{tocify}

Twenty Years After

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


Chapter 25. An Adventure on the High Road.

The musketeers rode the whole length of the Faubourg Saint Antoine and of the road to Vincennes, and soon found themselves out of the town, then in a forest and then within sight of a village.

The horses seemed to become more lively with each successive step; their nostrils reddened like glowing furnaces. D’Artagnan, freely applying his spurs, was in advance of Porthos two feet at the most; Mousqueton followed two lengths behind; the guards were scattered according to the varying excellence of their respective mounts.

From the top of an eminence D’Artagnan perceived a group of people collected on the other side of the moat, in front of that part of the donjon which looks toward Saint Maur. He rode on, convinced that in this direction he would gain intelligence of the fugitive. In five minutes he had arrived at the place, where the guards joined him, coming up one by one.

The several members of that group were much excited. They looked at the cord, still hanging from the loophole and broken at about twenty feet from the ground. Their eyes measured the height and they exchanged conjectures. On the top of the wall sentinels went and came with a frightened air.

A few soldiers, commanded by a sergeant, drove away idlers from the place where the duke had mounted his horse. D’Artagnan went straight to the sergeant.

“My officer,” said the sergeant, “it is not permitted to stop here.”

“That prohibition is not for me,” said D’Artagnan. “Have the fugitives been pursued?”

“Yes, my officer; unfortunately, they are well mounted.”

“How many are there?”

“Four, and a fifth whom they carried away wounded.”

“Four!” said D’Artagnan, looking at Porthos. “Do you hear, baron? They are only four!”

A joyous smile lighted Porthos’s face.

“How long a start have they?”

“Two hours and a quarter, my officer.”

“Two hours and a quarter--that is nothing; we are well mounted, are we not, Porthos?”

Porthos breathed a sigh; he thought of what was in store for his poor horses.

“Very good,” said D’Artagnan; “and now in what direction did they set out?”

“That I am forbidden to tell.”

D’Artagnan drew from his pocket a paper. “Order of the king,” he said.

“Speak to the governor, then.”

“And where is the governor?”

“In the country.”

Anger mounted to D’Artagnan’s face; he frowned and his cheeks were colored.

“Ah, you scoundrel!” he said to the sergeant, “I believe you are impudent to me! Wait!”

He unfolded the paper, presented it to the sergeant with one hand and with the other took a pistol from his holsters and cocked it.

“Order of the king, I tell you. Read and answer, or I will blow out your brains!”

The sergeant saw that D’Artagnan was in earnest. “The Vendomois road,” he replied.

“And by what gate did they go out?”

“By the Saint Maur gate.”

“If you are deceiving me, rascal, you will be hanged to-morrow.”

“And if you catch up with them you won’t come back to hang me,” murmured the sergeant.

D’Artagnan shrugged his shoulders, made a sign to his escort and started.

“This way, gentlemen, this way!” he cried, directing his course toward the gate that had been pointed out.

But, now that the duke had escaped, the concierge had seen fit to fasten the gate with a double lock. It was necessary to compel him to open it, as the sergeant had been compelled to speak, and this took another ten minutes. This last obstacle having been overcome, the troop pursued their course with their accustomed ardor; but some of the horses could no longer sustain this pace; three of them stopped after an hour’s gallop, and one fell down.

D’Artagnan, who never turned his head, did not perceive it. Porthos told him of it in his calm manner.

“If only we two arrive,” said D’Artagnan, “it will be enough, since the duke’s troop are only four in number.”

“That is true,” said Porthos

And he spurred his courser on.

At the end of another two hours the horses had gone twelve leagues without stopping; their legs began to tremble, and the foam they shed whitened the doublets of their masters.

“Let us rest here an instant to give these poor creatures breathing time,” said Porthos.

“Let us rather kill them! yes, kill them!” cried D’Artagnan; “I see fresh tracks; ‘tis not a quarter of an hour since they passed this place.”

In fact, the road was trodden by horses’ feet, visible even in the approaching gloom of evening.

They set out; after a run of two leagues, Mousqueton’s horse sank.

“Gracious me!” said Porthos, “there’s Phoebus ruined.”

“The cardinal will pay you a hundred pistoles.”

“I’m above that.”

“Let us set out again, at full gallop.”

“Yes, if we can.”

But at last the lieutenant’s horse refused to go on; he could not breathe; one last spur, instead of making him advance, made him fall.

“The devil!” exclaimed Porthos; “there’s Vulcan foundered.”

“Zounds!” cried D’Artagnan, “then we must stop! Give me your horse, Porthos. What the devil are you doing?”

“By Jove, I am falling, or rather, Bayard is falling,” answered Porthos.

All three then cried: “All’s over.”

“Hush!” said D’Artagnan.

“What is it?”

“I hear a horse.”

“It belongs to one of our companions, who is overtaking us.”

“No,” said D’Artagnan, “it is in advance.”

“That is another thing,” said Porthos; and he listened toward the quarter indicated by D’Artagnan.

“Monsieur,” said Mousqueton, who, abandoning his horse on the high road, had come on foot to rejoin his master, “Phoebus could no longer hold out and----”

“Silence!” said Porthos.

In fact, at that moment a second neighing was borne to them on the night wind.

“It is five hundred feet from here, in advance,” said D’Artagnan.

“True, monsieur,” said Mousqueton; “and five hundred feet from here is a small hunting-house.”

“Mousqueton, thy pistols,” said D’Artagnan.

“I have them at hand, monsieur.”

“Porthos, take yours from your holsters.”

“I have them.”

“Good!” said D’Artagnan, seizing his own; “now you understand, Porthos?”

“Not too well.”

“We are out on the king’s service.”

“Well?”

“For the king’s service we need horses.”

“That is true,” said Porthos.

“Then not a word, but set to work!”

They went on through the darkness, silent as phantoms; they saw a light glimmering in the midst of some trees.

“Yonder is the house, Porthos,” said the Gascon; “let me do what I please and do you what I do.”

They glided from tree to tree till they arrived at twenty steps from the house unperceived and saw by means of a lantern suspended under a hut, four fine horses. A groom was rubbing them down; near them were saddles and bridles.

D’Artagnan approached quickly, making a sign to his two companions to remain a few steps behind.

“I buy those horses,” he said to the groom.

The groom turned toward him with a look of surprise, but made no reply.

“Didn’t you hear, fellow?”

“Yes, I heard.”

“Why, then, didn’t you reply?”

“Because these horses are not to be sold,” was the reply.

“I take them, then,” said the lieutenant.

And he took hold of one within his reach; his two companions did the same thing.

“Sir,” cried the groom, “they have traversed six leagues and have only been unsaddled half an hour.”

“Half an hour’s rest is enough,” replied the Gascon.

The groom cried aloud for help. A kind of steward appeared, just as D’Artagnan and his companions were prepared to mount. The steward attempted to expostulate.

“My dear friend,” cried the lieutenant, “if you say a word I will blow out your brains.”

“But, sir,” answered the steward, “do you know that these horses belong to Monsieur de Montbazon?”

“So much the better; they must be good animals, then.”

“Sir, I shall call my people.”

“And I, mine; I’ve ten guards behind me, don’t you hear them gallop? and I’m one of the king’s musketeers. Come, Porthos; come, Mousqueton.”

They all mounted the horses as quickly as possible.

“Halloo! hi! hi!” cried the steward; “the house servants, with the carbines!”

“On! on!” cried D’Artagnan; “there’ll be firing! on!”

They all set off, swift as the wind.

“Here!” cried the steward, “here!” whilst the groom ran to a neighboring building.

“Take care of your horses!” cried D’Artagnan to him.

“Fire!” replied the steward.

A gleam, like a flash of lightning, illumined the road, and with the flash was heard the whistling of balls, which were fired wildly in the air.

“They fire like grooms,” said Porthos. “In the time of the cardinal people fired better than that, do you remember the road to Crevecoeur, Mousqueton?”

“Ah, sir! my left side still pains me!”

“Are you sure we are on the right track, lieutenant?”

“Egad, didn’t you hear? these horses belong to Monsieur de Montbazon; well, Monsieur de Montbazon is the husband of Madame de Montbazon----”

“And----”

“And Madame de Montbazon is the mistress of the Duc de Beaufort.”

“Ah! I understand,” replied Porthos; “she has ordered relays of horses.”

“Exactly so.”

“And we are pursuing the duke with the very horses he has just left?”

“My dear Porthos, you are really a man of most superior understanding,” said D’Artagnan, with a look as if he spoke against his conviction.

“Pooh!” replied Porthos, “I am what I am.”

They rode on for an hour, till the horses were covered with foam and dust.

“Zounds! what is yonder?” cried D’Artagnan.

“You are very lucky if you see anything such a night as this,” said Porthos.

“Something bright.”

“I, too,” cried Mousqueton, “saw them also.”

“Ah! ah! have we overtaken them?”

“Good! a dead horse!” said D’Artagnan, pulling up his horse, which shied; “it seems their horses, too, are breaking down, as well as ours.”

“I seem to hear the noise of a troop of horsemen,” exclaimed Porthos, leaning over his horse’s mane.

“Impossible.”

“They appear to be numerous.”

“Then ‘tis something else.”

“Another horse!” said Porthos.

“Dead?”

“No, dying.”

“Saddled?”

“Yes, saddled and bridled.”

“Then we are upon the fugitives.”

“Courage, we have them!”

“But if they are numerous,” observed Mousqueton, “‘tis not we who have them, but they who have us.”

“Nonsense!” cried D’Artagnan, “they’ll suppose us to be stronger than themselves, as we’re in pursuit; they’ll be afraid and will disperse.”

“Certainly,” remarked Porthos.

“Ah! do you see?” cried the lieutenant.

“The lights again! this time I, too, saw them,” said Porthos.

“On! on! forward! forward!” cried D’Artagnan, in his stentorian voice; “we shall laugh over all this in five minutes.”

And they darted on anew. The horses, excited by pain and emulation, raced over the dark road, in the midst of which was now seen a moving mass, denser and more obscure than the rest of the horizon.


Chapter 26. The Rencontre.


They rode on in this way for ten minutes. Suddenly two dark forms seemed to separate from the mass, advanced, grew in size, and as they loomed up larger and larger, assumed the appearance of two horsemen.

“Aha!” cried D’Artagnan, “they’re coming toward us.”

“So much the worse for them,” said Porthos.

“Who goes there?” cried a hoarse voice.

The three horsemen made no reply, stopped not, and all that was heard was the noise of swords drawn from the scabbards and the cocking of the pistols with which the two phantoms were armed.

“Bridle in mouth!” said D’Artagnan.

Porthos understood him and he and the lieutenant each drew with the left hand a pistol from their bolsters and cocked it in their turn.

“Who goes there?” was asked a second time. “Not a step forward, or you’re dead men.”

“Stuff!” cried Porthos, almost choked with dust and chewing his bridle as a horse chews his bit. “Stuff and nonsense; we have seen plenty of dead men in our time.”

Hearing these words, the two shadows blockaded the road and by the light of the stars might be seen the shining of their arms.

“Back!” shouted D’Artagnan, “or you are dead!”

Two shots were the reply to this threat; but the assailants attacked their foes with such velocity that in a moment they were upon them; a third pistol-shot was heard, aimed by D’Artagnan, and one of his adversaries fell. As for Porthos, he assaulted the foe with such violence that, although his sword was thrust aside, the enemy was thrown off his horse and fell about ten steps from it.

“Finish, Mouston, finish the work!” cried Porthos. And he darted on beside his friend, who had already begun a fresh pursuit.

“Well?” said Porthos.

“I’ve broken my man’s skull,” cried D’Artagnan. “And you----”

“I’ve only thrown the fellow down, but hark!”

Another shot of a carbine was heard. It was Mousqueton, who was obeying his master’s command.

“On! on!” cried D’Artagnan; “all goes well! we have the first throw.”

“Ha! ha!” answered Porthos, “behold, other players appear.”

And in fact, two other cavaliers made their appearance, detached, as it seemed, from the principal group; they again disputed the road.

This time the lieutenant did not wait for the opposite party to speak.

“Stand aside!” he cried; “stand off the road!”

“What do you want?” asked a voice.

“The duke!” Porthos and D’Artagnan roared out both at once.

A burst of laughter was the answer, but finished with a groan. D’Artagnan had, with his sword, cut in two the poor wretch who had laughed.

At the same time Porthos and his adversary fired on each other and D’Artagnan turned to him.

“Bravo! you’ve killed him, I think.”

“No, wounded his horse only.”

“What would you have, my dear fellow? One doesn’t hit the bull’s-eye every time; it is something to hit inside the ring. Ho! parbleau! what is the matter with my horse?”

“Your horse is falling,” said Porthos, reining in his own.

In truth, the lieutenant’s horse stumbled and fell on his knees; then a rattling in his throat was heard and he lay down to die. He had received in the chest the bullet of D’Artagnan’s first adversary. D’Artagnan swore loud enough to be heard in the skies.

“Does your honor want a horse?” asked Mousqueton.

“Zounds! want one!” cried the Gascon.

“Here’s one, your honor----”

“How the devil hast thou two horses?” asked D’Artagnan, jumping on one of them.

“Their masters are dead! I thought they might be useful, so I took them.”

Meantime Porthos had reloaded his pistols.

“Be on the qui vive!” cried D’Artagnan. “Here are two other cavaliers.”

As he spoke, two horsemen advanced at full speed.

“Ho! your honor!” cried Mousqueton, “the man you upset is getting up.”

“Why didn’t thou do as thou didst to the first man?” said Porthos.

“I held the horses, my hands were full, your honor.”

A shot was fired that moment; Mousqueton shrieked with pain.

“Ah, sir! I’m hit in the other side! exactly opposite the other! This hurt is just the fellow of the one I had on the road to Amiens.”

Porthos turned around like a lion, plunged on the dismounted cavalier, who tried to draw his sword; but before it was out of the scabbard, Porthos, with the hilt of his had struck him such a terrible blow on the head that he fell like an ox beneath the butcher’s knife.

Mousqueton, groaning, slipped from his horse, his wound not allowing him to keep the saddle.

On perceiving the cavaliers, D’Artagnan had stopped and charged his pistol afresh; besides, his horse, he found, had a carbine on the bow of the saddle.

“Here I am!” exclaimed Porthos. “Shall we wait, or shall we charge?”

“Let us charge them,” answered the Gascon.

“Charge!” cried Porthos.

They spurred on their horses; the other cavaliers were only twenty steps from them.

“For the king!” cried D’Artagnan.

“The king has no authority here!” answered a deep voice, which seemed to proceed from a cloud, so enveloped was the cavalier in a whirlwind of dust.

“‘Tis well, we will see if the king’s name is not a passport everywhere,” replied the Gascon.

“See!” answered the voice.

Two shots were fired at once, one by D’Artagnan, the other by the adversary of Porthos. D’Artagnan’s ball took off his enemy’s hat. The ball fired by Porthos’s foe went through the throat of his horse, which fell, groaning.

“For the last time, where are you going?”

“To the devil!” answered D’Artagnan.

“Good! you may be easy, then--you’ll get there.”

D’Artagnan then saw a musket-barrel leveled at him; he had no time to draw from his holsters. He recalled a bit of advice which Athos had once given him, and made his horse rear.

The ball struck the animal full in front. D’Artagnan felt his horse giving way under him and with his wonderful agility threw himself to one side.

“Ah! this,” cried the voice, the tone of which was at once polished and jeering, “this is nothing but a butchery of horses and not a combat between men. To the sword, sir! the sword!”

And he jumped off his horse.

“To the swords! be it so!” replied D’Artagnan; “that is exactly what I want.”

D’Artagnan, in two steps, was engaged with the foe, whom, according to custom, he attacked impetuously, but he met this time with a skill and a strength of arm that gave him pause. Twice he was obliged to step back; his opponent stirred not one inch. D’Artagnan returned and again attacked him.

Twice or thrice thrusts were attempted on both sides, without effect; sparks were emitted from the swords like water spouting forth.

At last D’Artagnan thought it was time to try one of his favorite feints in fencing. He brought it to bear, skillfully executed it with the rapidity of lightning, and struck the blow with a force which he fancied would prove irresistible.

The blow was parried.

“‘Sdeath!” he cried, with his Gascon accent.

At this exclamation his adversary bounded back and, bending his bare head, tried to distinguish in the gloom the features of the lieutenant.

As to D’Artagnan, afraid of some feint, he still stood on the defensive.

“Have a care,” cried Porthos to his opponent; “I’ve still two pistols charged.”

“The more reason you should fire the first!” cried his foe.

Porthos fired; the flash threw a gleam of light over the field of battle.

As the light shone on them a cry was heard from the other two combatants.

“Athos!” exclaimed D’Artagnan.

“D’Artagnan!” ejaculated Athos.

Athos raised his sword; D’Artagnan lowered his.

“Aramis!” cried Athos, “don’t fire!”

“Ah! ha! is it you, Aramis?” said Porthos.

And he threw away his pistol.

Aramis pushed his back into his saddle-bags and sheathed his sword.

“My son!” exclaimed Athos, extending his hand to D’Artagnan.

This was the name which he gave him in former days, in their moments of tender intimacy.

“Athos!” cried D’Artagnan, wringing his hands. “So you defend him! And I, who have sworn to take him dead or alive, I am dishonored--and by you!”

“Kill me!” replied Athos, uncovering his breast, “if your honor requires my death.”

“Oh! woe is me! woe is me!” cried the lieutenant; “there’s only one man in the world who could stay my hand; by a fatality that very man bars my way. What shall I say to the cardinal?”

“You can tell him, sir,” answered a voice which was the voice of high command in the battle-field, “that he sent against me the only two men capable of getting the better of four men; of fighting man to man, without discomfiture, against the Comte de la Fere and the Chevalier d’Herblay, and of surrendering only to fifty men!

“The prince!” exclaimed at the same moment Athos and Aramis, unmasking as they addressed the Duc de Beaufort, whilst D’Artagnan and Porthos stepped backward.

“Fifty cavaliers!” cried the Gascon and Porthos.

“Look around you, gentlemen, if you doubt the fact,” said the duke.

The two friends looked to the right, to the left; they were encompassed by a troop of horsemen.

“Hearing the noise of the fight,” resumed the duke, “I fancied you had about twenty men with you, so I came back with those around me, tired of always running away, and wishing to draw my sword in my own cause; but you are only two.”

“Yes, my lord; but, as you have said, two that are a match for twenty,” said Athos.

“Come, gentlemen, your swords,” said the duke.

“Our swords!” cried D’Artagnan, raising his head and regaining his self-possession. “Never!”

“Never!” added Porthos.

Some of the men moved toward them.

“One moment, my lord,” whispered Athos, and he said something in a low voice.

“As you will,” replied the duke. “I am too much indebted to you to refuse your first request. Gentlemen,” he said to his escort, “withdraw. Monsieur d’Artagnan, Monsieur du Vallon, you are free.”

The order was obeyed; D’Artagnan and Porthos then found themselves in the centre of a large circle.

“Now, D’Herblay,” said Athos, “dismount and come here.”

Aramis dismounted and went to Porthos, whilst Athos approached D’Artagnan.

All four once more together.

“Friends!” said Athos, “do you regret you have not shed our blood?”

“No,” replied D’Artagnan; “I regret to see that we, hitherto united, are opposed to each other. Ah! nothing will ever go well with us hereafter!”

“Oh, Heaven! No, all is over!” said Porthos.

“Well, be on our side now,” resumed Aramis.

“Silence, D’Herblay!” cried Athos; “such proposals are not to be made to gentlemen such as these. ‘Tis a matter of conscience with them, as with us.”

“Meantime, here we are, enemies!” said Porthos. “Gramercy! who would ever have thought it?”

D’Artagnan only sighed.

Athos looked at them both and took their hands in his.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “this is a serious business and my heart bleeds as if you had pierced it through and through. Yes, we are severed; there is the great, the distressing truth! But we have not as yet declared war; perhaps we shall have to make certain conditions, therefore a solemn conference is indispensable.”

“For my own part, I demand it,” said Aramis.

“I accept it,” interposed D’Artagnan, proudly.

Porthos bowed, as if in assent.

“Let us choose a place of rendezvous,” continued Athos, “and in a last interview arrange our mutual position and the conduct we are to maintain toward each other.”

“Good!” the other three exclaimed.

“Well, then, the place?”

“Will the Place Royale suit you?” asked D’Artagnan.

“In Paris?”

“Yes.”

Athos and Aramis looked at each other.

“The Place Royale--be it so!” replied Athos.

“When?”

“To-morrow evening, if you like!”

“At what hour?”

“At ten in the evening, if that suits you; by that time we shall have returned.”

“Good.”

“There,” continued Athos, “either peace or war will be decided; honor, at all events, will be maintained!”

“Alas!” murmured D’Artagnan, “our honor as soldiers is lost to us forever!”

“D’Artagnan,” said Athos, gravely, “I assure you that you do me wrong in dwelling so upon that. What I think of is, that we have crossed swords as enemies. Yes,” he continued, sadly shaking his head, “Yes, it is as you said, misfortune, indeed, has overtaken us. Come, Aramis.”

“And we, Porthos,” said D’Artagnan, “will return, carrying our shame to the cardinal.”

“And tell him,” cried a voice, “that I am not too old yet for a man of action.”

D’Artagnan recognized the voice of De Rochefort.

“Can I do anything for you, gentlemen?” asked the duke.

“Bear witness that we have done all that we could.”

“That shall be testified to, rest assured. Adieu! we shall meet soon, I trust, in Paris, where you shall have your revenge.” The duke, as he spoke, kissed his hand, spurred his horse into a gallop and disappeared, followed by his troop, who were soon lost in distance and darkness.

D’Artagnan and Porthos were now alone with a man who held by the bridles two horses; they thought it was Mousqueton and went up to him.

“What do I see?” cried the lieutenant. “Grimaud, is it thou?”

Grimaud signified that he was not mistaken.

“And whose horses are these?” cried D’Artagnan.

“Who has given them to us?” said Porthos.

“The Comte de la Fere.”

“Athos! Athos!” muttered D’Artagnan; “you think of every one; you are indeed a nobleman! Whither art thou going, Grimaud?”

“To join the Vicomte de Bragelonne in Flanders, your honor.”

They were taking the road toward Paris, when groans, which seemed to proceed from a ditch, attracted their attention.

“What is that?” asked D’Artagnan.

“It is I--Mousqueton,” said a mournful voice, whilst a sort of shadow arose out of the side of the road.

Porthos ran to him. “Art thou dangerously wounded, my dear Mousqueton?” he said.

“No, sir, but I am severely.”

“What can we do?” said D’Artagnan; “we must return to Paris.”

“I will take care of Mousqueton,” said Grimaud; and he gave his arm to his old comrade, whose eyes were full of tears, nor could Grimaud tell whether the tears were caused by wounds or by the pleasure of seeing him again.

D’Artagnan and Porthos went on, meantime, to Paris. They were passed by a sort of courier, covered with dust, the bearer of a letter from the duke to the cardinal, giving testimony to the valor of D’Artagnan and Porthos.

Mazarin had passed a very bad night when this letter was brought to him, announcing that the duke was free and that he would henceforth raise up mortal strife against him.

“What consoles me,” said the cardinal after reading the letter, “is that, at least, in this chase, D’Artagnan has done me one good turn--he has destroyed Broussel. This Gascon is a precious fellow; even his misadventures are of use.”

The cardinal referred to that man whom D’Artagnan upset at the corner of the Cimetiere Saint Jean in Paris, and who was no other than the Councillor Broussel.


Chapter 27. The four old Friends prepare to meet again.


Well,” said Porthos, seated in the courtyard of the Hotel de la Chevrette, to D’Artagnan, who, with a long and melancholy face, had returned from the Palais Royal; “did he receive you ungraciously, my dear friend?”

“I’faith, yes! a brute, that cardinal. What are you eating there, Porthos?”

“I am dipping a biscuit in a glass of Spanish wine; do the same.”

“You are right. Gimblou, a glass of wine.”

“Well, how has all gone off?”

“Zounds! you know there’s only one way of saying things, so I went in and said, ‘My lord, we were not the strongest party.’

“‘Yes, I know that,’ he said, ‘but give me the particulars.’

“You know, Porthos, I could not give him the particulars without naming our friends; to name them would be to commit them to ruin, so I merely said they were fifty and we were two.

“‘There was firing, nevertheless, I heard,’ he said; ‘and your swords--they saw the light of day, I presume?’

“‘That is, the night, my lord,’ I answered.

“‘Ah!’ cried the cardinal, ‘I thought you were a Gascon, my friend?’

“‘I am a Gascon,’ said I, ‘only when I succeed.’ The answer pleased him and he laughed.

“‘That will teach me,’ he said, ‘to have my guards provided with better horses; for if they had been able to keep up with you and if each one of them had done as much as you and your friend, you would have kept your word and would have brought him back to me dead or alive.’”

“Well, there’s nothing bad in that, it seems to me,” said Porthos.

“Oh, mon Dieu! no, nothing at all. It was the way in which he spoke. It is incredible how these biscuit soak up wine! They are veritable sponges! Gimblou, another bottle.”

The bottle was brought with a promptness which showed the degree of consideration D’Artagnan enjoyed in the establishment. He continued:

“So I was going away, but he called me back.

“‘You have had three horses foundered or killed?’ he asked me.

“‘Yes, my lord.’

“‘How much were they worth?’”

“Why,” said Porthos, “that was very good of him, it seems to me.”

“‘A thousand pistoles,’ I said.”

“A thousand pistoles!” Porthos exclaimed. “Oh! oh! that is a large sum. If he knew anything about horses he would dispute the price.”

“Faith! he was very much inclined to do so, the contemptible fellow. He made a great start and looked at me. I also looked at him; then he understood, and putting his hand into a drawer, he took from it a quantity of notes on a bank in Lyons.”

“For a thousand pistoles?”

“For a thousand pistoles--just that amount, the beggar; not one too many.”

“And you have them?”

“They are here.”

“Upon my word, I think he acted very generously.”

“Generously! to men who had risked their lives for him, and besides had done him a great service?”

“A great service--what was that?”

“Why, it seems that I crushed for him a parliament councillor.”

“What! that little man in black that you upset at the corner of Saint Jean Cemetery?”

“That’s the man, my dear fellow; he was an annoyance to the cardinal. Unfortunately, I didn’t crush him flat. It seems that he came to himself and that he will continue to be an annoyance.”

“See that, now!” said Porthos; “and I turned my horse aside from going plump on to him! That will be for another time.”

“He owed me for the councillor, the pettifogger!”

“But,” said Porthos, “if he was not crushed completely----”

“Ah! Monsieur de Richelieu would have said, ‘Five hundred crowns for the councillor.’ Well, let’s say no more about it. How much were your animals worth, Porthos?”

“Ah, if poor Mousqueton were here he could tell you to a fraction.”

“No matter; you can tell within ten crowns.”

“Why, Vulcan and Bayard cost me each about two hundred pistoles, and putting Phoebus at a hundred and fifty, we should be pretty near the amount.”

“There will remain, then, four hundred and fifty pistoles,” said D’Artagnan, contentedly.

“Yes,” said Porthos, “but there are the equipments.”

“That is very true. Well, how much for the equipments?”

“If we say one hundred pistoles for the three----”

“Good for the hundred pistoles; there remains, then, three hundred and fifty.”

Porthos made a sign of assent.

“We will give the fifty pistoles to the hostess for our expenses,” said D’Artagnan, “and share the three hundred.”

“We will share,” said Porthos.

“A paltry piece of business!” murmured D’Artagnan crumpling his note.

“Pooh!” said Porthos, “it is always that. But tell me----”

“What?”

“Didn’t he speak of me in any way?”

“Ah! yes, indeed!” cried D’Artagnan, who was afraid of disheartening his friend by telling him that the cardinal had not breathed a word about him; “yes, surely, he said----”

“He said?” resumed Porthos.

“Stop, I want to remember his exact words. He said, ‘As to your friend, tell him he may sleep in peace.’”

“Good, very good,” said Porthos; “that signified as clear as daylight that he still intends to make me a baron.”

At this moment nine o’clock struck. D’Artagnan started.

“Ah, yes,” said Porthos, “there is nine o’clock. We have a rendezvous, you remember, at the Place Royale.”

“Ah! stop! hold your peace, Porthos, don’t remind me of it; ‘tis that which has made me so cross since yesterday. I shall not go.”

“Why?” asked Porthos.

“Because it is a grievous thing for me to meet again those two men who caused the failure of our enterprise.”

“And yet,” said Porthos, “neither of them had any advantage over us. I still had a loaded pistol and you were in full fight, sword in hand.”

“Yes,” said D’Artagnan; “but what if this rendezvous had some hidden purpose?”

“Oh!” said Porthos, “you can’t think that, D’Artagnan!”

D’Artagnan did not believe Athos to be capable of a deception, but he sought an excuse for not going to the rendezvous.

“We must go,” said the superb lord of Bracieux, “lest they should say we were afraid. We who have faced fifty foes on the high road can well meet two in the Place Royale.”

“Yes, yes, but they took part with the princes without apprising us of it. Athos and Aramis have played a game with me which alarms me. We discovered yesterday the truth; what is the use of going to-day to learn something else?”

“You really have some distrust, then?” said Porthos.

“Of Aramis, yes, since he has become an abbe. You can’t imagine, my dear fellow, the sort of man he is. He sees us on the road which leads him to a bishopric, and perhaps will not be sorry to get us out of his way.”

“Ah, as regards Aramis, that is another thing,” said Porthos, “and it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

“Perhaps Monsieur de Beaufort will try, in his turn, to lay hands on us.”

“Nonsense! He had us in his power and he let us go. Besides we can be on our guard; let us take arms, let Planchet post himself behind us with his carbine.”

“Planchet is a Frondeur,” answered D’Artagnan.

“Devil take these civil wars! one can no more now reckon on one’s friends than on one’s footmen,” said Porthos. “Ah! if Mousqueton were here! there’s a fellow who will never desert me!”

“So long as you are rich! Ah! my friend! ‘tis not civil war that disunites us. It is that we are each of us twenty years older; it is that the honest emotions of youth have given place to suggestions of interest, whispers of ambition, counsels of selfishness. Yes, you are right; let us go, Porthos, but let us go well armed; were we not to keep the rendezvous, they would declare we were afraid. Halloo! Planchet! here! saddle our horses, take your carbine.”

“Whom are we going to attack, sir?”

“No one; a mere matter of precaution,” answered the Gascon.

“You know, sir, that they wished to murder that good councillor, Broussel, the father of the people?”

“Really, did they?” said D’Artagnan.

“Yes, but he has been avenged. He was carried home in the arms of the people. His house has been full ever since. He has received visits from the coadjutor, from Madame de Longueville, and the Prince de Conti; Madame de Chevreuse and Madame de Vendome have left their names at his door. And now, whenever he wishes----”

“Well, whenever he wishes?”

Planchet began to sing:

“Un vent de fronde S’est leve ce matin; Je crois qu’il gronde Contre le Mazarin. Un vent de fronde S’est leve ce matin.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said D’Artagnan, in a low tone to Porthos, “that Mazarin would have been much better satisfied had I crushed the life out of his councillor.”

“You understand, then, monsieur,” resumed Planchet, “that if it were for some enterprise like that undertaken against Monsieur Broussel that you should ask me to take my carbine----”

“No, don’t be alarmed; but where did you get all these details?”

“From a good source, sir; I heard it from Friquet.”

“From Friquet? I know that name----”

“A son of Monsieur de Broussel’s servant, and a lad that, I promise you, in a revolt will not give away his share to the dogs.”

“Is he not a singing boy at Notre Dame?” asked D’Artagnan.

“Yes, that is the very boy; he’s patronized by Bazin.”

“Ah, yes, I know.”

“Of what importance is this little reptile to you?” asked Porthos.

“Gad!” replied D’Artagnan; “he has already given me good information and he may do the same again.”

Whilst all this was going on, Athos and Aramis were entering Paris by the Faubourg St. Antoine. They had taken some refreshment on the road and hastened on, that they might not fail at the appointed place. Bazin was their only attendant, for Grimaud had stayed behind to take care of Mousqueton. As they were passing onward, Athos proposed that they should lay aside their arms and military costume, and assume a dress more suited to the city.

“Oh, no, dear count!” cried Aramis, “is it not a warlike encounter that we are going to?”

“What do you mean, Aramis?”

“That the Place Royale is the termination to the main road to Vendomois, and nothing else.”

“What! our friends?”

“Are become our most dangerous enemies, Athos. Let us be on our guard.”

“Oh! my dear D’Herblay!”

“Who can say whether D’Artagnan may not have betrayed us to the cardinal? who can tell whether Mazarin may not take advantage of this rendezvous to seize us?”

“What! Aramis, you think that D’Artagnan, that Porthos, would lend their hands to such an infamy?”

“Among friends, my dear Athos, no, you are right; but among enemies it would be only a stratagem.”

Athos crossed his arms and bowed his noble head.

“What can you expect, Athos? Men are so made; and we are not always twenty years old. We have cruelly wounded, as you know, that personal pride by which D’Artagnan is blindly governed. He has been beaten. Did you not observe his despair on the journey? As to Porthos, his barony was perhaps dependent on that affair. Well, he found us on his road and will not be baron this time. Perhaps that famous barony will have something to do with our interview this evening. Let us take our precautions, Athos.”

“But suppose they come unarmed? What a disgrace to us.”

“Oh, never fear! besides, if they do, we can easily make an excuse; we came straight off a journey and are insurgents, too.”

“An excuse for us! to meet D’Artagnan with a false excuse! to have to make a false excuse to Porthos! Oh, Aramis!” continued Athos, shaking his head mournfully, “upon my soul, you make me the most miserable of men; you disenchant a heart not wholly dead to friendship. Go in whatever guise you choose; for my part, I shall go unarmed.”

“No, for I will not allow you to do so. ‘Tis not one man, not Athos only, not the Comte de la Fere whom you will ruin by this amiable weakness, but a whole party to whom you belong and who depend upon you.”

“Be it so then,” replied Athos, sorrowfully.

And they pursued their road in mournful silence.

Scarcely had they reached by the Rue de la Mule the iron gate of the Place Royale, when they perceived three cavaliers, D’Artagnan, Porthos, and Planchet, the two former wrapped up in their military cloaks under which their swords were hidden, and Planchet, his musket by his side. They were waiting at the entrance of the Rue Sainte Catharine, and their horses were fastened to the rings of the arcade. Athos, therefore, commanded Bazin to fasten up his horse and that of Aramis in the same manner.

They then advanced two and two, and saluted each other politely.

“Now where will it be agreeable to you that we hold our conference?” inquired Aramis, perceiving that people were stopping to look at them, supposing that they were going to engage in one of those far-famed duels still extant in the memory of the Parisians, and especially the inhabitants of the Place Royale.

“The gate is shut,” said Aramis, “but if these gentlemen like a cool retreat under the trees, and perfect seclusion, I will get the key from the Hotel de Rohan and we shall be well suited.”

D’Artagnan darted a look into the obscurity of the Place. Porthos ventured to put his head between the railings, to try if his glance could penetrate the gloom.

“If you prefer any other place,” said Athos, in his persuasive voice, “choose for yourselves.”

“This place, if Monsieur d’Herblay can procure the key, is the best that we can have,” was the answer.

Aramis went off at once, begging Athos not to remain alone within reach of D’Artagnan and Porthos; a piece of advice which was received with a contemptuous smile.

Aramis returned soon with a man from the Hotel de Rohan, who was saying to him:

“You swear, sir, that it is not so?”

“Stop,” and Aramis gave him a louis d’or.

“Ah! you will not swear, my master,” said the concierge, shaking his head.

“Well, one can never say what may happen; at present we and these gentlemen are excellent friends.”

“Yes, certainly,” added Athos and the other two.

D’Artagnan had heard the conversation and had understood it.

“You see?” he said to Porthos.

“What do I see?”

“That he wouldn’t swear.”

“Swear what?”

“That man wanted Aramis to swear that we are not going to the Place Royale to fight.”

“And Aramis wouldn’t swear?”

“No.”

“Attention, then!”

Athos did not lose sight of the two speakers. Aramis opened the gate and faced around in order that D’Artagnan and Porthos might enter. In passing through the gate, the hilt of the lieutenant’s sword was caught in the grating and he was obliged to pull off his cloak; in doing so he showed the butt end of his pistols and a ray of the moon was reflected on the shining metal.

“Do you see?” whispered Aramis to Athos, touching his shoulder with one hand and pointing with the other to the arms which the Gascon wore under his belt.

“Alas! I do!” replied Athos, with a deep sigh.

He entered third, and Aramis, who shut the gate after him, last. The two serving-men waited without; but as if they likewise mistrusted each other, they kept their respective distances.