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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 31. The Monk.


Two men lay prone upon the ground, one bathed in blood and motionless, with his face toward the earth; this one was dead. The other leaned against a tree, supported there by the two valets, and was praying fervently, with clasped hands and eyes raised to Heaven. He had received a ball in his thigh, which had broken the bone. The young men first approached the dead man.

“He is a priest,” said Bragelonne, “he has worn the tonsure. Oh, the scoundrels! to lift their hands against a minister of God.”

“Come here, sir,” said Urban, an old soldier who had served under the cardinal duke in all his campaigns; “come here, there is nothing to be done with him, whilst we may perhaps be able to save the other.”

The wounded man smiled sadly. “Save me! Oh, no!” said he, “but help me to die, if you can.”

“Are you a priest?” asked Raoul.

“No sir.”

“I ask, as your unfortunate companion appeared to me to belong to the church.”

“He is the curate of Bethune, sir, and was carrying the holy vessels belonging to his church, and the treasure of the chapter, to a safe place, the prince having abandoned our town yesterday; and as it was known that bands of the enemy were prowling about the country, no one dared to accompany the good man, so I offered to do so.

“And, sir,” continued the wounded man, “I suffer much and would like, if possible, to be carried to some house.”

“Where you can be relieved?” asked De Guiche.

“No, where I can confess.”

“But perhaps you are not so dangerously wounded as you think,” said Raoul.

“Sir,” replied the wounded man, “believe me, there is no time to lose; the ball has broken the thigh bone and entered the intestines.”

“Are you a surgeon?” asked De Guiche.

“No, but I know a little about wounds, and mine, I know, is mortal. Try, therefore, either to carry me to some place where I may see a priest or take the trouble to send one to me here. It is my soul that must be saved; as for my body, it is lost.”

“To die whilst doing a good deed! It is impossible. God will help you.”

“Gentlemen, in the name of Heaven!” said the wounded man, collecting all his forces, as if to get up, “let us not lose time in useless words. Either help me to gain the nearest village or swear to me on your salvation that you will send me the first monk, the first cure, the first priest you may meet. But,” he added in a despairing tone, “perhaps no one will dare to come for it is known that the Spaniards are ranging through the country, and I shall die without absolution. My God! my God! Good God! good God!” added the wounded man, in an accent of terror which made the young men shudder; “you will not allow that? that would be too terrible!”

“Calm yourself, sir,” replied De Guiche. “I swear to you, you shall receive the consolation that you ask. Only tell us where we shall find a house at which we can demand aid and a village from which we can fetch a priest.”

“Thank you, and God reward you! About half a mile from this, on the same road, there is an inn, and about a mile further on, after leaving the inn, you will reach the village of Greney. There you must find the curate, or if he is not at home, go to the convent of the Augustines, which is the last house on the right, and bring me one of the brothers. Monk or priest, it matters not, provided only that he has received from holy church the power of absolving in articulo mortis.”

“Monsieur d’Arminges,” said De Guiche, “remain beside this unfortunate man and see that he is removed as gently as possible. The vicomte and myself will go and find a priest.”

“Go, sir,” replied the tutor; “but in Heaven’s name do not expose yourself to danger!”

“Do not fear. Besides, we are safe for to-day; you know the axiom, ‘Non bis in idem.’”

“Courage, sir,” said Raoul to the wounded man. “We are going to execute your wishes.”

“May Heaven prosper you!” replied the dying man, with an accent of gratitude impossible to describe.

The two young men galloped off in the direction mentioned and in ten minutes reached the inn. Raoul, without dismounting, called to the host and announced that a wounded man was about to be brought to his house and begged him in the meantime to prepare everything needful. He desired him also, should he know in the neighborhood any doctor or chirurgeon, to fetch him, taking on himself the payment of the messenger.

The host, who saw two young noblemen, richly clad, promised everything they required, and our two cavaliers, after seeing that preparations for the reception were actually begun, started off again and proceeded rapidly toward Greney.

They had gone rather more than a league and had begun to descry the first houses of the village, the red-tiled roofs of which stood out from the green trees which surrounded them, when, coming toward them mounted on a mule, they perceived a poor monk, whose large hat and gray worsted dress made them take him for an Augustine brother. Chance for once seemed to favor them in sending what they were so assiduously seeking. He was a man about twenty-two or twenty-three years old, but who appeared much older from ascetic exercises. His complexion was pale, not of that deadly pallor which is a kind of neutral beauty, but of a bilious, yellow hue; his colorless hair was short and scarcely extended beyond the circle formed by the hat around his head, and his light blue eyes seemed destitute of any expression.

“Sir,” began Raoul, with his usual politeness, “are you an ecclesiastic?”

“Why do you ask me that?” replied the stranger, with a coolness which was barely civil.

“Because we want to know,” said De Guiche, haughtily.

The stranger touched his mule with his heel and continued his way.

In a second De Guiche had sprung before him and barred his passage. “Answer, sir,” exclaimed he; “you have been asked politely, and every question is worth an answer.”

“I suppose I am free to say or not to say who I am to two strangers who take a fancy to ask me.”

It was with difficulty that De Guiche restrained the intense desire he had of breaking the monk’s bones.

“In the first place,” he said, making an effort to control himself, “we are not people who may be treated anyhow; my friend there is the Viscount of Bragelonne and I am the Count de Guiche. Nor was it from caprice we asked the question, for there is a wounded and dying man who demands the succor of the church. If you be a priest, I conjure you in the name of humanity to follow me to aid this man; if you be not, it is a different matter, and I warn you in the name of courtesy, of which you appear profoundly ignorant, that I shall chastise you for your insolence.”

The pale face of the monk became so livid and his smile so strange, that Raoul, whose eyes were still fixed upon him, felt as if this smile had struck to his heart like an insult.

“He is some Spanish or Flemish spy,” said he, putting his hand to his pistol. A glance, threatening and transient as lightning, replied to Raoul.

“Well, sir,” said De Guiche, “are you going to reply?”

“I am a priest,” said the young man.

“Then, father,” said Raoul, forcing himself to convey a respect by speech that did not come from his heart, “if you are a priest you have an opportunity, as my friend has told you, of exercising your vocation. At the next inn you will find a wounded man, now being attended by our servants, who has asked the assistance of a minister of God.”

“I will go,” said the monk.

And he touched his mule.

“If you do not go, sir,” said De Guiche, “remember that we have two steeds able to catch your mule and the power of having you seized wherever you may be; and then I swear your trial will be summary; one can always find a tree and a cord.”

The monk’s eye again flashed, but that was all; he merely repeated his phrase, “I will go,”--and he went.

“Let us follow him,” said De Guiche; “it will be the surest plan.”

“I was about to propose so doing,” answered De Bragelonne.

In the space of five minutes the monk turned around to ascertain whether he was followed or not.

“You see,” said Raoul, “we have done wisely.”

“What a horrible face that monk has,” said De Guiche.

“Horrible!” replied Raoul, “especially in expression.”

“Yes, yes,” said De Guiche, “a strange face; but these monks are subject to such degrading practices; their fasts make them pale, the blows of the discipline make them hypocrites, and their eyes become inflamed through weeping for the good things of this life we common folk enjoy, but they have lost.”

“Well,” said Raoul, “the poor man will get his priest, but, by Heaven, the penitent appears to me to have a better conscience than the confessor. I confess I am accustomed to priests of a very different appearance.”

“Ah!” exclaimed De Guiche, “you must understand that this is one of those wandering brothers, who go begging on the high road until some day a benefice falls down from Heaven on them; they are mostly foreigners--Scotch, Irish or Danish. I have seen them before.”

“As ugly?”

“No, but reasonably hideous.”

“What a misfortune for the wounded man to die under the hands of such a friar!”

“Pshaw!” said De Guiche. “Absolution comes not from him who administers it, but from God. However, for my part, I would rather die unshriven than have anything to say to such a confessor. You are of my opinion, are you not, viscount? and I see you playing with the pommel of your sword, as if you had a great inclination to break the holy father’s head.”

“Yes, count, it is a strange thing and one which might astonish you, but I feel an indescribable horror at the sight of yonder man. Have you ever seen a snake rise up on your path?”

“Never,” answered De Guiche.

“Well, it has happened to me to do so in our Blaisois forests, and I remember that the first time I encountered one with its eyes fixed upon me, curled up, swinging its head and pointing its tongue, I remained fixed, pale and as though fascinated, until the moment when the Comte de la Fere----”

“Your father?” asked De Guiche.

“No, my guardian,” replied Raoul, blushing.

“Very well----”

“Until the moment when the Comte de la Fere,” resumed Raoul, “said, ‘Come, Bragelonne, draw your sword;’ then only I rushed upon the reptile and cut it in two, just at the moment when it was rising on its tail and hissing, ere it sprang upon me. Well, I vow I felt exactly the same sensation at sight of that man when he said, ‘Why do you ask me that?’ and looked so strangely at me.”

“Then you regret that you did not cut your serpent in two morsels?”

“Faith, yes, almost,” said Raoul.

They had now arrived within sight of the little inn and could see on the opposite side the procession bearing the wounded man and guided by Monsieur d’Arminges. The youths spurred on.

“There is the wounded man,” said De Guiche, passing close to the Augustine brother. “Be good enough to hurry yourself a little, monsieur monk.”

As for Raoul, he avoided the monk by the whole width of the road and passed him, turning his head away in repulsion.

The young men rode up to the wounded man to announce that they were followed by the priest. He raised himself to glance in the direction which they pointed out, saw the monk, and fell back upon the litter, his face illumined by joy.

“And now,” said the youths, “we have done all we can for you; and as we are in haste to rejoin the prince’s army we must continue our journey. You will excuse us, sir, but we are told that a battle is expected and we do not wish to arrive the day after it.”

“Go, my young sirs,” said the sick man, “and may you both be blessed for your piety. You have done for me, as you promised, all that you could do. As for me I can only repeat, may God protect you and all dear to you!”

“Sir,” said De Guiche to his tutor, “we will precede you, and you can rejoin us on the road to Cambrin.”

The host was at his door and everything was prepared--bed, bandages, and lint; and a groom had gone to Lens, the nearest village, for a doctor.

“Everything,” said he to Raoul, “shall be done as you desire; but you will not stop to have your wound dressed?”

“Oh, my wound--mine--‘tis nothing,” replied the viscount; “it will be time to think about it when we next halt; only have the goodness, should you see a cavalier who makes inquiries about a young man on a chestnut horse followed by a servant, to tell him, in fact, that you have seen me, but that I have continued my journey and intend to dine at Mazingarbe and to stop at Cambrin. This cavalier is my attendant.”

“Would it not be safer and more certain if I should ask him his name and tell him yours?” demanded the host.

“There is no harm in over-precaution. I am the Viscount de Bragelonne and he is called Grimaud.”

At this moment the wounded man arrived from one direction and the monk from the other, the latter dismounting from his mule and desiring that it should be taken to the stables without being unharnessed.

“Sir monk,” said De Guiche, “confess well that brave man; and be not concerned for your expenses or for those of your mule; all is paid.”

“Thanks, monsieur,” said the monk, with one of those smiles that made Bragelonne shudder.

“Come, count,” said Raoul, who seemed instinctively to dislike the vicinity of the Augustine; “come, I feel ill here,” and the two young men spurred on.

The litter, borne by two servants, now entered the house. The host and his wife were standing on the steps, whilst the unhappy man seemed to suffer dreadful pain and yet to be concerned only to know if he was followed by the monk. At sight of this pale, bleeding man, the wife grasped her husband’s arm.

“Well, what’s the matter?” asked the latter, “are you going to be ill just now?”

“No, but look,” replied the hostess, pointing to the wounded man; “I ask you if you recognize him?”

“That man--wait a bit.”

“Ah! I see you know him,” exclaimed the wife; “for you have become pale in your turn.”

“Truly,” cried the host, “misfortune is coming on our house; it is the former executioner of Bethune.”

“The former executioner of Bethune!” murmured the young monk, shrinking back and showing on his countenance the feeling of repugnance which his penitent inspired.

Monsieur d’Arminges, who was at the door, perceived his hesitation.

“Sir monk,” said he, “whether he is now or has been an executioner, this unfortunate being is none the less a man. Render to him, then, the last service he can by any possibility ask of you, and your work will be all the more meritorious.”

The monk made no reply, but silently wended his way to the room where the two valets had deposited the dying man on a bed. D’Arminges and Olivain and the two grooms then mounted their horses, and all four started off at a quick trot to rejoin Raoul and his companion. Just as the tutor and his escort disappeared in their turn, a new traveler stopped on the threshold of the inn.

“What does your worship want?” demanded the host, pale and trembling from the discovery he had just made.

The traveler made a sign as if he wished to drink, and then pointed to his horse and gesticulated like a man who is brushing something.

“Ah, diable!” said the host to himself; “this man seems dumb. And where will your worship drink?”

“There,” answered the traveler, pointing to the table.

“I was mistaken,” said the host, “he’s not quite dumb. And what else does your worship wish for?”

“To know if you have seen a young man pass, fifteen years of age, mounted on a chestnut horse and followed by a groom?”

“The Viscount de Bragelonne?

“Just so.”

“Then you are called Monsieur Grimaud?”

The traveler made a sign of assent.

“Well, then,” said the host, “your young master was here a quarter of an hour ago; he will dine at Mazingarbe and sleep at Cambrin.”

“How far is Mazingarbe?”

“Two miles and a half.”

“Thank you.”

Grimaud was drinking his wine silently and had just placed his glass on the table to be filled a second time, when a terrific scream resounded from the room occupied by the monk and the dying man. Grimaud sprang up.

“What is that?” said he; “whence comes that cry?”

“From the wounded man’s room,” replied the host.

“What wounded man?”

“The former executioner of Bethune, who has just been brought in here, assassinated by Spaniards, and who is now being confessed by an Augustine friar.”

“The old executioner of Bethune,” muttered Grimaud; “a man between fifty-five and sixty, tall, strong, swarthy, black hair and beard?”

“That is he, except that his beard has turned gray and his hair is white; do you know him?” asked the host.

“I have seen him once,” replied Grimaud, a cloud darkening his countenance at the picture so suddenly summoned to the bar of recollection.

At this instant a second cry, less piercing than the first, but followed by prolonged groaning, was heard.

The three listeners looked at one another in alarm.

“We must see what it is,” said Grimaud.

“It sounds like the cry of one who is being murdered,” murmured the host.

“Mon Dieu!” said the woman, crossing herself.

If Grimaud was slow in speaking, we know that he was quick to act; he sprang to the door and shook it violently, but it was bolted on the other side.

“Open the door!” cried the host; “open it instantly, sir monk!”

No reply.

“Unfasten it, or I will break it in!” said Grimaud.

The same silence, and then, ere the host could oppose his design, Grimaud seized a pair of pincers he perceived in a corner and forced the bolt. The room was inundated with blood, dripping from the mattresses upon which lay the wounded man, speechless; the monk had disappeared.

“The monk!” cried the host; “where is the monk?”

Grimaud sprang toward an open window which looked into the courtyard.

“He has escaped by this means,” exclaimed he.

“Do you think so?” said the host, bewildered; “boy, see if the mule belonging to the monk is still in the stable.”

“There is no mule,” cried he to whom this question was addressed.

The host clasped his hands and looked around him suspiciously, whilst Grimaud knit his brows and approached the wounded man, whose worn, hard features awoke in his mind such awful recollections of the past.

“There can be no longer any doubt but that it is himself,” said he.

“Does he still live?” inquired the innkeeper.

Making no reply, Grimaud opened the poor man’s jacket to feel if the heart beat, whilst the host approached in his turn; but in a moment they both fell back, the host uttering a cry of horror and Grimaud becoming pallid. The blade of a dagger was buried up to the hilt in the left side of the executioner.

“Run! run for help!” cried Grimaud, “and I will remain beside him here.”

The host quitted the room in agitation, and as for his wife, she had fled at the sound of her husband’s cries.


Chapter 32. The Absolution.


This is what had taken place: We have seen that it was not of his own free will, but, on the contrary, very reluctantly, that the monk attended the wounded man who had been recommended to him in so strange a manner. Perhaps he would have sought to escape by flight had he seen any possibility of doing so. He was restrained by the threats of the two gentlemen and by the presence of their attendants, who doubtless had received their instructions. And besides, he considered it most expedient, without exhibiting too much ill-will, to follow to the end his role as confessor.

The monk entered the chamber and approached the bed of the wounded man. The executioner searched his face with the quick glance peculiar to those who are about to die and have no time to lose. He made a movement of surprise and said:

“Father, you are very young.”

“Men who bear my robe have no age,” replied the monk, dryly.

“Alas, speak to me more gently, father; in my last moments I need a friend.”

“Do you suffer much?” asked the monk.

“Yes, but in my soul much more than in my body.”

“We will save your soul,” said the young man; “but are you really the executioner of Bethune, as these people say?”

“That is to say,” eagerly replied the wounded man, who doubtless feared that the name of executioner would take from him the last help that he could claim--“that is to say, I was, but am no longer; it is fifteen years since I gave up the office. I still assist at executions, but no longer strike the blow myself--no, indeed.”

“You have, then, a repugnance to your profession?”

“So long as I struck in the name of the law and of justice my profession allowed me to sleep quietly, sheltered as I was by justice and law; but since that terrible night when I became an instrument of private vengeance and when with personal hatred I raised the sword over one of God’s creatures--since that day----”

The executioner paused and shook his head with an expression of despair.

“Tell me about it,” said the monk, who, sitting on the foot of the bed, began to be interested in a story so strangely introduced.

“Ah!” cried the dying man, with all the effusiveness of a grief declared after long suppression, “ah! I have sought to stifle remorse by twenty years of good deeds; I have assuaged the natural ferocity of those who shed blood; on every occasion I have exposed my life to save those who were in danger, and I have preserved lives in exchange for that I took away. That is not all; the money gained in the exercise of my profession I have distributed to the poor; I have been assiduous in attending church and those who formerly fled from me have become accustomed to seeing me. All have forgiven me, some have even loved me; but I think that God has not pardoned me, for the memory of that execution pursues me constantly and every night I see that woman’s ghost rising before me.”

“A woman! You have assassinated a woman, then?” cried the monk.

“You also!” exclaimed the executioner, “you use that word which sounds ever in my ears--‘assassinated!’ I have assassinated, then, and not executed! I am an assassin, then, and not an officer of justice!” and he closed his eyes with a groan.

The monk doubtless feared that he would die without saying more, for he exclaimed eagerly:

“Go on, I know nothing, as yet; when you have finished your story, God and I will judge.”

“Oh, father,” continued the executioner, without opening his eyes, as if he feared on opening them to see some frightful object, “it is especially when night comes on and when I have to cross a river, that this terror which I have been unable to conquer comes upon me; it then seems as if my hand grew heavy, as if the cutlass was still in its grasp, as if the water had the color of blood, and all the voices of nature--the whispering of the trees, the murmur of the wind, the lapping of the wave--united in a voice tearful, despairing, terrible, crying to me, ‘Place for the justice of God!’”

“Delirium!” murmured the monk, shaking his head.

The executioner opened his eyes, turned toward the young man and grasped his arm.

“‘Delirium,’” he repeated; “‘delirium,’ do you say? Oh, no! I remember too well. It was evening; I had thrown the body into the river and those words which my remorse repeats to me are those which I in my pride pronounced. After being the instrument of human justice I aspired to be that of the justice of God.”

“But let me see, how was it done? Speak,” said the monk.

“It was at night. A man came to me and showed me an order and I followed him. Four other noblemen awaited me. They led me away masked. I reserved the right of refusing if the office they required of me should seem unjust. We traveled five or six leagues, serious, silent, and almost without speaking. At length, through the window of a little hut, they showed me a woman sitting, leaning on a table, and said, ‘there is the person to be executed.’”

“Horrible!” said the monk. “And you obeyed?”

“Father, that woman was a monster. It was said that she had poisoned her second husband; she had tried to assassinate her brother-in-law; she had just poisoned a young woman who was her rival, and before leaving England she had, it was believed, caused the favorite of the king to be murdered.”

“Buckingham?” cried the monk.

“Yes, Buckingham.”

“The woman was English, then?”

“No, she was French, but she had married in England.”

The monk turned pale, wiped his brow and went and bolted the door. The executioner thought that he had abandoned him and fell back, groaning, upon his bed.

“No, no; I am here,” said the monk, quickly coming back to him. “Go on; who were those men?”

“One of them was a foreigner, English, I think. The four others were French and wore the uniform of musketeers.”

“Their names?” asked the monk.

“I don’t know them, but the four other noblemen called the Englishman ‘my lord.’”

“Was the woman handsome?”

“Young and beautiful. Oh, yes, especially beautiful. I see her now, as on her knees at my feet, with her head thrown back, she begged for life. I have never understood how I could have laid low a head so beautiful, with a face so pale.”

The monk seemed agitated by a strange emotion; he trembled all over; he seemed eager to put a question which yet he dared not ask. At length, with a violent effort at self-control:

“The name of that woman?” he said.

“I don’t know what it was. As I have said, she was twice married, once in France, the second time in England.”

“She was young, you say?”

“Twenty-five years old.”

“Beautiful?”

“Ravishingly.”

“Blond?”

“Yes.”

“Abundance of hair--falling over her shoulders?”

“Yes.”

“Eyes of an admirable expression?”

“When she chose. Oh, yes, it is she!”

“A voice of strange sweetness?”

“How do you know it?”

The executioner raised himself on his elbow and gazed with a frightened air at the monk, who became livid.

“And you killed her?” the monk exclaimed. “You were the tool of those cowards who dared not kill her themselves? You had no pity for that youthfulness, that beauty, that weakness? you killed that woman?”

“Alas! I have already told you, father, that woman, under that angelic appearance, had an infernal soul, and when I saw her, when I recalled all the evil she had done to me----”

“To you? What could she have done to you? Come, tell me!”

“She had seduced and ruined my brother, a priest. She had fled with him from her convent.”

“With your brother?”

“Yes, my brother was her first lover, and she caused his death. Oh, father, do not look in that way at me! Oh, I am guilty, then; you will not pardon me?”

The monk recovered his usual expression.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “I will pardon you if you tell me all.”

“Oh!” cried the executioner, “all! all! all!”

“Answer, then. If she seduced your brother--you said she seduced him, did you not?”

“Yes.”

“If she caused his death--you said that she caused his death?”

“Yes,” repeated the executioner.

“Then you must know what her name was as a young girl.”

“Oh, mon Dieu!” cried the executioner, “I think I am dying. Absolution, father! absolution.”

“Tell me her name and I will give it.”

“Her name was----My God, have pity on me!” murmured the executioner; and he fell back on the bed, pale, trembling, and apparently about to die.

“Her name!” repeated the monk, bending over him as if to tear from him the name if he would not utter it; “her name! Speak, or no absolution!”

The dying man collected all his forces.

The monk’s eyes glittered.

“Anne de Bueil,” murmured the wounded man.

“Anne de Bueil!” cried the monk, standing up and lifting his hands to Heaven. “Anne de Bueil! You said Anne de Bueil, did you not?”

“Yes, yes, that was her name; and now absolve me, for I am dying.”

“I, absolve you!” cried the priest, with a laugh which made the dying man’s hair stand on end; “I, absolve you? I am not a priest.”

“You are not a priest!” cried the executioner. “What, then, are you?”

“I am about to tell you, wretched man.”

“Oh, mon Dieu!”

“I am John Francis de Winter.”

“I do not know you,” said the executioner.

“Wait, wait; you are going to know me. I am John Francis de Winter,” he repeated, “and that woman----”

“Well, that woman?”

“Was my mother!”

The executioner uttered the first cry, that terrible cry which had been first heard.

“Oh, pardon me, pardon me!” he murmured; “if not in the name of God, at least in your own name; if not as priest, then as son.”

“Pardon you!” cried the pretended monk, “pardon you! Perhaps God will pardon you, but I, never!”

“For pity’s sake,” said the executioner, extending his arms.

“No pity for him who had no pity! Die, impenitent, die in despair, die and be damned!” And drawing a poniard from beneath his robe he thrust it into the breast of the wounded man, saying, “Here is my absolution!”

Then was heard that second cry, not so loud as the first and followed by a long groan.

The executioner, who had lifted himself up, fell back upon his bed. As to the monk, without withdrawing the poniard from the wound, he ran to the window, opened it, leaped out into the flowers of a small garden, glided onward to the stable, took out his mule, went out by a back gate, ran to a neighbouring thicket, threw off his monkish garb, took from his valise the complete habiliment of a cavalier, clothed himself in it, went on foot to the first post, secured there a horse and continued with a loose rein his journey to Paris.


Chapter 33. Grimaud Speaks.

Grimaud was left alone with the executioner, who in a few moments opened his eyes.

“Help, help,” he murmured; “oh, God! have I not a single friend in the world who will aid me either to live or to die?”

“Take courage,” said Grimaud; “they are gone to find assistance.”

“Who are you?” asked the wounded man, fixing his half opened eyes on Grimaud.

“An old acquaintance,” replied Grimaud.

“You?” and the wounded man sought to recall the features of the person now before him.

“Under what circumstances did we meet?” he asked again.

“One night, twenty years ago, my master fetched you from Bethune and conducted you to Armentieres.”

“I know you well now,” said the executioner; “you were one of the four grooms.”

“Just so.”

“Where do you come from now?”

“I was passing by and drew up at this inn to rest my horse. They told me the executioner of Bethune was here and wounded, when you uttered two piercing cries. At the first we ran to the door and at the second forced it open.”

“And the monk?” exclaimed the executioner, “did you see the monk?”

“What monk?”

“The monk that was shut in with me.”

“No, he was no longer here; he appears to have fled by the window. Was he the man that stabbed you?”

“Yes,” said the executioner.

Grimaud moved as if to leave the room.

“What are you going to do?” asked the wounded man.

“He must be apprehended.”

“Do not attempt it; he has revenged himself and has done well. Now I may hope that God will forgive me, since my crime is expiated.”

“Explain yourself.” said Grimaud.

“The woman whom you and your masters commanded me to kill----”

“Milady?”

“Yes, Milady; it is true you called her thus.”

“What has the monk to do with this Milady?”

“She was his mother.”

Grimaud trembled and stared at the dying man in a dull and leaden manner.

“His mother!” he repeated.

“Yes, his mother.”

“But does he know this secret, then?”

“I mistook him for a monk and revealed it to him in confession.”

“Unhappy man!” cried Grimaud, whose face was covered with sweat at the bare idea of the evil results such a revelation might cause; “unhappy man, you named no one, I hope?”

“I pronounced no name, for I knew none, except his mother’s, as a young girl, and it was by this name that he recognized her, but he knows that his uncle was among her judges.”

Thus speaking, he fell back exhausted. Grimaud, wishing to relieve him, advanced his hand toward the hilt of the dagger.

“Touch me not!” said the executioner; “if this dagger is withdrawn I shall die.”

Grimaud remained with his hand extended; then, striking his forehead, he exclaimed:

“Oh! if this man should ever discover the names of the others, my master is lost.”

“Haste! haste to him and warn him,” cried the wounded man, “if he still lives; warn his friends, too. My death, believe me, will not be the end of this atrocious misadventure.”

“Where was the monk going?” asked Grimaud.

“Toward Paris.”

“Who stopped him?”

“Two young gentlemen, who were on their way to join the army and the name of one of whom I heard his companion mention--the Viscount de Bragelonne.”

“And it was this young man who brought the monk to you? Then it was the will of God that it should be so and this it is which makes it all so awful,” continued Grimaud. “And yet that woman deserved her fate; do you not think so?”

“On one’s death-bed the crimes of others appear very small in comparison with one’s own,” said the executioner; and falling back exhausted he closed his eyes.

Grimaud was reluctant to leave the man alone and yet he perceived the necessity of starting at once to bear these tidings to the Comte de la Fere. Whilst he thus hesitated the host re-entered the room, followed not only by a surgeon, but by many other persons, whom curiosity had attracted to the spot. The surgeon approached the dying man, who seemed to have fainted.

“We must first extract the steel from the side,” said he, shaking his head in a significant manner.

The prophecy which the wounded man had just uttered recurred to Grimaud, who turned away his head. The weapon, as we have already stated, was plunged into the body to the hilt, and as the surgeon, taking it by the end, drew it forth, the wounded man opened his eyes and fixed them on him in a manner truly frightful. When at last the blade had been entirely withdrawn, a red froth issued from the mouth of the wounded man and a stream of blood spouted afresh from the wound when he at length drew breath; then, fixing his eyes upon Grimaud with a singular expression, the dying man uttered the last death-rattle and expired.

Then Grimaud, lifting the dagger from the pool of blood which was gliding along the room, to the horror of all present, made a sign to the host to follow him, paid him with a generosity worthy of his master and again mounted his horse. Grimaud’s first intention had been to return to Paris, but he remembered the anxiety which his prolonged absence might occasion Raoul, and reflecting that there were now only two miles between the vicomte and himself and a quarter of an hour’s riding would unite them, and that the going, returning and explanation would not occupy an hour, he put spurs to his horse and a few minutes after had reached the only inn of Mazingarbe.

Raoul was seated at table with the Count de Guiche and his tutor, when all at once the door opened and Grimaud presented himself, travel-stained, dirty, and sprinkled with the blood of the unhappy executioner.

“Grimaud, my good Grimaud!” exclaimed Raoul “here you are at last! Excuse me, sirs, this is not a servant, but a friend. How did you leave the count?” continued he. “Does he regret me a little? Have you seen him since I left him? Answer, for I have many things to tell you, too; indeed, the last three days some odd adventures have happened--but what is the matter? how pale you are! and blood, too! What is this?”

“It is the blood of the unfortunate man whom you left at the inn and who died in my arms.”

“In your arms?--that man! but know you who he was?”

“He used to be the headsman of Bethune.”

“You knew him? and he is dead?”

“Yes.”

“Well, sir,” said D’Arminges, “it is the common lot; even an executioner is not exempted. I had a bad opinion of him the moment I saw his wound, and since he asked for a monk you know that it was his opinion, too, that death would follow.”

At the mention of the monk, Grimaud became pale.

“Come, come,” continued D’Arminges, “to dinner;” for like most men of his age and generation he did not allow sentiment or sensibility to interfere with a repast.

“You are right, sir,” said Raoul. “Come, Grimaud, order dinner for yourself and when you have rested a little we can talk.”

“No, sir, no,” said Grimaud. “I cannot stop a moment; I must start for Paris again immediately.”

“What? You start for Paris? You are mistaken; it is Olivain who leaves me; you are to remain.”

“On the contrary, Olivain is to stay and I am to go. I have come for nothing else but to tell you so.”

“But what is the meaning of this change?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Explain yourself.”

“I cannot explain myself.”

“Come, tell me, what is the joke?”

“Monsieur le vicomte knows that I never joke.”

“Yes, but I know also that Monsieur le Comte de la Fere arranged that you were to remain with me and that Olivain should return to Paris. I shall follow the count’s directions.”

“Not under present circumstances, monsieur.”

“Perhaps you mean to disobey me?”

“Yes, monsieur, I must.”

“You persist, then?”

“Yes, I am going; may you be happy, monsieur,” and Grimaud saluted and turned toward the door to go out.

Raoul, angry and at the same time uneasy, ran after him and seized him by the arm. “Grimaud!” he cried; “remain; I wish it.”

“Then,” replied Grimaud, “you wish me to allow monsieur le comte to be killed.” He saluted and made a movement to depart.

“Grimaud, my friend,” said the viscount, “will you leave me thus, in such anxiety? Speak, speak, in Heaven’s name!” And Raoul fell back trembling upon his chair.

“I can tell you but one thing, sir, for the secret you wish to know is not my own. You met a monk, did you not?”

“Yes.”

The young men looked at each other with an expression of fear.

“You conducted him to the wounded man and you had time to observe him, and perhaps you would know him again were you to meet him.”

“Yes, yes!” cried both young men.

“Very well; if ever you meet him again, wherever it may be, whether on the high road or in the street or in a church, anywhere that he or you may be, put your foot on his neck and crush him without pity, without mercy, as you would crush a viper or a scorpion! destroy him utterly and quit him not until he is dead; the lives of five men are not safe, in my opinion, as long as he is on the earth.”

And without adding another word, Grimaud, profiting by the astonishment and terror into which he had thrown his auditors, rushed from the room. Two minutes later the thunder of a horse’s hoofs was heard upon the road; it was Grimaud, on his way to Paris. When once in the saddle Grimaud reflected on two things; first, that at the pace he was going his horse would not carry him ten miles, and secondly, that he had no money. But Grimaud’s ingenuity was more prolific than his speech, and therefore at the first halt he sold his steed and with the money obtained from the purchase took post horses.