading about. It would be a pleasure worthy of a prince to travel upon such horses.”

“Well, my dear Aramis, you may enjoy that pleasure, for one of those three horses is yours.”

“Ah, bah! Which?”

“Whichever of the three you like, I have no preference.”

“And the rich caparison, is that mine, too?”

“Without doubt.”

“You laugh, d’Artagnan.”

“No, I have left off laughing, now that you speak French.”

“What, those rich holsters, that velvet housing, that saddle studded with silver-are they all for me?”

“For you and nobody else, as the horse which paws the ground is mine, and the other horse, which is caracoling, belongs to Athos.”

“PESTE! They are three superb animals!”

“I am glad they please you.”

“Why, it must have been the king who made you such a present.”

“Certainly it was not the cardinal; but don’t trouble yourself whence they come, think only that one of the three is your property.”

“I choose that which the red-headed boy is leading.”

“It is yours!”

“Good heaven! That is enough to drive away all my pains; I could mount him with thirty balls in my body. On my soul, handsome stirrups! HOLA, Bazin, come here this minute.”

Bazin appeared on the threshold, dull and spiritless.

“That last order is useless,” interrupted d’Artagnan; “there are loaded pistols in your holsters.”

Bazin sighed.

“Come, Monsieur Bazin, make yourself easy,” said d’Artagnan; “people of all conditions gain the kingdom of heaven.”

“Monsieur was already such a good theologian,” said Bazin, almost weeping; “he might have become a bishop, and perhaps a cardinal.”

“Well, but my poor Bazin, reflect a little. Of what use is it to be a churchman, pray? You do not avoid going to war by that means; you see, the cardinal is about to make the next campaign, helm on head and partisan in hand. And Monsieur de Nogaret de la Valette, what do you say of him? He is a cardinal likewise. Ask his lackey how often he has had to prepare lint of him.”

“Alas!” sighed Bazin. “I know it, monsieur; everything is turned topsy-turvy in the world nowadays.”

While this dialogue was going on, the two young men and the poor lackey descended.

“Hold my stirrup, Bazin,” cried Aramis; and Aramis sprang into the saddle with his usual grace and agility, but after a few vaults and curvets of the noble animal his rider felt his pains come on so insupportably that he turned pale and became unsteady in his seat. D’Artagnan, who, foreseeing such an event, had kept his eye on him, sprang toward him, caught him in his arms, and assisted him to his chamber.

“That’s all right, my dear Aramis, take care of yourself,” said he; “I will go alone in search of Athos.”

“You are a man of brass,” replied Aramis.

“No, I have good luck, that is all. But how do you mean to pass your time till I come back? No more theses, no more glosses upon the fingers or upon benedictions, hey?”

Aramis smiled. “I will make verses,” said he.

“Yes, I dare say; verses perfumed with the odor of the billet from the attendant of Madame de Chevreuse. Teach Bazin prosody; that will console him. As to the horse, ride him a little every day, and that will accustom you to his maneuvers.”

“Oh, make yourself easy on that head,” replied Aramis. “You will find me ready to follow you.”

They took leave of each other, and in ten minutes, after having commended his friend to the cares of the hostess and Bazin, d’Artagnan was trotting along in the direction of Amiens.

How was he going to find Athos? Should he find him at all? The position in which he had left him was critical. He probably had succumbed. This idea, while darkening his brow, drew several sighs from him, and caused him to formulate to himself a few vows of vengeance. Of all his friends, Athos was the eldest, and the least resembling him in appearance, in his tastes and sympathies.

Yet he entertained a marked preference for this gentleman. The noble and distinguished air of Athos, those flashes of greatness which from time to time broke out from the shade in which he voluntarily kept himself, that unalterable equality of temper which made him the most pleasant companion in the world, that forced and cynical gaiety, that bravery which might have been termed blind if it had not been the result of the rarest coolness—such qualities attracted more than the esteem, more than the friendship of d’Artagnan; they attracted his admiration.

Indeed, when placed beside M. de Tréville, the elegant and noble courtier, Athos in his most cheerful days might advantageously sustain a comparison. He was of middle height; but his person was so admirably shaped and so well proportioned that more than once in his struggles with Porthos he had overcome the giant whose physical strength was proverbial among the Musketeers. His head, with piercing eyes, a straight nose, a chin cut like that of Brutus, had altogether an indefinable character of grandeur and grace. His hands, of which he took little care, were the despair of Aramis, who cultivated his with almond paste and perfumed oil. The sound of his voice was at once penetrating and melodious; and then, that which was inconceivable in Athos, who was always retiring, was that delicate knowledge of the world and of the usages of the most brilliant society—those manners of a high degree which appeared, as if unconsciously to himself, in his least actions.

If a repast were on foot, Athos presided over it better than any other, placing every guest exactly in the rank which his ancestors had earned for him or that he had made for himself. If a question in heraldry were started, Athos knew all the noble families of the kingdom, their genealogy, their alliances, their coats of arms, and the origin of them. Etiquette had no minutiae unknown to him. He knew what were the rights of the great land owners. He was profoundly versed in hunting and falconry, and had one day when conversing on this great art astonished even Louis XIII himself, who took a pride in being considered a past master therein.

Like all the great nobles of that period, Athos rode and fenced to perfection. But still further, his education had been so little neglected, even with respect to scholastic studies, so rare at this time among gentlemen, that he smiled at the scraps of Latin which Aramis sported and which Porthos pretended to understand. Two or three times, even, to the great astonishment of his friends, he had, when Aramis allowed some rudimental error to escape him, replaced a verb in its right tense and a noun in its case. Besides, his probity was irreproachable, in an age in which soldiers compromised so easily with their religion and their consciences, lovers with the rigorous delicacy of our era, and the poor with God’s Seventh Commandment. This Athos, then, was a very extraordinary man.

And yet this nature so distinguished, this creature so beautiful, this essence so fine, was seen to turn insensibly toward material life, as old men turn toward physical and moral imbecility. Athos, in his hours of gloom—and these hours were frequent—was extinguished as to the whole of the luminous portion of him, and his brilliant side disappeared as into profound darkness.

Then the demigod vanished; he remained scarcely a man. His head hanging down, his eye dull, his speech slow and painful, Athos would look for hours together at his bottle, his glass, or at Grimaud, who, accustomed to obey him by signs, read in the faint glance of his master his least desire, and satisfied it immediately. If the four friends were assembled at one of these moments, a word, thrown forth occasionally with a violent effort, was the share Athos furnished to the conversation. In exchange for his silence Athos drank enough for four, and without appearing to be otherwise affected by wine than by a more marked constriction of the brow and by a deeper sadness.

D’Artagnan, whose inquiring disposition we are acquainted with, had not—whatever interest he had in satisfying his curiosity on this subject—been able to assign any cause for these fits, or for the periods of their recurrence. Athos never received any letters; Athos never had concerns which all his friends did not know.

It could not be said that it was wine which produced this sadness; for in truth he only drank to combat this sadness, which wine however, as we have said, rendered still darker. This excess of bilious humor could not be attributed to play; for unlike Porthos, who accompanied the variations of chance with songs or oaths, Athos when he won remained as unmoved as when he lost. He had been known, in the circle of the Musketeers, to win in one night three thousand pistoles; to lose them even to the gold-embroidered belt for gala days, win all this again with the addition of a hundred louis, without his beautiful eyebrow being heightened or lowered half a line, without his hands losing their pearly hue, without his conversation, which was cheerful that evening, ceasing to be calm and agreeable.

Neither was it, as with our neighbors, the English, an atmospheric influence which darkened his countenance; for the sadness generally became more intense toward the fine season of the year. June and July were the terrible months with Athos.

For the present he had no anxiety. He shrugged his shoulders when people spoke of the future. His secret, then, was in the past, as had often been vaguely said to d’Artagnan.

This mysterious shade, spread over his whole person, rendered still more interesting the man whose eyes or mouth, even in the most complete intoxication, had never revealed anything, however skillfully questions had been put to him.

“Well,” thought d’Artagnan, “poor Athos is perhaps at this moment dead, and dead by my fault—for it was I who dragged him into this affair, of which he did not know the origin, of which he is ignorant of the result, and from which he can derive no advantage.”

“Without reckoning, monsieur,” added Planchet to his master’s audibly expressed reflections, “that we perhaps owe our lives to him. Do you remember how he cried, ‘On, d’Artagnan, on, I am taken’? And when he had discharged his two pistols, what a terrible noise he made with his sword! One might have said that twenty men, or rather twenty mad devils, were fighting.”

These words redoubled the eagerness of d’Artagnan, who urged his horse, though he stood in need of no incitement, and they proceeded at a rapid pace. About eleven o’clock in the morning they perceived Amiens, and at half past eleven they were at the door of the cursed inn.

D’Artagnan had often meditated against the perfidious host one of those hearty vengeances which offer consolation while they are hoped for. He entered the hostelry with his hat pulled over his eyes, his left hand on the pommel of the sword, and cracking his whip with his right hand.

“Do you remember me?” said he to the host, who advanced to greet him.

“I have not that honor, monseigneur,” replied the latter, his eyes dazzled by the brilliant style in which d’Artagnan traveled.

“What, you don’t know me?”

“No, monseigneur.”

“Well, two words will refresh your memory. What have you done with that gentleman against whom you had the audacity, about twelve days ago, to make an accusation of passing false money?”

The host became as pale as death; for d’Artagnan had assumed a threatening attitude, and Planchet modeled himself after his master.

“Ah, monseigneur, do not mention it!” cried the host, in the most pitiable voice imaginable. “Ah, monseigneur, how dearly have I paid for that fault, unhappy wretch as I am!”

“That gentleman, I say, what has become of him?”

“Deign to listen to me, monseigneur, and be merciful! Sit down, in mercy!”

D’Artagnan, mute with anger and anxiety, took a seat in the threatening attitude of a judge. Planchet glared fiercely over the back of his armchair.

“Here is the story, monseigneur,” resumed the trembling host; “for I now recollect you. It was you who rode off at the moment I had that unfortunate difference with the gentleman you speak of.”

“Yes, it was I; so you may plainly perceive that you have no mercy to expect if you do not tell me the whole truth.”

“Condescend to listen to me, and you shall know all.”

“I listen.”

“I had been warned by the authorities that a celebrated coiner of bad money would arrive at my inn, with several of his companions, all disguised as Guards or Musketeers. Monseigneur, I was furnished with a description of your horses, your lackeys, your countenances—nothing was omitted.”

“Go on, go on!” said d’Artagnan, who quickly understood whence such an exact description had come.

“I took then, in conformity with the orders of the authorities, who sent me a reinforcement of six men, such measures as I thought necessary to get possession of the persons of the pretended coiners.”

“Again!” said d’Artagnan, whose ears chafed terribly under the repetition of this word COINERs.

“Pardon me, monseigneur, for saying such things, but they form my excuse. The authorities had terrified me, and you know that an innkeeper must keep on good terms with the authorities.”

“But once again, that gentleman—where is he? What has become of him? Is he dead? Is he living?”

“Patience, monseigneur, we are coming to it. There happened then that which you know, and of which your precipitate departure,” added the host, with an acuteness that did not escape d’Artagnan, “appeared to authorize the issue. That gentleman, your friend, defended himself desperately. His lackey, who, by an unforeseen piece of ill luck, had quarreled with the officers, disguised as stable lads—”

“Miserable scoundrel!” cried d’Artagnan, “you were all in the plot, then! And I really don’t know what prevents me from exterminating you all.”

“Alas, monseigneur, we were not in the plot, as you will soon see. Monsieur your friend (pardon for not calling him by the honorable name which no doubt he bears, but we do not know that name), Monsieur your friend, having disabled two men with his pistols, retreated fighting with his sword, with which he disabled one of my men, and stunned me with a blow of the flat side of it.”

“You villain, will you finish?” cried d’Artagnan, “Athos—what has become of Athos?”

“While fighting and retreating, as I have told Monseigneur, he found the door of the cellar stairs behind him, and as the door was open, he took out the key, and barricaded himself inside. As we were sure of finding him there, we left him alone.”

“Yes,” said d’Artagnan, “you did not really wish to kill; you only wished to imprison him.”

“Good God! To imprison him, monseigneur? Why, he imprisoned himself, I swear to you he did. In the first place he had made rough work of it; one man was killed on the spot, and two others were severely wounded. The dead man and the two wounded were carried off by their comrades, and I have heard nothing of either of them since. As for myself, as soon as I recovered my senses I went to Monsieur the Governor, to whom I related all that had passed, and asked, what I should do with my prisoner. Monsieur the Governor was all astonishment. He told me he knew nothing about the matter, that the orders I had received did not come from him, and that if I had the audacity to mention his name as being concerned in this disturbance he would have me hanged. It appears that I had made a mistake, monsieur, that I had arrested the wrong person, and that he whom I ought to have arrested had escaped.”

“But Athos!” cried d’Artagnan, whose impatience was increased by the disregard of the authorities, “Athos, where is he?”

“As I was anxious to repair the wrongs I had done the prisoner,” resumed the innkeeper, “I took my way straight to the cellar in order to set him at liberty. Ah, monsieur, he was no longer a man, he was a devil! To my offer of liberty, he replied that it was nothing but a snare, and that before he came out he intended to impose his own conditions. I told him very humbly—for I could not conceal from myself the scrape I had got into by laying hands on one of his Majesty’s Musketeers—I told him I was quite ready to submit to his conditions.

“‘In the first place,’ said he, ‘I wish my lackey placed with me, fully armed.’ We hastened to obey this order; for you will please to understand, monsieur, we were disposed to do everything your friend could desire. Monsieur Grimaud (he told us his name, although he does not talk much)—Monsieur Grimaud, then, went down to the cellar, wounded as he was; then his master, having admitted him, barricaded the door afresh, and ordered us to remain quietly in our own bar.”

“But where is Athos now?” cried d’Artagnan. “Where is Athos?”

“In the cellar, monsieur.”

“What, you scoundrel! Have you kept him in the cellar all this time?”

“Merciful heaven! No, monsieur! We keep him in the cellar! You do not know what he is about in the cellar. Ah! If you could but persuade him to come out, monsieur, I should owe you the gratitude of my whole life; I should adore you as my patron saint!”

“Then he is there? I shall find him there?”

“Without doubt you will, monsieur; he persists in remaining there. We every day pass through the air hole some bread at the end of a fork, and some meat when he asks for it; but alas! It is not of bread and meat of which he makes the greatest consumption. I once endeavored to go down with two of my servants; but he flew into terrible rage. I heard the noise he made in loading his pistols, and his servant in loading his musketoon. Then, when we asked them what were their intentions, the master replied that he had forty charges to fire, and that he and his lackey would fire to the last one before he would allow a single soul of us to set foot in the cellar. Upon this I went and complained to the governor, who replied that I only had what I deserved, and that it would teach me to insult honorable gentlemen who took up their abode in my house.”

“So that since that time—” replied d’Artagnan, totally unable to refrain from laughing at the pitiable face of the host.

“So from that time, monsieur,” continued the latter, “we have led the most miserable life imaginable; for you must know, monsieur, that all our provisions are in the cellar. There is our wine in bottles, and our wine in casks; the beer, the oil, and the spices, the bacon, and sausages. And as we are prevented from going down there, we are forced to refuse food and drink to the travelers who come to the house; so that our hostelry is daily going to ruin. If your friend remains another week in my cellar I shall be a ruined man.”

“And not more than justice, either, you ass! Could you not perceive by our appearance that we were people of quality, and not coiners—say?”

“Yes, monsieur, you are right,” said the host. “But, hark, hark! There he is!”

“Somebody has disturbed him, without doubt,” said d’Artagnan.

“But he must be disturbed,” cried the host; “Here are two English gentlemen just arrived.”

“Well?”

“Well, the English like good wine, as you may know, monsieur; these have asked for the best. My wife has perhaps requested permission of Monsieur Athos to go into the cellar to satisfy these gentlemen; and he, as usual, has refused. Ah, good heaven! There is the hullabaloo louder than ever!”

D’Artagnan, in fact, heard a great noise on the side next the cellar. He rose, and preceded by the host wringing his hands, and followed by Planchet with his musketoon ready for use, he approached the scene of action.

The two gentlemen were exasperated; they had had a long ride, and were dying with hunger and thirst.

“But this is tyranny!” cried one of them, in very good French, though with a foreign accent, “that this madman will not allow these good people access to their own wine! Nonsense, let us break open the door, and if he is too far gone in his madness, well, we will kill him!”

“Softly, gentlemen!” said d’Artagnan, drawing his pistols from his belt, “you will kill nobody, if you please!”

“Good, good!” cried the calm voice of Athos, from the other side of the door, “let them just come in, these devourers of little children, and we shall see!”

Brave as they appeared to be, the two English gentlemen looked at each other hesitatingly. One might have thought there was in that cellar one of those famished ogres—the gigantic heroes of popular legends, into whose cavern nobody could force their way with impunity.

There was a moment of silence; but at length the two Englishmen felt ashamed to draw back, and the angrier one descended the five or six steps which led to the cellar, and gave a kick against the door enough to split a wall.

“Planchet,” said d’Artagnan, cocking his pistols, “I will take charge of the one at the top; you look to the one below. Ah, gentlemen, you want battle; and you shall have it.”

“Good God!” cried the hollow voice of Athos, “I can hear d’Artagnan, I think.”

“Yes,” cried d’Artagnan, raising his voice in turn, “I am here, my friend.”

“Ah, good, then,” replied Athos, “we will teach them, these door breakers!”

The gentlemen had drawn their swords, but they found themselves taken between two fires. They still hesitated an instant; but, as before, pride prevailed, and a second kick split the door from bottom to top.

“Stand on one side, d’Artagnan, stand on one side,” cried Athos. “I am going to fire!”

“Gentlemen,” exclaimed d’Artagnan, whom reflection never abandoned, “gentlemen, think of what you are about. Patience, Athos! You are running your heads into a very silly affair; you will be riddled. My lackey and I will have three shots at you, and you will get as many from the cellar. You will then have our swords, with which, I can assure you, my friend and I can play tolerably well. Let me conduct your business and my own. You shall soon have something to drink; I give you my word.”

“If there is any left,” grumbled the jeering voice of Athos.

The host felt a cold sweat creep down his back.

“How! ‘If there is any left!’” murmured he.

“What the devil! There must be plenty left,” replied d’Artagnan. “Be satisfied of that; these two cannot have drunk all the cellar. Gentlemen, return your swords to their scabbards.”

“Well, provided you replace your pistols in your belt.”

“Willingly.”

And d’Artagnan set the example. Then, turning toward Planchet, he made him a sign to uncock his musketoon.

The Englishmen, convinced of these peaceful proceedings, sheathed their swords grumblingly. The history of Athos’s imprisonment was then related to them; and as they were really gentlemen, they pronounced the host in the wrong.

“Now, gentlemen,” said d’Artagnan, “go up to your room again; and in ten minutes, I will answer for it, you shall have all you desire.”

The Englishmen bowed and went upstairs.

“Now I am alone, my dear Athos,” said d’Artagnan; “open the door, I beg of you.”

“Instantly,” said Athos.

Then was heard a great noise of fagots being removed and of the groaning of posts; these were the counterscarps and bastions of Athos, which the besieged himself demolished.

An instant after, the broken door was removed, and the pale face of Athos appeared, who with a rapid glance took a survey of the surroundings.

D’Artagnan threw himself on his neck and embraced him tenderly. He then tried to draw him from his moist abode, but to his surprise he perceived that Athos staggered.

“You are wounded,” said he.

“I! Not at all. I am dead drunk, that’s all, and never did a man more strongly set about getting so. By the Lord, my good host! I must at least have drunk for my part a hundred and fifty bottles.”

“Mercy!” cried the host, “if the lackey has drunk only half as much as the master, I am a ruined man.”

“Grimaud is a well-bred lackey. He would never think of faring in the same manner as his master; he only drank from the cask. Hark! I don’t think he put the faucet in again. Do you hear it? It is running now.”

D’Artagnan burst into a laugh which changed the shiver of the host into a burning fever.

In the meantime, Grimaud appeared in his turn behind his master, with the musketoon on his shoulder, and his head shaking. Like one of those drunken satyrs in the pictures of Rubens. He was moistened before and behind with a greasy liquid which the host recognized as his best olive oil.

The four crossed the public room and proceeded to take possession of the best apartment in the house, which d’Artagnan occupied with authority.

In the meantime the host and his wife hurried down with lamps into the cellar, which had so long been interdicted to them and where a frightful spectacle awaited them.

Beyond the fortifications through which Athos had made a breach in order to get out, and which were composed of fagots, planks, and empty casks, heaped up according to all the rules of the strategic art, they found, swimming in puddles of oil and wine, the bones and fragments of all the hams they had eaten; while a heap of broken bottles filled the whole left-hand corner of the cellar, and a tun, the cock of which was left running, was yielding, by this means, the last drop of its blood. “The image of devastation and death,” as the ancient poet says, “reigned as over a field of battle.”

Of fifty large sausages, suspended from the joists, scarcely ten remained.

Then the lamentations of the host and hostess pierced the vault of the cellar. D’Artagnan himself was moved by them. Athos did not even turn his head.

To grief succeeded rage. The host armed himself with a spit, and rushed into the chamber occupied by the two friends.

“Some wine!” said Athos, on perceiving the host.

“Some wine!” cried the stupefied host, “some wine? Why you have drunk more than a hundred pistoles’ worth! I am a ruined man, lost, destroyed!”

“Bah,” said Athos, “we were always dry.”

“If you had been contented with drinking, well and good; but you have broken all the bottles.”

“You pushed me upon a heap which rolled down. That was your fault.”

“All my oil is lost!”

“Oil is a sovereign balm for wounds; and my poor Grimaud here was obliged to dress those you had inflicted on him.”

“All my sausages are gnawed!”

“There is an enormous quantity of rats in that cellar.”

“You shall pay me for all this,” cried the exasperated host.

“Triple ass!” said Athos, rising; but he sank down again immediately. He had tried his strength to the utmost. D’Artagnan came to his relief with his whip in his hand.

The host drew back and burst into tears.

“This will teach you,” said d’Artagnan, “to treat the guests God sends you in a more courteous fashion.”

“God? Say the devil!”

“My dear friend,” said d’Artagnan, “if you annoy us in this manner we will all four go and shut ourselves up in your cellar, and we will see if the mischief is as great as you say.”

“Oh, gentlemen,” said the host, “I have been wrong. I confess it, but pardon to every sin! You are gentlemen, and I am a poor innkeeper. You will have pity on me.”

“Ah, if you speak in that way,” said Athos, “you will break my heart, and the tears will flow from my eyes as the wine flowed from the cask. We are not such devils as we appear to be. Come hither, and let us talk.”

The host approached with hesitation.

“Come hither, I say, and don’t be afraid,” continued Athos. “At the very moment when I was about to pay you, I had placed my purse on the table.”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“That purse contained sixty pistoles; where is it?”

“Deposited with the justice; they said it was bad money.”

“Very well; get me my purse back and keep the sixty pistoles.”

“But Monseigneur knows very well that justice never lets go that which it once lays hold of. If it were bad money, there might be some hopes; but unfortunately, those were all good pieces.”

“Manage the matter as well as you can, my good man; it does not concern me, the more so as I have not a livre left.”

“Come,” said d’Artagnan, “let us inquire further. Athos’s horse, where is that?”

“In the stable.”

“How much is it worth?”

“Fifty pistoles at most.”

“It’s worth eighty. Take it, and there ends the matter.”

“What,” cried Athos, “are you selling my horse—my Bajazet? And pray upon what shall I make my campaign; upon Grimaud?”

“I have brought you another,” said d’Artagnan.

“Another?”

“And a magnificent one!” cried the host.

“Well, since there is another finer and younger, why, you may take the old one; and let us drink.”

“What?” asked the host, quite cheerful again.

“Some of that at the bottom, near the laths. There are twenty-five bottles of it left; all the rest were broken by my fall. Bring six of them.”

“Why, this man is a cask!” said the host, aside. “If he only remains here a fortnight, and pays for what he drinks, I shall soon re-establish my business.”

“And don’t forget,” said d’Artagnan, “to bring up four bottles of the same sort for the two English gentlemen.”

“And now,” said Athos, “while they bring the wine, tell me, d’Artagnan, what has become of the others, come!”

D’Artagnan related how he had found Porthos in bed with a strained knee, and Aramis at a table between two theologians. As he finished, the host entered with the wine ordered and a ham which, fortunately for him, had been left out of the cellar.

“That’s well!” said Athos, filling his glass and that of his friend; “here’s to Porthos and Aramis! But you, d’Artagnan, what is the matter with you, and what has happened to you personally? You have a sad air.”

“Alas,” said d’Artagnan, “it is because I am the most unfortunate.”

“Tell me.”

“Presently,” said d’Artagnan.

“Presently! And why presently? Because you think I am drunk? D’Artagnan, remember this! My ideas are never so clear as when I have had plenty of wine. Speak, then, I am all ears.”

D’Artagnan related his adventure with Mme. Bonacieux. Athos listened to him without a frown; and when he had finished, said, “Trifles, only trifles!” That was his favorite word.

“You always say TRIFLES, my dear Athos!” said d’Artagnan, “and that come very ill from you, who have never loved.”

The drink-deadened eye of Athos flashed out, but only for a moment; it became as dull and vacant as before.

“That’s true,” said he, quietly, “for my part I have never loved.”

“Acknowledge, then, you stony heart,” said d’Artagnan, “that you are wrong to be so hard upon us tender hearts.”

“Tender hearts! Pierced hearts!” said Athos.

“What do you say?”

“I say that love is a lottery in which he who wins, wins death! You are very fortunate to have lost, believe me, my dear d’Artagnan. And if I have any counsel to give, it is, always lose!”

“She seemed to love me so!”

“She SEEMED, did she?”

“Oh, she DID love me!”

“You child, why, there is not a man who has not believed, as you do, that his mistress loved him, and there lives not a man who has not been deceived by his mistress.”

“Except you, Athos, who never had one.”

“That’s true,” said Athos, after a moment’s silence, “that’s true! I never had one! Let us drink!”

“But then, philosopher that you are,” said d’Artagnan, “instruct me, support me. I stand in need of being taught and consoled.”

“Consoled for what?”

“For my misfortune.”

“Your misfortune is laughable,” said Athos, shrugging his shoulders; “I should like to know what you would say if I were to relate to you a real tale of love!”

“Which has happened to you?”

“Or one of my friends, what matters?”

“Tell it, Athos, tell it.”

“Better if I drink.”

“Drink and relate, then.”

“Not a bad idea!” said Athos, emptying and refilling his glass. “The two things agree marvelously well.”

“I am all attention,” said d’Artagnan.

Athos collected himself, and in proportion as he did so, d’Artagnan saw that he became pale. He was at that period of intoxication in which vulgar drinkers fall on the floor and go to sleep. He kept himself upright and dreamed, without sleeping. This somnambulism of drunkenness had something frightful in it.

“You particularly wish it?” asked he.

“I pray for it,” said d’Artagnan.

“Be it then as you desire. One of my friends—one of my friends, please to observe, not myself,” said Athos, interrupting himself with a melancholy smile, “one of the counts of my province—that is to say, of Berry—noble as a Dandolo or a Montmorency, at twenty-five years of age fell in love with a girl of sixteen, beautiful as fancy can paint. Through the ingenuousness of her age beamed an ardent mind, not of the woman, but of the poet. She did not please; she intoxicated. She lived in a small town with her brother, who was a curate. Both had recently come into the country. They came nobody knew whence; but when seeing her so lovely and her brother so pious, nobody thought of asking whence they came. They were said, however, to be of good extraction. My friend, who was seigneur of the country, might have seduced her, or taken her by force, at his will—for he was master. Who would have come to the assistance of two strangers, two unknown persons? Unfortunately he was an honorable man; he married her. The fool! The ass! The idiot!”

“How so, if he love her?” asked d’Artagnan.

“Wait,” said Athos. “He took her to his château, and made her the first lady in the province; and in justice it must be allowed that she supported her rank becomingly.”

“Well?” asked d’Artagnan.

“Well, one day when she was hunting with her husband,” continued Athos, in a low voice, and speaking very quickly, “she fell from her horse and fainted. The count flew to her to help, and as she appeared to be oppressed by her clothes, he ripped them open with his poniard, and in so doing laid bare her shoulder. D’Artagnan,” said Athos, with a maniacal burst of laughter, “guess what she had on her shoulder.”

“How can I tell?” said d’Artagnan.

“A FLEUR-DE-LIS,” said Athos. “She was branded.”

Athos emptied at a single draught the glass he held in his hand.

“Horror!” cried d’Artagnan. “What do you tell me?”

“Truth, my friend. The angel was a demon; the poor young girl had stolen the sacred vessels from a church.”

“And what did the count do?”

“The count was of the highest nobility. He had on his estates the rights of high and low tribunals. He tore the dress of the countess to pieces; he tied her hands behind her, and hanged her on a tree.”

“Heavens, Athos, a murder?” cried d’Artagnan.

“No less,” said Athos, as pale as a corpse. “But methinks I need wine!” and he seized by the neck the last bottle that was left, put it to his mouth, and emptied it at a single draught, as he would have emptied an ordinary glass.

Then he let his head sink upon his two hands, while d’Artagnan stood before him, stupefied.

“That has cured me of beautiful, poetical, and loving women,” said Athos, after a considerable pause, raising his head, and forgetting to continue the fiction of the count. “God grant you as much! Let us drink.”

“Then she is dead?” stammered d’Artagnan.

“PARBLEU!” said Athos. “But hold out your glass. Some ham, my boy, or we can’t drink.”

“And her brother?” added d’Artagnan, timidly.

“Her brother?” replied Athos.

“Yes, the priest.”

“Oh, I inquired after him for the purpose of hanging him likewise; but he was beforehand with me, he had quit the curacy the night before.”

“Was it ever known who this miserable fellow was?”

“He was doubtless the first lover and accomplice of the fair lady. A worthy man, who had pretended to be a curate for the purpose of getting his mistress married, and securing her a position. He has been hanged and quartered, I hope.”

“My God, my God!” cried d’Artagnan, quite stunned by the relation of this horrible adventure.

“Taste some of this ham, d’Artagnan; it is exquisite,” said Athos, cutting a slice, which he placed on the young man’s plate.

“What a pity it is there were only four like this in the cellar. I could have drunk fifty bottles more.”

D’Artagnan could no longer endure this conversation, which had made him bewildered. Allowing his head to sink upon his two hands, he pretended to sleep.

“These young fellows can none of them drink,” said Athos, looking at him with pity, “and yet this is one of the best!”