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The Man in the Iron Mask

PART II



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CHAPTER 61

Promises
Scarcely had d’Artagnan re-entered his apartment with his two friends, when one of the soldiers of the fort came to inform him that the governor was seeking him. The bark which Raoul had perceived at sea, and which appeared so eager to gain the port, came to Sainte-Marguerite with an important dispatch for the captain of the Musketeers. On opening it, d’Artagnan recognized the writing of the king:

“I should think,” said Louis XIV, “you will have completed the execution of my orders, Monsieur d’Artagnan; return, then, immediately to Paris, and join me at the Louvre.”

“There is the end of my exile!” cried the musketeer with joy; “God be praised, I am no longer a jailer!” And he showed the letter to Athos.

“So, then, you must leave us?” replied the latter, in a melancholy tone.

“Yes, but to meet again, dear friend, seeing that Raoul is old enough now to go alone with M. de Beaufort, and will prefer his father going back in company with M. d’Artagnan, to forcing him to travel two hundred leagues solitarily to reach home at La Fère; will you not, Raoul?”

“Certainly,” stammered the latter, with an expression of tender regret.

“No, no, my friend,” interrupted Athos, “I will never quit Raoul till the day his vessel disappears on the horizon. As long as he remains in France he shall not be separated from me.”

“As you please, dear friend; but we will, at least, leave Sainte-Marguerite together; take advantage of the bark that will convey me back to Antibes.”

“With all my heart; we cannot too soon be at a distance from this fort, and from the spectacle that shocked us so just now.”

The three friends quitted the little isle, after paying their respects to the governor, and by the last flashes of the departing tempest they took their farewell of the white walls of the fort. D’Artagnan parted from his friend that same night, after having seen fire set to the carriage upon the shore by the orders of Saint-Mars, according to the advice the captain had given him. Before getting on horseback, and after leaving the arms of Athos: “My friends,” said he, “you bear too much resemblance to two soldiers who are abandoning their post. Something warns me that Raoul will require being supported by you in his rank. Will you allow me to ask permission to go over into Africa with a hundred good muskets? The king will not refuse me, and I will take you with me.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” replied Raoul, pressing his hand with emotion, “thanks for that offer, which would give us more than we wish, either Monsieur le Comte or I. I, who am young, stand in need of labor of mind and fatigue of body; Monsieur le Comte wants the profoundest repose. You are his best friend. I recommend him to your care. In watching over him, you are holding both our souls in your hands.”

“I must go; my horse is all in a fret,” said d’Artagnan, with whom the most manifest sign of a lively emotion was the change of ideas in conversation. “Come, comte, how many days longer has Raoul to stay here?”

“Three days at most.”

“And how long will it take you to reach home?”

“Oh! a considerable time,” replied Athos. “I shall not like the idea of being separated too quickly from Raoul. Time will travel too fast of itself to require me to aid it by distance. I shall only make half-stages.”

“And why so, my friend? Nothing is more dull than traveling slowly; and hostelry life does not become a man like you.”

“My friend, I came hither on post-horses; but I wish to purchase two animals of a superior kind. Now, to take them home fresh, it would not be prudent to make them travel more than seven or eight leagues a day.”

“Where is Grimaud?”

“He arrived yesterday morning with Raoul’s appointments; and I have left him to sleep.”

“That is, never to come back again,” d’Artagnan suffered to escape him. “Till we meet again, then, dear Athos⁠—and if you are diligent, I shall embrace you the sooner.” So saying, he put his foot in the stirrup, which Raoul held.

“Farewell!” said the young man, embracing him.

“Farewell!” said d’Artagnan, as he got into his saddle.

His horse made a movement which divided the cavalier from his friends. This scene had taken place in front of the house chosen by Athos, near the gates of Antibes, whither d’Artagnan, after his supper, had ordered his horses to be brought. The road began to branch off there, white and undulating in the vapors of the night. The horse eagerly respired the salt, sharp perfume of the marshes. D’Artagnan put him to a trot; and Athos and Raoul sadly turned towards the house. All at once they heard the rapid approach of a horse’s steps, and first believed it to be one of those singular repercussions which deceive the ear at every turn in a road. But it was really the return of the horseman. They uttered a cry of joyous surprise; and the captain, springing to the ground like a young man, seized within his arms the two beloved heads of Athos and Raoul. He held them long embraced thus, without speaking a word, or suffering the sigh which was bursting his breast to escape him. Then, as rapidly as he had come back, he set off again, with a sharp application of his spurs to the sides of his fiery horse.

“Alas!” said the comte, in a low voice, “alas! alas!”

An evil omen! on his side, said d’Artagnan to himself, making up for lost time. I could not smile upon them. An evil omen!

The next day Grimaud was on foot again. The service commanded by M. de Beaufort was happily accomplished. The flotilla, sent to Toulon by the exertions of Raoul, had set out, dragging after it in little nutshells, almost invisible, the wives and friends of the fishermen and smugglers put in requisition for the service of the fleet. The time, so short, which remained for father and son to live together, appeared to go by with double rapidity, like some swift stream that flows towards eternity. Athos and Raoul returned to Toulon, which began to be filled with the noise of carriages, with the noise of arms, the noise of neighing horses. The trumpeters sounded their spirited marches; the drummers signalized their strength; the streets were overflowing with soldiers, servants, and tradespeople. The Duc de Beaufort was everywhere, superintending the embarkation with the zeal and interest of a good captain. He encouraged the humblest of his companions; he scolded his lieutenants, even those of the highest rank. Artillery, provisions, baggage, he insisted upon seeing all himself. He examined the equipment of every soldier; assured himself of the health and soundness of every horse. It was plain that, light, boastful, egotistical, in his hotel, the gentleman became the soldier again⁠—the high noble, a captain⁠—in face of the responsibility he had accepted. And yet, it must be admitted that, whatever was the care with which he presided over the preparations for departure, it was easy to perceive careless precipitation, and the absence of all the precaution that make the French soldier the first soldier in the world, because, in that world, he is the one most abandoned to his own physical and moral resources. All things having satisfied, or appearing to have satisfied, the admiral, he paid his compliments to Raoul, and gave the last orders for sailing, which was ordered the next morning at daybreak. He invited the comte had his son to dine with him; but they, under a pretext of service, kept themselves apart. Gaining their hostelry, situated under the trees of the great Place, they took their repast in haste, and Athos led Raoul to the rocks which dominate the city, vast gray mountains, whence the view is infinite and embraces a liquid horizon which appears, so remote is it, on a level with the rocks themselves. The night was fine, as it always is in these happy climes. The moon, rising behind the rocks, unrolled a silver sheet on the cerulean carpet of the sea. In the roadsteads maneuvered silently the vessels which had just taken their rank to facilitate the embarkation. The sea, loaded with phosphoric light, opened beneath the hulls of the barks that transported the baggage and munitions; every dip of the prow plowed up this gulf of white flames; from every oar dropped liquid diamonds. The sailors, rejoicing in the largesses of the admiral, were heard murmuring their slow and artless songs. Sometimes the grinding of the chains was mixed with the dull noise of shot falling into the holds. Such harmonies, such a spectacle, oppress the heart like fear, and dilate it like hope. All this life speaks of death. Athos had seated himself with his son, upon the moss, among the brambles of the promontory. Around their heads passed and repassed large bats, carried along by the fearful whirl of their blind chase. The feet of Raoul were over the edge of the cliff, bathed in that void which is peopled by vertigo, and provokes to self-annihilation. When the moon had risen to its fullest height, caressing with light the neighboring peaks, when the watery mirror was illumined in its full extent, and the little red fires had made their openings in the black masses of every ship, Athos, collecting all his ideas and all his courage, said:

“God has made all these things that we see, Raoul; He has made us also⁠—poor atoms mixed up with this monstrous universe. We shine like those fires and those stars; we sigh like those waves; we suffer like those great ships, which are worn out in plowing the waves, in obeying the wind that urges them towards an end, as the breath of God blows us towards a port. Everything likes to live, Raoul; and everything seems beautiful to living things.”

“Monsieur,” said Raoul, “we have before us a beautiful spectacle!”

“How good d’Artagnan is!” interrupted Athos, suddenly, “and what a rare good fortune it is to be supported during a whole life by such a friend as he is! That is what you have missed, Raoul.”

“A friend!” cried Raoul, “I have wanted a friend!”

“M. de Guiche is an agreeable companion,” resumed the comte, coldly, “but I believe, in the times in which you live, men are more engaged in their own interests and their own pleasures than they were in ours. You have sought a secluded life; that is a great happiness, but you have lost your strength thereby. We four, more weaned from those delicate abstractions that constitute your joy, furnished much more resistance when misfortune presented itself.”

“I have not interrupted you, Monsieur, to tell you that I had a friend, and that that friend is M. de Guiche. Certes, he is good and generous, and moreover he loves me. But I have lived under the guardianship of another friendship, Monsieur, as precious and as strong as that of which you speak, since it is yours.”

“I have not been a friend for you, Raoul,” said Athos.

“Eh! Monsieur, and in what respect not?”

“Because I have given you reason to think that life has but one face, because, sad and severe, alas! I have always cut off for you, without, God knows, wishing to do so, the joyous buds that spring incessantly from the fair tree of youth; so that at this moment I repent of not having made of you a more expansive, dissipated, animated man.”

“I know why you say that, Monsieur. No, it is not you who have made me what I am; it was love which took me at the time when children only have inclinations; it is the constancy natural to my character, which with other creatures is but habit. I believed that I should always be as I was; I thought God had cast me in a path quite clear, quite straight, bordered with fruits and flowers. I had ever watching over me your vigilance and strength. I believed myself to be vigilant and strong. Nothing prepared me; I fell once, and that once deprived me of courage for the whole of my life. It is quite true that I wrecked myself. Oh, no, Monsieur! you are nothing in my past but happiness⁠—in my future but hope! No, I have no reproach to make against life such as you made it for me; I bless you, and I love you ardently.”

“My dear Raoul, your words do me good. They prove to me that you will act a little for me in the time to come.”

“I shall only act for you, Monsieur.”

“Raoul, what I have never hitherto done with respect to you, I will henceforward do. I will be your friend, not your father. We will live in expanding ourselves, instead of living and holding ourselves prisoners, when you come back. And that will be soon, will it not?”

“Certainly, Monsieur, for such an expedition cannot last long.”

“Soon, then, Raoul, soon, instead of living moderately on my income, I will give you the capital of my estates. It will suffice for launching you into the world till my death; and you will give me, I hope, before that time, the consolation of not seeing my race extinct.”

“I will do all you may command,” said Raoul, much agitated.

“It is not necessary, Raoul, that your duty as aide-de-camp should lead you into too hazardous enterprises. You have gone through your ordeal; you are known to be a true man under fire. Remember that war with Arabs is a war of snares, ambuscades, and assassinations.”

“So it is said, Monsieur.”

“There is never much glory in falling in an ambuscade. It is a death which always implies a little rashness or want of foresight. Often, indeed, he who falls in one meets with but little pity. Those who are not pitied, Raoul, have died to little purpose. Still further, the conqueror laughs, and we Frenchmen ought not to allow stupid infidels to triumph over our faults. Do you clearly understand what I am saying to you, Raoul? God forbid I should encourage you to avoid encounters.”

“I am naturally prudent, Monsieur, and I have very good fortune,” said Raoul, with a smile which chilled the heart of his poor father; “for,” the young man hastened to add, “in twenty combats through which I have been, I have only received one scratch.”

“There is in addition,” said Athos, “the climate to be dreaded: that is an ugly end, to die of fever! King Saint-Louis prayed God to send him an arrow or the plague, rather than the fever.”

“Oh, Monsieur! with sobriety, with reasonable exercise⁠—”

“I have already obtained from M. de Beaufort a promise that his dispatches shall be sent off every fortnight to France. You, as his aide-de-camp, will be charged with expediting them, and will be sure not to forget me.”

“No, Monsieur,” said Raoul, almost choked with emotion.

“Besides, Raoul, as you are a good Christian, and I am one also, we ought to reckon upon a more special protection of God and His guardian angels. Promise me that if anything evil should happen to you, on any occasion, you will think of me at once.”

“First and at once! Oh! yes, Monsieur.”

“And will call upon me?”

“Instantly.”

“You dream of me sometimes, do you not, Raoul?”

“Every night, Monsieur. During my early youth I saw you in my dreams, calm and mild, with one hand stretched out over my head, and that it was which made me sleep so soundly⁠—formerly.”

“We love each other too dearly,” said the comte, “that from this moment, in which we separate, a portion of both our souls should not travel with one and the other of us, and should not dwell wherever we may dwell. Whenever you may be sad, Raoul, I feel that my heart will be dissolved in sadness; and when you smile on thinking of me, be assured you will send me, from however remote a distance, a vital scintillation of your joy.”

“I will not promise you to be joyous,” replied the young man; “but you may be certain that I will never pass an hour without thinking of you, not one hour, I swear, unless I shall be dead.”

Athos could contain himself no longer; he threw his arm round the neck of his son, and held him embraced with all the power of his heart. The moon began to be now eclipsed by twilight; a golden band surrounded the horizon, announcing the approach of day. Athos threw his cloak over the shoulders of Raoul, and led him back to the city, where burdens and porters were already in motion, like a vast anthill. At the extremity of the plateau which Athos and Bragelonne were quitting, they saw a dark shadow moving uneasily backwards and forwards, as if in indecision or ashamed to be seen. It was Grimaud, who in his anxiety had tracked his master, and was there awaiting him.

“Oh! my good Grimaud,” cried Raoul, “what do you want? You are come to tell us it is time to be gone, have you not?”

“Alone?” said Grimaud, addressing Athos and pointing to Raoul in a tone of reproach, which showed to what an extent the old man was troubled.

“Oh! you are right!” cried the comte. “No, Raoul shall not go alone; no, he shall not be left alone in a strange land without some friendly hand to support him, some friendly heart to recall to him all he loved!”

“I?” said Grimaud.

“You, yes, you!” cried Raoul, touched to the inmost heart.

“Alas!” said Athos, “you are very old, my good Grimaud.”

“So much the better,” replied the latter, with an inexpressible depth of feeling and intelligence.

“But the embarkation is begun,” said Raoul, “and you are not prepared.”

“Yes,” said Grimaud, showing the keys of his trunks, mixed with those of his young master.

“But,” again objected Raoul, “you cannot leave Monsieur le Comte thus alone; Monsieur le Comte, whom you have never quitted?”

Grimaud turned his diamond eyes upon Athos and Raoul, as if to measure the strength of both. The comte uttered not a word.

“Monsieur le Comte prefers my going,” said Grimaud.

“I do,” said Athos, by an inclination of the head.

At that moment the drums suddenly rolled, and the clarions filled the air with their inspiring notes. The regiments destined for the expedition began to debouch from the city. They advanced to the number of five, each composed of forty companies. Royals marched first, distinguished by their white uniform, faced with blue. The ordonnance colors, quartered crosswise, violet and dead leaf, with a sprinkling of golden fleurs-de-lis, left the white-colored flag, with its fleur-de-lised cross, to dominate the whole. Musketeers at the wings, with their forked sticks and their muskets on their shoulders; pikemen in the center, with their lances, fourteen feet in length, marched gayly towards the transports, which carried them in detail to the ships. The regiments of Picardy, Navarre, Normandy, and Royal Vaisseau, followed after. M. de Beaufort had known well how to select his troops. He himself was seen closing the march with his staff⁠—it would take a full hour before he could reach the sea. Raoul with Athos turned his steps slowly towards the beach, in order to take his place when the prince embarked. Grimaud, boiling with the ardor of a young man, superintended the embarkation of Raoul’s baggage in the admiral’s vessel. Athos, with his arm passed through that of the son he was about to lose, absorbed in melancholy meditation, was deaf to every noise around him. An officer came quickly towards them to inform Raoul that M. de Beaufort was anxious to have him by his side.

“Have the kindness to tell the prince,” said Raoul, “that I request he will allow me this hour to enjoy the company of my father.”

“No, no,” said Athos, “an aide-de-camp ought not thus to quit his general. Please to tell the prince, Monsieur, that the vicomte will join him immediately.” The officer set off at a gallop.

“Whether we part here or part there,” added the comte, “it is no less a separation.” He carefully brushed the dust from his son’s coat, and passed his hand over his hair as they walked along. “But, Raoul,” said he, “you want money. M. de Beaufort’s train will be splendid, and I am certain it will be agreeable to you to purchase horses and arms, which are very dear things in Africa. Now, as you are not actually in the service of the king or M. de Beaufort, and are simply a volunteer, you must not reckon upon either pay or largesse. But I should not like you to want for anything at Gigelli. Here are two hundred pistoles; if you would please me, Raoul, spend them.”

Raoul pressed the hand of his father, and, at the turning of a street, they saw M. de Beaufort, mounted on a magnificent white genet, which responded by graceful curvets to the applause of the women of the city. The duke called Raoul, and held out his hand to the comte. He spoke to him for some time, with such a kindly expression that the heart of the poor father even felt a little comforted. It was, however, evident to both father and son that their walk amounted to nothing less than a punishment. There was a terrible moment⁠—that at which, on quitting the sands of the shore, the soldiers and sailors exchanged the last kisses with their families and friends; a supreme moment, in which, notwithstanding the clearness of the heavens, the warmth of the sun, of the perfumes of the air, and the rich life that was circulating in their veins, everything appeared black, everything bitter, everything created doubts of Providence, nay, at the most, of God. It was customary for the admiral and his suite to embark last; the cannon waited to announce, with its formidable voice, that the leader had placed his foot on board his vessel. Athos, forgetful of both the admiral and the fleet, and of his own dignity as a strong man, opened his arms to his son, and pressed him convulsively to his heart.

“Accompany us on board,” said the duke, very much affected; “you will gain a good half-hour.”

“No,” said Athos, “my farewell has been spoken, I do not wish to voice a second.”

“Then, vicomte, embark⁠—embark quickly!” added the prince, wishing to spare the tears of these two men, whose hearts were bursting. And paternally, tenderly, very much as Porthos might have done, he took Raoul in his arms and placed him in the boat, the oars of which, at a signal, immediately were dipped in the waves. He himself, forgetful of ceremony, jumped into his boat, and pushed it off with a vigorous foot. “Adieu!” cried Raoul.

Athos replied only by a sign, but he felt something burning on his hand: it was the respectful kiss of Grimaud⁠—the last farewell of the faithful dog. This kiss given, Grimaud jumped from the step of the mole upon the stem of a two-oared yawl, which had just been taken in tow by a chaland served by twelve galley-oars. Athos seated himself on the mole, stunned, deaf, abandoned. Every instant took from him one of the features, one of the shades of the pale face of his son. With his arms hanging down, his eyes fixed, his mouth open, he remained confounded with Raoul⁠—in one same look, in one same thought, in one same stupor. The sea, by degrees, carried away boats and faces to that distance at which men become nothing but points⁠—loves, nothing but remembrances. Athos saw his son ascend the ladder of the admiral’s ship, he saw him lean upon the rail of the deck, and place himself in such a manner as to be always an object in the eye of his father. In vain the cannon thundered, in vain from the ship sounded the long and lordly tumult, responded to by immense acclamations from the shore; in vain did the noise deafen the ear of the father, the smoke obscured the cherished object of his aspirations. Raoul appeared to him to the last moment; and the imperceptible atom, passing from black to pale, from pale to white, from white to nothing, disappeared for Athos⁠—disappeared very long after, to all the eyes of the spectators, had disappeared both gallant ships and swelling sails. Towards midday, when the sun devoured space, and scarcely the tops of the masts dominated the incandescent limit of the sea, Athos perceived a soft aerial shadow rise, and vanish as soon as seen. This was the smoke of a cannon, which M. de Beaufort ordered to be fired as a last salute to the coast of France. The point was buried in its turn beneath the sky, and Athos returned with slow and painful step to his deserted hostelry.

CHAPTER 62

Among Women
D’Artagnan had not been able to hide his feelings from his friends so much as he would have wished. The stoical soldier, the impassive man-at-arms, overcome by fear and sad presentiments, had yielded, for a few moments, to human weakness. When, therefore, he had silenced his heart and calmed the agitation of his nerves, turning towards his lackey, a silent servant, always listening, in order to obey the more promptly:

“Rabaud,” said he, “mind, we must travel thirty leagues a day.”

“At your pleasure, captain,” replied Rabaud.

And from that moment, d’Artagnan, accommodating his action to the pace of the horse, like a true centaur, gave up his thoughts to nothing⁠—that is to say, to everything. He asked himself why the king had sent for him back; why the Iron Mask had thrown the silver plate at the feet of Raoul. As to the first subject, the reply was negative; he knew right well that the king’s calling him was from necessity. He still further knew that Louis XIV must experience an imperious desire for a private conversation with one whom the possession of such a secret placed on a level with the highest powers of the kingdom. But as to saying exactly what the king’s wish was, d’Artagnan found himself completely at a loss. The musketeer had no doubts, either, upon the reason which had urged the unfortunate Philippe to reveal his character and birth. Philippe, buried forever beneath a mask of steel, exiled to a country where the men seemed little more than slaves of the elements; Philippe, deprived even of the society of d’Artagnan, who had loaded him with honors and delicate attentions, had nothing more to see than odious specters in this world, and, despair beginning to devour him, he poured himself forth in complaints, in the belief that his revelations would raise up some avenger for him. The manner in which the musketeer had been near killing his two best friends, the destiny which had so strangely brought Athos to participate in the great state secret, the farewell of Raoul, the obscurity of the future which threatened to end in a melancholy death; all this threw d’Artagnan incessantly back on lamentable predictions and forebodings, which the rapidity of his pace did not dissipate, as it used formerly to do. D’Artagnan passed from these considerations to the remembrance of the proscribed Porthos and Aramis. He saw them both, fugitives, tracked, ruined⁠—laborious architects of fortunes they had lost; and as the king called for his man of execution in hours of vengeance and malice, d’Artagnan trembled at the idea of receiving some commission that would make his very soul bleed. Sometimes, ascending hills, when the winded horse breathed hard from his red nostrils, and heaved his flanks, the captain, left to more freedom of thought, reflected on the prodigious genius of Aramis, a genius of acumen and intrigue, a match to which the Fronde and the civil war had produced but twice. Soldier, priest, diplomatist; gallant, avaricious, cunning; Aramis had never taken the good things of this life except as stepping-stones to rise to giddier ends. Generous in spirit, if not lofty in heart, he never did ill but for the sake of shining even yet more brilliantly. Towards the end of his career, at the moment of reaching the goal, like the patrician Fuscus, he had made a false step upon a plank, and had fallen into the sea. But Porthos, good, harmless Porthos! To see Porthos hungry, to see Mousqueton without gold lace, imprisoned, perhaps; to see Pierrefonds, Bracieux, razed to the very stones, dishonored even to the timber⁠—these were so many poignant griefs for d’Artagnan, and every time that one of these griefs struck him, he bounded like a horse at the sting of a gadfly beneath the vaults of foliage where he has sought shady shelter from the burning sun. Never was the man of spirit subjected to ennui, if his body was exposed to fatigue; never did the man of healthy body fail to find life light, if he had something to engage his mind. D’Artagnan, riding fast, thinking as constantly, alighted from his horse in Paris, fresh and tender in his muscles as the athlete preparing for the gymnasium. The king did not expect him so soon, and had just departed for the chase towards Meudon. D’Artagnan, instead of riding after the king, as he would formerly have done, took off his boots, had a bath, and waited till His Majesty should return dusty and tired. He occupied the interval of five hours in taking, as people say, the air of the house, and in arming himself against all ill chances. He learned that the king, during the last fortnight, had been gloomy; that the queen-mother was ill and much depressed; that Monsieur, the king’s brother, was exhibiting a devotional turn; that Madame had the vapors; and that M. de Guiche was gone to one of his estates. He learned that M. Colbert was radiant; that M. Fouquet consulted a fresh physician every day, who still did not cure him, and that his principal complaint was one which physicians do not usually cure, unless they are political physicians. The king, d’Artagnan was told, behaved in the kindest manner to M. Fouquet, and did not allow him to be ever out of his sight; but the surintendant, touched to the heart, like one of those fine trees a worm has punctured, was declining daily, in spite of the royal smile, that sun of court trees. D’Artagnan learned that Mademoiselle de La Vallière had become indispensable to the king; that the king, during his sporting excursions, if he did not take her with him, wrote to her frequently, no longer verses, but, which was much worse, prose, and that whole pages at a time. Thus, as the political Pleiad of the day said, the first king in the world was seen descending from his horse with an ardor beyond compare, and on the crown of his hat scrawling bombastic phrases, which M. de Saint-Aignan, aide-de-camp in perpetuity, carried to La Vallière at the risk of foundering his horses. During this time, deer and pheasants were left to the free enjoyment of their nature, hunted so lazily that, it was said, the art of venery ran great risk of degenerating at the court of France. D’Artagnan then thought of the wishes of poor Raoul, of that desponding letter destined for a woman who passed her life in hoping, and as d’Artagnan loved to philosophize a little occasionally, he resolved to profit by the absence of the king to have a minute’s talk with Mademoiselle de La Vallière. This was a very easy affair; while the king was hunting, Louise was walking with some other ladies in one of the galleries of the Palais Royal, exactly where the captain of the Musketeers had some guards to inspect. D’Artagnan did not doubt that, if he could but open the conversation on Raoul, Louise might give him grounds for writing a consolatory letter to the poor exile; and hope, or at least consolation for Raoul, in the state of heart in which he had left him, was the sun, was life to two men, who were very dear to our captain. He directed his course, therefore, to the spot where he knew he should find Mademoiselle de La Vallière. D’Artagnan found La Vallière the center of the circle. In her apparent solitude, the king’s favorite received, like a queen, more, perhaps, than the queen, a homage of which Madame had been so proud, when all the king’s looks were directed to her and commanded the looks of the courtiers. D’Artagnan, although no squire of dames, received, nevertheless, civilities and attentions from the ladies; he was polite, as a brave man always is, and his terrible reputation had conciliated as much friendship among the men as admiration among the women. On seeing him enter, therefore, they immediately accosted him; and, as is not unfrequently the case with fair ladies, opened the attack by questions. “Where had he been? What had become of him so long? Why had they not seen him as usual make his fine horse curvet in such beautiful style, to the delight and astonishment of the curious from the king’s balcony?”

He replied that he had just come from the land of oranges. This set all the ladies laughing. Those were times in which everybody traveled, but in which, notwithstanding, a journey of a hundred leagues was a problem often solved by death.

“From the land of oranges?” cried Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. “From Spain?”

“Eh! eh!” said the musketeer.

“From Malta?” echoed Montalais.

Ma foi! You are coming very near, ladies.”

“Is it an island?” asked La Vallière.

“Mademoiselle,” said d’Artagnan; “I will not give you the trouble of seeking any further; I come from the country where M. de Beaufort is, at this moment, embarking for Algiers.”

“Have you seen the army?” asked several warlike fair ones.

“As plainly as I see you,” replied d’Artagnan.

“And the fleet?”

“Yes, I saw everything.”

“Have we any of us any friends there?” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, coldly, but in a manner to attract attention to a question that was not without its calculated aim.

“Why,” replied d’Artagnan, “yes; there were M. de la Guillotière, M. de Manchy, M. de Bragelonne⁠—”

La Vallière became pale. “M. de Bragelonne!” cried the perfidious Athenaïs. “Eh, what!⁠—is he gone to the wars?⁠—he!”

Montalais trod on her toe, but all in vain.

“Do you know what my opinion is?” continued she, addressing d’Artagnan.

“No, Mademoiselle; but I should like very much to know it.”

“My opinion is, then, that all the men who go to this war are desperate, desponding men, whom love has treated ill; and who go to try if they cannot find jet-complexioned women more kind than fair ones have been.”

Some of the ladies laughed; La Vallière was evidently confused; Montalais coughed loud enough to waken the dead.

“Mademoiselle,” interrupted d’Artagnan, “you are in error when you speak of black women at Gigelli; the women there have not jet faces; it is true they are not white⁠—they are yellow.”

“Yellow!” exclaimed the bevy of fair beauties.

“Eh! do not disparage it. I have never seen a finer color to match with black eyes and a coral mouth.”

“So much the better for M. de Bragelonne,” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, with persistent malice. “He will make amends for his loss. Poor fellow!”

A profound silence followed these words; and d’Artagnan had time to observe and reflect that women⁠—mild doves⁠—treat each other more cruelly than tigers. But making La Vallière pale did not satisfy Athenaïs; she determined to make her blush likewise. Resuming the conversation without pause, “Do you know, Louise,” said she, “that there is a great sin on your conscience?”

“What sin, Mademoiselle?” stammered the unfortunate girl, looking round her for support, without finding it.

“Eh!⁠—why,” continued Athenaïs, “the poor young man was affianced to you; he loved you; you cast him off.”

“Well, that is a right which every honest woman has,” said Montalais, in an affected tone. “When we know we cannot constitute the happiness of a man, it is much better to cast him off.”

“Cast him off! or refuse him!⁠—that’s all very well,” said Athenaïs, “but that is not the sin Mademoiselle de La Vallière has to reproach herself with. The actual sin is sending poor Bragelonne to the wars; and to wars in which death is so very likely to be met with.” Louise pressed her hand over her icy brow. “And if he dies,” continued her pitiless tormentor, “you will have killed him. That is the sin.”

Louise, half-dead, caught at the arm of the captain of the Musketeers, whose face betrayed unusual emotion. “You wished to speak with me, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said she, in a voice broken by anger and pain. “What had you to say to me?”

D’Artagnan made several steps along the gallery, holding Louise on his arm; then, when they were far enough removed from the others⁠—“What I had to say to you, Mademoiselle,” replied he, “Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente has just expressed; roughly and unkindly, it is true, but still in its entirety.”

She uttered a faint cry; pierced to the heart by this new wound, she went her way, like one of those poor birds which, struck unto death, seek the shade of the thicket in which to die. She disappeared at one door, at the moment the king was entering by another. The first glance of the king was directed towards the empty seat of his mistress. Not perceiving La Vallière, a frown came over his brow; but as soon as he saw d’Artagnan, who bowed to him⁠—“Ah! Monsieur!” cried he, “you have been diligent! I am much pleased with you.” This was the superlative expression of royal satisfaction. Many men would have been ready to lay down their lives for such a speech from the king. The maids of honor and the courtiers, who had formed a respectful circle round the king on his entrance, drew back, on observing he wished to speak privately with his captain of the Musketeers. The king led the way out of the gallery, after having again, with his eyes, sought everywhere for La Vallière, whose absence he could not account for. The moment they were out of the reach of curious ears, “Well! Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said he, “the prisoner?”

“Is in his prison, sire.”

“What did he say on the road?”

“Nothing, sire.”

“What did he do?”

“There was a moment at which the fisherman⁠—who took me in his boat to Sainte-Marguerite⁠—revolted, and did his best to kill me. The⁠—the prisoner defended me instead of attempting to fly.”

The king became pale. “Enough!” said he; and d’Artagnan bowed. Louis walked about his cabinet with hasty steps. “Were you at Antibes,” said he, “when Monsieur de Beaufort came there?”

“No, sire; I was setting off when Monsieur le Duc arrived.”

“Ah!” which was followed by a fresh silence. “Whom did you see there?”

“A great many persons,” said d’Artagnan, coolly.

The king perceived he was unwilling to speak. “I have sent for you, Monsieur le Capitaine, to desire you to go and prepare my lodgings at Nantes.”

“At Nantes!” cried d’Artagnan.

“In Bretagne.”

“Yes, sire, it is in Bretagne. Will Your Majesty make so long a journey as to Nantes?”

“The States are assembled there,” replied the king. “I have two demands to make of them: I wish to be there.”

“When shall I set out?” said the captain.

“This evening⁠—tomorrow⁠—tomorrow evening; for you must stand in need of rest.”

“I have rested, sire.”

“That is well. Then between this and tomorrow evening, when you please.”

D’Artagnan bowed as if to take his leave; but, perceiving the king very much embarrassed, “Will Your Majesty,” said he, stepping two paces forward, “take the court with you?”

“Certainly I shall.”

“Then Your Majesty will, doubtless, want the Musketeers?” And the eye of the king sank beneath the penetrating glance of the captain.

“Take a brigade of them,” replied Louis.

“Is that all? Has Your Majesty no other orders to give me?”

“No⁠—ah⁠—yes.”

“I am all attention, sire.”

“At the castle of Nantes, which I hear is very ill arranged, you will adopt the practice of placing musketeers at the door of each of the principal dignitaries I shall take with me.”

“Of the principal?”

“Yes.”

“For instance, at the door of M. de Lyonne?”

“Yes.”

“And that of M. Letellier?”

“Yes.”

“Of M. de Brienne?”

“Yes.”

“And of Monsieur le Surintendant?”

“Without doubt.”

“Very well, sire. By tomorrow I shall have set out.”

“Oh, yes; but one more word, Monsieur d’Artagnan. At Nantes you will meet with M. le Duc de Gesvres, captain of the Guards. Be sure that your musketeers are placed before his guards arrive. Precedence always belongs to the first comer.”

“Yes, sire.”

“And if M. de Gesvres should question you?”

“Question me, sire! Is it likely that M. de Gesvres should question me?” And the musketeer, turning cavalierly on his heel, disappeared. To Nantes! said he to himself, as he descended from the stairs. Why did he not dare to say, from thence to Belle-Isle?

As he reached the great gates, one of M. Brienne’s clerks came running after him, exclaiming, “Monsieur d’Artagnan! I beg your pardon⁠—”

“What is the matter, Monsieur Ariste?”

“The king has desired me to give you this order.”

“Upon your cashbox?” asked the musketeer.

“No, Monsieur; on that of M. Fouquet.”

D’Artagnan was surprised, but he took the order, which was in the king’s own writing, and was for two hundred pistoles. What! thought he, after having politely thanked M. Brienne’s clerk, M. Fouquet is to pay for the journey, then! Mordioux! that is a bit of pure Louis XI. Why was not this order on the chest of M. Colbert? He would have paid it with such joy. And d’Artagnan, faithful to his principle of never letting an order at sight get cold, went straight to the house of M. Fouquet, to receive his two hundred pistoles.

CHAPTER 63

The Last Supper
The superintendent had no doubt received advice of the approaching departure, for he was giving a farewell dinner to his friends. From the bottom to the top of the house, the hurry of the servants bearing dishes, and the diligence of the registres, denoted an approaching change in offices and kitchen. D’Artagnan, with his order in his hand, presented himself at the offices, when he was told it was too late to pay cash, the chest was closed. He only replied: “On the king’s service.”

The clerk, a little put out by the serious air of the captain, replied, that “that was a very respectable reason, but that the customs of the house were respectable likewise; and that, in consequence, he begged the bearer to call again next day.” D’Artagnan asked if he could not see M. Fouquet. The clerk replied that M. le Surintendant did not interfere with such details, and rudely closed the outer door in the captain’s face. But the latter had foreseen this stroke, and placed his boot between the door and the door-case, so that the lock did not catch, and the clerk was still nose to nose with his interlocutor. This made him change his tone, and say, with terrified politeness, “If Monsieur wishes to speak to M. le Surintendant, he must go to the antechambers; these are the offices, where Monseigneur never comes.”

“Oh! very well! Where are they?” replied d’Artagnan.

“On the other side of the court,” said the clerk, delighted to be free. D’Artagnan crossed the court, and fell in with a crowd of servants.

“Monseigneur sees nobody at this hour,” he was answered by a fellow carrying a vermeil dish, in which were three pheasants and twelve quails.

“Tell him,” said the captain, laying hold of the servant by the end of his dish, “that I am M. d’Artagnan, captain of His Majesty’s Musketeers.”

The fellow uttered a cry of surprise, and disappeared; d’Artagnan following him slowly. He arrived just in time to meet M. Pélisson in the antechamber: the latter, a little pale, came hastily out of the dining-room to learn what was the matter. D’Artagnan smiled.

“There is nothing unpleasant, Monsieur Pélisson; only a little order to receive the money for.”

“Ah!” said Fouquet’s friend, breathing more freely; and he took the captain by the hand, and, dragging him behind him, led him into the dining-room, where a number of friends surrounded the surintendant, placed in the center, and buried in the cushions of a fauteuil. There were assembled all the Epicureans who so lately at Vaux had done the honors of the mansion of wit and money in aid of M. Fouquet. Joyous friends, for the most part faithful, they had not fled their protector at the approach of the storm, and, in spite of the threatening heavens, in spite of the trembling earth, they remained there, smiling, cheerful, as devoted in misfortune as they had been in prosperity. On the left of the surintendant sat Madame de Bellière; on his right was Madame Fouquet; as if braving the laws of the world, and putting all vulgar reasons of propriety to silence, the two protecting angels of this man united to offer, at the moment of the crisis, the support of their twined arms. Madame de Bellière was pale, trembling, and full of respectful attentions for Madame la Surintendante, who, with one hand on her husband’s, was looking anxiously towards the door by which Pélisson had gone out to bring d’Artagnan. The captain entered at first full of courtesy, and afterwards of admiration, when, with his infallible glance, he had divined as well as taken in the expression of every face. Fouquet raised himself up in his chair.

“Pardon me, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said he, “if I did not myself receive you when coming in the king’s name.” And he pronounced the last words with a sort of melancholy firmness, which filled the hearts of all his friends with terror.

“Monseigneur,” replied d’Artagnan, “I only come to you in the king’s name to demand payment of an order for two hundred pistoles.”

The clouds passed from every brow but that of Fouquet, which still remained overcast.

“Ah! then,” said he, “perhaps you also are setting out for Nantes?”

“I do not know whither I am setting out, Monseigneur.”

“But,” said Madame Fouquet, recovered from her fright, “you are not going so soon, Monsieur le Capitaine, as not to do us the honor to take a seat with us?”

“Madame, I should esteem that a great honor done me, but I am so pressed for time, that, you see, I have been obliged to permit myself to interrupt your repast to procure payment of my note.”

“The reply to which shall be gold,” said Fouquet, making a sign to his intendant, who went out with the order d’Artagnan handed him.

“Oh!” said the latter, “I was not uneasy about the payment; the house is good.”

A painful smile passed over the pale features of Fouquet.

“Are you in pain?” asked Madame de Bellière.

“Do you feel your attack coming on?” asked Madame Fouquet.

“Neither, thank you both,” said Fouquet.

“Your attack?” said d’Artagnan, in his turn; “are you unwell, Monseigneur?”

“I have a tertian fever, which seized me after the fête at Vaux.”

“Caught cold in the grottos, at night, perhaps?”

“No, no; nothing but agitation, that was all.”

“The too much heart you displayed in your reception of the king,” said La Fontaine, quietly, without suspicion that he was uttering a sacrilege.

“We cannot devote too much heart to the reception of our king,” said Fouquet, mildly, to his poet.

“Monsieur meant to say the too great ardor,” interrupted d’Artagnan, with perfect frankness and much amenity. “The fact is, Monseigneur, that hospitality was never practiced as at Vaux.”

Madame Fouquet permitted her countenance to show clearly that if Fouquet had conducted himself well towards the king, the king had hardly done the like to the minister. But d’Artagnan knew the terrible secret. He alone with Fouquet knew it; those two men had not, the one the courage to complain, the other the right to accuse. The captain, to whom the two hundred pistoles were brought, was about to take his leave, when Fouquet, rising, took a glass of wine, and ordered one to be given to d’Artagnan.

“Monsieur,” said he, “to the health of the king, whatever may happen.”

“And to your health, Monseigneur, whatever may happen,” said d’Artagnan.

He bowed, with these words of evil omen, to all the company, who rose as soon as they heard the sound of his spurs and boots at the bottom of the stairs.

“I, for a moment, thought it was I and not my money he wanted,” said Fouquet, endeavoring to laugh.

“You!” cried his friends; “and what for, in the name of Heaven!”

“Oh! do not deceive yourselves, my dear brothers in Epicurus,” said the superintendent; “I do not wish to make a comparison between the most humble sinner on the earth and the God we adore, but remember, he gave one day to his friends a repast which is called the Last Supper, and which was nothing but a farewell dinner, like that which we are making at this moment.”

A painful cry of denial arose from all parts of the table. “Shut the doors,” said Fouquet, and the servants disappeared. “My friends,” continued Fouquet, lowering his voice, “what was I formerly? What am I now? Consult among yourselves and reply. A man like me sinks when he does not continue to rise. What shall we say, then, when he really sinks? I have no more money, no more credit; I have no longer anything but powerful enemies, and powerless friends.”

“Quick!” cried Pélisson. “Since you explain yourself with such frankness, it is our duty to be frank, likewise. Yes, you are ruined⁠—yes, you are hastening to your ruin⁠—stop. And, in the first place, what money have we left?”

“Seven hundred thousand livres,” said the intendant.

“Bread,” murmured Madame Fouquet.

“Relays,” said Pélisson, “relays, and fly!”

“Whither?”

“To Switzerland⁠—to Savoy⁠—but fly!”

“If Monseigneur flies,” said Madame Bellière, “it will be said that he was guilty⁠—was afraid.”

“More than that, it will be said that I have carried away twenty millions with me.”

“We will draw up memoirs to justify you,” said La Fontaine. “Fly!”

“I will remain,” said Fouquet. “And, besides, does not everything serve me?”

“You have Belle-Isle,” cried the Abbé Fouquet.

“And I am naturally going there, when going to Nantes,” replied the superintendent. “Patience, then, patience!”

“Before arriving at Nantes, what a distance!” said Madame Fouquet.

“Yes, I know that well,” replied Fouquet. “But what is to be done there? The king summons me to the States. I know well it is for the purpose of ruining me; but to refuse to go would be to evince uneasiness.”

“Well, I have discovered the means of reconciling everything,” cried Pélisson. “You are going to set out for Nantes.”

Fouquet looked at him with an air of surprise.

“But with friends; but in your own carriage as far as Orléans; in your own barge as far as Nantes; always ready to defend yourself, if you are attacked; to escape, if you are threatened. In fact, you will carry your money against all chances; and, whilst flying, you will only have obeyed the king; then, reaching the sea when you like, you will embark for Belle-Isle, and from Belle-Isle you will shoot out wherever it may please you, like the eagle that leaps into space when it has been driven from its eyrie.”

A general assent followed Pélisson’s words. “Yes, do so,” said Madame Fouquet to her husband.

“Do so,” said Madame de Bellière.

“Do it! do it!” cried all his friends.

“I will do so,” replied Fouquet.

“This very evening?”

“In an hour?”

“Instantly.”

“With seven hundred thousand livres you can lay the foundation of another fortune,” said the Abbé Fouquet. “What is there to prevent our arming corsairs at Belle-Isle?”

“And, if necessary, we will go and discover a new world,” added La Fontaine, intoxicated with fresh projects and enthusiasm.

A knock at the door interrupted this concert of joy and hope. “A courier from the king,” said the master of the ceremonies.

A profound silence immediately ensued, as if the message brought by this courier was nothing but a reply to all the projects given birth to a moment before. Everyone waited to see what the master would do. His brow was streaming with perspiration, and he was really suffering from his fever at that instant. He passed into his cabinet, to receive the king’s message. There prevailed, as we have said, such a silence in the chambers, and throughout the attendance, that from the dining-room could be heard the voice of Fouquet, saying, “That is well, Monsieur.” This voice was, however, broken by fatigue, and trembled with emotion. An instant after, Fouquet called Gourville, who crossed the gallery amidst the universal expectation. At length, he himself reappeared among his guests; but it was no longer the same pale, spiritless countenance they had beheld when he left them; from pale he had become livid; and from spiritless, annihilated. A breathing, living specter, he advanced with his arms stretched out, his mouth parched, like a shade that comes to salute the friends of former days. On seeing him thus, everyone cried out, and everyone rushed towards Fouquet. The latter, looking at Pélisson, leaned upon his wife, and pressed the icy hand of the Marquise de Bellière.

“Well,” said he, in a voice which had nothing human in it.

“What has happened, my God!” said someone to him.

Fouquet opened his right hand, which was clenched, but glistening with perspiration, and displayed a paper, upon which Pélisson cast a terrified glance. He read the following lines, written by the king’s hand:

“ ‘Dear and well-beloved Monsieur Fouquet⁠—Give us, upon that which you have left of ours, the sum of seven hundred thousand livres, of which we stand in need to prepare for our departure.
“ ‘And, as we know your health is not good, we pray God to restore you, and to have you in His holy keeping.
“ ‘Louis.
“ ‘The present letter is to serve as a receipt.’ ”

A murmur of terror circulated through the apartment.

“Well,” cried Pélisson, in his turn, “you have received that letter?”

“Received it, yes!”

“What will you do, then?”

“Nothing, since I have received it.”

“But⁠—”

“If I have received it, Pélisson, I have paid it,” said the surintendant, with a simplicity that went to the heart of all present.

“You have paid it!” cried Madame Fouquet. “Then we are ruined!”

“Come, no useless words,” interrupted Pélisson. “Next to money, life. Monseigneur, to horse! to horse!”

“What, leave us!” at once cried both the women, wild with grief.

“Eh! Monseigneur, in saving yourself, you save us all. To horse!”

“But he cannot hold himself on. Look at him.”

“Oh! if he takes time to reflect⁠—” said the intrepid Pélisson.

“He is right,” murmured Fouquet.

“Monseigneur! Monseigneur!” cried Gourville, rushing up the stairs, four steps at once. “Monseigneur!”

“Well! what?”

“I escorted, as you desired, the king’s courier with the money.”

“Yes.”

“Well! when I arrived at the Palais Royal, I saw⁠—”

“Take breath, my poor friend, take breath; you are suffocating.”

“What did you see?” cried the impatient friends.

“I saw the musketeers mounting on horseback,” said Gourville.

“There, then!” cried every voice at once; “there, then! is there an instant to be lost?”

Madame Fouquet rushed downstairs, calling for her horses; Madame de Bellière flew after her, catching her in her arms, and saying: “Madame, in the name of his safety, do not betray anything, do not manifest alarm.”

Pélisson ran to have the horses put to the carriages. And, in the meantime, Gourville gathered in his hat all that the weeping friends were able to throw into it of gold and silver⁠—the last offering, the pious alms made to misery by poverty. The surintendant, dragged along by some, carried by others, was shut up in his carriage. Gourville took the reins, and mounted the box. Pélisson supported Madame Fouquet, who had fainted. Madame de Bellière had more strength, and was well paid for it; she received Fouquet’s last kiss. Pélisson easily explained this precipitate departure by saying that an order from the king had summoned the minister to Nantes.

CHAPTER 64

In M. Colbert’s Carriage
As Gourville had seen, the king’s Musketeers were mounting and following their captain. The latter, who did not like to be confined in his proceedings, left his brigade under the orders of a lieutenant, and set off on post horses, recommending his men to use all diligence. However rapidly they might travel, they could not arrive before him. He had time, in passing along the Rue des Petits-Champs, to see something which afforded him plenty of food for thought and conjecture. He saw M. Colbert coming out from his house to get into his carriage, which was stationed before the door. In this carriage d’Artagnan perceived the hoods of two women, and being rather curious, he wished to know the names of the ladies hid beneath these hoods. To get a glimpse at them, for they kept themselves closely covered up, he urged his horse so near the carriage, that he drove him against the step with such force as to shake everything containing and contained. The terrified women uttered, the one a faint cry, by which d’Artagnan recognized a young woman, the other an imprecation, in which he recognized the vigor and aplomb that half a century bestows. The hoods were thrown back: one of the women was Madame Vanel, the other the Duchesse de Chevreuse. D’Artagnan’s eyes were quicker than those of the ladies; he had seen and known them, whilst they did not recognize him; and as they laughed at their fright, pressing each other’s hands⁠—

“Humph!” said d’Artagnan, “the old duchesse is no more inaccessible to friendship than formerly. She paying her court to the mistress of M. Colbert! Poor M. Fouquet! that presages you nothing good!”

He rode on. M. Colbert got into his carriage and the distinguished trio commenced a sufficiently slow pilgrimage toward the wood of Vincennes. Madame de Chevreuse set down Madame Vanel at her husband’s house, and, left alone with M. Colbert, chatted upon affairs whilst continuing her ride. She had an inexhaustible fund of conversation, that dear duchesse, and as she always talked for the ill of others, though ever with a view to her own good, her conversation amused her interlocutor, and did not fail to leave a favorable impression.

She taught Colbert, who, poor man! was ignorant of the fact, how great a minister he was, and how Fouquet would soon become a cipher. She promised to rally around him, when he should become surintendant, all the old nobility of the kingdom, and questioned him as to the preponderance it would be proper to allow La Vallière. She praised him, she blamed him, she bewildered him. She showed him the secret of so many secrets that, for a moment, Colbert thought he was doing business with the devil. She proved to him that she held in her hand the Colbert of today, as she had held the Fouquet of yesterday; and as he asked her very simply the reason of her hatred for the surintendant: “Why do you yourself hate him?” said she.

“Madame, in politics,” replied he, “the differences of system oft bring about dissentions between men. M. Fouquet always appeared to me to practice a system opposed to the true interests of the king.”

She interrupted him.⁠—“I will say no more to you about M. Fouquet. The journey the king is about to take to Nantes will give a good account of him. M. Fouquet, for me, is a man gone by⁠—and for you also.”

Colbert made no reply. “On his return from Nantes,” continued the duchesse, “the king, who is only anxious for a pretext, will find that the States have not behaved well⁠—that they have made too few sacrifices. The States will say that the imposts are too heavy, and that the surintendant has ruined them. The king will lay all the blame on M. Fouquet, and then⁠—”

“And then?” said Colbert.

“Oh! he will be disgraced. Is not that your opinion?”

Colbert darted a glance at the duchesse, which plainly said: “If M. Fouquet be only disgraced, you will not be the cause of it.”

“Your place, M. Colbert,” the duchesse hastened to say, “must be a high place. Do you perceive anyone between the king and yourself, after the fall of M. Fouquet?”

“I do not understand,” said he.

“You will understand. To what does your ambition aspire?”

“I have none.”

“It was useless, then, to overthrow the superintendent, Monsieur Colbert. It was idle.”

“I had the honor to tell you, Madame⁠—”

“Oh! yes, I know, all about the interest of the king⁠—but, if you please, we will speak of your own.”

“Mine! that is to say, the affairs of His Majesty.”

“In short, are you, or are you not endeavoring to ruin M. Fouquet? Answer without evasion.”

“Madame, I ruin nobody.”

“I am endeavoring to comprehend, then, why you purchased from me the letters of M. Mazarin concerning M. Fouquet. Neither can I conceive why you have laid those letters before the king.”

Colbert, half stupefied, looked at the duchesse with an air of constraint.

“Madame,” said he, “I can less easily conceive how you, who received the money, can reproach me on that head⁠—”

“That is,” said the old duchesse, “because we must will that which we wish for, unless we are not able to obtain what we wish.”

Will!” said Colbert, quite confounded by such coarse logic.

“You are not able, hein! Speak.”

“I am not able, I allow, to destroy certain influences near the king.”

“That fight in favor of M. Fouquet? What are they? Stop, let me help you.”

“Do, Madame.”

“La Vallière?”

“Oh! very little influence; no knowledge of business, and small means. M. Fouquet has paid his court to her.”

“To defend him would be to accuse herself, would it not?”

“I think it would.”

“There is still another influence, what do you say to that?”

“Is it considerable?”

“The queen-mother, perhaps?”

“Her Majesty, the queen-mother, has a weakness for M. Fouquet very prejudicial to her son.”

“Never believe that,” said the old duchesse, smiling.

“Oh!” said Colbert, with incredulity, “I have often experienced it.”

“Formerly?”

“Very recently, Madame, at Vaux. It was she who prevented the king from having M. Fouquet arrested.”

“People do not forever entertain the same opinions, my dear Monsieur. That which the queen may have wished recently, she would not wish, perhaps, today.”

“And why not?” said Colbert, astonished.

“Oh! the reason is of very little consequence.”

“On the contrary, I think it is of great consequence; for, if I were certain of not displeasing Her Majesty, the queen-mother, my scruples would be all removed.”

“Well! have you never heard talk of a certain secret?”

“A secret?”

“Call it what you like. In short, the queen-mother has conceived a bitter hatred for all those who have participated, in one fashion or another, in the discovery of this secret, and M. Fouquet I believe is one of these.”

“Then,” said Colbert, “we may be sure of the assent of the queen-mother?”

“I have just left Her Majesty, and she assures me so.”

“So be it, then, Madame.”

“But there is something further; do you happen to know a man who was the intimate friend of M. Fouquet, M. d’Herblay, a bishop, I believe?”

“Bishop of Vannes.”

“Well! this M. d’Herblay, who also knew the secret, the queen-mother is pursuing with the utmost rancor.”

“Indeed!”

“So hotly pursued, that if he were dead, she would not be satisfied with anything less than his head, to satisfy her he would never speak again.”

“And is that the desire of the queen-mother?”

“An order is given for it.”

“This Monsieur d’Herblay shall be sought for, Madame.”

“Oh! it is well known where he is.”

Colbert looked at the duchesse.

“Say where, Madame.”

“He is at Belle-Île-en-Mer.”

“At the residence of M. Fouquet?”

“At the residence of M. Fouquet.”

“He shall be taken.”

It was now the duchesse’s turn to smile. “Do not fancy the capture so easy,” said she; “do not promise it so lightly.”

“Why not, Madame?”

“Because M. d’Herblay is not one of those people who can be taken when and where you please.”

“He is a rebel, then?”

“Oh! Monsieur Colbert, we have passed all our lives in making rebels, and yet you see plainly, that so far from being taken, we take others.”

Colbert fixed upon the old duchesse one of those fierce looks of which no words can convey the expression, accompanied by a firmness not altogether wanting in grandeur. “The times are gone,” said he, “in which subjects gained duchies by making war against the king of France. If M. d’Herblay conspires, he will perish on the scaffold. That will give, or will not give, pleasure to his enemies⁠—a matter, by the way, of little importance to us.”

And this us, a strange word in the mouth of Colbert, made the duchesse thoughtful for a moment. She caught herself reckoning inwardly with this man⁠—Colbert had regained his superiority in the conversation, and he meant to keep it.

“You ask me, Madame,” he said, “to have this M. d’Herblay arrested?”

“I?⁠—I ask you nothing of the kind!”

“I thought you did, Madame. But as I have been mistaken, we will leave him alone; the king has said nothing about him.”

The duchesse bit her nails.

“Besides,” continued Colbert, “what a poor capture would this bishop be! A bishop game for a king! Oh! no, no; I will not even take the slightest notice of him.”

The hatred of the duchesse now discovered itself.

“Game for a woman!” said she. “Is not the queen a woman? If she wishes M. d’Herblay arrested, she has her reasons. Besides, is not M. d’Herblay the friend of him who is doomed to fall?”

“Oh! never mind that,” said Colbert. “This man shall be spared, if he is not the enemy of the king. Is that displeasing to you?”

“I say nothing.”

“Yes⁠—you wish to see him in prison, in the Bastille, for instance.”

“I believe a secret better concealed behind the walls of the Bastille than behind those of Belle-Isle.”

“I will speak to the king about it; he will clear up the point.”

“And whilst waiting for that enlightenment, Monsieur l’Évêque de Vannes will have escaped. I would do so.”

“Escaped! he! and whither should he escape? Europe is ours, in will, if not in fact.”

“He will always find an asylum, Monsieur. It is evident you know nothing of the man you have to do with. You do not know d’Herblay; you do not know Aramis. He was one of those four musketeers who, under the late king, made Cardinal de Richelieu tremble, and who, during the regency, gave so much trouble to Monseigneur Mazarin.”

“But, Madame, what can he do, unless he has a kingdom to back him?”

“He has one, Monsieur.”

“A kingdom, he! what, Monsieur d’Herblay?”

“I repeat to you, Monsieur, that if he wants a kingdom, he either has it or will have it.”

“Well, as you are so earnest that this rebel should not escape, Madame, I promise you he shall not escape.”

“Belle-Isle is fortified, M. Colbert, and fortified by him.”

“If Belle-Isle were also defended by him, Belle-Isle is not impregnable; and if Monsieur l’Évêque de Vannes is shut up in Belle-Isle, well, Madame, the place shall be besieged, and he will be taken.”

“You may be very certain, Monsieur, that the zeal you display in the interest of the queen-mother will please Her Majesty mightily, and you will be magnificently rewarded; but what shall I tell her of your projects respecting this man?”

“That when once taken, he shall be shut up in a fortress from which her secret shall never escape.”

“Very well, Monsieur Colbert, and we may say, that, dating from this instant, we have formed a solid alliance, that is, you and I, and that I am absolutely at your service.”

“It is I, Madame, who place myself at yours. This Chevalier d’Herblay is a kind of Spanish spy, is he not?”

“Much more.”

“A secret ambassador?”

“Higher still.”

“Stop⁠—King Phillip III of Spain is a bigot. He is, perhaps, the confessor of Phillip III.”

“You must go higher even than that.”

Mordieu!” cried Colbert, who forgot himself so far as to swear in the presence of this great lady, of this old friend of the queen-mother. “He must then be the general of the Jesuits.”

“I believe you have guessed it at last,” replied the duchesse.

“Ah! then, Madame, this man will ruin us all if we do not ruin him; and we must make haste, too.”

“Such was my opinion, Monsieur, but I did not dare to give it you.”

“And it was lucky for us he has attacked the throne, and not us.”

“But, mark this well, M. Colbert. M. d’Herblay is never discouraged; if he has missed one blow, he will be sure to make another; he will begin again. If he has allowed an opportunity to escape of making a king for himself, sooner or later, he will make another, of whom, to a certainty, you will not be prime minister.”

Colbert knitted his brow with a menacing expression. “I feel assured that a prison will settle this affair for us, Madame, in a manner satisfactory for both.”

The duchesse smiled again.

“Oh! if you knew,” said she, “how many times Aramis has got out of prison!”

“Oh!” replied Colbert, “we will take care that he shall not get out this time.”

“But you were not attending to what I said to you just now. Do you remember that Aramis was one of the four invincibles whom Richelieu so dreaded? And at that period the four musketeers were not in possession of that which they have now⁠—money and experience.”

Colbert bit his lips.

“We will renounce the idea of the prison,” said he, in a lower tone: “we will find a little retreat from which the invincible cannot possibly escape.”

“That was well spoken, our ally!” replied the duchesse. “But it is getting late; had we not better return?”

“The more willingly, Madame, from my having my preparations to make for setting out with the king.”

“To Paris!” cried the duchesse to the coachman.

And the carriage returned towards the Faubourg Saint Antoine, after the conclusion of the treaty that gave to death the last friend of Fouquet, the last defender of Belle-Isle, the former friend of Marie Michon, the new foe of the old duchesse.

CHAPTER 65

The Two Lighters
D’Artagnan had set off; Fouquet likewise was gone, and with a rapidity which doubled the tender interest of his friends. The first moments of this journey, or better say, this flight, were troubled by a ceaseless dread of every horse and carriage to be seen behind the fugitive. It was not natural, in fact, if Louis XIV was determined to seize this prey, that he should allow it to escape; the young lion was already accustomed to the chase, and he had bloodhounds sufficiently clever to be trusted. But insensibly all fears were dispersed; the surintendant, by hard traveling, placed such a distance between himself and his persecutors, that no one of them could reasonably be expected to overtake him. As to his position, his friends had made it excellent for him. Was he not traveling to join the king at Nantes, and what did the rapidity prove but his zeal to obey? He arrived, fatigued, but reassured, at Orléans, where he found, thanks to the care of a courier who had preceded him, a handsome lighter of eight oars. These lighters, in the shape of gondolas, somewhat wide and heavy, containing a small chamber, covered by the deck, and a chamber in the poop, formed by a tent, then acted as passage-boats from Orléans to Nantes, by the Loire, and this passage, a long one in our days, appeared then more easy and convenient than the highroad, with its post-hacks and its ill-hung carriages. Fouquet went on board this lighter, which set out immediately. The rowers, knowing they had the honor of conveying the surintendant of the finances, pulled with all their strength, and that magic word, the finances, promised them a liberal gratification, of which they wished to prove themselves worthy. The lighter seemed to leap the mimic waves of the Loire. Magnificent weather, a sunrise that empurpled all the landscape, displayed the river in all its limpid serenity. The current and the rowers carried Fouquet along as wings carry a bird, and he arrived before Beaugency without the slightest accident having signalized the voyage. Fouquet hoped to be the first to arrive at Nantes; there he would see the notables and gain support among the principal members of the States; he would make himself necessary, a thing very easy for a man of his merit, and would delay the catastrophe, if he did not succeed in avoiding it entirely. “Besides,” said Gourville to him, “at Nantes, you will make out, or we will make out, the intentions of your enemies; we will have horses always ready to convey you to Poitou, a bark in which to gain the sea, and when once upon the open sea, Belle-Isle is your inviolable port. You see, besides, that no one is watching you, no one is following.” He had scarcely finished when they discovered at a distance, behind an elbow formed by the river, the masts of a huge lighter coming down. The rowers of Fouquet’s boat uttered a cry of surprise on seeing this galley.

“What is the matter?” asked Fouquet.

“The matter is, Monseigneur,” replied the patron of the bark, “that it is a truly remarkable thing⁠—that lighter comes along like a hurricane.”

Gourville started, and mounted to the deck, in order to obtain a better view.

Fouquet did not go up with him, but said to Gourville, with restrained mistrust: “See what it is, dear friend.”

The lighter had just passed the elbow. It came on so fast, that behind it might be plainly seen the white wake illumined with the fires of the day.

“How they go,” repeated the skipper, “how they go! They must be well paid! I did not think,” he added, “that oars of wood could behave better than ours, but yonder oarsmen prove the contrary.”

“Well they may,” said one of the rowers, “they are twelve, and we but eight.”

“Twelve rowers!” replied Gourville, “twelve! impossible.”

The number of eight rowers for a lighter had never been exceeded, even for the king. This honor had been paid to Monsieur le Surintendant, more for the sake of haste than of respect.

“What does it mean?” said Gourville, endeavoring to distinguish beneath the tent, which was already apparent, travelers which the most piercing eye could not yet have succeeded in discovering.

“They must be in a hurry, for it is not the king,” said the patron.

Fouquet shuddered.

“By what sign do you know that it is not the king?” said Gourville.

“In the first place, because there is no white flag with fleurs-de-lis, which the royal lighter always carries.”

“And then,” said Fouquet, “because it is impossible it should be the king, Gourville, as the king was still in Paris yesterday.”

Gourville replied to the surintendant by a look which said: “You were there yourself yesterday.”

“And by what sign do you make out they are in such haste?” added he, for the sake of gaining time.

“By this, Monsieur,” said the patron; “these people must have set out a long while after us, and they have already nearly overtaken us.”

“Bah!” said Gourville, “who told you that they do not come from Beaugency or from Moit even?”

“We have seen no lighter of that shape, except at Orléans. It comes from Orléans, Monsieur, and makes great haste.”

Fouquet and Gourville exchanged a glance. The captain remarked their uneasiness, and, to mislead him, Gourville immediately said:

“Some friend, who has laid a wager he would catch us; let us win the wager, and not allow him to come up with us.”

The patron opened his mouth to say that it was quite impossible, but Fouquet said with much hauteur⁠—“If it is anyone who wishes to overtake us, let him come.”

“We can try, Monseigneur,” said the man, timidly. “Come, you fellows, put out your strength; row, row!”

“No,” said Fouquet, “on the contrary; stop short.”

“Monseigneur! what folly!” interrupted Gourville, stooping towards his ear.

“Pull up!” repeated Fouquet. The eight oars stopped, and resisting the water, created a retrograde motion. It stopped. The twelve rowers in the other did not, at first, perceive this maneuver, for they continued to urge on their boat so vigorously that it arrived quickly within musket-shot. Fouquet was shortsighted, Gourville was annoyed by the sun, now full in his eyes; the skipper alone, with that habit and clearness which are acquired by a constant struggle with the elements, perceived distinctly the travelers in the neighboring lighter.

“I can see them!” cried he; “there are two.”

“I can see nothing,” said Gourville.

“You will not be long before you distinguish them; in twenty strokes of their oars they will be within ten paces of us.”

But what the patron announced was not realized; the lighter imitated the movement commanded by Fouquet, and instead of coming to join its pretended friends, it stopped short in the middle of the river.

“I cannot comprehend this,” said the captain.

“Nor I,” cried Gourville.

“You who can see so plainly the people in that lighter,” resumed Fouquet, “try to describe them to us, before we are too far off.”

“I thought I saw two,” replied the boatman. “I can only see one now, under the tent.”

“What sort of man is he?”

“He is a dark man, broad-shouldered, bull-necked.”

A little cloud at that moment passed across the azure, darkening the sun. Gourville, who was still looking, with one hand over his eyes, became able to see what he sought, and all at once, jumping from the deck into the chamber where Fouquet awaited him: “Colbert!” said he, in a voice broken by emotion.

“Colbert!” repeated Fouquet. “Too strange! but no, it is impossible!”

“I tell you I recognized him, and he, at the same time, so plainly recognized me, that he is just gone into the chamber on the poop. Perhaps the king has sent him on our track.”

“In that case he would join us, instead of lying by. What is he doing there?”

“He is watching us, without a doubt.”

“I do not like uncertainty,” said Fouquet; “let us go straight up to him.”

“Oh! Monseigneur, do not do that, the lighter is full of armed men.”

“He wishes to arrest me, then, Gourville? Why does he not come on?”

“Monseigneur, it is not consistent with your dignity to go to meet even your ruin.”

“But to allow them to watch me like a malefactor!”

“Nothing yet proves that they are watching you, Monseigneur; be patient!”

“What is to be done, then?”

“Do not stop; you were only going so fast to appear to obey the king’s order with zeal. Redouble the speed. He who lives will see!”

“That is better. Come!” cried Fouquet; “since they remain stock-still yonder, let us go on.”

The captain gave the signal, and Fouquet’s rowers resumed their task with all the success that could be looked for from men who had rested. Scarcely had the lighter made a hundred fathoms, than the other, that with the twelve rowers, resumed its rapid course. This position lasted all day, without any increase or diminution of distance between the two vessels. Towards evening Fouquet wished to try the intentions of his persecutor. He ordered his rowers to pull towards the shore, as if to effect a landing. Colbert’s lighter imitated this maneuver, and steered towards the shore in a slanting direction. By the merest chance, at the spot where Fouquet pretended to wish to land, a stableman, from the château of Langeais, was following the flowery banks leading three horses in halters. Without doubt the people of the twelve-oared lighter fancied that Fouquet was directing his course to these horses ready for flight, for four or five men, armed with muskets, jumped from the lighter on to the shore, and marched along the banks, as if to gain ground on the horseman. Fouquet, satisfied of having forced the enemy to a demonstration, considered his intention evident, and put his boat in motion again. Colbert’s people returned likewise to theirs, and the course of the two vessels was resumed with fresh perseverance. Upon seeing this, Fouquet felt himself threatened closely, and in a prophetic voice⁠—“Well, Gourville,” said he, whisperingly, “what did I say at our last repast, at my house? Am I going, or not, to my ruin?”

“Oh! Monseigneur!”

“These two boats, which follow each other with so much emulation, as if we were disputing, M. Colbert and I, a prize for swiftness on the Loire, do they not aptly represent our fortunes; and do you not believe, Gourville, that one of the two will be wrecked at Nantes?”

“At least,” objected Gourville, “there is still uncertainty; you are about to appear at the States; you are about to show what sort of man you are; your eloquence and genius for business are the buckler and sword that will serve to defend you, if not to conquer with. The Bretons do not know you; and when they become acquainted with you your cause is won! Oh! let M. Colbert look to it well, for his lighter is as much exposed as yours to being upset. Both go quickly, his faster than yours, it is true; we shall see which will be wrecked first.”

Fouquet, taking Gourville’s hand⁠—“My friend,” said he, “everything considered, remember the proverb, ‘First come, first served!’ Well! M. Colbert takes care not to pass me. He is a prudent man is M. Colbert.”

He was right; the two lighters held their course as far as Nantes, watching each other. When the surintendant landed, Gourville hoped he should be able to seek refuge at once, and have the relays prepared. But, at the landing, the second lighter joined the first, and Colbert, approaching Fouquet, saluted him on the quay with marks of the profoundest respect⁠—marks so significant, so public, that their result was the bringing of the whole population upon La Fosse. Fouquet was completely self-possessed; he felt that in his last moments of greatness he had obligations towards himself. He wished to fall from such a height that his fall should crush some of his enemies. Colbert was there⁠—so much the worse for Colbert. The surintendant, therefore, coming up to him, replied, with that arrogant semi-closure of the eyes peculiar to him⁠—“What! is that you, M. Colbert?”

“To offer you my respects, Monseigneur,” said the latter.

“Were you in that lighter?”⁠—pointing to the one with twelve rowers.

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“Of twelve rowers?” said Fouquet; “what luxury, M. Colbert. For a moment I thought it was the queen-mother.”

“Monseigneur!”⁠—and Colbert blushed.

“This is a voyage that will cost those who have to pay for it dear, Monsieur l’Intendant!” said Fouquet. “But you have, happily, arrived!⁠—You see, however,” added he, a moment after, “that I, who had but eight rowers, arrived before you.” And he turned his back towards him, leaving him uncertain whether the maneuvers of the second lighter had escaped the notice of the first. At least he did not give him the satisfaction of showing that he had been frightened. Colbert, so annoyingly attacked, did not give way.

“I have not been quick, Monseigneur,” he replied, “because I followed your example whenever you stopped.”

“And why did you do that, Monsieur Colbert?” cried Fouquet, irritated by the base audacity; “as you had a superior crew to mine, why did you not either join me or pass me?”

“Out of respect,” said the intendant, bowing to the ground.

Fouquet got into a carriage which the city had sent to him, we know not why or how, and he repaired to la Maison de Nantes, escorted by a vast crowd of people, who for several days had been agog with expectation of a convocation of the States. Scarcely was he installed when Gourville went out to order horses on the route to Poitiers and Vannes, and a boat at Paimboeuf. He performed these various operations with so much mystery, activity, and generosity, that never was Fouquet, then laboring under an attack of fever, more nearly saved, except for the counteraction of that immense disturber of human projects⁠—chance. A report was spread during the night, that the king was coming in great haste on post horses, and would arrive in ten or twelve hours at the latest. The people, while waiting for the king, were greatly rejoiced to see the Musketeers, newly arrived, with Monsieur d’Artagnan, their captain, and quartered in the castle, of which they occupied all the posts, in quality of guard of honor. M. d’Artagnan, who was very polite, presented himself, about ten o’clock, at the lodgings of the surintendant to pay his respectful compliments; and although the minister suffered from fever, although he was in such pain as to be bathed in sweat, he would receive M. d’Artagnan, who was delighted with that honor, as will be seen by the conversation they had together.

CHAPTER 66

Friendly Advice
Fouquet had gone to bed, like a man who clings to life, and wishes to economize, as much as possible, that slender tissue of existence, of which the shocks and frictions of this world so quickly wear out the tenuity. D’Artagnan appeared at the door of this chamber, and was saluted by the superintendent with a very affable “Good day.”

Bon jour! Monseigneur,” replied the musketeer; “how did you get through the journey?”

“Tolerably well, thank you.”

“And the fever?”

“But poorly. I drink, as you perceive. I am scarcely arrived, and I have already levied a contribution of tisane upon Nantes.”

“You should sleep first, Monseigneur.”

“Eh! corbleu! my dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, I should be very glad to sleep.”

“Who hinders you?”

“Why, you in the first place.”

“I? Oh, Monseigneur!”

“No doubt you do. Is it at Nantes as at Paris? Do you not come in the king’s name?”

“For Heaven’s sake, Monseigneur,” replied the captain, “leave the king alone! The day on which I shall come on the part of the king, for the purpose you mean, take my word for it, I will not leave you long in doubt. You will see me place my hand on my sword, according to the ordonnance, and you will hear my say at once, in ceremonial voice, ‘Monseigneur, in the name of the king, I arrest you!’ ”

“You promise me that frankness?” said the superintendent.

“Upon my honor! But we have not come to that, believe me.”

“What makes you think that, M. d’Artagnan? For my part, I think quite the contrary.”

“I have heard speak of nothing of the kind,” replied d’Artagnan.

“Eh! eh!” said Fouquet.

“Indeed, no. You are an agreeable man, in spite of your fever. The king should not, cannot help loving you, at the bottom of his heart.”

Fouquet’s expression implied doubt. “But M. Colbert?” said he; “does M. Colbert love me as much as you say?”

“I am not speaking of M. Colbert,” replied d’Artagnan. “He is an exceptional man. He does not love you; so much is very possible; but, mordioux! the squirrel can guard himself against the adder with very little trouble.”

“Do you know that you are speaking to me quite as a friend?” replied Fouquet; “and that, upon my life! I have never met with a man of your intelligence, and heart?”

“You are pleased to say so,” replied d’Artagnan. “Why did you wait till today to pay me such a compliment?”

“Blind that we are!” murmured Fouquet.

“Your voice is getting hoarse,” said d’Artagnan; “drink, Monseigneur, drink!” And he offered him a cup of tisane, with the most friendly cordiality; Fouquet took it, and thanked him by a gentle smile. “Such things only happen to me,” said the musketeer. “I have passed ten years under your very beard, while you were rolling about tons of gold. You were clearing an annual pension of four millions; you never observed me; and you find out there is such a person in the world, just at the moment you⁠—”

“Just at the moment I am about to fall,” interrupted Fouquet. “That is true, my dear Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“I did not say so.”

“But you thought so; and that is the same thing. Well! if I fall, take my word as truth, I shall not pass a single day without saying to myself, as I strike my brow, ‘Fool! fool!⁠—stupid mortal! You had a Monsieur d’Artagnan under your eye and hand, and you did not employ him, you did not enrich him!’ ”

“You overwhelm me,” said the captain. “I esteem you greatly.”

“There exists another man, then, who does not think as M. Colbert thinks,” said the surintendant.

“How this M. Colbert looms up in your imagination! He is worse than fever!”

“Oh! I have good cause,” said Fouquet. “Judge for yourself.” And he related the details of the course of the lighters, and the hypocritical persecution of Colbert. “Is not this a clear sign of my ruin?”

D’Artagnan became very serious. “That is true,” he said. “Yes; it has an unsavory odor, as M. de Tréville used to say.” And he fixed on M. Fouquet his intelligent and significant look.

“Am I not clearly designated in that, captain? Is not the king bringing me to Nantes to get me away from Paris, where I have so many creatures, and to possess himself of Belle-Isle?”

“Where M. d’Herblay is,” added d’Artagnan. Fouquet raised his head. “As for me, Monseigneur,” continued d’Artagnan, “I can assure you the king has said nothing to me against you.”

“Indeed!”

“The king commanded me to set out for Nantes, it is true; and to say nothing about it to M. de Gesvres.”

“My friend.”

“To M. de Gesvres, yes, Monseigneur,” continued the musketeer, whose eyes did not cease to speak a language different from the language of his lips. “The king, moreover, commanded me to take a brigade of musketeers, which is apparently superfluous, as the country is quite quiet.”

“A brigade!” said Fouquet, raising himself upon his elbow.

“Ninety-six horsemen, yes, Monseigneur. The same number as were employed in arresting MM. de Chalais, de Cinq-Mars, and Montmorency.”

Fouquet pricked up his ears at these words, pronounced without apparent value. “And what else?” said he.

“Oh! nothing but insignificant orders; such as guarding the castle, guarding every lodging, allowing none of M. de Gesvres’s guards to occupy a single post.”

“And as to myself,” cried Fouquet, “what orders had you?”

“As to you, Monseigneur?⁠—not the smallest word.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, my safety, my honor, perhaps my life are at stake. You would not deceive me?”

“I?⁠—to what end? Are you threatened? Only there really is an order with respect to carriages and boats⁠—”

“An order?”

“Yes; but it cannot concern you⁠—a simple measure of police.”

“What is it, captain?⁠—what is it?”

“To forbid all horses or boats to leave Nantes, without a pass, signed by the king.”

“Great God! but⁠—”

D’Artagnan began to laugh. “All that is not to be put into execution before the arrival of the king at Nantes. So that you see plainly, Monseigneur, the order in nowise concerns you.”

Fouquet became thoughtful, and d’Artagnan feigned not to observe his preoccupation. “It is evident, by my thus confiding to you the orders which have been given to me, that I am friendly towards you, and that I am trying to prove to you that none of them are directed against you.”

“Without doubt!⁠—without doubt!” said Fouquet, still absent.

“Let us recapitulate,” said the captain, his glance beaming with earnestness. “A special guard about the castle, in which your lodging is to be, is it not?”

“Do you know the castle?”

“Ah! Monseigneur, a regular prison! The absence of M. de Gesvres, who has the honor of being one of your friends. The closing of the gates of the city, and of the river without a pass; but, only when the king shall have arrived. Please to observe, Monsieur Fouquet, that if, instead of speaking to a man like you, who are one of the first in the kingdom, I were speaking to a troubled, uneasy conscience⁠—I should compromise myself forever. What a fine opportunity for anyone who wished to be free! No police, no guards, no orders; the water free, the roads free, Monsieur d’Artagnan obliged to lend his horses, if required. All this ought to reassure you, Monsieur Fouquet, for the king would not have left me thus independent, if he had any sinister designs. In truth, Monsieur Fouquet, ask me whatever you like, I am at your service; and, in return, if you will consent to do it, do me a service, that of giving my compliments to Aramis and Porthos, in case you embark for Belle-Isle, as you have a right to do without changing your dress, immediately, in your robe de chambre⁠—just as you are.” Saying these words, and with a profound bow, the musketeer, whose looks had lost none of their intelligent kindness, left the apartment. He had not reached the steps of the vestibule, when Fouquet, quite beside himself, hung to the bell-rope, and shouted, “My horses!⁠—my lighter!” But nobody answered. The surintendant dressed himself with everything that came to hand.

“Gourville!⁠—Gourville!” cried he, while slipping his watch into his pocket. And the bell sounded again, whilst Fouquet repeated, “Gourville!⁠—Gourville!”

Gourville at length appeared, breathless and pale.

“Let us be gone! Let us be gone!” cried Fouquet, as soon as he saw him.

“It is too late!” said the surintendant’s poor friend.

“Too late!⁠—why?”

“Listen!” And they heard the sounds of trumpets and drums in front of the castle.

“What does that mean, Gourville?”

“It means the king is come, Monseigneur.”

“The king!”

“The king, who has ridden double stages, who has killed horses, and who is eight hours in advance of all our calculations.”

“We are lost!” murmured Fouquet. “Brave d’Artagnan, all is over, thou has spoken to me too late!”

The king, in fact, was entering the city, which soon resounded with the cannon from the ramparts, and from a vessel which replied from the lower parts of the river. Fouquet’s brow darkened; he called his valets de chambre and dressed in ceremonial costume. From his window, behind the curtains, he could see the eagerness of the people, and the movement of a large troop, which had followed the prince. The king was conducted to the castle with great pomp, and Fouquet saw him dismount under the portcullis, and say something in the ear of d’Artagnan, who held his stirrup. D’Artagnan, when the king had passed under the arch, directed his steps towards the house Fouquet was in; but so slowly, and stopping so frequently to speak to his musketeers, drawn up like a hedge, that it might be said he was counting the seconds, or the steps, before accomplishing his object. Fouquet opened the window to speak to him in the court.

“Ah!” cried d’Artagnan, on perceiving him, “are you still there, Monseigneur?”

And that word still completed the proof to Fouquet of how much information and how many useful counsels were contained in the first visit the musketeer had paid him. The surintendant sighed deeply. “Good heavens! yes, Monsieur,” replied he. “The arrival of the king has interrupted me in the projects I had formed.”

“Oh, then you know that the king has arrived?”

“Yes, Monsieur, I have seen him; and this time you come from him⁠—”

“To inquire after you, Monseigneur; and, if your health is not too bad, to beg you to have the kindness to repair to the castle.”

“Directly, Monsieur d’Artagnan, directly!”

“Ah, mordioux!” said the captain, “now the king is come, there is no more walking for anybody⁠—no more free will; the password governs all now, you as much as me, me as much as you.”

Fouquet heaved a last sigh, climbed with difficulty into his carriage, so great was his weakness, and went to the castle, escorted by d’Artagnan, whose politeness was not less terrifying this time than it had just before been consoling and cheerful.

CHAPTER 67

How the King, Louis XIV, Played His Little Part
As Fouquet was alighting from his carriage, to enter the castle of Nantes, a man of mean appearance went up to him with marks of the greatest respect, and gave him a letter. D’Artagnan endeavored to prevent this man from speaking to Fouquet, and pushed him away, but the message had been given to the surintendant. Fouquet opened the letter and read it, and instantly a vague terror, which d’Artagnan did not fail to penetrate, was painted on the countenance of the first minister. Fouquet put the paper into the portfolio which he had under his arm, and passed on towards the king’s apartments. D’Artagnan, through the small windows made at every landing of the donjon stairs, saw, as he went up behind Fouquet, the man who had delivered the note, looking round him on the place and making signs to several persons, who disappeared in the adjacent streets, after having themselves repeated the signals. Fouquet was made to wait for a moment on the terrace of which we have spoken⁠—a terrace which abutted on the little corridor, at the end of which the cabinet of the king was located. Here d’Artagnan passed on before the surintendant, whom, till that time, he had respectfully accompanied, and entered the royal cabinet.

“Well?” asked Louis XIV, who, on perceiving him, threw on to the table covered with papers a large green cloth.

“The order is executed, sire.”

“And Fouquet?”

“Monsieur le Surintendant follows me,” said d’Artagnan.

“In ten minutes let him be introduced,” said the king, dismissing d’Artagnan again with a gesture. The latter retired; but had scarcely reached the corridor at the extremity of which Fouquet was waiting for him, when he was recalled by the king’s bell.

“Did he not appear astonished?” asked the king.

“Who, sire?”

Fouquet,” replied the king, without saying monsieur, a peculiarity which confirmed the captain of the Musketeers in his suspicions.

“No, sire,” replied he.

“That’s well!” And a second time Louis dismissed d’Artagnan.

Fouquet had not quitted the terrace where he had been left by his guide. He reperused his note, conceived thus:

“Something is being contrived against you. Perhaps they will not dare to carry it out at the castle; it will be on your return home. The house is already surrounded by musketeers. Do not enter. A white horse is in waiting for you behind the esplanade!”

Fouquet recognized the writing and zeal of Gourville. Not being willing that, if any evil happened to himself, this paper should compromise a faithful friend, the surintendant was busy tearing it into a thousand morsels, spread about by the wind from the balustrade of the terrace. D’Artagnan found him watching the snowflake fluttering of the last scraps in space.

“Monsieur,” said he, “the king awaits you.”

Fouquet walked with a deliberate step along the little corridor, where MM. de Brienne and Rose were at work, whilst the Duc de Saint-Aignan, seated on a chair, likewise in the corridor, appeared to be waiting for orders, with feverish impatience, his sword between his legs. It appeared strange to Fouquet that MM. Brienne, Rose, and de Saint-Aignan, in general so attentive and obsequious, should scarcely take the least notice, as he, the surintendant, passed. But how could he expect to find it otherwise among courtiers, he whom the king no longer called anything but Fouquet? He raised his head, determined to look everyone and everything bravely in the face, and entered the king’s apartment, where a little bell, which we already know, had already announced him to His Majesty.

The king, without rising, nodded to him, and with interest: “Well! how are you, Monsieur Fouquet?” said he.

“I am in a high fever,” replied the surintendant; “but I am at the king’s service.”

“That is well; the States assemble tomorrow; have you a speech ready?”

Fouquet looked at the king with astonishment. “I have not, sire,” replied he; “but I will improvise one. I am too well acquainted with affairs to feel any embarrassment. I have only one question to ask; will Your Majesty permit me?”

“Certainly. Ask it.”

“Why did not Your Majesty do his first minister the honor of giving him notice of this in Paris?”

“You were ill; I was not willing to fatigue you.”

“Never did a labor⁠—never did an explanation fatigue me, sire; and since the moment is come for me to demand an explanation of my king⁠—”

“Oh, Monsieur Fouquet! an explanation? An explanation, pray, of what?”

“Of Your Majesty’s intentions with respect to myself.”

The king blushed. “I have been calumniated,” continued Fouquet, warmly, “and I feel called upon to adjure the justice of the king to make inquiries.”

“You say all this to me very uselessly, Monsieur Fouquet; I know what I know.”

“Your Majesty can only know the things that have been told to you; and I, on my part, have said nothing to you, whilst others have spoken many, many times⁠—”

“What do you wish to say?” said the king, impatient to put an end to this embarrassing conversation.

“I will go straight to the facts, sire; and I accuse a certain man of having injured me in Your Majesty’s opinion.”

“Nobody has injured you, Monsieur Fouquet.”

“That reply proves to me, sire, that I am right.”

“Monsieur Fouquet, I do not like people to be accused.”

“Not when one is accused?”

“We have already spoken too much about this affair.”

“Your Majesty will not allow me to justify myself?”

“I repeat that I do not accuse you.”

Fouquet, with a half-bow, made a step backward. It is certain, thought he, that he has made up his mind. He alone who cannot go back can show such obstinacy. Not to see the danger now would be to be blind indeed; not to shun it would be stupid. He resumed aloud, “Did Your Majesty send for me on business?”

“No, Monsieur Fouquet, but for some advice I wish to give you.”

“I respectfully await it, sire.”

“Rest yourself, Monsieur Fouquet, do not throw away your strength; the session of the States will be short, and when my secretaries shall have closed it, I do not wish business to be talked of in France for a fortnight.”

“Has the king nothing to say to me on the subject of this assembly of the States?”

“No, Monsieur Fouquet.”

“Not to me, the surintendant of the finances?”

“Rest yourself, I beg you; that is all I have to say to you.”

Fouquet bit his lips and hung his head. He was evidently busy with some uneasy thought. This uneasiness struck the king. “Are you angry at having to rest yourself, M. Fouquet?” said he.

“Yes, sire, I am not accustomed to take rest.”

“But you are ill; you must take care of yourself.”

“Your Majesty spoke just now of a speech to be pronounced tomorrow.”

His Majesty made no reply; this unexpected stroke embarrassed him. Fouquet felt the weight of this hesitation. He thought he could read danger in the eyes of the young prince, which fear would but precipitate. If I appear frightened, I am lost, thought he.

The king, on his part, was only uneasy at the alarm of Fouquet. “Has he a suspicion of anything?” murmured he.

If his first word is severe, again thought Fouquet; if he becomes angry, or feigns to be angry for the sake of a pretext, how shall I extricate myself? Let us smooth the declivity a little. Gourville was right.

“Sire,” said he, suddenly, “since the goodness of the king watches over my health to the point of dispensing with my labor, may I not be allowed to be absent from the council of tomorrow? I could pass the day in bed, and will entreat the king to grant me his physician, that we may endeavor to find a remedy against this fearful fever.”

“So be it, Monsieur Fouquet, it shall be as you desire; you shall have a holiday tomorrow, you shall have the physician, and shall be restored to health.”

“Thanks!” said Fouquet, bowing. Then, opening his game: “Shall I not have the happiness of conducting Your Majesty to my residence of Belle-Isle?”

And he looked Louis full in the face, to judge of the effect of such a proposal. The king blushed again.

“Do you know,” replied he, endeavoring to smile, “that you have just said, ‘My residence of Belle-Isle’?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Well! do you not remember,” continued the king in the same cheerful tone, “that you gave me Belle-Isle?”

“That is true again, sire. Only, as you have not taken it, you will doubtless come with me and take possession of it.”

“I mean to do so.”

“That was, besides, Your Majesty’s intention as well as mine; and I cannot express to Your Majesty how happy and proud I have been to see all the king’s regiments from Paris to help take possession.”

The king stammered out that he did not bring the Musketeers for that alone.

“Oh, I am convinced of that,” said Fouquet, warmly; “Your Majesty knows very well that you have nothing to do but to come alone with a cane in your hand, to bring to the ground all the fortifications of Belle-Isle.”

Peste!” cried the king; “I do not wish those fine fortifications, which cost so much to build, to fall at all. No, let them stand against the Dutch and English. You would not guess what I want to see at Belle-Isle, Monsieur Fouquet; it is the pretty peasants and women of the lands on the seashore, who dance so well, and are so seducing with their scarlet petticoats! I have heard great boast of your pretty tenants, Monsieur le Surintendant; well, let me have a sight of them.”

“Whenever Your Majesty pleases.”

“Have you any means of transport? It shall be tomorrow, if you like.”

The surintendant felt this stroke, which was not adroit, and replied, “No, sire; I was ignorant of Your Majesty’s wish; above all, I was ignorant of your haste to see Belle-Isle, and I am prepared with nothing.”

“You have a boat of your own, nevertheless?”

“I have five; but they are all in port, or at Paimboeuf; and to join them, or bring them hither, would require at least twenty-four hours. Have I any occasion to send a courier? Must I do so?”

“Wait a little, put an end to the fever⁠—wait till tomorrow.”

“That is true. Who knows but that by tomorrow we may not have a hundred other ideas?” replied Fouquet, now perfectly convinced and very pale.

The king started, and stretched his hand out towards his little bell, but Fouquet prevented his ringing.

“Sire,” said he, “I have an ague⁠—I am trembling with cold. If I remain a moment longer, I shall most likely faint. I request Your Majesty’s permission to go and fling myself beneath the bedclothes.”

“Indeed, you are in a shiver; it is painful to behold! Come, Monsieur Fouquet, begone! I will send to inquire after you.”

“Your Majesty overwhelms me with kindness. In an hour I shall be better.”

“I will call someone to reconduct you,” said the king.

“As you please, sire; I would gladly take the arm of anyone.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan!” cried the king, ringing his little bell.

“Oh, sire,” interrupted Fouquet, laughing in such a manner as made the prince feel cold, “would you give me the captain of your Musketeers to take me to my lodgings? An equivocal honor that, sire! A simple footman, I beg.”

“And why, M. Fouquet? M. d’Artagnan conducts me often, and extremely well!”

“Yes, but when he conducts you, sire, it is to obey you; whilst me⁠—”

“Go on!”

“If I am obliged to return home supported by the leader of the Musketeers, it would be everywhere said you had had me arrested.”

“Arrested!” replied the king, who became paler than Fouquet himself⁠—“arrested! oh!”

“And why should they not say so?” continued Fouquet, still laughing; “and I would lay a wager there would be people found wicked enough to laugh at it.” This sally disconcerted the monarch. Fouquet was skillful enough, or fortunate enough, to make Louis XIV recoil before the appearance of the deed he meditated. M. d’Artagnan, when he appeared, received an order to desire a musketeer to accompany the surintendant.

“Quite unnecessary,” said the latter; “sword for sword; I prefer Gourville, who is waiting for me below. But that will not prevent me enjoying the society of M. d’Artagnan. I am glad he will see Belle-Isle, he is so good a judge of fortifications.”

D’Artagnan bowed, without at all comprehending what was going on. Fouquet bowed again and left the apartment, affecting all the slowness of a man who walks with difficulty. When once out of the castle, “I am saved!” said he. “Oh! yes, disloyal king, you shall see Belle-Isle, but it shall be when I am no longer there.”

He disappeared, leaving d’Artagnan with the king.

“Captain,” said the king, “you will follow M. Fouquet at the distance of a hundred paces.”

“Yes, sire.”

“He is going to his lodgings again. You will go with him.”

“Yes, sire.”

“You will arrest him in my name, and will shut him up in a carriage.”

“In a carriage. Well, sire?”

“In such a fashion that he may not, on the road, either converse with anyone or throw notes to people he may meet.”

“That will be rather difficult, sire.”

“Not at all.”

“Pardon me, sire, I cannot stifle M. Fouquet, and if he asks for liberty to breathe, I cannot prevent him by closing both the windows and the blinds. He will throw out at the doors all the cries and notes possible.”

“The case is provided for, Monsieur d’Artagnan; a carriage with a trellis will obviate both the difficulties you point out.”

“A carriage with an iron trellis!” cried d’Artagnan; “but a carriage with an iron trellis is not made in half an hour, and Your Majesty commands me to go immediately to M. Fouquet’s lodgings.”

“The carriage in question is already made.”

“Ah! that is quite a different thing,” said the captain; “if the carriage is ready made, very well, then, we have only to set it in motion.”

“It is ready⁠—and the horses harnessed.”

“Ah!”

“And the coachman, with the outriders, is waiting in the lower court of the castle.”

D’Artagnan bowed. “There only remains for me to ask Your Majesty whither I shall conduct M. Fouquet.”

“To the castle of Angers, at first.”

“Very well, sire.”

“Afterwards we will see.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, one last word: you have remarked that, for making this capture of M. Fouquet, I have not employed my guards, on which account M. de Gesvres will be furious.”

“Your Majesty does not employ your guards,” said the captain, a little humiliated, “because you mistrust M. de Gesvres, that is all.”

“That is to say, Monsieur, that I have more confidence in you.”

“I know that very well, sire! and it is of no use to make so much of it.”

“It is only for the sake of arriving at this, Monsieur, that if, from this moment, it should happen that by any chance whatever M. Fouquet should escape⁠—such chances have been, Monsieur⁠—”

“Oh! very often, sire; but for others, not for me.”

“And why not with you?”

“Because I, sire, have, for an instant, wished to save M. Fouquet.”

The king started. “Because,” continued the captain, “I had then a right to do so, having guessed Your Majesty’s plan, without you having spoken to me of it, and that I took an interest in M. Fouquet. Now, was I not at liberty to show my interest in this man?”

“In truth, Monsieur, you do not reassure me with regard to your services.”

“If I had saved him then, I should have been perfectly innocent; I will say more, I should have done well, for M. Fouquet is not a bad man. But he was not willing; his destiny prevailed; he let the hour of liberty slip by. So much the worse! Now I have orders, I will obey those orders, and M. Fouquet you may consider as a man arrested. He is at the castle of Angers, this very M. Fouquet.”

“Oh! you have not got him yet, captain.”

“That concerns me; everyone to his trade, sire; only, once more, reflect! Do you seriously give me orders to arrest M. Fouquet, sire?”

“Yes, a thousand times, yes!”

“In writing, sire, then.”

“Here is the order.”

D’Artagnan read it, bowed to the king, and left the room. From the height of the terrace he perceived Gourville, who went by with a joyous air towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet.

CHAPTER 68

The White Horse and the Black Horse
“That is rather surprising,” said d’Artagnan; “Gourville running about the streets so gayly, when he is almost certain that M. Fouquet is in danger; when it is almost equally certain that it was Gourville who warned M. Fouquet just now by the note which was torn into a thousand pieces upon the terrace, and given to the winds by Monsieur le Surintendant. Gourville is rubbing his hands; that is because he has done something clever. Whence comes M. Gourville? Gourville is coming from the Rue aux Herbes. Whither does the Rue aux Herbes lead?” And d’Artagnan followed, along the tops of the houses of Nantes, dominated by the castle, the line traced by the streets, as he would have done upon a topographical plan; only, instead of the dead, flat paper, the living chart rose in relief with the cries, the movements, and the shadows of men and things. Beyond the enclosure of the city, the great verdant plains stretched out, bordering the Loire, and appeared to run towards the pink horizon, which was cut by the azure of the waters and the dark green of the marshes. Immediately outside the gates of Nantes two white roads were seen diverging like separate fingers of a gigantic hand. D’Artagnan, who had taken in all the panorama at a glance by crossing the terrace, was led by the line of the Rue aux Herbes to the mouth of one of those roads which took its rise under the gates of Nantes. One step more, and he was about to descend the stairs, take his trellised carriage, and go towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet. But chance decreed at the moment of plunging into the staircase that he was attracted by a moving point then gaining ground upon that road.

What is that? said the musketeer to himself; a horse galloping⁠—a runaway horse, no doubt. What a rate he is going at! The moving point became detached from the road, and entered into the fields. A white horse, continued the captain, who had just observed the color thrown luminously against the dark ground, and he is mounted; it must be some boy whose horse is thirsty and has run away with him.

These reflections, rapid as lightning, simultaneous with visual perception, d’Artagnan had already forgotten when he descended the first steps of the staircase. Some morsels of paper were spread over the stairs, and shone out white against the dirty stones. Eh! eh! said the captain to himself, here are some of the fragments of the note torn by M. Fouquet. Poor man! he has given his secret to the wind; the wind will have no more to do with it, and brings it back to the king. Decidedly, Fouquet, you play with misfortune! the game is not a fair one⁠—fortune is against you. The star of Louis XIV obscures yours; the adder is stronger and more cunning than the squirrel. D’Artagnan picked up one of these morsels of paper as he descended. “Gourville’s pretty little hand!” cried he, whilst examining one of the fragments of the note; “I was not mistaken.” And he read the word “horse.” “Stop!” said he; and he examined another, upon which there was not a letter traced. Upon a third he read the word “white”; “white horse,” repeated he, like a child that is spelling. “Ah, mordioux!” cried the suspicious spirit, “a white horse!” And, like that grain of powder which, burning, dilates into ten thousand times its volume, d’Artagnan, enlightened by ideas and suspicions, rapidly reascended the stairs towards the terrace. The white horse was still galloping in the direction of the Loire, at the extremity of which, melting into the vapors of the water, a little sail appeared, wave-balanced like a water-butterfly. “Oh!” cried the musketeer, “only a man who wants to fly would go at that pace across plowed lands; there is but one Fouquet, a financier, to ride thus in open day upon a white horse; there is no one but the lord of Belle-Isle who would make his escape towards the sea, while there are such thick forests on land, and there is but one d’Artagnan in the world to catch M. Fouquet, who has half an hour’s start, and who will have gained his boat within an hour.” This being said, the musketeer gave orders that the carriage with the iron trellis should be taken immediately to a thicket situated just outside the city. He selected his best horse, jumped upon his back, galloped along the Rue aux Herbes, taking, not the road Fouquet had taken, but the bank itself of the Loire, certain that he should gain ten minutes upon the total distance, and, at the intersection of the two lines, come up with the fugitive, who could have no suspicion of being pursued in that direction. In the rapidity of the pursuit, and with the impatience of the avenger, animating himself as in war, d’Artagnan, so mild, so kind towards Fouquet, was surprised to find himself become ferocious⁠—almost sanguinary. For a long time he galloped without catching sight of the white horse. His rage assumed fury, he doubted himself⁠—he suspected that Fouquet had buried himself in some subterranean road, or that he had changed the white horse for one of those famous black ones, as swift as the wind, which d’Artagnan, at Saint-Mandé, had so frequently admired and envied for their vigor and their fleetness.

At such moments, when the wind cut his eyes so as to make the tears spring from them, when the saddle had become burning hot, when the galled and spurred horse reared with pain, and threw behind him a shower of dust and stones, d’Artagnan, raising himself in his stirrups, and seeing nothing on the waters, nothing beneath the trees, looked up into the air like a madman. He was losing his senses. In the paroxysms of eagerness he dreamt of aerial ways⁠—the discovery of following century; he called to his mind Daedalus and the vast wings that had saved him from the prisons of Crete. A hoarse sigh broke from his lips, as he repeated, devoured by the fear of ridicule, “I! I! duped by a Gourville! I! They will say that I am growing old⁠—they will say I have received a million to allow Fouquet to escape!” And he again dug his spurs into the sides of his horse: he had ridden astonishingly fast. Suddenly, at the extremity of some open pasture-ground, behind the hedges, he saw a white form which showed itself, disappeared, and at last remained distinctly visible against the rising ground. D’Artagnan’s heart leaped with joy. He wiped the streaming sweat from his brow, relaxed the tension of his knees⁠—by which the horse breathed more freely⁠—and, gathering up his reins, moderated the speed of the vigorous animal, his active accomplice on this manhunt. He had then time to study the direction of the road, and his position with regard to Fouquet. The superintendent had completely winded his horse by crossing the soft ground. He felt the necessity of gaining a firmer footing, and turned towards the road by the shortest secant line. D’Artagnan, on his part, had nothing to do but to ride straight on, concealed by the sloping shore; so that he would cut his quarry off the road when he came up with him. Then the real race would begin⁠—then the struggle would be in earnest.

D’Artagnan gave his horse good breathing-time. He observed that the superintendent had relaxed into a trot, which was to say, he, too, was favoring his horse. But both of them were too much pressed for time to allow them to continue long at that pace. The white horse sprang off like an arrow the moment his feet touched firm ground. D’Artagnan dropped his head, and his black horse broke into a gallop. Both followed the same route; the quadruple echoes of this new racecourse were confounded. Fouquet had not yet perceived d’Artagnan. But on issuing from the slope, a single echo struck the air; it was that of the steps of d’Artagnan’s horse, which rolled along like thunder. Fouquet turned round, and saw behind him, within a hundred paces, his enemy bent over the neck of his horse. There could be no doubt⁠—the shining baldrick, the red cassock⁠—it was a musketeer. Fouquet slackened his hand likewise, and the white horse placed twenty feet more between his adversary and himself.

Oh, but, thought d’Artagnan, becoming very anxious, that is not a common horse M. Fouquet is upon⁠—let us see! And he attentively examined with his infallible eye the shape and capabilities of the courser. Round full quarters⁠—a thin long tail⁠—large hocks⁠—thin legs, as dry as bars of steel⁠—hoofs hard as marble. He spurred his own, but the distance between the two remained the same. D’Artagnan listened attentively; not a breath of the horse reached him, and yet he seemed to cut the air. The black horse, on the contrary, began to puff like any blacksmith’s bellows.

I must overtake him, if I kill my horse, thought the musketeer; and he began to saw the mouth of the poor animal, whilst he buried the rowels of his merciless spurs into his sides. The maddened horse gained twenty toises, and came up within pistol-shot of Fouquet.

“Courage!” said the musketeer to himself, “courage! the white horse will perhaps grow weaker, and if the horse does not fall, the master must pull up at last.” But horse and rider remained upright together, gaining ground by difficult degrees. D’Artagnan uttered a wild cry, which made Fouquet turn round, and added speed to the white horse.

“A famous horse! a mad rider!” growled the captain. “Holà! mordioux! Monsieur Fouquet! stop! in the king’s name!” Fouquet made no reply.

“Do you hear me?” shouted d’Artagnan, whose horse had just stumbled.

Pardieu!” replied Fouquet, laconically; and rode on faster.

D’Artagnan was nearly mad; the blood rushed boiling to his temples and his eyes. “In the king’s name!” cried he again, “stop, or I will bring you down with a pistol-shot!”

“Do!” replied Fouquet, without relaxing his speed.

D’Artagnan seized a pistol and cocked it, hoping that the double click of the spring would stop his enemy. “You have pistols likewise,” said he, “turn and defend yourself.”

Fouquet did turn round at the noise, and looking d’Artagnan full in the face, opened, with his right hand, the part of his dress which concealed his body, but he did not even touch his holsters. There were not more than twenty paces between the two.

Mordioux!” said d’Artagnan, “I will not assassinate you; if you will not fire upon me, surrender! what is a prison?”

“I would rather die!” replied Fouquet; “I shall suffer less.”

D’Artagnan, drunk with despair, hurled his pistol to the ground. “I will take you alive!” said he; and by a prodigy of skill which this incomparable horseman alone was capable, he threw his horse forward to within ten paces of the white horse; already his hand was stretched out to seize his prey.

“Kill me! kill me!” cried Fouquet, “ ’twould be more humane!”

“No! alive⁠—alive!” murmured the captain.

At this moment his horse made a false step for the second time, and Fouquet’s again took the lead. It was an unheard-of spectacle, this race between two horses which now only kept alive by the will of their riders. It might be said that d’Artagnan rode, carrying his horse along between his knees. To the furious gallop had succeeded the fast trot, and that had sunk to what might be scarcely called a trot at all. But the chase appeared equally warm in the two fatigued athletoe. D’Artagnan, quite in despair, seized his second pistol, and cocked it.

“At your horse! not at you!” cried he to Fouquet. And he fired. The animal was hit in the quarters⁠—he made a furious bound, and plunged forward. At that moment d’Artagnan’s horse fell dead.

I am dishonored! thought the musketeer; I am a miserable wretch! “For pity’s sake, M. Fouquet, throw me one of your pistols, that I may blow out my brains!” But Fouquet rode away.

“For mercy’s sake! for mercy’s sake!” cried d’Artagnan; “that which you will not do at this moment, I myself will do within an hour, but here, upon this road, I should die bravely; I should die esteemed; do me that service, M. Fouquet!”

M. Fouquet made no reply, but continued to trot on. D’Artagnan began to run after his enemy. Successively he threw away his hat, his coat, which embarrassed him, and then the sheath of his sword, which got between his legs as he was running. The sword in his hand itself became too heavy, and he threw it after the sheath. The white horse began to rattle in its throat; d’Artagnan gained upon him. From a trot the exhausted animal sunk to a staggering walk⁠—the foam from his mouth was mixed with blood. D’Artagnan made a desperate effort, sprang towards Fouquet, and seized him by the leg, saying in a broken, breathless voice, “I arrest you in the king’s name! blow my brains out, if you like; we have both done our duty.”

Fouquet hurled far from him, into the river, the two pistols d’Artagnan might have seized, and dismounting from his horse⁠—“I am your prisoner, Monsieur,” said he; “will you take my arm, for I see you are ready to faint?”

“Thanks!” murmured d’Artagnan, who, in fact, felt the earth sliding from under his feet, and the light of day turning to blackness around him; then he rolled upon the sand, without breath or strength. Fouquet hastened to the brink of the river, dipped some water in his hat, with which he bathed the temples of the musketeer, and introduced a few drop between his lips. D’Artagnan raised himself with difficulty, and looked about him with a wandering eye. He beheld Fouquet on his knees, with his wet hat in his hand, smiling upon him with ineffable sweetness. “You are not off, then?” cried he. “Oh, Monsieur! the true king of royalty, in heart, in soul, is not Louis of the Louvre, or Philippe of Sainte-Marguerite; it is you, proscribed, condemned!”

“I, who this day am ruined by a single error, M. d’Artagnan.”

“What, in the name of Heaven, is that?”

“I should have had you for a friend! But how shall we return to Nantes? We are a great way from it.”

“That is true,” said d’Artagnan, gloomily.

“The white horse will recover, perhaps; he is a good horse! Mount, Monsieur d’Artagnan; I will walk till you have rested a little.”

“Poor beast! and wounded, too?” said the musketeer.

“He will go, I tell you; I know him; but we can do better still, let us both get up, and ride slowly.”

“We can try,” said the captain. But they had scarcely charged the animal with this double load, when he began to stagger, and then with a great effort walked a few minutes, then staggered again, and sank down dead by the side of the black horse, which he had just managed to come up to.

“We will go on foot⁠—destiny wills it so⁠—the walk will be pleasant,” said Fouquet, passing his arm through that of d’Artagnan.

Mordioux!” cried the latter, with a fixed eye, a contracted brow, and a swelling heart⁠—“What a disgraceful day!”

They walked slowly the four leagues which separated them from the little wood behind which the carriage and escort were in waiting. When Fouquet perceived that sinister machine, he said to d’Artagnan, who cast down his eyes, ashamed of Louis XIV, “There is an idea that did not emanate from a brave man, Captain d’Artagnan; it is not yours. What are these gratings for?” said he.

“To prevent your throwing letters out.”

“Ingenious!”

“But you can speak, if you cannot write,” said d’Artagnan.

“Can I speak to you?”

“Why, certainly, if you wish to do so.”

Fouquet reflected for a moment, then looking the captain full in the face, “One single word,” said he; “will you remember it?”

“I will not forget it.”

“Will you speak it to whom I wish?”

“I will.”

“Saint-Mandé,” articulated Fouquet, in a low voice.

“Well! and for whom?”

“For Madame de Bellière or Pélisson.”

“It shall be done.”

The carriage rolled through Nantes, and took the route to Angers.

CHAPTER 69

In Which the Squirrel Falls⁠—In Which the Adder Flies
It was two o’clock in the afternoon. The king, full of impatience, went to his cabinet on the terrace, and kept opening the door of the corridor, to see what his secretaries were doing. M. Colbert, seated in the same place M. de Saint-Aignan had so long occupied in the morning, was chatting in a low voice with M. de Brienne. The king opened the door suddenly, and addressed them. “What is it you are saying?”

“We were speaking of the first sitting of the States,” said M. de Brienne, rising.

“Very well,” replied the king, and returned to his room.

Five minutes after, the summons of the bell recalled Rose, whose hour it was.

“Have you finished your copies?” asked the king.

“Not yet, sire.”

“See if M. d’Artagnan has returned.”

“Not yet, sire.”

“It is very strange,” murmured the king. “Call M. Colbert.”

Colbert entered; he had been expecting this all the morning.

“Monsieur Colbert,” said the king, very sharply; “you must ascertain what has become of M. d’Artagnan.”

Colbert in his calm voice replied, “Where does Your Majesty desire him to be sought for?”

“Eh! Monsieur! do you not know on what I have sent him?” replied Louis, acrimoniously.

“Your Majesty did not inform me.”

“Monsieur, there are things that must be guessed; and you, above all, are apt to guess them.”

“I might have been able to imagine, sire; but I do not presume to be positive.”

Colbert had not finished these words when a rougher voice than that of the king interrupted the interesting conversation thus begun between the monarch and his clerk.

“D’Artagnan!” cried the king, with evident joy.

D’Artagnan, pale and in evidently bad humor, cried to the king, as he entered, “Sire, is it Your Majesty who has given orders to my Musketeers?”

“What orders?” said the king.

“About M. Fouquet’s house?”

“None!” replied Louis.

“Ha!” said d’Artagnan, biting his mustache; “I was not mistaken, then; it was Monsieur here”; and he pointed to Colbert.

“What orders? Let me know,” said the king.

“Orders to turn the house topsy-turvy, to beat M. Fouquet’s servants, to force the drawers, to give over a peaceful house to pillage! Mordioux! these are savage orders!”

“Monsieur!” said Colbert, turning pale.

“Monsieur,” interrupted d’Artagnan, “the king alone, understand⁠—the king alone has a right to command my Musketeers; but, as to you, I forbid you to do it, and I tell you so before His Majesty; gentlemen who carry swords do not sling pens behind their ears.”

“D’Artagnan! D’Artagnan!” murmured the king.

“It is humiliating,” continued the musketeer; “my soldiers are disgraced. I do not command reítres, thank you, nor clerks of the intendant, mordioux!

“Well! but what is all this about?” said the king with authority.

“About this, sire; Monsieur⁠—Monsieur, who could not guess Your Majesty’s orders, and consequently could not know I was gone to arrest M. Fouquet; Monsieur, who has caused the iron cage to be constructed for his patron of yesterday⁠—has sent M. de Roncherolles[23] to the lodgings of M. Fouquet, and, under the pretense of securing the surintendant’s papers, they have taken away the furniture. My musketeers have been posted round the house all the morning; such were my orders. Why did anyone presume to order them to enter? Why, by forcing them to assist in this pillage, have they been made accomplices in it? Mordioux! we serve the king, we do; but we do not serve M. Colbert!”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the king, sternly, “take care; it is not in my presence that such explanations, and made in such a tone, should take place.”

“I have acted for the good of the king,” said Colbert, in a faltering voice. “It is hard to be so treated by one of Your Majesty’s officers, and that without redress, on account of the respect I owe the king.”

“The respect you owe the king,” cried d’Artagnan, his eyes flashing fire, “consists, in the first place, in making his authority respected, and his person beloved. Every agent of a power without control represents that power, and when people curse the hand which strikes them, it is the royal hand that God reproaches, do you hear? Must a soldier, hardened by forty years of wounds and blood, give you this lesson, Monsieur? Must mercy be on my side, and ferocity on yours? You have caused the innocent to be arrested, bound, and imprisoned!”

“Accomplices, perhaps, of M. Fouquet,” said Colbert.

“Who told you M. Fouquet had accomplices, or even that he was guilty? The king alone knows that; his justice is not blind! When he says, ‘Arrest and imprison’ such and such a man, he is obeyed. Do not talk to me, then, any more of the respect you owe the king, and be careful of your words, that they may not chance to convey the slightest menace; for the king will not allow those to be threatened who do him service by others who do him disservice; and if in case I should have, which God forbid! a master so ungrateful, I would make myself respected.”

Thus saying, d’Artagnan took his station haughtily in the king’s cabinet, his eyes flashing, his hand on his sword, his lips trembling, affecting much more anger than he really felt. Colbert, humiliated and devoured with rage, bowed to the king as if to ask his permission to leave the room. The king, thwarted alike in pride and in curiosity, knew not which part to take. D’Artagnan saw him hesitate. To remain longer would have been a mistake: it was necessary to score a triumph over Colbert, and the only method was to touch the king so near the quick, that His Majesty would have no other means of extrication but choosing between the two antagonists. D’Artagnan bowed as Colbert had done; but the king, who, in preference to everything else, was anxious to have all the exact details of the arrest of the surintendant of the finances from him who had made him tremble for a moment⁠—the king, perceiving that the ill-humor of d’Artagnan would put off for half an hour at least the details he was burning to be acquainted with⁠—Louis, we say, forgot Colbert, who had nothing new to tell him, and recalled his captain of the Musketeers.

“In the first place,” said he, “let me see the result of your commission, Monsieur; you may rest yourself hereafter.”

D’Artagnan, who was just passing through the doorway, stopped at the voice of the king, retraced his steps, and Colbert was forced to leave the closet. His countenance assumed almost a purple hue, his black and threatening eyes shone with a dark fire beneath their thick brows; he stepped out, bowed before the king, half drew himself up in passing d’Artagnan, and went away with death in his heart. D’Artagnan, on being left alone with the king, softened immediately, and composing his countenance: “Sire,” said he, “you are a young king. It is by the dawn that people judge whether the day will be fine or dull. How, sire, will the people, whom the hand of God has placed under your law, argue of your reign, if between them and you, you allow angry and violent ministers to interpose their mischief? But let us speak of myself, sire, let us leave a discussion that may appear idle, and perhaps inconvenient to you. Let us speak of myself. I have arrested M. Fouquet.”

“You took plenty of time about it,” said the king, sharply.

D’Artagnan looked at the king. “I perceive that I have expressed myself badly. I announced to Your Majesty that I had arrested Monsieur Fouquet.”

“You did; and what then?”

“Well! I ought to have told Your Majesty that M. Fouquet had arrested me; that would have been more just. I reestablish the truth, then; I have been arrested by M. Fouquet.”

It was now the turn of Louis XIV to be surprised. His Majesty was astonished in his turn.

D’Artagnan, with his quick glance, appreciated what was passing in the heart of his master. He did not allow him time to put any questions. He related, with that poetry, that picturesqueness, which perhaps he alone possessed at that period, the escape of Fouquet, the pursuit, the furious race, and, lastly, the inimitable generosity of the surintendant, who might have fled ten times over, who might have killed the adversary in the pursuit, but who had preferred imprisonment, perhaps worse, to the humiliation of one who wished to rob him of his liberty. In proportion as the tale advanced, the king became agitated, devouring the narrator’s words, and drumming with his fingernails upon the table.

“It results from all this, sire, in my eyes, at least, that the man who conducts himself thus is a gallant man, and cannot be an enemy to the king. That is my opinion, and I repeat it to Your Majesty. I know what the king will say to me, and I bow to it⁠—reasons of state. So be it! To my ears that sounds highly respectable. But I am a soldier, and I have received my orders, my orders are executed⁠—very unwillingly on my part, it is true, but they are executed. I say no more.”

“Where is M. Fouquet at this moment?” asked Louis, after a short silence.

“M. Fouquet, sire,” replied d’Artagnan, “is in the iron cage that M. Colbert had prepared for him, and is galloping as fast as four strong horses can drag him, towards Angers.”

“Why did you leave him on the road?”

“Because Your Majesty did not tell me to go to Angers. The proof, the best proof of what I advance, is that the king desired me to be sought for but this minute. And then I had another reason.”

“What is that?”

“Whilst I was with him, poor M. Fouquet would never attempt to escape.”

“Well!” cried the king, astonished.

“Your Majesty ought to understand, and does understand, certainly, that my warmest wish is to know that M. Fouquet is at liberty. I have given him one of my brigadiers, the most stupid I could find among my musketeers, in order that the prisoner might have a chance of escaping.”

“Are you mad, Monsieur d’Artagnan?” cried the king, crossing his arms on his breast. “Do people utter such enormities, even when they have the misfortune to think them?”

“Ah! sire, you cannot expect that I should be an enemy to M. Fouquet, after what he has just done for you and me. No, no; if you desire that he should remain under your lock and bolt, never give him in charge to me; however closely wired might be the cage, the bird would, in the end, take wing.”

“I am surprised,” said the king, in his sternest tone, “you did not follow the fortunes of the man M. Fouquet wished to place upon my throne. You had in him all you want⁠—affection, gratitude. In my service, Monsieur, you will only find a master.”

“If M. Fouquet had not gone to seek you in the Bastille, sire,” replied d’Artagnan, with a deeply impressive manner, “one single man would have gone there, and I should have been that man⁠—you know that right well, sire.”

The king was brought to a pause. Before that speech of his captain of the Musketeers, so frankly spoken and so true, the king had nothing to offer. On hearing d’Artagnan, Louis remembered the d’Artagnan of former times; him who, at the Palais Royal, held himself concealed behind the curtains of his bed, when the people of Paris, led by Cardinal de Retz, came to assure themselves of the presence of the king; the d’Artagnan whom he saluted with his hand at the door of his carriage, when repairing to Notre Dame on his return to Paris; the soldier who had quitted his service at Blois; the lieutenant he had recalled to be beside his person when the death of Mazarin restored his power; the man he had always found loyal, courageous, devoted. Louis advanced towards the door and called Colbert. Colbert had not left the corridor where the secretaries were at work. He reappeared.

“Colbert, did you make a perquisition on the house of M. Fouquet?”

“Yes, sire.”

“What has it produced?”

“M. de Roncherolles, who was sent with Your Majesty’s Musketeers, has remitted me some papers,” replied Colbert.

“I will look at them. Give me your hand.”

“My hand, sire!”

“Yes, that I may place it in that of M. d’Artagnan. In fact, M. d’Artagnan,” added he, with a smile, turning towards the soldier, who, at sight of the clerk, had resumed his haughty attitude, “you do not know this man; make his acquaintance.” And he pointed to Colbert. “He has been made but a moderately valuable servant in subaltern positions, but he will be a great man if I raise him to the foremost rank.”

“Sire!” stammered Colbert, confused with pleasure and fear.

“I always understood why,” murmured d’Artagnan in the king’s ear; “he was jealous.”

“Precisely, and his jealousy confined his wings.”

“He will henceforward be a winged-serpent,” grumbled the musketeer, with a remnant of hatred against his recent adversary.

But Colbert, approaching him, offered to his eyes a physiognomy so different from that which he had been accustomed to see him wear; he appeared so good, so mild, so easy; his eyes took the expression of an intelligence so noble, that d’Artagnan, a connoisseur in physiognomies, was moved, and almost changed in his convictions. Colbert pressed his hand.

“That which the king has just told you, Monsieur, proves how well His Majesty is acquainted with men. The inveterate opposition I have displayed, up to this day, against abuses and not against men, proves that I had it in view to prepare for my king a glorious reign, for my country a great blessing. I have many ideas, M. d’Artagnan. You will see them expand in the sun of public peace; and if I have not the good fortune to conquer the friendship of honest men, I am at least certain, Monsieur, that I shall obtain their esteem. For their admiration, Monsieur, I would give my life.”

This change, this sudden elevation, this mute approbation of the king, gave the musketeer matter for profound reflection. He bowed civilly to Colbert, who did not take his eyes off him. The king, when he saw they were reconciled, dismissed them. They left the room together. As soon as they were out of the cabinet, the new minister, stopping the captain, said:

“Is it possible, M. d’Artagnan, that with such an eye as yours, you did not, at the first glance, at the first impression, discover what sort of man I am?”

“Monsieur Colbert,” replied the musketeer, “a ray of the sun in our eyes prevents us from seeing the most vivid flame. The man in power radiates, you know; and since you are there, why should you continue to persecute him who had just fallen into disgrace, and fallen from such a height?”

“I, Monsieur!” said Colbert; “oh, Monsieur! I would never persecute him. I wished to administer the finances and to administer them alone, because I am ambitious, and, above all, because I have the most entire confidence in my own merit; because I know that all the gold of this country will ebb and flow beneath my eyes, and I love to look at the king’s gold; because, if I live thirty years, in thirty years not a denier of it will remain in my hands; because, with that gold, I will build granaries, castles, cities, and harbors; because I will create a marine, I will equip navies that shall waft the name of France to the most distant people; because I will create libraries and academies; because I will make France the first country in the world, and the wealthiest. These are the motives for my animosity against M. Fouquet, who prevented my acting. And then, when I shall be great and strong, when France is great and strong, in my turn, then, will I cry, ‘Mercy’!”

“Mercy, did you say? then ask his liberty of the king. The king is only crushing him on your account.”

Colbert again raised his head. “Monsieur,” said he, “you know that is not so, and that the king has his own personal animosity against M. Fouquet; it is not for me to teach you that.”

“But the king will grow tired; he will forget.”

“The king never forgets, M. d’Artagnan. Hark! the king calls. He is going to issue an order. I have not influenced him, have I? Listen.”

The king, in fact, was calling his secretaries. “Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said he.

“I am here, sire.”

“Give twenty of your musketeers to M. de Saint-Aignan, to form a guard for M. Fouquet.”

D’Artagnan and Colbert exchanged looks. “And from Angers,” continued the king, “they will conduct the prisoner to the Bastille, in Paris.”

“You were right,” said the captain to the minister.

“Saint-Aignan,” continued the king, “you will have anyone shot who shall attempt to speak privately with M. Fouquet, during the journey.”

“But myself, sire,” said the duke.

“You, Monsieur, you will only speak to him in the presence of the musketeers.” The duke bowed and departed to execute his commission.

D’Artagnan was about to retire likewise; but the king stopped him.

“Monsieur,” said he, “you will go immediately, and take possession of the isle and fief of Belle-Île-en-Mer.”

“Yes, sire. Alone?”

“You will take a sufficient number of troops to prevent delay, in case the place should be contumacious.”

A murmur of courtly incredulity rose from the group of courtiers. “That shall be done,” said d’Artagnan.

“I saw the place in my infancy,” resumed the king, “and I do not wish to see it again. You have heard me? Go, Monsieur, and do not return without the keys.”

Colbert went up to d’Artagnan. “A commission which, if you carry it out well,” said he, “will be worth a maréchal’s baton to you.”

“Why do you employ the words, ‘if you carry it out well’?”

“Because it is difficult.”

“Ah! in what respect?”

“You have friends in Belle-Isle, Monsieur d’Artagnan; and it is not an easy thing for men like you to march over the bodies of their friends to obtain success.”

D’Artagnan hung his head in deepest thought, whilst Colbert returned to the king. A quarter of an hour after, the captain received the written order from the king, to blow up the fortress of Belle-Isle, in case of resistance, with power of life and death over all the inhabitants or refugees, and an injunction not to allow one to escape.

Colbert was right, thought d’Artagnan; for me the baton of a maréchal of France will cost the lives of my two friends. Only they seem to forget that my friends are not more stupid than the birds, and that they will not wait for the hand of the fowler to extend over their wings. I will show them that hand so plainly, that they will have quite time enough to see it. Poor Porthos! Poor Aramis! No; my fortune shall not cost your wings a feather.

Having thus determined, d’Artagnan assembled the royal army, embarked it at Paimboeuf, and set sail, without the loss of an unnecessary minute.

CHAPTER 70

Belle-Île-en-Mer
At the extremity of the mole, against which the furious sea beats at the evening tide, two men, holding each other by the arm, were conversing in an animated and expansive tone, without the possibility of any other human being hearing their words, borne away, as they were, one by one, by the gusts of wind, with the white foam swept from the crests of the waves. The sun had just gone down in the vast sheet of the crimsoned ocean, like a gigantic crucible. From time to time, one of these men, turning towards the east, cast an anxious, inquiring look over the sea. The other, interrogating the features of his companion, seemed to seek for information in his looks. Then, both silent, busied with dismal thoughts, they resumed their walk. Everyone has already perceived that these two men were our proscribed heroes, Porthos and Aramis, who had taken refuge in Belle-Isle, since the ruin of their hopes, since the discomfiture of the colossal schemes of M. d’Herblay.

“If is of no use your saying anything to the contrary, my dear Aramis,” repeated Porthos, inhaling vigorously the salt breeze with which he charged his massive chest. “It is of no use, Aramis. The disappearance of all the fishing-boats that went out two days ago is not an ordinary circumstance. There has been no storm at sea; the weather has been constantly calm, not even the lightest gale; and even if we had had a tempest, all our boats would not have foundered. I repeat, it is strange. This complete disappearance astonishes me, I tell you.”

“True,” murmured Aramis. “You are right, friend Porthos; it is true, there is something strange in it.”

“And further,” added Porthos, whose ideas the assent of the bishop of Vannes seemed to enlarge; “and, further, do you not observe that if the boats have perished, not a single plank has washed ashore?”

“I have remarked it as well as yourself.”

“And do you not think it strange that the two only boats we had left in the whole island, and which I sent in search of the others⁠—”

Aramis here interrupted his companion by a cry, and by so sudden a movement, that Porthos stopped as if he were stupefied. “What do you say, Porthos? What!⁠—You have sent the two boats⁠—”

“In search of the others! Yes, to be sure I have,” replied Porthos, calmly.

“Unhappy man! What have you done? Then we are indeed lost,” cried the bishop.

“Lost!⁠—what did you say?” exclaimed the terrified Porthos. “How lost, Aramis? How are we lost?”

Aramis bit his lips. “Nothing! nothing! Your pardon, I meant to say⁠—”

“What?”

“That if we were inclined⁠—if we took a fancy to make an excursion by sea, we could not.”

“Very good! and why should that vex you? A precious pleasure, ma foi! For my part, I don’t regret it at all. What I regret is certainly not the more or less amusement we can find at Belle-Isle: what I regret, Aramis, is Pierrefonds; Bracieux; le Vallon; beautiful France! Here, we are not in France, my dear friend; we are⁠—I know not where. Oh! I tell you, in full sincerity of soul, and your affection will excuse my frankness, but I declare to you I am not happy at Belle-Isle. No; in good truth, I am not happy!”

Aramis breathed a long, but stifled sigh. “Dear friend,” replied he: “that is why it is so sad a thing you have sent the two boats we had left in search of the boats which disappeared two days ago. If you had not sent them away, we would have departed.”

“ ‘Departed!’ And the orders, Aramis?”

“What orders?”

Parbleu! Why, the orders you have been constantly, in and out of season, repeating to me⁠—that we were to hold Belle-Isle against the usurper. You know very well!”

“That is true!” murmured Aramis again.

“You see, then, plainly, my friend, that we could not depart; and that the sending away of the boats in search of the others cannot prove prejudicial to us in the very least.”

Aramis was silent; and his vague glances, luminous as that of an albatross, hovered for a long time over the sea, interrogating space, seeking to pierce the very horizon.

“With all that, Aramis,” continued Porthos, who adhered to his idea, and that the more closely from the bishop having apparently endorsed it⁠—“with all that, you give me no explanation about what can have happened to these unfortunate boats. I am assailed by cries and complaints whichever way I go. The children cry to see the desolation of the women, as if I could restore the absent husbands and fathers. What do you suppose, my friend, and how ought I to answer them?”

“Think all you like, my good Porthos, and say nothing.”

This reply did not satisfy Porthos at all. He turned away grumbling something in ill-humor. Aramis stopped the valiant musketeer. “Do you remember,” said he, in a melancholy tone, kneading the two hands of the giant between his own with affectionate cordiality, “do you remember, my friend, that in the glorious days of youth⁠—do you remember, Porthos, when we were all strong and valiant⁠—we, and the other two⁠—if we had then had an inclination to return to France, do you think this sheet of salt water would have stopped us?”

“Oh!” said Porthos; “but six leagues.”

“If you had seen me get astride of a plank, would you have remained on land, Porthos?”

“No, pardieu! No, Aramis. But, nowadays, what sort of a plank should we want, my friend! I, in particular.” And the Seigneur de Bracieux cast a profound glance over his colossal rotundity with a loud laugh. “And do you mean seriously to say you are not tired of Belle-Isle a little, and that you would not prefer the comforts of your dwelling⁠—of your episcopal palace, at Vannes? Come, confess.”

“No,” replied Aramis, without daring to look at Porthos.

“Let us stay where we are, then,” said his friend, with a sigh, which, in spite of the efforts he made to restrain it, escaped his echoing breast. “Let us remain!⁠—let us remain! And yet,” added he, “and yet, if we seriously wished, but that decidedly⁠—if we had a fixed idea, one firmly taken, to return to France, and there were not boats⁠—”

“Have you remarked another thing, my friend⁠—that is, since the disappearance of our barks, during the last two days’ absence of fishermen, not a single small boat has landed on the shores of the isle?”

“Yes, certainly! you are right. I, too, have remarked it, and the observation was the more naturally made, for, before the last two fatal days, barks and shallops were as plentiful as shrimps.”

“I must inquire,” said Aramis, suddenly, and with great agitation. “And then, if we had a raft constructed⁠—”

“But there are some canoes, my friend; shall I board one?”

“A canoe!⁠—a canoe! Can you think of such a thing, Porthos? A canoe to be upset in. No, no,” said the bishop of Vannes; “it is not our trade to ride upon the waves. We will wait, we will wait.”

And Aramis continued walking about with increased agitation. Porthos, who grew tired of following all the feverish movements of his friend⁠—Porthos, who in his faith and calmness understood nothing of the sort of exasperation which was betrayed by his companion’s continual convulsive starts⁠—Porthos stopped him. “Let us sit down upon this rock,” said he. “Place yourself there, close to me, Aramis, and I conjure you, for the last time, to explain to me in a manner I can comprehend⁠—explain to me what we are doing here.”

“Porthos,” said Aramis, much embarrassed.

“I know that the false king wished to dethrone the true king. That is a fact, that I understand. Well⁠—”

“Yes?” said Aramis.

“I know that the false king formed the project of selling Belle-Isle to the English. I understand that, too.”

“Yes?”

“I know that we engineers and captains came and threw ourselves into Belle-Isle to take direction of the works, and the command of ten companies levied and paid by M. Fouquet, or rather the ten companies of his son-in-law. All that is plain.”

Aramis rose in a state of great impatience. He might be said to be a lion importuned by a gnat. Porthos held him by the arm. “But what I cannot understand, what, in spite of all the efforts of my mind, and all my reflections, I cannot comprehend, and never shall comprehend, is, that instead of sending us troops, instead of sending us reinforcements of men, munitions, provisions, they leave us without boats, they leave Belle-Isle without arrivals, without help; it is that instead of establishing with us a correspondence, whether by signals, or written or verbal communications, all relations with the shore are intercepted. Tell me, Aramis, answer me, or rather, before answering me, will you allow me to tell you what I have thought? Will you hear what my idea is, the plan I have conceived?”

The bishop raised his head. “Well! Aramis,” continued Porthos, “I have dreamed, I have imagined that an event has taken place in France. I dreamt of M. Fouquet all the night, of lifeless fish, of broken eggs, of chambers badly furnished, meanly kept. Villainous dreams, my dear d’Herblay; very unlucky, such dreams!”

“Porthos, what is that yonder?” interrupted Aramis, rising suddenly, and pointing out to his friend a black spot upon the empurpled line of the water.

“A bark!” said Porthos; “yes, it is a bark! Ah! we shall have some news at last.”

“There are two!” cried the bishop, on discovering another mast; “two! three! four!”

“Five!” said Porthos, in his turn. “Six! seven! Ah! mon Dieu! mon Dieu! it is a fleet!”

“Our boats returning, probably,” said Aramis, very uneasily, in spite of the assurance he affected.

“They are very large for fishing-boats,” observed Porthos, “and do you not remark, my friend, that they come from the Loire?”

“They come from the Loire⁠—yes⁠—”

“And look! everybody here sees them as well as ourselves; look, women and children are beginning to crowd the jetty.”

An old fisherman passed. “Are those our barks, yonder?” asked Aramis.

The old man looked steadily into the eye of the horizon.

“No, Monseigneur,” replied he, “they are lighter boats, boats in the king’s service.”

“Boats in the royal service?” replied Aramis, starting. “How do you know that?” said he.

“By the flag.”

“But,” said Porthos, “the boat is scarcely visible; how the devil, my friend, can you distinguish the flag?”

“I see there is one,” replied the old man; “our boats, trade lighters, do not carry any. That sort of craft is generally used for transport of troops.”

“Ah!” groaned Aramis.

Vivat!” cried Porthos, “they are sending us reinforcements, don’t you think they are, Aramis?”

“Probably.”

“Unless it is the English coming.”

“By the Loire? That would have an evil look, Porthos; for they must have come through Paris!”

“You are right; they are reinforcements, decidedly, or provisions.”

Aramis leaned his head upon his hands, and made no reply. Then, all at once⁠—“Porthos,” said he, “have the alarm sounded.”

“The alarm! do you imagine such a thing?”

“Yes, and let the cannoniers mount their batteries, the artillerymen be at their pieces, and be particularly watchful of the coast batteries.”

Porthos opened his eyes to their widest extent. He looked attentively at his friend, to convince himself he was in his proper senses.

I will do it, my dear Porthos,” continued Aramis, in his blandest tone; “I will go and have these orders executed myself, if you do not go, my friend.”

“Well! I will⁠—instantly!” said Porthos, who went to execute the orders, casting all the while looks behind him, to see if the bishop of Vannes were not deceived; and if, on recovering more rational ideas, he would not recall him. The alarm was sounded, trumpets brayed, drums rolled; the great bronze bell swung in horror from its lofty belfry. The dikes and moles were quickly filled with the curious and soldiers; matches sparkled in the hands of the artillerymen, placed behind the large cannon bedded in their stone carriages. When every man was at his post, when all the preparations for defense were made: “Permit me, Aramis, to try to comprehend,” whispered Porthos, timidly, in Aramis’s ear.

“My dear friend, you will comprehend but too soon,” murmured M. d’Herblay, in reply to this question of his lieutenant.

“The fleet which is coming yonder, with sails unfurled, straight towards the port of Belle-Isle, is a royal fleet, is it not?”

“But as there are two kings in France, Porthos, to which of these two kings does this fleet belong?”

“Oh! you open my eyes,” replied the giant, stunned by the insinuation.

And Porthos, whose eyes this reply of his friend’s had at last opened, or rather thickened the bandage which covered his sight, went with his best speed to the batteries to overlook his people, and exhort everyone to do his duty. In the meantime, Aramis, with his eye fixed on the horizon, saw the ships continually drawing nearer. The people and the soldiers, perched on the summits of the rocks, could distinguish the masts, then the lower sails, and at last the hulls of the lighters, bearing at the masthead the royal flag of France. It was night when one of these vessels, which had created such a sensation among the inhabitants of Belle-Isle, dropped anchor within cannon shot of the place. It was soon seen, notwithstanding the darkness, that some sort of agitation reigned on board the vessel, from the side of which a skiff was lowered, of which the three rowers, bending to their oars, took the direction of the port, and in a few instants struck land at the foot of the fort. The commander jumped ashore. He had a letter in his hand, which he waved in the air, and seemed to wish to communicate with somebody. This man was soon recognized by several soldiers as one of the pilots of the island. He was the captain of one of the two barks retained by Aramis, but which Porthos, in his anxiety with regard to the fate of the fishermen who had disappeared, had sent in search of the missing boats. He asked to be conducted to M. d’Herblay. Two soldiers, at a signal from a sergeant, marched him between them, and escorted him. Aramis was upon the quay. The envoy presented himself before the bishop of Vannes. The darkness was almost absolute, notwithstanding the flambeaux borne at a small distance by the soldiers who were following Aramis in his rounds.

“Well, Jonathan, from whom do you come?”

“Monseigneur, from those who captured me.”

“Who captured you?”

“You know, Monseigneur, we set out in search of our comrades?”

“Yes; and afterwards?”

“Well! Monseigneur, within a short league we were captured by a chasse marée belonging to the king.”

“Ah!” said Aramis.

“Of which king?” cried Porthos.

Jonathan started.

“Speak!” continued the bishop.

“We were captured, Monseigneur, and joined to those who had been taken yesterday morning.”

“What was the cause of the mania for capturing you all?” said Porthos.

“Monsieur, to prevent us from telling you,” replied Jonathan.

Porthos was again at a loss to comprehend. “And they have released you today?” asked he.

“That I might tell you they have captured us, Monsieur.”

Trouble upon trouble, thought honest Porthos.

During this time Aramis was reflecting.

“Humph!” said he, “then I suppose it is a royal fleet blockading the coasts?”

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“Who commands it?”

“The captain of the king’s Musketeers.”

“D’Artagnan?”

“D’Artagnan!” exclaimed Porthos.

“I believe that is the name.”

“And did he give you this letter?”

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“Bring the torches nearer.”

“It is his writing,” said Porthos.

Aramis eagerly read the following lines:

“Order of the king to take Belle-Isle; or to put the garrison to the sword, if they resist; order to make prisoners of all the men of the garrison; signed, D’ARTAGNAN, who, the day before yesterday, arrested M. Fouquet, for the purpose of his being sent to the Bastille.”

Aramis turned pale, and crushed the paper in his hands.

“What is it?” asked Porthos.

“Nothing, my friend, nothing.”

“Tell me, Jonathan?”

“Monseigneur?”

“Did you speak to M. d’Artagnan?”

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“What did he say to you?”

“That for ampler information, he would speak with Monseigneur.”

“Where?”

“On board his own vessel.”

“On board his vessel!” and Porthos repeated, “On board his vessel!”

“M. le Mousquetaire,” continued Jonathan, “told me to take you both on board my canoe, and bring you to him.”

“Let us go at once,” exclaimed Porthos. “Dear d’Artagnan!”

But Aramis stopped him. “Are you mad?” cried he. “Who knows that it is not a snare?”

“Of the other king’s?” said Porthos, mysteriously.

“A snare, in fact! That’s what it is, my friend.”

“Very possibly; what is to be done, then? If d’Artagnan sends for us⁠—”

“Who assures you that d’Artagnan sends for us?”

“Well, but⁠—but his writing⁠—”

“Writing is easily counterfeited. This looks counterfeited⁠—unsteady⁠—”

“You are always right; but, in the meantime, we know nothing.”

Aramis was silent.

“It is true,” said the good Porthos, “we do not want to know anything.”

“What shall I do?” asked Jonathan.

“You will return on board this captain’s vessel.”

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“And will tell him that we beg he will himself come into the island.”

“Ah! I comprehend!” said Porthos.

“Yes, Monseigneur,” replied Jonathan; “but if the captain should refuse to come to Belle-Isle?”

“If he refuses, as we have cannon, we will make use of them.”

“What! against d’Artagnan?”

“If it is d’Artagnan, Porthos, he will come. Go, Jonathan, go!”

Ma foi! I no longer comprehend anything,” murmured Porthos.

“I will make you comprehend it all, my dear friend; the time for it has come; sit down upon this gun-carriage, open your ears, and listen well to me.”

“Oh! pardieu! I will listen, no fear of that.”

“May I depart, Monseigneur?” cried Jonathan.

“Yes, begone, and bring back an answer. Allow the canoe to pass, you men there!” And the canoe pushed off to regain the fleet.

Aramis took Porthos by the hand, and commenced his explanations.

CHAPTER 71

Explanations by Aramis
“What I have to say to you, friend Porthos, will probably surprise you, but it may prove instructive.”

“I like to be surprised,” said Porthos, in a kindly tone; “do not spare me, therefore, I beg. I am hardened against emotions; don’t fear, speak out.”

“It is difficult, Porthos⁠—difficult; for, in truth, I warn you a second time, I have very strange things, very extraordinary things, to tell you.”

“Oh! you speak so well, my friend, that I could listen to you for days together. Speak, then, I beg⁠—and⁠—stop, I have an idea: I will, to make your task more easy, I will, to assist you in telling me such things, question you.”

“I shall be pleased at your doing so.”

“What are we going to fight for, Aramis?”

“If you ask me many such questions as that⁠—if you would render my task the easier by interrupting my revelations thus, Porthos, you will not help me at all. So far, on the contrary, that is the very Gordian knot. But, my friend, with a man like you, good, generous, and devoted, the confession must be bravely made. I have deceived you, my worthy friend.”

“You have deceived me!”

“Good Heavens! yes.”

“Was it for my good, Aramis?”

“I thought so, Porthos; I thought so sincerely, my friend.”

“Then,” said the honest seigneur of Bracieux, “you have rendered me a service, and I thank you for it; for if you had not deceived me, I might have deceived myself. In what, then, have you deceived me, tell me?”

“In that I was serving the usurper against whom Louis XIV, at this moment, is directing his efforts.”

“The usurper!” said Porthos, scratching his head. “That is⁠—well, I do not quite clearly comprehend!”

“He is one of the two kings who are contending for the crown of France.”

“Very well! Then you were serving him who is not Louis XIV?”

“You have hit the matter in one word.”

“It follows that⁠—”

“It follows that we are rebels, my poor friend.”

“The devil! the devil!” cried Porthos, much disappointed.

“Oh! but, dear Porthos, be calm, we shall still find means of getting out of the affair, trust me.”

“It is not that which makes me uneasy,” replied Porthos; “that which alone touches me is that ugly word rebels.”

“Ah! but⁠—”

“And so, according to this, the duchy that was promised me⁠—”

“It was the usurper that was to give it to you.”

“And that is not the same thing, Aramis,” said Porthos, majestically.

“My friend, if it had only depended upon me, you should have become a prince.”

Porthos began to bite his nails in a melancholy way.

“That is where you have been wrong,” continued he, “in deceiving me; for that promised duchy I reckoned upon. Oh! I reckoned upon it seriously, knowing you to be a man of your word, Aramis.”

“Poor Porthos! pardon me, I implore you!”

“So, then,” continued Porthos, without replying to the bishop’s prayer, “so then, it seems, I have quite fallen out with Louis XIV?”

“Oh! I will settle all that, my good friend, I will settle all that. I will take it on myself alone!”

“Aramis!”

“No, no, Porthos, I conjure you, let me act. No false generosity! No inopportune devotedness! You knew nothing of my projects. You have done nothing of yourself. With me it is different. I alone am the author of this plot. I stood in need of my inseparable companion; I called upon you, and you came to me in remembrance of our ancient device, ‘All for one, one for all.’ My crime is that I was an egotist.”

“Now, that is a word I like,” said Porthos; “and seeing that you have acted entirely for yourself, it is impossible for me to blame you. It is natural.”

And upon this sublime reflection, Porthos pressed his friend’s hand cordially.

In presence of this ingenuous greatness of soul, Aramis felt his own littleness. It was the second time he had been compelled to bend before real superiority of heart, which is more imposing than brilliancy of mind. He replied by a mute and energetic pressure to the endearment of his friend.

“Now,” said Porthos, “that we have come to an explanation, now that I am perfectly aware of our situation with respect to Louis XIV, I think, my friend, it is time to make me comprehend the political intrigue of which we are the victims⁠—for I plainly see there is a political intrigue at the bottom of all this.”

“D’Artagnan, my good Porthos, d’Artagnan is coming, and will detail it to you in all its circumstances; but, excuse me, I am deeply grieved, I am bowed down with mental anguish, and I have need of all my presence of mind, all my powers of reflection, to extricate you from the false position in which I have so imprudently involved you; but nothing can be more clear, nothing more plain, than your position, henceforth. The king Louis XIV has no longer now but one enemy: that enemy is myself, myself alone. I have made you a prisoner, you have followed me, today I liberate you, you fly back to your prince. You can perceive, Porthos, there is not one difficulty in all this.”

“Do you think so?” said Porthos.

“I am quite sure of it.”

“Then why,” said the admirable good sense of Porthos, “then why, if we are in such an easy position, why, my friend, do we prepare cannon, muskets, and engines of all sorts? It seems to me it would be much more simple to say to Captain d’Artagnan: ‘My dear friend, we have been mistaken; that error is to be repaired; open the door to us, let us pass through, and we will say goodbye.’ ”

“Ah! that!” said Aramis, shaking his head.

“Why do you say ‘that’? Do you not approve of my plan, my friend?”

“I see a difficulty in it.”

“What is it?”

“The hypothesis that d’Artagnan may come with orders which will oblige us to defend ourselves.”

“What! defend ourselves against d’Artagnan? Folly! Against the good d’Artagnan!”

Aramis once more replied by shaking his head.

“Porthos,” at length said he, “if I have had the matches lighted and the guns pointed, if I have had the signal of alarm sounded, if I have called every man to his post upon the ramparts, those good ramparts of Belle-Isle which you have so well fortified, it was not for nothing. Wait to judge; or rather, no, do not wait⁠—”

“What can I do?”

“If I knew, my friend, I would have told you.”

“But there is one thing much more simple than defending ourselves:⁠—a boat, and away for France⁠—where⁠—”

“My dear friend,” said Aramis, smiling with a strong shade of sadness, “do not let us reason like children; let us be men in council and in execution.⁠—But, hark! I hear a hail for landing at the port. Attention, Porthos, serious attention!”

“It is d’Artagnan, no doubt,” said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, approaching the parapet.

“Yes, it is I,” replied the captain of the Musketeers, running lightly up the steps of the mole, and gaining rapidly the little esplanade on which his two friends waited for him. As soon as he came towards them, Porthos and Aramis observed an officer who followed d’Artagnan, treading apparently in his very steps. The captain stopped upon the stairs of the mole, when halfway up. His companion imitated him.

“Make your men draw back,” cried d’Artagnan to Porthos and Aramis; “let them retire out of hearing.” This order, given by Porthos, was executed immediately. Then d’Artagnan, turning towards him who followed him:

“Monsieur,” said he, “we are no longer on board the king’s fleet, where, in virtue of your order, you spoke so arrogantly to me, just now.”

“Monsieur,” replied the officer, “I did not speak arrogantly to you; I simply, but rigorously, obeyed instructions. I was commanded to follow you. I follow you. I am directed not to allow you to communicate with anyone without taking cognizance of what you do; I am in duty bound, accordingly, to overhear your conversations.”

D’Artagnan trembled with rage, and Porthos and Aramis, who heard this dialogue, trembled likewise, but with uneasiness and fear. D’Artagnan, biting his mustache with that vivacity which denoted in him exasperation, closely to be followed by an explosion, approached the officer.

“Monsieur,” said he, in a low voice, so much the more impressive, that, affecting calm, it threatened tempest⁠—“Monsieur, when I sent a canoe hither, you wished to know what I wrote to the defenders of Belle-Isle. You produced an order to that effect; and, in my turn, I instantly showed you the note I had written. When the skipper of the boat sent by me returned, when I received the reply of these two gentlemen” (and he pointed to Aramis and Porthos), “you heard every word of what the messenger said. All that was plainly in your orders, all that was well executed, very punctually, was it not?”

“Yes, Monsieur,” stammered the officer; “yes, without doubt, but⁠—”

“Monsieur,” continued d’Artagnan, growing warm⁠—“Monsieur, when I manifested the intention of quitting my vessel to cross to Belle-Isle, you demanded to accompany me; I did not hesitate; I brought you with me. You are now at Belle-Isle, are you not?”

“Yes, Monsieur; but⁠—”

“But⁠—the question no longer is of M. Colbert, who has given you that order, or of whomsoever in the world you are following the instructions; the question now is of a man who is a clog upon M. d’Artagnan, and who is alone with M. d’Artagnan upon steps whose feet are bathed by thirty feet of salt water; a bad position for that man, a bad position, Monsieur! I warn you.”

“But, Monsieur, if I am a restraint upon you,” said the officer, timidly, and almost faintly, “it is my duty which⁠—”

“Monsieur, you have had the misfortune, either you or those that sent you, to insult me. It is done. I cannot seek redress from those who employ you⁠—they are unknown to me, or are at too great a distance. But you are under my hand, and I swear that if you make one step behind me when I raise my feet to go up to those gentlemen, I swear to you by my name, I will cleave your head in two with my sword, and pitch you into the water. Oh! it will happen! it will happen! I have only been six times angry in my life, Monsieur, and all five preceding times I killed my man.”

The officer did not stir; he became pale under this terrible threat, but replied with simplicity, “Monsieur, you are wrong in acting against my orders.”

Porthos and Aramis, mute and trembling at the top of the parapet, cried to the musketeer, “Good d’Artagnan, take care!”

D’Artagnan made them a sign to keep silence, raised his foot with ominous calmness to mount the stair, and turned round, sword in hand, to see if the officer followed him. The officer made a sign of the cross and stepped up. Porthos and Aramis, who knew their d’Artagnan, uttered a cry, and rushed down to prevent the blow they thought they already heard. But d’Artagnan passed his sword into his left hand⁠—

“Monsieur,” said he to the officer, in an agitated voice, “you are a brave man. You will all the better comprehend what I am going to say to you now.”

“Speak, Monsieur d’Artagnan, speak,” replied the officer.

“These gentlemen we have just seen, and against whom you have orders, are my friends.”

“I know they are, Monsieur.”

“You can understand whether or not I ought to act towards them as your instructions prescribe.”

“I understand your reserve.”

“Very well; permit me, then, to converse with them without a witness.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, if I yield to your request, if I do that which you beg me, I break my word; but if I do not do it, I disoblige you. I prefer the one dilemma to the other. Converse with your friends, and do not despise me, Monsieur, for doing this for your sake, whom I esteem and honor; do not despise me for committing for you, and you alone, an unworthy act.” D’Artagnan, much agitated, threw his arm round the neck of the young man, and then went up to his friends. The officer, enveloped in his cloak, sat down on the damp, weed-covered steps.

“Well!” said d’Artagnan to his friends, “such is my position, judge for yourselves.” All three embraced as in the glorious days of their youth.

“What is the meaning of all these preparations?” said Porthos.

“You ought to have a suspicion of what they signify,” said d’Artagnan.

“Not any, I assure you, my dear captain; for, in fact, I have done nothing, no more has Aramis,” the worthy baron hastened to say.

D’Artagnan darted a reproachful look at the prelate, which penetrated that hardened heart.

“Dear Porthos!” cried the bishop of Vannes.

“You see what is being done against you,” said d’Artagnan; “interception of all boats coming to or going from Belle-Isle. Your means of transport seized. If you had endeavored to fly, you would have fallen into the hands of the cruisers that plow the sea in all directions, on the watch for you. The king wants you to be taken, and he will take you.” D’Artagnan tore at his gray mustache. Aramis grew somber, Porthos angry.

“My idea was this,” continued d’Artagnan: “to make you both come on board, to keep you near me, and restore you your liberty. But now, who can say, when I return to my ship, I may not find a superior; that I may not find secret orders which will take from me my command, and give it to another, who will dispose of me and you without hope of help?”

“We must remain at Belle-Isle,” said Aramis, resolutely; “and I assure you, for my part, I will not surrender easily.” Porthos said nothing. D’Artagnan remarked the silence of his friend.

“I have another trial to make of this officer, of this brave fellow who accompanies me, and whose courageous resistance makes me very happy; for it denotes an honest man, who, though an enemy, is a thousand times better than a complaisant coward. Let us try to learn from him what his instructions are, and what his orders permit or forbid.”

“Let us try,” said Aramis.

D’Artagnan went to the parapet, leaned over towards the steps of the mole, and called the officer, who immediately came up. “Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, after having exchanged the cordial courtesies natural between gentlemen who know and appreciate each other, “Monsieur, if I wished to take away these gentlemen from here, what would you do?”

“I should not oppose it, Monsieur; but having direct explicit orders to put them under guard, I should detain them.”

“Ah!” said d’Artagnan.

“That’s all over,” said Aramis, gloomily. Porthos did not stir.

“But still take Porthos,” said the bishop of Vannes. “He can prove to the king, and I will help him do so, and you too, Monsieur d’Artagnan, that he had nothing to do with this affair.”

“Hum!” said d’Artagnan. “Will you come? Will you follow me, Porthos? The king is merciful.”

“I want time for reflection,” said Porthos.

“You will remain here, then?”

“Until fresh orders,” said Aramis, with vivacity.

“Until we have an idea,” resumed d’Artagnan; “and I now believe that will not be long, for I have one already.”

“Let us say adieu, then,” said Aramis; “but in truth, my good Porthos, you ought to go.”

“No,” said the latter, laconically.

“As you please,” replied Aramis, a little wounded in his susceptibilities at the morose tone of his companion. “Only I am reassured by the promise of an idea from d’Artagnan, an idea I fancy I have divined.”

“Let us see,” said the musketeer, placing his ear near Aramis’s mouth. The latter spoke several words rapidly, to which d’Artagnan replied, “That is it, precisely.”

“Infallible!” cried Aramis.

“During the first emotion this resolution will cause, take care of yourself, Aramis.”

“Oh! don’t be afraid.”

“Now, Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan to the officer, “thanks, a thousand thanks! You have made yourself three friends for life.”

“Yes,” added Aramis. Porthos alone said nothing, but merely bowed.

D’Artagnan, having tenderly embraced his two old friends, left Belle-Isle with the inseparable companion with whom M. Colbert had saddled him. Thus, with the exception of the explanation with which the worthy Porthos had been willing to be satisfied, nothing had changed in appearance in the fate of one or the other, “Only,” said Aramis, “there is d’Artagnan’s idea.”

D’Artagnan did not return on board without profoundly analyzing the idea he had discovered. Now, we know that whatever d’Artagnan did examine, according to custom, daylight was certain to illuminate. As to the officer, now grown mute again, he had full time for meditation. Therefore, on putting his foot on board his vessel, moored within cannon-shot of the island, the captain of the Musketeers had already got together all his means, offensive and defensive.

He immediately assembled his council, which consisted of the officers serving under his orders. These were eight in number; a chief of the maritime forces; a major directing the artillery; an engineer, the officer we are acquainted with, and four lieutenants. Having assembled them, d’Artagnan arose, took of his hat, and addressed them thus:

“Gentlemen, I have been to reconnoiter Belle-Île-en-Mer, and I have found in it a good and solid garrison; moreover, preparations are made for a defense that may prove troublesome. I therefore intend to send for two of the principal officers of the place, that we may converse with them. Having separated them from their troops and cannon, we shall be better able to deal with them; particularly by reasoning with them. Is not this your opinion, gentlemen?”

The major of artillery rose.

“Monsieur,” said he, with respect, but firmness, “I have heard you say that the place is preparing to make a troublesome defense. The place is then, as you know, determined on rebellion?”

D’Artagnan was visibly put out by this reply; but he was not the man to allow himself to be subdued by a trifle, and resumed:

“Monsieur,” said he, “your reply is just. But you are ignorant that Belle-Isle is a fief of M. Fouquet’s, and that former monarchs gave the right to the seigneurs of Belle-Isle to arm their people.” The major made a movement. “Oh! do not interrupt me,” continued d’Artagnan. “You are going to tell me that that right to arm themselves against the English was not a right to arm themselves against their king. But it is not M. Fouquet, I suppose, who holds Belle-Isle at this moment, since I arrested M. Fouquet the day before yesterday. Now the inhabitants and defenders of Belle-Isle know nothing of this arrest. You would announce it to them in vain. It is a thing so unheard-of and extraordinary, so unexpected, that they would not believe you. A Breton serves his master, and not his masters; he serves his master till he has seen him dead. Now the Bretons, as far as I know, have not seen the body of M. Fouquet. It is not, then, surprising they hold out against that which is neither M. Fouquet nor his signature.”

The major bowed in token of assent.

“That is why,” continued d’Artagnan, “I propose to cause two of the principal officers of the garrison to come on board my vessel. They will see you, gentlemen; they will see the forces we have at our disposal; they will consequently know to what they have to trust, and the fate that attends them, in case of rebellion. We will affirm to them, upon our honor, that M. Fouquet is a prisoner, and that all resistance can only be prejudicial to them. We will tell them that at the first cannon fired, there will be no further hope of mercy from the king. Then, or so at least I trust, they will resist no longer. They will yield up without fighting, and we shall have a place given up to us in a friendly way which it might cost prodigious efforts to subdue.”

The officer who had followed d’Artagnan to Belle-Isle was preparing to speak, but d’Artagnan interrupted him.

“Yes, I know what you are going to tell me, Monsieur; I know that there is an order of the king’s to prevent all secret communications with the defenders of Belle-Isle, and that is exactly why I do not offer to communicate except in presence of my staff.”

And d’Artagnan made an inclination of the head to his officers, who knew him well enough to attach a certain value to the condescension.

The officers looked at each other as if to read each other’s opinions in their eyes, with the intention of evidently acting, should they agree, according to the desire of d’Artagnan. And already the latter saw with joy that the result of their consent would be sending a bark to Porthos and Aramis, when the king’s officer drew from a pocket a folded paper, which he placed in the hands of d’Artagnan.

This paper bore upon its superscription the number 1.

“What, more!” murmured the surprised captain.

“Read, Monsieur,” said the officer, with a courtesy that was not free from sadness.

D’Artagnan, full of mistrust, unfolded the paper, and read these words:

“Prohibition to M. d’Artagnan to assemble any council whatever, or to deliberate in any way before Belle-Isle be surrendered and the prisoners shot. Signed⁠—LOUIS.”

D’Artagnan repressed the quiver of impatience that ran through his whole body, and with a gracious smile:

“That is well, Monsieur,” said he; “the king’s orders shall be complied with.”

CHAPTER 72

Result of the Ideas of the King, and the Ideas of d’Artagnan
The blow was direct. It was severe, mortal. D’Artagnan, furious at having been anticipated by an idea of the king’s, did not despair, however, even yet; and reflecting upon the idea he had brought back from Belle-Isle, he elicited therefrom novel means of safety for his friends.

“Gentlemen,” said he, suddenly, “since the king has charged some other than myself with his secret orders, it must be because I no longer possess his confidence, and I should really be unworthy of it if I had the courage to hold a command subject to so many injurious suspicions. Therefore I will go immediately and carry my resignation to the king. I tender it before you all, enjoining you all to fall back with me upon the coast of France, in such a way as not to compromise the safety of the forces His Majesty has confided to me. For this purpose, return all to your posts; within an hour, we shall have the ebb of the tide. To your posts, gentlemen! I suppose,” added he, on seeing that all prepared to obey him, except the surveillant officer, “you have no orders to object, this time?”

And d’Artagnan almost triumphed while speaking these words. This plan would prove the safety of his friends. The blockade once raised, they might embark immediately, and set sail for England or Spain, without fear of being molested. Whilst they were making their escape, d’Artagnan would return to the king; would justify his return by the indignation which the mistrust of Colbert had raised in him; he would be sent back with full powers, and he would take Belle-Isle; that is to say, the cage, after the birds had flown. But to this plan the officer opposed a further order of the king’s. It was thus conceived:

“From the moment M. d’Artagnan shall have manifested the desire of giving in his resignation, he shall no longer be reckoned leader of the expedition, and every officer placed under his orders shall be held to no longer obey him. Moreover, the said Monsieur d’Artagnan, having lost that quality of leader of the army sent against Belle-Isle, shall set out immediately for France, accompanied by the officer who will have remitted the message to him, and who will consider him a prisoner for whom he is answerable.”

Brave and careless as he was, d’Artagnan turned pale. Everything had been calculated with a depth of precognition which, for the first time in thirty years, recalled to him the solid foresight and inflexible logic of the great cardinal. He leaned his head on his hand, thoughtful, scarcely breathing. If I were to put this order in my pocket, thought he, who would know it, what would prevent my doing it? Before the king had had time to be informed, I should have saved those poor fellows yonder. Let us exercise some small audacity! My head is not one of those the executioner strikes off for disobedience. We will disobey! But at the moment he was about to adopt this plan, he saw the officers around him reading similar orders, which the passive agent of the thoughts of that infernal Colbert had distributed to them. This contingency of his disobedience had been foreseen⁠—as all the rest had been.

“Monsieur,” said the officer, coming up to him, “I await your good pleasure to depart.”

“I am ready, Monsieur,” replied d’Artagnan, grinding his teeth.

The officer immediately ordered a canoe to receive M. d’Artagnan and himself. At sight of this he became almost distraught with rage.

“How,” stammered he, “will you carry on the directions of the different corps?”

“When you are gone, Monsieur,” replied the commander of the fleet, “it is to me the command of the whole is committed.”

“Then, Monsieur,” rejoined Colbert’s man, addressing the new leader, “it is for you that this last order remitted to me is intended. Let us see your powers.”

“Here they are,” said the officer, exhibiting the royal signature.

“Here are your instructions,” replied the officer, placing the folded paper in his hands; and turning round towards d’Artagnan, “Come, Monsieur,” said he, in an agitated voice (such despair did he behold in that man of iron), “do me the favor to depart at once.”

“Immediately!” articulated d’Artagnan, feebly, subdued, crushed by implacable impossibility.

And he painfully subsided into the little boat, which started, favored by wind and tide, for the coast of France. The king’s Guards embarked with him. The musketeer still preserved the hope of reaching Nantes quickly, and of pleading the cause of his friends eloquently enough to incline the king to mercy. The bark flew like a swallow. D’Artagnan distinctly saw the land of France profiled in black against the white clouds of night.

“Ah! Monsieur,” said he, in a low voice, to the officer to whom, for an hour, he had ceased speaking, “what would I give to know the instructions for the new commander! They are all pacific, are they not? and⁠—”

He did not finish; the thunder of a distant cannon rolled athwart the waves, another, and two or three still louder. D’Artagnan shuddered.

“They have commenced the siege of Belle-Isle,” replied the officer. The canoe had just touched the soil of France.

CHAPTER 73

The Ancestors of Porthos
When d’Artagnan left Aramis and Porthos, the latter returned to the principal fort, in order to converse with greater liberty. Porthos, still thoughtful, was a restraint on Aramis, whose mind had never felt itself more free.

“Dear Porthos,” said he, suddenly, “I will explain d’Artagnan’s idea to you.”

“What idea, Aramis?”

“An idea to which we shall owe our liberty within twelve hours.”

“Ah! indeed!” said Porthos, much astonished. “Let us hear it.”

“Did you remark, in the scene our friend had with the officer, that certain orders constrained him with regard to us?”

“Yes, I did notice that.”

“Well! D’Artagnan is going to give in his resignation to the king, and during the confusion that will result from his absence, we will get away, or rather you will get away, Porthos, if there is possibility of flight for only one.”

Here Porthos shook his head and replied: “We will escape together, Aramis, or we will stay together.”

“Thine is a right, a generous heart,” said Aramis, “only your melancholy uneasiness affects me.”

“I am not uneasy,” said Porthos.

“Then you are angry with me.”

“I am not angry with you.”

“Then why, my friend, do you put on such a dismal countenance?”

“I will tell you; I am making my will.” And while saying these words, the good Porthos looked sadly in the face of Aramis.

“Your will!” cried the bishop. “What, then! do you think yourself lost?”

“I feel fatigued. It is the first time, and there is a custom in our family.”

“What is it, my friend?”

“My grandfather was a man twice as strong as I am.”

“Indeed!” said Aramis; “then your grandfather must have been Samson himself.”

“No; his name was Antoine. Well! he was about my age, when, setting out one day for the chase, he felt his legs weak, the man who had never known what weakness was before.”

“What was the meaning of that fatigue, my friend?”

“Nothing good, as you will see; for having set out, complaining still of weakness of the legs, he met a wild boar, which made head against him; he missed him with his arquebuse, and was ripped up by the beast and died immediately.”

“There is no reason in that why you should alarm yourself, dear Porthos.”

“Oh! you will see. My father was as strong again as I am. He was a rough soldier, under Henry III and Henry IV; his name was not Antoine, but Gaspard, the same as M. de Coligny. Always on horseback, he had never known what lassitude was. One evening, as he rose from table, his legs failed him.”

“He had supped heartily, perhaps,” said Aramis, “and that was why he staggered.”

“Bah! A friend of M. de Bassompierre, nonsense! No, no, he was astonished at this lassitude, and said to my mother, who laughed at him, ‘Would not one believe I was going to meet with a wild boar, as the late M. du Vallon, my father did?’ ”

“Well?” said Aramis.

“Well, having this weakness, my father insisted upon going down into the garden, instead of going to bed; his foot slipped on the first stair, the staircase was steep; my father fell against a stone in which an iron hinge was fixed. The hinge gashed his temple; and he was stretched out dead upon the spot.”

Aramis raised his eyes to his friend: “These are two extraordinary circumstances,” said he; “let us not infer that there may succeed a third. It is not becoming in a man of your strength to be superstitious, my brave Porthos. Besides, when were your legs known to fail? Never have you stood so firm, so haughtily; why, you could carry a house on your shoulders.”

“At this moment,” said Porthos, “I feel myself pretty active; but at times I vacillate; I sink; and lately this phenomenon, as you say, has occurred four times. I will not say this frightens me, but it annoys me. Life is an agreeable thing. I have money; I have fine estates; I have horses that I love; I have also friends that I love: D’Artagnan, Athos, Raoul, and you.”

The admirable Porthos did not even take the trouble to dissimulate in the very presence of Aramis the rank he gave him in his friendship. Aramis pressed his hand: “We will still live many years,” said he, “to preserve to the world such specimens of its rarest men. Trust yourself to me, my friend; we have no reply from d’Artagnan, that is a good sign. He must have given orders to get the vessels together and clear the seas. On my part I have just issued directions that a bark should be rolled on rollers to the mouth of the great cavern of Locmaria, which you know, where we have so often lain in wait for the foxes.”

“Yes, and which terminates at the little creek by a trench where we discovered the day that splendid fox escaped that way.”

“Precisely. In case of misfortunes, a bark is to be concealed for us in that cavern; indeed, it must be there by this time. We will wait for a favorable moment, and during the night we will go to sea!”

“That is a grand idea. What shall we gain by it?”

“We shall gain this⁠—nobody knows that grotto, or rather its issue, except ourselves and two or three hunters of the island; we shall gain this⁠—that if the island is occupied, the scouts, seeing no bark upon the shore, will never imagine we can escape, and will cease to watch.”

“I understand.”

“Well! that weakness in the legs?”

“Oh! better, much, just now.”

“You see, then, plainly, that everything conspires to give us quietude and hope. D’Artagnan will sweep the sea and leave us free. No royal fleet or descent to be dreaded. Vive Dieu! Porthos, we have still half a century of magnificent adventure before us, and if I once touch Spanish ground, I swear to you,” added the bishop with terrible energy, “that your brevet of duke is not such a chance as it is said to be.”

“We live by hope,” said Porthos, enlivened by the warmth of his companion.

All at once a cry resounded in their ears: “To arms! to arms!”

This cry, repeated by a hundred throats, piercing the chamber where the two friends were conversing, carried surprise to one, and uneasiness to the other. Aramis opened the window; he saw a crowd of people running with flambeaux. Women were seeking places of safety, the armed population were hastening to their posts.

“The fleet! the fleet!” cried a soldier, who recognized Aramis.

“The fleet?” repeated the latter.

“Within half cannon-shot,” continued the soldier.

“To arms!” cried Aramis.

“To arms!” repeated Porthos, formidably. And both rushed forth towards the mole to place themselves within the shelter of the batteries. Boats, laden with soldiers, were seen approaching; and in three directions, for the purpose of landing at three points at once.

“What must be done?” said an officer of the guard.

“Stop them; and if they persist, fire!” said Aramis.

Five minutes later, the cannonade commenced. These were the shots that d’Artagnan had heard as he landed in France. But the boats were too near the mole to allow the cannon to aim correctly. They landed, and the combat commenced hand to hand.

“What’s the matter, Porthos?” said Aramis to his friend.

“Nothing! nothing!⁠—only my legs; it is really incomprehensible!⁠—they will be better when we charge.” In fact, Porthos and Aramis did charge with such vigor, and so thoroughly animated their men, that the royalists re-embarked precipitately, without gaining anything but the wounds they carried away.

“Eh! but Porthos,” cried Aramis, “we must have a prisoner, quick! quick!” Porthos bent over the stair of the mole, and seized by the nape of the neck one of the officers of the royal army who was waiting to embark till all his people should be in the boat. The arm of the giant lifted up his prey, which served him as a buckler, and he recovered himself without a shot being fired at him.

“Here is a prisoner for you,” said Porthos coolly to Aramis.

“Well!” cried the latter, laughing, “did you not calumniate your legs?”

“It was not with my legs I captured him,” said Porthos, “it was with my arms!”

CHAPTER 74

The Son of Biscarrat
The Bretons of the Isle were very proud of this victory; Aramis did not encourage them in the feeling.

“What will happen,” said he to Porthos, when everybody was gone home, “will be that the anger of the king will be roused by the account of the resistance; and that these brave people will be decimated or shot when they are taken, which cannot fail to take place.”

“From which it results, then,” said Porthos, “that what we have done is of not the slightest use.”

“For the moment it may be,” replied the bishop, “for we have a prisoner from whom we shall learn what our enemies are preparing to do.”

“Yes, let us interrogate the prisoner,” said Porthos, “and the means of making him speak are very simple. We are going to supper; we will invite him to join us; as he drinks he will talk.”

This was done. The officer was at first rather uneasy, but became reassured on seeing what sort of men he had to deal with. He gave, without having any fear of compromising himself, all the details imaginable of the resignation and departure of d’Artagnan. He explained how, after that departure, the new leader of the expedition had ordered a surprise upon Belle-Isle. There his explanations stopped. Aramis and Porthos exchanged a glance that evinced their despair. No more dependence to be placed now on d’Artagnan’s fertile imagination⁠—no further resource in the event of defeat. Aramis, continuing his interrogations, asked the prisoner what the leaders of the expedition contemplated doing with the leaders of Belle-Isle.

“The orders are,” replied he, “to kill during combat, or hang afterwards.”

Porthos and Aramis looked at each other again, and the color mounted to their faces.

“I am too light for the gallows,” replied Aramis; “people like me are not hung.”

“And I am too heavy,” said Porthos; “people like me break the cord.”

“I am sure,” said the prisoner, gallantly, “that we could have guaranteed you the exact kind of death you preferred.”

“A thousand thanks!” said Aramis, seriously. Porthos bowed.

“One more cup of wine to your health,” said he, drinking himself. From one subject to another the chat with the officer was prolonged. He was an intelligent gentleman, and suffered himself to be led on by the charm of Aramis’s wit and Porthos’s cordial bonhomie.

“Pardon me,” said he, “if I address a question to you; but men who are in their sixth bottle have a clear right to forget themselves a little.”

“Address it!” cried Porthos; “address it!”

“Speak,” said Aramis.

“Were you not, gentlemen, both in the Musketeers of the late king?”

“Yes, Monsieur, and amongst the best of them, if you please,” said Porthos.

“That is true; I should say even the best of all soldiers, messieurs, if I did not fear to offend the memory of my father.”

“Of your father?” cried Aramis.

“Do you know what my name is?”

Ma foi! no, Monsieur; but you can tell us, and⁠—”

“I am called Georges de Biscarrat.”

“Oh!” cried Porthos, in his turn. “Biscarrat! Do you remember that name, Aramis?”

“Biscarrat!” reflected the bishop. “It seems to me⁠—”

“Try to recollect, Monsieur,” said the officer.

Pardieu! that won’t take me long,” said Porthos. “Biscarrat⁠—called Cardinal⁠—one of the four who interrupted us on the day on which we formed our friendship with d’Artagnan, sword in hand.”

“Precisely, gentlemen.”

“The only one,” cried Aramis, eagerly, “we could not scratch.”

“Consequently, a capital blade?” said the prisoner.

“That’s true! most true!” exclaimed both friends together. “Ma foi! Monsieur Biscarrat, we are delighted to make the acquaintance of such a brave man’s son.”

Biscarrat pressed the hands held out by the two musketeers. Aramis looked at Porthos as much as to say, “Here is a man who will help us,” and without delay⁠—“Confess, Monsieur,” said he, “that it is good to have once been a good man.”

“My father always said so, Monsieur.”

“Confess, likewise, that it is a sad circumstance in which you find yourself, of falling in with men destined to be shot or hung, and to learn that these men are old acquaintances, in fact, hereditary friends.”

“Oh! you are not reserved for such a frightful fate as that, messieurs and friends!” said the young man, warmly.

“Bah! you said so yourself.”

“I said so just now, when I did not know you; but now that I know you, I say⁠—you will evade this dismal fate, if you wish!”

“How⁠—if we wish?” echoed Aramis, whose eyes beamed with intelligence as he looked alternately at the prisoner and Porthos.

“Provided,” continued Porthos, looking, in his turn, with noble intrepidity, at M. Biscarrat and the bishop⁠—“provided nothing disgraceful be required of us.”

“Nothing at all will be required of you, gentlemen,” replied the officer⁠—“what should they ask of you? If they find you they will kill you, that is a predetermined thing; try, then, gentlemen, to prevent their finding you.”

“I don’t think I am mistaken,” said Porthos, with dignity; “but it appears evident to me that if they want to find us, they must come and seek us here.”

“In that you are perfectly right, my worthy friend,” replied Aramis, constantly consulting with his looks the countenance of Biscarrat, who had grown silent and constrained. “You wish, Monsieur de Biscarrat, to say something to us, to make us some overture, and you dare not⁠—is that true?”

“Ah! gentlemen and friends! it is because by speaking I betray the watchword. But, hark! I hear a voice that frees mine by dominating it.”

“Cannon!” said Porthos.

“Cannon and musketry, too!” cried the bishop.

On hearing at a distance, among the rocks, these sinister reports of a combat which they thought had ceased⁠—“What can that be?” asked Porthos.

“Eh! Pardieu!” cried Aramis; “that is just what I expected.”

“What is that?”

“That the attack made by you was nothing but a feint; is not that true, Monsieur? And whilst your companions allowed themselves to be repulsed, you were certain of effecting a landing on the other side of the island.”

“Oh! several, Monsieur.”

“We are lost, then,” said the bishop of Vannes, quietly.

“Lost! that is possible,” replied the Seigneur de Pierrefonds, “but we are not taken or hung.” And so saying, he rose from the table, went to the wall, and coolly took down his sword and pistols, which he examined with the care of an old soldier who is preparing for battle, and who feels that life, in a great measure, depends upon the excellence and right conditions of his arms.

At the report of the cannon, at the news of the surprise which might deliver up the island to the royal troops, the terrified crowd rushed precipitately to the fort to demand assistance and advice from their leaders. Aramis, pale and downcast, between two flambeaux, showed himself at the window which looked into the principal court, full of soldiers waiting for orders and bewildered inhabitants imploring succor.

“My friends,” said d’Herblay, in a grave and sonorous voice, “M. Fouquet, your protector, your friend, you father, has been arrested by an order of the king, and thrown into the Bastille.” A sustained yell of vengeful fury came floating up to the window at which the bishop stood, and enveloped him in a magnetic field.

“Avenge Monsieur Fouquet!” cried the most excited of his hearers, “death to the royalists!”

“No, my friends,” replied Aramis, solemnly; “no, my friends; no resistance. The king is master in his kingdom. The king is the mandatory of God. The king and God have struck M. Fouquet. Humble yourselves before the hand of God. Love God and the king, who have struck M. Fouquet. But do not avenge your seigneur, do not think of avenging him. You would sacrifice yourselves in vain⁠—you, your wives and children, your property, your liberty. Lay down your arms, my friends⁠—lay down your arms! since the king commands you so to do⁠—and retire peaceably to your dwellings. It is I who ask you to do so; it is I who beg you to do so; it is I who now, in the hour of need, command you to do so, in the name of M. Fouquet.”

The crowd collected under the window uttered a prolonged roar of anger and terror. “The soldiers of Louis XIV have reached the island,” continued Aramis. “From this time it would no longer be a fight betwixt them and you⁠—it would be a massacre. Begone, then, begone, and forget; this time I command you, in the name of the Lord of Hosts!”

The mutineers retired slowly, submissive, silent.

“Ah! what have you just been saying, my friend?” said Porthos.

“Monsieur,” said Biscarrat to the bishop, “you may save all these inhabitants, but thus you will neither save yourself nor your friend.”

“Monsieur de Biscarrat,” said the bishop of Vannes, with a singular accent of nobility and courtesy, “Monsieur de Biscarrat, be kind enough to resume your liberty.”

“I am very willing to do so, Monsieur; but⁠—”

“That would render us a service, for when announcing to the king’s lieutenant the submission of the islanders, you will perhaps obtain some grace for us on informing him of the manner in which that submission has been effected.”

“Grace!” replied Porthos with flashing eyes, “what is the meaning of that word?”

Aramis touched the elbow of his friend roughly, as he had been accustomed to do in the days of their youth, when he wanted to warn Porthos that he had committed, or was about to commit, a blunder. Porthos understood him, and was silent immediately.

“I will go, messieurs,” replied Biscarrat, a little surprised likewise at the word “grace” pronounced by the haughty musketeer, of and to whom, but a few minutes before, he had related with so much enthusiasm the heroic exploits with which his father had delighted him.

“Go, then, Monsieur Biscarrat,” said Aramis, bowing to him, “and at parting receive the expression of our entire gratitude.”

“But you, messieurs, you whom I think it an honor to call my friends, since you have been willing to accept that title, what will become of you in the meantime?” replied the officer, very much agitated at taking leave of the two ancient adversaries of his father.

“We will wait here.”

“But, mon Dieu!⁠—the order is precise and formal.”

“I am bishop of Vannes, Monsieur de Biscarrat; and they no more shoot a bishop than they hang a gentleman.”

“Ah! yes, Monsieur⁠—yes, Monseigneur,” replied Biscarrat; “it is true, you are right, there is still that chance for you. Then, I will depart, I will repair to the commander of the expedition, the king’s lieutenant. Adieu! then, messieurs, or rather, to meet again, I hope.”

The worthy officer, jumping upon a horse given him by Aramis, departed in the direction of the sound of cannon, which, by surging the crowd into the fort, had interrupted the conversation of the two friends with their prisoner. Aramis watched the departure, and when left alone with Porthos:

“Well, do you comprehend?” said he.

Ma foi! no.”

“Did not Biscarrat inconvenience you here?”

“No; he is a brave fellow.”

“Yes; but the grotto of Locmaria⁠—is it necessary all the world should know it?”

“Ah! that is true, that is true; I comprehend. We are going to escape by the cavern.”

“If you please,” cried Aramis, gayly. “Forward, friend Porthos; our boat awaits us. King Louis has not caught us⁠—yet.”

CHAPTER 75

The Grotto of Locmaria
The cavern of Locmaria was sufficiently distant from the mole to render it necessary for our friends to husband their strength in order to reach it. Besides, night was advancing; midnight had struck at the fort. Porthos and Aramis were loaded with money and arms. They walked, then, across the heath, which stretched between the mole and the cavern, listening to every noise, in order better to avoid an ambush. From time to time, on the road which they had carefully left on their left, passed fugitives coming from the interior, at the news of the landing of the royal troops. Aramis and Porthos, concealed behind some projecting mass of rock, collected the words that escaped from the poor people, who fled, trembling, carrying with them their most valuable effects, and tried, whilst listening to their complaints, to gather something from them for their own interest. At length, after a rapid race, frequently interrupted by prudent stoppages, they reached the deep grottoes, in which the prophetic bishop of Vannes had taken care to have secreted a bark capable of keeping the sea at this fine season.

“My good friend,” said Porthos, panting vigorously, “we have arrived, it seems. But I thought you spoke of three men, three servants, who were to accompany us. I don’t see them⁠—where are they?”

“Why should you see them, Porthos?” replied Aramis. “They are certainly waiting for us in the cavern, and, no doubt, are resting, having accomplished their rough and difficult task.”

Aramis stopped Porthos, who was preparing to enter the cavern. “Will you allow me, my friend,” said he to the giant, “to pass in first? I know the signal I have given to these men; who, not hearing it, would be very likely to fire upon you or slash away with their knives in the dark.”

“Go on, then, Aramis; go on⁠—go first; you impersonate wisdom and foresight; go. Ah! there is that fatigue again, of which I spoke to you. It has just seized me afresh.”

Aramis left Porthos sitting at the entrance of the grotto, and bowing his head, he penetrated into the interior of the cavern, imitating the cry of the owl. A little plaintive cooing, a scarcely distinct echo, replied from the depths of the cave. Aramis pursued his way cautiously, and soon was stopped by the same kind of cry as he had first uttered, within ten paces of him.

“Are you there, Yves?” said the bishop.

“Yes, Monseigneur; Goenne is here likewise. His son accompanies us.”

“That is well. Are all things ready?”

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“Go to the entrance of the grottoes, my good Yves, and you will there find the Seigneur de Pierrefonds, who is resting after the fatigue of our journey. And if he should happen not to be able to walk, lift him up, and bring him hither to me.”

The three men obeyed. But the recommendation given to his servants was superfluous. Porthos, refreshed, had already commenced the descent, and his heavy step resounded amongst the cavities, formed and supported by columns of porphyry and granite. As soon as the Seigneur de Bracieux had rejoined the bishop, the Bretons lighted a lantern with which they were furnished, and Porthos assured his friend that he felt as strong again as ever.

“Let us inspect the boat,” said Aramis, “and satisfy ourselves at once what it will hold.”

“Do not go too near with the light,” said the patron Yves; “for as you desired me, Monseigneur, I have placed under the bench of the poop, in the coffer you know of, the barrel of powder, and the musket-charges that you sent me from the fort.”

“Very well,” said Aramis; and, taking the lantern himself, he examined minutely all parts of the canoe, with the precautions of a man who is neither timid nor ignorant in the face of danger. The canoe was long, light, drawing little water, thin of keel; in short, one of those that have always been so aptly built at Belle-Isle; a little high in its sides, solid upon the water, very manageable, furnished with planks which, in uncertain weather, formed a sort of deck over which the waves might glide, so as to protect the rowers. In two well-closed coffers, placed beneath the benches of the prow and the poop, Aramis found bread, biscuit, dried fruits, a quarter of bacon, a good provision of water in leathern bottles; the whole forming rations sufficient for people who did not mean to quit the coast, and would be able to revictual, if necessity commanded. The arms, eight muskets, and as many horse-pistols, were in good condition, and all loaded. There were additional oars, in case of accident, and that little sail called trinquet, which assists the speed of the canoe at the same time the boatmen row, and is so useful when the breeze is slack. When Aramis had seen to all these things, and appeared satisfied with the result of his inspection, “Let us consult Porthos,” said he, “to know if we must endeavor to get the boat out by the unknown extremity of the grotto, following the descent and the shade of the cavern, or whether it be better, in the open air, to make it slide upon its rollers through the bushes, leveling the road of the little beach, which is but twenty feet high, and gives, at high tide, three or four fathoms of good water upon a sound bottom.”

“It must be as you please, Monseigneur,” replied the skipper Yves, respectfully; “but I don’t believe that by the slope of the cavern, and in the dark in which we shall be obliged to maneuver our boat, the road will be so convenient as the open air. I know the beach well, and can certify that it is as smooth as a grass-plot in a garden; the interior of the grotto, on the contrary, is rough; without reckoning, Monseigneur, that at its extremity we shall come to the trench which leads into the sea, and perhaps the canoe will not pass down it.”

“I have made my calculation,” said the bishop, “and I am certain it will pass.”

“So be it; I wish it may, Monseigneur,” continued Yves; “but Your Highness knows very well that to make it reach the extremity of the trench, there is an enormous stone to be lifted⁠—that under which the fox always passes, and which closes the trench like a door.”

“It can be raised,” said Porthos; “that is nothing.”

“Oh! I know that Monseigneur has the strength of ten men,” replied Yves; “but that is giving him a great deal of trouble.”

“I think the skipper may be right,” said Aramis; “let us try the open-air passage.”

“The more so, Monseigneur,” continued the fisherman, “that we should not be able to embark before day, it will require so much labor, and that as soon as daylight appears, a good vedette placed outside the grotto would be necessary, indispensable even, to watch the maneuvers of the lighters or cruisers that are on the lookout for us.”

“Yes, yes, Yves, your reasons are good; we will go by the beach.”

And the three robust Bretons went to the boat, and were beginning to place their rollers underneath it to put it in motion, when the distant barking of dogs was heard, proceeding from the interior of the island.

Aramis darted out of the grotto, followed by Porthos. Dawn just tinted with purple and white the waves and plain; through the dim light, melancholy fir-trees waved their tender branches over the pebbles, and long flights of crows were skimming with their black wings the shimmering fields of buckwheat. In a quarter of an hour it would be clear daylight; the wakened birds announced it to all nature. The barkings which had been heard, which had stopped the three fishermen engaged in moving the boat, and had brought Aramis and Porthos out of the cavern, now seemed to come from a deep gorge within about a league of the grotto.

“It is a pack of hounds,” said Porthos; “the dogs are on a scent.”

“Who can be hunting at such a moment as this?” said Aramis.

“And this way, particularly,” continued Porthos, “where they might expect the army of the royalists.”

“The noise comes nearer. Yes, you are right, Porthos, the dogs are on a scent. But, Yves!” cried Aramis, “come here! come here!”

Yves ran towards him, letting fall the cylinder which he was about to place under the boat when the bishop’s call interrupted him.

“What is the meaning of this hunt, skipper?” said Porthos.

“Eh! Monseigneur, I cannot understand it,” replied the Breton. “It is not at such a moment that the Seigneur de Locmaria would hunt. No, and yet the dogs⁠—”

“Unless they have escaped from the kennel.”

“No,” said Goenne, “they are not the Seigneur de Locmaria’s hounds.”

“In common prudence,” said Aramis, “let us go back into the grotto; the voices evidently draw nearer, we shall soon know what we have to trust to.”

They re-entered, but had scarcely proceeded a hundred steps in the darkness, when a noise like the hoarse sigh of a creature in distress resounded through the cavern, and breathless, rapid, terrified, a fox passed like a flash of lightning before the fugitives, leaped over the boat and disappeared, leaving behind its sour scent, which was perceptible for several seconds under the low vaults of the cave.

“The fox!” cried the Bretons, with the glad surprise of born hunters.

“Accursed mischance!” cried the bishop, “our retreat is discovered.”

“How so?” said Porthos; “are you afraid of a fox?”

“Eh! my friend, what do you mean by that? why do you specify the fox? It is not the fox alone. Pardieu! But don’t you know, Porthos, that after the foxes come hounds, and after hounds men?”

Porthos hung his head. As though to confirm the words of Aramis, they heard the yelping pack approach with frightful swiftness upon the trail. Six foxhounds burst at once upon the little heath, with mingling yelps of triumph.

“There are the dogs, plain enough!” said Aramis, posted on the lookout behind a chink in the rocks; “now, who are the huntsmen?”

“If it is the Seigneur de Locmaria’s,” replied the sailor, “he will leave the dogs to hunt the grotto, for he knows them, and will not enter in himself, being quite sure that the fox will come out the other side; it is there he will wait for him.”

“It is not the Seigneur de Locmaria who is hunting,” replied Aramis, turning pale in spite of his efforts to maintain a placid countenance.

“Who is it, then?” said Porthos.

“Look!”

Porthos applied his eye to the slit, and saw at the summit of a hillock a dozen horsemen urging on their horses in the track of the dogs, shouting, “Taïaut! taïaut!

“The guards!” said he.

“Yes, my friend, the king’s Guards.”

“The king’s Guards! do you say, Monseigneur?” cried the Bretons, growing pale in turn.

“With Biscarrat at their head, mounted upon my gray horse,” continued Aramis.

The hounds at the same moment rushed into the grotto like an avalanche, and the depths of the cavern were filled with their deafening cries.

“Ah! the devil!” said Aramis, resuming all his coolness at the sight of this certain, inevitable danger. “I am perfectly satisfied we are lost, but we have, at least, one chance left. If the guards who follow their hounds happen to discover there is an issue to the grotto, there is no help for us, for on entering they must see both ourselves and our boat. The dogs must not go out of the cavern. Their masters must not enter.”

“That is clear,” said Porthos.

“You understand,” added Aramis, with the rapid precision of command; “there are six dogs that will be forced to stop at the great stone under which the fox has glided⁠—but at the too narrow opening of which they must be themselves stopped and killed.”

The Bretons sprang forward, knife in hand. In a few minutes there was a lamentable concert of angry barks and mortal howls⁠—and then, silence.

“That’s well!” said Aramis, coolly, “now for the masters!”

“What is to be done with them?” said Porthos.

“Wait their arrival, conceal ourselves, and kill them.”

Kill them!” replied Porthos.

“There are sixteen,” said Aramis, “at least, at present.”

“And well armed,” added Porthos, with a smile of consolation.

“It will last about ten minutes,” said Aramis. “To work!”

And with a resolute air he took up a musket, and placed a hunting-knife between his teeth.

“Yves, Goenne, and his son,” continued Aramis, “will pass the muskets to us. You, Porthos, will fire when they are close. We shall have brought down, at the lowest computation, eight, before the others are aware of anything⁠—that is certain; then all, there are five of us, will dispatch the other eight, knife in hand.”

“And poor Biscarrat?” said Porthos.

Aramis reflected a moment⁠—“Biscarrat first,” replied he, coolly. “He knows us.”

CHAPTER 76

The Grotto
In spite of the sort of divination which was the remarkable side of the character of Aramis, the event, subject to the risks of things over which uncertainty presides, did not fall out exactly as the bishop of Vannes had foreseen. Biscarrat, better mounted than his companions, arrived first at the opening of the grotto, and comprehended that fox and hounds were one and all engulfed in it. Only, struck by that superstitious terror which every dark and subterraneous way naturally impresses upon the mind of man, he stopped at the outside of the grotto, and waited till his companions should have assembled round him.

“Well!” asked the young men, coming up, out of breath, and unable to understand the meaning of this inaction.

“Well! I cannot hear the dogs; they and the fox must all be lost in this infernal cavern.”

“They were too close up,” said one of the guards, “to have lost scent all at once. Besides, we should hear them from one side or another. They must, as Biscarrat says, be in this grotto.”

“But then,” said one of the young men, “why don’t they give tongue?”

“It is strange!” muttered another.

“Well, but,” said a fourth, “let us go into this grotto. Does it happen to be forbidden we should enter it?”

“No,” replied Biscarrat. “Only, as it looks as dark as a wolf’s mouth, we might break our necks in it.”

“Witness the dogs,” said a guard, “who seem to have broken theirs.”

“What the devil can have become of them?” asked the young men in chorus. And every master called his dog by his name, whistled to him in his favorite mode, without a single one replying to either call or whistle.

“It is perhaps an enchanted grotto,” said Biscarrat; “let us see.” And, jumping from his horse, he made a step into the grotto.

“Stop! stop! I will accompany you,” said one of the guards, on seeing Biscarrat disappear in the shades of the cavern’s mouth.

“No,” replied Biscarrat, “there must be something extraordinary in the place⁠—don’t let us risk ourselves all at once. If in ten minutes you do not hear of me, you can come in, but not all at once.”

“Be it so,” said the young man, who, besides, did not imagine that Biscarrat ran much risk in the enterprise, “we will wait for you.” And without dismounting from their horses, they formed a circle round the grotto.

Biscarrat entered then alone, and advanced through the darkness till he came in contact with the muzzle of Porthos’s musket. The resistance which his chest met with astonished him; he naturally raised his hand and laid hold of the icy barrel. At the same instant, Yves lifted a knife against the young man, which was about to fall upon him with all force of a Breton’s arm, when the iron wrist of Porthos stopped it halfway. Then, like low muttering thunder, his voice growled in the darkness, “I will not have him killed!”

Biscarrat found himself between a protection and a threat, the one almost as terrible as the other. However brave the young man might be, he could not prevent a cry escaping him, which Aramis immediately suppressed by placing a handkerchief over his mouth. “Monsieur de Biscarrat,” said he, in a low voice, “we mean you no harm, and you must know that if you have recognized us; but, at the first word, the first groan, the first whisper, we shall be forced to kill you as we have killed your dogs.”

“Yes, I recognize you, gentlemen,” said the officer, in a low voice. “But why are you here⁠—what are you doing, here? Unfortunate men! I thought you were in the fort.”

“And you, Monsieur, you were to obtain conditions for us, I think?”

“I did all I was able, messieurs, but⁠—”

“But what?”

“But there are positive orders.”

“To kill us?”

Biscarrat made no reply. It would have cost him too much to speak of the cord to gentlemen. Aramis understood the silence of the prisoner.

“Monsieur Biscarrat,” said he, “you would be already dead if we had not regard for your youth and our ancient association with your father; but you may yet escape from the place by swearing that you will not tell your companions what you have seen.”

“I will not only swear that I will not speak of it,” said Biscarrat, “but I still further swear that I will do everything in the world to prevent my companions from setting foot in the grotto.”

“Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” cried several voices from the outside, coming like a whirlwind into the cave.

“Reply,” said Aramis.

“Here I am!” cried Biscarrat.

“Now, begone; we depend on your loyalty.” And he left his hold of the young man, who hastily returned towards the light.

“Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” cried the voices, still nearer. And the shadows of several human forms projected into the interior of the grotto. Biscarrat rushed to meet his friends in order to stop them, and met them just as they were adventuring into the cave. Aramis and Porthos listened with the intense attention of men whose life depends upon a breath of air.

“Oh! oh!” exclaimed one of the guards, as he came to the light, “how pale you are!”

“Pale!” cried another; “you ought to say corpse-color.”

“I!” said the young man, endeavoring to collect his faculties.

“In the name of Heaven! what has happened?” exclaimed all the voices.

“You have not a drop of blood in your veins, my poor friend,” said one of them, laughing.

“Messieurs, it is serious,” said another, “he is going to faint; does any one of you happen to have any salts?” And they all laughed.

This hail of jests fell round Biscarrat’s ears like musket-balls in a melee. He recovered himself amidst a deluge of interrogations.

“What do you suppose I have seen?” asked he. “I was too hot when I entered the grotto, and I have been struck with a chill. That is all.”

“But the dogs, the dogs; have you seen them again⁠—did you see anything of them⁠—do you know anything about them?”

“I suppose they have got out some other way.”

“Messieurs,” said one of the young men, “there is in that which is going on, in the paleness and silence of our friend, a mystery which Biscarrat will not, or cannot reveal. Only, and this is certain, Biscarrat has seen something in the grotto. Well, for my part, I am very curious to see what it is, even if it is the devil! To the grotto! messieurs, to the grotto!”

“To the grotto!” repeated all the voices. And the echo of the cavern carried like a menace to Porthos and Aramis, “To the grotto! to the grotto!”

Biscarrat threw himself before his companions. “Messieurs! messieurs!” cried he, “in the name of Heaven! do not go in!”

“Why, what is there so terrific in the cavern?” asked several at once. “Come, speak, Biscarrat.”

“Decidedly, it is the devil he has seen,” repeated he who had before advanced that hypothesis.

“Well,” said another, “if he has seen him, he need not be selfish; he may as well let us have a look at him in turn.”

“Messieurs! messieurs! I beseech you,” urged Biscarrat.

“Nonsense! Let us pass!”

“Messieurs, I implore you not to enter!”

“Why, you went in yourself.”

Then one of the officers, who⁠—of a riper age than the others⁠—had till this time remained behind, and had said nothing, advanced. “Messieurs,” said he, with a calmness which contrasted with the animation of the young men, “there is in there some person, or something, that is not the devil; but which, whatever it may be, has had sufficient power to silence our dogs. We must discover who this someone is, or what this something is.”

Biscarrat made a last effort to stop his friends, but it was useless. In vain he threw himself before the rashest; in vain he clung to the rocks to bar the passage; the crowd of young men rushed into the cave, in the steps of the officer who had spoken last, but who had sprung in first, sword in hand, to face the unknown danger. Biscarrat, repulsed by his friends, unable to accompany them, without passing in the eyes of Porthos and Aramis for a traitor and a perjurer, with painfully attentive ear and unconsciously supplicating hands leaned against the rough side of a rock which he thought must be exposed to the fire of the musketeers. As to the guards, they penetrated further and further, with exclamations that grew fainter as they advanced. All at once, a discharge of musketry, growling like thunder, exploded in the entrails of the vault. Two or three balls were flattened against the rock on which Biscarrat was leaning. At the same instant, cries, shrieks, imprecations burst forth, and the little troop of gentlemen reappeared⁠—some pale, some bleeding⁠—all enveloped in a cloud of smoke, which the outer air seemed to suck from the depths of the cavern. “Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” cried the fugitives, “you knew there was an ambuscade in that cavern, and you did not warn us! Biscarrat, you are the cause that four of us are murdered men! Woe be to you, Biscarrat!”

“You are the cause of my being wounded unto death,” said one of the young men, letting a gush of scarlet lifeblood vomit in his palm, and spattering it into Biscarrat’s livid face. “My blood be on your head!” And he rolled in agony at the feet of the young man.

“But, at least, tell us who is there?” cried several furious voices.

Biscarrat remained silent. “Tell us, or die!” cried the wounded man, raising himself upon one knee, and lifting towards his companion an arm bearing a useless sword. Biscarrat rushed towards him, opening his breast for the blow, but the wounded man fell back not to rise again, uttering a groan which was his last. Biscarrat, with hair on end, haggard eyes, and bewildered head, advanced towards the interior of the cavern, saying, “You are right. Death to me, who have allowed my comrades to be assassinated. I am a worthless wretch!” And throwing away his sword, for he wished to die without defending himself, he rushed head foremost into the cavern. The others followed him. The eleven who remained out of sixteen imitated his example; but they did not go further than the first. A second discharge laid five upon the icy sand; and as it was impossible to see whence this murderous thunder issued, the others fell back with a terror that can be better imagined than described. But, far from flying, as the others had done, Biscarrat remained safe and sound, seated on a fragment of rock, and waited. There were only six gentlemen left.

“Seriously,” said one of the survivors, “is it the devil?”

Ma foi! it is much worse,” said another.

“Ask Biscarrat, he knows.”

“Where is Biscarrat?” The young men looked round them, and saw that Biscarrat did not answer.

“He is dead!” said two or three voices.

“Oh! no!” replied another, “I saw him through the smoke, sitting quietly on a rock. He is in the cavern; he is waiting for us.”

“He must know who are there.”

“And how should he know them?”

“He was taken prisoner by the rebels.”

“That is true. Well! let us call him, and learn from him whom we have to deal with.” And all voices shouted, “Biscarrat! Biscarrat!” But Biscarrat did not answer.

“Good!” said the officer who had shown so much coolness in the affair. “We have no longer any need of him; here are reinforcements coming.”

In fact, a company of guards, left in the rear by their officers, whom the ardor of the chase had carried away⁠—from seventy-five to eighty men⁠—arrived in good order, led by their captain and the first lieutenant. The five officers hastened to meet their soldiers; and, in language the eloquence of which may be easily imagined, they related the adventure, and asked for aid. The captain interrupted them. “Where are your companions?” demanded he.

“Dead!”

“But there were sixteen of you!”

“Ten are dead. Biscarrat is in the cavern, and we are five.”

“Biscarrat is a prisoner?”

“Probably.”

“No, for here he is⁠—look.” In fact, Biscarrat appeared at the opening of the grotto.

“He is making a sign to come on,” said the officer. “Come on!”

“Come on!” cried all the troop. And they advanced to meet Biscarrat.

“Monsieur,” said the captain, addressing Biscarrat, “I am assured that you know who the men are in that grotto, and who make such a desperate defense. In the king’s name I command you to declare what you know.”

“Captain,” said Biscarrat, “you have no need to command me. My word has been restored to me this very instant; and I came in the name of these men.”

“To tell me who they are?”

“To tell you they are determined to defend themselves to the death, unless you grant them satisfactory terms.”

“How many are there of them, then?”

“There are two,” said Biscarrat.

“There are two⁠—and want to impose conditions upon us?”

“There are two, and they have already killed ten of our men.”

“What sort of people are they⁠—giants?”

“Worse than that. Do you remember the history of the Bastion Saint-Gervais, captain?”

“Yes; where four musketeers held out against an army.”

“Well, these are two of those same musketeers.”

“And their names?”

“At that period they were called Porthos and Aramis. Now they are styled M. d’Herblay and M. du Vallon.”

“And what interest have they in all this?”

“It is they who were holding Belle-Isle for M. Fouquet.”

A murmur ran through the ranks of the soldiers on hearing the two words “Porthos and Aramis.” “The musketeers! the musketeers!” repeated they. And among all these brave men, the idea that they were going to have a struggle against two of the oldest glories of the French army, made a shiver, half enthusiasm, two-thirds terror, run through them. In fact, those four names⁠—d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis⁠—were venerated among all who wore a sword; as, in antiquity, the names of Hercules, Theseus, Castor, and Pollux were venerated.

“Two men⁠—and they have killed ten in two discharges! It is impossible, Monsieur Biscarrat!”

“Eh! captain,” replied the latter, “I do not tell you that they have not with them two or three men, as the musketeers of the Bastion Saint-Gervais had two or three lackeys; but, believe me, captain, I have seen these men, I have been taken prisoner by them⁠—I know they themselves alone are all-sufficient to destroy an army.”

“That we shall see,” said the captain, “and that in a moment, too. Gentlemen, attention!”

At this reply, no one stirred, and all prepared to obey. Biscarrat alone risked a last attempt.

“Monsieur,” said he, in a low voice, “be persuaded by me; let us pass on our way. Those two men, those two lions you are going to attack, will defend themselves to the death. They have already killed ten of our men; they will kill double the number, and end by killing themselves rather than surrender. What shall we gain by fighting them?”

“We shall gain the consciousness, Monsieur, of not having allowed eighty of the king’s Guards to retire before two rebels. If I listened to your advice, Monsieur, I should be a dishonored man; and by dishonoring myself I should dishonor the army. Forward, my men!”

And he marched first as far as the opening of the grotto. There he halted. The object of this halt was to give Biscarrat and his companions time to describe to him the interior of the grotto. Then, when he believed he had a sufficient acquaintance with the place, he divided his company into three bodies, which were to enter successively, keeping up a sustained fire in all directions. No doubt, in this attack they would lose five more, perhaps ten; but, certainly, they must end by taking the rebels, since there was no issue; and, at any rate, two men could not kill eighty.

“Captain,” said Biscarrat, “I beg to be allowed to march at the head of the first platoon.”

“So be it,” replied the captain; “you have all the honor. I make you a present of it.”

“Thanks!” replied the young man, with all the firmness of his race.

“Take your sword, then.”

“I shall go as I am, captain,” said Biscarrat, “for I do not go to kill, I go to be killed.”

And placing himself at the head of the first platoon, with head uncovered and arms crossed⁠—“March, gentlemen,” said he.

CHAPTER 77

An Homeric Song
It is time to pass to the other camp, and to describe at once the combatants and the field of battle. Aramis and Porthos had gone to the grotto of Locmaria with the expectation of finding there their canoe ready armed, as well as the three Bretons, their assistants; and they at first hoped to make the bark pass through the little issue of the cavern, concealing in that fashion both their labors and their flight. The arrival of the fox and dogs obliged them to remain concealed. The grotto extended the space of about a hundred toises, to that little slope dominating a creek. Formerly a temple of the Celtic divinities, when Belle-Isle was still called Kalonèse, this grotto had beheld more than one human sacrifice accomplished in its mystic depths. The first entrance to the cavern was by a moderate descent, above which distorted rocks formed a weird arcade; the interior, very uneven and dangerous from the inequalities of the vault, was subdivided into several compartments, which communicated with each other by means of rough and jagged steps, fixed right and left, in uncouth natural pillars. At the third compartment the vault was so low, the passage so narrow, that the bark would scarcely have passed without touching the side; nevertheless, in moments of despair, wood softens and stone grows flexible beneath the human will. Such was the thought of Aramis, when, after having fought the fight, he decided upon flight⁠—a flight most dangerous, since all the assailants were not dead; and that, admitting the possibility of putting the bark to sea, they would have to fly in open day, before the conquered, so interested on recognizing their small number, in pursuing their conquerors. When the two discharges had killed ten men, Aramis, familiar with the windings of the cavern, went to reconnoiter them one by one, and counted them, for the smoke prevented seeing outside; and he immediately commanded that the canoe should be rolled as far as the great stone, the closure of the liberating issue. Porthos collected all his strength, took the canoe in his arms, and raised it up, whilst the Bretons made it run rapidly along the rollers. They had descended into the third compartment; they had arrived at the stone which walled the outlet. Porthos seized this gigantic stone at its base, applied his robust shoulder, and gave a heave which made the wall crack. A cloud of dust fell from the vault with the ashes of ten thousand generations of sea birds, whose nests stuck like cement to the rock. At the third shock the stone gave way and oscillated for a minute. Porthos, placing his back against the neighboring rock, made an arch with his foot, which drove the block out of the calcareous masses which served for hinges and cramps. The stone fell, and daylight was visible, brilliant, radiant, flooding the cavern through the opening, and the blue sea appeared to the delighted Bretons. They began to lift the bark over the barricade. Twenty more toises, and it would glide into the ocean. It was during this time that the company arrived, was drawn up by the captain, and disposed for either an escalade or an assault. Aramis watched over everything, to favor the labors of his friends. He saw the reinforcements, counted the men, and convinced himself at a single glance of the insurmountable peril to which fresh combat would expose them. To escape by sea, at the moment the cavern was about to be invaded, was impossible. In fact, the daylight which had just been admitted to the last compartments had exposed to the soldiers the bark being rolled towards the sea, the two rebels within musket-shot; and one of their discharges would riddle the boat if it did not kill the navigators. Besides, allowing everything⁠—if the bark escaped with the men on board of it, how could the alarm be suppressed⁠—how could notice to the royal lighters be prevented? What could hinder the poor canoe, followed by sea and watched from the shore, from succumbing before the end of the day? Aramis, digging his hands into his gray hair with rage, invoked the assistance of God and the assistance of the demons. Calling to Porthos, who was doing more work than all the rollers⁠—whether of flesh or wood⁠—“My friend,” said he, “our adversaries have just received a reinforcement.”

“Ah, ah!” said Porthos, quietly, “what is to be done, then?”

“To recommence the combat,” said Aramis, “is hazardous.”

“Yes,” said Porthos, “for it is difficult to suppose that out of two, one should not be killed; and certainly, if one of us was killed, the other would get himself killed also.” Porthos spoke these words with that heroic nature which, with him, grew grander with necessity.

Aramis felt it like a spur to his heart. “We shall neither of us be killed if you do what I tell you, friend Porthos.”

“Tell me what?”

“These people are coming down into the grotto.”

“Yes.”

“We could kill about fifteen of them, but no more.”

“How many are there in all?” asked Porthos.

“They have received a reinforcement of seventy-five men.”

“Seventy-five and five, eighty. Ah!” sighed Porthos.

“If they fire all at once they will riddle us with balls.”

“Certainly they will.”

“Without reckoning,” added Aramis, “that the detonation might occasion a collapse of the cavern.”

“Ay,” said Porthos, “a piece of falling rock just now grazed my shoulder.”

“You see, then?”

“Oh! it is nothing.”

“We must determine upon something quickly. Our Bretons are going to continue to roll the canoe towards the sea.”

“Very well.”

“We two will keep the powder, the balls, and the muskets here.”

“But only two, my dear Aramis⁠—we shall never fire three shots together,” said Porthos, innocently, “the defense by musketry is a bad one.”

“Find a better, then.”

“I have found one,” said the giant, eagerly; “I will place myself in ambuscade behind the pillar with this iron bar, and invisible, unattackable, if they come in floods, I can let my bar fall upon their skulls, thirty times in a minute. Hein! what do you think of the project? You smile!”

“Excellent, dear friend, perfect! I approve it greatly; only you will frighten them, and half of them will remain outside to take us by famine. What we want, my good friend, is the entire destruction of the troop. A single survivor encompasses our ruin.”

“You are right, my friend, but how can we attract them, pray?”

“By not stirring, my good Porthos.”

“Well! we won’t stir, then; but when they are all together⁠—”

“Then leave it to me, I have an idea.”

“If it is so, and your idea proves a good one⁠—and your idea is most likely to be good⁠—I am satisfied.”

“To your ambuscade, Porthos, and count how many enter.”

“But you, what will you do?”

“Don’t trouble yourself about me; I have a task to perform.”

“I think I hear shouts.”

“It is they! To your post. Keep within reach of my voice and hand.”

Porthos took refuge in the second compartment, which was in darkness, absolutely black. Aramis glided into the third; the giant held in his hand an iron bar of about fifty pounds weight. Porthos handled this lever, which had been used in rolling the bark, with marvelous facility. During this time, the Bretons had pushed the bark to the beach. In the further and lighter compartment, Aramis, stooping and concealed, was busy with some mysterious maneuver. A command was given in a loud voice. It was the last order of the captain commandant. Twenty-five men jumped from the upper rocks into the first compartment of the grotto, and having taken their ground, began to fire. The echoes shrieked and barked, the hissing balls seemed actually to rarefy the air, and then opaque smoke filled the vault.

“To the left! to the left!” cried Biscarrat, who, in his first assault, had seen the passage to the second chamber, and who, animated by the smell of powder, wished to guide his soldiers in that direction. The troop, accordingly, precipitated themselves to the left⁠—the passage gradually growing narrower. Biscarrat, with his hands stretched forward, devoted to death, marched in advance of the muskets. “Come on! come on!” exclaimed he, “I see daylight!”

“Strike, Porthos!” cried the sepulchral voice of Aramis.

Porthos breathed a heavy sigh⁠—but he obeyed. The iron bar fell full and direct upon the head of Biscarrat, who was dead before he had ended his cry. Then the formidable lever rose ten times in ten seconds, and made ten corpses. The soldiers could see nothing; they heard sighs and groans; they stumbled over dead bodies, but as they had no conception of the cause of all this, they came forward jostling each other. The implacable bar, still falling, annihilated the first platoon, without a single sound to warn the second, which was quietly advancing; only, commanded by the captain, the men had stripped a fir, growing on the shore, and, with its resinous branches twisted together, the captain had made a flambeau. On arriving at the compartment where Porthos, like the exterminating angel, had destroyed all he touched, the first rank drew back in terror. No firing had replied to that of the guards, and yet their way was stopped by a heap of dead bodies⁠—they literally walked in blood. Porthos was still behind his pillar. The captain, illumining with trembling pine-torch this frightful carnage, of which he in vain sought the cause, drew back towards the pillar behind which Porthos was concealed. Then a gigantic hand issued from the shade, and fastened on the throat of the captain, who uttered a stifle rattle; his stretched-out arms beating the air, the torch fell and was extinguished in blood. A second after, the corpse of the captain dropped close to the extinguished torch, and added another body to the heap of dead which blocked up the passage. All this was effected as mysteriously as though by magic. At hearing the rattling in the throat of the captain, the soldiers who accompanied him had turned round, caught a glimpse of his extended arms, his eyes starting from their sockets, and then the torch fell and they were left in darkness. From an unreflective, instinctive, mechanical feeling, the lieutenant cried:

“Fire!”

Immediately a volley of musketry flamed, thundered, roared in the cavern, bringing down enormous fragments from the vaults. The cavern was lighted for an instant by this discharge, and then immediately returned to pitchy darkness rendered thicker by the smoke. To this succeeded a profound silence, broken only by the steps of the third brigade, now entering the cavern.

CHAPTER 78

The Death of a Titan
At the moment when Porthos, more accustomed to the darkness than these men, coming from open daylight, was looking round him to see if through this artificial midnight Aramis were not making him some signal, he felt his arm gently touched, and a voice low as a breath murmured in his ear, “Come.”

“Oh!” said Porthos.

“Hush!” said Aramis, if possible, yet more softly.

And amidst the noise of the third brigade, which continued to advance, the imprecations of the guards still left alive, the muffled groans of the dying, Aramis and Porthos glided unseen along the granite walls of the cavern. Aramis led Porthos into the last but one compartment, and showed him, in a hollow of the rocky wall, a barrel of powder weighing from seventy to eighty pounds, to which he had just attached a fuse. “My friend,” said he to Porthos, “you will take this barrel, the match of which I am going to set fire to, and throw it amidst our enemies; can you do so?”

Parbleu!” replied Porthos; and he lifted the barrel with one hand. “Light it!”

“Stop,” said Aramis, “till they are all massed together, and then, my Jupiter, hurl your thunderbolt among them.”

“Light it,” repeated Porthos.

“On my part,” continued Aramis, “I will join our Bretons, and help them to get the canoe to the sea. I will wait for you on the shore; launch it strongly, and hasten to us.”

“Light it,” said Porthos, a third time.

“But do you understand me?”

Parbleu!” said Porthos again, with laughter that he did not even attempt to restrain, “when a thing is explained to me I understand it; begone, and give me the light.”

Aramis gave the burning match to Porthos, who held out his arm to him, his hands being engaged. Aramis pressed the arm of Porthos with both his hands, and fell back to the outlet of the cavern where the three rowers awaited him.

Porthos, left alone, applied the spark bravely to the match. The spark⁠—a feeble spark, first principle of conflagration⁠—shone in the darkness like a glowworm, then was deadened against the match which it set fire to, Porthos enlivening the flame with his breath. The smoke was a little dispersed, and by the light of the sparkling match objects might, for two seconds, be distinguished. It was a brief but splendid spectacle, that of this giant, pale, bloody, his countenance lighted by the fire of the match burning in surrounding darkness! The soldiers saw him, they saw the barrel he held in his hand⁠—they at once understood what was going to happen. Then, these men, already choked with horror at the sight of what had been accomplished, filled with terror at thought of what was about to be accomplished, gave out a simultaneous shriek of agony. Some endeavored to fly, but they encountered the third brigade, which barred their passage; others mechanically took aim and attempted to fire their discharged muskets; others fell instinctively upon their knees. Two or three officers cried out to Porthos to promise him his liberty if he would spare their lives. The lieutenant of the third brigade commanded his men to fire; but the guards had before them their terrified companions, who served as a living rampart for Porthos. We have said that the light produced by the spark and the match did not last more than two seconds; but during these two seconds this is what it illumined: in the first place, the giant, enlarged in the darkness; then, at ten paces off, a heap of bleeding bodies, crushed, mutilated, in the midst of which some still heaved in the last agony, lifting the mass as a last respiration inflating the sides of some old monster dying in the night. Every breath of Porthos, thus vivifying the match, sent towards this heap of bodies a phosphorescent aura, mingled with streaks of purple. In addition to this principal group scattered about the grotto, as the chances of death or surprise had stretched them, isolated bodies seemed to be making ghastly exhibitions of their gaping wounds. Above ground, bedded in pools of blood, rose, heavy and sparkling, the short, thick pillars of the cavern, of which the strongly marked shades threw out the luminous particles. And all this was seen by the tremulous light of a match attached to a barrel of powder, that is to say, a torch which, whilst throwing a light on the dead past, showed death to come.

As I have said, this spectacle did not last above two seconds. During this short space of time an officer of the third brigade got together eight men armed with muskets, and, through an opening, ordered them to fire upon Porthos. But they who received the order to fire trembled so that three guards fell by the discharge, and the five remaining balls hissed on to splinter the vault, plow the ground, or indent the pillars of the cavern.

A burst of laughter replied to this volley; then the arm of the giant swung round; then was seen whirling through the air, like a falling star, the train of fire. The barrel, hurled a distance of thirty feet, cleared the barricade of dead bodies, and fell amidst a group of shrieking soldiers, who threw themselves on their faces. The officer had followed the brilliant train in the air; he endeavored to precipitate himself upon the barrel and tear out the match before it reached the powder it contained. Useless! The air had made the flame attached to the conductor more active; the match, which at rest might have burnt five minutes, was consumed in thirty seconds, and the infernal work exploded. Furious vortices of sulphur and nitre, devouring shoals of fire which caught every object, the terrible thunder of the explosion, this is what the second which followed disclosed in that cavern of horrors. The rocks split like planks of deal beneath the axe. A jet of fire, smoke, and debris sprang from the middle of the grotto, enlarging as it mounted. The large walls of silex tottered and fell upon the sand, and the sand itself, an instrument of pain when launched from its hard bed, riddled the faces with its myriad cutting atoms. Shrieks, imprecations, human life, dead bodies⁠—all were engulfed in one terrific crash.

The three first compartments became one sepulchral sink into which fell grimly back, in the order of their weight, every vegetable, mineral, or human fragment. Then the lighter sand and ash came down in turn, stretching like a winding sheet and smoking over the dismal scene. And now, in this burning tomb, this subterranean volcano, seek the king’s guards with their blue coats laced with silver. Seek the officers, brilliant in gold, seek for the arms upon which they depended for their defense. One single man has made of all of those things a chaos more confused, more shapeless, more terrible than the chaos which existed before the creation of the world. There remained nothing of the three compartments⁠—nothing by which God could have recognized His handiwork. As for Porthos, after having hurled the barrel of powder amidst his enemies, he had fled, as Aramis had directed him to do, and had gained the last compartment, into which air, light, and sunshine penetrated through the opening. Scarcely had he turned the angle which separated the third compartment from the fourth when he perceived at a hundred paces from him the bark dancing on the waves. There were his friends, there liberty, there life and victory. Six more of his formidable strides, and he would be out of the vault; out of the vault! a dozen of his vigorous leaps and he would reach the canoe. Suddenly he felt his knees give way; his knees seemed powerless, his legs to yield beneath him.

“Oh! oh!” murmured he, “there is my weakness seizing me again! I can walk no further! What is this?”

Aramis perceived him through the opening, and unable to conceive what could induce him to stop thus⁠—“Come on, Porthos! come on,” he cried; “come quickly!”

“Oh!” replied the giant, making an effort that contorted every muscle of his body⁠—“oh! but I cannot.” While saying these words, he fell upon his knees, but with his mighty hands he clung to the rocks, and raised himself up again.

“Quick! quick!” repeated Aramis, bending forward towards the shore, as if to draw Porthos towards him with his arms.

“Here I am,” stammered Porthos, collecting all his strength to make one step more.

“In the name of Heaven! Porthos, make haste! the barrel will blow up!”

“Make haste, Monseigneur!” shouted the Bretons to Porthos, who was floundering as in a dream.

But there was no time; the explosion thundered, earth gaped, the smoke which hurled through the clefts obscured the sky; the sea flowed back as though driven by the blast of flame which darted from the grotto as if from the jaws of some gigantic fiery chimera; the reflux took the bark out twenty toises; the solid rocks cracked to their base, and separated like blocks beneath the operation of the wedge; a portion of the vault was carried up towards heaven, as if it had been built of cardboard; the green and blue and topaz conflagration and black lava of liquefactions clashed and combated an instant beneath a majestic dome of smoke; then oscillated, declined, and fell successively the mighty monoliths of rock which the violence of the explosion had not been able to uproot from the bed of ages; they bowed to each other like grave and stiff old men, then prostrating themselves, lay down forever in their dusty tomb.

This frightful shock seemed to restore Porthos the strength that he had lost; he arose, a giant among granite giants. But at the moment he was flying between the double hedge of granite phantoms, these latter, which were no longer supported by the corresponding links, began to roll and totter round our Titan, who looked as if precipitated from heaven amidst rocks which he had just been launching. Porthos felt the very earth beneath his feet becoming jelly-tremulous. He stretched both hands to repulse the falling rocks. A gigantic block was held back by each of his extended arms. He bent his head, and a third granite mass sank between his shoulders. For an instant the power of Porthos seemed about to fail him, but this new Hercules united all his force, and the two walls of the prison in which he was buried fell back slowly and gave him place. For an instant he appeared, in this frame of granite, like the angel of chaos, but in pushing back the lateral rocks, he lost his point of support, for the monolith which weighed upon his shoulders, and the boulder, pressing upon him with all its weight, brought the giant down upon his knees. The lateral rocks, for an instant pushed back, drew together again, and added their weight to the ponderous mass which would have been sufficient to crush ten men. The hero fell without a groan⁠—he fell while answering Aramis with words of encouragement and hope, for, thanks to the powerful arch of his hands, for an instant he believed that, like Enceladus, he would succeed in shaking off the triple load. But by degrees Aramis beheld the block sink; the hands, strung for an instant, the arms stiffened for a last effort, gave way, the extended shoulders sank, wounded and torn, and the rocks continued to gradually collapse.

“Porthos! Porthos!” cried Aramis, tearing his hair. “Porthos! where are you? Speak!”

“Here, here,” murmured Porthos, with a voice growing evidently weaker, “patience! patience!”

Scarcely had he pronounced these words, when the impulse of the fall augmented the weight; the enormous rock sank down, pressed by those others which sank in from the sides, and, as it were, swallowed up Porthos in a sepulcher of badly jointed stones. On hearing the dying voice of his friend, Aramis had sprung to land. Two of the Bretons followed him, with each a lever in his hand⁠—one being sufficient to take care of the bark. The dying rattle of the valiant gladiator guided them amidst the ruins. Aramis, animated, active and young as at twenty, sprang towards the triple mass, and with his hands, delicate as those of a woman, raised by a miracle of strength the cornerstone of this great granite grave. Then he caught a glimpse, through the darkness of that charnel-house, of the still brilliant eye of his friend, to whom the momentary lifting of the mass restored a momentary respiration. The two men came rushing up, grasped their iron levers, united their triple strength, not merely to raise it, but sustain it. All was useless. They gave way with cries of grief, and the rough voice of Porthos, seeing them exhaust themselves in a useless struggle, murmured in an almost cheerful tone those supreme words which came to his lips with the last respiration, “Too heavy!”

After which his eyes darkened and closed, his face grew ashy pale, the hands whitened, and the colossus sank quite down, breathing his last sigh. With him sank the rock, which, even in his dying agony he had still held up. The three men dropped the levers, which rolled upon the tumulary stone. Then, breathless, pale, his brow covered with sweat, Aramis listened, his breast oppressed, his heart ready to break.

Nothing more. The giant slept the eternal sleep, in the sepulcher which God had built about him to his measure.

CHAPTER 79

The Epitaph of Porthos
Aramis, silent and sad as ice, trembling like a timid child, arose shivering from the stone. A Christian does not walk on tombs. But, though capable of standing, he was not capable of walking. It might be said that something of dead Porthos had just died within him. His Bretons surrounded him; Aramis yielded to their kind exertions, and the three sailors, lifting him up, carried him to the canoe. Then, having laid him down upon the bench near the rudder, they took to their oars, preferring this to hoisting sail, which might betray them.

On all that leveled surface of the ancient grotto of Locmaria, one single hillock attracted their eyes. Aramis never removed his from it; and, at a distance out in the sea, in proportion as the shore receded, that menacing proud mass of rock seemed to draw itself up, as formerly Porthos used to draw himself up, raising a smiling yet invincible head towards heaven, like that of his dear old honest valiant friend, the strongest of the four, yet the first dead. Strange destiny of these men of brass! The most simple of heart allied to the most crafty; strength of body guided by subtlety of mind; and in the decisive moment, when vigor alone could save mind and body, a stone, a rock, a vile material weight, triumphed over manly strength, and falling upon the body, drove out the mind.

Worthy Porthos! born to help other men, always ready to sacrifice himself for the safety of the weak, as if God had only given him strength for that purpose; when dying he only thought he was carrying out the conditions of his compact with Aramis, a compact, however, which Aramis alone had drawn up, and which Porthos had only known to suffer by its terrible solidarity. Noble Porthos! of what good now are thy châteaux overflowing with sumptuous furniture, forests overflowing with game, lakes overflowing with fish, cellars overflowing with wealth! Of what service to thee now thy lackeys in brilliant liveries, and in the midst of them Mousqueton, proud of the power delegated by thee! Oh, noble Porthos! careful heaper-up of treasure, was it worth while to labor to sweeten and gild life, to come upon a desert shore, surrounded by the cries of seagulls, and lay thyself, with broken bones, beneath a torpid stone? Was it worth while, in short, noble Porthos, to heap so much gold, and not have even the distich of a poor poet engraven upon thy monument? Valiant Porthos! he still, without doubt, sleeps, lost, forgotten, beneath the rock the shepherds of the heath take for the gigantic abode of a dolmen. And so many twining branches, so many mosses, bent by the bitter wind of ocean, so many lichens solder thy sepulcher to earth, that no passersby will imagine such a block of granite could ever have been supported by the shoulders of one man.

Aramis, still pale, still icy-cold, his heart upon his lips, looked, even till, with the last ray of daylight, the shore faded on the horizon. Not a word escaped him, not a sigh rose from his deep breast. The superstitious Bretons looked upon him, trembling. Such silence was not that of a man, it was the silence of a statue. In the meantime, with the first gray lines that lighted up the heavens, the canoe hoisted its little sail, which, swelling with the kisses of the breeze, and carrying them rapidly from the coast, made bravest way towards Spain, across the dreaded Gulf of Gascony so rife with storms. But scarcely half an hour after the sail had been hoisted, the rowers became inactive, reclining on their benches, and, making an eyeshade with their hands, pointed out to each other a white spot which appeared on the horizon as motionless as a gull rocked by the viewless respiration of the waves. But that which might have appeared motionless to ordinary eyes was moving at a quick rate to the experienced eye of the sailor; that which appeared stationary upon the ocean was cutting a rapid way through it. For some time, seeing the profound torpor in which their master was plunged, they did not dare to rouse him, and satisfied themselves with exchanging their conjectures in whispers. Aramis, in fact, so vigilant, so active⁠—Aramis, whose eye, like that of the lynx, watched without ceasing, and saw better by night than by day⁠—Aramis seemed to sleep in this despair of soul. An hour passed thus, during which daylight gradually disappeared, but during which also the sail in view gained so swiftly on the bark, that Goenne, one of the three sailors, ventured to say aloud:

“Monseigneur, we are being chased!”

Aramis made no reply; the ship still gained upon them. Then, of their own accord, two of the sailors, by the direction of the patron Yves, lowered the sail, in order that that single point upon the surface of the waters should cease to be a guide to the eye of the enemy pursuing them. On the part of the ship in sight, on the contrary, two more small sails were run up at the extremities of the masts. Unfortunately, it was the time of the finest and longest days of the year, and the moon, in all her brilliancy, succeeded inauspicious daylight. The balancelle, which was pursuing the little bark before the wind, had then still half an hour of twilight, and a whole night almost as light as day.

“Monseigneur! Monseigneur! we are lost!” said the captain. “Look! they see us plainly, though we have lowered sail.”

“That is not to be wondered at,” murmured one of the sailors, “since they say that, by the aid of the devil, the Paris-folk have fabricated instruments with which they see as well at a distance as near, by night as well as by day.”

Aramis took a telescope from the bottom of the boat, focused it silently, and passing it to the sailor, “Here,” said he, “look!” The sailor hesitated.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the bishop, “there is no sin in it; and if there is any sin, I will take it on myself.”

The sailor lifted the glass to his eye, and uttered a cry. He believed that the vessel, which appeared to be distant about cannon-shot, had at a single bound cleared the whole distance. But, on withdrawing the instrument from his eye, he saw that, except the way which the balancelle had been able to make during that brief instant, it was still at the same distance.

“So,” murmured the sailor, “they can see us as we see them.”

“They see us,” said Aramis, and sank again into impassibility.

“What!⁠—they see us!” said Yves. “Impossible!”

“Well, captain, look yourself,” said the sailor. And he passed him the glass.

“Monseigneur assures me that the devil has nothing to do with this?” asked Yves.

Aramis shrugged his shoulders.

The skipper lifted the glass to his eye. “Oh! Monseigneur,” said he, “it is a miracle⁠—there they are; it seems as if I were going to touch them. Twenty-five men at least! Ah! I see the captain forward. He holds a glass like this, and is looking at us. Ah! he turns round, and gives an order; they are rolling a piece of cannon forward⁠—they are loading it⁠—pointing it. Miséricorde! they are firing at us!”

And by a mechanical movement, the skipper put aside the telescope, and the pursuing ship, relegated to the horizon, appeared again in its true aspect. The vessel was still at the distance of nearly a league, but the maneuver sighted thus was not less real. A light cloud of smoke appeared beneath the sails, more blue than they, and spreading like a flower opening; then, at about a mile from the little canoe, they saw the ball take the crown off two or three waves, dig a white furrow in the sea, and disappear at the end of it, as inoffensive as the stone with which, in play, a boy makes ducks and drakes. It was at once a menace and a warning.

“What is to be done?” asked the patron.

“They will sink us!” said Goenne, “give us absolution, Monseigneur!” And the sailors fell on their knees before him.

“You forget that they can see you,” said he.

“That is true!” said the sailors, ashamed of their weakness. “Give us your orders, Monseigneur, we are prepared to die for you.”

“Let us wait,” said Aramis.

“How⁠—let us wait?”

“Yes; do you not see, as you just now said, that if we endeavor to fly, they will sink us?”

“But, perhaps,” the patron ventured to say, “perhaps under cover of night, we could escape them.”

“Oh!” said Aramis, “they have, no doubt, Greek fire with which to lighten their own course and ours likewise.”

At the same moment, as if the vessel was responsive to the appeal of Aramis, a second cloud of smoke mounted slowly to the heavens, and from the bosom of that cloud sparkled an arrow of flame, which described a parabola like a rainbow, and fell into the sea, where it continued to burn, illuminating a space of a quarter of a league in diameter.

The Bretons looked at each other in terror. “You see plainly,” said Aramis, “it will be better to wait for them.”

The oars dropped from the hands of the sailors, and the bark, ceasing to make way, rocked motionless upon the summits of the waves. Night came on, but still the ship drew nearer. It might be imagined it redoubled its speed with darkness. From time to time, as a vulture rears its head out of its nest, the formidable Greek fire darted from its sides, and cast its flame upon the ocean like an incandescent snowfall. At last it came within musket-shot. All the men were on deck, arms in hand; the cannoniers were at their guns, the matches burning. It might be thought they were about to board a frigate and to fight a crew superior in number to their own, not to attempt the capture of a canoe manned by four people.

“Surrender!” cried the commander of the balancelle, with the aid of his speaking-trumpet.

The sailors looked at Aramis. Aramis made a sign with his head. Yves waved a white cloth at the end of a gaff. This was like striking their flag. The pursuer came on like a racehorse. It launched a fresh Greek fire, which fell within twenty paces of the little canoe, and threw a light upon them as white as sunshine.

“At the first sign of resistance,” cried the commander of the balancelle, “fire!” The soldiers brought their muskets to the present.

“Did not we say we surrendered?” said Yves.

“Alive, alive, captain!” cried one excited soldier, “they must be taken alive.”

“Well, yes⁠—living,” said the captain. Then turning towards the Bretons, “Your lives are safe, my friends!” cried he, “all but the Chevalier d’Herblay.”

Aramis stared imperceptibly. For an instant his eye was fixed upon the depths of the ocean, illumined by the last flashes of the Greek fire, which ran along the sides of the waves, played on the crests like plumes, and rendered still darker and more terrible the gulfs they covered.

“Do you hear, Monseigneur?” said the sailors.

“Yes.”

“What are your orders?”

“Accept!”

“But you, Monseigneur?”

Aramis leaned still more forward, and dipped the ends of his long white fingers in the green limpid waters of the sea, to which he turned with smiles as to a friend.

“Accept!” repeated he.

“We accept,” repeated the sailors; “but what security have we?”

“The word of a gentleman,” said the officer. “By my rank and by my name I swear that all except M. le Chevalier d’Herblay shall have their lives spared. I am lieutenant of the king’s frigate the Pomona, and my name is Louis Constant de Pressigny.”

With a rapid gesture, Aramis⁠—already bent over the side of the bark towards the sea⁠—drew himself up, and with a flashing eye, and a smile upon his lips, “Throw out the ladder, messieurs,” said he, as if the command had belonged to him. He was obeyed. When Aramis, seizing the rope ladder, walked straight up to the commander, with a firm step, looked at him earnestly, made a sign to him with his hand, a mysterious and unknown sign at sight of which the officer turned pale, trembled, and bowed his head, the sailors were profoundly astonished. Without a word Aramis then raised his hand to the eyes of the commander and showed him the collet of a ring he wore on the ring-finger of his left hand. And while making this sign Aramis, draped in cold and haughty majesty, had the air of an emperor giving his hand to be kissed. The commandant, who for a moment had raised his head, bowed a second time with marks of the most profound respect. Then stretching his hand out, in his turn, towards the poop, that is to say, towards his own cabin, he drew back to allow Aramis to go first. The three Bretons, who had come on board after their bishop, looked at each other, stupefied. The crew were awed to silence. Five minutes after, the commander called the second lieutenant, who returned immediately, ordering the head to be put towards Corunna. Whilst this order was being executed, Aramis reappeared upon the deck, and took a seat near the bastingage. Night had fallen; the moon had not yet risen, yet Aramis looked incessantly towards Belle-Isle. Yves then approached the captain, who had returned to take his post in the stern, and said, in a low and humble voice, “What course are we to follow, captain?”

“We take what course Monseigneur pleases,” replied the officer.

Aramis passed the night leaning upon the bastingage. Yves, on approaching him next morning, remarked that “the night must have been a very damp one, for the wood on which the bishop’s head had rested was soaked with dew.” Who knows?⁠—that dew was, it may be, the first tears that had ever fallen from the eyes of Aramis!

What epitaph would have been worth that, good Porthos?

CHAPTER 80

The Round of M. de Gesvres
D’Artagnan was little used to resistance like that he had just experienced. He returned, profoundly irritated, to Nantes. Irritation, with this vigorous man, usually vented itself in impetuous attack, which few people, hitherto, were they king, were they giants, had been able to resist. Trembling with rage, he went straight to the castle, and asked an audience with the king. It might be about seven o’clock in the morning, and, since his arrival at Nantes, the king had been an early riser. But on arriving at the corridor with which we are acquainted, d’Artagnan found M. de Gesvres, who stopped him politely, telling him not to speak too loud and disturb the king. “Is the king asleep?” said d’Artagnan. “Well, I will let him sleep. But about what o’clock do you suppose he will rise?”

“Oh! in about two hours; His Majesty has been up all night.”

D’Artagnan took his hat again, bowed to M. de Gesvres, and returned to his own apartments. He came back at half-past nine, and was told that the king was at breakfast. “That will just suit me,” said d’Artagnan. “I will talk to the king while he is eating.”

M. de Brienne reminded d’Artagnan that the king would not see anyone at mealtime.

“But,” said d’Artagnan, looking askant at Brienne, “you do not know, perhaps, Monsieur, that I have the privilege of entrée anywhere⁠—and at any hour.”

Brienne took the captain’s hand kindly, and said, “Not at Nantes, dear Monsieur d’Artagnan. The king, in this journey, has changed everything.”

D’Artagnan, a little softened, asked about what o’clock the king would have finished his breakfast.

“We don’t know.”

“Eh?⁠—don’t know! What does that mean? You don’t know how much time the king devotes to eating? It is generally an hour; and, if we admit that the air of the Loire gives an additional appetite, we will extend it to an hour and a half; that is enough, I think. I will wait where I am.”

“Oh! dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, the order of the day is not to allow any person to remain in this corridor; I am on guard for that particular purpose.”

D’Artagnan felt his anger mounting to his brain a second time. He went out quickly, for fear of complicating the affair by a display of premature ill-humor. As soon as he was out he began to reflect. “The king,” said he, “will not receive me, that is evident. The young man is angry; he is afraid, beforehand, of the words that I may speak to him. Yes; but in the meantime Belle-Isle is besieged, and my two friends by now probably taken or killed. Poor Porthos! As to Master Aramis, he is always full of resources, and I am easy on his account. But, no, no; Porthos is not yet an invalid, nor is Aramis in his dotage. The one with his arm, the other with his imagination, will find work for His Majesty’s soldiers. Who knows if these brave men may not get up for the edification of his most Christian majesty a little bastion of Saint-Gervais! I don’t despair of it. They have cannon and a garrison. And yet,” continued d’Artagnan, “I don’t know whether it would not be better to stop the combat. For myself alone I will not put up with either surly looks or insults from the king; but for my friends I must put up with everything. Shall I go to M. Colbert? Now, there is a man I must acquire the habit of terrifying. I will go to M. Colbert.” And d’Artagnan set forward bravely to find M. Colbert, but was informed that he was working with the king, at the castle of Nantes. “Good!” cried he, “the times have come again in which I measured my steps from de Tréville to the cardinal, from the cardinal to the queen, from the queen to Louis XIII. Truly is it said that men, in growing old, become children again!⁠—To the castle, then!” He returned thither. M. de Lyonne was coming out. He gave d’Artagnan both hands, but told him that the king had been busy all the preceding evening and all night, and that orders had been given that no one should be admitted. “Not even the captain who takes the order?” cried d’Artagnan. “I think that is rather too strong.”

“Not even he,” said M. de Lyonne.

“Since that is the case,” replied d’Artagnan, wounded to the heart; “since the captain of the Musketeers, who has always entered the king’s chamber, is no longer allowed to enter it, his cabinet, or his salle à manger, either the king is dead, or his captain is in disgrace. Do me the favor, then, M. de Lyonne, who are in favor, to return and tell the king, plainly, I send him my resignation.”

“D’Artagnan, beware of what you are doing!”

“For friendship’s sake, go!” and he pushed him gently towards the cabinet.

“Well, I will go,” said Lyonne.

D’Artagnan waited, walking about the corridor in no enviable mood. Lyonne returned.

“Well, what did the king say?” exclaimed d’Artagnan.

“He simply answered, ‘ ’Tis well,’ ” replied Lyonne.

“That it was well!” said the captain, with an explosion. “That is to say, that he accepts it? Good! Now, then, I am free! I am only a plain citizen, M. de Lyonne. I have the pleasure of bidding you goodbye! Farewell, castle, corridor, antechamber! a bourgeois, about to breathe at liberty, takes his farewell of you.”

And without waiting longer, the captain sprang from the terrace down the staircase, where he had picked up the fragments of Gourville’s letter. Five minutes after, he was at the hostelry, where, according to the custom of all great officers who have lodgings at the castle, he had taken what was called his city-chamber. But when he arrived there, instead of throwing off his sword and cloak, he took his pistols, put his money into a large leather purse, sent for his horses from the castle-stables, and gave orders that would ensure their reaching Vannes during the night. Everything went on according to his wishes. At eight o’clock in the evening, he was putting his foot in the stirrup, when M. de Gesvres appeared, at the head of twelve guards, in front of the hostelry. D’Artagnan saw all from the corner of his eye; he could not fail seeing thirteen men and thirteen horses. But he feigned not to observe anything, and was about to put his horse in motion. Gesvres rode up to him. “Monsieur d’Artagnan!” said he, aloud.

“Ah, Monsieur de Gesvres! good evening!”

“One would say you were getting on horseback.”

“More than that⁠—I am mounted⁠—as you see.”

“It is fortunate I have met with you.”

“Were you looking for me, then?”

Mon Dieu! yes.”

“On the part of the king, I will wager?”

“Yes.”

“As I, three days ago, went in search of M. Fouquet?”

“Oh!”

“Nonsense! It is of no use being over-delicate with me; that is all labor lost. Tell me at once you are come to arrest me.”

“To arrest you?⁠—Good heavens! no.”

“Why do you come to accost me with twelve horsemen at your heels, then?”

“I am making my round.”

“That isn’t bad! And so you pick me up in your round, eh?”

“I don’t pick you up; I meet with you, and I beg you to come with me.”

“Where?”

“To the king.”

“Good!” said d’Artagnan, with a bantering air; “the king is disengaged.”

“For Heaven’s sake, captain,” said M. de Gesvres, in a low voice to the musketeer, “do not compromise yourself! these men hear you.”

D’Artagnan laughed aloud, and replied:

“March! People who are arrested are placed between the six first guards and the six last.”

“But as I am not arresting you,” said M. de Gesvres, “you will march behind, with me, if you please.”

“Well,” said d’Artagnan, “that is very polite, duke, and you are right in being so; for if ever I had had to make my rounds near your chambre-de-ville, I should have been courteous to you, I assure you, on the word of a gentleman! Now, one favor more; what does the king want with me?”

“Oh, the king is furious!”

“Very well! the king, who has thought it worth while to be angry, may take the trouble to grow calm again; that is all. I shan’t die of that, I will swear.”

“No, but⁠—”

“But⁠—I shall be sent to keep company with unfortunate M. Fouquet. Mordioux! That is a gallant man, a worthy man! We shall live very sociably together, I will be sworn.”

“Here we are at our place of destination,” said the duke. “Captain, for Heaven’s sake be calm with the king!”

“Ah! ah! you are playing the brave man with me, duke!” said d’Artagnan, throwing one of his defiant glances over Gesvres. “I have been told that you are ambitious of uniting your guards with my musketeers. This strikes me as a splendid opportunity.”

“I will take exceeding good care not to avail myself of it, captain.”

“And why not, pray?”

“Oh, for many reasons⁠—in the first place, for this: if I were to succeed you in the Musketeers after having arrested you⁠—”

“Ah! then you admit you have arrested me?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Say met me, then. So, you were saying if you were to succeed me after having arrested me?”

“Your musketeers, at the first exercise with ball cartridges, would fire my way, by mistake.”

“Oh, as to that I won’t say; for the fellows do love me a little.”

Gesvres made d’Artagnan pass in first, and took him straight to the cabinet where Louis was waiting for his captain of the Musketeers, and placed himself behind his colleague in the antechamber. The king could be heard distinctly, speaking aloud to Colbert in the same cabinet where Colbert might have heard, a few days before, the king speaking aloud with M. d’Artagnan. The guards remained as a mounted picket before the principal gate; and the report was quickly spread throughout the city that Monsieur le Capitaine of the Musketeers had been arrested by order of the king. Then these men were seen to be in motion, and as in the good old times of Louis XIII and M. de Tréville, groups were formed, and staircases were filled; vague murmurs, issuing from the court below, came rolling to the upper stories, like the distant moaning of the waves. M. de Gesvres became uneasy. He looked at his guards, who, after being interrogated by the musketeers who had just got among their ranks, began to shun them with a manifestation of innocence. D’Artagnan was certainly less disturbed by all this than M. de Gesvres, the captain of the Guards. As soon as he entered, he seated himself on the ledge of a window whence with his eagle glance he saw all that was going on without the least emotion. No step of the progressive fermentation which had shown itself at the report of his arrest escaped him. He foresaw the very moment the explosion would take place; and we know that his previsions were in general correct.

It would be very whimsical, thought he, if, this evening, my praetorians should make me king of France. How I should laugh!

But, at the height, all was stopped. Guards, musketeers, officers, soldiers, murmurs, uneasiness, dispersed, vanished, died away; there was an end of menace and sedition. One word had calmed the waves. The king had desired Brienne to say, “Hush, messieurs! you disturb the king.”

D’Artagnan sighed. “All is over!” said he; “the musketeers of the present day are not those of His Majesty Louis XIII. All is over!”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, you are wanted in the antechamber of the king,” proclaimed an usher.

CHAPTER 81

King Louis XIV
The king was seated in his cabinet, with his back turned towards the door of entrance. In front of him was a mirror, in which, while turning over his papers, he could see at a glance those who came in. He did not take any notice of the entrance of d’Artagnan, but spread above his letters and plans the large silk cloth he used to conceal his secrets from the importunate. D’Artagnan understood this byplay, and kept in the background; so that at the end of a minute the king, who heard nothing, and saw nothing save from the corner of his eye, was obliged to cry, “Is not M. d’Artagnan there?”

“I am here, sire,” replied the musketeer, advancing.

“Well, Monsieur,” said the king, fixing his pellucid eyes on d’Artagnan, “what have you to say to me?”

“I, sire!” replied the latter, who watched the first blow of his adversary to make a good retort; “I have nothing to say to Your Majesty, unless it be that you have caused me to be arrested, and here I am.”

The king was going to reply that he had not had d’Artagnan arrested, but any such sentence appeared too much like an excuse, and he was silent. D’Artagnan likewise preserved an obstinate silence.

“Monsieur,” at length resumed the king, “what did I charge you to go and do at Belle-Isle? Tell me, if you please.”

The king while uttering these words looked intently at his captain. Here d’Artagnan was fortunate; the king seemed to place the game in his hands.

“I believe,” replied he, “that Your Majesty does me the honor to ask what I went to Belle-Isle to accomplish?”

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“Well! sire, I know nothing about it; it is not of me that question should be asked, but of that infinite number of officers of all kinds, to whom have been given innumerable orders of all kinds, whilst to me, head of the expedition, nothing precise was said or stated in any form whatever.”

The king was hurt: he showed it by his reply. “Monsieur,” said he, “orders have only been given to such as were judged faithful.”

“And, therefore, I have been astonished, sire,” retorted the musketeer, “that a captain like myself, who ranks with a maréchal of France, should have found himself under the orders of five or six lieutenants or majors, good to make spies of, possibly, but not at all fit to conduct a warlike expedition. It was upon this subject I came to demand an explanation of Your Majesty, when I found the door closed against me, which, the final insult offered to a brave man, has led me to quit Your Majesty’s service.”

“Monsieur,” replied the king, “you still believe that you are living in an age when kings were, as you complain of having been, under the orders and at the discretion of their inferiors. You seem to forget that a king owes an account of his actions to none but God.”

“I forget nothing, sire,” said the musketeer, wounded by this lesson. “Besides, I do not see in what an honest man, when he asks of his king how he has ill-served him, offends him.”

“You have ill-served me, Monsieur, by siding with my enemies against me.”

“Who are your enemies, sire?”

“The men I sent you to fight.”

“Two men the enemies of the whole of Your Majesty’s army! That is incredible.”

“You have no power to judge of my will.”

“But I have to judge of my own friendships, sire.”

“He who serves his friends does not serve his master.”

“I so well understand this, sire, that I have respectfully offered Your Majesty my resignation.”

“And I have accepted it, Monsieur,” said the king. “Before being separated from you I was willing to prove to you that I know how to keep my word.”

“Your Majesty has kept more than your word, for Your Majesty has had me arrested,” said d’Artagnan, with his cold, bantering air; “you did not promise me that, sire.”

The king would not condescend to perceive the pleasantry, and continued, seriously, “You see, Monsieur, to what grave steps your disobedience forces me.”

“My disobedience!” cried d’Artagnan, red with anger.

“It is the mildest term that I can find,” pursued the king. “My idea was to take and punish rebels; was I bound to inquire whether these rebels were your friends or not?”

“But I was,” replied d’Artagnan. “It was a cruelty on Your Majesty’s part to send me to capture my friends and lead them to your gibbets.”

“It was a trial I had to make, Monsieur, of pretended servants, who eat my bread and should defend my person. The trial has succeeded ill, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“For one bad servant Your Majesty loses,” said the musketeer, with bitterness, “there are ten who, on that same day, go through a like ordeal. Listen to me, sire; I am not accustomed to that service. Mine is a rebel sword when I am required to do ill. It was ill to send me in pursuit of two men whose lives M. Fouquet, Your Majesty’s preserver, implored you to save. Still further, these men were my friends. They did not attack Your Majesty, they succumbed to your blind anger. Besides, why were they not allowed to escape? What crime had they committed? I admit you may contest with me the right of judging their conduct. But why suspect me before the action? Why surround me with spies? Why disgrace me before the army? Why me, in whom till now you showed the most entire confidence⁠—who for thirty years have been attached to your person, and have given you a thousand proofs of my devotion⁠—for it must be said, now that I am accused⁠—why reduce me to see three thousand of the king’s soldiers march in battle against two men?”

“One would say you have forgotten what these men have done to me!” said the king, in a hollow voice, “and that it was no merit of theirs I was not lost.”

“Sire, one would imagine you forget that I was there.”

“Enough, Monsieur d’Artagnan, enough of these dominating interests which arise to keep the sun itself from my interests. I am founding a state in which there shall be but one master, as I promised you; the moment is at hand for me to keep my promise. You wish to be, according to your tastes or private friendships, free to destroy my plans and save my enemies? I will thwart you or will drop you⁠—seek a more compliant master. I know full well that another king would not conduct himself as I do, and would allow himself to be dominated by you, at the risk of sending you some day to keep company with M. Fouquet and the rest; but I have an excellent memory, and for me, services are sacred titles to gratitude, to impunity. You shall only have this lesson, Monsieur d’Artagnan, as the punishment of your want of discipline, and I will not imitate my predecessors in anger, not having imitated them in favor. And, then, other reasons make me act mildly towards you; in the first place, because you are a man of sense, a man of excellent sense, a man of heart, and that you will be a capital servant to him who shall have mastered you; secondly, because you will cease to have any motives for insubordination. Your friends are now destroyed or ruined by me. These supports on which your capricious mind instinctively relied I have caused to disappear. At this moment, my soldiers have taken or killed the rebels of Belle-Isle.”

D’Artagnan became pale. “Taken or killed!” cried he. “Oh! sire, if you thought what you tell, if you were sure you were telling me the truth, I should forget all that is just, all that is magnanimous in your words, to call you a barbarous king, and an unnatural man. But I pardon you these words,” said he, smiling with pride; “I pardon them to a young prince who does not know, who cannot comprehend what such men as M. d’Herblay, M. du Vallon, and myself are. Taken or killed! Ah! Ah! sire! tell me, if the news is true, how much has it cost you in men and money. We will then reckon if the game has been worth the stakes.”

As he spoke thus, the king went up to him in great anger, and said, “Monsieur d’Artagnan, your replies are those of a rebel! Tell me, if you please, who is king of France? Do you know any other?”

“Sire,” replied the captain of the Musketeers, coldly, “I very well remember that one morning at Vaux you addressed that question to many people who did not answer to it, whilst I, on my part, did answer to it. If I recognized my king on that day, when the thing was not easy, I think it would be useless to ask the question of me now, when Your Majesty and I are alone.”

At these words Louis cast down his eyes. It appeared to him that the shade of the unfortunate Philippe passed between d’Artagnan and himself, to evoke the remembrance of that terrible adventure. Almost at the same moment an officer entered and placed a dispatch in the hands of the king, who, in his turn, changed color, while reading it.

“Monsieur,” said he, “what I learn here you would know later; it is better I should tell you, and that you should learn it from the mouth of your king. A battle has taken place at Belle-Isle.”

“Is it possible?” said d’Artagnan, with a calm air, though his heart was beating fast enough to choke him. “Well, sire?”

“Well, Monsieur⁠—and I have lost a hundred and ten men.”

A beam of joy and pride shone in the eyes of d’Artagnan. “And the rebels?” said he.

“The rebels have fled,” said the king.

D’Artagnan could not restrain a cry of triumph. “Only,” added the king, “I have a fleet which closely blockades Belle-Isle, and I am certain not a bark can escape.”

“So that,” said the musketeer, brought back to his dismal idea, “if these two gentlemen are taken⁠—”

“They will be hanged,” said the king, quietly.

“And do they know it?” replied d’Artagnan, repressing his trembling.

“They know it, because you must have told them yourself; and all the country knows it.”

“Then, sire, they will never be taken alive, I will answer for that.”

“Ah!” said the king, negligently, and taking up his letter again. “Very well, they will be dead, then, Monsieur d’Artagnan, and that will come to the same thing, since I should only take them to have them hanged.”

D’Artagnan wiped the sweat which flowed from his brow.

“I have told you,” pursued Louis XIV, “that I would one day be an affectionate, generous, and constant master. You are now the only man of former times worthy of my anger or my friendship. I will not spare you either sentiment, according to your conduct. Could you serve a king, Monsieur d’Artagnan, who should have a hundred kings, his equals, in the kingdom? Could I, tell me, do with such weak instruments the great things I meditate? Did you ever see an artist effect great works with an unworthy tool? Far from us, Monsieur, the old leaven of feudal abuse! The Fronde, which threatened to ruin monarchy, has emancipated it. I am master at home, Captain d’Artagnan, and I shall have servants who, lacking, perhaps, your genius, will carry devotion and obedience to the verge of heroism. Of what consequence, I ask you, of what consequence is it that God has given no sense to arms and legs? It is to the head he has given genius, and the head, you know, the rest obey. I am the head.”

D’Artagnan started. Louis XIV continued as if he had seen nothing, although this emotion had not by any means escaped him. “Now, let us conclude between us two the bargain I promised to make with you one day when you found me in a very strange predicament at Blois. Do me justice, Monsieur, when you admit I do not make anyone pay for the tears of shame that I then shed. Look around you; lofty heads have bowed. Bow yours, or choose such exile as will suit you. Perhaps, when reflecting upon it, you will find your king has a generous heart, who reckons sufficiently upon your loyalty to allow you to leave him dissatisfied, when you possess a great state secret. You are a brave man; I know you to be so. Why have you judged me prematurely? Judge me from this day forward, d’Artagnan, and be as severe as you please.”

D’Artagnan remained bewildered, mute, undecided for the first time in his life. At last he had found an adversary worthy of him. This was no longer trick, it was calculation; no longer violence, but strength; no longer passion, but will; no longer boasting, but council. This young man who had brought down a Fouquet, and could do without a d’Artagnan, deranged the somewhat headstrong calculations of the musketeer.

“Come, let us see what stops you?” said the king, kindly. “You have given in your resignation; shall I refuse to accept it? I admit that it may be hard for such an old captain to recover lost good-humor.”

“Oh!” replied d’Artagnan, in a melancholy tone, “that is not my most serious care. I hesitate to take back my resignation because I am old in comparison with you, and have habits difficult to abandon. Henceforward, you must have courtiers who know how to amuse you⁠—madmen who will get themselves killed to carry out what you call your great works. Great they will be, I feel⁠—but, if by chance I should not think them so? I have seen war, sire, I have seen peace; I have served Richelieu and Mazarin; I have been scorched with your father, at the fire of Rochelle; riddled with sword-thrusts like a sieve, having grown a new skin ten times, as serpents do. After affronts and injustices, I have a command which was formerly something, because it gave the bearer the right of speaking as he liked to his king. But your captain of the Musketeers will henceforward be an officer guarding the outer doors. Truly, sire, if that is to be my employment from this time, seize the opportunity of our being on good terms, to take it from me. Do not imagine that I bear malice; no, you have tamed me, as you say; but it must be confessed that in taming me you have lowered me; by bowing me you have convicted me of weakness. If you knew how well it suits me to carry my head high, and what a pitiful mien I shall have while scenting the dust of your carpets! Oh! sire, I regret sincerely, and you will regret as I do, the old days when the king of France saw in every vestibule those insolent gentlemen, lean, always swearing⁠—cross-grained mastiffs, who could bite mortally in the hour of danger or of battle. These men were the best of courtiers to the hand which fed them⁠—they would lick it; but for the hand that struck them, oh! the bite that followed! A little gold on the lace of their cloaks, a slender stomach in their hauts-de-chausses, a little sparkling of gray in their dry hair, and you will behold the handsome dukes and peers, the haughty maréchaux of France. But why should I tell you all this? The king is master; he wills that I should make verses, he wills that I should polish the mosaics of his antechambers with satin shoes. Mordioux! that is difficult, but I have got over greater difficulties. I will do it. Why should I do it? Because I love money?⁠—I have enough. Because I am ambitious?⁠—my career is almost at an end. Because I love the court? No. I will remain here because I have been accustomed for thirty years to go and take the orderly word of the king, and to have said to me ‘Good evening, d’Artagnan,’ with a smile I did not beg for. That smile I will beg for! Are you content, sire?” And d’Artagnan bowed his silver head, upon which the smiling king placed his white hand with pride.

“Thanks, my old servant, my faithful friend,” said he. “As, reckoning from this day, I have no longer any enemies in France, it remains with me to send you to a foreign field to gather your marshal’s baton. Depend upon me for finding you an opportunity. In the meanwhile, eat of my very best bread, and sleep in absolute tranquillity.”

“That is all kind and well!” said d’Artagnan, much agitated. “But those poor men at Belle-Isle? One of them, in particular⁠—so good! so brave! so true!”

“Do you ask their pardon of me?”

“Upon my knees, sire!”

“Well! then, go and take it to them, if it be still in time. But do you answer for them?”

“With my life, sire.”

“Go, then. Tomorrow I set out for Paris. Return by that time, for I do not wish you to leave me in the future.”

“Be assured of that, sire,” said d’Artagnan, kissing the royal hand.

And with a heart swelling with joy, he rushed out of the castle on his way to Belle-Isle.

CHAPTER 82

The Friends of M. Fouquet
The king had returned to Paris, and with him d’Artagnan, who, in twenty-four hours, having made with greatest care all possible inquiries at Belle-Isle, succeeded in learning nothing of the secret so well kept by the heavy rock of Locmaria, which had fallen on the heroic Porthos. The captain of the Musketeers only knew what those two valiant men⁠—these two friends, whose defense he had so nobly taken up, whose lives he had so earnestly endeavored to save⁠—aided by three faithful Bretons, had accomplished against a whole army. He had seen, spread on the neighboring heath, the human remains which had stained with clouted blood the scattered stones among the flowering broom. He learned also that a bark had been seen far out at sea, and that, like a bird of prey, a royal vessel had pursued, overtaken, and devoured the poor little bird that was flying with such palpitating wings. But there d’Artagnan’s certainties ended. The field of supposition was thrown open. Now, what could he conjecture? The vessel had not returned. It is true that a brisk wind had prevailed for three days; but the corvette was known to be a good sailer and solid in its timbers; it had no need to fear a gale of wind, and it ought, according to the calculation of d’Artagnan, to have either returned to Brest, or come back to the mouth of the Loire. Such was the news, ambiguous, it is true, but in some degree reassuring to him personally, which d’Artagnan brought to Louis XIV, when the king, followed by all the court, returned to Paris.

Louis, satisfied with his success⁠—Louis, more mild and affable as he felt himself more powerful⁠—had not ceased for an instant to ride beside the carriage door of Mademoiselle de La Vallière. Everybody was anxious to amuse the two queens, so as to make them forget this abandonment by son and husband. Everything breathed the future, the past was nothing to anybody. Only that past was like a painful bleeding wound to the hearts of certain tender and devoted spirits. Scarcely was the king reinstalled in Paris, when he received a touching proof of this. Louis XIV had just risen and taken his first repast when his captain of the Musketeers presented himself before him. D’Artagnan was pale and looked unhappy. The king, at the first glance, perceived the change in a countenance generally so unconcerned. “What is the matter, d’Artagnan?” said he.

“Sire, a great misfortune has happened to me.”

“Good heavens! what is that?”

“Sire, I have lost one of my friends, M. du Vallon, in the affair of Belle-Isle.”

And, while speaking these words, d’Artagnan fixed his falcon eye upon Louis XIV, to catch the first feeling that would show itself.

“I knew it,” replied the king, quietly.

“You knew it, and did not tell me!” cried the musketeer.

“To what good? Your grief, my friend, was so well worthy of respect. It was my duty to treat it gently. To have informed you of this misfortune, which I knew would pain you so greatly, d’Artagnan, would have been, in your eyes, to have triumphed over you. Yes, I knew that M. du Vallon had buried himself beneath the rocks of Locmaria; I knew that M. d’Herblay had taken one of my vessels with its crew, and had compelled it to convey him to Bayonne. But I was willing you should learn these matters in a direct manner, in order that you might be convinced my friends are with me respected and sacred; that always in me the man will sacrifice himself to subjects, whilst the king is so often found to sacrifice men to majesty and power.”

“But, sire, how could you know?”

“How do you yourself know, d’Artagnan?”

“By this letter, sire, which M. d’Herblay, free and out of danger, writes me from Bayonne.”

“Look here,” said the king, drawing from a casket placed upon the table closet to the seat upon which d’Artagnan was leaning, “here is a letter copied exactly from that of M. d’Herblay. Here is the very letter, which Colbert placed in my hands a week before you received yours. I am well served, you may perceive.”

“Yes, sire,” murmured the musketeer, “you were the only man whose star was equal to the task of dominating the fortune and strength of my two friends. You have used your power, sire, you will not abuse it, will you?”

“D’Artagnan,” said the king, with a smile beaming with kindness, “I could have M. d’Herblay carried off from the territories of the king of Spain, and brought here, alive, to inflict justice upon him. But, d’Artagnan, be assured I will not yield to this first and natural impulse. He is free⁠—let him continue free.”

“Oh, sire! you will not always remain so clement, so noble, so generous as you have shown yourself with respect to me and M. d’Herblay; you will have about you counselors who will cure you of that weakness.”

“No, d’Artagnan, you are mistaken when you accuse my council of urging me to pursue rigorous measures. The advice to spare M. d’Herblay comes from Colbert himself.”

“Oh, sire!” said d’Artagnan, extremely surprised.

“As for you,” continued the king, with a kindness very uncommon to him, “I have several pieces of good news to announce to you; but you shall know them, my dear captain, the moment I have made my accounts all straight. I have said that I wish to make, and would make, your fortune; that promise will soon become reality.”

“A thousand times thanks, sire! I can wait. But I implore you, whilst I go and practice patience, that Your Majesty will deign to notice those poor people who have for so long a time besieged your antechamber, and come humbly to lay a petition at your feet.”

“Who are they?”

“Enemies of Your Majesty.”

The king raised his head.

“Friends of M. Fouquet,” added d’Artagnan.

“Their names?”

“M. Gourville, M. Pélisson, and a poet, M. Jean de La Fontaine.”

The king took a moment to reflect. “What do they want?”

“I do not know.”

“How do they appear?”

“In great affliction.”

“What do they say?”

“Nothing.”

“What do they do?”

“They weep.”

“Let them come in,” said the king, with a serious brow.

D’Artagnan turned rapidly on his heel, raised the tapestry which closed the entrance to the royal chamber, and directing his voice to the adjoining room, cried, “Enter.”

The three men d’Artagnan had named immediately appeared at the door of the cabinet in which were the king and his captain. A profound silence prevailed in their passage. The courtiers, at the approach of the friends of the unfortunate superintendent of finances, drew back, as if fearful of being affected by contagion with disgrace and misfortune. D’Artagnan, with a quick step, came forward to take by the hand the unhappy men who stood trembling at the door of the cabinet; he led them in front of the king’s fauteuil, who, having placed himself in the embrasure of a window, awaited the moment of presentation, and was preparing himself to give the supplicants a rigorously diplomatic reception.

The first of the friends of Fouquet’s to advance was Pélisson. He did not weep, but his tears were only restrained that the king might better hear his voice and prayer. Gourville bit his lips to check his tears, out of respect for the king. La Fontaine buried his face in his handkerchief, and the only signs of life he gave were the convulsive motions of his shoulders, raised by his sobs.

The king preserved his dignity. His countenance was impassible. He even maintained the frown which appeared when d’Artagnan announced his enemies. He made a gesture which signified, “Speak”; and he remained standing, with his eyes fixed searchingly on these desponding men. Pélisson bowed to the ground, and La Fontaine knelt as people do in churches. This dismal silence, disturbed only by sighs and groans, began to excite in the king, not compassion, but impatience.

“Monsieur Pélisson,” said he, in a sharp, dry tone. “Monsieur Gourville, and you, Monsieur ⸻” and he did not name La Fontaine, “I cannot, without sensible displeasure, see you come to plead for one of the greatest criminals it is the duty of justice to punish. A king does not allow himself to soften save at the tears of the innocent, the remorse of the guilty. I have no faith either in the remorse of M. Fouquet or the tears of his friends, because the one is tainted to the very heart, and the others ought to dread offending me in my own palace. For these reasons, I beg you, Monsieur Pélisson, Monsieur Gourville, and you, Monsieur ⸻, to say nothing that will not plainly proclaim the respect you have for my will.”

“Sire,” replied Pélisson, trembling at these words, “we are come to say nothing to Your Majesty that is not the most profound expression of the most sincere respect and love that are due to a king from all his subjects. Your Majesty’s justice is redoubtable; everyone must yield to the sentences it pronounces. We respectfully bow before it. Far from us the idea of coming to defend him who has had the misfortune to offend Your Majesty. He who has incurred your displeasure may be a friend of ours, but he is an enemy to the state. We abandon him, but with tears, to the severity of the king.”

“Besides,” interrupted the king, calmed by that supplicating voice, and those persuasive words, “my parliament will decide. I do not strike without first having weighed the crime; my justice does not wield the sword without employing first a pair of scales.”

“Therefore we have every confidence in that impartiality of the king, and hope to make our feeble voices heard, with the consent of Your Majesty, when the hour for defending an accused friend strikes.”

“In that case, messieurs, what do you ask of me?” said the king, with his most imposing air.

“Sire,” continued Pélisson, “the accused has a wife and family. The little property he had was scarcely sufficient to pay his debts, and Madame Fouquet, since her husband’s captivity, is abandoned by everybody. The hand of Your Majesty strikes like the hand of God. When the Lord sends the curse of leprosy or pestilence into a family, everyone flies and shuns the abode of the leprous or plague-stricken. Sometimes, but very rarely, a generous physician alone ventures to approach the ill-reputed threshold, passes it with courage, and risks his life to combat death. He is the last resource of the dying, the chosen instrument of heavenly mercy. Sire, we supplicate you, with clasped hands and bended knees, as a divinity is supplicated! Madame Fouquet has no longer any friends, no longer any means of support; she weeps in her deserted home, abandoned by all those who besieged its doors in the hour of prosperity; she has neither credit nor hope left. At least, the unhappy wretch upon whom your anger falls receives from you, however culpable he may be, his daily bread though moistened by his tears. As much afflicted, more destitute than her husband, Madame Fouquet⁠—the lady who had the honor to receive Your Majesty at her table⁠—Madame Fouquet, the wife of the ancient superintendent of Your Majesty’s finances, Madame Fouquet has no longer bread.”

Here the mortal silence which had chained the breath of Pélisson’s two friends was broken by an outburst of sobs; and d’Artagnan, whose chest heaved at hearing this humble prayer, turned round towards the angle of the cabinet to bite his mustache and conceal a groan.

The king had preserved his eye dry and his countenance severe; but the blood had mounted to his cheeks, and the firmness of his look was visibly diminished.

“What do you wish?” said he, in an agitated voice.

“We come humbly to ask Your Majesty,” replied Pélisson, upon whom emotion was fast gaining, “to permit us, without incurring the displeasure of Your Majesty, to lend to Madame Fouquet two thousand pistoles collected among the old friends of her husband, in order that the widow may not stand in need of the necessaries of life.”

At the word widow, pronounced by Pélisson whilst Fouquet was still alive, the king turned very pale;⁠—his pride disappeared; pity rose from his heart to his lips; he cast a softened look upon the men who knelt sobbing at his feet.

“God forbid,” said he, “that I should confound the innocent with the guilty. They know me but ill who doubt my mercy towards the weak. I strike none but the arrogant. Do, messieurs, do all that your hearts counsel you to assuage the grief of Madame Fouquet. Go, messieurs⁠—go!”

The three now rose in silence with dry eyes. The tears had been scorched away by contact with their burning cheeks and eyelids. They had not the strength to address their thanks to the king, who himself cut short their solemn reverences by entrenching himself suddenly behind the fauteuil.

D’Artagnan remained alone with the king.

“Well,” said he, approaching the young prince, who interrogated him with his look. “Well, my master! If you had not the device which belongs to your sun, I would recommend you one which M. Conrart might translate into eclectic Latin, ‘Calm with the lowly; stormy with the strong.’ ”

The king smiled, and passed into the next apartment, after having said to d’Artagnan, “I give you the leave of absence you must want to put the affairs of your friend, the late M. du Vallon, in order.”

CHAPTER 83

Porthos’s Will
At Pierrefonds everything was in mourning. The courts were deserted⁠—the stables closed⁠—the parterres neglected. In the basins, the fountains, formerly so jubilantly fresh and noisy, had stopped of themselves. Along the roads around the château came a few grave personages mounted on mules or country nags. These were rural neighbors, curés and bailiffs of adjacent estates. All these people entered the château silently, handed their horses to a melancholy-looking groom, and directed their steps, conducted by a huntsman in black, to the great dining-room, where Mousqueton received them at the door. Mousqueton had become so thin in two days that his clothes moved upon him like an ill-fitting scabbard in which the sword-blade dances at each motion. His face, composed of red and white, like that of the Madonna of Vandyke, was furrowed by two silver rivulets which had dug their beds in his cheeks, as full formerly as they had become flabby since his grief began. At each fresh arrival, Mousqueton found fresh tears, and it was pitiful to see him press his throat with his fat hand to keep from bursting into sobs and lamentations. All these visits were for the purpose of hearing the reading of Porthos’s will, announced for that day, and at which all the covetous friends of the dead man were anxious to be present, as he had left no relations behind him.

The visitors took their places as they arrived, and the great room had just been closed when the clock struck twelve, the hour fixed for the reading of the important document. Porthos’s procureur⁠—and that was naturally the successor of Master Coquenard⁠—commenced by slowly unfolding the vast parchment upon which the powerful hand of Porthos had traced his sovereign will. The seal broken⁠—the spectacles put on⁠—the preliminary cough having sounded⁠—everyone pricked up his ears. Mousqueton had squatted himself in a corner, the better to weep and the better to hear. All at once the folding-doors of the great room, which had been shut, were thrown open as if by magic, and a warlike figure appeared upon the threshold, resplendent in the full light of the sun. This was d’Artagnan, who had come alone to the gate, and finding nobody to hold his stirrup, had tied his horse to the knocker and announced himself. The splendor of daylight invading the room, the murmur of all present, and, more than all, the instinct of the faithful dog, drew Mousqueton from his reverie; he raised his head, recognized the old friend of his master, and, screaming with grief, he embraced his knees, watering the floor with his tears. D’Artagnan raised the poor intendant, embraced him as if he had been a brother, and, having nobly saluted the assembly, who all bowed as they whispered to each other his name, he went and took his seat at the extremity of the great carved oak hall, still holding by the hand poor Mousqueton, who was suffocating with excess of woe, and sank upon the steps. Then the procureur, who, like the rest, was considerably agitated, commenced.

Porthos, after a profession of faith of the most Christian character, asked pardon of his enemies for all the injuries he might have done them. At this paragraph, a ray of inexpressible pride beamed from the eyes of d’Artagnan. He recalled to his mind the old soldier; all those enemies of Porthos brought to earth by his valiant hand; he reckoned up the numbers of them, and said to himself that Porthos had acted wisely not to enumerate his enemies or the injuries done to them, or the task would have been too much for the reader. Then came the following schedule of his extensive lands:

“I possess at this present time, by the grace of God⁠—
“1. The domain of Pierrefonds, lands, woods, meadows, waters, and forests, surrounded by good walls.
“2. The domain of Bracieux, châteaux, forests, plowed lands, forming three farms.
“3. The little estate Du Vallon, so named because it is in the valley.” (Brave Porthos!)
“4. Fifty farms in Touraine, amounting to five hundred acres.
“5. Three mills upon the Cher, bringing in six hundred livres each.
“6. Three fish-pools in Berry, producing two hundred livres a year.

“As to my personal or movable property, so called because it can be moved, as is so well explained by my learned friend the bishop of Vannes⁠—” (D’Artagnan shuddered at the dismal remembrance attached to that name)⁠—the procureur continued imperturbably⁠—“they consist⁠—”

“1. In goods which I cannot detail here for want of room, and which furnish all my châteaux or houses, but of which the list is drawn up by my intendant.”

Everyone turned his eyes towards Mousqueton, who was still lost in grief.

“2. In twenty horses for saddle and draught, which I have particularly at my château of Pierrefonds, and which are called⁠—Bayard, Roland, Charlemagne, Pépin, Dunois, La Hire, Ogier, Samson, Milo, Nimrod, Urganda, Armida, Flastrade, Dalilah, Rebecca, Yolande, Finette, Grisette, Lisette, and Musette.
“3. In sixty dogs, forming six packs, divided as follows: the first, for the stag; the second, for the wolf; the third, for the wild boar; the fourth, for the hare; and the two others, for setters and protection.
“4. In arms for war and the chase contained in my gallery of arms.
“5. My wines of Anjou, selected for Athos, who liked them formerly; my wines of Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, and Spain, stocking eight cellars and twelve vaults, in my various houses.
“6. My pictures and statues, which are said to be of great value, and which are sufficiently numerous to fatigue the sight.
“7. My library, consisting of six thousand volumes, quite new, and have never been opened.
“8. My silver plate, which is perhaps a little worn, but which ought to weigh from a thousand to twelve hundred pounds, for I had great trouble in lifting the coffer that contained it and could not carry it more than six times round my chamber.
“9. All these objects, in addition to the table and house linen, are divided in the residences I liked the best.”

Here the reader stopped to take breath. Everyone sighed, coughed, and redoubled his attention. The procureur resumed:

“I have lived without having any children, and it is probable I never shall have any, which to me is a cutting grief. And yet I am mistaken, for I have a son, in common with my other friends; that is, M. Raoul Auguste Jules de Bragelonne, the true son of M. le Comte de la Fère.
“This young nobleman appears to me extremely worthy to succeed the valiant gentleman of whom I am the friend and very humble servant.”

Here a sharp sound interrupted the reader. It was d’Artagnan’s sword, which, slipping from his baldric, had fallen on the sonorous flooring. Everyone turned his eyes that way, and saw that a large tear had rolled from the thick lid of d’Artagnan, halfway down to his aquiline nose, the luminous edge of which shone like a little crescent moon.

“This is why,” continued the procureur, “I have left all my property, movable, or immovable, comprised in the above enumerations, to M. le Vicomte Raoul Auguste Jules de Bragelonne, son of M. le Comte de la Fère, to console him for the grief he seems to suffer, and enable him to add more luster to his already glorious name.”

A vague murmur ran through the auditory. The procureur continued, seconded by the flashing eye of d’Artagnan, which, glancing over the assembly, quickly restored the interrupted silence:

“On condition that M. le Vicomte de Bragelonne do give to M. le Chevalier d’Artagnan, captain of the king’s Musketeers, whatever the said Chevalier d’Artagnan may demand of my property. On condition that M. le Vicomte de Bragelonne do pay a good pension to M. le Chevalier d’Herblay, my friend, if he should need it in exile. I leave to my intendant Mousqueton all of my clothes, of city, war, or chase, to the number of forty-seven suits, in the assurance that he will wear them till they are worn out, for the love of and in remembrance of his master. Moreover, I bequeath to M. le Vicomte de Bragelonne my old servant and faithful friend Mousqueton, already named, providing that the said vicomte shall so act that Mousqueton shall declare, when dying, he has never ceased to be happy.”

On hearing these words, Mousqueton bowed, pale and trembling; his shoulders shook convulsively; his countenance, compressed by a frightful grief, appeared from between his icy hands, and the spectators saw him stagger and hesitate, as if, though wishing to leave the hall, he did not know the way.

“Mousqueton, my good friend,” said d’Artagnan, “go and make your preparations. I will take you with me to Athos’s house, whither I shall go on leaving Pierrefonds.”

Mousqueton made no reply. He scarcely breathed, as if everything in that hall would from that time be foreign. He opened the door, and slowly disappeared.

The procureur finished his reading, after which the greater part of those who had come to hear the last will of Porthos dispersed by degrees, many disappointed, but all penetrated with respect. As for d’Artagnan, thus left alone, after having received the formal compliments of the procureur, he was lost in admiration of the wisdom of the testator, who had so judiciously bestowed his wealth upon the most necessitous and the most worthy, with a delicacy that neither nobleman nor courtier could have displayed more kindly. When Porthos enjoined Raoul de Bragelonne to give d’Artagnan all that he would ask, he knew well, our worthy Porthos, that d’Artagnan would ask or take nothing; and in case he did demand anything, none but himself could say what. Porthos left a pension to Aramis, who, if he should be inclined to ask too much, was checked by the example of d’Artagnan; and that word exile, thrown out by the testator, without apparent intention, was it not the mildest, most exquisite criticism upon that conduct of Aramis which had brought about the death of Porthos? But there was no mention of Athos in the testament of the dead. Could the latter for a moment suppose that the son would not offer the best part to the father? The rough mind of Porthos had fathomed all these causes, seized all these shades more clearly than law, better than custom, with more propriety than taste.

Porthos had indeed a heart, said d’Artagnan to himself with a sigh. As he made this reflection, he fancied he hard a groan in the room above him; and he thought immediately of poor Mousqueton, whom he felt it was a pleasing duty to divert from his grief. For this purpose he left the hall hastily to seek the worthy intendant, as he had not returned. He ascended the staircase leading to the first story, and perceived, in Porthos’s own chamber, a heap of clothes of all colors and materials, upon which Mousqueton had laid himself down after heaping them all on the floor together. It was the legacy of the faithful friend. Those clothes were truly his own; they had been given to him; the hand of Mousqueton was stretched over these relics, which he was kissing with his lips, with all his face, and covered with his body. D’Artagnan approached to console the poor fellow.

My God! said he, he does not stir⁠—he has fainted!

But d’Artagnan was mistaken. Mousqueton was dead! Dead, like the dog who, having lost his master, crawls back to die upon his cloak.

CHAPTER 84

The Old Age of Athos
While these affairs were separating forever the four musketeers, formerly bound together in a manner that seemed indissoluble, Athos, left alone after the departure of Raoul, began to pay his tribute to that foretaste of death which is called the absence of those we love. Back in his house at Blois, no longer having even Grimaud to receive a poor smile as he passed through the parterre, Athos daily felt the decline of vigor of a nature which for so long a time had seemed impregnable. Age, which had been kept back by the presence of the beloved object, arrived with that cortège of pains and inconveniences, which grows by geometrical accretion. Athos had no longer his son to induce him to walk firmly, with head erect, as a good example; he had no longer, in those brilliant eyes of the young man, an ever-ardent focus at which to kindle anew the fire of his looks. And then, must it be said, that nature, exquisite in tenderness and reserve, no longer finding anything to understand its feelings, gave itself up to grief with all the warmth of common natures when they yield to joy. The Comte de la Fère, who had remained a young man to his sixty-second year; the warrior who had preserved his strength in spite of fatigue; his freshness of mind in spite of misfortune, his mild serenity of soul and body in spite of Milady,[24] in spite of Mazarin, in spite of La Vallière; Athos had become an old man in a week, from the moment at which he lost the comfort of his later youth. Still handsome, though bent, noble, but sad, he sought, since his solitude, the deeper glades where sunshine scarcely penetrated. He discontinued all the mighty exercises he had enjoyed through life, when Raoul was no longer with him. The servants, accustomed to see him stirring with the dawn at all seasons, were astonished to hear seven o’clock strike before their master quitted his bed. Athos remained in bed with a book under his pillow⁠—but he did not sleep, neither did he read. Remaining in bed that he might no longer have to carry his body, he allowed his soul and spirit to wander from their envelope and return to his son, or to God.

His people were sometimes terrified to see him, for hours together, absorbed in silent reverie, mute and insensible; he no longer heard the timid step of the servant who came to the door of his chamber to watch the sleeping or waking of his master. It often occurred that he forgot the day had half passed away, that the hours for the two first meals were gone by. Then he was awakened. He rose, descended to his shady walk, then came out a little into the sun, as though to partake of its warmth for a minute in memory of his absent child. And then the dismal monotonous walk recommenced, until, exhausted, he regained the chamber and his bed, his domicile by choice. For several days the comte did not speak a single word. He refused to receive the visits that were paid him, and during the night he was seen to relight his lamp and pass long hours in writing, or examining parchments.

Athos wrote one of these letters to Vannes, another to Fontainebleau; they remained without answers. We know why: Aramis had quitted France, and d’Artagnan was traveling from Nantes to Paris, from Paris to Pierrefonds. His valet de chambre observed that he shortened his walk every day by several turns. The great alley of limes soon became too long for feet that used to traverse it formerly a hundred times a day. The comte walked feebly as far as the middle trees, seated himself upon a mossy bank that sloped towards a sidewalk, and there waited the return of his strength, or rather the return of night. Very shortly a hundred steps exhausted him. At length Athos refused to rise at all; he declined all nourishment, and his terrified people, although he did not complain, although he wore a smile upon his lips, although he continued to speak with his sweet voice⁠—his people went to Blois in search of the ancient physician of the late Monsieur, and brought him to the Comte de la Fère in such a fashion that he could see the comte without being himself seen. For this purpose, they placed him in a closet adjoining the chamber of the patient, and implored him not to show himself, for fear of displeasing their master, who had not asked for a physician. The doctor obeyed. Athos was a sort of model for the gentlemen of the country; the Blaisois boasted of possessing this sacred relic of French glory. Athos was a great seigneur compared with such nobles as the king improvised by touching with his artificial scepter the patched-up trunks of the heraldic trees of the province.

People respected Athos, we say, and they loved him. The physician could not bear to see his people weep, to see flock round him the poor of the canton, to whom Athos had so often given life and consolation by his kind words and his charities. He examined, therefore, from the depths of his hiding-place, the nature of that mysterious malady which bent and aged more mortally every day a man but lately so full of life and a desire to live. He remarked upon the cheeks of Athos the hectic hue of fever, which feeds upon itself; slow fever, pitiless, born in a fold of the heart, sheltering itself behind that rampart, growing from the suffering it engenders, at once cause and effect of a perilous situation. The comte spoke to nobody; he did not even talk to himself. His thought feared noise; it approached to that degree of over-excitement which borders upon ecstasy. Man thus absorbed, though he does not yet belong to God, already appertains no longer to the earth. The doctor remained for several hours studying this painful struggle of the will against superior power; he was terrified at seeing those eyes always fixed, ever directed on some invisible object; was terrified at the monotonous beating of that heart from which never a sigh arose to vary the melancholy state; for often pain becomes the hope of the physician. Half a day passed away thus. The doctor formed his resolution like a brave man; he issued suddenly from his place of retreat, and went straight up to Athos, who beheld him without evincing more surprise than if he had understood nothing of the apparition.

“Monsieur le Comte, I crave your pardon,” said the doctor, coming up to the patient with open arms; “but I have a reproach to make you⁠—you shall hear me.” And he seated himself by the pillow of Athos, who had great trouble in rousing himself from his preoccupation.

“What is the matter, doctor?” asked the comte, after a silence.

“The matter is, you are ill, Monsieur, and have had no advice.”

“I! ill!” said Athos, smiling.

“Fever, consumption, weakness, decay, Monsieur le Comte!”

“Weakness!” replied Athos; “is it possible? I do not get up.”

“Come, come! Monsieur le Comte, no subterfuges; you are a good Christian?”

“I hope so,” said Athos.

“Is it your wish to kill yourself?”

“Never, doctor.”

“Well! Monsieur, you are in a fair way of doing so. Thus to remain is suicide. Get well! Monsieur le Comte, get well!”

“Of what? Find the disease first. For my part, I never knew myself better; never did the sky appear more blue to me; never did I take more care of my flowers.”

“You have a hidden grief.”

“Concealed!⁠—not at all; the absence of my son, doctor; that is my malady, and I do not conceal it.”

“Monsieur le Comte, your son lives, he is strong, he has all the future before him⁠—the future of men of merit, of his race; live for him⁠—”

“But I do live, doctor; oh! be satisfied of that,” added he, with a melancholy smile; “for as long as Raoul lives, it will be plainly known, for as long as he lives, I shall live.”

“What do you say?”

“A very simple thing. At this moment, doctor, I leave life suspended within me. A forgetful, dissipated, indifferent life would be beyond my strength, now I have no longer Raoul with me. You do not ask the lamp to burn when the match has not illumed the flame; do not ask me to live amidst noise and merriment. I vegetate, I prepare myself, I wait. Look, doctor; remember those soldiers we have so often seen together at the ports, where they were waiting to embark; lying down, indifferent, half on one element, half on the other; they were neither at the place where the sea was going to carry them, nor at the place the earth was going to lose them; baggage prepared, minds on the stretch, arms stacked⁠—they waited. I repeat it, the word is the one which paints my present life. Lying down like the soldiers, my ear on the stretch for the report that may reach me, I wish to be ready to set out at the first summons. Who will make me that summons? life or death? God or Raoul? My baggage is packed, my soul is prepared, I await the signal⁠—I wait, doctor, I wait!”

The doctor knew the temper of that mind; he appreciated the strength of that body; he reflected for the moment, told himself that words were useless, remedies absurd, and left the château, exhorting Athos’s servants not to quit him for a moment.

The doctor being gone, Athos evinced neither anger nor vexation at having been disturbed. He did not even desire that all letters that came should be brought to him directly. He knew very well that every distraction which should arise would be a joy, a hope, which his servants would have paid with their blood to procure him. Sleep had become rare. By intense thinking, Athos forgot himself, for a few hours at most, in a reverie most profound, more obscure than other people would have called a dream. The momentary repose which this forgetfulness thus gave the body, still further fatigued the soul, for Athos lived a double life during these wanderings of his understanding. One night, he dreamt that Raoul was dressing himself in a tent, to go upon an expedition commanded by M. de Beaufort in person. The young man was sad; he clasped his cuirass slowly, and slowly he girded on his sword.

“What is the matter?” asked his father, tenderly.

“What afflicts me is the death of Porthos, ever so dear a friend,” replied Raoul. “I suffer here the grief you soon will feel at home.”

And the vision disappeared with the slumber of Athos. At daybreak one of his servants entered his master’s apartment, and gave him a letter which came from Spain.

The writing of Aramis, thought the comte; and he read.

“Porthos is dead!” cried he, after the first lines. “Oh! Raoul, Raoul! thanks! thou keepest thy promise, thou warnest me!”

And Athos, seized with a mortal sweat, fainted in his bed, without any other cause than weakness.

CHAPTER 85

The Vision of Athos
When this fainting of Athos had ceased, the comte, almost ashamed of having given way before this superior natural event, dressed himself and ordered his horse, determined to ride to Blois, to open more certain correspondences with either Africa, d’Artagnan, or Aramis. In fact, this letter from Aramis informed the Comte de la Fère of the bad success of the expedition of Belle-Isle. It gave him sufficient details of the death of Porthos to move the tender and devoted heart of Athos to its innermost fibers. Athos wished to go and pay his friend Porthos a last visit. To render this honor to his companion in arms, he meant to send to d’Artagnan, to prevail upon him to recommence the painful voyage to Belle-Isle, to accomplish in his company that sad pilgrimage to the tomb of the giant he had so much loved, then to return to his dwelling to obey that secret influence which was conducting him to eternity by a mysterious road. But scarcely had his joyous servants dressed their master, whom they saw with pleasure preparing for a journey which might dissipate his melancholy; scarcely had the comte’s gentlest horse been saddled and brought to the door, when the father of Raoul felt his head become confused, his legs give way, and he clearly perceived the impossibility of going one step further. He ordered himself to be carried into the sun; they laid him upon his bed of moss where he passed a full hour before he could recover his spirits. Nothing could be more natural than this weakness after the inert repose of the latter days. Athos took a bouillon, to give him strength, and bathed his dried lips in a glassful of the wine he loved the best⁠—that old Anjou wine mentioned by Porthos in his admirable will. Then, refreshed, free in mind, he had his horse brought again; but only with the aid of his servants was he able painfully to climb into the saddle. He did not go a hundred paces; a shivering seized him again at the turning of the road.

“This is very strange!” said he to his valet de chambre, who accompanied him.

“Let us stop, Monsieur⁠—I conjure you!” replied the faithful servant; “how pale you are getting!”

“That will not prevent my pursuing my route, now I have once started,” replied the comte. And he gave his horse his head again. But suddenly, the animal, instead of obeying the thought of his master, stopped. A movement, of which Athos was unconscious, had checked the bit.

“Something,” said Athos, “wills that I should go no further. Support me,” added he, stretching out his arms; “quick! come closer! I feel my muscles relax⁠—I shall fall from my horse.”

The valet had seen the movement made by his master at the moment he received the order. He went up to him quickly, received the comte in his arms, and as they were not yet sufficiently distant from the house for the servants, who had remained at the door to watch their master’s departure, not to perceive the disorder in the usually regular proceeding of the comte, the valet called his comrades by gestures and voice, and all hastened to his assistance. Athos had gone but a few steps on his return, when he felt himself better again. His strength seemed to revive and with it the desire to go to Blois. He made his horse turn round: but, at the animal’s first steps, he sunk again into a state of torpor and anguish.

“Well! decidedly,” said he, “it is willed that I should stay at home.” His people flocked around him; they lifted him from his horse, and carried him as quickly as possible into the house. Everything was prepared in his chamber, and they put him to bed.

“You will be sure to remember,” said he, disposing himself to sleep, “that I expect letters from Africa this very day.”

“Monsieur will no doubt hear with pleasure that Blaisois’s son is gone on horseback, to gain an hour over the courier of Blois,” replied his valet de chambre.

“Thank you,” replied Athos, with his placid smile.

The comte fell asleep, but his disturbed slumber resembled torture rather than repose. The servant who watched him saw several times the expression of internal suffering shadowed on his features. Perhaps Athos was dreaming.

The day passed away. Blaisois’s son returned; the courier had brought no news. The comte reckoned the minutes with despair; he shuddered when those minutes made an hour. The idea that he was forgotten seized him once, and brought on a fearful pang of the heart. Everybody in the house had given up all hopes of the courier⁠—his hour had long passed. Four times the express sent to Blois had repeated his journey, and there was nothing to the address of the comte. Athos knew that the courier only arrived once a week. Here, then, was a delay of eight mortal days to be endured. He commenced the night in this painful persuasion. All that a sick man, irritated by suffering, can add of melancholy suppositions to probabilities already gloomy, Athos heaped up during the early hours of this dismal night. The fever rose: it invaded the chest, where the fire soon caught, according to the expression of the physician, who had been brought back from Blois by Blaisois at his last journey. Soon it gained the head. The physician made two successive bleedings, which dislodged it for the time, but left the patient very weak, and without power of action in anything but his brain. And yet this redoubtable fever had ceased. It besieged with its last palpitations the tense extremities; it ended by yielding as midnight struck.

The physician, seeing the incontestable improvement, returned to Blois, after having ordered some prescriptions, and declared that the comte was saved. Then commenced for Athos a strange, indefinable state. Free to think, his mind turned towards Raoul, that beloved son. His imagination penetrated the fields of Africa in the environs of Gigelli, where M. de Beaufort must have landed with his army. A waste of gray rocks, rendered green in certain parts by the waters of the sea, when it lashed the shore in storms and tempest. Beyond, the shore, strewed over with these rocks like gravestones, ascended, in form of an amphitheater among mastic-trees and cactus, a sort of small town, full of smoke, confused noises, and terrified movements. All of a sudden, from the bosom of this smoke arose a flame, which succeeded, creeping along the houses, in covering the entire surface of the town, and increased by degrees, uniting in its red and angry vortices tears, screams, and supplicating arms outstretched to Heaven.

There was, for a moment, a frightful pêle-mêle of timbers falling to pieces, of swords broken, of stones calcined, trees burnt and disappearing. It was a strange thing that in this chaos, in which Athos distinguished raised arms, in which he heard cries, sobs, and groans, he did not see one human figure. The cannon thundered at a distance, musketry madly barked, the sea moaned, flocks made their escape, bounding over the verdant slope. But not a soldier to apply the match to the batteries of cannon, not a sailor to assist in maneuvering the fleet, not a shepherd in charge of the flocks. After the ruin of the village, the destruction of the forts which dominated it, a ruin and destruction magically wrought without the cooperation of a single human being, the flames were extinguished, the smoke began to subside, then diminished in intensity, paled and disappeared entirely. Night then came over the scene; night dark upon the earth, brilliant in the firmament. The large blazing stars which spangled the African sky glittered and gleamed without illuminating anything.

A long silence ensued, which gave, for a moment, repose to the troubled imagination of Athos; and as he felt that that which he saw was not terminated, he applied more attentively the eyes of his understanding on the strange spectacle which his imagination had presented. This spectacle was soon continued for him. A mild pale moon rose behind the declivities of the coast, streaking at first the undulating ripples of the sea, which appeared to have calmed after the roaring it had sent forth during the vision of Athos⁠—the moon, we say, shed its diamonds and opals upon the briers and bushes of the hills. The gray rocks, so many silent and attentive phantoms, appeared to raise their heads to examine likewise the field of battle by the light of the moon, and Athos perceived that the field, empty during the combat, was now strewn with fallen bodies.

An inexpressible shudder of fear and horror seized his soul as he recognized the white and blue uniform of the soldiers of Picardy, with their long pikes and blue handles, and muskets marked with the fleur-de-lis on the butts. When he saw all the gaping wounds, looking up to the bright heavens as if to demand back of them the souls to which they had opened a passage⁠—when he saw the slaughtered horses, stiff, their tongues hanging out at one side of their mouths, sleeping in the shiny blood congealed around them, staining their furniture and their manes⁠—when he saw the white horse of M. de Beaufort, with his head beaten to pieces, in the first ranks of the dead, Athos passed a cold hand over his brow, which he was astonished not to find burning. He was convinced by this touch that he was present, as a spectator, without delirium’s dreadful aid, the day after the battle fought upon the shores of Gigelli by the army of the expedition, which he had seen leave the coast of France and disappear upon the dim horizon, and of which he had saluted with thought and gesture the last cannon-shot fired by the duke as a signal of farewell to his country.

Who can paint the mortal agony with which his soul followed, like a vigilant eye, these effigies of clay-cold soldiers, and examined them, one after the other, to see if Raoul slept among them? Who can express the intoxication of joy with which Athos bowed before God, and thanked Him for not having seen him he sought with so much fear among the dead? In fact, fallen in their ranks, stiff, icy, the dead, still recognizable with ease, seemed to turn with complacency towards the Comte de la Fère, to be the better seen by him, during his sad review. But yet, he was astonished, while viewing all these bodies, not to perceive the survivors. To such a point did the illusion extend, that this vision was for him a real voyage made by the father into Africa, to obtain more exact information respecting his son.

Fatigued, therefore, with having traversed seas and continents, he sought repose under one of the tents sheltered behind a rock, on the top of which floated the white fleur-de-lised pennon. He looked for a soldier to conduct him to the tent of M. de Beaufort. Then, while his eye was wandering over the plain, turning on all sides, he saw a white form appear behind the scented myrtles. This figure was clothed in the costume of an officer; it held in its hand a broken sword; it advanced slowly towards Athos, who, stopping short and fixing his eyes upon it, neither spoke nor moved, but wished to open his arms, because in this silent officer he had already recognized Raoul. The comte attempted to utter a cry, but it was stifled in his throat. Raoul, with a gesture, directed him to be silent, placing his finger on his lips and drawing back by degrees, without Athos being able to see his legs move. The comte, still paler than Raoul, followed his son, painfully traversing briers and bushes, stones and ditches, Raoul not appearing to touch the earth, no obstacle seeming to impede the lightness of his march. The comte, whom the inequalities of the path fatigued, soon stopped, exhausted. Raoul still continued to beckon him to follow him. The tender father, to whom love restored strength, made a last effort, and climbed the mountain after the young man, who attracted him by gesture and by smile.

At length he gained the crest of the hill, and saw, thrown out in black, upon the horizon whitened by the moon, the aerial form of Raoul. Athos reached forth his hand to get closer to his beloved son upon the plateau, and the latter also stretched out his; but suddenly, as if the young man had been drawn away in his own despite, still retreating, he left the earth, and Athos saw the clear blue sky shine between the feet of his child and the ground of the hill. Raoul rose insensibly into the void, smiling, still calling with gesture:⁠—he departed towards heaven. Athos uttered a cry of tenderness and terror. He looked below again. He saw a camp destroyed, and all those white bodies of the royal army, like so many motionless atoms. And, then, raising his head, he saw the figure of his son still beckoning him to climb the mystic void.

CHAPTER 86

The Angel of Death
Athos was at this part of his marvelous vision, when the charm was suddenly broken by a great noise rising from the outer gates. A horse was heard galloping over the hard gravel of the great alley, and the sound of noisy and animated conversations ascended to the chamber in which the comte was dreaming. Athos did not stir from the place he occupied; he scarcely turned his head towards the door to ascertain the sooner what these noises could be. A heavy step ascended the stairs; the horse, which had recently galloped, departed slowly towards the stables. Great hesitation appeared in the steps, which by degrees approached the chamber. A door was opened, and Athos, turning a little towards the part of the room the noise came from, cried, in a weak voice:

“It is a courier from Africa, is it not?”

“No, Monsieur le Comte,” replied a voice which made the father of Raoul start upright in his bed.

“Grimaud!” murmured he. And the sweat began to pour down his face. Grimaud appeared in the doorway. It was no longer the Grimaud we have seen, still young with courage and devotion, when he jumped the first into the boat destined to convey Raoul de Bragelonne to the vessels of the royal fleet. ’Twas now a stern and pale old man, his clothes covered with dust, and hair whitened by old age. He trembled whilst leaning against the doorframe, and was near falling on seeing, by the light of the lamps, the countenance of his master. These two men who had lived so long together in a community of intelligence, and whose eyes, accustomed to economize expressions, knew how to say so many things silently⁠—these two old friends, one as noble as the other in heart, if they were unequal in fortune and birth, remained tongue-tied whilst looking at each other. By the exchange of a single glance they had just read to the bottom of each other’s hearts. The old servitor bore upon his countenance the impression of a grief already old, the outward token of a grim familiarity with woe. He appeared to have no longer in use more than a single version of his thoughts. As formerly he was accustomed not to speak much, he was now accustomed not to smile at all. Athos read at a glance all these shades upon the visage of his faithful servant, and in the same tone he would have employed to speak to Raoul in his dream:

“Grimaud,” said he, “Raoul is dead. Is it not so?

Behind Grimaud the other servants listened breathlessly, with their eyes fixed upon the bed of their sick master. They heard the terrible question, and a heartbreaking silence followed.

“Yes,” replied the old man, heaving the monosyllable from his chest with a hoarse, broken sigh.

Then arose voices of lamentation, which groaned without measure, and filled with regrets and prayers the chamber where the agonized father sought with his eyes the portrait of his son. This was for Athos like the transition which led to his dream. Without uttering a cry, without shedding a tear, patient, mild, resigned as a martyr, he raised his eyes towards Heaven, in order there to see again, rising above the mountain of Gigelli, the beloved shade that was leaving him at the moment of Grimaud’s arrival. Without doubt, while looking towards the heavens, resuming his marvelous dream, he repassed by the same road by which the vision, at once so terrible and sweet, had led him before; for after having gently closed his eyes, he reopened them and began to smile: he had just seen Raoul, who had smiled upon him. With his hands joined upon his breast, his face turned towards the window, bathed by the fresh air of night, which brought upon its wings the aroma of the flowers and the woods, Athos entered, never again to come out of it, into the contemplation of that paradise which the living never see. God willed, no doubt, to open to this elect the treasures of eternal beatitude, at the hour when other men tremble with the idea of being severely received by the Lord, and cling to this life they know, in the dread of the other life of which they get but merest glimpses by the dismal murky torch of death. Athos was spirit-guided by the pure serene soul of his son, which aspired to be like the paternal soul. Everything for this just man was melody and perfume in the rough road souls take to return to the celestial country. After an hour of this ecstasy, Athos softly raised his hands as white as wax; the smile did not quit his lips, and he murmured low, so low as scarcely to be audible, these three words addressed to God or to Raoul:

“HERE I AM!”

And his hands fell slowly, as though he himself had laid them on the bed.

Death had been kind and mild to this noble creature. It had spared him the tortures of the agony, convulsions of the last departure; had opened with an indulgent finger the gates of eternity to that noble soul. God had no doubt ordered it thus that the pious remembrance of this death should remain in the hearts of those present, and in the memory of other men⁠—a death which caused to be loved the passage from this life to the other by those whose existence upon this earth leads them not to dread the last judgment. Athos preserved, even in the eternal sleep, that placid and sincere smile⁠—an ornament which was to accompany him to the tomb. The quietude and calm of his fine features made his servants for a long time doubt whether he had really quitted life. The comte’s people wished to remove Grimaud, who, from a distance, devoured the face now quickly growing marble-pale, and did not approach, from pious fear of bringing to him the breath of death. But Grimaud, fatigued as he was, refused to leave the room. He sat himself down upon the threshold, watching his master with the vigilance of a sentinel, jealous to receive either his first waking look or his last dying sigh. The noises all were quiet in the house⁠—everyone respected the slumber of their lord. But Grimaud, by anxiously listening, perceived that the comte no longer breathed. He raised himself with his hands leaning on the ground, looked to see if there did not appear some motion in the body of his master. Nothing! Fear seized him; he rose completely up, and, at the very moment, heard someone coming up the stairs. A noise of spurs knocking against a sword⁠—a warlike sound familiar to his ears⁠—stopped him as he was going towards the bed of Athos. A voice more sonorous than brass or steel resounded within three paces of him.

“Athos! Athos! my friend!” cried this voice, agitated even to tears.

“Monsieur le Chevalier d’Artagnan,” faltered out Grimaud.

“Where is he? Where is he?” continued the musketeer. Grimaud seized his arm in his bony fingers, and pointed to the bed, upon the sheets of which the livid tints of death already showed.

A choked respiration, the opposite to a sharp cry, swelled the throat of d’Artagnan. He advanced on tiptoe, trembling, frightened at the noise his feet made on the floor, his heart rent by a nameless agony. He placed his ear to the breast of Athos, his face to the comte’s mouth. Neither noise, nor breath! D’Artagnan drew back. Grimaud, who had followed him with his eyes, and for whom each of his movements had been a revelation, came timidly; seated himself at the foot of the bed, and glued his lips to the sheet which was raised by the stiffened feet of his master. Then large drops began to flow from his red eyes. This old man in invincible despair, who wept, bent doubled without uttering a word, presented the most touching spectacle that d’Artagnan, in a life so filled with emotion, had ever met with.

The captain resumed standing in contemplation before that smiling dead man, who seemed to have burnished his last thought, to give his best friend, the man he had loved next to Raoul, a gracious welcome even beyond life. And for reply to that exalted flattery of hospitality, d’Artagnan went and kissed Athos fervently on the brow, and with his trembling fingers closed his eyes. Then he seated himself by the pillow without dread of that dead man, who had been so kind and affectionate to him for five and thirty years. He was feeding his soul with the remembrances the noble visage of the comte brought to his mind in crowds⁠—some blooming and charming as that smile⁠—some dark, dismal, and icy as that visage with its eyes now closed to all eternity.

All at once the bitter flood which mounted from minute to minute invaded his heart, and swelled his breast almost to bursting. Incapable of mastering his emotion, he arose, and tearing himself violently from the chamber where he had just found dead him to whom he came to report the news of the death of Porthos, he uttered sobs so heartrending that the servants, who seemed only to wait for an explosion of grief, answered to it by their lugubrious clamors, and the dogs of the late comte by their lamentable howlings. Grimaud was the only one who did not lift up his voice. Even in the paroxysm of his grief he would not have dared to profane the dead, or for the first time disturb the slumber of his master. Had not Athos always bidden him be dumb?

At daybreak d’Artagnan, who had wandered about the lower hall, biting his fingers to stifle his sighs⁠—d’Artagnan went up once more; and watching the moments when Grimaud turned his head towards him, he made him a sign to come to him, which the faithful servant obeyed without making more noise than a shadow. D’Artagnan went down again, followed by Grimaud; and when he had gained the vestibule, taking the old man’s hands, “Grimaud,” said he, “I have seen how the father died; now let me know about the son.”

Grimaud drew from his breast a large letter, upon the envelope of which was traced the address of Athos. He recognized the writing of M. de Beaufort, broke the seal, and began to read, while walking about in the first steel-chill rays of dawn, in the dark alley of old limes, marked by the still visible footsteps of the comte who had just died.

CHAPTER 87

The Bulletin
The Duc de Beaufort wrote to Athos. The letter destined for the living only reached the dead. God had changed the address.

“My dear Comte,” wrote the prince, in his large, schoolboy’s hand⁠—“a great misfortune has struck us amidst a great triumph. The king loses one of the bravest of soldiers. I lose a friend. You lose M. de Bragelonne. He has died gloriously, so gloriously that I have not the strength to weep as I could wish. Receive my sad compliments, my dear comte. Heaven distributes trials according to the greatness of our hearts. This is an immense one, but not above your courage. Your good friend,
“Le Duc de Beaufort.”

The letter contained a relation written by one of the prince’s secretaries. It was the most touching recital, and the most true, of that dismal episode which unraveled two existences. D’Artagnan, accustomed to battle emotions, and with a heart armed against tenderness, could not help starting on reading the name of Raoul, the name of that beloved boy who had become a shade now⁠—like his father.

“In the morning,” said the prince’s secretary, “Monseigneur commanded the attack. Normandy and Picardy had taken positions in the rocks dominated by the heights of the mountain, upon the declivity of which were raised the bastions of Gigelli.

“The cannon opened the action; the regiments marched full of resolution; the pikemen with pikes elevated, the musket-bearers with their weapons ready. The prince followed attentively the march and movements of the troops, so as to be able to sustain them with a strong reserve. With Monseigneur were the oldest captains and his aides-de-camp. M. le Vicomte de Bragelonne had received orders not to leave His Highness. In the meantime the enemy’s cannon, which at first thundered with little success against the masses, began to regulate their fire, and the balls, better directed, killed several men near the prince. The regiments formed in column, and, advancing against the ramparts, were rather roughly handled. There was a sort of hesitation in our troops, who found themselves ill-seconded by the artillery. In fact, the batteries which had been established the evening before had but a weak and uncertain aim, on account of their position. The upward direction of the aim lessened the justness of the shots as well as their range.

“Monseigneur, comprehending the bad effect of this position on the siege artillery, commanded the frigates moored in the little road to commence a regular fire against the place. M. de Bragelonne offered himself at once to carry this order. But Monseigneur refused to acquiesce in the vicomte’s request. Monseigneur was right, for he loved and wished to spare the young nobleman. He was quite right, and the event took upon itself to justify his foresight and refusal; for scarcely had the sergeant charged with the message solicited by M. de Bragelonne gained the seashore, when two shots from long carbines issued from the enemy’s ranks and laid him low. The sergeant fell, dyeing the sand with his blood; observing which, M. de Bragelonne smiled at Monseigneur, who said to him, ‘You see, vicomte, I have saved your life. Report that, some day, to M. le Comte de la Fère, in order that, learning it from you, he may thank me.’ The young nobleman smiled sadly, and replied to the duke, ‘It is true, Monseigneur, that but for your kindness I should have been killed, where the poor sergeant has fallen, and should be at rest.’ M. de Bragelonne made this reply in such a tone that Monseigneur answered him warmly, ‘Vrai Dieu! Young man, one would say that your mouth waters for death; but, by the soul of Henry IV I have promised your father to bring you back alive; and, please the Lord, I mean to keep my word.’

“Monseigneur de Bragelonne colored, and replied in a lower voice, ‘Monseigneur, pardon me, I beseech you. I have always had a desire to meet good opportunities; and it is so delightful to distinguish ourselves before our general, particularly when that general is M. le Duc de Beaufort.’

“Monseigneur was a little softened by this; and, turning to the officers who surrounded him, gave different orders. The grenadiers of the two regiments got near enough to the ditches and entrenchments to launch their grenades, which had but small effect. In the meanwhile, M. d’Estrées, who commanded the fleet, having seen the attempt of the sergeant to approach the vessels, understood that he must act without orders, and opened fire. Then the Arabs, finding themselves seriously injured by the balls from the fleet, and beholding the destruction and the ruin of their walls, uttered the most fearful cries. Their horsemen descended the mountain at a gallop, bent over their saddles, and rushed full tilt upon the columns of infantry, which, crossing their pikes, stopped this mad assault. Repulsed by the firm attitude of the battalion, the Arabs threw themselves with fury towards the état-major, which was not on its guard at that moment.

“The danger was great; Monseigneur drew his sword; his secretaries and people imitated him; the officers of the suite engaged in combat with the furious Arabs. It was then M. de Bragelonne was able to satisfy the inclination he had so clearly shown from the commencement of the action. He fought near the prince with the valor of a Roman, and killed three Arabs with his small sword. But it was evident that his bravery did not arise from that sentiment of pride so natural to all who fight. It was impetuous, affected, even forced; he sought to glut, intoxicate himself with strife and carnage. He excited himself to such a degree that Monseigneur called to him to stop. He must have heard the voice of Monseigneur, because we who were close to him heard it. He did not, however, stop, but continued his course to the entrenchments. As M. de Bragelonne was a well-disciplined officer, this disobedience to the orders of Monseigneur very much surprised everybody, and M. de Beaufort redoubled his earnestness, crying, ‘Stop, Bragelonne! Where are you going? Stop,’ repeated Monseigneur, ‘I command you!’

“We all, imitating the gesture of M. le Duc, we all raised our hands. We expected that the cavalier would turn bridle; but M. de Bragelonne continued to ride towards the palisades.

“ ‘Stop, Bragelonne!’ repeated the prince, in a very loud voice, ‘stop! in the name of your father!’

“At these words M. de Bragelonne turned round; his countenance expressed a lively grief, but he did not stop; we then concluded that his horse must have run away with him. When M. le Duc saw cause to conclude that the vicomte was no longer master of his horse, and had watched him precede the first grenadiers, His Highness cried, ‘Musketeers, kill his horse! A hundred pistoles for the man who kills his horse!’ But who could expect to hit the beast without at least wounding his rider? No one dared the attempt. At length one presented himself; he was a sharpshooter of the regiment of Picardy, named Luzerne, who took aim at the animal, fired, and hit him in the quarters, for we saw the blood redden the hair of the horse. Instead of falling, the cursed jennet was irritated, and carried him on more furiously than ever. Every Picard who saw this unfortunate young man rushing on to meet certain death, shouted in the loudest manner, ‘Throw yourself off, Monsieur le Vicomte!⁠—off!⁠—off! throw yourself off!’ M. de Bragelonne was an officer much beloved in the army. Already had the vicomte arrived within pistol-shot of the ramparts, when a discharge was poured upon him that enshrouded him in fire and smoke. We lost sight of him; the smoke dispersed; he was on foot, upright; his horse was killed.

“The vicomte was summoned to surrender by the Arabs, but he made them a negative sign with his head, and continued to march towards the palisades. This was a mortal imprudence. Nevertheless the entire army was pleased that he would not retreat, since ill-chance had led him so near. He marched a few paces further, and the two regiments clapped their hands. It was at this moment the second discharge shook the walls, and the Vicomte de Bragelonne again disappeared in the smoke; but this time the smoke dispersed in vain; we no longer saw him standing. He was down, with his head lower than his legs, among the bushes, and the Arabs began to think of leaving their entrenchments to come and cut off his head or take his body⁠—as is the custom with the infidels. But Monseigneur le Duc de Beaufort had followed all this with his eyes, and the sad spectacle drew from him many painful sighs. He then cried aloud, seeing the Arabs running like white phantoms among the mastic-trees, ‘Grenadiers! lancers! will you let them take that noble body?’

“Saying these words and waving his sword, he himself rode towards the enemy. The regiments, rushing in his steps, ran in their turn, uttering cries as terrible as those of the Arabs were wild.

“The combat commenced over the body of M. de Bragelonne, and with such inveteracy was it fought that a hundred and sixty Arabs were left upon the field, by the side of at least fifty of our troops. It was a lieutenant from Normandy who took the body of the vicomte on his shoulders and carried it back to the lines. The advantage was, however, pursued, the regiments took the reserve with them, and the enemy’s palisades were utterly destroyed. At three o’clock the fire of the Arabs ceased; the hand-to-hand fight lasted two hours; it was a massacre. At five o’clock we were victorious at all points; the enemy had abandoned his positions, and M. le Duc ordered the white flag to be planted on the summit of the little mountain. It was then we had time to think of M. de Bragelonne, who had eight large wounds in his body, through which almost all his blood had welled away. Still, however, he had breathed, which afforded inexpressible joy to Monseigneur, who insisted on being present at the first dressing of the wounds and the consultation of the surgeons. There were two among them who declared M. de Bragelonne would live. Monseigneur threw his arms around their necks, and promised them a thousand louis each if they could save him.

“The vicomte heard these transports of joy, and whether he was in despair, or whether he suffered much from his wounds, he expressed by his countenance a contradiction, which gave rise to reflection, particularly in one of the secretaries when he had heard what follows. The third surgeon was the brother of Sylvain de Saint-Cosme, the most learned of them all. He probed the wounds in his turn, and said nothing. M. de Bragelonne fixed his eyes steadily upon the skillful surgeon, and seemed to interrogate his every movement. The latter, upon being questioned by Monseigneur, replied that he saw plainly three mortal wounds out of eight, but so strong was the constitution of the wounded, so rich was he in youth, and so merciful was the goodness of God, that perhaps M. de Bragelonne might recover, particularly if he did not move in the slightest manner. Frère Sylvain added, turning towards his assistants, ‘Above everything, do not allow him to move even a finger, or you will kill him’; and we all left the tent in very low spirits. That secretary I have mentioned, on leaving the tent, thought he perceived a faint and sad smile glide over the lips of M. de Bragelonne when the duke said to him, in a cheerful, kind voice, ‘We will save you, vicomte, we will save you yet.’

“In the evening, when it was believed the wounded youth had taken some repose, one of the assistants entered his tent, but rushed out again immediately, uttering loud cries. We all ran up in disorder, M. le Duc with us, and the assistant pointed to the body of M. de Bragelonne upon the ground, at the foot of his bed, bathed in the remainder of his blood. It appeared that he had suffered some convulsion, some delirium, and that he had fallen; that the fall had accelerated his end, according to the prognosis of Frère Sylvain. We raised the vicomte; he was cold and dead. He held a lock of fair hair in his right hand, and that hand was tightly pressed upon his heart.”

Then followed the details of the expedition, and of the victory obtained over the Arabs. D’Artagnan stopped at the account of the death of poor Raoul. “Oh!” murmured he, “unhappy boy! a suicide!” And turning his eyes towards the chamber of the château, in which Athos slept in eternal sleep, “They kept their words with each other,” said he, in a low voice; “now I believe them to be happy; they must be reunited.” And he returned through the parterre with slow and melancholy steps. All the village⁠—all the neighborhood⁠—were filled with grieving neighbors relating to each other the double catastrophe, and making preparations for the funeral.

CHAPTER 88

The Last Canto of the Poem
On the morrow, all the noblesse of the provinces, of the environs, and wherever messengers had carried the news, might have been seen arriving in detachments. D’Artagnan had shut himself up, without being willing to speak to anybody. Two such heavy deaths falling upon the captain, so closely after the death of Porthos, for a long time oppressed that spirit which had hitherto been so indefatigable and invulnerable. Except Grimaud, who entered his chamber once, the musketeer saw neither servants nor guests. He supposed, from the noises in the house, and the continual coming and going, that preparations were being made for the funeral of the comte. He wrote to the king to ask for an extension of his leave of absence. Grimaud, as we have said, had entered d’Artagnan’s apartment, had seated himself upon a joint-stool near the door, like a man who meditates profoundly; then, rising, he made a sign to d’Artagnan to follow him. The latter obeyed in silence. Grimaud descended to the comte’s bedchamber, showed the captain with his finger the place of the empty bed, and raised his eyes eloquently towards Heaven.

“Yes,” replied d’Artagnan, “yes, good Grimaud⁠—now with the son he loved so much!”

Grimaud left the chamber, and led the way to the hall, where, according to the custom of the province, the body was laid out, previously to being put away forever. D’Artagnan was struck at seeing two open coffins in the hall. In reply to the mute invitation of Grimaud, he approached, and saw in one of them Athos, still handsome in death, and, in the other, Raoul with his eyes closed, his cheeks pearly as those of the Palls of Virgil, with a smile on his violet lips. He shuddered at seeing the father and son, those two departed souls, represented on earth by two silent, melancholy bodies, incapable of touching each other, however close they might be.

“Raoul here!” murmured he. “Oh! Grimaud, why did you not tell me this?”

Grimaud shook his head, and made no reply; but taking d’Artagnan by the hand, he led him to the coffin, and showed him, under the thin winding-sheet, the black wounds by which life had escaped. The captain turned away his eyes, and, judging it was useless to question Grimaud, who would not answer, he recollected that M. de Beaufort’s secretary had written more than he, d’Artagnan, had had the courage to read. Taking up the recital of the affair which had cost Raoul his life, he found these words, which ended the concluding paragraph of the letter:

“Monseigneur le Duc has ordered that the body of Monsieur le Vicomte should be embalmed, after the manner practiced by the Arabs when they wish their dead to be carried to their native land; and Monsieur le Duc has appointed relays, so that the same confidential servant who brought up the young man might take back his remains to M. le Comte de la Fère.”

And so, thought d’Artagnan, I shall follow thy funeral, my dear boy⁠—I, already old⁠—I, who am of no value on earth⁠—and I shall scatter dust upon that brow I kissed but two months since. God has willed it to be so. Thou hast willed it to be so, thyself. I have no longer the right even to weep. Thou hast chosen death; it seemed to thee a preferable gift to life.

At length arrived the moment when the chill remains of these two gentlemen were to be given back to mother earth. There was such an affluence of military and other people that up to the place of the sepulture, which was a little chapel on the plain, the road from the city was filled with horsemen and pedestrians in mourning. Athos had chosen for his resting-place the little enclosure of a chapel erected by himself near the boundary of his estates. He had had the stones, cut in 1550, brought from an old Gothic manor-house in Berry, which had sheltered his early youth. The chapel, thus rebuilt, transported, was pleasing to the eye beneath its leafy curtains of poplars and sycamores. It was ministered in every Sunday, by the curé of the neighboring bourg, to whom Athos paid an allowance of two hundred francs for this service; and all the vassals of his domain, with their families, came thither to hear Mass, without having any occasion to go to the city.

Behind the chapel extended, surrounded by two high hedges of hazel, elder and white thorn, and a deep ditch, the little enclosure⁠—uncultivated, though gay in its sterility; because the mosses there grew thick, wild heliotrope and ravenelles there mingled perfumes, while from beneath an ancient chestnut issued a crystal spring, a prisoner in its marble cistern, and on the thyme all around alighted thousands of bees from the neighboring plants, whilst chaffinches and redthroats sang cheerfully among the flower-spangled hedges. It was to this place the somber coffins were carried, attended by a silent and respectful crowd. The office of the dead being celebrated, the last adieux paid to the noble departed, the assembly dispersed, talking, along the roads, of the virtues and mild death of the father, of the hopes the son had given, and of his melancholy end upon the arid coast of Africa.

Little by little, all noises were extinguished, like the lamps illuminating the humble nave. The minister bowed for the last time to the altar and the still fresh graves; then, followed by his assistant, he slowly took the road back to the presbytery. D’Artagnan, left alone, perceived that night was coming on. He had forgotten the hour, thinking only of the dead. He arose from the oaken bench on which he was seated in the chapel, and wished, as the priest had done, to go and bid a last adieu to the double grave which contained his two lost friends.

A woman was praying, kneeling on the moist earth. D’Artagnan stopped at the door of the chapel, to avoid disturbing her, and also to endeavor to find out who was the pious friend who performed this sacred duty with so much zeal and perseverance. The unknown had hidden her face in her hands, which were white as alabaster. From the noble simplicity of her costume, she must be a woman of distinction. Outside the enclosure were several horses mounted by servants; a travelling carriage was in waiting for this lady. D’Artagnan in vain sought to make out what caused her delay. She continued praying, and frequently pressed her handkerchief to her face, by which d’Artagnan perceived she was weeping. He beheld her strike her breast with the compunction of a Christian woman. He heard her several times exclaim as from a wounded heart: “Pardon! pardon!” And as she appeared to abandon herself entirely to her grief, as she threw herself down, almost fainting, exhausted by complaints and prayers, d’Artagnan, touched by this love for his so much regretted friends, made a few steps towards the grave, in order to interrupt the melancholy colloquy of the penitent with the dead. But as soon as his step sounded on the gravel, the unknown raised her head, revealing to d’Artagnan a face aflood with tears, a well-known face. It was Mademoiselle de La Vallière! “Monsieur d’Artagnan!” murmured she.

“You!” replied the captain, in a stern voice, “you here!⁠—oh! Madame, I should better have liked to see you decked with flowers in the mansion of the Comte de la Fère. You would have wept less⁠—and they too⁠—and I!”

“Monsieur!” said she, sobbing.

“For it was you,” added this pitiless friend of the dead⁠—“it was you who sped these two men to the grave.”

“Oh! spare me!”

“God forbid, Madame, that I should offend a woman, or that I should make her weep in vain; but I must say that the place of the murderer is not upon the grave of her victims.” She wished to reply.

“What I now tell you,” added he, coldly, “I have already told the king.”

She clasped her hands. “I know,” said she, “I have caused the death of the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“Ah! you know it?”

“The news arrived at court yesterday. I have traveled during the night forty leagues to come and ask pardon of the comte, whom I supposed to be still living, and to pray God, on the tomb of Raoul, that he would send me all the misfortunes I have merited, except a single one. Now, Monsieur, I know that the death of the son has killed the father; I have two crimes to reproach myself with; I have two punishments to expect from Heaven.”

“I will repeat to you, Mademoiselle,” said d’Artagnan, “what M. de Bragelonne said of you, at Antibes, when he already meditated death: ‘If pride and coquetry have misled her, I pardon her while despising her. If love has produced her error, I pardon her, but I swear that no one could have loved her as I have done.’ ”

“You know,” interrupted Louise, “that for my love I was about to sacrifice myself; you know whether I suffered when you met me lost, dying, abandoned. Well! never have I suffered so much as now; because then I hoped, desired⁠—now I have no longer anything to wish for; because this death drags all my joy into the tomb; because I can no longer dare to love without remorse, and I feel that he whom I love⁠—oh! it is but just!⁠—will repay me with the tortures I have made others undergo.”

D’Artagnan made no reply; he was too well convinced that she was not mistaken.

“Well, then,” added she, “dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, do not overwhelm me today, I again implore you! I am like the branch torn from the trunk, I no longer hold to anything in this world⁠—a current drags me on, I know not whither. I love madly, even to the point of coming to tell it, wretch that I am, over the ashes of the dead, and I do not blush for it⁠—I have no remorse on this account. Such love is a religion. Only, as hereafter you will see me alone, forgotten, disdained; as you will see me punished, as I am destined to be punished, spare me in my ephemeral happiness, leave it to me for a few days, for a few minutes. Now, even at the moment I am speaking to you, perhaps it no longer exists. My God! this double murder is perhaps already expiated!”

While she was speaking thus, the sound of voices and of horses drew the attention of the captain. M. de Saint-Aignan came to seek La Vallière. “The king,” he said, “is a prey to jealousy and uneasiness.” Saint-Aignan did not perceive d’Artagnan, half concealed by the trunk of a chestnut-tree which shaded the double grave. Louise thanked Saint-Aignan, and dismissed him with a gesture. He rejoined the party outside the enclosure.

“You see, Madame,” said the captain bitterly to the young woman⁠—“you see your happiness still lasts.”

The young woman raised her head with a solemn air. “A day will come,” said she, “when you will repent of having so misjudged me. On that day, it is I who will pray God to forgive you for having been unjust towards me. Besides, I shall suffer so much that you yourself will be the first to pity my sufferings. Do not reproach me with my fleeting happiness, Monsieur d’Artagnan; it costs me dear, and I have not paid all my debt.” Saying these words, she again knelt down, softly and affectionately.

“Pardon me the last time, my affianced Raoul!” said she. “I have broken our chain; we are both destined to die of grief. It is thou who departest first; fear nothing, I shall follow thee. See, only, that I have not been base, and that I have come to bid thee this last adieu. The Lord is my witness, Raoul, that if with my life I could have redeemed thine, I would have given that life without hesitation. I could not give my love. Once more, forgive me, dearest, kindest friend.”

She strewed a few sweet flowers on the freshly sodded earth; then, wiping the tears from her eyes, the heavily stricken lady bowed to d’Artagnan, and disappeared.

The captain watched the departure of the horses, horsemen, and carriage, then crossing his arms upon his swelling chest, “When will it be my turn to depart?” said he, in an agitated voice. “What is there left for man after youth, love, glory, friendship, strength, and wealth have disappeared? That rock, under which sleeps Porthos, who possessed all I have named; this moss, under which repose Athos and Raoul, who possessed much more!”

He hesitated for a moment, with a dull eye; then, drawing himself up, “Forward! still forward!” said he. “When it is time, God will tell me, as he foretold the others.”

He touched the earth, moistened with the evening dew, with the ends of his fingers, signed himself as if he had been at the bénitier in church, and retook alone⁠—ever alone⁠—the road to Paris.

Epilogue

Four years after the scene we have just described, two horsemen, well mounted, traversed Blois early in the morning, for the purpose of arranging a hawking party the king had arranged to make in that uneven plain the Loire divides in two, which borders on the one side Meung, on the other Amboise. These were the keeper of the king’s harriers and the master of the falcons, personages greatly respected in the time of Louis XIII, but rather neglected by his successor. The horsemen, having reconnoitered the ground, were returning, their observations made, when they perceived certain little groups of soldiers, here and there, whom the sergeants were placing at distances at the openings of the enclosures. These were the king’s Musketeers. Behind them came, upon a splendid horse, the captain, known by his richly embroidered uniform. His hair was gray, his beard turning so. He seemed a little bent, although sitting and handling his horse gracefully. He was looking about him watchfully.

“M. d’Artagnan does not get any older,” said the keeper of the harriers to his colleague the falconer; “with ten years more to carry than either of us, he has the seat of a young man on horseback.”

“That is true,” replied the falconer. “I don’t see any change in him for the last twenty years.”

But this officer was mistaken; d’Artagnan in the last four years had lived a dozen. Age had printed its pitiless claws at each angle of his eyes; his brow was bald; his hands, formerly brown and nervous, were getting white, as if the blood had half forgotten them.

D’Artagnan accosted the officers with the shade of affability which distinguishes superiors, and received in turn for his courtesy two most respectful bows.

“Ah! what a lucky chance to see you here, Monsieur d’Artagnan!” cried the falconer.

“It is rather I who should say that, messieurs,” replied the captain, “for nowadays, the king makes more frequent use of his musketeers than of his falcons.”

“Ah! it is not as it was in the good old times,” sighed the falconer. “Do you remember, Monsieur d’Artagnan, when the late king flew the pie[25] in the vineyards beyond Beaugence? Ah! dame! you were not the captain of the Musketeers at that time, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“And you were nothing but under-corporal of the tiercelets,” replied d’Artagnan, laughing. “Never mind that, it was a good time, seeing that it is always a good time when we are young. Good day, Monsieur the keeper of the harriers.”

“You do me honor, Monsieur le Comte,” said the latter. D’Artagnan made no reply. The title of comte had hardly struck him; d’Artagnan had been a comte four years.

“Are you not very much fatigued with the long journey you have taken, Monsieur le Capitaine?” continued the falconer. “It must be full two hundred leagues from hence to Pignerol.”

“Two hundred and sixty to go, and as many to return,” said d’Artagnan, quietly.

“And,” said the falconer, “is he well?”

“Who?” asked d’Artagnan.

“Why, poor M. Fouquet,” continued the falconer, in a low voice. The keeper of the harriers had prudently withdrawn.

“No,” replied d’Artagnan, “the poor man frets terribly; he cannot comprehend how imprisonment can be a favor; he says that parliament absolved him by banishing him, and banishment is, or should be, liberty. He cannot imagine that they had sworn his death, and that to save his life from the claws of parliament was to be under too much obligation to Heaven.”

“Ah! yes; the poor man had a close chance of the scaffold,” replied the falconer; “it is said that M. Colbert had given orders to the governor of the Bastile, and that the execution was ordered.”

“Enough!” said d’Artagnan, pensively, and with a view of cutting short the conversation.

“Yes,” said the keeper of the harriers, drawing towards them, “M. Fouquet is now at Pignerol; he has richly deserved it. He had the good fortune to be conducted there by you; he robbed the king sufficiently.”

D’Artagnan launched at the master of the dogs one of his crossest looks, and said to him, “Monsieur, if anyone told me you had eaten your dogs’ meat, not only would I refuse to believe it; but still more, if you were condemned to the lash or to jail for it, I should pity you and would not allow people to speak ill of you. And yet, Monsieur, honest man as you may be, I assure you that you are not more so than poor M. Fouquet was.”

After having undergone this sharp rebuke, the keeper of the harriers hung his head, and allowed the falconer to get two steps in advance of him nearer to d’Artagnan.

“He is content,” said the falconer, in a low voice, to the musketeer; “we all know that harriers are in fashion nowadays; if he were a falconer he would not talk in that way.”

D’Artagnan smiled in a melancholy manner at seeing this great political question resolved by the discontent of such humble interest. He for a moment ran over in his mind the glorious existence of the surintendant, the crumbling of his fortunes, and the melancholy death that awaited him; and to conclude, “Did M. Fouquet love falconry?” said he.

“Oh, passionately, Monsieur!” repeated the falconer, with an accent of bitter regret and a sigh that was the funeral oration of Fouquet.

D’Artagnan allowed the ill-humor of the one and the regret of the other to pass, and continued to advance. They could already catch glimpses of the huntsmen at the issue of the wood, the feathers of the outriders passing like shooting stars across the clearings, and the white horses skirting the bosky thickets looking like illuminated apparitions.

“But,” resumed d’Artagnan, “will the sport last long? Pray, give us a good swift bird, for I am very tired. Is it a heron or a swan?”

“Both, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the falconer; “but you need not be alarmed; the king is not much of a sportsman; he does not take the field on his own account, he only wishes to amuse the ladies.”

The words “to amuse the ladies” were so strongly accented they set d’Artagnan thinking.

“Ah!” said he, looking keenly at the falconer.

The keeper of the harriers smiled, no doubt with a view of making it up with the musketeer.

“Oh! you may safely laugh,” said d’Artagnan; “I know nothing of current news; I only arrived yesterday, after a month’s absence. I left the court mourning the death of the queen-mother. The king was not willing to take any amusement after receiving the last sigh of Anne of Austria; but everything comes to an end in this world. Well! then he is no longer sad? So much the better.”[26]

“And everything begins as well as ends,” said the keeper with a coarse laugh.

“Ah!” said d’Artagnan, a second time⁠—he burned to know, but dignity would not allow him to interrogate people below him⁠—“there is something beginning, then, it seems?”

The keeper gave him a significant wink; but d’Artagnan was unwilling to learn anything from this man.

“Shall we see the king early?” asked he of the falconer.

“At seven o’clock, Monsieur, I shall fly the birds.”

“Who comes with the king? How is Madame? How is the queen?”

“Better, Monsieur.”

“Has she been ill, then?”

“Monsieur, since the last chagrin she suffered, Her Majesty has been unwell.”

“What chagrin? You need not fancy your news is old. I have but just returned.”

“It appears that the queen, a little neglected since the death of her mother-in-law, complained to the king, who answered her⁠—‘Do I not sleep at home every night, Madame? What more do you expect?’ ”

“Ah!” said d’Artagnan⁠—“poor woman! She must heartily hate Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

“Oh, no! not Mademoiselle de La Vallière,” replied the falconer.

“Who then⁠—” The blast of a hunting-horn interrupted this conversation. It summoned the dogs and the hawks. The falconer and his companions set off immediately, leaving d’Artagnan alone in the midst of the suspended sentence. The king appeared at a distance, surrounded by ladies and horsemen. All the troop advanced in beautiful order, at a foot’s pace, the horns of various sorts animating the dogs and horses. There was an animation in the scene, a mirage of light, of which nothing now can give an idea, unless it be the fictitious splendor of a theatric spectacle. D’Artagnan, with an eye a little, just a little, dimmed by age, distinguished behind the group three carriages. The first was intended for the queen; it was empty. D’Artagnan, who did not see Mademoiselle de La Vallière by the king’s side, on looking about for her, saw her in the second carriage. She was alone with two of her women, who seemed as dull as their mistress. On the left hand of the king, upon a high-spirited horse, restrained by a bold and skillful hand, shone a lady of most dazzling beauty. The king smiled upon her, and she smiled upon the king. Loud laughter followed every word she uttered.

I must know that woman, thought the musketeer; who can she be? And he stooped towards his friend, the falconer, to whom he addressed the question he had put to himself.

The falconer was about to reply, when the king, perceiving d’Artagnan, “Ah, comte!” said he, “you are amongst us once more then! Why have I not seen you?”

“Sire,” replied the captain, “because Your Majesty was asleep when I arrived, and not awake when I resumed my duties this morning.”

“Still the same,” said Louis, in a loud voice, denoting satisfaction. “Take some rest, comte; I command you to do so. You will dine with me today.”

A murmur of admiration surrounded d’Artagnan like a caress. Everyone was eager to salute him. Dining with the king was an honor His Majesty was not so prodigal of as Henry IV had been. The king passed a few steps in advance, and d’Artagnan found himself in the midst of a fresh group, among whom shone Colbert.

“Good day, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the minister, with marked affability, “have you had a pleasant journey?”

“Yes, Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, bowing to the neck of his horse.

“I heard the king invite you to his table for this evening,” continued the minister; “you will meet an old friend there.”

“An old friend of mine?” asked d’Artagnan, plunging painfully into the dark waves of the past, which had swallowed up for him so many friendships and so many hatreds.

“M. le Duc d’Alméda, who is arrived this morning from Spain.”

“The Duc d’Alméda?” said d’Artagnan, reflecting in vain.

“Here!” cried an old man, white as snow, sitting bent in his carriage, which he caused to be thrown open to make room for the musketeer.

Aramis!” cried d’Artagnan, struck with profound amazement. And he felt, inert as it was, the thin arm of the old nobleman hanging round his neck.

Colbert, after having observed them in silence for a few moments, urged his horse forward, and left the two old friends together.

“And so,” said the musketeer, taking Aramis’s arm, “you, the exile, the rebel, are again in France?”

“Ah! and I shall dine with you at the king’s table,” said Aramis, smiling. “Yes, will you not ask yourself what is the use of fidelity in this world? Stop! let us allow poor La Vallière’s carriage to pass. Look, how uneasy she is! How her eyes, dim with tears, follow the king, who is riding on horseback yonder!”

“With whom?”

“With Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, now Madame de Montespan,” replied Aramis.

“She is jealous. Is she then deserted?”

“Not quite yet, but it will not be long before she is.”[27]

They chatted together, while following the sport, and Aramis’s coachman drove them so cleverly that they arrived at the instant when the falcon, attacking the bird, beat him down, and fell upon him. The king alighted; Madame de Montespan followed his example. They were in front of an isolated chapel, concealed by huge trees, already despoiled of their leaves by the first cutting winds of autumn. Behind this chapel was an enclosure, closed by a latticed gate. The falcon had beaten down his prey in the enclosure belonging to this little chapel, and the king was desirous of going in to take the first feather, according to custom. The cortège formed a circle round the building and the hedges, too small to receive so many. D’Artagnan held back Aramis by the arm, as he was about, like the rest, to alight from his carriage, and in a hoarse, broken voice, “Do you know, Aramis,” said he, “whither chance has conducted us?”

“No,” replied the duke.

“Here repose men that we knew well,” said d’Artagnan, greatly agitated.

Aramis, without divining anything, and with a trembling step, penetrated into the chapel by a little door which d’Artagnan opened for him. “Where are they buried?” said he.

“There, in the enclosure. There is a cross, you see, beneath yon little cypress. The tree of grief is planted over their tomb; don’t go to it; the king is going that way; the heron has fallen just there.”

Aramis stopped, and concealed himself in the shade. They then saw, without being seen, the pale face of La Vallière, who, neglected in her carriage, at first looked on, with a melancholy heart, from the door, and then, carried away by jealousy, advanced into the chapel, whence, leaning against a pillar, she contemplated the king smiling and making signs to Madame de Montespan to approach, as there was nothing to be afraid of. Madame de Montespan complied; she took the hand the king held out to her, and he, plucking out the first feather from the heron, which the falconer had strangled, placed it in his beautiful companion’s hat. She, smiling in her turn, kissed the hand tenderly which made her this present. The king grew scarlet with vanity and pleasure; he looked at Madame de Montespan with all the fire of new love.

“What will you give me in exchange?” said he.

She broke off a little branch of cypress and offered it to the king, who looked intoxicated with hope.

“Humph!” said Aramis to d’Artagnan; “the present is but a sad one, for that cypress shades a tomb.”

“Yes, and the tomb is that of Raoul de Bragelonne,” said d’Artagnan aloud; “of Raoul, who sleeps under that cross with his father.”

A groan resounded⁠—they saw a woman fall fainting to the ground. Mademoiselle de La Vallière had seen all, heard all.

“Poor woman!” muttered d’Artagnan, as he helped the attendants to carry back to her carriage the lonely lady whose lot henceforth in life was suffering.

That evening d’Artagnan was seated at the king’s table, near M. Colbert and M. le Duc d’Alméda. The king was very gay. He paid a thousand little attentions to the queen, a thousand kindnesses to Madame, seated at his left hand, and very sad. It might have been supposed that time of calm when the king was wont to watch his mother’s eyes for the approval or disapproval of what he had just done.

Of mistresses there was no question at this dinner. The king addressed Aramis two or three times, calling him M. l’Ambassadeur, which increased the surprise already felt by d’Artagnan at seeing his friend the rebel so marvelously well received at court.

The king, on rising from table, gave his hand to the queen, and made a sign to Colbert, whose eye was on his master’s face. Colbert took d’Artagnan and Aramis on one side. The king began to chat with his sister, whilst Monsieur, very uneasy, entertained the queen with a preoccupied air, without ceasing to watch his wife and brother from the corner of his eye. The conversation between Aramis, d’Artagnan, and Colbert turned upon indifferent subjects. They spoke of preceding ministers; Colbert related the successful tricks of Mazarin, and desired those of Richelieu to be related to him. D’Artagnan could not overcome his surprise at finding this man, with his heavy eyebrows and low forehead, display so much sound knowledge and cheerful spirits. Aramis was astonished at that lightness of character which permitted this serious man to retard with advantage the moment for more important conversation, to which nobody made any allusion, although all three interlocutors felt its imminence. It was very plain, from the embarrassed appearance of Monsieur, how much the conversation of the king and Madame annoyed him. Madame’s eyes were almost red: was she going to complain? Was she going to expose a little scandal in open court? The king took her on one side, and in a tone so tender that it must have reminded the princess of the time when she was loved for herself:

“Sister,” said he, “why do I see tears in those lovely eyes?”

“Why⁠—sire⁠—” said she.

“Monsieur is jealous, is he not, sister?”

She looked towards Monsieur, an infallible sign that they were talking about him.

“Yes,” said she.

“Listen to me,” said the king; “if your friends compromise you, it is not Monsieur’s fault.”

He spoke these words with so much kindness that Madame, encouraged, having borne so many solitary griefs so long, was nearly bursting into tears, so full was her heart.

“Come, come, dear little sister,” said the king, “tell me your griefs; on the word of a brother, I pity them; on the word of a king, I will put an end to them.”

She raised her glorious eyes and, in a melancholy tone:

“It is not my friends who compromise me,” said she; “they are either absent or concealed; they have been brought into disgrace with Your Majesty; they, so devoted, so good, so loyal!”

“You say this on account of de Guiche, whom I have exiled, at Monsieur’s desire?”

“And who, since that unjust exile, has endeavored to get himself killed once every day.”

“Unjust, say you, sister?”

“So unjust, that if I had not had the respect mixed with friendship that I have always entertained for Your Majesty⁠—”

“Well!”

“Well! I would have asked my brother Charles, upon whom I can always⁠—”

The king started. “What, then?”

“I would have asked him to have had it represented to you that Monsieur and his favorite M. le Chevalier de Lorraine ought not with impunity to constitute themselves the executioners of my honor and my happiness.”

“The Chevalier de Lorraine,” said the king; “that dismal fellow?”

“Is my mortal enemy. Whilst that man lives in my household, where Monsieur retains him and delegates his power to him, I shall be the most miserable woman in the kingdom.”

“So,” said the king, slowly, “you call your brother of England a better friend than I am?”

“Actions speak for themselves, sire.”

“And you would prefer going to ask assistance there⁠—”

“To my own country!” said she with pride; “yes, sire.”

“You are the grandchild of Henry IV as well as myself, lady. Cousin and brother-in-law, does not that amount pretty well to the title of brother-germain?”

“Then,” said Henrietta, “act!”

“Let us form an alliance.”

“Begin.”

“I have, you say, unjustly exiled de Guiche.”

“Oh! yes,” said she, blushing.

“De Guiche shall return.”[28]

“So far, well.”

“And now you say that I do wrong in having in your household the Chevalier de Lorraine, who gives Monsieur ill advice respecting you?”

“Remember well what I tell you, sire; the Chevalier de Lorraine some day⁠—Observe, if ever I come to a dreadful end, I beforehand accuse the Chevalier de Lorraine; he has a spirit that is capable of any crime!”

“The Chevalier de Lorraine shall no longer annoy you⁠—I promise you that.”[29]

“Then that will be a true preliminary of alliance, sire⁠—I sign; but since you have done your part, tell me what shall be mine.”

“Instead of embroiling me with your brother Charles, you must make him a more intimate friend than ever.”

“That is very easy.”

“Oh! not quite so easy as you may suppose, for in ordinary friendship people embrace or exercise hospitality, and that only costs a kiss or a return, profitable expenses; but in political friendship⁠—”

“Ah! it’s a political friendship, is it?”

“Yes, my sister; and then, instead of embraces and feasts, it is soldiers⁠—it is soldiers all alive and well equipped⁠—that we must serve up to our friends; vessels we must offer, all armed with cannons and stored with provisions. It hence results that we have not always coffers in a fit condition for such friendships.”

“Ah! you are quite right,” said Madame; “the coffers of the king of England have been sonorous for some time.”

“But you, my sister, who have so much influence over your brother, you can secure more than an ambassador could ever get the promise of.”

“To effect that I must go to London, my dear brother.”

“I have thought so,” replied the king, eagerly; “and I have said to myself that such a voyage would do your health and spirits good.”

“Only,” interrupted Madame, “it is possible I should fail. The king of England has dangerous counselors.”

“Counselors, do you say?”

“Precisely. If, by chance, Your Majesty had any intention⁠—I am only supposing so⁠—of asking Charles II his alliance in a war⁠—”

“A war?”

“Yes; well! then the king’s counselors, who are in number seven⁠—Mademoiselle Stewart, Mademoiselle Wells, Mademoiselle Gwyn, Miss Orchay, Mademoiselle Zunga, Miss Davies, and the proud Countess of Castlemaine⁠—will represent to the king that war costs a great deal of money; that it is better to give balls and suppers at Hampton Court than to equip ships of the line at Portsmouth and Greenwich.”

“And then your negotiations will fail?”

“Oh! those ladies cause all negotiations to fall through which they don’t make themselves.”

“Do you know the idea that has struck me, sister?”

“No; inform me what it is.”

“It is that, searching well around you, you might perhaps find a female counselor to take with you to your brother, whose eloquence might paralyze the ill-will of the seven others.”

“That is really an idea, sire, and I will search.”

“You will find what you want.”

“I hope so.”

“A pretty ambassadress is necessary; an agreeable face is better than an ugly one, is it not?”

“Most assuredly.”

“An animated, lively, audacious character.”

“Certainly.”

“Nobility; that is, enough to enable her to approach the king without awkwardness⁠—not too lofty, so as not to trouble herself about the dignity of her race.”

“Very true.”

“And who knows a little English.”

Mon Dieu! why, someone,” cried Madame, “like Mademoiselle de Kéroualle, for instance!”

“Oh! why, yes!” said Louis XIV; “you have hit the mark⁠—it is you who have found, my sister.”

“I will take her; she will have no cause to complain, I suppose.”

“Oh! no, I will name her seductrice plenipotentiaire at once, and will add a dowry to the title.”

“That is well.”

“I fancy you already on your road, my dear little sister, consoled for all your griefs.”

“I will go, on two conditions. The first is, that I shall know what I am negotiating about.”

“That is it. The Dutch, you know, insult me daily in their gazettes, and by their republican attitude. I do not like republics.”

“That may easily be imagined, sire.”

“I see with pain that these kings of the sea⁠—they call themselves so⁠—keep trade from France in the Indies, and that their vessels will soon occupy all the ports of Europe. Such a power is too near me, sister.”

“They are your allies, nevertheless.”

“That is why they were wrong in having the medal you have heard of struck; a medal which represents Holland stopping the sun, as Joshua did, with this legend: The sun had stopped before me. There is not much fraternity in that, is there?”

“I thought you had forgotten that miserable episode?”

“I never forget anything, sister. And if my true friends, such as your brother Charles, are willing to second me⁠—” The princess remained pensively silent.

“Listen to me; there is the empire of the seas to be shared,” said Louis XIV. “For this partition, which England submits to, could I not represent the second party as well as the Dutch?”

“We have Mademoiselle de Kéroualle to treat that question,” replied Madame.

“Your second condition for going, if you please, sister?”

“The consent of Monsieur, my husband.”

“You shall have it.”

“Then consider me already gone, brother.”

On hearing these words, Louis XIV turned round towards the corner of the room in which d’Artagnan, Colbert, and Aramis stood, and made an affirmative sign to his minister. Colbert then broke in on the conversation suddenly, and said to Aramis:

“Monsieur l’Ambassadeur, shall we talk about business?”

D’Artagnan immediately withdrew, from politeness. He directed his steps towards the fireplace, within hearing of what the king was about to say to Monsieur, who, evidently uneasy, had gone to him. The face of the king was animated. Upon his brow was stamped a strength of will, the expression of which already met no further contradiction in France, and was soon to meet no more in Europe.

“Monsieur,” said the king to his brother, “I am not pleased with M. le Chevalier de Lorraine. You, who do him the honor to protect him, must advise him to travel for a few months.”

These words fell with the crush of an avalanche upon Monsieur, who adored his favorite, and concentrated all his affections in him.

“In what has the chevalier been inconsiderate enough to displease Your Majesty?” cried he, darting a furious look at Madame.

“I will tell you that when he is gone,” said the king, suavely. “And also when Madame, here, shall have crossed over into England.”

“Madame! in England!” murmured Monsieur, in amazement.

“In a week, brother,” continued the king, “whilst we will go whither I will shortly tell you.” And the king turned on his heel, smiling in his brother’s face, to sweeten, as it were, the bitter draught he had given him.

During this time Colbert was talking with the Duc d’Alméda.

“Monsieur,” said Colbert to Aramis, “this is the moment for us to come to an understanding. I have made your peace with the king, and I owed that clearly to a man of so much merit; but as you have often expressed friendship for me, an opportunity presents itself for giving me a proof of it. You are, besides, more a Frenchman than a Spaniard. Shall we secure⁠—answer me frankly⁠—the neutrality of Spain, if we undertake anything against the United Provinces?”

“Monsieur,” replied Aramis, “the interest of Spain is clear. To embroil Europe with the Provinces would doubtless be our policy, but the king of France is an ally of the United Provinces. You are not ignorant, besides, that it would infer a maritime war, and that France is in no state to undertake this with advantage.”

Colbert, turning round at this moment, saw d’Artagnan who was seeking some interlocutor, during this “aside” of the king and Monsieur. He called him, at the same time saying in a low voice to Aramis, “We may talk openly with d’Artagnan, I suppose?”

“Oh! certainly,” replied the ambassador.

“We were saying, M. d’Alméda and I,” said Colbert, “that a conflict with the United Provinces would mean a maritime war.”

“That’s evident enough,” replied the musketeer.

“And what do you think of it, Monsieur d’Artagnan?”

“I think that to carry on such a war successfully, you must have very large land forces.”

“What did you say?” said Colbert, thinking he had ill understood him.

“Why such a large land army?” said Aramis.

“Because the king will be beaten by sea if he has not the English with him, and that when beaten by sea, he will soon be invaded, either by the Dutch in his ports, or by the Spaniards by land.”

“And Spain neutral?” asked Aramis.

“Neutral as long as the king shall prove stronger,” rejoined d’Artagnan.

Colbert admired that sagacity which never touched a question without enlightening it thoroughly. Aramis smiled, as he had long known that in diplomacy d’Artagnan acknowledged no superior. Colbert, who, like all proud men, dwelt upon his fantasy with a certainty of success, resumed the subject, “Who told you, M. d’Artagnan, that the king had no navy?”

“Oh! I take no heed of these details,” replied the captain. “I am but an indifferent sailor. Like all nervous people, I hate the sea; and yet I have an idea that, with ships, France being a seaport with two hundred exits, we might have sailors.”

Colbert drew from his pocket a little oblong book divided into two columns. On the first were the names of vessels, on the other the figures recapitulating the number of cannon and men requisite to equip these ships. “I have had the same idea as you,” said he to d’Artagnan, “and I have had an account drawn up of the vessels we have altogether⁠—thirty-five ships.”

“Thirty-five ships! impossible!” cried d’Artagnan.

“Something like two thousand pieces of cannon,” said Colbert. “That is what the king possesses at this moment. Of five and thirty vessels we can make three squadrons, but I must have five.”

“Five!” cried Aramis.

“They will be afloat before the end of the year, gentlemen; the king will have fifty ship of the line. We may venture on a contest with them, may we not?”

“To build vessels,” said d’Artagnan, “is difficult, but possible. As to arming them, how is that to be done? In France there are neither foundries nor military docks.”

“Bah!” replied Colbert, in a bantering tone, “I have planned all that this year and a half past, did you not know it? Do you know M. d’Imfreville?”

“D’Imfreville?” replied d’Artagnan; “no.”

“He is a man I have discovered; he has a specialty; he is a man of genius⁠—he knows how to set men to work. It is he who has cast cannon and cut the woods of Bourgogne. And then, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur, you may not believe what I am going to tell you, but I have a still further idea.”

“Oh, Monsieur!” said Aramis, civilly, “I always believe you.”

“Calculating upon the character of the Dutch, our allies, I said to myself, ‘They are merchants, they are friendly with the king; they will be happy to sell to the king what they fabricate for themselves; then the more we buy’⁠—Ah! I must add this: I have Forant⁠—do you know Forant, d’Artagnan?”

Colbert, in his warmth, forgot himself; he called the captain simply d’Artagnan, as the king did. But the captain only smiled at it.

“No,” replied he, “I do not know him.”

“That is another man I have discovered, with a genius for buying. This Forant has purchased for me 350,000 pounds of iron in balls, 200,000 pounds of powder, twelve cargoes of Northern timber, matches, grenades, pitch, tar⁠—I know not what! with a saving of seven percent upon what all those articles would cost me fabricated in France.”

“That is a capital and quaint idea,” replied d’Artagnan, “to have Dutch cannonballs cast which will return to the Dutch.”

“Is it not, with loss, too?” And Colbert laughed aloud. He was delighted with his own joke.

“Still further,” added he, “these same Dutch are building for the king, at this moment, six vessels after the model of the best of their name. Destouches⁠—Ah! perhaps you don’t know Destouches?”

“No, Monsieur.”

“He is a man who has a sure glance to discern, when a ship is launched, what are the defects and qualities of that ship⁠—that is valuable, observe! Nature is truly whimsical. Well, this Destouches appeared to me to be a man likely to prove useful in marine affairs, and he is superintending the construction of six vessels of seventy-eight guns, which the Provinces are building for His Majesty. It results from this, my dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, that the king, if he wished to quarrel with the Provinces, would have a very pretty fleet. Now, you know better than anybody else if the land army is efficient.”

D’Artagnan and Aramis looked at each other, wondering at the mysterious labors this man had undertaken in so short a time. Colbert understood them, and was touched by this best of flatteries.

“If we, in France, were ignorant of what was going on,” said d’Artagnan, “out of France still less must be known.”

“That is why I told Monsieur l’Ambassadeur,” said Colbert, “that, Spain promising its neutrality, England helping us⁠—”

“If England assists you,” said Aramis, “I promise the neutrality of Spain.”

“I take you at your word,” Colbert hastened to reply with his blunt bonhomie. “And, apropos of Spain, you have not the ‘Golden Fleece,’ Monsieur d’Alméda. I heard the king say the other day that he should like to see you wear the grand cordon of St. Michael.”

Aramis bowed. Oh! thought d’Artagnan, and Porthos is no longer here! What ells of ribbons would there be for him in these largesses! Dear Porthos!

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” resumed Colbert, “between us two, you will have, I wager, an inclination to lead your musketeers into Holland. Can you swim?” And he laughed like a man in high good humor.

“Like an eel,” replied d’Artagnan.

“Ah! but there are some bitter passages of canals and marshes yonder, Monsieur d’Artagnan, and the best swimmers are sometimes drowned there.”

“It is my profession to die for His Majesty,” said the musketeer. “Only, as it is seldom in war that much water is met with without a little fire, I declare to you beforehand, that I will do my best to choose fire. I am getting old; water freezes me⁠—but fire warms, Monsieur Colbert.”

And d’Artagnan looked so handsome still in quasi-juvenile strength as he pronounced these words, that Colbert, in his turn, could not help admiring him. D’Artagnan perceived the effect he had produced. He remembered that the best tradesman is he who fixes a high price upon his goods, when they are valuable. He prepared his price in advance.

“So, then,” said Colbert, “we go into Holland?”

“Yes,” replied d’Artagnan; “only⁠—”

“Only?” said M. Colbert.

“Only,” repeated d’Artagnan, “there lurks in everything the question of interest, the question of self-love. It is a very fine title, that of captain of the Musketeers; but observe this: we have now the king’s Guards and the military household of the king. A captain of Musketeers ought to command all that, and then he would absorb a hundred thousand livres a year for expenses.”

“Well! but do you suppose the king would haggle with you?” said Colbert.

“Eh! Monsieur, you have not understood me,” replied d’Artagnan, sure of carrying his point. “I was telling you that I, an old captain, formerly chief of the king’s guard, having precedence of the maréchaux of France⁠—I saw myself one day in the trenches with two other equals, the captain of the Guards and the colonel commanding the Swiss. Now, at no price will I suffer that. I have old habits, and I will stand or fall by them.”

Colbert felt this blow, but he was prepared for it.

“I have been thinking of what you said just now,” replied he.

“About what, Monsieur?”

“We were speaking of canals and marshes in which people are drowned.”

“Well!”

“Well! if they are drowned, it is for want of a boat, a plank, or a stick.”

“Of a stick, however short it may be,” said d’Artagnan.

“Exactly,” said Colbert. “And, therefore, I never heard of an instance of a maréchal of France being drowned.”

D’Artagnan became very pale with joy, and in a not very firm voice, “People would be very proud of me in my country,” said he, “if I were a maréchal of France; but a man must have commanded an expedition in chief to obtain the baton.”

“Monsieur!” said Colbert, “here is in this pocketbook which you will study, a plan of campaign you will have to lead a body of troops to carry out in the next spring.”[30]

D’Artagnan took the book, tremblingly, and his fingers meeting those of Colbert, the minister pressed the hand of the musketeer loyally.

“Monsieur,” said he, “we had both a revenge to take, one over the other. I have begun; it is now your turn!”

“I will do you justice, Monsieur,” replied d’Artagnan, “and implore you to tell the king that the first opportunity that shall offer, he may depend upon a victory, or to behold me dead⁠—or both.”

“Then I will have the fleurs-de-lis for your maréchal’s baton prepared immediately,” said Colbert.

On the morrow, Aramis, who was setting out for Madrid, to negotiate the neutrality of Spain, came to embrace d’Artagnan at his hotel.

“Let us love each other for four,” said d’Artagnan. “We are now but two.”

“And you will, perhaps, never see me again, dear d’Artagnan,” said Aramis; “if you knew how I have loved you! I am old, I am extinct⁠—ah, I am almost dead.”

“My friend,” said d’Artagnan, “you will live longer than I shall: diplomacy commands you to live; but, for my part, honor condemns me to die.”

“Bah! such men as we are, Monsieur le Maréchal,” said Aramis, “only die satisfied with joy in glory.”

“Ah!” replied d’Artagnan, with a melancholy smile, “I assure you, Monsieur le Duc, I feel very little appetite for either.”

They once more embraced, and, two hours after, separated⁠—forever.

The Death of d’Artagnan

Contrary to that which generally happens, whether in politics or morals, each kept his promises, and did honor to his engagements.

The king recalled M. de Guiche, and banished M. le Chevalier de Lorraine; so that Monsieur became ill in consequence. Madame set out for London, where she applied herself so earnestly to make her brother, Charles II, acquire a taste for the political counsels of Mademoiselle de Kéroualle, that the alliance between England and France was signed, and the English vessels, ballasted by a few millions of French gold, made a terrible campaign against the fleets of the United Provinces. Charles II had promised Mademoiselle de Kéroualle a little gratitude for her good counsels; he made her Duchess of Portsmouth. Colbert had promised the king vessels, munitions, victories. He kept his word, as is well known. At length Aramis, upon whose promises there was least dependence to be placed, wrote Colbert the following letter, on the subject of the negotiations which he had undertaken at Madrid:

“Monsieur Colbert⁠—I have the honor to expedite to you the R.P. Oliva, general ad interim of the Society of Jesus, my provisional successor. The reverend father will explain to you, Monsieur Colbert, that I preserve to myself the direction of all the affairs of the order which concern France and Spain; but that I am not willing to retain the title of general, which would throw too high a sidelight on the progress of the negotiations with which His Catholic Majesty wishes to entrust me. I shall resume that title by the command of His Majesty, when the labors I have undertaken in concert with you, for the great glory of God and His Church, shall be brought to a good end. The R.P. Oliva will inform you likewise, Monsieur, of the consent His Catholic Majesty gives to the signature of a treaty which assures the neutrality of Spain in the event of a war between France and the United Provinces. This consent will be valid even if England, instead of being active, should satisfy herself with remaining neutral. As for Portugal, of which you and I have spoken, Monsieur, I can assure you it will contribute with all its resources to assist the Most Christian King in his war. I beg you, Monsieur Colbert, to preserve your friendship and also to believe in my profound attachment, and to lay my respect at the feet of His Most Christian Majesty.
Signed,
“Le duc d’Alméda.”[31]

Aramis had performed more than he had promised; it remained to be seen how the king, M. Colbert, and d’Artagnan would be faithful to each other. In the spring, as Colbert had predicted, the land army entered on its campaign. It preceded, in magnificent order, the court of Louis XIV, who, setting out on horseback, surrounded by carriages filled with ladies and courtiers, conducted the elite of his kingdom to this sanguinary fête. The officers of the army, it is true, had no other music save the artillery of the Dutch forts; but it was enough for a great number, who found in this war honor, advancement, fortune⁠—or death.

M. d’Artagnan set out commanding a body of twelve thousand men, cavalry, and infantry, with which he was ordered to take the different places which form knots of that strategic network called La Frise. Never was an army conducted more gallantly to an expedition. The officers knew that their leader, prudent and skillful as he was brave, would not sacrifice a single man, nor yield an inch of ground without necessity. He had the old habits of war, to live upon the country, keeping his soldiers singing and the enemy weeping. The captain of the king’s Musketeers well knew his business. Never were opportunities better chosen, coups de main better supported, errors of the besieged more quickly taken advantage of.

The army commanded by d’Artagnan took twelve small places within a month. He was engaged in besieging the thirteenth, which had held out five days. D’Artagnan caused the trenches to be opened without appearing to suppose that these people would ever allow themselves to be taken. The pioneers and laborers were, in the army of this man, a body full of ideas and zeal, because their commander treated them like soldiers, knew how to render their work glorious, and never allowed them to be killed if he could help it. It should have been seen with what eagerness the marshy glebes of Holland were turned over. Those turf-heaps, mounds of potter’s clay, melted at the word of the soldiers like butter in the frying-pans of Friesland housewives.

M. d’Artagnan dispatched a courier to the king to give him an account of the last success, which redoubled the good humor of His Majesty and his inclination to amuse the ladies. These victories of M. d’Artagnan gave so much majesty to the prince, that Madame de Montespan no longer called him anything but Louis the Invincible. So that Mademoiselle de La Vallière, who only called the king Louis the Victorious, lost much of His Majesty’s favor. Besides, her eyes were frequently red, and to an Invincible nothing is more disagreeable than a mistress who weeps while everything is smiling round her. The star of Mademoiselle de La Vallière was being drowned in clouds and tears. But the gayety of Madame de Montespan redoubled with the successes of the king, and consoled him for every other unpleasant circumstance. It was to d’Artagnan the king owed this; and His Majesty was anxious to acknowledge these services; he wrote to M. Colbert:

“Monsieur Colbert⁠—We have a promise to fulfil with M. d’Artagnan, who so well keeps his. This is to inform you that the time is come for performing it. All provisions for this purpose you shall be furnished with in due time. LOUIS.”

In consequence of this, Colbert, detaining d’Artagnan’s envoy, placed in the hands of that messenger a letter from himself, and a small coffer of ebony inlaid with gold, not very important in appearance, but which, without doubt, was very heavy, as a guard of five men was given to the messenger, to assist him in carrying it. These people arrived before the place which d’Artagnan was besieging towards daybreak, and presented themselves at the lodgings of the general. They were told that M. d’Artagnan, annoyed by a sortie which the governor, an artful man, had made the evening before, and in which the works had been destroyed and seventy-seven men killed, and the reparation of the breaches commenced, had just gone with twenty companies of grenadiers to reconstruct the works.

M. Colbert’s envoy had orders to go and seek M. d’Artagnan, wherever he might be, or at whatever hour of the day or night. He directed his course, therefore, towards the trenches, followed by his escort, all on horseback. They perceived M. d’Artagnan in the open plain, with his gold-laced hat, his long cane, and gilt cuffs. He was biting his white mustache, and wiping off, with his left hand, the dust which the passing balls threw up from the ground they plowed so near him. They also saw, amidst this terrible fire, which filled the air with whistling hisses, officers handling the shovel, soldiers rolling barrows, and vast fascines, rising by being either carried or dragged by from ten to twenty men, cover the front of the trench reopened to the center by this extraordinary effort of the general. In three hours, all was reinstated. D’Artagnan began to speak more mildly; and he became quite calm when the captain of the pioneers approached him, hat in hand, to tell him that the trench was again in proper order. This man had scarcely finished speaking, when a ball took off one of his legs, and he fell into the arms of d’Artagnan. The latter lifted up his soldier, and quietly, with soothing words, carried him into the trench, amidst the enthusiastic applause of the regiments. From that time it was no longer a question of valor⁠—the army was delirious; two companies stole away to the advanced posts, which they instantly destroyed.

When their comrades, restrained with great difficulty by d’Artagnan, saw them lodged upon the bastions, they rushed forward likewise; and soon a furious assault was made upon the counterscarp, upon which depended the safety of the place. D’Artagnan perceived there was only one means left of checking his army⁠—to take the place. He directed all his force to the two breaches, where the besieged were busy in repairing. The shock was terrible; eighteen companies took part in it, and d’Artagnan went with the rest, within half cannon-shot of the place, to support the attack by echelons. The cries of the Dutch, who were being poniarded upon their guns by d’Artagnan’s grenadiers, were distinctly audible. The struggle grew fiercer with the despair of the governor, who disputed his position foot by foot. D’Artagnan, to put an end to the affair, and to silence the fire, which was unceasing, sent a fresh column, which penetrated like a very wedge; and he soon perceived upon the ramparts, through the fire, the terrified flight of the besieged, pursued by the besiegers.

At this moment the general, breathing feely and full of joy, heard a voice behind him, saying, “Monsieur, if you please, from M. Colbert.”

He broke the seal of the letter, which contained these words:

“Monsieur d’Artagnan:⁠—The king commands me to inform you that he has nominated you maréchal of France, as a reward for your magnificent services, and the honor you do to his arms. The king is highly pleased, Monsieur, with the captures you have made; he commands you, in particular, to finish the siege you have commenced, with good fortune to you, and success for him.”

D’Artagnan was standing with a radiant countenance and sparkling eye. He looked up to watch the progress of his troops upon the walls, still enveloped in red and black volumes of smoke. “I have finished,” replied he to the messenger; “the city will have surrendered in a quarter of an hour.” He then resumed his reading:

“The coffret, Monsieur d’Artagnan, is my own present. You will not be sorry to see that, whilst you warriors are drawing the sword to defend the king, I am moving the pacific arts to ornament a present worthy of you. I commend myself to your friendship, Monsieur le Maréchal, and beg you to believe in mine. COLBERT.”

D’Artagnan, intoxicated with joy, made a sign to the messenger, who approached, with his coffret in his hands. But at the moment the maréchal was going to look at it, a loud explosion resounded from the ramparts, and called his attention towards the city. “It is strange,” said d’Artagnan, “that I don’t yet see the king’s flag on the walls, or hear the drums beat the chamade.” He launched three hundred fresh men, under a high-spirited officer, and ordered another breach to be made. Then, more tranquilly, he turned towards the coffret, which Colbert’s envoy held out to him.⁠—It was his treasure⁠—he had won it.

D’Artagnan was holding out his hand to open the coffret, when a ball from the city crushed the coffret in the arms of the officer, struck d’Artagnan full in the chest, and knocked him down upon a sloping heap of earth, whilst the fleur-de-lised baton, escaping from the broken box, came rolling under the powerless hand of the maréchal. D’Artagnan endeavored to raise himself. It was thought he had been knocked down without being wounded. A terrible cry broke from the group of terrified officers; the maréchal was covered with blood; the pallor of death ascended slowly to his noble countenance. Leaning upon the arms held out on all sides to receive him, he was able once more to turn his eyes towards the place, and to distinguish the white flag at the crest of the principal bastion; his ears, already deaf to the sounds of life, caught feebly the rolling of the drum which announced the victory. Then, clasping in his nerveless hand the baton, ornamented with its fleurs-de-lis, he cast on it his eyes, which had no longer the power of looking upwards towards Heaven, and fell back, murmuring strange words, which appeared to the soldiers cabalistic⁠—words which had formerly represented so many things on earth, and which none but the dying man any longer comprehended:

“Athos⁠—Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!”

Of the four valiant men whose history we have related, there now remained but one. Heaven had taken to itself three noble souls.[32]