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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 82. Precautions.


After quitting Anne, Mazarin took the road to Rueil, where he usually resided; in those times of disturbance he went about with numerous followers and often disguised himself. In military dress he was, indeed, as we have stated, a very handsome man.

In the court of the old Chateau of Saint Germain he entered his coach, and reached the Seine at Chatou. The prince had supplied him with fifty light horse, not so much by way of guard as to show the deputies how readily the queen’s generals dispersed their troops and to prove that they might be safely scattered at pleasure. Athos, on horseback, without his sword and kept in sight by Comminges, followed the cardinal in silence. Grimaud, finding that his master had been arrested, fell back into the ranks near Aramis, without saying a word and as if nothing had happened.

Grimaud had, indeed, during twenty-two years of service, seen his master extricate himself from so many difficulties that nothing less than Athos’s imminent death was likely to make him uneasy.

At the branching off of the road toward Paris, Aramis, who had followed in the cardinal’s suite, turned back. Mazarin went to the right hand and Aramis could see the prisoner disappear at the turning of the avenue. Athos, at the same moment, moved by a similar impulse, looked back also. The two friends exchanged a simple inclination of the head and Aramis put his finger to his hat, as if to bow, Athos alone comprehending by that signal that he had some project in his head.

Ten minutes afterward Mazarin entered the court of that chateau which his predecessor had built for him at Rueil; as he alighted, Comminges approached him.

“My lord,” he asked, “where does your eminence wish Monsieur Comte de la Fere to be lodged?”

“In the pavilion of the orangery, of course, in front of the pavilion where the guard is. I wish every respect to be shown the count, although he is the prisoner of her majesty the queen.”

“My lord,” answered Comminges, “he begs to be taken to the place where Monsieur d’Artagnan is confined--that is, in the hunting lodge, opposite the orangery.”

Mazarin thought for an instant.

Comminges saw that he was undecided.

“‘Tis a very strong post,” he resumed, “and we have forty good men, tried soldiers, having no connection with Frondeurs nor any interest in the Fronde.”

“If we put these three men together, Monsieur Comminges,” said Mazarin, “we must double the guard, and we are not rich enough in fighting men to commit such acts of prodigality.”

Comminges smiled; Mazarin read and construed that smile.

“You do not know these men, Monsieur Comminges, but I know them, first personally, also by hearsay. I sent them to carry aid to King Charles and they performed prodigies to save him; had it not been for an adverse destiny, that beloved monarch would this day have been among us.”

“But since they served your eminence so well, why are they, my lord cardinal, in prison?”

“In prison?” said Mazarin, “and when has Rueil been a prison?”

“Ever since there were prisoners in it,” answered Comminges.

“These gentlemen, Comminges, are not prisoners,” returned Mazarin, with his ironical smile, “only guests; but guests so precious that I have put a grating before each of their windows and bolts to their doors, that they may not refuse to continue my visitors. So much do I esteem them that I am going to make the Comte de la Fere a visit, that I may converse with him tete-a-tete, and that we may not be disturbed at our interview you must conduct him, as I said before, to the pavilion of the orangery; that, you know, is my daily promenade. Well, while taking my walk I will call on him and we will talk. Although he professes to be my enemy I have sympathy for him, and if he is reasonable perhaps we shall arrange matters.”

Comminges bowed, and returned to Athos, who was awaiting with apparent calmness, but with real anxiety, the result of the interview.

“Well?” he said to the lieutenant.

“Sir,” replied Comminges, “it seems that it is impossible.”

“Monsieur de Comminges,” said Athos, “I have been a soldier all my life and I know the force of orders; but outside your orders there is a service you can render me.”

“I will do it with all my heart,” said Comminges; “for I know who you are and what service you once performed for her majesty; I know, too, how dear to you is the young man who came so valiantly to my aid when that old rogue of a Broussel was arrested. I am entirely at your service, except only for my orders.”

“Thank you, sir; what I am about to ask will not compromise you in any degree.”

“If it should even compromise me a little,” said Monsieur de Comminges, with a smile, “still make your demand. I don’t like Mazarin any better than you do. I serve the queen and that draws me naturally into the service of the cardinal; but I serve the one with joy and the other against my will. Speak, then, I beg of you; I wait and listen.”

“Since there is no harm,” said Athos, “in my knowing that D’Artagnan is here, I presume there will be none in his knowing that I am here.”

“I have received no orders on that point.”

“Well, then, do me the kindness to give him my regards and tell him that I am his neighbor. Tell him also what you have just told me--that Mazarin has placed me in the pavilion of the orangery in order to make me a visit, and assure him that I shall take advantage of this honor he proposes to accord to me to obtain from him some amelioration of our captivity.”

“Which cannot last,” interrupted Comminges; “the cardinal said so; there is no prison here.”

“But there are oubliettes!” replied Athos, smiling.

“Oh! that’s a different thing; yes, I know there are traditions of that sort,” said Comminges. “It was in the time of the other cardinal, who was a great nobleman; but our Mazarin--impossible! an Italian adventurer would not dare to go such lengths with such men as ourselves. Oubliettes are employed as a means of kingly vengeance, and a low-born fellow such as he is would not have recourse to them. Your arrest is known, that of your friends will soon be known; and all the nobility of France would demand an explanation of your disappearance. No, no, be easy on that score. I will, however, inform Monsieur d’Artagnan of your arrival here.”

Comminges then led the count to a room on the ground floor of a pavilion, at the end of the orangery. They passed through a courtyard as they went, full of soldiers and courtiers. In the centre of this court, in the form of a horseshoe, were the buildings occupied by Mazarin, and at each wing the pavilion (or smaller building), where D’Artagnan was confined, and that, level with the orangery, where Athos was to be. From the ends of these two wings extended the park.

Athos, when he reached his appointed room, observed through the gratings of his window, walls and roofs; and was told, on inquiry, by Comminges, that he was looking on the back of the pavilion where D’Artagnan was confined.

“Yes, ‘tis too true,” said Comminges, “‘tis almost a prison; but what a singular fancy this is of yours, count--you, who are the very flower of our nobility--to squander your valor and loyalty amongst these upstarts, the Frondists! Really, count, if ever I thought that I had a friend in the ranks of the royal army, it was you. A Frondeur! you, the Comte de la Fere, on the side of Broussel, Blancmesnil and Viole! For shame! you, a Frondeur!”

“On my word of honor,” said Athos, “one must be either a Mazarinist or a Frondeur. For a long time I had these words whispered in my ears, and I chose the latter; at any rate, it is a French word. And now, I am a Frondeur--not of Broussel’s party, nor of Blancmesnil’s, nor am I with Viole; but with the Duc de Beaufort, the Ducs de Bouillon and d’Elbeuf; with princes, not with presidents, councillors and low-born lawyers. Besides, what a charming outlook it would have been to serve the cardinal! Look at that wall--without a single window--which tells you fine things about Mazarin’s gratitude!”

“Yes,” replied De Comminges, “more especially if it could reveal how Monsieur d’Artagnan for this last week has been anathematizing him.”

“Poor D’Artagnan’” said Athos, with the charming melancholy that was one of the traits of his character, “so brave, so good, so terrible to the enemies of those he loves. You have two unruly prisoners there, sir.”

“Unruly,” Comminges smiled; “you wish to terrify me, I suppose. When he came here, Monsieur D’Artagnan provoked and braved the soldiers and inferior officers, in order, I suppose, to have his sword back. That mood lasted some time; but now he’s as gentle as a lamb and sings Gascon songs, which make one die of laughing.”

“And Du Vallon?” asked Athos.

“Ah, he’s quite another sort of person--a formidable gentleman, indeed. The first day he broke all the doors in with a single push of his shoulder; and I expected to see him leave Rueil in the same way as Samson left Gaza. But his temper cooled down, like his friend’s; he not only gets used to his captivity, but jokes about it.”

“So much the better,” said Athos.

“Do you think anything else was to be expected of them?” asked Comminges, who, putting together what Mazarin had said of his prisoners and what the Comte de la Fere had said, began to feel a degree of uneasiness.

Athos, on the other hand, reflected that this recent gentleness of his friends most certainly arose from some plan formed by D’Artagnan. Unwilling to injure them by praising them too highly, he replied: “They? They are two hotheads--the one a Gascon, the other from Picardy; both are easily excited, but they quiet down immediately. You have had a proof of that in what you have just related to me.”

This, too, was the opinion of Comminges, who withdrew somewhat reassured. Athos remained alone in the vast chamber, where, according to the cardinal’s directions, he was treated with all the courtesy due to a nobleman. He awaited Mazarin’s promised visit to get some light on his present situation.


Chapter 83. Strength and Sagacity.


Now let us pass the orangery to the hunting lodge. At the extremity of the courtyard, where, close to a portico formed of Ionic columns, were the dog kennels, rose an oblong building, the pavilion of the orangery, a half circle, inclosing the court of honor. It was in this pavilion, on the ground floor, that D’Artagnan and Porthos were confined, suffering interminable hours of imprisonment in a manner suitable to each different temperament.

D’Artagnan was pacing to and fro like a caged tiger; with dilated eyes, growling as he paced along by the bars of a window looking upon the yard of servant’s offices.

Porthos was ruminating over an excellent dinner he had just demolished.

The one seemed to be deprived of reason, yet he was meditating. The other seemed to meditate, yet he was more than half asleep. But his sleep was a nightmare, which might be guessed by the incoherent manner in which he sometimes snored and sometimes snorted.

“Look,” said D’Artagnan, “day is declining. It must be nearly four o’clock. We have been in this place nearly eighty-three hours.”

“Hem!” muttered Porthos, with a kind of pretense of answering.

“Did you hear, eternal sleeper?” cried D’Artagnan, irritated that any one could doze during the day, when he had the greatest difficulty in sleeping during the night.

“What?” said Porthos.

“I say we have been here eighty-three hours.”

“‘Tis your fault,” answered Porthos.

“How, my fault?”

“Yes, I offered you escape.”

“By pulling out a bar and pushing down a door?”

“Certainly.”

“Porthos, men like us can’t go out from here purely and simply.”

“Faith!” said Porthos, “as for me, I could go out with that purity and that simplicity which it seems to me you despise too much.”

D’Artagnan shrugged his shoulders.

“And besides,” he said, “going out of this chamber isn’t all.”

“Dear friend,” said Porthos, “you appear to be in a somewhat better humor to-day than you were yesterday. Explain to me why going out of this chamber isn’t everything.”

“Because, having neither arms nor password, we shouldn’t take fifty steps in the court without knocking against a sentinel.”

“Very well,” said Porthos, “we will kill the sentinel and we shall have his arms.”

“Yes, but before we can kill him--and he will be hard to kill, that Swiss--he will shriek out and the whole picket will come, and we shall be taken like foxes, we, who are lions, and thrown into some dungeon, where we shall not even have the consolation of seeing this frightful gray sky of Rueil, which no more resembles the sky of Tarbes than the moon is like the sun. Lack-a-day! if we only had some one to instruct us about the physical and moral topography of this castle. Ah! when one thinks that for twenty years, during which time I did not know what to do with myself, it never occurred to me to come to study Rueil.”

“What difference does that make?” said Porthos. “We shall go out all the same.”

“Do you know, my dear fellow, why master pastrycooks never work with their hands?”

“No,” said Porthos, “but I should be glad to be informed.”

“It is because in the presence of their pupils they fear that some of their tarts or creams may turn out badly cooked.”

“What then?”

“Why, then they would be laughed at, and a master pastrycook must never be laughed at.”

“And what have master pastrycooks to do with us?”

“We ought, in our adventures, never to be defeated or give any one a chance to laugh at us. In England, lately, we failed, we were beaten, and that is a blemish on our reputation.”

“By whom, then, were we beaten?” asked Porthos.

“By Mordaunt.”

“Yes, but we have drowned Monsieur Mordaunt.”

“That is true, and that will redeem us a little in the eyes of posterity, if posterity ever looks at us. But listen, Porthos: though Monsieur Mordaunt was a man not to be despised, Mazarin is not less strong than he, and we shall not easily succeed in drowning him. We must, therefore, watch and play a close game; for,” he added with a sigh, “we two are equal, perhaps, to eight others; but we are not equal to the four that you know of.”

“That is true,” said Porthos, echoing D’Artagnan’s sigh.

“Well, Porthos, follow my examples; walk back and forth till some news of our friends reaches us or till we are visited by a good idea. But don’t sleep as you do all the time; nothing dulls the intellect like sleep. As to what may lie before us, it is perhaps less serious than we at first thought. I don’t believe that Monsieur de Mazarin thinks of cutting off our heads, for heads are not taken off without previous trial; a trial would make a noise, and a noise would get the attention of our friends, who would check the operations of Monsieur de Mazarin.”

“How well you reason!” said Porthos, admiringly.

“Well, yes, pretty well,” replied D’Artagnan; “and besides, you see, if they put us on trial, if they cut off our heads, they must meanwhile either keep us here or transfer us elsewhere.”

“Yes, that is inevitable,” said Porthos.

“Well, it is impossible but that Master Aramis, that keen-scented bloodhound, and Athos, that wise and prudent nobleman, will discover our retreat. Then, believe me, it will be time to act.”

“Yes, we will wait. We can wait the more contentedly, that it is not absolutely bad here, but for one thing, at least.”

“What is that?”

“Did you observe, D’Artagnan, that three days running they have brought us braised mutton?”

“No; but if it occurs a fourth time I shall complain of it, so never mind.”

“And then I feel the loss of my house, ‘tis a long time since I visited my castles.”

“Forget them for a time; we shall return to them, unless Mazarin razes them to the ground.”

“Do you think that likely?”

“No, the other cardinal would have done so, but this one is too mean a fellow to risk it.”

“You reconcile me, D’Artagnan.”

“Well, then, assume a cheerful manner, as I do; we must joke with the guards, we must gain the good-will of the soldiers, since we can’t corrupt them. Try, Porthos, to please them more than you are wont to do when they are under our windows. Thus far you have done nothing but show them your fist; and the more respectable your fist is, Porthos, the less attractive it is. Ah, I would give much to have five hundred louis, only.”

“So would I,” said Porthos, unwilling to be behind D’Artagnan in generosity; “I would give as much as a hundred pistoles.”

The two prisoners were at this point of their conversation when Comminges entered, preceded by a sergeant and two men, who brought supper in a basket with two handles, filled with basins and plates.

“What!” exclaimed Porthos, “mutton again?”

“My dear Monsieur de Comminges,” said D’Artagnan, “you will find that my friend, Monsieur du Vallon, will go to the most fatal lengths if Cardinal Mazarin continues to provide us with this sort of meat; mutton every day.”

“I declare,” said Porthos, “I shall eat nothing if they do not take it away.”

“Remove the mutton,” cried Comminges; “I wish Monsieur du Vallon to sup well, more especially as I have news to give him that will improve his appetite.”

“Is Mazarin dead?” asked Porthos.

“No; I am sorry to tell you he is perfectly well.”

“So much the worse,” said Porthos.

“What is that news?” asked D’Artagnan. “News in prison is a fruit so rare that I trust, Monsieur de Comminges, you will excuse my impatience--the more eager since you have given us to understand that the news is good.”

“Should you be glad to hear that the Comte de la Fere is well?” asked De Comminges.

D’Artagnan’s penetrating gray eyes were opened to the utmost.

“Glad!” he cried; “I should be more than glad! Happy--beyond measure!”

“Well, I am desired by him to give you his compliments and to say that he is in good health.”

D’Artagnan almost leaped with joy. A quick glance conveyed his thought to Porthos: “If Athos knows where we are, if he opens communication with us, before long Athos will act.”

Porthos was not very quick to understand the language of glances, but now since the name of Athos had suggested to him the same idea, he understood.

“Do you say,” asked the Gascon, timidly, “that the Comte de la Fere has commissioned you to give his compliments to Monsieur du Vallon and myself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then you have seen him?”

“Certainly I have.”

“Where? if I may ask without indiscretion.”

“Near here,” replied De Comminges, smiling; “so near that if the windows which look on the orangery were not stopped up you could see him from where you are.”

“He is wandering about the environs of the castle,” thought D’Artagnan. Then he said aloud:

“You met him, I dare say, in the park--hunting, perhaps?”

“No; nearer, nearer still. Look, behind this wall,” said De Comminges, knocking against the wall.

“Behind this wall? What is there, then, behind this wall? I was brought here by night, so devil take me if I know where I am.”

“Well,” said Comminges, “suppose one thing.”

“I will suppose anything you please.”

“Suppose there were a window in this wall.”

“Well?”

“From that window you would see Monsieur de la Fere at his.”

“The count, then, is in the chateau?”

“Yes.”

“For what reason?”

“The same as yourself.”

“Athos--a prisoner?”

“You know well,” replied De Comminges, “that there are no prisoners at Rueil, because there is no prison.”

“Don’t let us play upon words, sir. Athos has been arrested.”

“Yesterday, at Saint Germain, as he came out from the presence of the queen.”

The arms of D’Artagnan fell powerless by his side. One might have supposed him thunderstruck; a paleness ran like a cloud over his dark skin, but disappeared immediately.

“A prisoner?” he reiterated.

“A prisoner,” repeated Porthos, quite dejected.

Suddenly D’Artagnan looked up and in his eyes there was a gleam which scarcely even Porthos observed; but it died away and he appeared more sorrowful than before.

“Come, come,” said Comminges, who, since D’Artagnan, on the day of Broussel’s arrest, had saved him from the hands of the Parisians, had entertained a real affection for him, “don’t be unhappy; I never thought of bringing you bad news. Laugh at the chance which has brought your friend near to you and Monsieur du Vallon, instead of being in the depths of despair about it.”

But D’Artagnan was still in a desponding mood.

“And how did he look?” asked Porthos, who, perceiving that D’Artagnan had allowed the conversation to drop, profited by it to put in a word or two.

“Very well, indeed, sir,” replied Comminges; “at first, like you, he seemed distressed; but when he heard that the cardinal was going to pay him a visit this very evening----”

“Ah!” cried D’Artagnan, “the cardinal is about to visit the Comte de la Fere?”

“Yes; and the count desired me to tell you that he should take advantage of this visit to plead for you and for himself.”

“Ah! our dear count!” said D’Artagnan.

“A fine thing, indeed!” grunted Porthos. “A great favor! Zounds! Monsieur the Comte de la Fere, whose family is allied to the Montmorency and the Rohan, is easily the equal of Monsieur de Mazarin.”

“No matter,” said D’Artagnan, in his most wheedling tone. “On reflection, my dear Du Vallon, it is a great honor for the Comte de la Fere, and gives good reason to hope. In fact, it seems to me so great an honor for a prisoner that I think Monsieur de Comminges must be mistaken.”

“What? I am mistaken?”

“Monsieur de Mazarin will not come to visit the Comte de la Fere, but the Comte de la Fere will be sent for to visit him.”

“No, no, no,” said Comminges, who made a point of having the facts appear exactly as they were, “I clearly understood what the cardinal said to me. He will come and visit the Comte de la Fere.”

D’Artagnan tried to gather from the expression of his eyes whether Porthos understood the importance of that visit, but Porthos did not even look toward him.

“It is, then, the cardinal’s custom to walk in his orangery?” asked D’Artagnan.

“Every evening he shuts himself in there. That, it seems, is where he meditates on state affairs.”

“In that case,” said D’Artagnan, “I begin to believe that Monsieur de la Fere will receive the visit of his eminence; he will, of course, have an escort.”

“Yes--two soldiers.”

“And will he talk thus of affairs in presence of two strangers?”

“The soldiers are Swiss, who understand only German. Besides, according to all probability they will wait at the door.”

D’Artagnan made a violent effort over himself to keep his face from being too expressive.

“Let the cardinal take care of going alone to visit the Comte de la Fere,” said D’Artagnan; “for the count must be furious.”

Comminges began to laugh. “Oh, oh! why, really, one would say that you four were anthropaphagi! The count is an affable man; besides, he is unarmed; at the first word from his eminence the two soldiers about him would run to his assistance.”

“Two soldiers,” said D’Artagnan, seeming to remember something, “two soldiers, yes; that, then, is why I hear two men called every evening and see them walking sometimes for half an hour, under my window.”

“That is it; they are waiting for the cardinal, or rather for Bernouin, who comes to call them when the cardinal goes out.”

“Fine-looking men, upon my word!” said D’Artagnan.

“They belong to the regiment that was at Lens, which the prince assigned to the cardinal.”

“Ah, monsieur,” said D’Artagnan, as if to sum up in a word all that conversation, “if only his eminence would relent and grant to Monsieur de la Fere our liberty.”

“I wish it with all my heart,” said Comminges.

“Then, if he should forget that visit, you would find no inconvenience in reminding him of it?”

“Not at all.”

“Ah, that gives me more confidence.”

This skillful turn of the conversation would have seemed a sublime manoeuvre to any one who could have read the Gascon’s soul.

“Now,” said D’Artagnan, “I’ve one last favor to ask of you, Monsieur de Comminges.”

“At your service, sir.”

“You will see the count again?”

“To-morrow morning.”

“Will you remember us to him and ask him to solicit for me the same favor that he will have obtained?”

“You want the cardinal to come here?”

“No; I know my place and am not so presumptuous. Let his eminence do me the honor to give me a hearing; that is all I want.”

“Oh!” muttered Porthos, shaking his head, “never should I have thought this of him! How misfortune humbles a man!”

“I promise you it shall be done,” answered De Comminges.

“Tell the count that I am well; that you found me sad, but resigned.”

“I am pleased, sir, to hear that.”

“And the same, also, for Monsieur du Vallon----”

“Not for me,” cried Porthos; “I am not by any means resigned.”

“But you will be resigned, my friend.”

“Never!”

“He will become so, monsieur; I know him better than he knows himself. Be silent, dear Du Vallon, and resign yourself.”

“Adieu, gentlemen,” said De Comminges; “sleep well!”

“We will try.”

De Comminges went away, D’Artagnan remaining apparently in the same attitude of humble resignation; but scarcely had he departed when he turned and clasped Porthos in his arms with an expression not to be doubted.

“Oh!” cried Porthos; “what’s the matter now? Have you gone mad, my dear friend?”

“What is the matter?” returned D’Artagnan; “we are saved!”

“I don’t see that at all,” answered Porthos. “I think we are all taken prisoners, except Aramis, and that our chances of getting out are lessened since one more of us is caught in Mazarin’s mousetrap.”

“Which is far too strong for two of us, but not strong enough for three of us,” returned D’Artagnan.

“I don’t understand,” said Porthos.

“Never mind; let’s sit down to table and take something to strengthen us for the night.”

“What are we to do, then, to-night?”

“To travel--perhaps.”

“But----”

“Sit down, dear friend, to table. When one is eating, ideas flow easily. After supper, when they are perfected, I will communicate my plans to you.”

So Porthos sat down to table without another word and ate with an appetite that did honor to the confidence that was ever inspired in him by D’Artagnan’s inventive imagination.


Chapter 84. Strength and Sagacity--Continued.


Supper was eaten in silence, but not in sadness; for from time to time one of those sweet smiles which were habitual to him in moments of good-humor illumined the face of D’Artagnan. Not a scintilla of these was lost on Porthos; and at every one he uttered an exclamation which betrayed to his friend that he had not lost sight of the idea which possessed his brain.

At dessert D’Artagnan reposed in his chair, crossed one leg over the other and lounged about like a man perfectly at his ease.

Porthos rested his chin on his hands, placed his elbows on the table and looked at D’Artagnan with an expression of confidence which imparted to that colossus an admirable appearance of good-fellowship.

“Well?” said D’Artagnan, at last.

“Well!” repeated Porthos.

“You were saying, my dear friend----”

“No; I said nothing.”

“Yes; you were saying you wished to leave this place.”

“Ah, indeed! the will was never wanting.”

“To get away you would not mind, you added, knocking down a door or a wall.”

“‘Tis true--I said so, and I say it again.”

“And I answered you, Porthos, that it was not a good plan; that we couldn’t go a hundred steps without being recaptured, because we were without clothes to disguise ourselves and arms to defend ourselves.”

“That is true; we should need clothes and arms.”

“Well,” said D’Artagnan, rising, “we have them, friend Porthos, and even something better.”

“Bah!” said Porthos, looking around.

“Useless to look; everything will come to us when wanted. At about what time did we see the two Swiss guards walking yesterday?”

“An hour after sunset.”

“If they go out to-day as they did yesterday we shall have the honor, then, of seeing them in half an hour?”

“In a quarter of an hour at most.”

“Your arm is still strong enough, is it not, Porthos?”

Porthos unbuttoned his sleeve, raised his shirt and looked complacently on his strong arm, as large as the leg of any ordinary man.

“Yes, indeed,” said he, “I believe so.”

“So that you could without trouble convert these tongs into a hoop and yonder shovel into a corkscrew?”

“Certainly.” And the giant took up these two articles, and without any apparent effort produced in them the metamorphoses suggested by his companion.

“There!” he cried.

“Capital!” exclaimed the Gascon. “Really, Porthos, you are a gifted individual!”

“I have heard speak,” said Porthos, “of a certain Milo of Crotona, who performed wonderful feats, such as binding his forehead with a cord and bursting it--of killing an ox with a blow of his fist and carrying it home on his shoulders, et cetera. I used to learn all these feat by heart yonder, down at Pierrefonds, and I have done all that he did except breaking a cord by the corrugation of my temples.”

“Because your strength is not in your head, Porthos,” said his friend.

“No; it is in my arms and shoulders,” answered Porthos with gratified naivete.

“Well, my dear friend, let us approach the window and there you can match your strength against that of an iron bar.”

Porthos went to the window, took a bar in his hands, clung to it and bent it like a bow; so that the two ends came out of the sockets of stone in which for thirty years they had been fixed.

“Well! friend, the cardinal, although such a genius, could never have done that.”

“Shall I take out any more of them?” asked Porthos.

“No; that is sufficient; a man can pass through that.”

Porthos tried, and passed the upper portion of his body through.

“Yes,” he said.

“Now pass your arm through this opening.”

“Why?”

“You will know presently--pass it.”

Porthos obeyed with military promptness and passed his arm through the opening.

“Admirable!” said D’Artagnan.

“The scheme goes forward, it seems.”

“On wheels, dear friend.”

“Good! What shall I do now?”

“Nothing.”

“It is finished, then?”

“No, not yet.”

“I should like to understand,” said Porthos.

“Listen, my dear friend; in two words you will know all. The door of the guardhouse opens, as you see.”

“Yes, I see.”

“They are about to send into our court, which Monsieur de Mazarin crosses on his way to the orangery, the two guards who attend him.”

“There they are, coming out.”

“If only they close the guardhouse door! Good! They close it.”

“What, then?”

“Silence! They may hear us.”

“I don’t understand it at all.”

“As you execute you will understand.”

“And yet I should have preferred----”

“You will have the pleasure of the surprise.”

“Ah, that is true.”

“Hush!”

Porthos remained silent and motionless.

In fact, the two soldiers advanced on the side where the window was, rubbing their hands, for it was cold, it being the month of February.

At this moment the door of the guardhouse was opened and one of the soldiers was summoned away.

“Now,” said D’Artagnan, “I am going to call this soldier and talk to him. Don’t lose a word of what I’m going to say to you, Porthos. Everything lies in the execution.”

“Good, the execution of plots is my forte.”

“I know it well. I depend on you. Look, I shall turn to the left, so that the soldier will be at your right, as soon as he mounts on the bench to talk to us.”

“But supposing he doesn’t mount?”

“He will; rely upon it. As soon as you see him get up, stretch out your arm and seize him by the neck. Then, raising him up as Tobit raised the fish by the gills, you must pull him into the room, taking care to squeeze him so tight that he can’t cry out.”

“Oh!” said Porthos. “Suppose I happen to strangle him?”

“To be sure there would only be a Swiss the less in the world; but you will not do so, I hope. Lay him down here; we’ll gag him and tie him--no matter where--somewhere. So we shall get from him one uniform and a sword.”

“Marvelous!” exclaimed Porthos, looking at the Gascon with the most profound admiration.

“Pooh!” replied D’Artagnan.

“Yes,” said Porthos, recollecting himself, “but one uniform and one sword will not suffice for two.”

“Well; but there’s his comrade.”

“True,” said Porthos.

“Therefore, when I cough, stretch out your arm.”

“Good!”

The two friends then placed themselves as they had agreed, Porthos being completely hidden in an angle of the window.

“Good-evening, comrade,” said D’Artagnan in his most fascinating voice and manner.

“Good-evening, sir,” answered the soldier, in a strong provincial accent.

“‘Tis not too warm to walk,” resumed D’Artagnan.

“No, sir.”

“And I think a glass of wine will not be disagreeable to you?”

“A glass of wine will be extremely welcome.”

“The fish bites--the fish bites!” whispered the Gascon to Porthos.

“I understand,” said Porthos.

“A bottle, perhaps?”

“A whole bottle? Yes, sir.”

“A whole bottle, if you will drink my health.”

“Willingly,” answered the soldier.

“Come, then, and take it, friend,” said the Gascon.

“With all my heart. How convenient that there’s a bench here. Egad! one would think it had been placed here on purpose.”

“Get on it; that’s it, friend.”

And D’Artagnan coughed.

That instant the arm of Porthos fell. His hand of iron grasped, quick as lightning, firm as a pair of blacksmith’s pincers, the soldier’s throat. He raised him, almost stifling him as he drew him through the aperture, at the risk of flaying him in the passage. He then laid him down on the floor, where D’Artagnan, after giving him just time enough to draw his breath, gagged him with his long scarf; and the moment he had done so began to undress him with the promptitude and dexterity of a man who had learned his business on the field of battle. Then the soldier, gagged and bound, was placed upon the hearth, the fire of which had been previously extinguished by the two friends.

“Here’s a sword and a dress,” said Porthos.

“I take them,” said D’Artagnan, “for myself. If you want another uniform and sword you must play the same trick over again. Stop! I see the other soldier issue from the guardroom and come toward us.”

“I think,” replied Porthos, “it would be imprudent to attempt the same manoeuvre again; it is said that no man can succeed twice in the same way, and a failure would be ruinous. No; I will go down, seize the man unawares and bring him to you ready gagged.”

“That is better,” said the Gascon.

“Be ready,” said Porthos, as he slipped through the opening.

He did as he said. Porthos seized his opportunity, caught the next soldier by his neck, gagged him and pushed him like a mummy through the bars into the room, and entered after him. Then they undressed him as they had done the first, laid him on their bed and bound him with the straps which composed the bed--the bedstead being of oak. This operation proved as great a success as the first.

“There,” said D’Artagnan, “this is capital! Now let me try on the dress of yonder chap. Porthos, I doubt if you can wear it; but should it be too tight, never mind, you can wear the breastplate and the hat with the red feathers.”

It happened, however, that the second soldier was a Swiss of gigantic proportions, so, save that some few of the seams split, his uniform fitted Porthos perfectly.

They then dressed themselves.

“‘Tis done!” they both exclaimed at once. “As to you, comrades,” they said to the men, “nothing will happen to you if you are discreet; but if you stir you are dead men.”

The soldiers were complaisant; they had found the grasp of Porthos pretty powerful and that it was no joke to fight against it.

“Now,” said D’Artagnan, “you wouldn’t be sorry to understand the plot, would you, Porthos?”

“Well, no, not very.”

“Well, then, we shall go down into the court.”

“Yes.”

“We shall take the place of those two fellows.”

“Well?”

“We will walk back and forth.”

“That’s a good idea, for it isn’t warm.”

“In a moment the valet-de-chambre will call the guard, as he did yesterday and the day before.”

“And we shall answer?”

“No, on the contrary, we shall not answer.”

“As you please; I don’t insist on answering.”

“We will not answer, then; we will simply settle our hats on our heads and we will escort his eminence.”

“Where shall we escort him?”

“Where he is going--to visit Athos. Do you think Athos will be sorry to see us?”

“Oh!” cried Porthos, “oh! I understand.”

“Wait a little, Porthos, before crying out; for, on my word, you haven’t reached the end,” said the Gascon, in a jesting tone.

“What is to happen?” said Porthos.

“Follow me,” replied D’Artagnan. “The man who lives to see shall see.”

And slipping through the aperture, he alighted in the court. Porthos followed him by the same road, but with more difficulty and less diligence. They could hear the two soldiers shivering with fear, as they lay bound in the chamber.

Scarcely had the two Frenchmen touched the ground when a door opened and the voice of the valet-de-chambre called out:

“Make ready!”

At the same moment the guardhouse was opened and a voice called out:

“La Bruyere and Du Barthois! March!”

“It seems that I am named La Bruyere,” remarked D’Artagnan.

“And I, Du Barthois,” added Porthos.

“Where are you?” asked the valet-de-chambre, whose eyes, dazzled by the light, could not clearly distinguish our heroes in the gloom.

“Here we are,” said the Gascon.

“What say you to that, Monsieur du Vallon?” he added in a low tone to Porthos.

“If it but lasts, most capital,” responded Porthos.

These two newly enlisted soldiers marched gravely after the valet-de-chambre, who opened the door of the vestibule, then another which seemed to be that of a waiting-room, and showing them two stools:

“Your orders are very simple,” he said; “don’t allow anybody, except one person, to enter here. Do you hear--not a single creature! Obey that person implicitly. On your return you cannot make a mistake. You have only to wait here till I release you.”

D’Artagnan was known to this valet-de-chambre, who was no other than Bernouin, and he had during the last six or eight months introduced the Gascon a dozen times to the cardinal. The Gascon, therefore, instead of answering, growled out “Ja! Ja!” in the most German and the least Gascon accent possible.

As for Porthos, on whom D’Artagnan had impressed the necessity of absolute silence and who did not even now begin to comprehend the scheme of his friend, which was to follow Mazarin in his visit to Athos, he was simply mute. All that he was allowed to say, in case of emergencies, was the proverbial Der Teufel!

Bernouin shut the door and went away. When Porthos heard the key turn in the lock he began to be alarmed, lest they should only have exchanged one prison for another.

“Porthos, my friend,” said D’Artagnan, “don’t distrust Providence! Let me meditate and consider.”

“Meditate and consider as much as you like,” replied Porthos, who was now quite out of humor at seeing things take this turn.

“We have walked eight paces,” whispered D’Artagnan, “and gone up six steps, so hereabouts is the pavilion called the pavilion of the orangery. The Comte de la Fere cannot be far off, only the doors are locked.”

“That is a slight difficulty,” said Porthos, “and a good push with the shoulders----”

“For God’s sake, Porthos my friend, reserve your feats of strength, or they will not have, when needed, the honor they deserve. Have you not heard that some one is coming here?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that some one will open the doors.”

“But, my dear fellow, if that some one recognizes us, if that some one cries out, we are lost; for you don’t propose, I imagine, that I shall kill that man of the church. That might do if we were dealing with Englishmen or Germans.”

“Oh, may God keep me from it, and you, too!” said D’Artagnan. “The young king would, perhaps, show us some gratitude; but the queen would never forgive us, and it is she whom we have to consider. And then, besides, the useless blood! never! no, never! I have my plan; let me carry it out and we shall laugh.”

“So much the better,” said Porthos; “I feel some need of it.”

“Hush!” said D’Artagnan; “the some one is coming.”

The sound of a light step was heard in the vestibule. The hinges of the door creaked and a man appeared in the dress of a cavalier, wrapped in a brown cloak, with a lantern in one hand and a large beaver hat pulled down over his eyes.

Porthos effaced himself against the wall, but he could not render himself invisible; and the man in the cloak said to him, giving him his lantern:

“Light the lamp which hangs from the ceiling.”

Then addressing D’Artagnan:

“You know the watchword?” he said.

“Ja!” replied the Gascon, determined to confine himself to this specimen of the German tongue.

“Tedesco!” answered the cavalier; “va bene.”

And advancing toward the door opposite to that by which he came in, he opened it and disappeared behind it, shutting it as he went.

“Now,” asked Porthos, “what are we to do?”

“Now we shall make use of your shoulder, friend Porthos, if this door proves to be locked. Everything in its proper time, and all comes right to those who know how to wait patiently. But first barricade the first door well; then we will follow yonder cavalier.”

The two friends set to work and crowded the space before the door with all the furniture in the room, as not only to make the passage impassable, but so to block the door that by no means could it open inward.

“There!” said D’Artagnan, “we can’t be overtaken. Come! forward!”