The Man in the Iron Mask
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Part 10 out of 12
"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.
"But there were sixteen of you!"
"Ten are dead. Biscarrat is in the cavern, and we are five."
"Biscarrat is a prisoner?"
"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
"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-
"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 Bell-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,
"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.
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
"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.
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 Kalonese, 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
"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."
"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."
"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
"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:
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
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,
"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
"_Parbleu!_" replied Porthos; and he lifted the barrel with one hand.
"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
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 glow-worm, 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;
"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
"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
"Porthos! Porthos!" cried Aramis, tearing his hair. "Porthos! where are
"Here, here," murmured Porthos, with a voice growing evidently weaker,
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 corner-stone 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.
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
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 chateaux
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 passers-by 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 eye-shade 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, focussed it
silently, and passing it to the sailor, "Here," said he, "look!" The
"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
"Monseigneur assures me that the devil has nothing to do with this?"
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. _Misericorde!_ 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
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 race-horse. 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 we not say we surrendered?" said Yves.
"Alive, alive, captain!" cried one excited soldier, "they must be taken
"Well, yes - living," said the captain. Then turning towards the
Bretons, "Your lives are safe, my friends!" cried he, "all but the
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.
"What are your orders?"
"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
"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?
M. de Gesvres's Round.
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 any one at
"But," said D'Artagnan, looking askant at Brienne, "you do not know,
perhaps, monsieur, that I have the privilege of _entree_ 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
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 Treville
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-a-
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.
"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 good-bye!
Farewell, castle, corridor, ante-chamber! 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?"
"As I, three days ago, went in search of M. Fouquet?"
"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."
"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 ante-chamber. 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 Treville, 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 ante-chamber of the king,"
proclaimed an usher.
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 by-play, 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?"
"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
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 marechal 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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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 any one 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 _marechaux_ 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 ante-
chambers 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!
"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. To-morrow 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.
M. Fouquet's Friends.
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 Valliere. 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
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
"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
"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 ante-chamber, 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.
"M. Gourville, M. Pelisson, 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?"
"What do they do?"
"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
The first of the friends of Fouquet's to advance was Pelisson. 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.
Pelisson 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 Pelisson," 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 Pelisson, Monsieur Gourville, and you, Monsieur - ,
to say nothing that will not plainly proclaim the respect you have for my
"Sire," replied Pelisson, 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; every one 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 Pelisson, "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, every
one 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 Pelisson'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
"What do you wish?" said he, in an agitated voice.
"We come humbly to ask your majesty," replied Pelisson, 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 Pelisson 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."
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 chateau came a few grave
personages mounted on mules or country nags. These were rural neighbors,
cures and bailiffs of adjacent estates. All these people entered the
chateau 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 - every one 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
"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, chateaux, forests, plowed lands, forming
"3. The little estate Du Vallon, so named because it is in the valley."
"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 chateaux or houses, but of which the list is drawn up by
Every one 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 chateau of Pierrefonds, and which are called - Bayard, Roland,
Charlemagne, Pepin, 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. Every one 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 Fere.
"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.
Every one turned his eyes that way, and saw that a large tear had rolled
from the thick lid of D'Artagnan, half-way 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 Fere,
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
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.
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
_cortege_ 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 Fere, 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, in spite of Mazarin,
in spite of La Valliere; 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. (6)
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 Fere
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 parched-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
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