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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 61. D’Artagnan hits on a Plan.


As night closed in they arrived at Thirsk. The four friends appeared to be entire strangers to one another and indifferent to the precautions taken for guarding the king. They withdrew to a private house, and as they had reason every moment to fear for their safety, they occupied but one room and provided an exit, which might be useful in case of an attack. The lackeys were sent to their several posts, except that Grimaud lay on a truss of straw across the doorway.

D’Artagnan was thoughtful and seemed for the moment to have lost his usual loquacity. Porthos, who could never see anything that was not self-evident, talked to him as usual. He replied in monosyllables and Athos and Aramis looked significantly at one another.

Next morning D’Artagnan was the first to rise. He had been down to the stables, already taken a look at the horses and given the necessary orders for the day, whilst Athos and Aramis were still in bed and Porthos snoring.

At eight o’clock the march was resumed in the same order as the night before, except that D’Artagnan left his friends and began to renew the acquaintance which he had already struck up with Monsieur Groslow.

Groslow, whom D’Artagnan’s praises had greatly pleased, welcomed him with a gracious smile.

“Really, sir,” D’Artagnan said to him, “I am pleased to find one with whom to talk in my own poor tongue. My friend, Monsieur du Vallon, is of a very melancholy disposition, so much so, that one can scarcely get three words out of him all day. As for our two prisoners, you can imagine that they are but little in the vein for conversation.”

“They are hot royalists,” said Groslow.

“The more reason they should be sulky with us for having captured the Stuart, for whom, I hope, you’re preparing a pretty trial.”

“Why,” said Groslow, “that is just what we are taking him to London for.”

“And you never by any chance lose sight of him, I presume?”

“I should think not, indeed. You see he has a truly royal escort.”

“Ay, there’s no fear in the daytime; but at night?”

“We redouble our precautions.”

“And what method of surveillance do you employ?”

“Eight men remain constantly in his room.”

“The deuce, he is well guarded, then. But besides these eight men, you doubtless place some guard outside?”

“Oh, no! Just think. What would you have two men without arms do against eight armed men?”

“Two men--how do you mean?”

“Yes, the king and his lackey.”

“Oh! then they allow the lackey to remain with him?”

“Yes; Stuart begged this favor and Harrison consented. Under pretense that he’s a king it appears he cannot dress or undress without assistance.”

“Really, captain,” said D’Artagnan, determined to continue on the laudatory tack on which he had commenced, “the more I listen to you the more surprised I am at the easy and elegant manner in which you speak French. You have lived three years in Paris? May I ask what you were doing there?”

“My father, who is a merchant, placed me with his correspondent, who in turn sent his son to join our house in London.”

“Were you pleased with Paris, sir?”

“Yes, but you are much in want of a revolution like our own--not against your king, who is a mere child, but against that lazar of an Italian, the queen’s favorite.”

“Ah! I am quite of your opinion, sir, and we should soon make an end of Mazarin if we had only a dozen officers like yourself, without prejudices, vigilant and incorruptible.”

“But,” said the officer, “I thought you were in his service and that it was he who sent you to General Cromwell.”

“That is to say I am in the king’s service, and that knowing he wanted to send some one to England, I solicited the appointment, so great was my desire to know the man of genius who now governs the three kingdoms. So that when he proposed to us to draw our swords in honor of old England you see how we snapped up the proposition.”

“Yes, I know that you charged by the side of Mordaunt.”

“On his right and left, sir. Ah! there’s another brave and excellent young man.”

“Do you know him?” asked the officer.

“Yes, very well. Monsieur du Vallon and myself came from France with him.”

“It appears, too, you kept him waiting a long time at Boulogne.”

“What would you have? I was like you, and had a king in keeping.”

“Aha!” said Groslow; “what king?”

“Our own, to be sure, the little one--Louis XIV.”

“And how long had you to take care of him?”

“Three nights; and, by my troth, I shall always remember those three nights with a certain pleasure.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean that my friends, officers in the guards and mousquetaires, came to keep me company and we passed the night in feasting, drinking, dicing.”

“Ah true,” said the Englishman, with a sigh; “you Frenchmen are born boon companions.”

“And don’t you play, too, when you are on guard?”

“Never,” said the Englishman.

“In that case you must be horribly bored, and have my sympathy.”

“The fact is, I look to my turn for keeping guard with horror. It’s tiresome work to keep awake a whole night.”

“Yes, but with a jovial partner and dice, and guineas clinking on the cloth, the night passes like a dream. You don’t like playing, then?”

“On the contrary, I do.”

“Lansquenet, for instance?”

“Devoted to it. I used to play almost every night in France.”

“And since your return to England?”

“I have not handled a card or dice-box.”

“I sincerely pity you,” said D’Artagnan, with an air of profound compassion.

“Look here,” said the Englishman.

“Well?”

“To-morrow I am on guard.”

“In Stuart’s room?”

“Yes; come and pass the night with me.”

“Impossible!”

“Impossible! why so?”

“I play with Monsieur du Vallon every night. Sometimes we don’t go to bed at all!”

“Well, what of that?”

“Why, he would be annoyed if I did not play with him.”

“Does he play well?”

“I have seen him lose as much as two thousand pistoles, laughing all the while till the tears rolled down.”

“Bring him with you, then.”

“But how about our prisoners?”

“Let your servants guard them.”

“Yes, and give them a chance of escaping,” said D’Artagnan. “Why, one of them is a rich lord from Touraine and the other a knight of Malta, of noble family. We have arranged the ransom of each of them--2,000 on arriving in France. We are reluctant to leave for a single moment men whom our lackeys know to be millionaires. It is true we plundered them a little when we took them, and I will even confess that it is their purse that Monsieur du Vallon and I draw on in our nightly play. Still, they may have concealed some precious stone, some valuable diamond; so that we are like those misers who are unable to absent themselves from their treasures. We have made ourselves the constant guardians of our men, and while I sleep Monsieur du Vallon watches.”

“Ah! ah!” said Groslow.

“You see, then, why I must decline your polite invitation, which is especially attractive to me, because nothing is so wearisome as to play night after night with the same person; the chances always balance and at the month’s end nothing is gained or lost.”

“Ah!” said Groslow, sighing; “there is something still more wearisome, and that is not to play at all.”

“I can understand that,” said D’Artagnan.

“But, come,” resumed the Englishman, “are these men of yours dangerous?”

“In what respect?”

“Are they capable of attempting violence?”

D’Artagnan burst out laughing at the idea.

“Jesus Dieu!” he cried; “one of them is trembling with fever, having failed to adapt himself to this charming country of yours, and the other is a knight of Malta, as timid as a young girl; and for greater security we have taken from them even their penknives and pocket scissors.”

“Well, then,” said Groslow, “bring them with you.”

“But really----” said D’Artagnan.

“I have eight men on guard, you know. Four of them can guard the king and the other four your prisoners. I’ll manage it somehow, you will see.”

“But,” said D’Artagnan, “now I think of it--what is to prevent our beginning to-night?”

“Nothing at all,” said Groslow.

“Just so. Come to us this evening and to-morrow we’ll return your visit.”

“Capital! This evening with you, to-morrow at Stuart’s, the next day with me.”

“You see, that with a little forethought one can lead a merry life anywhere and everywhere,” said D’Artagnan.

“Yes, with Frenchmen, and Frenchmen like you.”

“And Monsieur du Vallon,” added the other. “You will see what a fellow he is; a man who nearly killed Mazarin between two doors. They employ him because they are afraid of him. Ah, there he is calling me now. You’ll excuse me, I know.”

They exchanged bows and D’Artagnan returned to his companions.

“What on earth can you have been saying to that bulldog?” exclaimed Porthos.

“My dear fellow, don’t speak like that of Monsieur Groslow. He’s one of my most intimate friends.”

“One of your friends!” cried Porthos, “this butcher of unarmed farmers!”

“Hush! my dear Porthos. Monsieur Groslow is perhaps rather hasty, it’s true, but at bottom I have discovered two good qualities in him--he is conceited and stupid.”

Porthos opened his eyes in amazement; Athos and Aramis looked at one another and smiled; they knew D’Artagnan, and knew that he did nothing without a purpose.

“But,” continued D’Artagnan, “you shall judge of him for yourself. He is coming to play with us this evening.”

“Oho!” said Porthos, his eyes glistening at the news. “Is he rich?”

“He’s the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in London.”

“And knows lansquenet?”

“Adores it.”

“Basset?”

“His mania.”

“Biribi?”

“Revels in it.”

“Good,” said Porthos; “we shall pass an agreeable evening.”

“The more so, as it will be the prelude to a better.”

“How so?”

“We invite him to play to-night; he has invited us in return to-morrow. But wait. To-night we stop at Derby; and if there is a bottle of wine in the town let Mousqueton buy it. It will be well to prepare a light supper, of which you, Athos and Aramis, are not to partake--Athos, because I told him you had a fever; Aramis, because you are a knight of Malta and won’t mix with fellows like us. Do you understand?”

“That’s no doubt very fine,” said Porthos; “but deuce take me if I understand at all.”

“Porthos, my friend, you know I am descended on the father’s side from the Prophets and on the mother’s from the Sybils, and that I only speak in parables and riddles. Let those who have ears hear and those who have eyes see; I can tell you nothing more at present.”

“Go ahead, my friend,” said Athos; “I am sure that whatever you do is well done.”

“And you, Aramis, are you of that opinion?”

“Entirely so, my dear D’Artagnan.”

“Very good,” said D’Artagnan; “here indeed are true believers; it is a pleasure to work miracles before them; they are not like that unbelieving Porthos, who must see and touch before he will believe.”

“The fact is,” said Porthos, with an air of finesse, “I am rather incredulous.”

D’Artagnan gave him playful buffet on the shoulder, and as they had reached the station where they were to breakfast, the conversation ended there.

At five in the evening they sent Mousqueton on before as agreed upon. Blaisois went with him.

In crossing the principal street in Derby the four friends perceived Blaisois standing in the doorway of a handsome house. It was there a lodging was prepared for them.

At the hour agreed upon Groslow came. D’Artagnan received him as he would have done a friend of twenty years’ standing. Porthos scanned him from head to foot and smiled when he discovered that in spite of the blow he had administered to Parry’s brother, he was not nearly so strong as himself. Athos and Aramis suppressed as well as they could the disgust they felt in the presence of such coarseness and brutality.

In short, Groslow seemed to be pleased with his reception.

Athos and Aramis kept themselves to their role. At midnight they withdrew to their chamber, the door of which was left open on the pretext of kindly consideration. Furthermore, D’Artagnan went with them, leaving Porthos at play with Groslow.

Porthos gained fifty pistoles from Groslow, and found him a more agreeable companion than he had at first believed him to be.

As to Groslow, he promised himself that on the following evening he would recover from D’Artagnan what he had lost to Porthos, and on leaving reminded the Gascon of his appointment.

The next day was spent as usual. D’Artagnan went from Captain Groslow to Colonel Harrison and from Colonel Harrison to his friends. To any one not acquainted with him he seemed to be in his normal condition; but to his friends--to Athos and Aramis--was apparent a certain feverishness in his gayety.

“What is he contriving?” asked Aramis.

“Wait,” said Athos.

Porthos said nothing, but he handled in his pocket the fifty pistoles he had gained from Groslow with a degree of satisfaction which betrayed itself in his whole bearing.

Arrived at Ryston, D’Artagnan assembled his friends. His face had lost the expression of careless gayety it had worn like a mask the whole day. Athos pinched Aramis’s hand.

“The moment is at hand,” he said.

“Yes,” returned D’Artagnan, who had overheard him, “to-night, gentlemen, we rescue the king.”

“D’Artagnan,” said Athos, “this is no joke, I trust? It would quite cut me up.”

“You are a very odd man, Athos,” he replied, “to doubt me thus. Where and when have you seen me trifle with a friend’s heart and a king’s life? I have told you, and I repeat it, that to-night we rescue Charles I. You left it to me to discover the means and I have done so.”

Porthos looked at D’Artagnan with an expression of profound admiration. Aramis smiled as one who hopes. Athos was pale, and trembled in every limb.

“Speak,” said Athos.

“We are invited,” replied D’Artagnan, “to pass the night with M. Groslow. But do you know where?”

“No.”

“In the king’s room.”

“The king’s room?” cried Athos.

“Yes, gentlemen, in the king’s room. Groslow is on guard there this evening, and to pass the time away he has invited us to keep him company.”

“All four of us?” asked Athos.

“Pardieu! certainly, all four; we couldn’t leave our prisoners, could we?”

“Ah! ah!” said Aramis.

“Tell us about it,” said Athos, palpitating.

“We are going, then, we two with our swords, you with daggers. We four have got to master these eight fools and their stupid captain. Monsieur Porthos, what do you say to that?”

“I say it is easy enough,” answered Porthos.

“We dress the king in Groslow’s clothes. Mousqueton, Grimaud and Blaisois have our horses saddled at the end of the first street. We mount them and before daylight are twenty leagues distant.”

Athos placed his two hands on D’Artagnan’s shoulders, and gazed at him with his calm, sad smile.

“I declare, my friend,” said he, “that there is not a creature under the sky who equals you in prowess and in courage. Whilst we thought you indifferent to our sorrows, which you couldn’t share without crime, you alone among us have discovered what we were searching for in vain. I repeat it, D’Artagnan, you are the best one among us; I bless and love you, my dear son.”

“And to think that I couldn’t find that out,” said Porthos, scratching his head; “it is so simple.”

“But,” said Aramis, “if I understand rightly we are to kill them all, eh?”

Athos shuddered and turned pale.

“Mordioux!” answered D’Artagnan, “I believe we must. I confess I can discover no other safe and satisfactory way.”

“Let us see,” said Aramis, “how are we to act?”

“I have arranged two plans. Firstly, at a given signal, which shall be the words ‘At last,’ you each plunge a dagger into the heart of the soldier nearest to you. We, on our side, do the same. That will be four killed. We shall then be matched, four against the remaining five. If these five men give themselves up we gag them; if they resist, we kill them. If by chance our Amphitryon changes his mind and receives only Porthos and myself, why, then, we must resort to heroic measures and each give two strokes instead of one. It will take a little longer time and may make a greater disturbance, but you will be outside with swords and will rush in at the proper time.”

“But if you yourselves should be struck?” said Athos.

“Impossible!” said D’Artagnan; “those beer drinkers are too clumsy and awkward. Besides, you will strike at the throat, Porthos; it kills as quickly and prevents all outcry.”

“Very good,” said Porthos; “it will be a nice little throat cutting.”

“Horrible, horrible,” exclaimed Athos.

“Nonsense,” said D’Artagnan; “you would do as much, Mr. Humanity, in a battle. But if you think the king’s life is not worth what it must cost there’s an end of the matter and I send to Groslow to say I am ill.”

“No, you are right,” said Athos.

At this moment a soldier entered to inform them that Groslow was waiting for them.

“Where?” asked D’Artagnan.

“In the room of the English Nebuchadnezzar,” replied the staunch Puritan.

“Good,” replied Athos, whose blood mounted to his face at the insult offered to royalty; “tell the captain we are coming.”

The Puritan then went out. The lackeys had been ordered to saddle eight horses and to wait, keeping together and without dismounting, at the corner of a street about twenty steps from the house where the king was lodged.

It was nine o’clock in the evening; the sentinels had been relieved at eight and Captain Groslow had been on guard for an hour. D’Artagnan and Porthos, armed with their swords, and Athos and Aramis, each carrying a concealed poniard, approached the house which for the time being was Charles Stuart’s prison. The two latter followed their captors in the humble guise of captives, without arms.

“Od’s bodikins,” said Groslow, as the four friends entered, “I had almost given you up.”

D’Artagnan went up to him and whispered in his ear:

“The fact is, we, that is, Monsieur du Vallon and I, hesitated a little.”

“And why?”

D’Artagnan looked significantly toward Athos and Aramis.

“Aha,” said Groslow; “on account of political opinions? No matter. On the contrary,” he added, laughing, “if they want to see their Stuart they shall see him.

“Are we to pass the night in the king’s room?” asked D’Artagnan.

“No, but in the one next to it, and as the door will remain open it comes to the same thing. Have you provided yourself with money? I assure you I intend to play the devil’s game to-night.”

D’Artagnan rattled the gold in his pockets.

“Very good,” said Groslow, and opened the door of the room. “I will show you the way,” and he went in first.

D’Artagnan turned to look at his friends. Porthos was perfectly indifferent; Athos, pale, but resolute; Aramis was wiping a slight moisture from his brow.

The eight guards were at their posts. Four in the king’s room, two at the door between the rooms and two at that by which the friends had entered. Athos smiled when he saw their bare swords; he felt it was no longer to be a butchery, but a fight, and he resumed his usual good humor.

Charles was perceived through the door, lying dressed upon his bed, at the head of which Parry was seated, reading in a low voice a chapter from the Bible.

A candle of coarse tallow on a black table lighted up the handsome and resigned face of the king and that of his faithful retainer, far less calm.

From time to time Parry stopped, thinking the king, whose eyes were closed, was really asleep, but Charles would open his eyes and say with a smile:

“Go on, my good Parry, I am listening.”

Groslow advanced to the door of the king’s room, replaced on his head the hat he had taken off to receive his guests, looked for a moment contemptuously at this simple, yet touching scene, then turning to D’Artagnan, assumed an air of triumph at what he had achieved.

“Capital!” cried the Gascon, “you would make a distinguished general.”

“And do you think,” asked Groslow, “that Stuart will ever escape while I am on guard?”

“No, to be sure,” replied D’Artagnan; “unless, forsooth, the sky rains friends upon him.”

Groslow’s face brightened.

It is impossible to say whether Charles, who kept his eyes constantly closed, had noticed the insolence of the Puritan captain, but the moment he heard the clear tone of D’Artagnan’s voice his eyelids rose, in spite of himself.

Parry, too, started and stopped reading.

“What are you thinking about?” said the king; “go on, my good Parry, unless you are tired.”

Parry resumed his reading.

On a table in the next room were lighted candles, cards, two dice-boxes, and dice.

“Gentlemen,” said Groslow, “I beg you will take your places. I will sit facing Stuart, whom I like so much to see, especially where he now is, and you, Monsieur d’Artagnan, opposite to me.”

Athos turned red with rage. D’Artagnan frowned at him.

“That’s it,” said D’Artagnan; “you, Monsieur le Comte de la Fere, to the right of Monsieur Groslow. You, Chevalier d’Herblay, to his left. Du Vallon next me. You’ll bet for me and those gentlemen for Monsieur Groslow.”

By this arrangement D’Artagnan could nudge Porthos with his knee and make signs with his eyes to Athos and Aramis.

At the names Comte de la Fere and Chevalier d’Herblay, Charles opened his eyes, and raising his noble head, in spite of himself, threw a glance at all the actors in the scene.

At that moment Parry turned over several leaves of his Bible and read with a loud voice this verse in Jeremiah:

“God said, ‘Hear ye the words of the prophets my servants, whom I have sent unto you.’”

The four friends exchanged glances. The words that Parry had read assured them that their presence was understood by the king and was assigned to its real motive. D’Artagnan’s eyes sparkled with joy.

“You asked me just now if I was in funds,” said D’Artagnan, placing some twenty pistoles upon the table. “Well, in my turn I advise you to keep a sharp lookout on your treasure, my dear Monsieur Groslow, for I can tell you we shall not leave this without robbing you of it.”

“Not without my defending it,” said Groslow.

“So much the better,” said D’Artagnan. “Fight, my dear captain, fight. You know or you don’t know, that that is what we ask of you.”

“Oh! yes,” said Groslow, bursting with his usual coarse laugh, “I know you Frenchmen want nothing but cuts and bruises.”

Charles had heard and understood it all. A slight color mounted to his cheeks. The soldiers then saw him stretch his limbs, little by little, and under the pretense of much heat throw off the Scotch plaid which covered him.

Athos and Aramis started with delight to find that the king was lying with his clothes on.

The game began. The luck had turned, and Groslow, having won some hundred pistoles, was in the merriest possible humor.

Porthos, who had lost the fifty pistoles he had won the night before and thirty more besides, was very cross and questioned D’Artagnan with a nudge of the knee as to whether it would not soon be time to change the game. Athos and Aramis looked at him inquiringly. But D’Artagnan remained impassible.

It struck ten. They heard the guard going its rounds.

“How many rounds do they make a night?” asked D’Artagnan, drawing more pistoles from his pocket.

“Five,” answered Groslow, “one every two hours.”

D’Artagnan glanced at Athos and Aramis and for the first time replied to Porthos’s nudge of the knee by a nudge responsive. Meanwhile, the soldiers whose duty it was to remain in the king’s room, attracted by that love of play so powerful in all men, had stolen little by little toward the table, and standing on tiptoe, lounged, watching the game, over the shoulders of D’Artagnan and Porthos. Those on the other side had followed their example, thus favoring the views of the four friends, who preferred having them close at hand to chasing them about the chamber. The two sentinels at the door still had their swords unsheathed, but they were leaning on them while they watched the game.

Athos seemed to grow calm as the critical moment approached. With his white, aristocratic hands he played with the louis, bending and straightening them again, as if they were made of pewter. Aramis, less self-controlled, fumbled continually with his hidden poniard. Porthos, impatient at his continued losses, kept up a vigorous play with his knee.

D’Artagnan turned, mechanically looking behind him, and between the figures of two soldiers he could see Parry standing up and Charles leaning on his elbow with his hands clasped and apparently offering a fervent prayer to God.

D’Artagnan saw that the moment was come. He darted a preparatory glance at Athos and Aramis, who slyly pushed their chairs a little back so as to leave themselves more space for action. He gave Porthos a second nudge of the knee and Porthos got up as if to stretch his legs and took care at the same time to ascertain that his sword could be drawn smoothly from the scabbard.

“Hang it!” cried D’Artagnan, “another twenty pistoles lost. Really, Captain Groslow, you are too much in fortune’s way. This can’t last,” and he drew another twenty from his pocket. “One more turn, captain; twenty pistoles on one throw--only one, the last.”

“Done for twenty,” replied Groslow.

And he turned up two cards as usual, a king for D’Artagnan and an ace for himself.

“A king,” said D’Artagnan; “it’s a good omen, Master Groslow--look out for the king.”

And in spite of his extraordinary self-control there was a strange vibration in the Gascon’s voice which made his partner start.

Groslow began turning the cards one after another. If he turned up an ace first he won; if a king he lost.

He turned up a king.

“At last!” cried D’Artagnan.

At this word Athos and Aramis jumped up. Porthos drew back a step. Daggers and swords were just about to shine, when suddenly the door was thrown open and Harrison appeared in the doorway, accompanied by a man enveloped in a large cloak. Behind this man could be seen the glistening muskets of half a dozen soldiers.

Groslow jumped up, ashamed at being surprised in the midst of wine, cards, and dice. But Harrison paid not the least attention to him, and entering the king’s room, followed by his companion:

“Charles Stuart,” said he, “an order has come to conduct you to London without stopping day or night. Prepare yourself, then, to start at once.”

“And by whom is this order given?” asked the king.

“By General Oliver Cromwell. And here is Mr. Mordaunt, who has brought it and is charged with its execution.”

“Mordaunt!” muttered the four friends, exchanging glances.

D’Artagnan swept up the money that he and Porthos had lost and buried it in his huge pocket. Athos and Aramis placed themselves behind him. At this movement Mordaunt turned around, recognized them, and uttered an exclamation of savage delight.

“I’m afraid we are prisoners,” whispered D’Artagnan to his friend.

“Not yet,” replied Porthos.

“Colonel, colonel,” cried Mordaunt, “you are betrayed. These four Frenchmen have escaped from Newcastle, and no doubt want to carry off the king. Arrest them.”

“Ah! my young man,” said D’Artagnan, drawing his sword, “that is an order sooner given than executed. Fly, friends, fly!” he added, whirling his sword around him.

The next moment he darted to the door and knocked down two of the soldiers who guarded it, before they had time to cock their muskets. Athos and Aramis followed him. Porthos brought up the rear, and before soldiers, officers, or colonel had time to recover their surprise all four were in the street.

“Fire!” cried Mordaunt; “fire upon them!”

Three or four shots were fired, but with no other result than to show the four fugitives turning the corner of the street safe and sound.

The horses were at the place fixed upon, and they leaped lightly into their saddles.

“Forward!” cried D’Artagnan, “and spur for your dear lives!”

They galloped away and took the road they had come by in the morning, namely, in the direction toward Scotland. A few hundred yards beyond the town D’Artagnan drew rein.

“Halt!” he cried, “this time we shall be pursued. We must let them leave the village and ride after us on the northern road, and when they have passed we will take the opposite direction.”

There was a stream close by and a bridge across it.

D’Artagnan led his horse under the arch of the bridge. The others followed. Ten minutes later they heard the rapid gallop of a troop of horsemen. A few minutes more and the troop passed over their heads.


Chapter 62. London.


As soon as the noise of the hoofs was lost in the distance D’Artagnan remounted the bank of the stream and scoured the plain, followed by his three friends, directing their course, as well as they could guess, toward London.

“This time,” said D’Artagnan, when they were sufficiently distant to proceed at a trot, “I think all is lost and we have nothing better to do than to reach France. What do you say, Athos, to that proposition? Isn’t it reasonable?”

“Yes, dear friend,” Athos replied, “but you said a word the other day that was more than reasonable--it was noble and generous. You said, ‘Let us die here!’ I recall to you that word.”

“Oh,” said Porthos, “death is nothing: it isn’t death that can disquiet us, since we don’t know what it is. What troubles me is the idea of defeat. As things are turning out, I foresee that we must give battle to London, to the provinces, to all England, and certainly in the end we can’t fail to be beaten.”

“We ought to witness this great tragedy even to its last scene,” said Athos. “Whatever happens, let us not leave England before the crisis. Don’t you agree with me, Aramis?”

“Entirely, my dear count. Then, too, I confess I should not be sorry to come across Mordaunt again. It appears to me that we have an account to settle with him, and that it is not our custom to leave a place without paying our debts, of this kind, at least.”

“Ah! that’s another thing,” said D’Artagnan, “and I should not mind waiting in London a whole year for a chance of meeting this Mordaunt in question. Only let us lodge with some one on whom we can count; for I imagine, just now, that Noll Cromwell would not be inclined to trifle with us. Athos, do you know any inn in the whole town where one can find white sheets, roast beef reasonably cooked, and wine which is not made of hops and gin?”

“I think I know what you want,” replied Athos. “De Winter took us to the house of a Spaniard, who, he said, had become naturalized as an Englishman by the guineas of his new compatriots. What do you say to it, Aramis?”

“Why, the idea of taking quarters with Senor Perez seems to me very reasonable, and for my part I agree to it. We will invoke the remembrance of that poor De Winter, for whom he seemed to have a great regard; we will tell him that we have come as amateurs to see what is going on; we will spend with him a guinea each per day; and I think that by taking all these precautions we can be quite undisturbed.”

“You forget, Aramis, one precaution of considerable importance.”

“What is that?”

“The precaution of changing our clothes.”

“Changing our clothes!” exclaimed Porthos. “I don’t see why; we are very comfortable in those we wear.”

“To prevent recognition,” said D’Artagnan. “Our clothes have a cut which would proclaim the Frenchman at first sight. Now, I don’t set sufficient store on the cut of my jerkin to risk being hung at Tyburn or sent for change of scene to the Indies. I shall buy a chestnut-colored suit. I’ve remarked that your Puritans revel in that color.”

“But can you find your man?” said Aramis to Athos.

“Oh! to be sure, yes. He lives at the Bedford Tavern, Greenhall Street. Besides, I can find my way about the city with my eyes shut.”

“I wish we were already there,” said D’Artagnan; “and my advice is that we reach London before daybreak, even if we kill our horses.”

“Come on, then,” said Athos, “for unless I am mistaken in my calculations we have only eight or ten leagues to go.”

The friends urged on their horses and arrived, in fact, at about five o’clock in the morning. They were stopped and questioned at the gate by which they sought to enter the city, but Athos replied, in excellent English, that they had been sent forward by Colonel Harrison to announce to his colleague, Monsieur Bridge, the approach of the king. That reply led to several questions about the king’s capture, and Athos gave details so precise and positive that if the gatekeepers had any suspicions they vanished completely. The way was therefore opened to the four friends with all sorts of Puritan congratulations.

Athos was right. He went direct to the Bedford Tavern, and the host, who recognized him, was delighted to see him again with such a numerous and promising company.

Though it was scarcely daylight our four travelers found the town in a great bustle, owing to the reported approach of Harrison and the king.

The plan of changing their clothes was unanimously adopted. The landlord sent out for every description of garment, as if he wanted to fit up his wardrobe. Athos chose a black coat, which gave him the appearance of a respectable citizen. Aramis, not wishing to part with his sword, selected a dark-blue cloak of a military cut. Porthos was seduced by a wine-colored doublet and sea-green breeches. D’Artagnan, who had fixed on his color beforehand, had only to select the shade, and looked in his chestnut suit exactly like a retired sugar dealer.

“Now,” said D’Artagnan, “for the actual man. We must cut off our hair, that the populace may not insult us. As we no longer wear the sword of the gentleman we may as well have the head of the Puritan. This, as you know, is the important point of distinction between the Covenanter and the Cavalier.”

After some discussion this was agreed to and Mousqueton played the role of barber.

“We look hideous,” said Athos.

“And smack of the Puritan to a frightful extent,” said Aramis.

“My head feels actually cold,” said Porthos.

“As for me, I feel anxious to preach a sermon,” said D’Artagnan.

“Now,” said Athos, “that we cannot even recognize one another and have therefore no fear of others recognizing us, let us go and see the king’s entrance.”

They had not been long in the crowd before loud cries announced the king’s arrival. A carriage had been sent to meet him, and the gigantic Porthos, who stood a head above the entire rabble, soon announced that he saw the royal equipage approaching. D’Artagnan raised himself on tiptoe, and as the carriage passed, saw Harrison at one window and Mordaunt at the other.

The next day, Athos, leaning out of his window, which looked upon the most populous part of the city, heard the Act of Parliament, which summoned the ex-king, Charles I., to the bar, publicly cried.

“Parliament indeed!” cried Athos. “Parliament can never have passed such an act as that.”

At this moment the landlord came in.

“Did parliament pass this act?” Athos asked of him in English.

“Yes, my lord, the pure parliament.”

“What do you mean by ‘the pure parliament’? Are there, then, two parliaments?”

“My friend,” D’Artagnan interrupted, “as I don’t understand English and we all understand Spanish, have the kindness to speak to us in that language, which, since it is your own, you must find pleasure in using when you have the chance.”

“Ah! excellent!” said Aramis.

As to Porthos, all his attention was concentrated on the allurements of the breakfast table.

“You were asking, then?” said the host in Spanish.

“I asked,” said Athos, in the same language, “if there are two parliaments, a pure and an impure?”

“Why, how extraordinary!” said Porthos, slowly raising his head and looking at his friends with an air of astonishment, “I understand English, then! I understand what you say!”

“That is because we are talking Spanish, my dear friend,” said Athos.

“Oh, the devil!” said Porthos, “I am sorry for that; it would have been one language more.”

“When I speak of the pure parliament,” resumed the host, “I mean the one which Colonel Bridge has weeded.”

“Ah! really,” said D’Artagnan, “these people are very ingenious. When I go back to France I must suggest some such convenient course to Cardinal Mazarin and the coadjutor. One of them will weed the parliament in the name of the court, and the other in the name of the people; and then there won’t be any parliament at all.”

“And who is this Colonel Bridge?” asked Aramis, “and how does he go to work to weed the parliament?”

“Colonel Bridge,” replied the Spaniard, “is a retired wagoner, a man of much sense, who made one valuable observation whilst driving his team, namely, that where there happened to be a stone on the road, it was much easier to remove the stone than try and make the wheel pass over it. Now, of two hundred and fifty-one members who composed the parliament, there were one hundred and ninety-one who were in the way and might have upset his political wagon. He took them up, just as he formerly used to take up the stones from the road, and threw them out of the house.”

“Neat,” remarked D’Artagnan. “Very!”

“And all these one hundred and ninety-one were Royalists?” asked Athos.

“Without doubt, senor; and you understand that they would have saved the king.”

“To be sure,” said Porthos, with majestic common sense; “they were in the majority.”

“And you think,” said Aramis, “he will consent to appear before such a tribunal?”

“He will be forced to do so,” smiled the Spaniard.

“Now, Athos!” said D’Artagnan, “do you begin to believe that it’s a ruined cause, and that what with your Harrisons, Joyces, Bridges and Cromwells, we shall never get the upper hand?”

“The king will be delivered at the tribunal,” said Athos; “the very silence of his supporters indicates that they are at work.”

D’Artagnan shrugged his shoulders.

“But,” said Aramis, “if they dare to condemn their king, it can only be to exile or imprisonment.”

D’Artagnan whistled a little air of incredulity.

“We shall see,” said Athos, “for we shall go to the sittings, I presume.”

“You will not have long to wait,” said the landlord; “they begin to-morrow.”

“So, then, they drew up the indictments before the king was taken?”

“Of course,” said D’Artagnan; “they began the day he was sold.”

“And you know,” said Aramis, “that it was our friend Mordaunt who made, if not the bargain, at least the overtures.”

“And you know,” added D’Artagnan, “that whenever I catch him I will kill him, this Mordaunt.”

“And I, too,” exclaimed Porthos.

“And I, too,” added Aramis.

“Touching unanimity!” cried D’Artagnan, “which well becomes good citizens like us. Let us take a turn around the town and imbibe a little fog.”

“Yes,” said Porthos, “‘twill be at least a little change from beer.”


Chapter 63. The Trial.


The next morning King Charles I. was haled by a strong guard before the high court which was to judge him. All London was crowding to the doors of the house. The throng was terrific, and it was not till after much pushing and some fighting that our friends reached their destination. When they did so they found the three lower rows of benches already occupied; but being anxious not to be too conspicuous, all, with the exception of Porthos, who had a fancy to display his red doublet, were quite satisfied with their places, the more so as chance had brought them to the centre of their row, so that they were exactly opposite the arm-chair prepared for the royal prisoner.

Toward eleven o’clock the king entered the hall, surrounded by guards, but wearing his head covered, and with a calm expression turned to every side with a look of complete assurance, as if he were there to preside at an assembly of submissive subjects, rather than to meet the accusations of a rebel court.

The judges, proud of having a monarch to humiliate, evidently prepared to enjoy the right they had arrogated to themselves, and sent an officer to inform the king that it was customary for the accused to uncover his head.

Charles, without replying a single word, turned his head in another direction and pulled his felt hat over it. Then when the officer was gone he sat down in the arm-chair opposite the president and struck his boots with a little cane which he carried in his hand. Parry, who accompanied him, stood behind him.

D’Artagnan was looking at Athos, whose face betrayed all those emotions which the king, possessing more self-control, had banished from his own. This agitation in one so cold and calm as Athos, frightened him.

“I hope,” he whispered to him, “that you will follow his majesty’s example and not get killed for your folly in this den.”

“Set your mind at rest,” replied Athos.

“Aha!” continued D’Artagnan, “it is clear that they are afraid of something or other; for look, the sentinels are being reinforced. They had only halberds before, now they have muskets. The halberds were for the audience in the rear; the muskets are for us.”

“Thirty, forty, fifty, sixty-five men,” said Porthos, counting the reinforcements.

“Ah!” said Aramis, “but you forget the officer.”

D’Artagnan grew pale with rage. He recognized Mordaunt, who with bare sword was marshalling the musketeers behind the king and opposite the benches.

“Do you think they have recognized us?” said D’Artagnan. “In that case I should beat a retreat. I don’t care to be shot in a box.”

“No,” said Aramis, “he has not seen us. He sees no one but the king. Mon Dieu! how he stares at him, the insolent dog! Does he hate his majesty as much as he does us?”

“Pardi,” answered Athos “we only carried off his mother; the king has spoiled him of his name and property.”

“True,” said Aramis; “but silence! the president is speaking to the king.”

“Stuart,” Bradshaw was saying, “listen to the roll call of your judges and address to the court any observations you may have to make.”

The king turned his head away, as if these words had not been intended for him. Bradshaw waited, and as there was no reply there was a moment of silence.

Out of the hundred and sixty-three members designated there were only seventy-three present, for the rest, fearful of taking part in such an act, had remained away.

When the name of Colonel Fairfax was called, one of those brief but solemn silences ensued, which announced the absence of the members who had no wish to take a personal part in the trial.

“Colonel Fairfax,” repeated Bradshaw.

“Fairfax,” answered a laughing voice, the silvery tone of which betrayed it as that of a woman, “is not such a fool as to be here.”

A loud laugh followed these words, pronounced with that boldness which women draw from their own weakness--a weakness which removes them beyond the power of vengeance.

“It is a woman’s voice,” cried Aramis; “faith, I would give a good deal if she is young and pretty.” And he mounted on the bench to try and get a sight of her.

“By my soul,” said Aramis, “she is charming. Look D’Artagnan; everybody is looking at her; and in spite of Bradshaw’s gaze she has not turned pale.”

“It is Lady Fairfax herself,” said D’Artagnan. “Don’t you remember, Porthos, we saw her at General Cromwell’s?”

The roll call continued.

“These rascals will adjourn when they find that they are not in sufficient force,” said the Comte de la Fere.

“You don’t know them. Athos, look at Mordaunt’s smile. Is that the look of a man whose victim is likely to escape him? Ah, cursed basilisk, it will be a happy day for me when I can cross something more than a look with you.”

“The king is really very handsome,” said Porthos; “and look, too, though he is a prisoner, how carefully he is dressed. The feather in his hat is worth at least five-and-twenty pistoles. Look at it, Aramis.”

The roll call finished, the president ordered them to read the act of accusation. Athos turned pale. A second time he was disappointed in his expectation. Notwithstanding the judges were so few the trial was to continue; the king then, was condemned in advance.

“I told you so, Athos,” said D’Artagnan, shrugging his shoulders. “Now take your courage in both hands and hear what this gentleman in black is going to say about his sovereign, with full license and privilege.”

Never till then had a more brutal accusation or meaner insults tarnished kingly majesty.

Charles listened with marked attention, passing over the insults, noting the grievances, and, when hatred overflowed all bounds and the accuser turned executioner beforehand, replying with a smile of lofty scorn.

“The fact is,” said D’Artagnan, “if men are punished for imprudence and triviality, this poor king deserves punishment. But it seems to me that that which he is just now undergoing is hard enough.”

“In any case,” Aramis replied, “the punishment should fall not on the king, but on his ministers; for the first article of the constitution is, ‘The king can do no wrong.’”

“As for me,” thought Porthos, giving Mordaunt his whole attention, “were it not for breaking in on the majesty of the situation I would leap down from the bench, reach Mordaunt in three bounds and strangle him; I would then take him by the feet and knock the life out of these wretched musketeers who parody the musketeers of France. Meantime, D’Artagnan, who is full of invention, would find some way to save the king. I must speak to him about it.”

As to Athos, his face aflame, his fists clinched, his lips bitten till they bled, he sat there foaming with rage at that endless parliamentary insult and that long enduring royal patience; the inflexible arm and steadfast heart had given place to a trembling hand and a body shaken by excitement.

At this moment the accuser concluded with these words: “The present accusation is preferred by us in the name of the English people.”

At these words there was a murmur along the benches, and a second voice, not that of a woman, but a man’s, stout and furious, thundered behind D’Artagnan.

“You lie!” it cried. “Nine-tenths of the English people are horrified at what you say.”

This voice was that of Athos, who, standing up with outstretched hand and quite out of his mind, thus assailed the public accuser.

King, judges, spectators, all turned their eyes to the bench where the four friends were seated. Mordaunt did the same and recognized the gentleman, around whom the three other Frenchmen were standing, pale and menacing. His eyes glittered with delight. He had discovered those to whose death he had devoted his life. A movement of fury called to his side some twenty of his musketeers, and pointing to the bench where his enemies were: “Fire on that bench!” he cried.

But with the rapidity of thought D’Artagnan seized Athos by the waist, and followed by Porthos with Aramis, leaped down from the benches, rushed into the passages, and flying down the staircase were lost in the crowd without, while the muskets within were pointed on some three thousand spectators, whose piteous cries and noisy alarm stopped the impulse already given to bloodshed.

Charles also had recognized the four Frenchmen. He put one hand on his heart to still its beating and the other over his eyes, that he might not witness the slaying of his faithful friends.

Mordaunt, pale and trembling with anger, rushed from the hall sword in hand, followed by six pikemen, pushing, inquiring and panting in the crowd; and then, having found nothing, returned.

The tumult was indescribable. More than half an hour passed before any one could make himself heard. The judges were looking for a new outbreak from the benches. The spectators saw the muskets leveled at them, and divided between fear and curiosity, remained noisy and excited.

Quiet was at length restored.

“What have you to say in your defense?” asked Bradshaw of the king.

Then rising, with his head still covered, in the tone of a judge rather than a prisoner, Charles began.

“Before questioning me,” he said, “reply to my question. I was free at Newcastle and had there concluded a treaty with both houses. Instead of performing your part of this contract, as I performed mine, you bought me from the Scotch, cheaply, I know, and that does honor to the economic talent of your government. But because you have paid the price of a slave, do you imagine that I have ceased to be your king? No. To answer you would be to forget it. I shall only reply to you when you have satisfied me of your right to question me. To answer you would be to acknowledge you as my judges, and I only acknowledge you as my executioners.” And in the middle of a deathlike silence, Charles, calm, lofty, and with his head still covered, sat down again in his arm-chair.

“Why are not my Frenchmen here?” he murmured proudly and turning his eyes to the benches where they had appeared for a moment; “they would have seen that their friend was worthy of their defense while alive, and of their tears when dead.”

“Well,” said the president, seeing that Charles was determined to remain silent, “so be it. We will judge you in spite of your silence. You are accused of treason, of abuse of power, and murder. The evidence will support it. Go, and another sitting will accomplish what you have postponed in this.”

Charles rose and turned toward Parry, whom he saw pale and with his temples dewed with moisture.

“Well, my dear Parry,” said he, “what is the matter, and what can affect you in this manner?”

“Oh, my king,” said Parry, with tears in his eyes and in a tone of supplication, “do not look to the left as we leave the hall.”

“And why, Parry?”

“Do not look, I implore you, my king.”

“But what is the matter? Speak,” said Charles, attempting to look across the hedge of guards which surrounded him.

“It is--but you will not look, will you?--it is because they have had the axe, with which criminals are executed, brought and placed there on the table. The sight is hideous.”

“Fools,” said Charles, “do they take me for a coward, like themselves? You have done well to warn me. Thank you, Parry.”

When the moment arrived the king followed his guards out of the hall. As he passed the table on which the axe was laid, he stopped, and turning with a smile, said:

“Ah! the axe, an ingenious device, and well worthy of those who know not what a gentleman is; you frighten me not, executioner’s axe,” added he, touching it with the cane which he held in his hand, “and I strike you now, waiting patiently and Christianly for you to return the blow.”

And shrugging his shoulders with unaffected contempt he passed on. When he reached the door a stream of people, who had been disappointed in not being able to get into the house and to make amends had collected to see him come out, stood on each side, as he passed, many among them glaring on him with threatening looks.

“How many people,” thought he, “and not one true friend.”

And as he uttered these words of doubt and depression within his mind, a voice beside him said:

“Respect to fallen majesty.”

The king turned quickly around, with tears in his eyes and heart. It was an old soldier of the guards who could not see his king pass captive before him without rendering him this final homage. But the next moment the unfortunate man was nearly killed with heavy blows of sword-hilts, and among those who set upon him the king recognized Captain Groslow.

“Alas!” said Charles, “that is a severe chastisement for a very trifling fault.”

He continued his walk, but he had scarcely gone a hundred paces, when a furious fellow, leaning between two soldiers, spat in the king’s face, as once an infamous and accursed Jew spit in the face of Jesus of Nazareth. Loud roars of laughter and sullen murmurs arose together. The crowd opened and closed again, undulating like a stormy sea, and the king imagined that he saw shining in the midst of this living wave the bright eyes of Athos.

Charles wiped his face and said with a sad smile: “Poor wretch, for half a crown he would do as much to his own father.”

The king was not mistaken. Athos and his friends, again mingling with the throng, were taking a last look at the martyr king.

When the soldier saluted Charles, Athos’s heart bounded for joy; and that unfortunate, on coming to himself, found ten guineas that the French gentleman had slipped into his pocket. But when the cowardly insulter spat in the face of the captive monarch Athos grasped his dagger. But D’Artagnan stopped his hand and in a hoarse voice cried, “Wait!”

Athos stopped. D’Artagnan, leaning on Athos, made a sign to Porthos and Aramis to keep near them and then placed himself behind the man with the bare arms, who was still laughing at his own vile pleasantry and receiving the congratulations of several others.

The man took his way toward the city. The four friends followed him. The man, who had the appearance of being a butcher, descended a little steep and isolated street, looking on to the river, with two of his friends. Arrived at the bank of the river the three men perceived that they were followed, turned around, and looking insolently at the Frenchmen, passed some jests from one to another.

“I don’t know English, Athos,” said D’Artagnan; “but you know it and will interpret for me.”

Then quickening their steps they passed the three men, but turned back immediately, and D’Artagnan walked straight up to the butcher and touching him on the chest with the tip of his finger, said to Athos:

“Say this to him in English: ‘You are a coward. You have insulted a defenseless man. You have befouled the face of your king. You must die.’”

Athos, pale as a ghost, repeated these words to the man, who, seeing the bodeful preparations that were making, put himself in an attitude of defense. Aramis, at this movement, drew his sword.

“No,” cried D’Artagnan, “no steel. Steel is for gentlemen.”

And seizing the butcher by the throat:

“Porthos,” said he, “kill this fellow for me with a single blow.”

Porthos raised his terrible fist, which whistled through the air like a sling, and the portentous mass fell with a smothered crash on the insulter’s skull and crushed it. The man fell like an ox beneath the poleaxe. His companions, horror-struck, could neither move nor cry out.

“Tell them this, Athos,” resumed D’Artagnan; “thus shall all die who forget that a captive man is sacred and that a captive king doubly represents the Lord.”

Athos repeated D’Artagnan’s words.

The fellows looked at the body of their companion, swimming in blood, and then recovering voice and legs together, ran screaming off.

“Justice is done,” said Porthos, wiping his forehead.

“And now,” said D’Artagnan to Athos, “entertain no further doubts about me; I undertake all that concerns the king.”