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Twenty Years After

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Chapter 85. The Oubliettes of Cardinal Mazarin.


At first, on arriving at the door through which Mazarin had passed, D’Artagnan tried in vain to open it, but on the powerful shoulder of Porthos being applied to one of the panels, which gave way, D’Artagnan introduced the point of his sword between the bolt and the staple of the lock. The bolt gave way and the door opened.

“As I told you, everything can be attained, Porthos, women and doors, by proceeding with gentleness.”

“You’re a great moralist, and that’s the fact,” said Porthos.

They entered; behind a glass window, by the light of the cardinal’s lantern, which had been placed on the floor in the midst of the gallery, they saw the orange and pomegranate trees of the Castle of Rueil, in long lines, forming one great alley and two smaller side alleys.

“No cardinal!” said D’Artagnan, “but only his lantern; where the devil, then, is he?”

Exploring, however, one of the side wings of the gallery, after making a sign to Porthos to explore the other, he saw, all at once, at his left, a tub containing an orange tree, which had been pushed out of its place and in its place an open aperture.

Ten men would have found difficulty in moving that tub, but by some mechanical contrivance it had turned with the flagstone on which it rested.

D’Artagnan, as we have said, perceived a hole in that place and in this hole the steps of a winding staircase.

He called Porthos to look at it.

“Were our object money only,” he said, “we should be rich directly.”

“How’s that?”

“Don’t you understand, Porthos? At the bottom of that staircase lies, probably, the cardinal’s treasury of which folk tell such wonders, and we should only have to descend, empty a chest, shut the cardinal up in it, double lock it, go away, carrying off as much gold as we could, put back this orange-tree over the place, and no one in the world would ever ask us where our fortune came from--not even the cardinal.”

“It would be a happy hit for clowns to make, but as it seems to be unworthy of two gentlemen----” said Porthos.

“So I think; and therefore I said, ‘Were our object money only;’ but we want something else,” replied the Gascon.

At the same moment, whilst D’Artagnan was leaning over the aperture to listen, a metallic sound, as if some one was moving a bag of gold, struck on his ear; he started; instantly afterward a door opened and a light played upon the staircase.

Mazarin had left his lamp in the gallery to make people believe that he was walking about, but he had with him a waxlight, to help him to explore his mysterious strong box.

“Faith,” he said, in Italian, as he was reascending the steps and looking at a bag of reals, “faith, there’s enough to pay five councillors of parliament, and two generals in Paris. I am a great captain--that I am! but I make war in my own way.”

The two friends were crouching down, meantime, behind a tub in the side alley.

Mazarin came within three steps of D’Artagnan and pushed a spring in the wall; the slab turned and the orange tree resumed its place.

Then the cardinal put out the waxlight, slipped it into his pocket, and taking up the lantern: “Now,” he said, “for Monsieur de la Fere.”

“Very good,” thought D’Artagnan, “‘tis our road likewise; we will go together.”

All three set off on their walk, Mazarin taking the middle alley and the friends the side ones.

The cardinal reached a second door without perceiving he was being followed; the sand with which the alleys were covered deadened the sound of footsteps.

He then turned to the left, down a corridor which had escaped the attention of the two friends, but as he opened the door he paused, as if in thought.

“Ah! Diavolo!” he exclaimed, “I forgot the recommendation of De Comminges, who advised me to take a guard and place it at this door, in order not to put myself at the mercy of that four-headed combination of devils.” And with a movement of impatience he turned to retrace his steps.

“Do not give yourself the trouble, my lord,” said D’Artagnan, with his right foot forward, his beaver in his hand, a smile on his face, “we have followed your eminence step by step and here we are.”

“Yes--here we are,” said Porthos.

And he made the same friendly salute as D’Artagnan.

Mazarin gazed at each of them with an affrighted stare, recognized them, and let drop his lantern, uttering a cry of terror.

D’Artagnan picked it up; by good luck it had not been extinguished.

“Oh, what imprudence, my lord,” said D’Artagnan; “‘tis not good to be about just here without a light. Your eminence might knock against something, or fall into a hole.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan!” muttered Mazarin, unable to recover from his astonishment.

“Yes, my lord, it is I. I have the honor to present to you Monsieur du Vallon, that excellent friend of mine, in whom your eminence had the kindness to interest yourself formerly.”

And D’Artagnan held the lamp before the merry face of Porthos, who now began to comprehend the affair and be very proud of the whole undertaking.

“You were going to visit Monsieur de la Fere?” said D’Artagnan. “Don’t let us disarrange your eminence. Be so good as to show us the way and we will follow you.”

Mazarin was by degrees recovering his senses.

“Have you been long in the orangery?” he asked in a trembling voice, remembering the visits he had been paying to his treasury.

Porthos opened his mouth to reply; D’Artagnan made him a sign, and his mouth, remaining silent, gradually closed.

“This moment come, my lord,” said D’Artagnan.

Mazarin breathed again. His fears were now no longer for his hoard, but for himself. A sort of smile played on his lips.

“Come,” he said, “you have me in a snare, gentlemen. I confess myself conquered. You wish to ask for liberty, and--I give it you.”

“Oh, my lord!” answered D’Artagnan, “you are too good; as to our liberty, we have that; we want to ask something else of you.”

“You have your liberty?” repeated Mazarin, in terror.

“Certainly; and on the other hand, my lord, you have lost it, and now, in accordance with the law of war, sir, you must buy it back again.”

Mazarin felt a shiver run through him--a chill even to his heart’s core. His piercing look was fixed in vain on the satirical face of the Gascon and the unchanging countenance of Porthos. Both were in shadow and the Sybil of Cuma herself could not have read them.

“To purchase back my liberty?” said the cardinal.

“Yes, my lord.”

“And how much will that cost me, Monsieur d’Artagnan?”

“Zounds, my lord, I don’t know yet. We must ask the Comte de la Fere the question. Will your eminence deign to open the door which leads to the count’s room, and in ten minutes all will be settled.”

Mazarin started.

“My lord,” said D’Artagnan, “your eminence sees that we wish to act with all formality and due respect; but I must warn you that we have no time to lose; open the door then, my lord, and be so good as to remember, once for all, that on the slightest attempt to escape or the faintest cry for help, our position being very critical indeed, you must not be angry with us if we go to extremities.”

“Be assured,” answered Mazarin, “that I shall attempt nothing; I give you my word of honor.”

D’Artagnan made a sign to Porthos to redouble his watchfulness; then turning to Mazarin:

“Now, my lord, let us enter, if you please.”


Chapter 86. Conferences.


Mazarin turned the lock of a double door, on the threshold of which they found Athos ready to receive his illustrious guests according to the notice Comminges had given him.

On perceiving Mazarin he bowed.

“Your eminence,” he said, “might have dispensed with your attendants; the honor bestowed on me is too great for me to be unmindful of it.”

“And so, my dear count,” said D’Artagnan, “his eminence didn’t actually insist on our attending him; it is Du Vallon and I who have insisted, and even in a manner somewhat impolite, perhaps, so great was our longing to see you.”

At that voice, that mocking tone, and that familiar gesture, accenting voice and tone, Athos made a bound of surprise.

“D’Artagnan! Porthos!” he exclaimed.

“My very self, dear friend.”

“Me, also!” repeated Porthos.

“What means this?” asked the count.

“It means,” replied Mazarin, trying to smile and biting his lips in the attempt, “that our parts are changed, and that instead of these gentlemen being my prisoners I am theirs; but, gentlemen, I warn you, unless you kill me, your victory will be of very short duration; people will come to the rescue.”

“Ah! my lord!” cried the Gascon, “don’t threaten! ‘tis a bad example. We are so good and gentle to your eminence. Come, let us put aside all rancor and talk pleasantly.”

“There’s nothing I wish more,” replied Mazarin. “But don’t think yourselves in a better position than you are. In ensnaring me you have fallen into the trap yourselves. How are you to get away from here? remember the soldiers and sentinels who guard these doors. Now, I am going to show you how sincere I am.”

“Good,” thought D’Artagnan; “we must look about us; he’s going to play us a trick.”

“I offered you your liberty,” continued the minister; “will you take it? Before an hour has passed you will be discovered, arrested, obliged to kill me, which would be a crime unworthy of loyal gentlemen like you.”

“He is right,” thought Athos.

And, like every other reflection passing in a mind that entertained none but noble thoughts, this feeling was expressed in his eyes.

“And therefore,” said D’Artagnan, to clip the hope which Athos’s tacit adhesion had imparted to Mazarin, “we shall not proceed to that violence save in the last extremity.”

“If on the contrary,” resumed Mazarin, “you accept your liberty----”

“Why you, my lord, might take it away from us in less than five minutes afterward; and from my knowledge of you I believe you will so take it away from us.”

“No--on the faith of a cardinal. You do not believe me?”

“My lord, I never believe cardinals who are not priests.”

“Well, on the faith of a minister.”

“You are no longer a minister, my lord; you are a prisoner.”

“Then, on the honor of a Mazarin, as I am and ever shall be, I hope,” said the cardinal.

“Hem,” replied D’Artagnan. “I have heard speak of a Mazarin who had not much religion when his oaths were in question. I fear he may have been an ancestor of your eminence.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, you are a great wit and I am really sorry to be on bad terms with you.”

“My lord, let us come to terms; I ask nothing better.”

“Very well,” said Mazarin, “if I place you in security, in a manner evident, palpable----”

“Ah! that is another thing,” said Porthos.

“Let us see,” said Athos.

“Let us see,” said D’Artagnan.

“In the first place, do you accept?” asked the cardinal.

“Unfold your plan, my lord, and we will see.”

“Take notice that you are shut up--captured.”

“You well know, my lord, that there always remains to us a last resource.”

“What?”

“That of dying together.”

Mazarin shuddered.

“Listen,” he said; “at the end of yonder corridor is a door, of which I have the key, it leads into the park. Go, and take this key with you; you are active, vigorous, and you have arms. At a hundred steps, on turning to the left, you will find the wall of the park; get over it, and in three leaps you will be on the road and free.”

“Ah! by Jove, my lord,” said D’Artagnan, “you have well said, but these are only words. Where is the key you speak of?”

“Here it is.”

“Ah, my lord! You will conduct us yourself, then, to that door?”

“Very willingly, if it be necessary to reassure you,” answered the minister, and Mazarin, who was delighted to get off so cheaply, led the way, in high spirits, to the corridor and opened the door.

It led into the park, as the three fugitives perceived by the night breeze which rushed into the corridor and blew the wind into their faces.

“The devil!” exclaimed the Gascon, “‘tis a dreadful night, my lord. We don’t know the locality, and shall never find the wall. Since your eminence has come so far, come a few steps further; conduct us, my lord, to the wall.”

“Be it so,” replied the cardinal; and walking in a straight line he went to the wall, at the foot of which they all four arrived at the same instant.

“Are you satisfied, gentlemen?” asked Mazarin.

“I think so, indeed; we should be hard to please if we were not. Deuce take it! three poor gentlemen escorted by a prince of the church! Ah! apropos, my lord! you remarked that we were all active, vigorous and armed.”

“Yes.”

“You are mistaken. Monsieur du Vallon and I are the only two who are armed. The count is not; and should we meet with one of your patrol we must defend ourselves.”

“‘Tis true.”

“Where can we find another sword?” asked Porthos.

“My lord,” said D’Artagnan, “will lend his, which is of no use to him, to the Comte de la Fere.”

“Willingly,” said the cardinal; “I will even ask the count to keep it for my sake.”

“I promise you, my lord, never to part with it,” replied Athos.

“Well, well,” cried D’Artagnan, “this reconciliation is truly touching; have you not tears in your eyes, Porthos?”

“Yes,” said Porthos; “but I do not know if it is feeling or the wind that makes me weep; I think it is the wind.”

“Now climb up, Athos, quickly,” said D’Artagnan. Athos, assisted by Porthos, who lifted him up like a feather, arrived at the top.

“Now, jump down, Athos.”

Athos jumped and disappeared on the other side of the wall.

“Are you on the ground?” asked D’Artagnan.

“Yes.”

“Without accident?”

“Perfectly safe and sound.”

“Porthos, whilst I get up, watch the cardinal. No, I don’t want your help, watch the cardinal.”

“I am watching,” said Porthos. “Well?”

“You are right; it is more difficult than I thought. Lend me your back--but don’t let the cardinal go.”

Porthos lent him his back and D’Artagnan was soon on the summit of the wall, where he seated himself.

Mazarin pretended to laugh.

“Are you there?” asked Porthos.

“Yes, my friend; and now----”

“Now, what?” asked Porthos.

“Now give me the cardinal up here; if he makes any noise stifle him.”

Mazarin wished to call out, but Porthos held him tight and passed him to D’Artagnan, who seized him by the neck and made him sit down by him; then in a menacing tone, he said:

“Sir! jump directly down, close to Monsieur de la Fere, or, on the honor of a gentleman, I’ll kill you!”

“Monsieur, monsieur,” cried Mazarin, “you are breaking your word to me!”

“I--did I promise you anything, my lord?”

Mazarin groaned.

“You are free,” he said, “through me; your liberty was my ransom.”

“Agreed; but the ransom of that immense treasure buried under the gallery, to which one descends on pushing a spring hidden in the wall, which causes a tub to turn, revealing a staircase--must not one speak of that a little, my lord?”

“Diavolo!” cried Mazarin, almost choked, and clasping his hands; “I am a lost and ruined man!”

But without listening to his protestations of alarm, D’Artagnan slipped him gently down into the arms of Athos, who stood immovable at the bottom of the wall.

Porthos next made an effort which shook the solid wall, and by the aid of his friend’s hand gained the summit.

“I didn’t understand it all,” he said, “but I understand now; how droll it is!”

“You think so? so much the better; but that it may prove laughter-worthy even to the end, let us not lose time.” And he jumped off the wall.

Porthos did the same.

“Attend to monsieur le cardinal, gentlemen,” said D’Artagnan; “for myself, I will reconnoitre.”

The Gascon then drew his sword and marched as avant guard.

“My lord,” he said, “which way do we go? Think well of your reply, for should your eminence be mistaken, there might ensue most grave results for all of us.”

“Along the wall, sir,” said Mazarin, “there will be no danger of losing yourselves.”

The three friends hastened on, but in a short time were obliged to slacken the pace. The cardinal could not keep up with them, though with every wish to do so.

Suddenly D’Artagnan touched something warm, which moved.

“Stop! a horse!” he cried; “I have found a horse!”

“And I, likewise,” said Athos.

“I, too,” said Porthos, who, faithful to the instructions, still held the cardinal’s arm.

“There’s luck, my lord! just as you were complaining of being tired and obliged to walk.”

But as he spoke the barrel of a pistol was presented at his breast and these words were pronounced:

“Touch it not!”

“Grimaud!” he cried; “Grimaud! what art thou about? Why, thou art posted here by Heaven!”

“No, sir,” said the honest servant, “it was Monsieur Aramis who posted me here to take care of the horses.”

“Is Aramis here?”

“Yes, sir; he has been here since yesterday.”

“What are you doing?”

“On the watch----”

“What! Aramis here?” cried Athos.

“At the lesser gate of the castle; he’s posted there.”

“Are you a large party?”

“Sixty.”

“Let him know.”

“This moment, sir.”

And believing that no one could execute the commission better than himself, Grimaud set off at full speed; whilst, enchanted at being all together again, the friends awaited his return.

There was no one in the whole group in a bad humor except Cardinal Mazarin.


Chapter 87. Thinking that Porthos will be at last a Baron, and D’Artagnan a Captain.


At the expiration of ten minutes Aramis arrived, accompanied by Grimaud and eight or ten followers. He was excessively delighted and threw himself into his friends’ arms.

“You are free, my brothers! free without my aid! and I shall have succeeded in doing nothing for you in spite of all my efforts.”

“Do not be unhappy, dear friend, on that account; if you have done nothing as yet, you will do something soon,” replied Athos.

“I had well concerted my plans,” pursued Aramis; “the coadjutor gave me sixty men; twenty guard the walls of the park, twenty the road from Rueil to Saint Germain, twenty are dispersed in the woods. Thus I was able, thanks to the strategic disposition of my forces, to intercept two couriers from Mazarin to the queen.”

Mazarin listened intently.

“But,” said D’Artagnan, “I trust that you honorably sent them back to monsieur le cardinal!”

“Ah, yes!” said Aramis, “toward him I should be very likely to practice such delicacy of sentiment! In one of the despatches the cardinal declares to the queen that the treasury is empty and that her majesty has no more money. In the other he announces that he is about to transport his prisoners to Melun, since Rueil seemed to him not sufficiently secure. You can understand, dear friend, with what hope I was inspired by that last letter. I placed myself in ambuscade with my sixty men; I encircled the castle; the riding horses I entrusted to Grimaud and I awaited your coming out, which I did not expect till to-morrow, and I didn’t hope to free you without a skirmish. You are free to-night, without fighting; so much the better! How did you manage to escape that scoundrel Mazarin? You must have much reason to complain of him.”

“Not very much,” said D’Artagnan.

“Really!”

“I might even say that we have some reason to praise him.”

“Impossible!”

“Yes, really; it is owing to him that we are free.”

“Owing to him?”

“Yes, he had us conducted into the orangery by Monsieur Bernouin, his valet-de-chambre, and from there we followed him to visit the Comte de la Fere. Then he offered us our liberty and we accepted it. He even went so far as to show us the way out; he led us to the park wall, which we climbed over without accident, and then we fell in with Grimaud.”

“Well!” exclaimed Aramis, “this will reconcile me to him; but I wish he were here that I might tell him that I did not believe him capable of so noble an act.”

“My lord,” said D’Artagnan, no longer able to contain himself, “allow me to introduce to you the Chevalier d’Herblay, who wishes--as you may have heard--to offer his congratulations to your eminence.”

And he retired, discovering Mazarin, who was in great confusion, to the astonished gaze of Aramis.

“Ho! ho!” exclaimed the latter, “the cardinal! a glorious prize! Halloo! halloo! friends! to horse! to horse!”

Several horsemen ran quickly to him.

“Zounds!” cried Aramis, “I may have done some good; so, my lord, deign to receive my most respectful homage! I will lay a wager that ‘twas that Saint Christopher, Porthos, who performed this feat! Apropos! I forgot----” and he gave some orders in a low voice to one of the horsemen.

“I think it will be wise to set off,” said D’Artagnan.

“Yes; but I am expecting some one, a friend of Athos.”

“A friend!” exclaimed the count.

“And here he comes, by Jupiter! galloping through the bushes.”

“The count! the count!” cried a young voice that made Athos start.

“Raoul! Raoul!” he ejaculated.

For one moment the young man forgot his habitual respect--he threw himself on his father’s neck.

“Look, my lord cardinal,” said Aramis, “would it not have been a pity to have separated men who love each other as we love? Gentlemen,” he continued, addressing the cavaliers, who became more and more numerous every instant; “gentlemen, encircle his eminence, that you may show him the greater honor. He will, indeed give us the favor of his company; you will, I hope, be grateful for it; Porthos, do not lose sight of his eminence.”

Aramis then joined Athos and D’Artagnan, who were consulting together.

“Come,” said D’Artagnan, after a conference of five minutes’ duration, “let us begin our journey.”

“Where are we to go?” asked Porthos.

“To your house, dear Porthos, at Pierrefonds; your fine chateau is worthy of affording its princely hospitality to his eminence; it is, likewise, well situated--neither too near Paris, nor too far from it; we can establish a communication between it and the capital with great facility. Come, my lord, you shall be treated like a prince, as you are.”

“A fallen prince!” exclaimed Mazarin, piteously.

“The chances of war,” said Athos, “are many, but be assured we shall take no improper advantage of them.”

“No, but we shall make use of them,” said D’Artagnan.

The rest of the night was employed by these cavaliers in traveling with the wonderful rapidity of former days. Mazarin, still sombre and pensive, permitted himself to be dragged along in this way; it looked a race of phantoms. At dawn twelve leagues had been passed without drawing rein; half the escort were exhausted and several horses fell down.

“Horses, nowadays, are not what they were formerly,” observed Porthos; “everything degenerates.”

“I have sent Grimaud to Dammartin,” said Aramis. “He is to bring us five fresh horses--one for his eminence, four for us. We, at least, must keep close to monseigneur; the rest of the start will rejoin us later. Once beyond Saint Denis we shall have nothing to fear.”

Grimaud, in fact, brought back five horses. The nobleman to whom he applied, being a friend of Porthos, was very ready, not to sell them, as was proposed, but to lend them. Ten minutes later the escort stopped at Ermenonville, but the four friends went on with well sustained ardor, guarding Mazarin carefully. At noon they rode into the avenue of Pierrefonds.

“Ah!” said Mousqueton, who had ridden by the side of D’Artagnan without speaking a word on the journey, “you may think what you will, sir, but I can breathe now for the first time since my departure from Pierrefonds;” and he put his horse to a gallop to announce to the other servants the arrival of Monsieur du Vallon and his friends.

“We are four of us,” said D’Artagnan; “we must relieve each other in mounting guard over my lord and each of us must watch three hours at a time. Athos is going to examine the castle, which it will be necessary to render impregnable in case of siege; Porthos will see to the provisions and Aramis to the troops of the garrison. That is to say, Athos will be chief engineer, Porthos purveyor-in-general, and Aramis governor of the fortress.”

Meanwhile, they gave up to Mazarin the handsomest room in the chateau.

“Gentlemen,” he said, when he was in his room, “you do not expect, I presume, to keep me here a long time incognito?”

“No, my lord,” replied the Gascon; “on the contrary, we think of announcing very soon that we have you here.”

“Then you will be besieged.”

“We expect it.”

“And what shall you do?”

“Defend ourselves. Were the late Cardinal Richelieu alive he would tell you a certain story of the Bastion Saint Gervais, which we four, with our four lackeys and twelve dead men, held out against a whole army.”

“Such feats, sir, are done once--and never repeated.”

“However, nowadays there’s no need of so much heroism. To-morrow the army of Paris will be summoned, the day after it will be here! The field of battle, instead, therefore, of being at Saint Denis or at Charenton, will be near Compiegne or Villars-Cotterets.”

“The prince will vanquish you, as he has always done.”

“‘Tis possible; my lord; but before an engagement ensues we shall move your eminence to another castle belonging to our friend Du Vallon, who has three. We will not expose your eminence to the chances of war.”

“Come,” answered Mazarin, “I see it will be necessary for me to capitulate.”

“Before a siege?”

“Yes; the conditions will be better than afterward.”

“Ah, my lord! as to conditions, you would soon see how moderate and reasonable we are!”

“Come, now, what are your conditions?”

“Rest yourself first, my lord, and we--we will reflect.”

“I do not need rest, gentlemen; I need to know whether I am among enemies or friends.”

“Friends, my lord! friends!”

“Well, then, tell me at once what you want, that I may see if any arrangement be possible. Speak, Comte de la Fere!”

“My lord,” replied Athos, “for myself I have nothing to demand. For France, were I to specify my wishes, I should have too much. I beg you to excuse me and propose to the chevalier.”

And Athos, bowing, retired and remained leaning against the mantelpiece, a spectator of the scene.

“Speak, then, chevalier!” said the cardinal. “What do you want? Nothing ambiguous, if you please. Be clear, short and precise.”

“As for me,” replied Aramis, “I have in my pocket the very programme of the conditions which the deputation--of which I formed one--went yesterday to Saint Germain to impose on you. Let us consider first the ancient rights. The demands in that programme must be granted.”

“We were almost agreed on those,” replied Mazarin; “let us pass on to private and personal stipulations.”

“You suppose, then, that there are some?” said Aramis, smiling.

“I do not suppose that you will all be quite so disinterested as Monsieur de la Fere,” replied the cardinal, bowing to Athos.

“My lord, you are right, and I am glad to see that you do justice to the count at last. The count has a mind above vulgar desires and earthly passions. He is a proud soul--he is a man by himself! You are right--he is worth us all, and we avow it to you!”

“Aramis,” said Athos, “are you jesting?”

“No, no, dear friend; I state only what we all know. You are right; it is not you alone this matter concerns, but my lord and his unworthy servant, myself.”

“Well, then, what do you require besides the general conditions before recited?”

“I require, my lord, that Normandy should be given to Madame de Longueville, with five hundred thousand francs and full absolution. I require that his majesty should deign to be godfather to the child she has just borne; and that my lord, after having been present at the christening, should go to proffer his homage to our Holy Father the Pope.”

“That is, you wish me to lay aside my ministerial functions, to quit France and be an exile.”

“I wish his eminence to become pope on the first opportunity, allowing me then the right of demanding full indulgences for myself and my friends.”

Mazarin made a grimace which was quite indescribable, and then turned to D’Artagnan.

“And you, sir?” he said.

“I, my lord,” answered the Gascon, “I differ from Monsieur d’Herblay entirely as to the last point, though I agree with him on the first. Far from wishing my lord to quit Paris, I hope he will stay there and continue to be prime minister, as he is a great statesman. I shall try also to help him to down the Fronde, but on one condition--that he sometimes remembers the king’s faithful servants and gives the first vacant company of musketeers to a man that I could name. And you, Monsieur du Vallon----”

“Yes, you, sir! Speak, if you please,” said Mazarin.

“As for me,” answered Porthos, “I wish my lord cardinal, in order to do honor to my house, which gives him an asylum, would in remembrance of this adventure erect my estate into a barony, with a promise to confer that order on one of my particular friends, whenever his majesty next creates peers.”

“You know, sir, that before receiving the order one must submit proofs.”

“My friends will submit them. Besides, should it be necessary, monseigneur will show him how that formality may be avoided.”

Mazarin bit his lips; the blow was direct and he replied rather dryly:

“All this appears to me to be ill conceived, disjointed, gentlemen; for if I satisfy some I shall displease others. If I stay in Paris I cannot go to Rome; if I became pope I could not continue to be prime minister; and it is only by continuing prime minister that I can make Monsieur d’Artagnan a captain and Monsieur du Vallon a baron.”

“True,” said Aramis, “so, as I am in a minority, I withdraw my proposition, so far as it relates to the voyage to Rome and monseigneur’s resignation.”

“I am to remain minister, then?” said Mazarin.

“You remain minister; that is understood,” said D’Artagnan; “France needs you.”

“And I desist from my pretensions,” said Aramis. “His eminence will continue to be prime minister and her majesty’s favorite, if he will grant to me and my friends what we demand for France and for ourselves.”

“Occupy yourselves with your own affairs, gentlemen, and let France settle matters as she will with me,” resumed Mazarin.

“Ho! ho!” replied Aramis. “The Frondeurs will have a treaty and your eminence must sign it before us, promising at the same time to obtain the queen’s consent to it.”

“I can answer only for myself,” said Mazarin. “I cannot answer for the queen. Suppose her majesty refuses?”

“Oh!” said D’Artagnan, “monseigneur knows very well that her majesty refuses him nothing.”

“Here, monseigneur,” said Aramis, “is the treaty proposed by the deputation of Frondeurs. Will your eminence please read and examine?”

“I am acquainted with it.”

“Sign it, then.”

“Reflect, gentlemen, that a signature given under circumstances like the present might be regarded as extorted by violence.”

“Monseigneur will be at hand to testify that it was freely given.”

“Suppose I refuse?”

“Then,” said D’Artagnan, “your eminence must expect the consequences of a refusal.”

“Would you dare to touch a cardinal?”

“You have dared, my lord, to imprison her majesty’s musketeers.”

“The queen will revenge me, gentlemen.”

“I do not think so, although inclination might lead her to do so, but we shall take your eminence to Paris, and the Parisians will defend us.”

“How uneasy they must be at this moment at Rueil and Saint Germain,” said Aramis. “How they must be asking, ‘Where is the cardinal?’ ‘What has become of the minister?’ ‘Where has the favorite gone?’ How they must be looking for monseigneur in all corners! What comments must be made; and if the Fronde knows that monseigneur has disappeared, how the Fronde must triumph!”

“It is frightful,” murmured Mazarin.

“Sign the treaty, then, monseigneur,” said Aramis.

“Suppose the queen should refuse to ratify it?”

“Ah! nonsense!” cried D’Artagnan, “I can manage so that her majesty will receive me well; I know an excellent method.”

“What?”

“I shall take her majesty the letter in which you tell her that the finances are exhausted.”

“And then?” asked Mazarin, turning pale.

“When I see her majesty embarrassed, I shall conduct her to Rueil, make her enter the orangery and show her a certain spring which turns a box.”

“Enough, sir,” muttered the cardinal, “you have said enough; where is the treaty?”

“Here it is,” replied Aramis. “Sign, my lord,” and he gave him a pen.

Mazarin arose, walked some moments, thoughtful, but not dejected.

“And when I have signed,” he said, “what is to be my guarantee?”

“My word of honor, sir,” said Athos.

Mazarin started, turned toward the Comte de la Fere, and looking for an instant at that grand and honest countenance, took the pen.

“It is sufficient, count,” he said, and signed the treaty.

“And now, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” he said, “prepare to set off for Saint Germain and take a letter from me to the queen.”