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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 34. On the Eve of Battle.


Raoul was aroused from his sombre reflections by his host, who rushed into the apartment crying out, “The Spaniards! the Spaniards!”

That cry was of such importance as to overcome all preoccupation. The young men made inquiries and ascertained that the enemy was advancing by way of Houdin and Bethune.

While Monsieur d’Arminges gave orders for the horses to be made ready for departure, the two young men ascended to the upper windows of the house and saw in the direction of Marsin and of Lens a large body of infantry and cavalry. This time it was not a wandering troop of partisans; it was an entire army. There was therefore nothing for them to do but to follow the prudent advice of Monsieur d’Arminges and beat a retreat. They quickly went downstairs. Monsieur d’Arminges was already mounted. Olivain had ready the horses of the young men, and the lackeys of the Count de Guiche guarded carefully between them the Spanish prisoner, mounted on a pony which had been bought for his use. As a further precaution they had bound his hands.

The little company started off at a trot on the road to Cambrin, where they expected to find the prince. But he was no longer there, having withdrawn on the previous evening to La Bassee, misled by false intelligence of the enemy’s movements. Deceived by this intelligence he had concentrated his forces between Vieille-Chapelle and La Venthie; and after a reconnoissance along the entire line, in company with Marshal de Grammont, he had returned and seated himself before a table, with his officers around him. He questioned them as to the news they had each been charged to obtain, but nothing positive had been learned. The hostile army had disappeared two days before and seemed to have gone out of existence.

Now an enemy is never so near and consequently so threatening, as when he has completely disappeared. The prince was, therefore, contrary to his custom, gloomy and anxious, when an officer entered and announced to Marshal de Grammont that some one wished to see him.

The Duc de Grammont received permission from the prince by a glance and went out. The prince followed him with his eyes and continued looking at the door; no one ventured to speak, for fear of disturbing him.

Suddenly a dull and heavy noise was heard. The prince leaped to his feet, extending his hand in the direction whence came the sound, there was no mistaking it--it was the noise of cannon. Every one stood up.

At that moment the door opened.

“Monseigneur,” said Marshal de Grammont, with a radiant face, “will your highness permit my son, Count de Guiche, and his traveling companion, Viscount de Bragelonne, to come in and give news of the enemy, whom they have found while we were looking for him?”

“What!” eagerly replied the prince, “will I permit? I not only permit, I desire; let them come in.”

The marshal introduced the two young men and placed them face to face with the prince.

“Speak, gentlemen,” said the prince, saluting them; “first speak; we shall have time afterward for the usual compliments. The most urgent thing now is to learn where the enemy is and what he is doing.”

It fell naturally to the Count de Guiche to make reply; not only was he the elder, but he had been presented to the prince by his father. Besides, he had long known the prince, whilst Raoul now saw him for the first time. He therefore narrated to the prince what they had seen from the inn at Mazingarbe.

Meanwhile Raoul closely observed the young general, already made so famous by the battles of Rocroy, Fribourg, and Nordlingen.

Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conde, who, since the death of his father, Henri de Bourbon, was called, in accordance with the custom of that period, Monsieur le Prince, was a young man, not more than twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, with the eye of an eagle--agl’ occhi grifani, as Dante says--aquiline nose, long, waving hair, of medium height, well formed, possessed of all the qualities essential to the successful soldier--that is to say, the rapid glance, quick decision, fabulous courage. At the same time he was a man of elegant manners and strong mind, so that in addition to the revolution he had made in war, by his new contributions to its methods, he had also made a revolution at Paris, among the young noblemen of the court, whose natural chief he was and who, in distinction from the social leaders of the ancient court, modeled after Bassompierre, Bellegarde and the Duke d’Angouleme, were called the petits-maitres.

At the first words of the Count de Guiche, the prince, having in mind the direction whence came the sound of cannon, had understood everything. The enemy was marching upon Lens, with the intention, doubtless, of securing possession of that town and separating from France the army of France. But in what force was the enemy? Was it a corps sent out to make a diversion? Was it an entire army? To this question De Guiche could not respond.

Now, as these questions involved matters of gravest consequence, it was these to which the prince had especially desired an answer, exact, precise, positive.

Raoul conquered the very natural feeling of timidity he experienced and approaching the prince:

“My lord,” he said, “will you permit me to hazard a few words on that subject, which will perhaps relieve you of your uncertainty?”

The prince turned and seemed to cover the young man with a single glance; he smiled on perceiving that he was a child hardly fifteen years old.

“Certainly, monsieur, speak,” he said, softening his stern, accented tones, as if he were speaking to a woman.

“My lord,” said Raoul, blushing, “might examine the Spanish prisoner.”

“Have you a Spanish prisoner?” cried the prince.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Ah, that is true,” said De Guiche; “I had forgotten it.”

“That is easily understood; it was you who took him, count,” said Raoul, smiling.

The old marshal turned toward the viscount, grateful for that praise of his son, whilst the prince exclaimed:

“The young man is right; let the prisoner be brought in.”

Meanwhile the prince took De Guiche aside and asked him how the prisoner had been taken and who this young man was.

“Monsieur,” said the prince, turning toward Raoul, “I know that you have a letter from my sister, Madame de Longueville; but I see that you have preferred commending yourself to me by giving me good counsel.”

“My lord,” said Raoul, coloring up, “I did not wish to interrupt your highness in a conversation so important as that in which you were engaged with the count. But here is the letter.”

“Very well,” said the prince; “give it to me later. Here is the prisoner; let us attend to what is most pressing.”

The prisoner was one of those military adventurers who sold their blood to whoever would buy, and grew old in stratagems and spoils. Since he had been taken he had not uttered a word, so that it was not known to what country he belonged. The prince looked at him with unspeakable distrust.

“Of what country are you?” asked the prince.

The prisoner muttered a few words in a foreign tongue.

“Ah! ah! it seems that he is a Spaniard. Do you speak Spanish, Grammont?”

“Faith, my lord, but indifferently.”

“And I not at all,” said the prince, laughing. “Gentlemen,” he said, turning to those who were near him “can any one of you speak Spanish and serve me as interpreter?”

“I can, my lord,” said Raoul.

“Ah, you speak Spanish?”

“Enough, I think, to fulfill your highness’s wishes on this occasion.”

Meanwhile the prisoner had remained impassive and as if he had no understanding of what was taking place.

“My lord asks of what country you are,” said the young man, in the purest Castilian.

“Ich bin ein Deutscher,” replied the prisoner.

“What in the devil does he say?” asked the prince. “What new gibberish is that?”

“He says he is German, my lord,” replied Raoul; “but I doubt it, for his accent is bad and his pronunciation defective.”

“Then you speak German, also?” asked the prince.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Well enough to question him in that language?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Question him, then.”

Raoul began the examination, but the result justified his opinion. The prisoner did not understand, or seemed not to understand, what Raoul said to him; and Raoul could hardly understand his replies, containing a mixture of Flemish and Alsatian. However, amidst all the prisoner’s efforts to elude a systematic examination, Raoul had recognized his natural accent.

“Non siete Spagnuolo,” he said; “non siete Tedesco; siete Italiano.”

The prisoner started and bit his lips.

“Ah, that,” said the prince, “I understand that language thoroughly; and since he is Italian I will myself continue the examination. Thank you, viscount,” continued the prince, laughing, “and I appoint you from this moment my interpreter.”

But the prisoner was not less unwilling to respond in Italian than in the other languages; his aim was to elude the examination. Therefore, he knew nothing either of the enemy’s numbers, or of those in command, or of the purpose of the army.

“Very good,” said the prince, understanding the reason of that ignorance; “the man was caught in the act of assassination and robbery; he might have purchased his life by speaking; he doesn’t wish to speak. Take him out and shoot him.”

The prisoner turned pale. The two soldiers who had brought him in took him, each by one arm, and led him toward the door, whilst the prince, turning to Marshal de Grammont, seemed to have already forgotten the order he had given.

When he reached the threshold of the door the prisoner stopped. The soldiers, who knew only their orders, attempted to force him along.

“One moment,” said the prisoner, in French. “I am ready to speak, my lord.”

“Ah! ah!” said the prince, laughing, “I thought we should come to that. I have a sure method of limbering tongues. Young men, take advantage of it against the time when you may be in command.”

“But on condition,” continued the prisoner, “that your highness will swear that my life shall be safe.”

“Upon my honor,” said the prince.

“Question, then, my lord.”

“Where did the army cross the Lys?”

“Between Saint-Venant and Aire.”

“By whom is it commanded?”

“By Count de Fuonsaldagna, General Beck and the archduke.”

“Of how many does it consist?”

“Eighteen thousand men and thirty-six cannon.”

“And its aim is?”

“Lens.”

“You see; gentlemen!” said the prince, turning with a triumphant air toward Marshal de Grammont and the other officers.

“Yes, my lord,” said the marshal, “you have divined all that was possible to human genius.”

“Recall Le Plessis, Bellievre, Villequier and D’Erlac,” said the prince, “recall all the troops that are on this side of the Lys. Let them hold themselves in readiness to march to-night. To-morrow, according to all probability, we shall attack the enemy.”

“But, my lord,” said Marshal de Grammont, “consider that when we have collected all our forces we shall have hardly thirteen thousand men.”

“Monsieur le marechal,” said the prince, with that wonderful glance that was peculiar to him, “it is with small armies that great battles are won.”

Then turning toward the prisoner, “Take away that man,” he said, “and keep him carefully in sight. His life is dependent on the information he has given us; if it is true, he shall be free; if false, let him be shot.”

The prisoner was led away.

“Count de Guiche,” said the prince, “it is a long time since you saw your father, remain here with him. Monsieur,” he continued, addressing Raoul, “if you are not too tired, follow me.”

“To the end of the world, my lord!” cried Raoul, feeling an unknown enthusiasm for that young general, who seemed to him so worthy of his renown.

The prince smiled; he despised flatterers, but he appreciated enthusiasts.

“Come, monsieur,” he said, “you are good in council, as we have already discovered; to-morrow we shall know if you are good in action.”

“And I,” said the marshal, “what am I to do?”

“Wait here to receive the troops. I shall either return for them myself or shall send a courier directing you to bring them to me. Twenty guards, well mounted, are all that I shall need for my escort.”

“That is very few,” said the marshal.

“It is enough,” replied the prince. “Have you a good horse, Monsieur de Bragelonne?”

“My horse was killed this morning, my lord, and I am mounted provisionally on my lackey’s.”

“Choose for yourself in my stables the horse you like best. No false modesty; take the best horse you can find. You will need it this evening, perhaps; you will certainly need it to-morrow.”

Raoul didn’t wait to be told twice; he knew that with superiors, especially when those superiors are princes, the highest politeness is to obey without delay or argument; he went down to the stables, picked out a pie-bald Andalusian horse, saddled and bridled it himself, for Athos had advised him to trust no one with those important offices at a time of danger, and went to rejoin the prince, who at that moment mounted his horse.

“Now, monsieur,” he said to Raoul, “will you give me the letter you have brought?”

Raoul handed the letter to the prince.

“Keep near me,” said the latter.

The prince threw his bridle over the pommel of the saddle, as he was wont to do when he wished to have both hands free, unsealed the letter of Madame de Longueville and started at a gallop on the road to Lens, attended by Raoul and his small escort, whilst messengers sent to recall the troops set out with a loose rein in other directions. The prince read as he hastened on.

“Monsieur,” he said, after a moment, “they tell me great things of you. I have only to say, after the little that I have seen and heard, that I think even better of you than I have been told.”

Raoul bowed.

Meanwhile, as the little troop drew nearer to Lens, the noise of the cannon sounded louder. The prince kept his gaze fixed in the direction of the sound with the steadfastness of a bird of prey. One would have said that his gaze could pierce the branches of trees which limited his horizon. From time to time his nostrils dilated as if eager for the smell of powder, and he panted like a horse.

At length they heard the cannon so near that it was evident they were within a league of the field of battle, and at a turn of the road they perceived the little village of Aunay.

The peasants were in great commotion. The report of Spanish cruelty had gone out and every one was frightened. The women had already fled, taking refuge in Vitry; only a few men remained. On seeing the prince they hastened to meet him. One of them recognized him.

“Ah, my lord,” he said, “have you come to drive away those rascal Spaniards and those Lorraine robbers?”

“Yes,” said the prince, “if you will serve me as guide.”

“Willingly, my lord. Where does your highness wish to go?”

“To some elevated spot whence I can look down on Lens and the surrounding country----”

“In that case, I’m your man.”

“I can trust you--you are a true Frenchman?”

“I am an old soldier of Rocroy, my lord.”

“Here,” said the prince, handing him a purse, “here is for Rocroy. Now, do you want a horse, or will you go afoot?”

“Afoot, my lord; I have served always in the infantry. Besides, I expect to lead your highness into places where you will have to walk.”

“Come, then,” said the prince; “let us lose no time.”

The peasant started off, running before the prince’s horse; then, a hundred steps from the village, he took a narrow road hidden at the bottom of the valley. For a half league they proceeded thus, the cannon-shot sounding so near that they expected at each discharge to hear the hum of the balls. At length they entered a path which, going out from the road, skirted the mountainside. The prince dismounted, ordered one of his aids and Raoul to follow his example, and directed the others to await his orders, keeping themselves meanwhile on the alert. He then began to ascend the path.

In about ten minutes they reached the ruins of an old chateau; those ruins crowned the summit of a hill which overlooked the surrounding country. At a distance of hardly a quarter of a league they looked down on Lens, at bay, and before Lens the enemy’s entire army.

With a single glance the prince took in the extent of country that lay before him, from Lens as far as Vimy. In a moment the plan of the battle which on the following day was to save France the second time from invasion was unrolled in his mind. He took a pencil, tore a page from his tablets and wrote:

“My Dear Marshal,--In an hour Lens will be in the enemy’s possession. Come and rejoin me; bring with you the whole army. I shall be at Vendin to place it in position. To-morrow we shall retake Lens and beat the enemy.”

Then, turning toward Raoul: “Go, monsieur,” he said; “ride fast and give this letter to Monsieur de Grammont.”

Raoul bowed, took the letter, went hastily down the mountain, leaped on his horse and set out at a gallop. A quarter of an hour later he was with the marshal.

A portion of the troops had already arrived and the remainder was expected from moment to moment. Marshal de Grammont put himself at the head of all the available cavalry and infantry and took the road to Vendin, leaving the Duc de Chatillon to await and bring on the rest. All the artillery was ready to move, and started off at a moment’s notice.

It was seven o’clock in the evening when the marshal arrived at the appointed place. The prince awaited him there. As he had foreseen, Lens had fallen into the hands of the enemy immediately after Raoul’s departure. The event was announced by the cessation of the firing.

As the shadows of night deepened the troops summoned by the prince arrived in successive detachments. Orders were given that no drum should be beaten, no trumpet sounded.

At nine o’clock the night had fully come. Still a last ray of twilight lighted the plain. The army marched silently, the prince at the head of the column. Presently the army came in sight of Lens; two or three houses were in flames and a dull noise was heard which indicated what suffering was endured by a town taken by assault.

The prince assigned to every one his post. Marshal de Grammont was to hold the extreme left, resting on Mericourt. The Duc de Chatillon commanded the centre. Finally, the prince led the right wing, resting on Aunay. The order of battle on the morrow was to be that of the positions taken in the evening. Each one, on awaking, would find himself on the field of battle.

The movement was executed in silence and with precision. At ten o’clock every one was in his appointed position; at half-past ten the prince visited the posts and gave his final orders for the following day.

Three things were especially urged upon the officers, who were to see that the soldiers observed them scrupulously: the first, that the different corps should so march that cavalry and infantry should be on the same line and that each body should protect its gaps; the second, to go to the charge no faster than a walk; the third, to let the enemy fire first.

The prince assigned the Count de Guiche to his father and kept Bragelonne near his own person; but the two young men sought the privilege of passing the night together and it was accorded them. A tent was erected for them near that of the marshal.

Although the day had been fatiguing, neither of them was inclined to sleep. And besides, even for old soldiers the evening before a battle is a serious time; it was so with greater reason to two young men who were about to witness for the first time that terrible spectacle. On the evening before a battle one thinks of a thousand things forgotten till then; those who are indifferent to one another become friends and those who are friends become brothers. It need not be said that if in the depths of the heart there is a sentiment more tender, it reaches then, quite naturally, the highest exaltation of which it is capable. Some sentiment of this kind must have been cherished by each one of these two friends, for each of them almost immediately sat down by himself at an end of the tent and began to write.

The letters were long--the four pages were covered with closely written words. The writers sometimes looked up at each other and smiled; they understood without speaking, their organizations were so delicate and sympathetic. The letters being finished, each put his own into two envelopes, so that no one, without tearing the first envelope, could discover to whom the second was addressed; then they drew near to each other and smilingly exchanged their letters.

“In case any evil should happen to me,” said Bragelonne.

“In case I should be killed,” said De Guiche.

They then embraced each other like two brothers, and each wrapping himself in his cloak they soon passed into that kindly sleep of youth which is the prerogative of birds, flowers and infants.


Chapter 35. A Dinner in the Old Style.


The second interview between the former musketeers was not so formal and threatening as the first. Athos, with his superior understanding, wisely deemed that the supper table would be the most complete and satisfactory point of reunion, and at the moment when his friends, in deference to his deportment and sobriety, dared scarcely speak of some of their former good dinners, he was the first to propose that they should all assemble around some well spread table and abandon themselves unreservedly to their own natural character and manners--a freedom which had formerly contributed so much to that good understanding between them which gave them the name of the inseparables. For different reasons this was an agreeable proposition to them all, and it was therefore agreed that each should leave a very exact address and that upon the request of any of the associates a meeting should be convoked at a famous eating house in the Rue de la Monnaie, of the sign of the Hermitage. The first rendezvous was fixed for the following Wednesday, at eight o’clock in the evening precisely.

On that day, in fact, the four friends arrived punctually at the hour, each from his own abode or occupation. Porthos had been trying a new horse; D’Artagnan was on guard at the Louvre; Aramis had been to visit one of his penitents in the neighborhood; and Athos, whose domicile was established in the Rue Guenegaud, found himself close at hand. They were, therefore, somewhat surprised to meet altogether at the door of the Hermitage, Athos starting out from the Pont Neuf, Porthos by the Rue de la Roule, D’Artagnan by the Rue des Fosse Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, and Aramis by the Rue de Bethisy.

The first words exchanged between the four friends, on account of the ceremony which each of them mingled with their demonstration, were somewhat forced and even the repast began with a kind of stiffness. Athos perceived this embarrassment, and by way of supplying an effectual remedy, called for four bottles of champagne.

At this order, given in Athos’s habitually calm manner, the face of the Gascon relaxed and Porthos’s brow grew smooth. Aramis was astonished. He knew that Athos not only never drank, but more, that he had a kind of repugnance to wine. This astonishment was doubled when Aramis saw Athos fill a bumper and toss it off with all his former enthusiasm. His companions followed his example. In a very few minutes the four bottles were empty and this excellent specific succeeded in dissipating even the slightest cloud that might have rested on their spirits. Now the four friends began to speak loud, scarcely waiting till one had finished before another began, and each assumed his favorite attitude on or at the table. Soon--strange fact--Aramis undid two buttons of his doublet, seeing which, Porthos unfastened his entirely.

Battles, long journeys, blows given and received, sufficed for the first themes of conversation, which turned upon the silent struggles sustained against him who was now called the great cardinal.

“Faith,” said Aramis, laughing, “we have praised the dead enough, let us revile the living a little; I should like to say something evil of Mazarin; is it permissible?”

“Go on, go on,” replied D’Artagnan, laughing heartily; “relate your story and I will applaud it if it is a good one.”

“A great prince,” said Aramis, “with whom Mazarin sought an alliance, was invited by him to send him a list of the conditions on which he would do him the honor to negotiate with him. The prince, who had a great repugnance to treat with such an ill-bred fellow, made out a list, against the grain, and sent it. In this list there were three conditions which displeased Mazarin and he offered the prince ten thousand crowns to renounce them.”

“Ah, ha, ha!” laughed the three friends, “not a bad bargain; and there was no fear of being taken at his word; what did the prince do then?”

“The prince immediately sent fifty thousand francs to Mazarin, begging him never to write to him again, and offered twenty thousand francs more, on condition that he would never speak to him. What did Mazarin do?”

“Stormed!” suggested Athos.

“Beat the messenger!” cried Porthos.

“Accepted the money!” said D’Artagnan.

“You have guessed it,” answered Aramis; and they all laughed so heartily that the host appeared in order to inquire whether the gentlemen wanted anything; he thought they were fighting.

At last their hilarity calmed down and:

“Faith!” exclaimed D’Artagnan to the two friends, “you may well wish ill to Mazarin; for I assure you, on his side he wishes you no good.”

“Pooh! really?” asked Athos. “If I thought the fellow knew me by my name I would be rebaptized, for fear it might be thought I knew him.”

“He knows you better by your actions than your name; he is quite aware that there are two gentlemen who greatly aided the escape of Monsieur de Beaufort, and he has instigated an active search for them, I can answer for it.”

“By whom?”

“By me; and this morning he sent for me to ask me if I had obtained any information.”

“And what did you reply?”

“That I had none as yet; but that I was to dine to-day with two gentlemen, who would be able to give me some.”

“You told him that?” said Porthos, a broad smile spreading over his honest face. “Bravo! and you are not afraid of that, Athos?”

“No,” replied Athos, “it is not the search of Mazarin that I fear.”

“Now,” said Aramis, “tell me a little what you do fear.”

“Nothing for the present; at least, nothing in good earnest.”

“And with regard to the past?” asked Porthos.

“Oh! the past is another thing,” said Athos, sighing; “the past and the future.”

“Are you afraid for your young Raoul?” asked Aramis.

“Well,” said D’Artagnan, “one is never killed in a first engagement.”

“Nor in the second,” said Aramis

“Nor in the third,” returned Porthos; “and even when one is killed, one rises again, the proof of which is, that here we are!”

“No,” said Athos, “it is not Raoul about whom I am anxious, for I trust he will conduct himself like a gentleman; and if he is killed--well, he will die bravely; but hold--should such a misfortune happen--well--” Athos passed his hand across his pale brow.

“Well?” asked Aramis.

“Well, I shall look upon it as an expiation.”

“Ah!” said D’Artagnan; “I know what you mean.”

“And I, too,” added Aramis; “but you must not think of that, Athos; what is past, is past.”

“I don’t understand,” said Porthos.

“The affair at Armentieres,” whispered D’Artagnan.

“The affair at Armentieres?” asked he again.

“Milady.”

“Oh, yes!” said Porthos; “true, I had forgotten it!”

Athos looked at him intently.

“You have forgotten it, Porthos?” said he.

“Faith! yes, it is so long ago,” answered Porthos.

“This affair does not, then, weigh upon your conscience?”

“Faith, no.”

“And you, D’Artagnan?”

“I--I own that when my mind returns to that terrible period I have no recollection of anything but the rigid corpse of poor Madame Bonancieux. Yes, yes,” murmured he, “I have often felt regret for the victim, but never the very slightest remorse for the assassin.”

Athos shook his dead doubtfully.

“Consider,” said Aramis, “if you admit divine justice and its participation in the things of this world, that woman was punished by the will of heaven. We were but the instruments, that is all.”

“But as to free will, Aramis?”

“How acts the judge? He has a free will, yet he fearlessly condemns. What does the executioner? He is master of his arm, yet he strikes without remorse.”

“The executioner!” muttered Athos, as if arrested by some recollection.

“I know that it is terrible,” said D’Artagnan; “but when I reflect that we have killed English, Rochellais, Spaniards, nay, even French, who never did us any other harm but to aim at and to miss us, whose only fault was to cross swords with us and to be unable to ward off our blows--I can, on my honor, find an excuse for my share in the murder of that woman.”

“As for me,” said Porthos, “now that you have reminded me of it, Athos, I have the scene again before me, as if I now were there. Milady was there, as it were, where you sit.” (Athos changed color.) “I--I was where D’Artagnan stands. I wore a long sword which cut like a Damascus--you remember it, Aramis for you always called it Balizarde. Well, I swear to you, all three, that had the executioner of Bethune--was he not of Bethune?--yes, egad! of Bethune!--not been there, I would have cut off the head of that infamous being without thinking of it, or even after thinking of it. She was a most atrocious woman.”

“And then,” said Aramis, with the tone of philosophical indifference which he had assumed since he had belonged to the church and in which there was more atheism than confidence in God, “what is the use of thinking of it all? At the last hour we must confess this action and God knows better than we can whether it is a crime, a fault, or a meritorious deed. I repent of it? Egad! no. Upon my honor and by the holy cross; I only regret it because she was a woman.”

“The most satisfactory part of the matter,” said D’Artagnan, “is that there remains no trace of it.”

“She had a son,” observed Athos.

“Oh! yes, I know that,” said D’Artagnan, “and you mentioned it to me; but who knows what has become of him? If the serpent be dead, why not its brood? Do you think his uncle De Winter would have brought up that young viper? De Winter probably condemned the son as he had done the mother.”

“Then,” said Athos, “woe to De Winter, for the child had done no harm.”

“May the devil take me, if the child be not dead,” said Porthos. “There is so much fog in that detestable country, at least so D’Artagnan declares.”

Just as the quaint conclusion reached by Porthos was about to bring back hilarity to faces now more or less clouded, hasty footsteps were heard upon the stair and some one knocked at the door.

“Come in,” cried Athos.

“Please your honors,” said the host, “a person in a great hurry wishes to speak to one of you.”

“To which of us?” asked all the four friends.

“To him who is called the Comte de la Fere.”

“It is I,” said Athos, “and what is the name of the person?”

“Grimaud.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Athos, turning pale. “Back already! What can have happened, then, to Bragelonne?”

“Let him enter,” cried D’Artagnan; “let him come up.”

But Grimaud had already mounted the staircase and was waiting on the last step; so springing into the room he motioned the host to leave it. The door being closed, the four friends waited in expectation. Grimaud’s agitation, his pallor, the sweat which covered his face, the dust which soiled his clothes, all indicated that he was the messenger of some important and terrible news.

“Your honors,” said he, “that woman had a child; that child has become a man; the tigress had a little one, the tiger has roused himself; he is ready to spring upon you--beware!”

Athos glanced around at his friends with a melancholy smile. Porthos turned to look at his sword, which was hanging on the wall; Aramis seized his knife; D’Artagnan arose.

“What do you mean, Grimaud?” he exclaimed.

“That Milady’s son has left England, that he is in France, on his road to Paris, if he be not here already.”

“The devil he is!” said Porthos. “Are you sure of it?”

“Certain,” replied Grimaud.

This announcement was received in silence. Grimaud was so breathless, so exhausted, that he had fallen back upon a chair. Athos filled a beaker with champagne and gave it to him.

“Well, after all,” said D’Artagnan, “supposing that he lives, that he comes to Paris; we have seen many other such. Let him come.”

“Yes,” echoed Porthos, glancing affectionately at his sword, still hanging on the wall; “we can wait for him; let him come.”

“Moreover, he is but a child,” said Aramis.

Grimaud rose.

“A child!” he exclaimed. “Do you know what he has done, this child? Disguised as a monk he discovered the whole history in confession from the executioner of Bethune, and having confessed him, after having learned everything from him, he gave him absolution by planting this dagger into his heart. See, it is on fire yet with his hot blood, for it is not thirty hours since it was drawn from the wound.”

And Grimaud threw the dagger on the table.

D’Artagnan, Porthos and Aramis rose and in one spontaneous motion rushed to their swords. Athos alone remained seated, calm and thoughtful.

“And you say he is dressed as a monk, Grimaud?”

“Yes, as an Augustine monk.”

“What sized man is he?”

“About my height; thin, pale, with light blue eyes and tawny flaxen hair.”

“And he did not see Raoul?” asked Athos.

“Yes, on the contrary, they met, and it was the viscount himself who conducted him to the bed of the dying man.”

Athos, in his turn, rising without speaking, went and unhooked his sword.

“Heigh, sir,” said D’Artagnan, trying to laugh, “do you know we look very much like a flock of silly, mouse-evading women! How is it that we, four men who have faced armies without blinking, begin to tremble at the mention of a child?”

“It is true,” said Athos, “but this child comes in the name of Heaven.”

And very soon they left the inn.


Chapter 36. A Letter from Charles the First.


The reader must now cross the Seine with us and follow us to the door of the Carmelite Convent in the Rue Saint Jacques. It is eleven o’clock in the morning and the pious sisters have just finished saying mass for the success of the armies of King Charles I. Leaving the church, a woman and a young girl dressed in black, the one as a widow and the other as an orphan, have re-entered their cell.

The woman kneels on a prie-dieu of painted wood and at a short distance from her stands the young girl, leaning against a chair, weeping.

The woman must have once been handsome, but traces of sorrow have aged her. The young girl is lovely and her tears only embellish her; the lady appears to be about forty years of age, the girl about fourteen.

“Oh, God!” prayed the kneeling suppliant, “protect my husband, guard my son, and take my wretched life instead!”

“Oh, God!” murmured the girl, “leave me my mother!”

“Your mother can be of no use to you in this world, Henrietta,” said the lady, turning around. “Your mother has no longer either throne or husband; she has neither son, money nor friends; the whole world, my poor child, has abandoned your mother!” And she fell back, weeping, into her daughter’s arms.

“Courage, take courage, my dear mother!” said the girl.

“Ah! ‘tis an unfortunate year for kings,” said the mother. “And no one thinks of us in this country, for each must think about his own affairs. As long as your brother was with me he kept me up; but he is gone and can no longer send us news of himself, either to me or to your father. I have pledged my last jewels, sold your clothes and my own to pay his servants, who refused to accompany him unless I made this sacrifice. We are now reduced to live at the expense of these daughters of Heaven; we are the poor, succored by God.”

“But why not address yourself to your sister, the queen?” asked the girl.

“Alas! the queen, my sister, is no longer queen, my child. Another reigns in her name. One day you will be able to understand how all this is.”

“Well, then, to the king, your nephew. Shall I speak to him? You know how much he loves me, my mother.

“Alas! my nephew is not yet king, and you know Laporte has told us twenty times that he himself is in need of almost everything.”

“Then let us pray to Heaven,” said the girl.

The two women who thus knelt in united prayer were the daughter and grand-daughter of Henry IV., the wife and daughter of Charles I.

They had just finished their double prayer, when a nun softly tapped at the door of the cell.

“Enter, my sister,” said the queen.

“I trust your majesty will pardon this intrusion on her meditations, but a foreign lord has arrived from England and waits in the parlor, demanding the honor of presenting a letter to your majesty.”

“Oh, a letter! a letter from the king, perhaps. News from your father, do you hear, Henrietta? And the name of this lord?”

“Lord de Winter.”

“Lord de Winter!” exclaimed the queen, “the friend of my husband. Oh, bid him enter!”

And the queen advanced to meet the messenger, whose hand she seized affectionately, whilst he knelt down and presented a letter to her, contained in a case of gold.

“Ah! my lord!” said the queen, “you bring us three things which we have not seen for a long time. Gold, a devoted friend, and a letter from the king, our husband and master.”

De Winter bowed again, unable to reply from excess of emotion.

On their side the mother and daughter retired into the embrasure of a window to read eagerly the following letter:

“Dear Wife,--We have now reached the moment of decision. I have concentrated here at Naseby camp all the resources Heaven has left me, and I write to you in haste from thence. Here I await the army of my rebellious subjects. I am about to struggle for the last time with them. If victorious, I shall continue the struggle; if beaten, I am lost. I shall try, in the latter case (alas! in our position, one must provide for everything), I shall try to gain the coast of France. But can they, will they receive an unhappy king, who will bring such a sad story into a country already agitated by civil discord? Your wisdom and your affection must serve me as guides. The bearer of this letter will tell you, madame, what I dare not trust to pen and paper and the risks of transit. He will explain to you the steps that I expect you to pursue. I charge him also with my blessing for my children and with the sentiments of my soul for yourself, my dearest sweetheart.”

The letter bore the signature, not of “Charles, King,” but of “Charles--still king.”

“And let him be no longer king,” cried the queen. “Let him be conquered, exiled, proscribed, provided he still lives. Alas! in these days the throne is too dangerous a place for me to wish him to retain it. But my lord, tell me,” she continued, “hide nothing from me--what is, in truth, the king’s position? Is it as hopeless as he thinks?”

“Alas! madame, more hopeless than he thinks. His majesty has so good a heart that he cannot understand hatred; is so loyal that he does not suspect treason! England is torn in twain by a spirit of disturbance which, I greatly fear, blood alone can exorcise.”

“But Lord Montrose,” replied the queen, “I have heard of his great and rapid successes of battles gained. I heard it said that he was marching to the frontier to join the king.”

“Yes, madame; but on the frontier he was met by Lesly; he had tried victory by means of superhuman undertakings. Now victory has abandoned him. Montrose, beaten at Philiphaugh, was obliged to disperse the remains of his army and to fly, disguised as a servant. He is at Bergen, in Norway.”

“Heaven preserve him!” said the queen. “It is at least a consolation to know that some who have so often risked their lives for us are safe. And now, my lord, that I see how hopeless the position of the king is, tell me with what you are charged on the part of my royal husband.”

“Well, then, madame,” said De Winter, “the king wishes you to try and discover the dispositions of the king and queen toward him.”

“Alas! you know that even now the king is but a child and the queen a woman weak enough. Here, Monsieur Mazarin is everything.”

“Does he desire to play the part in France that Cromwell plays in England?”

“Oh, no! He is a subtle, conscienceless Italian, who though he very likely dreams of crime, dares not commit it; and unlike Cromwell, who disposes of both Houses, Mazarin has had the queen to support him in his struggle with the parliament.”

“More reason, then, he should protect a king pursued by parliament.”

The queen shook her head despairingly.

“If I judge for myself, my lord,” she said, “the cardinal will do nothing, and will even, perhaps, act against us. The presence of my daughter and myself in France is already irksome to him; much more so would be that of the king. My lord,” added Henrietta, with a melancholy smile, “it is sad and almost shameful to be obliged to say that we have passed the winter in the Louvre without money, without linen, almost without bread, and often not rising from bed because we wanted fire.”

“Horrible!” cried De Winter; “the daughter of Henry IV., and the wife of King Charles! Wherefore did you not apply, then, madame, to the first person you saw from us?”

“Such is the hospitality shown to a queen by the minister from whom a king demands it.”

“But I heard that a marriage between the Prince of Wales and Mademoiselle d’Orleans was spoken of,” said De Winter.

“Yes, for an instant I hoped it was so. The young people felt a mutual esteem; but the queen, who at first sanctioned their affection, changed her mind, and Monsieur, the Duc d’Orleans, who had encouraged the familiarity between them, has forbidden his daughter to think any more about the union. Oh, my lord!” continued the queen, without restraining her tears, “it is better to fight as the king has done, and to die, as perhaps he will, than live in beggary like me.”

“Courage, madame! courage! Do not despair! The interests of the French crown, endangered at this moment, are to discountenance rebellion in a neighboring nation. Mazarin, as a statesman, will understand the politic necessity.”

“Are you sure,” said the queen doubtfully, “that you have not been forestalled?”

“By whom?”

“By the Joices, the Prinns, the Cromwells?”

“By a tailor, a coachmaker, a brewer! Ah! I hope, madame, that the cardinal will not enter into negotiations with such men!”

“Ah! what is he himself?” asked Madame Henrietta.

“But for the honor of the king--of the queen.”

“Well, let us hope he will do something for the sake of their honor,” said the queen. “A true friend’s eloquence is so powerful, my lord, that you have reassured me. Give me your hand and let us go to the minister; and yet,” she added, “suppose he should refuse and that the king loses the battle?”

“His majesty will then take refuge in Holland, where I hear his highness the Prince of Wales now is.”

“And can his majesty count upon many such subjects as yourself for his flight?”

“Alas! no, madame,” answered De Winter; “but the case is provided for and I am come to France to seek allies.”

“Allies!” said the queen, shaking her head.

“Madame,” replied De Winter, “provided I can find some of my good old friends of former times I will answer for anything.”

“Come then, my lord,” said the queen, with the painful doubt that is felt by those who have suffered much; “come, and may Heaven hear you.”