{tocify}

Twenty Years After

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


Chapter 13. Two Angelic Faces.


The road was long, but the horses upon which D’Artagnan and Planchet rode had been refreshed in the well supplied stables of the Lord of Bracieux; the master and servant rode side by side, conversing as they went, for D’Artagnan had by degrees thrown off the master and Planchet had entirely ceased to assume the manners of a servant. He had been raised by circumstances to the rank of a confidant to his master. It was many years since D’Artagnan had opened his heart to any one; it happened, however, that these two men, on meeting again, assimilated perfectly. Planchet was in truth no vulgar companion in these new adventures; he was a man of uncommonly sound sense. Without courting danger he never shrank from an encounter; in short, he had been a soldier and arms ennoble a man; it was, therefore, on the footing of friends that D’Artagnan and Planchet arrived in the neighborhood of Blois.

Going along, D’Artagnan, shaking his head, said:

“I know that my going to Athos is useless and absurd; but still I owe this courtesy to my old friend, a man who had in him material for the most noble and generous of characters.”

“Oh, Monsieur Athos was a noble gentleman,” said Planchet, “was he not? Scattering money round about him as Heaven sprinkles rain. Do you remember, sir, that duel with the Englishman in the inclosure des Carmes? Ah! how lofty, how magnificent Monsieur Athos was that day, when he said to his adversary: ‘You have insisted on knowing my name, sir; so much the worse for you, since I shall be obliged to kill you.’ I was near him, those were his exact words, when he stabbed his foe as he said he would, and his adversary fell without saying, ‘Oh!’ ‘Tis a noble gentleman--Monsieur Athos.”

“Yes, true as Gospel,” said D’Artagnan; “but one single fault has swallowed up all these fine qualities.”

“I remember well,” said Planchet, “he was fond of drinking--in truth, he drank, but not as other men drink. One seemed, as he raised the wine to his lips, to hear him say, ‘Come, juice of the grape, and chase away my sorrows.’ And how he used to break the stem of a glass or the neck of a bottle! There was no one like him for that.”

“And now,” replied D’Artagnan, “behold the sad spectacle that awaits us. This noble gentleman with his lofty glance, this handsome cavalier, so brilliant in feats of arms that every one was surprised that he held in his hand a sword only instead of a baton of command! Alas! we shall find him changed into a broken down old man, with garnet nose and eyes that slobber; we shall find him extended on some lawn, whence he will look at us with a languid eye and peradventure will not recognize us. God knows, Planchet, that I should fly from a sight so sad if I did not wish to show my respect for the illustrious shadow of what was once the Comte de la Fere, whom we loved so much.”

Planchet shook his head and said nothing. It was evident that he shared his master’s apprehensions.

“And then,” resumed D’Artagnan, “to this decrepitude is probably added poverty, for he must have neglected the little that he had, and the dirty scoundrel, Grimaud, more taciturn than ever and still more drunken than his master--stay, Planchet, it breaks my heart to merely think of it.”

“I fancy myself there and that I see him staggering and hear him stammering,” said Planchet, in a piteous tone, “but at all events we shall soon know the real state of things, for I imagine that those lofty walls, now turning ruby in the setting sun, are the walls of Blois.”

“Probably; and those steeples, pointed and sculptured, that we catch a glimpse of yonder, are similar to those that I have heard described at Chambord.”

At this moment one of those heavy wagons, drawn by bullocks, which carry the wood cut in the fine forests of the country to the ports of the Loire, came out of a byroad full of ruts and turned on that which the two horsemen were following. A man carrying a long switch with a nail at the end of it, with which he urged on his slow team, was walking with the cart.

“Ho! friend,” cried Planchet.

“What’s your pleasure, gentlemen?” replied the peasant, with a purity of accent peculiar to the people of that district and which might have put to shame the cultured denizens of the Sorbonne and the Rue de l’Universite.

“We are looking for the house of Monsieur de la Fere,” said D’Artagnan.

The peasant took off his hat on hearing this revered name.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “the wood that I am carting is his; I cut it in his copse and I am taking it to the chateau.”

D’Artagnan determined not to question this man; he did not wish to hear from another what he had himself said to Planchet.

“The chateau!” he said to himself, “what chateau? Ah, I understand! Athos is not a man to be thwarted; he, like Porthos, has obliged his peasantry to call him ‘my lord,’ and to dignify his pettifogging place by the name of chateau. He had a heavy hand--dear old Athos--after drinking.”

D’Artagnan, after asking the man the right way, continued his route, agitated in spite of himself at the idea of seeing once more that singular man whom he had so truly loved and who had contributed so much by advice and example to his education as a gentleman. He checked by degrees the speed of his horse and went on, his head drooping as if in deep thought.

Soon, as the road turned, the Chateau de la Valliere appeared in view; then, a quarter of a mile beyond, a white house, encircled in sycamores, was visible at the farther end of a group of trees, which spring had powdered with a snow of flowers.

On beholding this house, D’Artagnan, calm as he was in general, felt an unusual disturbance within his heart--so powerful during the whole course of life are the recollections of youth. He proceeded, nevertheless, and came opposite to an iron gate, ornamented in the taste of the period.

Through the gate was seen kitchen-gardens, carefully attended to, a spacious courtyard, in which neighed several horses held by valets in various liveries, and a carriage, drawn by two horses of the country.

“We are mistaken,” said D’Artagnan. “This cannot be the establishment of Athos. Good heavens! suppose he is dead and that this property now belongs to some one who bears his name. Alight, Planchet, and inquire, for I confess that I have scarcely courage so to do.”

Planchet alighted.

“Thou must add,” said D’Artagnan, “that a gentleman who is passing by wishes to have the honor of paying his respects to the Comte de la Fere, and if thou art satisfied with what thou hearest, then mention my name!”

Planchet, leading his horse by the bridle, drew near to the gate and rang the bell, and immediately a servant-man with white hair and of erect stature, notwithstanding his age, presented himself.

“Does Monsieur le Comte de la Fere live here?” asked Planchet.

“Yes, monsieur, it is here he lives,” the servant replied to Planchet, who was not in livery.

“A nobleman retired from service, is he not?”

“Yes.”

“And who had a lackey named Grimaud?” persisted Planchet, who had prudently considered that he couldn’t have too much information.

“Monsieur Grimaud is absent from the chateau for the time being,” said the servitor, who, little used as he was to such inquiries, began to examine Planchet from head to foot.

“Then,” cried Planchet joyously, “I see well that it is the same Comte de la Fere whom we seek. Be good enough to open to me, for I wish to announce to monsieur le comte that my master, one of his friends, is here, and wishes to greet him.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” said the servitor, opening the gate. “But where is your master?”

“He is following me.”

The servitor opened the gate and walked before Planchet, who made a sign to D’Artagnan. The latter, his heart palpitating more than ever, entered the courtyard without dismounting.

Whilst Planchet was standing on the steps before the house he heard a voice say:

“Well, where is this gentleman and why do they not bring him here?”

This voice, the sound of which reached D’Artagnan, reawakened in his heart a thousand sentiments, a thousand recollections that he had forgotten. He vaulted hastily from his horse, whilst Planchet, with a smile on his lips, advanced toward the master of the house.

“But I know you, my lad,” said Athos, appearing on the threshold.

“Oh, yes, monsieur le comte, you know me and I know you. I am Planchet--Planchet, whom you know well.” But the honest servant could say no more, so much was he overcome by this unexpected interview.

“What, Planchet, is Monsieur d’Artagnan here?”

“Here I am, my friend, dear Athos!” cried D’Artagnan, in a faltering voice and almost staggering from agitation.

At these words a visible emotion was expressed on the beautiful countenance and calm features of Athos. He rushed toward D’Artagnan with eyes fixed upon him and clasped him in his arms. D’Artagnan, equally moved, pressed him also closely to him, whilst tears stood in his eyes. Athos then took him by the hand and led him into the drawing-room, where there were several people. Every one arose.

“I present to you,” he said, “Monsieur le Chevalier D’Artagnan, lieutenant of his majesty’s musketeers, a devoted friend and one of the most excellent, brave gentlemen that I have ever known.”

D’Artagnan received the compliments of those who were present in his own way, and whilst the conversation became general he looked earnestly at Athos.

Strange! Athos was scarcely aged at all! His fine eyes, no longer surrounded by that dark line which nights of dissipation pencil too infallibly, seemed larger, more liquid than ever. His face, a little elongated, had gained in calm dignity what it had lost in feverish excitement. His hand, always wonderfully beautiful and strong, was set off by a ruffle of lace, like certain hands by Titian and Vandyck. He was less stiff than formerly. His long, dark hair, softly powdered here and there with silver tendrils, fell elegantly over his shoulders in wavy curls; his voice was still youthful, as if belonging to a Hercules of twenty-five, and his magnificent teeth, which he had preserved white and sound, gave an indescribable charm to his smile.

Meanwhile the guests, seeing that the two friends were longing to be alone, prepared to depart, when a noise of dogs barking resounded through the courtyard and many persons said at the same moment:

“Ah! ‘tis Raoul, who is come home.”

Athos, as the name of Raoul was pronounced, looked inquisitively at D’Artagnan, in order to see if any curiosity was painted on his face. But D’Artagnan was still in confusion and turned around almost mechanically when a fine young man of fifteen years of age, dressed simply, but in perfect taste, entered the room, raising, as he came, his hat, adorned with a long plume of scarlet feathers.

Nevertheless, D’Artagnan was struck by the appearance of this new personage. It seemed to explain to him the change in Athos; a resemblance between the boy and the man explained the mystery of this regenerated existence. He remained listening and gazing.

“Here you are, home again, Raoul,” said the comte.

“Yes, sir,” replied the youth, with deep respect, “and I have performed the commission that you gave me.”

“But what’s the matter, Raoul?” said Athos, very anxiously. “You are pale and agitated.”

“Sir,” replied the young man, “it is on account of an accident which has happened to our little neighbor.”

“To Mademoiselle de la Valliere?” asked Athos, quickly.

“What is it?” cried many persons present.

“She was walking with her nurse Marceline, in the place where the woodmen cut the wood, when, passing on horseback, I stopped. She saw me also and in trying to jump from the end of a pile of wood on which she had mounted, the poor child fell and was not able to rise again. I fear that she has badly sprained her ankle.”

“Oh, heavens!” cried Athos. “And her mother, Madame de Saint-Remy, have they yet told her of it?”

“No, sir, Madame de Saint-Remy is at Blois with the Duchess of Orleans. I am afraid that what was first done was unskillful, if not worse than useless. I am come, sir, to ask your advice.”

“Send directly to Blois, Raoul; or, rather, take horse and ride immediately yourself.”

Raoul bowed.

“But where is Louise?” asked the comte.

“I have brought her here, sir, and I have deposited her in charge of Charlotte, who, till better advice comes, has bathed the foot in cold well-water.”

The guests now all took leave of Athos, excepting the old Duc de Barbe, who, as an old friend of the family of La Valliere, went to see little Louise and offered to take her to Blois in his carriage.

“You are right, sir,” said Athos. “She will be the sooner with her mother. As for you, Raoul, I am sure it is your fault, some giddiness or folly.”

“No, sir, I assure you,” muttered Raoul, “it is not.”

“Oh, no, no, I declare it is not!” cried the young girl, while Raoul turned pale at the idea of his being perhaps the cause of her disaster.

“Nevertheless, Raoul, you must go to Blois and you must make your excuses and mine to Madame de Saint-Remy.”

The youth looked pleased. He again took in his strong arms the little girl, whose pretty golden head and smiling face rested on his shoulder, and placed her gently in the carriage; then jumping on his horse with the elegance of a first-rate esquire, after bowing to Athos and D’Artagnan, he went off close by the door of the carriage, on somebody inside of which his eyes were riveted.


Chapter 14. The Castle of Bragelonne.


Whilst this scene was going on, D’Artagnan remained with open mouth and a confused gaze. Everything had turned out so differently from what he expected that he was stupefied with wonder.

Athos, who had been observing him and guessing his thoughts, took his arm and led him into the garden.

“Whilst supper is being prepared,” he said, smiling, “you will not, my friend, be sorry to have the mystery which so puzzles you cleared up.”

“True, monsieur le comte,” replied D’Artagnan, who felt that by degrees Athos was resuming that great influence which aristocracy had over him.

Athos smiled.

“First and foremost, dear D’Artagnan, we have no title such as count here. When I call you ‘chevalier,’ it is in presenting you to my guests, that they may know who you are. But to you, D’Artagnan, I am, I hope, still dear Athos, your comrade, your friend. Do you intend to stand on ceremony because you are less attached to me than you were?”

“Oh! God forbid!”

“Then let us be as we used to be; let us be open with each other. You are surprised at what you see here?”

“Extremely.”

“But above all things, I am a marvel to you?”

“I confess it.”

“I am still young, am I not? Should you not have known me again, in spite of my eight-and-forty years of age?”

“On the contrary, I do not find you the same person at all.”

“I understand,” cried Athos, with a gentle blush. “Everything, D’Artagnan, even folly, has its limit.”

“Then your means, it appears, are improved; you have a capital house--your own, I presume? You have a park, and horses, servants.”

Athos smiled.

“Yes, I inherited this little property when I quitted the army, as I told you. The park is twenty acres--twenty, comprising kitchen-gardens and a common. I have two horses,--I do not count my servant’s bobtailed nag. My sporting dogs consist of two pointers, two harriers and two setters. But then all this extravagance is not for myself,” added Athos, laughing.

“Yes, I see, for the young man Raoul,” said D’Artagnan.

“You guess aright, my friend; this youth is an orphan, deserted by his mother, who left him in the house of a poor country priest. I have brought him up. It is Raoul who has worked in me the change you see; I was dried up like a miserable tree, isolated, attached to nothing on earth; it was only a deep affection that could make me take root again and drag me back to life. This child has caused me to recover what I had lost. I had no longer any wish to live for myself, I have lived for him. I have corrected the vices that I had; I have assumed the virtues that I had not. Precept something, but example more. I may be mistaken, but I believe that Raoul will be as accomplished a gentleman as our degenerate age could display.”

The remembrance of Milady recurred to D’Artagnan.

“And you are happy?” he said to his friend.

“As happy as it is allowed to one of God’s creatures to be on this earth; but say out all you think, D’Artagnan, for you have not yet done so.”

“You are too bad, Athos; one can hide nothing from you,” answered D’Artagnan. “I wished to ask you if you ever feel any emotions of terror resembling----”

“Remorse! I finish your phrase. Yes and no. I do not feel remorse, because that woman, I profoundly hold, deserved her punishment. Had she one redeeming trait? I doubt it. I do not feel remorse, because had we allowed her to live she would have persisted in her work of destruction. But I do not mean, my friend that we were right in what we did. Perhaps all blood demands some expiation. Hers had been accomplished; it remains, possibly, for us to accomplish ours.”

“I have sometimes thought as you do, Athos.”

“She had a son, that unhappy woman?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever heard of him?”

“Never.”

“He must be about twenty-three years of age,” said Athos, in a low tone. “I often think of that young man, D’Artagnan.”

“Strange! for I had forgotten him,” said the lieutenant.

Athos smiled; the smile was melancholy.

“And Lord de Winter--do you know anything about him?”

“I know that he is in high favor with Charles I.”

“The fortunes of that monarch now are at low water. He shed the blood of Strafford; that confirms what I said just now--blood will have blood. And the queen?”

“What queen?”

“Madame Henrietta of England, daughter of Henry IV.”

“She is at the Louvre, as you know.”

“Yes, and I hear in bitter poverty. Her daughter, during the severest cold, was obliged for want of fire to remain in bed. Do you grasp that?” said Athos, shrugging his shoulders; “the daughter of Henry IV. shivering for want of a fagot! Why did she not ask from any one of us a home instead of from Mazarin? She should have wanted nothing.”

“Have you ever seen the queen of England?” inquired D’Artagnan.

“No; but my mother, as a child, saw her. Did I ever tell you that my mother was lady of honor to Marie de Medici?”

“Never. You know, Athos, you never spoke much of such matters.”

“Ah, mon Dieu, yes, you are right,” Athos replied; “but then there must be some occasion for speaking.”

“Porthos wouldn’t have waited for it so patiently,” said D’Artagnan, with a smile.

“Every one according to his nature, my dear D’Artagnan. Porthos, in spite of a touch of vanity, has many excellent qualities. Have you seen him?”

“I left him five days ago,” said D’Artagnan, and he portrayed with Gascon wit and sprightliness the magnificence of Porthos in his Chateau of Pierrefonds; nor did he neglect to launch a few arrows of wit at the excellent Monsieur Mouston.

“I sometimes wonder,” replied Athos, smiling at that gayety which recalled the good old days, “that we could form an association of men who would be, after twenty years of separation, still so closely bound together. Friendship throws out deep roots in honest hearts, D’Artagnan. Believe me, it is only the evil-minded who deny friendship; they cannot understand it. And Aramis?”

“I have seen him also,” said D’Artagnan; “but he seemed to me cold.”

“Ah, you have seen Aramis?” said Athos, turning on D’Artagnan a searching look. “Why, it is a veritable pilgrimage, my dear friend, that you are making to the Temple of Friendship, as the poets would say.”

“Why, yes,” replied D’Artagnan, with embarrassment.

“Aramis, you know,” continued Athos, “is naturally cold, and then he is always involved in intrigues with women.”

“I believe he is at this moment in a very complicated one,” said D’Artagnan.

Athos made no reply.

“He is not curious,” thought D’Artagnan.

Athos not only failed to reply, he even changed the subject of conversation.

“You see,” said he, calling D’Artagnan’s attention to the fact that they had come back to the chateau after an hour’s walk, “we have made a tour of my domains.”

“All is charming and everything savors of nobility,” replied D’Artagnan.

At this instant they heard the sound of horses’ feet.

“‘Tis Raoul who has come back,” said Athos; “and we can now hear how the poor child is.”

In fact, the young man appeared at the gate, covered with dust, entered the courtyard, leaped from his horse, which he consigned to the charge of a groom, and then went to greet the count and D’Artagnan.

“Monsieur,” said Athos, placing his hand on D’Artagnan’s shoulder, “monsieur is the Chevalier D’Artagnan of whom you have often heard me speak, Raoul.”

“Monsieur,” said the young man, saluting again and more profoundly, “monsieur le comte has pronounced your name before me as an example whenever he wished to speak of an intrepid and generous gentleman.”

That little compliment could not fail to move D’Artagnan. He extended a hand to Raoul and said:

“My young friend, all the praises that are given me should be passed on to the count here; for he has educated me in everything and it is not his fault that his pupil profited so little from his instructions. But he will make it up in you I am sure. I like your manner, Raoul, and your politeness has touched me.”

Athos was more delighted than can be told. He looked at D’Artagnan with an expression of gratitude and then bestowed on Raoul one of those strange smiles, of which children are so proud when they receive them.

“Now,” said D’Artagnan to himself, noticing that silent play of countenance, “I am sure of it.”

“I hope the accident has been of no consequence?”

“They don’t yet know, sir, on account of the swelling; but the doctor is afraid some tendon has been injured.”

At this moment a little boy, half peasant, half foot-boy, came to announce supper.

Athos led his guest into a dining-room of moderate size, the windows of which opened on one side on a garden, on the other on a hot-house full of magnificent flowers.

D’Artagnan glanced at the dinner service. The plate was magnificent, old, and appertaining to the family. D’Artagnan stopped to look at a sideboard on which was a superb ewer of silver.

“That workmanship is divine!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, a chef d’oeuvre of the great Florentine sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini,” replied Athos.

“What battle does it represent?”

“That of Marignan, just at the point where one of my forefathers is offering his sword to Francis I., who has broken his. It was on that occasion that my ancestor, Enguerrand de la Fere, was made a knight of the Order of St. Michael; besides which, the king, fifteen years afterward, gave him also this ewer and a sword which you may have seen formerly in my house, also a lovely specimen of workmanship. Men were giants in those times,” said Athos; “now we are pigmies in comparison. Let us sit down to supper. Call Charles,” he added, addressing the boy who waited.

“My good Charles, I particularly recommend to your care Planchet, the laquais of Monsieur D’Artagnan. He likes good wine; now you have the key of the cellar. He has slept a long time on a hard bed, so he won’t object to a soft one; take every care of him, I beg of you.” Charles bowed and retired.

“You think of everything,” said D’Artagnan; “and I thank you for Planchet, my dear Athos.”

Raoul stared on hearing this name and looked at the count to be quite sure that it was he whom the lieutenant thus addressed.

“That name sounds strange to you,” said Athos, smiling; “it was my nom de guerre when Monsieur D’Artagnan, two other gallant friends and myself performed some feats of arms at the siege of La Rochelle, under the deceased cardinal and Monsieur de Bassompierre. My friend is still so kind as to address me by that old and well beloved appellation, which makes my heart glad when I hear it.”

“‘Tis an illustrious name,” said the lieutenant, “and had one day triumphal honors paid to it.”

“What do you mean, sir?” inquired Raoul.

“You have not forgotten St. Gervais, Athos, and the napkin which was converted into a banner?” and he then related to Raoul the story of the bastion, and Raoul fancied he was listening to one of those deeds of arms belonging to days of chivalry, so gloriously recounted by Tasso and Ariosto.

“D’Artagnan does not tell you, Raoul,” said Athos, in his turn, “that he was reckoned one of the finest swordsmen of his time--a knuckle of iron, a wrist of steel, a sure eye and a glance of fire; that’s what his adversary met with. He was eighteen, only three years older than you are, Raoul, when I saw him set to work, pitted against tried men.”

“And did Monsieur D’Artagnan come off the conqueror?” asked the young man, with glistening eye.

“I killed one man, if I recollect rightly,” replied D’Artagnan, with a look of inquiry directed to Athos; “another I disarmed or wounded, I don’t remember which.”

“Wounded!” said Athos; “it was a phenomenon of skill.”

The young man would willingly have prolonged this conversation far into the night, but Athos pointed out to him that his guest must need repose. D’Artagnan would fain have declared that he was not fatigued, but Athos insisted on his retiring to his chamber, conducted thither by Raoul.


Chapter 15. Athos as a Diplomatist.


D’Artagnan retired to bed--not to sleep, but to think over all he had heard that evening. Being naturally goodhearted, and having had once a liking for Athos, which had grown into a sincere friendship, he was delighted at thus meeting a man full of intelligence and moral strength, instead of a drunkard. He admitted without annoyance the continued superiority of Athos over himself, devoid as he was of that jealousy which might have saddened a less generous disposition; he was delighted also that the high qualities of Athos appeared to promise favorably for his mission. Nevertheless, it seemed to him that Athos was not in all respects sincere and frank. Who was the youth he had adopted and who bore so striking a resemblance to him? What could explain Athos’s having re-entered the world and the extreme sobriety he had observed at table? The absence of Grimaud, whose name had never once been uttered by Athos, gave D’Artagnan uneasiness. It was evident either that he no longer possessed the confidence of his friend, or that Athos was bound by some invisible chain, or that he had been forewarned of the lieutenant’s visit.

He could not help thinking of M. Rochefort, whom he had seen in Notre Dame; could De Rochefort have forestalled him with Athos? Again, the moderate fortune which Athos possessed, concealed as it was, so skillfully, seemed to show a regard for appearances and to betray a latent ambition which might be easily aroused. The clear and vigorous intellect of Athos would render him more open to conviction than a less able man would be. He would enter into the minister’s schemes with the more ardor, because his natural activity would be doubled by necessity.

Resolved to seek an explanation on all these points on the following day, D’Artagnan, in spite of his fatigue, prepared for an attack and determined that it should take place after breakfast. He determined to cultivate the good-will of the youth Raoul and, either whilst fencing with him or when out shooting, to extract from his simplicity some information which would connect the Athos of old times with the Athos of the present. But D’Artagnan at the same time, being a man of extreme caution, was quite aware what injury he should do himself, if by any indiscretion or awkwardness he should betray has manoeuvering to the experienced eye of Athos. Besides, to tell truth, whilst D’Artagnan was quite disposed to adopt a subtle course against the cunning of Aramis or the vanity of Porthos, he was ashamed to equivocate with Athos, true-hearted, open Athos. It seemed to him that if Porthos and Aramis deemed him superior to them in the arts of diplomacy, they would like him all the better for it; but that Athos, on the contrary, would despise him.

“Ah! why is not Grimaud, the taciturn Grimaud, here?” thought D’Artagnan, “there are so many things his silence would have told me; with Grimaud silence was another form of eloquence!”

There reigned a perfect stillness in the house. D’Artagnan had heard the door shut and the shutters barred; the dogs became in their turn silent. At last a nightingale, lost in a thicket of shrubs, in the midst of its most melodious cadences had fluted low and lower into stillness and fallen asleep. Not a sound was heard in the castle, except of a footstep up and down, in the chamber above--as he supposed, the bedroom of Athos.

“He is walking about and thinking,” thought D’Artagnan; “but of what? It is impossible to know; everything else might be guessed, but not that.”

At length Athos went to bed, apparently, for the noise ceased.

Silence and fatigue together overcame D’Artagnan and sleep overtook him also. He was not, however, a good sleeper. Scarcely had dawn gilded his window curtains when he sprang out of bed and opened the windows. Somebody, he perceived, was in the courtyard, moving stealthily. True to his custom of never passing anything over that it was within his power to know, D’Artagnan looked out of the window and perceived the close red coat and brown hair of Raoul.

The young man was opening the door of the stable. He then, with noiseless haste, took out the horse that he had ridden on the previous evening, saddled and bridled it himself and led the animal into the alley to the right of the kitchen-garden, opened a side door which conducted him to a bridle road, shut it after him, and D’Artagnan saw him pass by like a dart, bending, as he went, beneath the pendent flowery branches of maple and acacia. The road, as D’Artagnan had observed, was the way to Blois.

“So!” thought the Gascon “here’s a young blade who has already his love affair, who doesn’t at all agree with Athos in his hatred to the fair sex. He’s not going to hunt, for he has neither dogs nor arms; he’s not going on a message, for he goes secretly. Why does he go in secret? Is he afraid of me or of his father? for I am sure the count is his father. By Jove! I shall know about that soon, for I shall soon speak out to Athos.”

Day was now advanced; all the noises that had ceased the night before reawakened, one after the other. The bird on the branch, the dog in his kennel, the sheep in the field, the boats moored in the Loire, even, became alive and vocal. The latter, leaving the shore, abandoned themselves gaily to the current. The Gascon gave a last twirl to his mustache, a last turn to his hair, brushed, from habit, the brim of his hat with the sleeve of his doublet, and went downstairs. Scarcely had he descended the last step of the threshold when he saw Athos bent down toward the ground, as if he were looking for a crown-piece in the dust.

“Good-morning, my dear host,” cried D’Artagnan.

“Good-day to you; have you slept well?”

“Excellently, Athos, but what are you looking for? You are perhaps a tulip fancier?”

“My dear friend, if I am, you must not laugh at me for being so. In the country people alter; one gets to like, without knowing it, all those beautiful objects that God causes to spring from the earth, which are despised in cities. I was looking anxiously for some iris roots I planted here, close to this reservoir, and which some one has trampled upon this morning. These gardeners are the most careless people in the world; in bringing the horse out to the water they’ve allowed him to walk over the border.”

D’Artagnan began to smile.

“Ah! you think so, do you?”

And he took his friend along the alley, where a number of tracks like those which had trampled down the flowerbeds, were visible.

“Here are the horse’s hoofs again, it seems, Athos,” he said carelessly.

“Yes, indeed, the marks are recent.”

“Quite so,” replied the lieutenant.

“Who went out this morning?” Athos asked, uneasily. “Has any horse got loose?”

“Not likely,” answered the Gascon; “these marks are regular.”

“Where is Raoul?” asked Athos; “how is it that I have not seen him?”

“Hush!” exclaimed D’Artagnan, putting his finger on his lips; and he related what he had seen, watching Athos all the while.

“Ah, he’s gone to Blois; the poor boy----”

“Wherefore?”

“Ah, to inquire after the little La Valliere; she has sprained her foot, you know.”

“You think he has?”

“I am sure of it,” said Athos; “don’t you see that Raoul is in love?”

“Indeed! with whom--with a child seven years old?”

“Dear friend, at Raoul’s age the heart is so expansive that it must encircle one object or another, fancied or real. Well, his love is half real, half fanciful. She is the prettiest little creature in the world, with flaxen hair, blue eyes,--at once saucy and languishing.”

“But what say you to Raoul’s fancy?”

“Nothing--I laugh at Raoul; but this first desire of the heart is imperious. I remember, just at his age, how deep in love I was with a Grecian statue which our good king, then Henry IV., gave my father, insomuch that I was mad with grief when they told me that the story of Pygmalion was nothing but a fable.”

“It is mere want of occupation. You do not make Raoul work, so he takes his own way of employing himself.”

“Exactly; therefore I think of sending him away from here.”

“You will be wise to do so.”

“No doubt of it; but it will break his heart. So long as three or four years ago he used to adorn and adore his little idol, whom he will some day fall in love with in right earnest if he remains here. The parents of little La Valliere have for a long time perceived and been amused at it; now they begin to look concerned.”

“Nonsense! However, Raoul must be diverted from this fancy. Send him away or you will never make a man of him.”

“I think I shall send him to Paris.”

“So!” thought D’Artagnan, and it seemed to him that the moment for attack had arrived.

“Suppose,” he said, “we roughly chalk out a career for this young man. I wish to consult you about some thing.”

“Do so.”

“Do you think it is time for us to enter the service?”

“But are you not still in the service--you, D’Artagnan?”

“I mean active service. Our former life, has it still no attractions for you? would you not be happy to begin anew in my society and in that of Porthos, the exploits of our youth?”

“Do you propose to me to do so, D’Artagnan?”

“Decidedly and honestly.”

“On whose side?” asked Athos, fixing his clear, benevolent glance on the countenance of the Gascon.

“Ah, devil take it, you speak in earnest----”

“And must have a definite answer. Listen, D’Artagnan. There is but one person, or rather, one cause, to whom a man like me can be useful--that of the king.”

“Exactly,” answered the musketeer.

“Yes, but let us understand each other,” returned Athos, seriously. “If by the cause of the king you mean that of Monsieur de Mazarin, we do not understand each other.”

“I don’t say exactly,” answered the Gascon, confused.

“Come, D’Artagnan, don’t let us play a sidelong game; your hesitation, your evasion, tells me at once on whose side you are; for that party no one dares openly to recruit, and when people recruit for it, it is with averted eyes and humble voice.”

“Ah! my dear Athos!”

“You know that I am not alluding to you; you are the pearl of brave, bold men. I speak of that spiteful and intriguing Italian--of the pedant who has tried to put on his own head a crown which he stole from under a pillow--of the scoundrel who calls his party the party of the king--who wants to send the princes of the blood to prison, not daring to kill them, as our great cardinal--our cardinal did--of the miser, who weighs his gold pieces and keeps the clipped ones for fear, though he is rich, of losing them at play next morning--of the impudent fellow who insults the queen, as they say--so much the worse for her--and who is going in three months to make war upon us, in order that he may retain his pensions; is that the master whom you propose to me? I thank you, D’Artagnan.”

“You are more impetuous than you were,” returned D’Artagnan. “Age has warmed, not chilled your blood. Who informed you this was the master I propose to you? Devil take it,” he muttered to himself, “don’t let me betray my secrets to a man not inclined to entertain them.”

“Well, then,” said Athos, “what are your schemes? what do you propose?”

“Zounds! nothing more than natural. You live on your estate, happy in golden mediocrity. Porthos has, perhaps, sixty thousand francs income. Aramis has always fifty duchesses quarreling over the priest, as they quarreled formerly over the musketeer; but I--what have I in the world? I have worn my cuirass these twenty years, kept down in this inferior rank, without going forward or backward, hardly half living. In fact, I am dead. Well! when there is some idea of being resuscitated, you say he’s a scoundrel, an impudent fellow, a miser, a bad master! By Jove! I am of your opinion, but find me a better one or give me the means of living.”

Athos was for a few moments thoughtful.

“Good! D’Artagnan is for Mazarin,” he said to himself.

From that moment he grew very guarded.

On his side D’Artagnan became more cautious also.

“You spoke to me,” Athos resumed, “of Porthos; have you persuaded him to seek his fortune? But he has wealth, I believe, already.”

“Doubtless he has. But such is man, we always want something more than we already have.”

“What does Porthos wish for?”

“To be a baron.”

“Ah, true! I forgot,” said Athos, laughing.

“‘Tis true!” thought the Gascon, “where has he heard it? Does he correspond with Aramis? Ah! if I knew that he did I should know all.”

The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Raoul.

“Is our little neighbor worse?” asked D’Artagnan, seeing a look of vexation on the face of the youth.

“Ah, sir!” replied Raoul, “her fall is a very serious one, and without any ostensible injury, the physician fears she will be lame for life.”

“This is terrible,” said Athos.

“And what makes me all the more wretched, sir, is, that I was the cause of this misfortune.”

“How so?” asked Athos.

“It was to run to meet me that she leaped from that pile of wood.”

“There’s only one remedy, dear Raoul--that is, to marry her as a compensation.” remarked D’Artagnan.

“Ah, sir!” answered Raoul, “you joke about a real misfortune; that is cruel, indeed.”

The good understanding between the two friends was not in the least altered by the morning’s skirmish. They breakfasted with a good appetite, looking now and then at poor Raoul, who with moist eyes and a full heart, scarcely ate at all.

After breakfast two letters arrived for Athos, who read them with profound attention, whilst D’Artagnan could not restrain himself from jumping up several times on seeing him read these epistles, in one of which, there being at the time a very strong light, he perceived the fine writing of Aramis. The other was in a feminine hand, long, and crossed.

“Come,” said D’Artagnan to Raoul, seeing that Athos wished to be alone, “come, let us take a turn in the fencing gallery; that will amuse you.”

And they both went into a low room where there were foils, gloves, masks, breastplates, and all the accessories for a fencing match.

In a quarter of an hour Athos joined them and at the same moment Charles brought in a letter for D’Artagnan, which a messenger had just desired might be instantly delivered.

It was now Athos’s turn to take a sly look.

D’Artagnan read the letter with apparent calmness and said, shaking his head:

“See, dear friend, what it is to belong to the army. Faith, you are indeed right not to return to it. Monsieur de Treville is ill, so my company can’t do without me; there! my leave is at an end!”

“Do you return to Paris?” asked Athos, quickly.

“Egad! yes; but why don’t you come there also?”

Athos colored a little and answered:

“Should I go, I shall be delighted to see you there.”

“Halloo, Planchet!” cried the Gascon from the door, “we must set out in ten minutes; give the horses some hay.”

Then turning to Athos he added:

“I seem to miss something here. I am really sorry to go away without having seen Grimaud.”

“Grimaud!” replied Athos. “I’m surprised you have never so much as asked after him. I have lent him to a friend----”

“Who will understand the signs he makes?” returned D’Artagnan.

“I hope so.”

The friends embraced cordially; D’Artagnan pressed Raoul’s hand.

“Will you not come with me?” he said; “I shall pass by Blois.”

Raoul turned toward Athos, who showed him by a secret sign that he did not wish him to go.

“No, monsieur,” replied the young man; “I will remain with monsieur le comte.”

“Adieu, then, to both, my good friends,” said D’Artagnan; “may God preserve you! as we used to say when we said good-bye to each other in the late cardinal’s time.”

Athos waved his hand, Raoul bowed, and D’Artagnan and Planchet set out.

The count followed them with his eyes, his hands resting on the shoulders of the youth, whose height was almost equal to his own; but as soon as they were out of sight he said:

“Raoul, we set out to-night for Paris.”

“Eh?” cried the young man, turning pale.

“You may go and offer your adieux and mine to Madame de Saint-Remy. I shall wait for you here till seven.”

The young man bent low, with an expression of sorrow and gratitude mingled, and retired in order to saddle his horse.

As to D’Artagnan, scarcely, on his side, was he out of sight when he drew from his pocket a letter, which he read over again:

“Return immediately to Paris.--J. M----.”

“The epistle is laconic,” said D’Artagnan; “and if there had not been a postscript, probably I should not have understood it; but happily there is a postscript.”

And he read that welcome postscript, which made him forget the abruptness of the letter.

“P. S.--Go to the king’s treasurer, at Blois; tell him your name and show him this letter; you will receive two hundred pistoles.”

“Assuredly,” said D’Artagnan, “I admire this piece of prose. The cardinal writes better than I thought. Come, Planchet, let us pay a visit to the king’s treasurer and then set off.”

“Toward Paris, sir?”

“Toward Paris.”

And they set out at as hard a canter as their horses could maintain.