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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 40. Uncle and Nephew.


The horse and servant belonging to De Winter were waiting for him at the door; he proceeded toward his abode very thoughtfully, looking behind him from time to him to contemplate the dark and silent frontage of the Louvre. It was then that he saw a horseman, as it were, detach himself from the wall and follow him at a little distance. In leaving the Palais Royal he remembered to have observed a similar shadow.

“Tony,” he said, motioning to his groom to approach.

“Here I am, my lord.”

“Did you remark that man who is following us?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Who is he?”

“I do not know, only he has followed your grace from the Palais Royal, stopped at the Louvre to wait for you, and now leaves the Louvre with you.”

“Some spy of the cardinal,” said De Winter to him, aside. “Let us pretend not to notice that he is watching us.”

And spurring on he plunged into the labyrinth of streets which led to his hotel, situated near the Marais, for having for so long a time lived near the Place Royale, Lord de Winter naturally returned to lodge near his ancient dwelling.

The unknown spurred his horse to a gallop.

De Winter dismounted at his hotel and went up into his apartment, intending to watch the spy; but as he was about to place his gloves and hat on a table, he saw reflected in a glass opposite to him a figure which stood on the threshold of the room. He turned around and Mordaunt stood before him.

There was a moment of frozen silence between these two.

“Sir,” said De Winter, “I thought I had already made you aware that I am weary of this persecution; withdraw, then, or I shall call and have you turned out as you were in London. I am not your uncle, I know you not.”

“My uncle,” replied Mordaunt, with his harsh and bantering tone, “you are mistaken; you will not have me turned out this time as you did in London--you dare not. As for denying that I am your nephew, you will think twice about it, now that I have learned some things of which I was ignorant a year ago.”

“And how does it concern me what you have learned?” said De Winter.

“Oh, it concerns you very closely, my uncle, I am sure, and you will soon be of my opinion,” added he, with a smile which sent a shudder through the veins of him he thus addressed. “When I presented myself before you for the first time in London, it was to ask you what had become of my fortune; the second time it was to demand who had sullied my name; and this time I come before you to ask a question far more terrible than any other, to say to you as God said to the first murderer: ‘Cain, what hast thou done to thy brother Abel?’ My lord, what have you done with your sister--your sister, who was my mother?”

De Winter shrank back from the fire of those scorching eyes.

“Your mother?” he said.

“Yes, my lord, my mother,” replied the young man, advancing into the room until he was face to face with Lord de Winter, and crossing his arms. “I have asked the headsman of Bethune,” he said, his voice hoarse and his face livid with passion and grief. “And the headsman of Bethune gave me a reply.”

De Winter fell back in a chair as though struck by a thunderbolt and in vain attempted a reply.

“Yes,” continued the young man; “all is now explained; with this key I open the abyss. My mother inherited an estate from her husband, you have assassinated her; my name would have secured me the paternal estate, you have deprived me of it; you have despoiled me of my fortune. I am no longer astonished that you knew me not. I am not surprised that you refused to recognize me. When a man is a robber it is hard to call him nephew whom he has impoverished; when one is a murderer, to recognize the man whom one has made an orphan.”

These words produced a contrary effect to that which Mordaunt had anticipated. De Winter remembered the monster that Milady had been; he rose, dignified and calm, restraining by the severity of his look the wild glance of the young man.

“You desire to fathom this horrible secret?” said De Winter; “well, then, so be it. Know, then, what manner of woman it was for whom to-day you call me to account. That woman had, in all probability, poisoned my brother, and in order to inherit from me she was about to assassinate me in my turn. I have proof of it. What say you to that?”

“I say that she was my mother.”

“She caused the unfortunate Duke of Buckingham to be stabbed by a man who was, ere that, honest, good and pure. What say you to that crime, of which I have the proof?”

“She was my mother.”

“On our return to France she had a young woman who was attached to one of her opponents poisoned in the convent of the Augustines at Bethune. Will this crime persuade you of the justice of her punishment--for of all this I have the proofs?”

“She was my mother!” cried the young man, who uttered these three successive exclamations with constantly increasing force.

“At last, charged with murders, with debauchery, hated by every one and yet threatening still, like a panther thirsting for blood, she fell under the blows of men whom she had rendered desperate, though they had never done her the least injury; she met with judges whom her hideous crimes had evoked; and that executioner you saw--that executioner who you say told you everything--that executioner, if he told you everything, told you that he leaped with joy in avenging on her his brother’s shame and suicide. Depraved as a girl, adulterous as a wife, an unnatural sister, homicide, poisoner, execrated by all who knew her, by every nation that had been visited by her, she died accursed by Heaven and earth.”

A sob which Mordaunt could not repress burst from his throat and his livid face became suffused with blood; he clenched his fists, sweat covered his face, his hair, like Hamlet’s, stood on end, and racked with fury he cried out:

“Silence, sir! she was my mother! Her crimes, I know them not; her disorders, I know them not; her vices, I know them not. But this I know, that I had a mother, that five men leagued against one woman, murdered her clandestinely by night--silently--like cowards. I know that you were one of them, my uncle, and that you cried louder than the others: ‘She must die.’ Therefore I warn you, and listen well to my words, that they may be engraved upon your memory, never to be forgotten: this murder, which has robbed me of everything--this murder, which has deprived me of my name--this murder, which has impoverished me--this murder, which has made me corrupt, wicked, implacable--I shall summon you to account for it first and then those who were your accomplices, when I discover them!”

With hatred in his eyes, foaming at his mouth, and his fist extended, Mordaunt had advanced one more step, a threatening, terrible step, toward De Winter. The latter put his hand to his sword, and said, with the smile of a man who for thirty years has jested with death:

“Would you assassinate me, sir? Then I shall recognize you as my nephew, for you would be a worthy son of such a mother.”

“No,” replied Mordaunt, forcing his features and the muscles of his body to resume their usual places and be calm; “no, I shall not kill you; at least not at this moment, for without you I could not discover the others. But when I have found them, then tremble, sir. I stabbed to the heart the headsman of Bethune, without mercy or pity, and he was the least guilty of you all.”

With these words the young man went out and descended the stairs with sufficient calmness to pass unobserved; then upon the lowest landing place he passed Tony, leaning over the balustrade, waiting only for a call from his master to mount to his room.

But De Winter did not call; crushed, enfeebled, he remained standing and with listening ear; then only when he had heard the step of the horse going away he fell back on a chair, saying:

“My God, I thank Thee that he knows me only.”


Chapter 41. Paternal Affection.


Whilst this terrible scene was passing at Lord de Winter’s, Athos, seated near his window, his elbow on the table and his head supported on his hand, was listening intently to Raoul’s account of the adventures he met with on his journey and the details of the battle.

Listening to the relation of those emotions so fresh and pure, the fine, noble face of Athos betrayed indescribable pleasure; he inhaled the tones of that young voice, as harmonious music. He forgot all that was dark in the past and that was cloudy in the future. It almost seemed as if the return of this much loved boy had changed his fears to hopes. Athos was happy--happy as he had never been before.

“And you assisted and took part in this great battle, Bragelonne!” cried the former musketeer.

“Yes, sir.”

“And it was a fierce one?”

“His highness the prince charged eleven times in person.”

“He is a great commander, Bragelonne.”

“He is a hero, sir. I did not lose sight of him for an instant. Oh! how fine it is to be called Conde and to be so worthy of such a name!”

“He was calm and radiant, was he not?”

“As calm as at parade, radiant as at a fete. When we went up to the enemy it was slowly; we were forbidden to draw first and we were marching toward the Spaniards, who were on a height with lowered muskets. When we arrived about thirty paces from them the prince turned around to the soldiers: ‘Comrades,’ he said, ‘you are about to suffer a furious discharge; but after that you will make short work with those fellows.’ There was such dead silence that friends and enemies could have heard these words; then raising his sword, ‘Sound trumpets!’ he cried.”

“Well, very good; you will do as much when the opportunity occurs, will you, Raoul?”

“I know not, sir, but I thought it really very fine and grand!”

“Were you afraid, Raoul?” asked the count.

“Yes, sir,” replied the young man naively; “I felt a great chill at my heart, and at the word ‘fire,’ which resounded in Spanish from the enemy’s ranks, I closed my eyes and thought of you.”

“In honest truth, Raoul?” said Athos, pressing his hand.

“Yes, sir; at that instant there was such a rataplan of musketry that one might have imagined the infernal regions had opened. Those who were not killed felt the heat of the flames. I opened my eyes, astonished to find myself alive and even unhurt; a third of the squadron were lying on the ground, wounded, dead or dying. At that moment I encountered the eye of the prince. I had but one thought and that was that he was observing me. I spurred on and found myself in the enemy’s ranks.”

“And the prince was pleased with you?”

“He told me so, at least, sir, when he desired me to return to Paris with Monsieur de Chatillon, who was charged to carry the news to the queen and to bring the colors we had taken. ‘Go,’ said he; ‘the enemy will not rally for fifteen days and until that time I have no need of your service. Go and see those whom you love and who love you, and tell my sister De Longueville that I thank her for the present that she made me of you.’ And I came, sir,” added Raoul, gazing at the count with a smile of real affection, “for I thought you would be glad to see me again.”

Athos drew the young man toward him and pressed his lips to his brow, as he would have done to a young daughter.

“And now, Raoul,” said he, “you are launched; you have dukes for friends, a marshal of France for godfather, a prince of the blood as commander, and on the day of your return you have been received by two queens; it is not so bad for a novice.”

“Oh sir,” said Raoul, suddenly, “you recall something, which, in my haste to relate my exploits, I had forgotten; it is that there was with Her Majesty the Queen of England, a gentleman who, when I pronounced your name, uttered a cry of surprise and joy; he said he was a friend of yours, asked your address, and is coming to see you.”

“What is his name?”

“I did not venture to ask, sir; he spoke elegantly, although I thought from his accent he was an Englishman.”

“Ah!” said Athos, leaning down his head as if to remember who it could be. Then, when he raised it again, he was struck by the presence of a man who was standing at the open door and was gazing at him with a compassionate air.

“Lord de Winter!” exclaimed the count.

“Athos, my friend!”

And the two gentlemen were for an instant locked in each other’s arms; then Athos, looking into his friend’s face and taking him by both hands, said:

“What ails you, my lord? you appear as unhappy as I am the reverse.”

“Yes, truly, dear friend; and I may even say the sight of you increases my dismay.”

And De Winter glancing around him, Raoul quickly understood that the two friends wished to be alone and he therefore left the room unaffectedly.

“Come, now that we are alone,” said Athos, “let us talk of yourself.”

“Whilst we are alone let us speak of ourselves,” replied De Winter. “He is here.”

“Who?”

“Milady’s son.”

Athos, again struck by this name, which seemed to pursue him like an echo, hesitated for a moment, then slightly knitting his brows, he calmly said:

“I know it, Grimaud met him between Bethune and Arras and then came here to warn me of his presence.”

“Does Grimaud know him, then?”

“No; but he was present at the deathbed of a man who knew him.”

“The headsman of Bethune?” exclaimed De Winter.

“You know about that?” cried Athos, astonished.

“He has just left me,” replied De Winter, “after telling me all. Ah! my friend! what a horrible scene! Why did we not destroy the child with the mother?”

“What need you fear?” said Athos, recovering from the instinctive fear he had at first experienced, by the aid of reason; “are we not men accustomed to defend ourselves? Is this young man an assassin by profession--a murderer in cold blood? He has killed the executioner of Bethune in an access of passion, but now his fury is assuaged.”

De Winter smiled sorrowfully and shook his head.

“Do you not know the race?” said he.

“Pooh!” said Athos, trying to smile in his turn. “It must have lost its ferocity in the second generation. Besides, my friend, Providence has warned us, that we may be on our guard. All we can now do is to wait. Let us wait; and, as I said before, let us speak of yourself. What brings you to Paris?”

“Affairs of importance which you shall know later. But what is this that I hear from Her Majesty the Queen of England? Monsieur d’Artagnan sides with Mazarin! Pardon my frankness, dear friend. I neither hate nor blame the cardinal, and your opinions will be held ever sacred by me. But do you happen to belong to him?”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” replied Athos, “is in the service; he is a soldier and obeys all constitutional authority. Monsieur d’Artagnan is not rich and has need of his position as lieutenant to enable him to live. Millionaires like yourself, my lord, are rare in France.”

“Alas!” said De Winter, “I am at this moment as poor as he is, if not poorer. But to return to our subject.”

“Well, then, you wish to know if I am of Mazarin’s party? No. Pardon my frankness, too, my lord.”

“I am obliged to you, count, for this pleasing intelligence! You make me young and happy again by it. Ah! so you are not a Mazarinist? Delightful! Indeed, you could not belong to him. But pardon me, are you free? I mean to ask if you are married?”

“Ah! as to that, no,” replied Athos, laughing.

“Because that young man, so handsome, so elegant, so polished----”

“Is a child I have adopted and who does not even know who was his father.”

“Very well; you are always the same, Athos, great and generous. Are you still friends with Monsieur Porthos and Monsieur Aramis?”

“Add Monsieur d’Artagnan, my lord. We still remain four friends devoted to each other; but when it becomes a question of serving the cardinal or of fighting him, of being Mazarinists or Frondists, then we are only two.”

“Is Monsieur Aramis with D’Artagnan?” asked Lord de Winter.

“No,” said Athos; “Monsieur Aramis does me the honor to share my opinions.”

“Could you put me in communication with your witty and agreeable friend? Is he much changed?”

“He has become an abbe, that is all.”

“You alarm me; his profession must have made him renounce any great undertakings.”

“On the contrary,” said Athos, smiling, “he has never been so much a musketeer as since he became an abbe, and you will find him a veritable soldier.”

“Could you engage to bring him to me to-morrow morning at ten o’clock, on the Pont du Louvre?”

“Oh, oh!” exclaimed Athos, smiling, “you have a duel in prospect.”

“Yes, count, and a splendid duel, too; a duel in which I hope you will take your part.”

“Where are we to go, my lord?”

“To Her Majesty the Queen of England, who has desired me to present you to her.”

“This is an enigma,” said Athos, “but it matters not; since you know the solution of it I ask no further. Will your lordship do me the honor to sup with me?”

“Thanks, count, no,” replied De Winter. “I own to you that that young man’s visit has subdued my appetite and probably will rob me of my sleep. What undertaking can have brought him to Paris? It was not to meet me that he came, for he was ignorant of my journey. This young man terrifies me, my lord; there lies in him a sanguinary predisposition.”

“What occupies him in England?”

“He is one of Cromwell’s most enthusiastic disciples.”

“But what attached him to the cause? His father and mother were Catholics, I believe?”

“His hatred of the king, who deprived him of his estates and forbade him to bear the name of De Winter.”

“And what name does he now bear?”

“Mordaunt.”

“A Puritan, yet disguised as a monk he travels alone in France.”

“Do you say as a monk?”

“It was thus, and by mere accident--may God pardon me if I blaspheme--that he heard the confession of the executioner of Bethune.”

“Then I understand it all! he has been sent by Cromwell to Mazarin, and the queen guessed rightly; we have been forestalled. Everything is clear to me now. Adieu, count, till to-morrow.”

“But the night is dark,” said Athos, perceiving that Lord de Winter seemed more uneasy than he wished to appear; “and you have no servant.”

“I have Tony, a safe if simple youth.”

“Halloo, there, Grimaud, Olivain, and Blaisois! call the viscount and take the musket with you.”

Blaisois was the tall youth, half groom, half peasant, whom we saw at the Chateau de Bragelonne, whom Athos had christened by the name of his province.

“Viscount,” said Athos to Raoul, as he entered, “you will conduct my lord as far as his hotel and permit no one to approach him.”

“Oh! count,” said De Winter, “for whom do you take me?”

“For a stranger who does not know Paris,” said Athos, “and to whom the viscount will show the way.”

De Winter shook him by the hand.

“Grimaud,” said Athos, “put yourself at the head of the troop and beware of the monk.”

Grimaud shuddered, and nodding, awaited the departure, regarding the butt of his musket with silent eloquence. Then obeying the orders given him by Athos, he headed the small procession, bearing the torch in one hand and the musket in the other, until it reached De Winter’s inn, when pounding on the portal with his fist, he bowed to my lord and faced about without a word.

The same order was followed in returning, nor did Grimaud’s searching glance discover anything of a suspicious appearance, save a dark shadow, as it were, in ambuscade, at the corner of the Rue Guenegaud and of the Quai. He fancied, also, that in going he had already observed the street watcher who had attracted his attention. He pushed on toward him, but before he could reach it the shadow had disappeared into an alley, into which Grimaud deemed it scarcely prudent to pursue it.

The next day, on awaking, the count perceived Raoul by his bedside. The young man was already dressed and was reading a new book by M. Chapelain.

“Already up, Raoul?” exclaimed the count.

“Yes, sir,” replied Raoul, with slight hesitation; “I did not sleep well.”

“You, Raoul, not sleep well! then you must have something on your mind!” said Athos.

“Sir, you will perhaps think that I am in a great hurry to leave you when I have only just arrived, but----”

“Have you only two days of leave, Raoul?”

“On the contrary, sir, I have ten; nor is it to the camp I wish to go.”

“Where, then?” said Athos, smiling, “if it be not a secret. You are now almost a man, since you have made your first passage of arms, and have acquired the right to go where you will without consulting me.”

“Never, sir,” said Raoul, “as long as I possess the happiness of having you for a protector, shall I deem I have the right of freeing myself from a guardianship so valuable to me. I have, however, a wish to go and pass a day at Blois. You look at me and you are going to laugh at me.”

“No, on the contrary, I am not inclined to laugh,” said Athos, suppressing a sigh. “You wish to see Blois again; it is but natural.”

“Then you permit me to go, you are not angry in your heart?” exclaimed Raoul, joyously.

“Certainly; and why should I regret what gives you pleasure?”

“Oh! how kind you are,” exclaimed the young man, pressing his guardian’s hand; “and I can set out immediately?”

“When you like, Raoul.”

“Sir,” said Raoul, as he turned to leave the room, “I have thought of one thing, and that is about the Duchess of Chevreuse, who was so kind to me and to whom I owe my introduction to the prince.”

“And you ought to thank her, Raoul. Well, try the Hotel de Luynes, Raoul, and ask if the duchess can receive you. I am glad to see you pay attention to the usages of the world. You must take Grimaud and Olivain.”

“Both, sir?” asked Raoul, astonished.

“Both.”

Raoul went out, and when Athos heard his young, joyous voice calling to Grimaud and Olivain, he sighed.

“It is very soon to leave me,” he thought, “but he follows the common custom. Nature has made us thus; she makes the young look ever forward, not behind. He certainly likes the child, but will he love me less as his affection grows for her?”

And Athos confessed to himself that, he was unprepared for so prompt a departure; but Raoul was so happy that this reflection effaced everything else from the consideration of his guardian.

Everything was ready at ten o’clock for the departure, and as Athos was watching Raoul mount, a groom rode up from the Duchess de Chevreuse. He was charged to tell the Comte de la Fere, that she had learned of the return of her youthful protege, and also the manner he had conducted himself on the field, and she added that she should be very glad to offer him her congratulations.

“Tell her grace,” replied Athos, “that the viscount has just mounted his horse to proceed to the Hotel de Luynes.”

Then, with renewed instructions to Grimaud, Athos signified to Raoul that he could set out, and ended by reflecting that it was perhaps better that Raoul should be away from Paris at that moment.


Chapter 42. Another Queen in Want of Help.


Athos had not failed to send early to Aramis and had given his letter to Blaisois, the only serving-man whom he had left. Blaisois found Bazin donning his beadle’s gown, his services being required that day at Notre Dame.

Athos had desired Blaisois to try to speak to Aramis himself. Blaisois, a tall, simple youth, who understood nothing but what he was expressly told, asked, therefore for the Abbe d’Herblay, and in spite of Bazin’s assurances that his master was not at home, he persisted in such a manner as to put Bazin into a passion. Blaisois seeing Bazin in clerical guise, was a little discomposed at his denials and wanted to pass at all risks, believing too, that the man with whom he had to do was endowed with the virtues of his cloth, namely, patience and Christian charity.

But Bazin, still the servant of a musketeer, when once the blood mounted to his fat cheeks, seized a broomstick and began belaboring Blaisois, saying:

“You have insulted the church, my friend, you have insulted the church!”

At this moment Aramis, aroused by this unusual disturbance, cautiously opened the door of his room; and Blaisois, looking reproachfully at the Cerberus, drew the letter from his pocket and presented it to Aramis.

“From the Comte de la Fere,” said Aramis. “All right.” And he retired into his room without even asking the cause of so much noise.

Blaisois returned disconsolate to the Hotel of the Grand Roi Charlemagne and when Athos inquired if his commission was executed, he related his adventure.

“You foolish fellow!” said Athos, laughing. “And you did not tell him that you came from me?”

“No, sir.”

At ten o’clock Athos, with his habitual exactitude, was waiting on the Pont du Louvre and was almost immediately joined by Lord de Winter.

They waited ten minutes and then his lordship began to fear Aramis was not coming to join them.

“Patience,” said Athos, whose eyes were fixed in the direction of the Rue du Bac, “patience; I see an abbe cuffing a man, then bowing to a woman; it must be Aramis.”

It was indeed Aramis. Having run against a young shopkeeper who was gaping at the crows and who had splashed him, Aramis with one blow of his fist had distanced him ten paces.

At this moment one of his penitents passed, and as she was young and pretty Aramis took off his cap to her with his most gracious smile.

A most affectionate greeting, as one can well believe took place between him and Lord de Winter.

“Where are we going?” inquired Aramis; “are we going to fight, perchance? I carry no sword this morning and cannot return home to procure one.”

“No,” said Lord de Winter, “we are going to pay a visit to Her Majesty the Queen of England.”

“Oh, very well,” replied Aramis; then bending his face down to Athos’s ear, “what is the object of this visit?” continued he.

“Nay, I know not; some evidence required from us, perhaps.”

“May it not be about that cursed affair?” asked Aramis, “in which case I do not greatly care to go, for it will be to pocket a lecture; and since it is my function to give them to others I am rather averse to receiving them myself.”

“If it were so,” answered Athos, “we should not be taken there by Lord de Winter, for he would come in for his share; he was one of us.”

“You’re right; yes, let us go.”

On arriving at the Louvre Lord de Winter entered first; indeed, there was but one porter there to receive them at the gate.

It was impossible in daylight for the impoverished state of the habitation grudging charity had conceded to an unfortunate queen to pass unnoticed by Athos, Aramis, and even the Englishman. Large rooms, completely stripped of furniture, bare walls upon which, here and there, shone the old gold moldings which had resisted time and neglect, windows with broken panes (impossible to close), no carpets, neither guards nor servants: this is what first met the eyes of Athos, to which he, touching his companion’s elbow, directed his attention by his glances.

“Mazarin is better lodged,” said Aramis.

“Mazarin is almost king,” answered Athos; “Madame Henrietta is almost no longer queen.”

“If you would condescend to be clever, Athos,” observed Aramis, “I really do think you would be wittier than poor Monsieur de Voiture.”

Athos smiled.

The queen appeared to be impatiently expecting them, for at the first slight noise she heard in the hall leading to her room she came herself to the door to receive these courtiers in the corridors of Misfortune.

“Enter. You are welcome, gentlemen,” she said.

The gentlemen entered and remained standing, but at a motion from the queen they seated themselves. Athos was calm and grave, but Aramis was furious; the sight of such royal misery exasperated him and his eyes examined every new trace of poverty that presented itself.

“You are examining the luxury I enjoy,” said the queen, glancing sadly around her.

“Madame,” replied Aramis, “I must ask your pardon, but I know not how to hide my indignation at seeing how a daughter of Henry IV. is treated at the court of France.”

“Monsieur Aramis is not an officer?” asked the queen of Lord de Winter.

“That gentleman is the Abbe d’Herblay,” replied he.

Aramis blushed. “Madame,” he said, “I am an abbe, it is true, but I am so against my will. I never had a vocation for the bands; my cassock is fastened by one button only, and I am always ready to become a musketeer once more. This morning, being ignorant that I should have the honor of seeing your majesty, I encumbered myself with this dress, but you will find me none the less a man devoted to your majesty’s service, in whatever way you may see fit to use me.”

“The Abbe d’Herblay,” resumed De Winter, “is one of those gallant musketeers formerly belonging to His Majesty King Louis XIII., of whom I have spoken to you, madame.” Then turning to Athos, he continued, “And this gentleman is that noble Comte de la Fere, whose high reputation is so well known to your majesty.”

“Gentlemen,” said the queen, “a few years ago I had around me ushers, treasures, armies; and by the lifting of a finger all these were busied in my service. To-day, look around you, and it may astonish you, that in order to accomplish a plan which is dearer to me than life I have only Lord de Winter, the friend of twenty years, and you, gentlemen, whom I see for the first time and whom I know but as my countrymen.”

“It is enough,” said Athos, bowing low, “if the lives of three men can purchase yours, madame.”

“I thank you, gentlemen. But hear me,” continued she. “I am not only the most miserable of queens, but the most unhappy of mothers, the most wretched of wives. My children, two of them, at least, the Duke of York and the Princess Elizabeth, are far away from me, exposed to the blows of the ambitious and our foes; my husband, the king, is leading in England so wretched an existence that it is no exaggeration to aver that he seeks death as a thing to be desired. Hold! gentlemen, here is the letter conveyed to me by Lord de Winter. Read it.”

Obeying the queen, Athos read aloud the letter which we have already seen, in which King Charles demanded to know whether the hospitality of France would be accorded him.

“Well?” asked Athos, when he had closed the letter.

“Well,” said the queen, “it has been refused.”

The two friends exchanged a smile of contempt.

“And now,” said Athos, “what is to be done? I have the honor to inquire from your majesty what you desire Monsieur d’Herblay and myself to do in your service. We are ready.”

“Ah, sir, you have a noble heart!” exclaimed the queen, with a burst of gratitude; whilst Lord de Winter turned to her with a glance which said, “Did I not answer for them?”

“But you, sir?” said the queen to Aramis.

“I, madame,” replied he, “follow Monsieur de la Fere wherever he leads, even were it on to death, without demanding wherefore; but when it concerns your majesty’s service, then,” added he, looking at the queen with all the grace of former days, “I precede the count.”

“Well, then, gentlemen,” said the queen, “since it is thus, and since you are willing to devote yourselves to the service of a poor princess whom the whole world has abandoned, this is what is required to be done for me. The king is alone with a few gentlemen, whom he fears to lose every day; surrounded by the Scotch, whom he distrusts, although he be himself a Scotchman. Since Lord de Winter left him I am distracted, sirs. I ask much, too much, perhaps, for I have no title to request it. Go to England, join the king, be his friends, protectors, march to battle at his side, and be near him in his house, where conspiracies, more dangerous than the perils of war, are hatching every day. And in exchange for the sacrifice that you make, gentlemen, I promise--not to reward you, I believe that word would offend you--but to love you as a sister, to prefer you, next to my husband and my children, to every one. I swear it before Heaven.”

And the queen raised her eyes solemnly upward.

“Madame,” said Athos, “when must we set out?”

“You consent then?” exclaimed the queen, joyfully.

“Yes, madame; only it seems to me that your majesty goes too far in engaging to load us with a friendship so far above our merit. We render service to God, madame, in serving a prince so unfortunate, a queen so virtuous. Madame, we are yours, body and soul.”

“Oh, sirs,” said the queen, moved even to tears, “this is the first time for five years I have felt the least approach to joy or hope. God, who can read my heart, all the gratitude I feel, will reward you! Save my husband! Save the king, and although you care not for the price that is placed upon a good action in this world, leave me the hope that we shall meet again, when I may be able to thank you myself. In the meantime, I remain here. Have you anything to ask of me? From this moment I become your friend, and since you are engaged in my affairs I ought to occupy myself in yours.”

“Madame,” replied Athos, “I have only to ask your majesty’s prayers.”

“And I,” said Aramis, “I am alone in the world and have only your majesty to serve.”

The queen held out her hand, which they kissed, and she said in a low tone to De Winter:

“If you need money, my lord, separate the jewels I have given you; detach the diamonds and sell them to some Jew. You will receive for them fifty or sixty thousand francs; spend them if necessary, but let these gentlemen be treated as they deserve, that is to say, like kings.”

The queen had two letters ready, one written by herself, the other by her daughter, the Princess Henrietta. Both were addressed to King Charles. She gave the first to Athos and the other to Aramis, so that should they be separated by chance they might make themselves known to the king; after which they withdrew.

At the foot of the staircase De Winter stopped.

“Not to arouse suspicions, gentlemen,” said he, “go your way and I will go mine, and this evening at nine o’clock we will assemble again at the Gate Saint Denis. We will travel on horseback as far as our horses can go and afterward we can take the post. Once more, let me thank you, my good friends, both in my own name and the queen’s.”

The three gentlemen then shook hands, Lord de Winter taking the Rue Saint Honore, and Athos and Aramis remaining together.

“Well,” said Aramis, when they were alone, “what do you think of this business, my dear count?”

“Bad,” replied Athos, “very bad.”

“But you received it with enthusiasm.”

“As I shall ever receive the defense of a great principle, my dear D’Herblay. Monarchs are only strong by the assistance of the aristocracy, but aristocracy cannot survive without the countenance of monarchs. Let us, then, support monarchy, in order to support ourselves.

“We shall be murdered there,” said Aramis. “I hate the English--they are coarse, like every nation that swills beer.”

“Would it be better to remain here,” said Athos, “and take a turn in the Bastile or the dungeon of Vincennes for having favored the escape of Monsieur de Beaufort? I’faith, Aramis, believe me, there is little left to regret. We avoid imprisonment and we play the part of heroes; the choice is easy.”

“It is true; but in everything, friend, one must always return to the same question--a stupid one, I admit, but very necessary--have you any money?”

“Something like a hundred pistoles, that my farmer sent to me the day before I left Bragelonne; but out of that sum I ought to leave fifty for Raoul--a young man must live respectably. I have then about fifty pistoles. And you?”

“As for me, I am quite sure that after turning out all my pockets and emptying my drawers I shall not find ten louis at home. Fortunately Lord de Winter is rich.”

“Lord de Winter is ruined for the moment; Oliver Cromwell has annexed his income resources.”

“Now is the time when Baron Porthos would be useful.”

“Now it is that I regret D’Artagnan.”

“Let us entice them away.”

“This secret, Aramis, does not belong to us; take my advice, then, and let no one into our confidence. And moreover, in taking such a step we should appear to be doubtful of ourselves. Let us regret their absence to ourselves for our own sakes, but not speak of it.”

“You are right; but what are you going to do until this evening? I have two things to postpone.”

“And what are they?”

“First, a thrust with the coadjutor, whom I met last night at Madame de Rambouillet’s and whom I found particular in his remarks respecting me.”

“Oh, fie--a quarrel between priests, a duel between allies!”

“What can I do, friend? he is a bully and so am I; his cassock is a burden to him and I imagine I have had enough of mine; in fact, there is so much resemblance between us that I sometimes believe he is Aramis and I am the coadjutor. This kind of life fatigues and oppresses me; besides, he is a turbulent fellow, who will ruin our party. I am convinced that if I gave him a box on the ear, such as I gave this morning to the little citizen who splashed me, it would change the appearance of things.”

“And I, my dear Aramis,” quietly replied Athos, “I think it would only change Monsieur de Retz’s appearance. Take my advice, leave things just as they are; besides, you are neither of you now your own masters; he belongs to the Fronde and you to the queen of England. So, if the second matter which you regret being unable to attend to is not more important than the first----”

“Oh! that is of the first importance.”

“Attend to it, then, at once.”

“Unfortunately, it is a thing that I can’t perform at any time I choose. It was arranged for the evening and no other time will serve.”

“I understand,” said Athos smiling, “midnight.”

“About that time.”

“But, my dear fellow, those are things that bear postponement and you must put it off, especially with so good an excuse to give on your return----”

“Yes, if I return.”

“If you do not return, how does it concern you? Be reasonable. Come, you are no longer twenty years old.”

“To my great regret, mordieu! Ah, if I were but twenty years old!”

“Yes,” said Athos, “doubtless you would commit great follies! But now we must part. I have one or two visits to make and a letter yet to write. Call for me at eight o’clock or shall I wait supper for you at seven?”

“That will do very well,” said Aramis. “I have twenty visits to make and as many letters to write.”

They then separated. Athos went to pay a visit to Madame de Vendome, left his name at Madame de Chevreuse’s and wrote the following letter to D’Artagnan:

“Dear Friend,--I am about to set off with Aramis on important business. I wished to make my adieux to you, but time does not permit. Remember that I write to you now to repeat how much affection for you I still cherish.

“Raoul is gone to Blois and is ignorant of my departure; watch over him in my absence as much as you possibly can; and if by chance you receive no news of me three months hence, tell him to open a packet which he will find addressed to him in my bronze casket at Blois, of which I send you now the key.

“Embrace Porthos from Aramis and myself. Adieu, perhaps farewell.”

At the hour agreed upon Aramis arrived; he was dressed as an officer and had the old sword at his side which he had drawn so often and which he was more than ever ready to draw.

“By-the-bye,” he said, “I think that we are decidedly wrong to depart thus, without leaving a line for Porthos and D’Artagnan.”

“The thing is done, dear friend,” said Athos; “I foresaw that and have embraced them both from you and myself.”

“You are a wonderful man, my dear count,” said Aramis; “you think of everything.”

“Well, have you made up your mind to this journey?”

“Quite; and now that I reflect about it, I am glad to leave Paris at this moment.”

“And so am I,” replied Athos; “my only regret is not having seen D’Artagnan; but the rascal is so cunning, he might have guessed our project.”

When supper was over Blaisois entered. “Sir,” said he, “here is Monsieur d’Artagnan’s answer.”

“But I did not tell you there would be an answer, stupid!” said Athos.

“And I set off without waiting for one, but he called me back and gave me this;” and he presented a little leather bag, plump and giving out a golden jingle.

Athos opened it and began by drawing forth a little note, written in these terms:

“My dear Count,--When one travels, and especially for three months, one never has a superfluity of money. Now, recalling former times of mutual distress, I send you half my purse; it is money to obtain which I made Mazarin sweat. Don’t make a bad use of it, I entreat you.

“As to what you say about not seeing you again, I believe not a word of it; with such a heart as yours--and such a sword--one passes through the valley of the shadow of death a dozen times, unscathed and unalarmed. Au revoir, not farewell.

“It is unnecessary to say that from the day I saw Raoul I loved him; nevertheless, believe that I heartily pray that I may not become to him a father, however much I might be proud of such a son.

“Your

“D’Artagnan.

“P.S.--Be it well understood that the fifty louis which I send are equally for Aramis as for you--for you as Aramis.”

Athos smiled, and his fine eye was dimmed by a tear. D’Artagnan, who had loved him so tenderly, loved him still, although a Mazarinist.

“There are the fifty louis, i’faith,” said Aramis, emptying the purse on the table, all bearing the effigy of Louis XIII. “Well, what shall you do with this money, count? Shall you keep it or send it back?”

“I shall keep it, Aramis, and even though I had no need of it I still should keep it. What is offered from a generous heart should be accepted generously. Take twenty-five of them, Aramis, and give me the remaining twenty-five.”

“All right; I am glad to see you are of my opinion. There now, shall we start?”

“When you like; but have you no groom?”

“No; that idiot Bazin had the folly to make himself verger, as you know, and therefore cannot leave Notre Dame.

“Very well, take Blaisois, with whom I know not what to do, since I already have Grimaud.”

“Willingly,” said Aramis.

At this moment Grimaud appeared at the door. “Ready,” said he, with his usual curtness.

“Let us go, then,” said Athos.

The two friends mounted, as did their servants. At the corner of the Quai they encountered Bazin, who was running breathlessly.

“Oh, sir!” exclaimed he, “thank Heaven I have arrived in time. Monsieur Porthos has just been to your house and has left this for you, saying that the letter was important and must be given to you before you left.”

“Good,” said Aramis, taking a purse which Bazin presented to him. “What is this?”

“Wait, your reverence, there is a letter.”

“You know I have already told you that if you ever call me anything but chevalier I will break every bone in your body. Give me the letter.”

“How can you read?” asked Athos, “it is as dark as a cold oven.”

“Wait,” said Bazin, striking a flint, and setting afire a twisted wax-light, with which he started the church candles. Thus illumined, Aramis read the following epistle:

“My dear D’Herblay,--I learned from D’Artagnan who has embraced me on the part of the Comte de la Fere and yourself, that you are setting out on a journey which may perhaps last two or three months; as I know that you do not like to ask money of your friends I offer you some of my own accord. Here are two hundred pistoles, which you can dispose of as you wish and return to me when opportunity occurs. Do not fear that you put me to inconvenience; if I want money I can send for some to any of my chateaux; at Bracieux alone, I have twenty thousand francs in gold. So, if I do not send you more it is because I fear you would not accept a larger sum.

“I address you, because you know, that although I esteem him from my heart I am a little awed by the Comte de la Fere; but it is understood that what I offer you I offer him at the same time.

“I am, as I trust you do not doubt, your devoted

“Du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds.”

“Well,” said Aramis, “what do you say to that?”

“I say, my dear D’Herblay, that it is almost sacrilege to distrust Providence when one has such friends, and therefore we will divide the pistoles from Porthos, as we divided the louis sent by D’Artagnan.”

The division being made by the light of Bazin’s taper, the two friends continued their road and a quarter of an hour later they had joined De Winter at the Porte Saint Denis.