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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 70. The Skiff “Lightning.”


D’Artagnan had judged correctly; Mordaunt felt that he had no time to lose, and he lost none. He knew the rapidity of decision and action that characterized his enemies and resolved to act with reference to that. This time the musketeers had an adversary who was worthy of them.

After closing the door carefully behind him Mordaunt glided into the subterranean passage, sheathing on the way his now useless sword, and thus reached the neighboring house, where he paused to examine himself and to take breath.

“Good!” he said, “nothing, almost nothing--scratches, nothing more; two in the arm and one in the breast. The wounds that I make are better than that--witness the executioner of Bethune, my uncle and King Charles. Now, not a second to lose, for a second lost will perhaps save them. They must die--die all together--killed at one stroke by the thunder of men in default of God’s. They must disappear, broken, scattered, annihilated. I will run, then, till my legs no longer serve, till my heart bursts in my bosom but I will arrive before they do.”

Mordaunt proceeded at a rapid pace to the nearest cavalry barracks, about a quarter of a league distant. He made that quarter of a league in four or five minutes. Arrived at the barracks he made himself known, took the best horse in the stables, mounted and gained the high road. A quarter of an hour later he was at Greenwich.

“There is the port,” he murmured. “That dark point yonder is the Isle of Dogs. Good! I am half an hour in advance of them, an hour, perhaps. Fool that I was! I have almost killed myself by my needless haste. Now,” he added, rising in the stirrups and looking about him, “which, I wonder, is the Lightning?”

At this moment, as if in reply to his words, a man lying on a coil of cables rose and advanced a few steps toward him. Mordaunt drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and tying a knot at each corner--the signal agreed upon--waved it in the air and the man came up to him. He was wrapped in a large rough cape, which concealed his form and partly his face.

“Do you wish to go on the water, sir?” said the sailor.

“Yes, just so. Along the Isle of Dogs.”

“And perhaps you have a preference for one boat more than another. You would like one that sails as rapidly as----”

“Lightning,” interrupted Mordaunt.

“Then mine is the boat you want, sir. I’m your man.”

“I begin to think so, particularly if you have not forgotten a certain signal.”

“Here it is, sir,” and the sailor took from his coat a handkerchief, tied at each corner.

“Good, quite right!” cried Mordaunt, springing off his horse. “There’s not a moment to lose; now take my horse to the nearest inn and conduct me to your vessel.”

“But,” asked the sailor, “where are your companions? I thought there were four of you.”

“Listen to me, sir. I’m not the man you take me for; you are in Captain Rogers’s post, are you not? under orders from General Cromwell. Mine, also, are from him!”

“Indeed, sir, I recognize you; you are Captain Mordaunt.”

Mordaunt was startled.

“Oh, fear nothing,” said the skipper, showing his face. “I am a friend.”

“Captain Groslow!” cried Mordaunt.

“Himself. The general remembered that I had formerly been a naval officer and he gave me the command of this expedition. Is there anything new in the wind?”

“Nothing.”

“I thought, perhaps, that the king’s death----”

“Has only hastened their flight; in ten minutes they will perhaps be here.”

“What have you come for, then?”

“To embark with you.”

“Ah! ah! the general doubted my fidelity?”

“No, but I wish to have a share in my revenge. Haven’t you some one who will relieve me of my horse?”

Groslow whistled and a sailor appeared.

“Patrick,” said Groslow, “take this horse to the stables of the nearest inn. If any one asks you whose it is you can say that it belongs to an Irish gentleman.”

The sailor departed without reply.

“Now,” said Mordaunt, “are you not afraid that they will recognize you?”

“There is no danger, dressed as I am in this pilot coat, on a night as dark as this. Besides even you didn’t recognize me; they will be much less likely to.”

“That is true,” said Mordaunt, “and they will be far from thinking of you. Everything is ready, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“The cargo on board?”

“Yes.”

“Five full casks?”

“And fifty empty ones.”

“Good.”

“We are carrying port wine to Anvers.”

“Excellent. Now take me aboard and return to your post, for they will soon be here.”

“I am ready.”

“It is important that none of your crew should see me.”

“I have but one man on board, and I am as sure of him as I am of myself. Besides, he doesn’t know you; like his mates he is ready to obey our orders knowing nothing of our plan.”

“Very well; let us go.”

They then went down to the Thames. A boat was fastened to the shore by a chain fixed to a stake. Groslow jumped in, followed by Mordaunt, and in five minutes they were quite away from that world of houses which then crowded the outskirts of London; and Mordaunt could discern the little vessel riding at anchor near the Isle of Dogs. When they reached the side of this felucca, Mordaunt, dexterous in his eagerness for vengeance, seized a rope and climbed up the side of the vessel with a coolness and agility very rare among landsmen. He went with Groslow to the captain’s berth, a sort of temporary cabin of planks, for the chief apartment had been given up by Captain Rogers to the passengers, who were to be accommodated at the other end of the boat.

“They will have nothing to do, then at this end?” said Mordaunt.

“Nothing at all.”

“That’s a capital arrangement. Return to Greenwich and bring them here. I shall hide myself in your cabin. You have a longboat?”

“That in which we came.”

“It appeared light and well constructed.”

“Quite a canoe.”

“Fasten it to the poop with a rope; put the oars into it, so that it may follow in the track and there will be nothing to do except to cut the cord. Put a good supply of rum and biscuit in it for the seamen; should the night happen to be stormy they will not be sorry to find something to console themselves with.”

“Consider all this done. Do you wish to see the powder-room?”

“No. When you return I will set the fuse myself, but be careful to conceal your face, so that you cannot be recognized by them.”

“Never fear.”

“There’s ten o’clock striking at Greenwich.”

Groslow, then, having given the sailor on duty an order to be on the watch with more than usual vigilance, went down into the longboat and soon reached Greenwich. The wind was chilly and the jetty was deserted, as he approached it; but he had no sooner landed than he heard a noise of horses galloping upon the paved road.

These horsemen were our friends, or rather, an avant garde, composed of D’Artagnan and Athos. As soon as they arrived at the spot where Groslow stood they stopped, as if guessing that he was the man they wanted. Athos alighted and calmly opened the handkerchief tied at each corner, whilst D’Artagnan, ever cautious, remained on horseback, one hand upon his pistol, leaning forward watchfully.

On seeing the appointed signal, Groslow, who had at first crept behind one of the cannons planted on that spot, walked straight up to the gentlemen. He was so well wrapped up in his cloak that it would have been impossible to see his face even if the night had not been so dark as to render precaution superfluous; nevertheless, the keen glance of Athos perceived at once it was not Rogers who stood before them.

“What do you want with us?” he asked of Groslow.

“I wish to inform you, my lord,” replied Groslow, with an Irish accent, feigned of course, “that if you are looking for Captain Rogers you will not find him. He fell down this morning and broke his leg. But I’m his cousin; he told me everything and desired me to watch instead of him, and in his place to conduct, wherever they wished to go, the gentlemen who should bring me a handkerchief tied at each corner, like that one which you hold and one which I have in my pocket.”

And he drew out the handkerchief.

“Was that all he said?” inquired Athos.

“No, my lord; he said you had engaged to pay seventy pounds if I landed you safe and sound at Boulogne or any other port you choose in France.”

“What do you think of all this?” said Athos, in a low tone to D’Artagnan, after explaining to him in French what the sailor had said in English.

“It seems a likely story to me.”

“And to me, too.”

“Besides, we can but blow out his brains if he proves false,” said the Gascon; “and you, Athos, you know something of everything and can be our captain. I dare say you know how to navigate, should he fail us.”

“My dear friend, you guess well. My father meant me for the navy and I have some vague notions about navigation.”

“You see!” cried D’Artagnan.

They then summoned their friends, who, with Blaisois, Mousqueton and Grimaud, promptly joined them, leaving Parry behind them, who was to take back to London the horses of the gentlemen and of their lackeys, which had been sold to the host in settlement of their account with him. Thanks to this stroke of business the four friends were able to take away with them a sum of money which, if not large, was sufficient as a provision against delays and accidents.

Parry parted from his friends regretfully; they had proposed his going with them to France, but he had straightway declined.

“It is very simple,” Mousqueton had said; “he is thinking of Groslow.”

It was Captain Groslow, the reader will remember, who had broken Parry’s head.

D’Artagnan resumed immediately the attitude of distrust that was habitual with him. He found the wharf too completely deserted, the night too dark, the captain too accommodating. He had reported to Aramis what had taken place, and Aramis, not less distrustful than he, had increased his suspicions. A slight click of the tongue against his teeth informed Athos of the Gascon’s uneasiness.

“We have no time now for suspicions,” said Athos. “The boat is waiting for us; come.”

“Besides,” said Aramis, “what prevents our being distrustful and going aboard at the same time? We can watch the skipper.”

“And if he doesn’t go straight I will crush him, that’s all.”

“Well said, Porthos,” replied D’Artagnan. “Let us go, then. You first, Mousqueton,” and he stopped his friends, directing the valets to go first, in order to test the plank leading from the pier to the boat.

The three valets passed without accident. Athos followed them, then Porthos, then Aramis. D’Artagnan went last, still shaking his head.

“What in the devil is the matter with you, my friend?” said Porthos. “Upon my word you would make Caesar afraid.”

“The matter is,” replied D’Artagnan, “that I can see upon this pier neither inspector nor sentinel nor exciseman.”

“And you complain of that!” said Porthos. “Everything goes as if in flowery paths.”

“Everything goes too well, Porthos. But no matter; we must trust in God.”

As soon as the plank was withdrawn the captain took his place at the tiller and made a sign to one of the sailors, who, boat-hook in hand, began to push out from the labyrinth of boats in which they were involved. The other sailor had already seated himself on the port side and was ready to row. As soon as there was room for rowing, his companion rejoined him and the boat began to move more rapidly.

“At last we are off!” exclaimed Porthos.

“Alas,” said Athos, “we depart alone.”

“Yes; but all four together and without a scratch; which is a consolation.”

“We are not yet at our destination,” observed the prudent D’Artagnan; “beware of misadventure.”

“Ah, my friend!” cried Porthos, “like the crows, you always bring bad omens. Who could intercept us on such a night as this, pitch dark, when one does not see more than twenty yards before one?”

“Yes, but to-morrow morning----”

“To-morrow we shall be at Boulogne.”

“I hope so, with all my heart,” said the Gascon, “and I confess my weakness. Yes, Athos, you may laugh, but as long as we were within gunshot of the pier or of the vessels lying by it I was looking for a frightful discharge of musketry which would crush us.”

“But,” said Porthos, with great wisdom, “that was impossible, for they would have killed the captain and the sailors.”

“Bah! much Monsieur Mordaunt would care. You don’t imagine he would consider a little thing like that?”

“At any rate,” said Porthos, “I am glad to hear D’Artagnan admit that he is afraid.”

“I not only confess it, but am proud of it,” returned the Gascon; “I’m not such a rhinoceros as you are. Oho! what’s that?”

“The Lightning,” answered the captain, “our felucca.”

“So far, so good,” laughed Athos.

They went on board and the captain instantly conducted them to the berth prepared for them--a cabin which was to serve for all purposes and for the whole party; he then tried to slip away under pretext of giving orders to some one.

“Stop a moment,” cried D’Artagnan; “pray how many men have you on board, captain?”

“I don’t understand,” was the reply.

“Explain it, Athos.”

Groslow, on the question being interpreted, answered, “Three, without counting myself.”

D’Artagnan understood, for while replying the captain had raised three fingers. “Oh!” he exclaimed, “I begin to be more at my ease, however, whilst you settle yourselves, I shall make the round of the boat.”

“As for me,” said Porthos, “I will see to the supper.”

“A very good idea, Porthos,” said the Gascon. “Athos lend me Grimaud, who in the society of his friend Parry has perhaps picked up a little English, and can act as my interpreter.”

“Go, Grimaud,” said Athos.

D’Artagnan, finding a lantern on the deck, took it up and with a pistol in his hand he said to the captain, in English, “Come,” (being, with the classic English oath, the only English words he knew), and so saying he descended to the lower deck.

This was divided into three compartments--one which was covered by the floor of that room in which Athos, Porthos and Aramis were to pass the night; the second was to serve as the sleeping-room for the servants, the third, under the prow of the ship, was under the temporary cabin in which Mordaunt was concealed.

“Oho!” cried D’Artagnan, as he went down the steps of the hatchway, preceded by the lantern, “what a number of barrels! one would think one was in the cave of Ali Baba. What is there in them?” he added, putting his lantern on one of the casks.

The captain seemed inclined to go upon deck again, but controlling himself he answered:

“Port wine.”

“Ah! port wine! ‘tis a comfort,” said the Gascon, “since we shall not die of thirst. Are they all full?”

Grimaud translated the question, and Groslow, who was wiping the perspiration from off his forehead, answered:

“Some full, others empty.”

D’Artagnan struck the barrels with his hand, and having ascertained that he spoke the truth, pushed his lantern, greatly to the captain’s alarm, into the interstices between the barrels, and finding that there was nothing concealed in them:

“Come along,” he said; and he went toward the door of the second compartment.

“Stop!” said the Englishman, “I have the key of that door;” and he opened the door, with a trembling hand, into the second compartment, where Mousqueton and Blaisois were preparing supper.

Here there was evidently nothing to seek or to apprehend and they passed rapidly to examine the third compartment.

This was the room appropriated to the sailors. Two or three hammocks hung upon the ceiling, a table and two benches composed the entire furniture. D’Artagnan picked up two or three old sails hung on the walls, and meeting nothing to suspect, regained by the hatchway the deck of the vessel.

“And this room?” he asked, pointing to the captain’s cabin.

“That’s my room,” replied Groslow.

“Open the door.”

The captain obeyed. D’Artagnan stretched out his arm in which he held the lantern, put his head in at the half opened door, and seeing that the cabin was nothing better than a shed:

“Good,” he said. “If there is an army on board it is not here that it is hidden. Let us see what Porthos has found for supper.” And thanking the captain, he regained the state cabin, where his friends were.

Porthos had found nothing, and with him fatigue had prevailed over hunger. He had fallen asleep and was in a profound slumber when D’Artagnan returned. Athos and Aramis were beginning to close their eyes, which they half opened when their companion came in again.

“Well!” said Aramis.

“All is well; we may sleep tranquilly.”

On this assurance the two friends fell asleep; and D’Artagnan, who was very weary, bade good-night to Grimaud and laid himself down in his cloak, with naked sword at his side, in such a manner that his body barricaded the passage, and it should be impossible to enter the room without upsetting him.


Chapter 71. Port Wine.


In ten minutes the masters slept; not so the servants---hungry, and more thirsty than hungry.

Blaisois and Mousqueton set themselves to preparing their bed which consisted of a plank and a valise. On a hanging table, which swung to and fro with the rolling of the vessel, were a pot of beer and three glasses.

“This cursed rolling!” said Blaisois. “I know it will serve me as it did when we came over.”

“And to think,” said Mousqueton, “that we have nothing to fight seasickness with but barley bread and hop beer. Pah!”

“But where is your wicker flask, Monsieur Mousqueton? Have you lost it?” asked Blaisois.

“No,” replied Mousqueton, “Parry kept it. Those devilish Scotchmen are always thirsty. And you, Grimaud,” he said to his companion, who had just come in after his round with D’Artagnan, “are you thirsty?”

“As thirsty as a Scotchman!” was Grimaud’s laconic reply.

And he sat down and began to cast up the accounts of his party, whose money he managed.

“Oh, lackadaisy! I’m beginning to feel queer!” cried Blaisois.

“If that’s the case,” said Mousqueton, with a learned air, “take some nourishment.”

“Do you call that nourishment?” said Blaisois, pointing to the barley bread and pot of beer upon the table.

“Blaisois,” replied Mousqueton, “remember that bread is the true nourishment of a Frenchman, who is not always able to get bread, ask Grimaud.”

“Yes, but beer?” asked Blaisois sharply, “is that their true drink?”

“As to that,” answered Mousqueton, puzzled how to get out of the difficulty, “I must confess that to me beer is as disagreeable as wine is to the English.”

“What! Monsieur Mousqueton! The English--do they dislike wine?”

“They hate it.”

“But I have seen them drink it.”

“As a punishment. For example, an English prince died one day because they had put him into a butt of Malmsey. I heard the Chevalier d’Herblay say so.”

“The fool!” cried Blaisois, “I wish I had been in his place.”

“Thou canst be,” said Grimaud, writing down his figures.

“How?” asked Blaisois, “I can? Explain yourself.”

Grimaud went on with his sum and cast up the whole.

“Port,” he said, extending his hand in the direction of the first compartment examined by D’Artagnan and himself.

“Eh? eh? ah? Those barrels I saw through the door?”

“Port!” replied Grimaud, beginning a fresh sum.

“I have heard,” said Blaisois, “that port is a very good wine.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Mousqueton, smacking his lips. “Excellent; there is port wine in the cellar of Monsieur le Baron de Bracieux.”

“Suppose we ask these Englishmen to sell us a bottle,” said the honest Blaisois.

“Sell!” cried Mousqueton, about whom there was a remnant of his ancient marauding character left. “One may well perceive, young man, that you are inexperienced. Why buy what one can take?”

“Take!” said Blaisois; “covet the goods of your neighbor? That is forbidden, it seems to me.”

“Where forbidden?” asked Mousqueton.

“In the commandments of God, or of the church, I don’t know which. I only know it says, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods, nor yet his wife.’”

“That is a child’s reason, Monsieur Blaisois,” said Mousqueton in his most patronizing manner. “Yes, you talk like a child--I repeat the word. Where have you read in the Scriptures, I ask you, that the English are your neighbors?”

“Where, that is true,” said Blaisois; “at least, I can’t now recall it.”

“A child’s reason--I repeat it,” continued Mousqueton. “If you had been ten years engaged in war, as Grimaud and I have been, my dear Blaisois, you would know the difference there is between the goods of others and the goods of enemies. Now an Englishman is an enemy; this port wine belongs to the English, therefore it belongs to us.”

“And our masters?” asked Blaisois, stupefied by this harangue, delivered with an air of profound sagacity, “will they be of your opinion?”

Mousqueton smiled disdainfully.

“I suppose that you think it necessary that I should disturb the repose of these illustrious lords to say, ‘Gentlemen, your servant, Mousqueton, is thirsty.’ What does Monsieur Bracieux care, think you, whether I am thirsty or not?”

“‘Tis a very expensive wine,” said Blaisois, shaking his head.

“Were it liquid gold, Monsieur Blaisois, our masters would not deny themselves this wine. Know that Monsieur de Bracieux is rich enough to drink a tun of port wine, even if obliged to pay a pistole for every drop.” His manner became more and more lofty every instant; then he arose and after finishing off the beer at one draught he advanced majestically to the door of the compartment where the wine was. “Ah! locked!” he exclaimed; “these devils of English, how suspicious they are!”

“Locked!” said Blaisois; “ah! the deuce it is; unlucky, for my stomach is getting more and more upset.”

“Locked!” repeated Mousqueton.

“But,” Blaisois ventured to say, “I have heard you relate, Monsieur Mousqueton, that once on a time, at Chantilly, you fed your master and yourself by taking partridges in a snare, carp with a line, and bottles with a slipnoose.”

“Perfectly true; but there was an airhole in the cellar and the wine was in bottles. I cannot throw the loop through this partition nor move with a pack-thread a cask of wine which may perhaps weigh two hundred pounds.”

“No, but you can take out two or three boards of the partition,” answered Blaisois, “and make a hole in the cask with a gimlet.”

Mousqueton opened his great round eyes to the utmost, astonished to find in Blaisois qualities for which he did not give him credit.

“‘Tis true,” he said; “but where can I get a chisel to take the planks out, a gimlet to pierce the cask?”

“Trousers,” said Grimaud, still squaring his accounts.

“Ah, yes!” said Mousqueton.

Grimaud, in fact, was not only the accountant, but the armorer of the party; and as he was a man full of forethought, these trousers, carefully rolled up in his valise, contained every sort of tool for immediate use.

Mousqueton, therefore, was soon provided with tools and he began his task. In a few minutes he had extracted three boards. He tried to pass his body through the aperture, but not being like the frog in the fable, who thought he was larger than he really was, he found he must take out three or four more before he could get through.

He sighed and set to work again.

Grimaud had now finished his accounts. He arose and stood near Mousqueton.

“I,” he said.

“What?” said Mousqueton.

“I can pass.”

“That is true,” said Mousqueton, glancing at his friend’s long and thin body, “you will pass easily.”

“And he knows the full casks,” said Blaisois, “for he has already been in the hold with Monsieur le Chevalier d’Artagnan. Let Monsieur Grimaud go in, Monsieur Mouston.”

“I could go in as well as Grimaud,” said Mousqueton, a little piqued.

“Yes, but that would take too much time and I am thirsty. I am getting more and more seasick.”

“Go in, then, Grimaud,” said Mousqueton, handing him the beer pot and gimlet.

“Rinse the glasses,” said Grimaud. Then with a friendly gesture toward Mousqueton, that he might forgive him for finishing an enterprise so brilliantly begun by another, he glided like a serpent through the opening and disappeared.

Blaisois was in a state of great excitement; he was in ecstasies. Of all the exploits performed since their arrival in England by the extraordinary men with whom he had the honor to be associated, this seemed without question to be the most wonderful.

“You are about to see,” said Mousqueton, looking at Blaisois with an expression of superiority which the latter did not even think of questioning, “you are about to see, Blaisois, how we old soldiers drink when we are thirsty.”

“My cloak,” said Grimaud, from the bottom of the hold.

“What do you want?” asked Blaisois.

“My cloak--stop up the aperture with it.”

“Why?” asked Blaisois.

“Simpleton!” exclaimed Mousqueton; “suppose any one came into the room.”

“Ah, true,” cried Blaisois, with evident admiration; “but it will be dark in the cellar.”

“Grimaud always sees, dark or light, night as well as day,” answered Mousqueton.

“That is lucky,” said Blaisois. “As for me, when I have no candle I can’t take two steps without knocking against something.”

“That’s because you haven’t served,” said Mousqueton. “Had you been in the army you would have been able to pick up a needle on the floor of a closed oven. But hark! I think some one is coming.”

Mousqueton made, with a low whistling sound, the sign of alarm well known to the lackeys in the days of their youth, resumed his place at the table and made a sign to Blaisois to follow his example.

Blaisois obeyed.

The door of their cabin was opened. Two men, wrapped in their cloaks, appeared.

“Oho!” said they, “not in bed at a quarter past eleven. That’s against all rules. In a quarter of an hour let every one be in bed and snoring.”

These two men then went toward the compartment in which Grimaud was secreted; opened the door, entered and shut it after them.

“Ah!” cried Blaisois, “he is lost!”

“Grimaud’s a cunning fellow,” murmured Mousqueton.

They waited for ten minutes, during which time no noise was heard that might indicate that Grimaud was discovered, and at the expiration of that anxious interval the two men returned, closed the door after them, and repeating their orders that the servants should go to bed and extinguish their lights, disappeared.

“Shall we obey?” asked Blaisois. “All this looks suspicious.”

“They said a quarter of an hour. We still have five minutes,” replied Mousqueton.

“Suppose we warn the masters.”

“Let’s wait for Grimaud.”

“But perhaps they have killed him.”

“Grimaud would have cried out.”

“You know he is almost dumb.”

“We should have heard the blow, then.”

“But if he doesn’t return?”

“Here he is.”

At that very moment Grimaud drew back the cloak which hid the aperture and came in with his face livid, his eyes staring wide open with terror, so that the pupils were contracted almost to nothing, with a large circle of white around them. He held in his hand a tankard full of a dark substance, and approaching the gleam of light shed by the lamp he uttered this single monosyllable: “Oh!” with such an expression of extreme terror that Mousqueton started, alarmed, and Blaisois was near fainting from fright.

Both, however, cast an inquisitive glance into the tankard--it was full of gunpowder.

Convinced that the ship was full of powder instead of having a cargo of wine, Grimaud hastened to awake D’Artagnan, who had no sooner beheld him than he perceived that something extraordinary had taken place. Imposing silence, Grimaud put out the little night lamp, then knelt down and poured into the lieutenant’s ear a recital melodramatic enough not to require play of feature to give it pith.

This was the gist of his strange story:

The first barrel that Grimaud had found on passing into the compartment he struck--it was empty. He passed on to another--it, also, was empty, but the third which he tried was, from the dull sound it gave out, evidently full. At this point Grimaud stopped and was preparing to make a hole with his gimlet, when he found a spigot; he therefore placed his tankard under it and turned the spout; something, whatever it was the cask contained, fell silently into the tankard.

Whilst he was thinking that he should first taste the liquor which the tankard contained before taking it to his companions, the door of the cellar opened and a man with a lantern in his hands and enveloped in a cloak, came and stood just before the hogshead, behind which Grimaud, on hearing him come in, instantly crept. This was Groslow. He was accompanied by another man, who carried in his hand something long and flexible rolled up, resembling a washing line. His face was hidden under the wide brim of his hat. Grimaud, thinking that they had come, as he had, to try the port wine, effaced himself behind his cask and consoled himself with the reflection that if he were discovered the crime was not a great one.

“Have you the wick?” asked the one who carried the lantern.

“Here it is,” answered the other.

At the voice of this last speaker, Grimaud started and felt a shudder creeping through his very marrow. He rose gently, so that his head was just above the round of the barrel, and under the large hat he recognized the pale face of Mordaunt.

“How long will this fuse burn?” asked this person.

“About five minutes,” replied the captain.

That voice also was known to Grimaud. He looked from one to the other and after Mordaunt he recognized Groslow.

“Then tell the men to be in readiness--don’t tell them why now. When the clock strikes a quarter after midnight collect your men. Get down into the longboat.”

“That is, when I have lighted the match?”

“I will undertake that. I wish to be sure of my revenge. Are the oars in the boat?”

“Everything is ready.”

“‘Tis well.”

Mordaunt knelt down and fastened one end of the train to the spigot, in order that he might have nothing to do but to set it on fire at the opposite end with the match.

He then arose.

“You hear me--at a quarter past midnight--in fact, in twenty minutes.”

“I understand all perfectly, sir,” replied Groslow; “but allow me to say there is great danger in what you undertake; would it not be better to intrust one of the men to set fire to the train?”

“My dear Groslow,” answered Mordaunt, “you know the French proverb, ‘Nothing one does not do one’s self is ever well done.’ I shall abide by that rule.”

Grimaud had heard all this, if he had not understood it. But what he saw made good what he lacked in perfect comprehension of the language. He had seen the two mortal enemies of the musketeers, had seen Mordaunt adjust the fuse; he had heard the proverb, which Mordaunt had given in French. Then he felt and felt again the contents of the tankard he held in his hand; and, instead of the lively liquor expected by Blaisois and Mousqueton, he found beneath his fingers the grains of some coarse powder.

Mordaunt went away with the captain. At the door he stopped to listen.

“Do you hear how they sleep?” he asked.

In fact, Porthos could be heard snoring through the partition.

“‘Tis God who gives them into our hands,” answered Groslow.

“This time the devil himself shall not save them,” rejoined Mordaunt.

And they went out together.


Chapter 72. End of the Port Wine Mystery.


Grimaud waited till he heard the bolt grind in the lock and when he was satisfied that he was alone he slowly rose from his recumbent posture.

“Ah!” he said, wiping with his sleeve large drops of sweat from his forehead, “how lucky it was that Mousqueton was thirsty!”

He made haste to pass out by the opening, still thinking himself in a dream; but the sight of the gunpowder in the tankard proved to him that his dream was a fatal nightmare.

It may be imagined that D’Artagnan listened to these details with increasing interest; before Grimaud had finished he rose without noise and putting his mouth to Aramis’s ear, and at the same time touching him on the shoulder to prevent a sudden movement:

“Chevalier,” he said, “get up and don’t make the least noise.”

Aramis awoke. D’Artagnan, pressing his hand, repeated his call. Aramis obeyed.

“Athos is near you,” said D’Artagnan; “warn him as I have warned you.”

Aramis easily aroused Athos, whose sleep was light, like that of all persons of a finely organized constitution. But there was more difficulty in arousing Porthos. He was beginning to ask full explanation of that breaking in on his sleep, which was very annoying to him, when D’Artagnan, instead of explaining, closed his mouth with his hand.

Then our Gascon, extending his arms, drew to him the heads of his three friends till they almost touched one another.

“Friends,” he said, “we must leave this craft at once or we are dead men.”

“Bah!” said Athos, “are you still afraid?”

“Do you know who is captain of this vessel?”

“No.”

“Captain Groslow.”

The shudder of the three musketeers showed to D’Artagnan that his words began to make some impression on them.

“Groslow!” said Aramis; “the devil!

“Who is this Groslow?” asked Porthos. “I don’t remember him.”

“Groslow is the man who broke Parry’s head and is now getting ready to break ours.”

“Oh! oh!”

“And do you know who is his lieutenant?”

“His lieutenant? There is none,” said Athos. “They don’t have lieutenants in a felucca manned by a crew of four.”

“Yes, but Monsieur Groslow is not a captain of the ordinary kind; he has a lieutenant, and that lieutenant is Monsieur Mordaunt.”

This time the musketeers did more than shudder--they almost cried out. Those invincible men were subject to a mysterious and fatal influence which that name had over them; the mere sound of it filled them with terror.

“What shall we do?” said Athos.

“We must seize the felucca,” said Aramis.

“And kill him,” said Porthos.

“The felucca is mined,” said D’Artagnan. “Those casks which I took for casks of port wine are filled with powder. When Mordaunt finds himself discovered he will destroy all, friends and foes; and on my word he would be bad company in going either to Heaven or to hell.”

“You have some plan, then?” asked Athos.

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“Have you confidence in me?”

“Give your orders,” said the three musketeers.

“Very well; come this way.”

D’Artagnan went toward a very small, low window, just large enough to let a man through. He turned it gently on its hinges.

“There,” he said, “is our road.”

“The deuce! it is a very cold one, my dear friend,” said Aramis.

“Stay here, if you like, but I warn you ‘twill be rather too warm presently.”

“But we cannot swim to the shore.”

“The longboat is yonder, lashed to the felucca. We will take possession of it and cut the cable. Come, my friends.”

“A moment’s delay,” said Athos; “our servants?”

“Here we are!” they cried.

Meantime the three friends were standing motionless before the awful sight which D’Artagnan, in raising the shutters, had disclosed to them through the narrow opening of the window.

Those who have once beheld such a spectacle know that there is nothing more solemn, more striking, than the raging sea, rolling, with its deafening roar, its dark billows beneath the pale light of a wintry moon.

“Gracious Heaven, we are hesitating!” cried D’Artagnan; “if we hesitate what will the servants do?”

“I do not hesitate, you know,” said Grimaud.

“Sir,” interposed Blaisois, “I warn you that I can only swim in rivers.”

“And I not at all,” said Mousqueton.

But D’Artagnan had now slipped through the window.

“You have decided, friend?” said Athos.

“Yes,” the Gascon answered; “Athos! you, who are a perfect being, bid spirit triumph over body. Do you, Aramis, order the servants. Porthos, kill every one who stands in your way.”

And after pressing the hand of Athos, D’Artagnan chose a moment when the ship rolled backward, so that he had only to plunge into the water, which was already up to his waist.

Athos followed him before the felucca rose again on the waves; the cable which tied the boat to the vessel was then seen plainly rising out of the sea.

D’Artagnan swam to it and held it, suspending himself by this rope, his head alone out of water.

In one second Athos joined him.

Then they saw, as the felucca turned, two other heads peeping, those of Aramis and Grimaud.

“I am uneasy about Blaisois,” said Athos; “he can, he says, only swim in rivers.”

“When people can swim at all they can swim anywhere. To the boat! to the boat!”

“But Porthos, I do not see him.”

“Porthos is coming--he swims like Leviathan.”

In fact, Porthos did not appear; for a scene, half tragedy and half comedy, had been performed by him with Mousqueton and Blaisois, who, frightened by the noise of the sea, by the whistling of the wind, by the sight of that dark water yawning like a gulf beneath them, shrank back instead of going forward.

“Come, come!” said Porthos; “jump in.”

“But, monsieur,” said Mousqueton, “I can’t swim; let me stay here.”

“And me, too, monsieur,” said Blaisois.

“I assure you, I shall be very much in the way in that little boat,” said Mousqueton.

“And I know I shall drown before reaching it,” continued Blaisois.

“Come along! I shall strangle you both if you don’t get out,” said Porthos at last, seizing Mousqueton by the throat. “Forward, Blaisois!”

A groan, stifled by the grasp of Porthos, was all the reply of poor Blaisois, for the giant, taking him neck and heels, plunged him into the water headforemost, pushing him out of the window as if he had been a plank.

“Now, Mousqueton,” he said, “I hope you don’t mean to desert your master?”

“Ah, sir,” replied Mousqueton, his eyes filling with tears, “why did you re-enter the army? We were all so happy in the Chateau de Pierrefonds!”

And without any other complaint, passive and obedient, either from true devotion to his master or from the example set by Blaisois, Mousqueton leaped into the sea headforemost. A sublime action, at all events, for Mousqueton looked upon himself as dead. But Porthos was not a man to abandon an old servant, and when Mousqueton rose above the water, blind as a new-born puppy, he found he was supported by the large hand of Porthos and that he was thus enabled, without having occasion even to move, to advance toward the cable with the dignity of a very triton.

In a few minutes Porthos had rejoined his companions, who were already in the boat; but when, after they had all got in, it came to his turn, there was great danger that in putting his huge leg over the edge of the boat he would upset the little vessel. Athos was the last to enter.

“Are you all here?” he asked.

“Ah! have you your sword, Athos?” cried D’Artagnan.

“Yes.”

“Cut the cable, then.”

Athos drew a sharp poniard from his belt and cut the cord. The felucca went on, the boat continued stationary, rocked only by the swashing waves.

“Come, Athos!” said D’Artagnan, giving his hand to the count; “you are going to see something curious,” added the Gascon.