Twenty Years After



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Chapter 64. Whitehall.

The parliament condemned Charles to death, as might have been foreseen. Political judgments are generally vain formalities, for the same passions which give rise to the accusation ordain to the condemnation. Such is the atrocious logic of revolutions.

Although our friends were expecting that condemnation, it filled them with grief. D’Artagnan, whose mind was never more fertile in resources than in critical emergencies, swore again that he would try all conceivable means to prevent the denouement of the bloody tragedy. But by what means? As yet he could form no definite plan; all must depend on circumstances. Meanwhile, it was necessary at all hazards, in order to gain time, to put some obstacle in the way of the execution on the following day--the day appointed by the judges. The only way of doing that was to cause the disappearance of the London executioner. The headsman out of the way, the sentence could not be executed. True, they could send for the headsman of the nearest town, but at least a day would be gained, and a day might be sufficient for the rescue. D’Artagnan took upon himself that more than difficult task.

Another thing, not less essential, was to warn Charles Stuart of the attempt to be made, so that he might assist his rescuers as much as possible, or at least do nothing to thwart their efforts. Aramis assumed that perilous charge. Charles Stuart had asked that Bishop Juxon might be permitted to visit him. Mordaunt had called on the bishop that very evening to apprise him of the religious desire expressed by the king and also of Cromwell’s permission. Aramis determined to obtain from the bishop, through fear or by persuasion, consent that he should enter in the bishop’s place, and clad in his sacerdotal robes, the prison at Whitehall.

Finally, Athos undertook to provide, in any event, the means of leaving England--in case either of failure or of success.

The night having come they made an appointment to meet at eleven o’clock at the hotel, and each started out to fulfill his dangerous mission.

The palace of Whitehall was guarded by three regiments of cavalry and by the fierce anxiety of Cromwell, who came and went or sent his generals or his agents continually. Alone in his usual room, lighted by two candles, the condemned monarch gazed sadly on the luxury of his past greatness, just as at the last hour one sees the images of life more mildly brilliant than of yore.

Parry had not quitted his master, and since his condemnation had not ceased to weep. Charles, leaning on a table, was gazing at a medallion of his wife and daughter; he was waiting first for Juxon, then for martyrdom.

At times he thought of those brave French gentlemen who had appeared to him from a distance of a hundred leagues fabulous and unreal, like the forms that appear in dreams. In fact, he sometimes asked himself if all that was happening to him was not a dream, or at least the delirium of a fever. He rose and took a few steps as if to rouse himself from his torpor and went as far as the window; he saw glittering below him the muskets of the guards. He was thereupon constrained to admit that he was indeed awake and that his bloody dream was real.

Charles returned in silence to his chair, rested his elbow on the table, bowed his head upon his hand and reflected.

“Alas!” he said to himself, “if I only had for a confessor one of those lights of the church, whose soul has sounded all the mysteries of life, all the littlenesses of greatness, perhaps his utterance would overawe the voice that wails within my soul. But I shall have a priest of vulgar mind, whose career and fortune I have ruined by my misfortune. He will speak to me of God and death, as he has spoken to many another dying man, not understanding that this one leaves his throne to an usurper, his children to the cold contempt of public charity.”

And he raised the medallion to his lips.

It was a dull, foggy night. A neighboring church clock slowly struck the hour. The flickering light of the two candles showed fitful phantom shadows in the lofty room. These were the ancestors of Charles, standing back dimly in their tarnished frames.

An awful sadness enveloped the heart of Charles. He buried his brow in his hands and thought of the world, so beautiful when one is about to leave it; of the caresses of children, so pleasing and so sweet, especially when one is parting from his children never to see them again; then of his wife, the noble and courageous woman who had sustained him to the last moment. He drew from his breast the diamond cross and the star of the Garter which she had sent him by those generous Frenchmen; he kissed it, and then, as he reflected, that she would never again see those things till he lay cold and mutilated in the tomb, there passed over him one of those icy shivers which may be called forerunners of death.

Then, in that chamber which recalled to him so many royal souvenirs, whither had come so many courtiers, the scene of so much flattering homage, alone with a despairing servant, whose feeble soul could afford no support to his own, the king at last yielded to sorrow, and his courage sank to a level with that feebleness, those shadows, and that wintry cold. That king, who was so grand, so sublime in the hour of death, meeting his fate with a smile of resignation on his lips, now in that gloomy hour wiped away a tear which had fallen on the table and quivered on the gold embroidered cloth.

Suddenly the door opened, an ecclesiastic in episcopal robes entered, followed by two guards, to whom the king waved an imperious gesture. The guards retired; the room resumed its obscurity.

“Juxon!” cried Charles, “Juxon, thank you, my last friend; you come at a fitting moment.”

The bishop looked anxiously at the man sobbing in the ingle-nook.

“Come, Parry,” said the king, “cease your tears.”

“If it’s Parry,” said the bishop, “I have nothing to fear; so allow me to salute your majesty and to tell you who I am and for what I am come.”

At this sight and this voice Charles was about to cry out, when Aramis placed his finger on his lips and bowed low to the king of England.

“The chevalier!” murmured Charles.

“Yes, sire,” interrupted Aramis, raising his voice, “Bishop Juxon, the faithful knight of Christ, obedient to your majesty’s wishes.”

Charles clasped his hands, amazed and stupefied to find that these foreigners, without other motive than that which their conscience imposed on them, thus combated the will of a people and the destiny of a king.

“You!” he said, “you! how did you penetrate hither? If they recognize you, you are lost.”

“Care not for me, sire; think only of yourself. You see, your friends are wakeful. I know not what we shall do yet, but four determined men can do much. Meanwhile, do not be surprised at anything that happens; prepare yourself for every emergency.”

Charles shook his head.

“Do you know that I die to-morrow at ten o’clock?”

“Something, your majesty, will happen between now and then to make the execution impossible.”

The king looked at Aramis with astonishment.

At this moment a strange noise, like the unloading of a cart, and followed by a cry of pain, was heard beneath the window.

“Do you hear?” said the king.

“I hear,” said Aramis, “but I understand neither the noise nor the cry of pain.”

“I know not who can have uttered the cry,” said the king, “but the noise is easily understood. Do you know that I am to be beheaded outside this window? Well, these boards you hear unloaded are the posts and planks to build my scaffold. Some workmen must have fallen underneath them and been hurt.”

Aramis shuddered in spite of himself.

“You see,” said the king, “that it is useless for you to resist. I am condemned; leave me to my death.”

“My king,” said Aramis, “they well may raise a scaffold, but they cannot make an executioner.”

“What do you mean?” asked the king.

“I mean that at this hour the headsman has been got out of the way by force or persuasion. The scaffold will be ready by to-morrow, but the headsman will be wanting and they will put it off till the day after to-morrow.”

“What then?” said the king.

“To-morrow night we shall rescue you.”

“How can that be?” cried the king, whose face was lighted up, in spite of himself, by a flash of joy.

“Oh! sir,” cried Parry, “may you and yours be blessed!”

“How can it be?” repeated the king. “I must know, so that I may assist you if there is any chance.”

“I know nothing about it,” continued Aramis, “but the cleverest, the bravest, the most devoted of us four said to me when I left him, ‘Tell the king that to-morrow at ten o’clock at night, we shall carry him off.’ He has said it and will do it.”

“Tell me the name of that generous friend,” said the king, “that I may cherish for him an eternal gratitude, whether he succeeds or not.”

“D’Artagnan, sire, the same who had so nearly rescued you when Colonel Harrison made his untimely entrance.”

“You are, indeed, wonderful men,” said the king; “if such things had been related to me I should not have believed them.”

“Now, sire,” resumed Aramis, “listen to me. Do not forget for a single instant that we are watching over your safety; observe the smallest gesture, the least bit of song, the least sign from any one near you; watch everything, hear everything, interpret everything.”

“Oh, chevalier!” cried the king, “what can I say to you? There is no word, though it should come from the profoundest depth of my heart, that can express my gratitude. If you succeed I do not say that you will save a king; no, in presence of the scaffold as I am, royalty, I assure you, is a very small affair; but you will save a husband to his wife, a father to his children. Chevalier, take my hand; it is that of a friend who will love you to his last sigh.”

Aramis stooped to kiss the king’s hand, but Charles clasped his and pressed it to his heart.

At this moment a man entered, without even knocking at the door. Aramis tried to withdraw his hand, but the king still held it. The man was one of those Puritans, half preacher and half soldier, who swarmed around Cromwell.

“What do you want, sir?” said the king.

“I desire to know if the confession of Charles Stuart is at an end?” said the stranger.

“And what is it to you?” replied the king; “we are not of the same religion.”

“All men are brothers,” said the Puritan. “One of my brothers is about to die and I come to prepare him.”

“Bear with him,” whispered Aramis; “it is doubtless some spy.”

“After my reverend lord bishop,” said the king to the man, “I shall hear you with pleasure, sir.”

The man retired, but not before examining the supposed Juxon with an attention which did not escape the king.

“Chevalier,” said the king, when the door was closed, “I believe you are right and that this man only came here with evil intentions. Take care that no misfortune befalls you when you leave.”

“I thank your majesty,” said Aramis, “but under these robes I have a coat of mail, a pistol and a dagger.”

“Go, then, sir, and God keep you!”

The king accompanied him to the door, where Aramis pronounced his benediction upon him, and passing through the ante-rooms, filled with soldiers, jumped into his carriage and drove to the bishop’s palace. Juxon was waiting for him impatiently.

“Well?” said he, on perceiving Aramis.

“Everything has succeeded as I expected; spies, guards, satellites, all took me for you, and the king blesses you while waiting for you to bless him.”

“May God protect you, my son; for your example has given me at the same time hope and courage.”

Aramis resumed his own attire and left Juxon with the assurance that he might again have recourse to him.

He had scarcely gone ten yards in the street when he perceived that he was followed by a man, wrapped in a large cloak. He placed his hand on his dagger and stopped. The man came straight toward him. It was Porthos.

“My dear friend,” cried Aramis.

“You see, we had each our mission,” said Porthos; “mine was to guard you and I am doing so. Have you seen the king?”

“Yes, and all goes well.”

“We are to meet our friends at the hotel at eleven.”

It was then striking half-past ten by St. Paul’s.

Arrived at the hotel it was not long before Athos entered.

“All’s well,” he cried, as he entered; “I have hired a cedar wherry, as light as a canoe, as easy on the wing as any swallow. It is waiting for us at Greenwich, opposite the Isle of Dogs, manned by a captain and four men, who for the sum of fifty pounds sterling will keep themselves at our disposition three successive nights. Once on board we drop down the Thames and in two hours are on the open sea. In case I am killed, the captain’s name is Roger and the skiff is called the Lightning. A handkerchief, tied at the four corners, is to be the signal.”

Next moment D’Artagnan entered.

“Empty your pockets,” said he; “I want a hundred pounds, and as for my own----” and he emptied them inside out.

The sum was collected in a minute. D’Artagnan ran out and returned directly after.

“There,” said he, “it’s done. Ough! and not without a deal of trouble, too.”

“Has the executioner left London?” asked Athos.

“Ah, you see that plan was not sure enough; he might go out by one gate and return by another.”

“Where is he, then?”

“In the cellar.”

“The cellar--what cellar?”

“Our landlord’s, to be sure. Mousqueton is propped against the door and here’s the key.”

“Bravo!” said Aramis, “how did you manage it?”

“Like everything else, with money; but it cost me dear.”

“How much?” asked Athos.

“Five hundred pounds.”

“And where did you get so much money?” said Athos. “Had you, then, that sum?”

“The queen’s famous diamond,” answered D’Artagnan, with a sigh.

“Ah, true,” said Aramis. “I recognized it on your finger.”

“You bought it back, then, from Monsieur des Essarts?” asked Porthos.

“Yes, but it was fated that I should not keep it.”

“So, then, we are all right as regards the executioner,” said Athos; “but unfortunately every executioner has his assistant, his man, or whatever you call him.”

“And this one had his,” said D’Artagnan; “but, as good luck would have it, just as I thought I should have two affairs to manage, our friend was brought home with a broken leg. In the excess of his zeal he had accompanied the cart containing the scaffolding as far as the king’s window, and one of the crossbeams fell on his leg and broke it.”

“Ah!” cried Aramis, “that accounts for the cry I heard.”

“Probably,” said D’Artagnan, “but as he is a thoughtful young man he promised to send four expert workmen in his place to help those already at the scaffold, and wrote the moment he was brought home to Master Tom Lowe, an assistant carpenter and friend of his, to go down to Whitehall, with three of his friends. Here’s the letter he sent by a messenger, for sixpence, who sold it to me for a guinea.”

“And what on earth are you going to do with it?” asked Athos.

“Can’t you guess, my dear Athos? You, who speak English like John Bull himself, are Master Tom Lowe, we, your three companions. Do you understand it now?”

Athos uttered a cry of joy and admiration, ran to a closet and drew forth workmen’s clothes, which the four friends immediately put on; they then left the hotel, Athos carrying a saw, Porthos a vise, Aramis an axe and D’Artagnan a hammer and some nails.

The letter from the executioner’s assistant satisfied the master carpenter that those were the men he expected.

Chapter 65. The Workmen.

Toward midnight Charles heard a great noise beneath his window. It arose from blows of hammer and hatchet, clinking of pincers and cranching of saws.

Lying dressed upon his bed, the noise awoke him with a start and found a gloomy echo in his heart. He could not endure it, and sent Parry to ask the sentinel to beg the workmen to strike more gently and not disturb the last slumber of one who had been their king. The sentinel was unwilling to leave his post, but allowed Parry to pass.

Arriving at the window Parry found an unfinished scaffold, over which they were nailing a covering of black serge. Raised to the height of twenty feet, so as to be on a level with the window, it had two lower stories. Parry, odious as was this sight to him, sought for those among some eight or ten workmen who were making the most noise; and fixed on two men, who were loosening the last hooks of the iron balcony.

“My friends,” said Parry, mounting the scaffold and standing beside them, “would you work a little more quietly? The king wishes to get a sleep.”

One of the two, who was standing up, was of gigantic size and was driving a pick with all his might into the wall, whilst the other, kneeling beside him, was collecting the pieces of stone. The face of the first was lost to Parry in the darkness; but as the second turned around and placed his finger on his lips Parry started back in amazement.

“Very well, very well,” said the workman aloud, in excellent English. “Tell the king that if he sleeps badly to-night he will sleep better to-morrow night.”

These blunt words, so terrible if taken literally, were received by the other workmen with a roar of laughter. But Parry withdrew, thinking he was dreaming.

Charles was impatiently awaiting his return. At the moment he re-entered, the sentinel who guarded the door put his head through the opening, curious as to what the king was doing. The king was lying on his bed, resting on his elbow. Parry closed the door and approaching the king, his face radiant with joy:

“Sire,” he said, in a low voice, “do you know who these workmen are who are making so much noise?”

“I? No; how would you have me know?”

Parry bent his head and whispered to the king: “It is the Comte de la Fere and his friends.”

“Raising my scaffold!” cried the king, astounded.

“Yes, and at the same time making a hole in the wall.”

The king clasped his hands and raised his eyes to Heaven; then leaping down from his bed he went to the window, and pulling aside the curtain tried to distinguish the figures outside, but in vain.

Parry was not wrong. It was Athos he had recognized, and Porthos who was boring a hole through the wall.

This hole communicated with a kind of loft--the space between the floor of the king’s room and the ceiling of the one below it. Their plan was to pass through the hole they were making into this loft and cut out from below a piece of the flooring of the king’s room, so as to form a kind of trap-door.

Through this the king was to escape the next night, and, hidden by the black covering of the scaffold, was to change his dress for that of a workman, slip out with his deliverers, pass the sentinels, who would suspect nothing, and so reach the skiff that was waiting for him at Greenwich.

Day gilded the tops of the houses. The aperture was finished and Athos passed through it, carrying the clothes destined for the king wrapped in black cloth, and the tools with which he was to open a communication with the king’s room. He had only two hours’ work to do to open communication with the king and, according to the calculations of the four friends, they had the entire day before them, since, the executioner being absent, another must be sent for to Bristol.

D’Artagnan returned to change his workman’s clothes for his chestnut-colored suit, and Porthos to put on his red doublet. As for Aramis, he went off to the bishop’s palace to see if he could possibly pass in with Juxon to the king’s presence. All three agreed to meet at noon in Whitehall Place to see how things went on.

Before leaving the scaffold Aramis had approached the opening where Athos was concealed to tell him that he was about to make an attempt to gain another interview with the king.

“Adieu, then, and be of good courage,” said Athos. “Report to the king the condition of affairs. Say to him that when he is alone it will help us if he will knock on the floor, for then I can continue my work in safety. Try, Aramis, to keep near the king. Speak loud, very loud, for they will be listening at the door. If there is a sentinel within the apartment, kill him without hesitation. If there are two, let Parry kill one and you the other. If there are three, let yourself be slain, but save the king.”

“Be easy,” said Aramis; “I will take two poniards and give one to Parry. Is that all?”

“Yes, go; but urge the king strongly not to stand on false generosity. While you are fighting if there is a fight, he must flee. The trap once replaced over his head, you being on the trap, dead or alive, they will need at least ten minutes to find the hole by which he has escaped. In those ten minutes we shall have gained the road and the king will be saved.”

“Everything shall be done as you say, Athos. Your hand, for perhaps we shall not see each other again.”

Athos put his arm around Aramis’s neck and embraced him.

“For you,” he said. “Now if I die, say to D’Artagnan that I love him as a son, and embrace him for me. Embrace also our good and brave Porthos. Adieu.”

“Adieu,” said Aramis. “I am as sure now that the king will be saved as I am sure that I clasp the most loyal hand in the world.”

Aramis parted from Athos, went down from the scaffold in his turn and took his way to the hotel, whistling the air of a song in praise of Cromwell. He found the other two friends sitting at table before a good fire, drinking a bottle of port and devouring a cold chicken. Porthos was cursing the infamous parliamentarians; D’Artagnan ate in silence, revolving in his mind the most audacious plans.

Aramis related what had been agreed upon. D’Artagnan approved with a movement of the head and Porthos with his voice.

“Bravo!” he said; “besides, we shall be there at the time of the flight. What with D’Artagnan, Grimaud and Mousqueton, we can manage to dispatch eight of them. I say nothing about Blaisois, for he is only fit to hold the horses. Two minutes a man makes four minutes. Mousqueton will lose another, that’s five; and in five minutes we shall have galloped a quarter of a league.”

Aramis swallowed a hasty mouthful, gulped a glass of wine and changed his clothes.

“Now,” said he, “I’m off to the bishop’s. Take care of the executioner, D’Artagnan.”

“All right. Grimaud has relieved Mousqueton and has his foot on the cellar door.”

“Well, don’t be inactive.”

“Inactive, my dear fellow! Ask Porthos. I pass my life upon my legs.”

Aramis again presented himself at the bishop’s. Juxon consented the more readily to take him with him, as he would require an assistant priest in case the king should wish to communicate. Dressed as Aramis had been the night before, the bishop got into his carriage, and the former, more disguised by his pallor and sad countenance than his deacon’s dress, got in by his side. The carriage stopped at the door of the palace.

It was about nine o’clock in the morning.

Nothing was changed. The ante-rooms were still full of soldiers, the passages still lined by guards. The king was already sanguine, but when he perceived Aramis his hope turned to joy. He embraced Juxon and pressed the hand of Aramis. The bishop affected to speak in a loud voice, before every one, of their previous interview. The king replied that the words spoken in that interview had borne their fruit, and that he desired another under the same conditions. Juxon turned to those present and begged them to leave him and his assistant alone with the king. Every one withdrew. As soon as the door was closed:

“Sire,” said Aramis, speaking rapidly, “you are saved; the London executioner has vanished. His assistant broke his leg last night beneath your majesty’s window--the cry we heard was his--and there is no executioner nearer at hand than Bristol.”

“But the Comte de la Fere?” asked the king.

“Two feet below you; take the poker from the fireplace and strike three times on the floor. He will answer you.”

The king did so, and the moment after, three muffled knocks, answering the given signal, sounded beneath the floor.

“So,” said Charles, “he who knocks down there----”

“Is the Comte de la Fere, sire,” said Aramis. “He is preparing a way for your majesty to escape. Parry, for his part, will raise this slab of marble and a passage will be opened.”

“Oh, Juxon,” said the king, seizing the bishop’s two hands in his own, “promise that you will pray all your life for this gentleman and for the other that you hear beneath your feet, and for two others also, who, wherever they may be, are on the watch for my safety.”

“Sire,” replied Juxon, “you shall be obeyed.”

Meanwhile, the miner underneath was heard working away incessantly, when suddenly an unexpected noise resounded in the passage. Aramis seized the poker and gave the signal to stop; the noise came nearer and nearer. It was that of a number of men steadily approaching. The four men stood motionless. All eyes were fixed on the door, which opened slowly and with a kind of solemnity.

A parliamentary officer, clothed in black and with a gravity that augured ill, entered, bowed to the king, and unfolding a parchment, read the sentence, as is usually done to criminals before their execution.

“What is this?” said Aramis to Juxon.

Juxon replied with a sign which meant that he knew no more than Aramis about it.

“Then it is for to-day?” asked the king.

“Was not your majesty warned that it was to take place this morning?”

“Then I must die like a common criminal by the hand of the London executioner?”

“The London executioner has disappeared, your majesty, but a man has offered his services instead. The execution will therefore only be delayed long enough for you to arrange your spiritual and temporal affairs.”

A slight moisture on his brow was the only trace of emotion that Charles evinced, as he learned these tidings. But Aramis was livid. His heart ceased beating, he closed his eyes and leaned upon the table. Charles perceived it and took his hand.

“Come, my friend,” said he, “courage.” Then he turned to the officer. “Sir, I am ready. There is but little reason why I should delay you. Firstly, I wish to communicate; secondly, to embrace my children and bid them farewell for the last time. Will this be permitted me?”

“Certainly,” replied the officer, and left the room.

Aramis dug his nails into his flesh and groaned aloud.

“Oh! my lord bishop,” he cried, seizing Juxon’s hands, “where is Providence? where is Providence?”

“My son,” replied the bishop, with firmness, “you see Him not, because the passions of the world conceal Him.”

“My son,” said the king to Aramis, “do not take it so to heart. You ask what God is doing. God beholds your devotion and my martyrdom, and believe me, both will have their reward. Ascribe to men, then, what is happening, and not to God. It is men who drive me to death; it is men who make you weep.”

“Yes, sire,” said Aramis, “yes, you are right. It is men whom I should hold responsible, and I will hold them responsible.”

“Be seated, Juxon,” said the king, falling upon his knees. “I have now to confess to you. Remain, sir,” he added to Aramis, who had moved to leave the room. “Remain, Parry. I have nothing to say that cannot be said before all.”

Juxon sat down, and the king, kneeling humbly before him, began his confession.

Chapter 66. Remember!

The mob had already assembled when the confession terminated. The king’s children next arrived--the Princess Charlotte, a beautiful, fair-haired child, with tears in her eyes, and the Duke of Gloucester, a boy eight or nine years old, whose tearless eyes and curling lip revealed a growing pride. He had wept all night long, but would not show his grief before the people.

Charles’s heart melted within him at the sight of those two children, whom he had not seen for two years and whom he now met at the moment of death. He turned to brush away a tear, and then, summoning up all his firmness, drew his daughter toward him, recommending her to be pious and resigned. Then he took the boy upon his knee.

“My son,” he said to him, “you saw a great number of people in the streets as you came here. These men are going to behead your father. Do not forget that. Perhaps some day they will want to make you king, instead of the Prince of Wales, or the Duke of York, your elder brothers. But you are not the king, my son, and can never be so while they are alive. Swear to me, then, never to let them put a crown upon your head unless you have a legal right to the crown. For one day--listen, my son--one day, if you do so, they will doom you to destruction, head and crown, too, and then you will not be able to die with a calm conscience, as I die. Swear, my son.”

The child stretched out his little hand toward that of his father and said, “I swear to your majesty.”

“Henry,” said Charles, “call me your father.”

“Father,” replied the child, “I swear to you that they shall kill me sooner than make me king.”

“Good, my child. Now kiss me; and you, too, Charlotte. Never forget me.”

“Oh! never, never!” cried both the children, throwing their arms around their father’s neck.

“Farewell,” said Charles, “farewell, my children. Take them away, Juxon; their tears will deprive me of the courage to die.”

Juxon led them away, and this time the doors were left open.

Meanwhile, Athos, in his concealment, waited in vain the signal to recommence his work. Two long hours he waited in terrible inaction. A deathlike silence reigned in the room above. At last he determined to discover the cause of this stillness. He crept from his hole and stood, hidden by the black drapery, beneath the scaffold. Peeping out from the drapery, he could see the rows of halberdiers and musketeers around the scaffold and the first ranks of the populace swaying and groaning like the sea.

“What is the matter, then?” he asked himself, trembling more than the wind-swayed cloth he was holding back. “The people are hurrying on, the soldiers under arms, and among the spectators I see D’Artagnan. What is he waiting for? What is he looking at? Good God! have they allowed the headsman to escape?”

Suddenly the dull beating of muffled drums filled the square. The sound of heavy steps was heard above his head. The next moment the very planks of the scaffold creaked with the weight of an advancing procession, and the eager faces of the spectators confirmed what a last hope at the bottom of his heart had prevented him till then believing. At the same moment a well-known voice above him pronounced these words:

“Colonel, I want to speak to the people.”

Athos shuddered from head to foot. It was the king speaking on the scaffold.

In fact, after taking a few drops of wine and a piece of bread, Charles, weary of waiting for death, had suddenly decided to go to meet it and had given the signal for movement. Then the two wings of the window facing the square had been thrown open, and the people had seen silently advancing from the interior of the vast chamber, first, a masked man, who, carrying an axe in his hand, was recognized as the executioner. He approached the block and laid his axe upon it. Behind him, pale indeed, but marching with a firm step, was Charles Stuart, who advanced between two priests, followed by a few superior officers appointed to preside at the execution and attended by two files of partisans who took their places on opposite sides of the scaffold.

The sight of the masked man gave rise to a prolonged sensation. Every one was full of curiosity as to who that unknown executioner could be who presented himself so opportunely to assure to the people the promised spectacle, when the people believed it had been postponed until the following day. All gazed at him searchingly.

But they could discern nothing but a man of middle height, dressed in black, apparently of a certain age, for the end of a gray beard peeped out from the bottom of the mask that hid his features.

The king’s request had undoubtedly been acceded to by an affirmative sign, for in firm, sonorous accents, which vibrated in the depths of Athos’s heart, the king began his speech, explaining his conduct and counseling the welfare of the kingdom.

“Oh!” said Athos to himself, “is it indeed possible that I hear what I hear and that I see what I see? Is it possible that God has abandoned His representative on earth and left him to die thus miserably? And I have not seen him! I have not said adieu to him!”

A noise was heard like that the instrument of death would make if moved upon the block.

“Do not touch the axe,” said the king, and resumed his speech.

At the end of his speech the king looked tenderly around upon the people. Then unfastening the diamond ornament which the queen had sent him, he placed it in the hands of the priest who accompanied Juxon. Then he drew from his breast a little cross set in diamonds, which, like the order, had been the gift of Henrietta Maria.

“Sir,” said he to the priest, “I shall keep this cross in my hand till the last moment. Take it from me when I am--dead.”

“Yes, sire,” said a voice, which Athos recognized as that of Aramis.

He then took his hat from his head and threw it on the ground. One by one he undid the buttons of his doublet, took it off and deposited it by the side of his hat. Then, as it was cold, he asked for his gown, which was brought to him.

All the preparations were made with a frightful calmness. One would have thought the king was going to bed and not to his coffin.

“Will these be in your way?” he said to the executioner, raising his long locks; “if so, they can be tied up.”

Charles accompanied these words with a look designed to penetrate the mask of the unknown headsman. His calm, noble gaze forced the man to turn away his head. But after the searching look of the king he encountered the burning eyes of Aramis.

The king, seeing that he did not reply, repeated his question.

“It will do,” replied the man, in a tremulous voice, “if you separate them across the neck.”

The king parted his hair with his hands, and looking at the block he said:

“This block is very low, is there no other to be had?”

“It is the usual block,” answered the man in the mask.

“Do you think you can behead me with a single blow?” asked the king.

“I hope so,” was the reply. There was something so strange in these three words that everybody, except the king, shuddered.

“I do not wish to be taken by surprise,” added the king. “I shall kneel down to pray; do not strike then.”

“When shall I strike?”

“When I shall lay my head on the block and say ‘Remember!’ then strike boldly.”

“Gentlemen,” said the king to those around him, “I leave you to brave the tempest; I go before you to a kingdom which knows no storms. Farewell.”

He looked at Aramis and made a special sign to him with his head.

“Now,” he continued, “withdraw a little and let me say my prayer, I beseech you. You, also, stand aside,” he said to the masked man. “It is only for a moment and I know that I belong to you; but remember that you are not to strike till I give the signal.”

Then he knelt down, made the sign of the cross, and lowering his face to the planks, as if he would have kissed them, said in a low tone, in French, “Comte de la Fere, are you there?”

“Yes, your majesty,” he answered, trembling.

“Faithful friend, noble heart!” said the king, “I should not have been rescued. I have addressed my people and I have spoken to God; last of all I speak to you. To maintain a cause which I believed sacred I have lost the throne and my children their inheritance. A million in gold remains; it is buried in the cellars of Newcastle Keep. You only know that this money exists. Make use of it, then, whenever you think it will be most useful, for my eldest son’s welfare. And now, farewell.”

“Farewell, saintly, martyred majesty,” lisped Athos, chilled with terror.

A moment’s silence ensued and then, in a full, sonorous voice, the king exclaimed: “Remember!”

He had scarcely uttered the word when a heavy blow shook the scaffold and where Athos stood immovable a warm drop fell upon his brow. He reeled back with a shudder and the same moment the drops became a crimson cataract.

Athos fell on his knees and remained some minutes as if bewildered or stunned. At last he rose and taking his handkerchief steeped it in the blood of the martyred king. Then as the crowd gradually dispersed he leaped down, crept from behind the drapery, glided between two horses, mingled with the crowd and was the first to arrive at the inn.

Having gained his room he raised his hand to his face, and observing that his fingers were covered with the monarch’s blood, fell down insensible.