The Three Musketeers (19 of 19)


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Transcript:
64 THE MAN IN THE RED CLOAK
The despair of Athos had given place to a concentrated grief which only
rendered more lucid the brilliant mental faculties of that extraordinary
man.
Possessed by one single thought—that of the promise he had made, and of
the responsibility he had taken—he retired last to his chamber, begged
the host to procure him a map of the province, bent over it, examined
every line traced upon it, perceived that there were four different
roads from Bethune to Armentieres, and summoned the lackeys.
Planchet, Grimaud, Bazin, and Mousqueton presented themselves, and
received clear, positive, and serious orders from Athos.
They must set out the next morning at daybreak, and go to
Armentieres—each by a different route. Planchet, the most intelligent
of the four, was to follow that by which the carriage had gone upon
which the four friends had fired, and which was accompanied, as may be
remembered, by Rochefort’s servant.
Athos set the lackeys to work first because, since these men had been in
the service of himself and his friends he had discovered in each of them
different and essential qualities. Then, lackeys who ask questions
inspire less mistrust than masters, and meet with more sympathy among
those to whom they address themselves. Besides, Milady knew the masters,
and did not know the lackeys; on the contrary, the lackeys knew Milady
perfectly.
All four were to meet the next day at eleven o’clock. If they had
discovered Milady’s retreat, three were to remain on guard; the fourth
was to return to Bethune in order to inform Athos and serve as a guide
to the four friends. These arrangements made, the lackeys retired.
Athos then arose from his chair, girded on his sword, enveloped himself
in his cloak, and left the hotel. It was nearly ten o’clock. At ten
o’clock in the evening, it is well known, the streets in provincial
towns are very little frequented. Athos nevertheless was visibly anxious
to find someone of whom he could ask a question. At length he met a
belated passenger, went up to him, and spoke a few words to him. The man
he addressed recoiled with terror, and only answered the few words of
the Musketeer by pointing. Athos offered the man half a pistole to
accompany him, but the man refused.
Athos then plunged into the street the man had indicated with his
finger; but arriving at four crossroads, he stopped again, visibly
embarrassed. Nevertheless, as the crossroads offered him a better chance
than any other place of meeting somebody, he stood still. In a few
minutes a night watch passed. Athos repeated to him the same question he
had asked the first person he met. The night watch evinced the same
terror, refused, in his turn, to accompany Athos, and only pointed with
his hand to the road he was to take.
Athos walked in the direction indicated, and reached the suburb situated
at the opposite extremity of the city from that by which he and his
friends had entered it. There he again appeared uneasy and embarrassed,
and stopped for the third time.
Fortunately, a mendicant passed, who, coming up to Athos to ask charity,
Athos offered him half a crown to accompany him where he was going. The
mendicant hesitated at first, but at the sight of the piece of silver
which shone in the darkness he consented, and walked on before Athos.
Arrived at the angle of a street, he pointed to a small house, isolated,
solitary, and dismal. Athos went toward the house, while the mendicant,
who had received his reward, left as fast as his legs could carry him.
Athos went round the house before he could distinguish the door, amid
the red color in which the house was painted. No light appeared through
the chinks of the shutters; no noise gave reason to believe that it was
inhabited. It was dark and silent as the tomb.
Three times Athos knocked without receiving an answer. At the third
knock, however, steps were heard inside. The door at length was opened,
and a man appeared, of high stature, pale complexion, and black hair and
beard.
Athos and he exchanged some words in a low voice, then the tall man made
a sign to the Musketeer that he might come in. Athos immediately
profited by the permission, and the door was closed behind him.
The man whom Athos had come so far to seek, and whom he had found with
so much trouble, introduced him into his laboratory, where he was
engaged in fastening together with iron wire the dry bones of a
skeleton. All the frame was adjusted except the head, which lay on the
table.
All the rest of the furniture indicated that the dweller in this house
occupied himself with the study of natural science. There were large
bottles filled with serpents, ticketed according to their species; dried
lizards shone like emeralds set in great squares of black wood, and
bunches of wild odoriferous herbs, doubtless possessed of virtues
unknown to common men, were fastened to the ceiling and hung down in the
corners of the apartment. There was no family, no servant; the tall man
alone inhabited this house.
Athos cast a cold and indifferent glance upon the objects we have
described, and at the invitation of him whom he came to seek sat down
near him.
Then he explained to him the cause of his visit, and the service he
required of him. But scarcely had he expressed his request when the
unknown, who remained standing before the Musketeer, drew back with
signs of terror, and refused. Then Athos took from his pocket a small
paper, on which two lines were written, accompanied by a signature and a
seal, and presented them to him who had made too prematurely these signs
of repugnance. The tall man had scarcely read these lines, seen the
signature, and recognized the seal, when he bowed to denote that he had
no longer any objection to make, and that he was ready to obey.
Athos required no more. He arose, bowed, went out, returned by the same
way he came, re-entered the hotel, and went to his apartment.
At daybreak d’Artagnan entered the chamber, and demanded what was to be
done.
"To wait," replied Athos.
Some minutes after, the superior of the convent sent to inform the
Musketeers that the burial would take place at midday. As to the
poisoner, they had heard no tidings of her whatever, only that she must
have made her escape through the garden, on the sand of which her
footsteps could be traced, and the door of which had been found shut. As
to the key, it had disappeared.
At the hour appointed, Lord de Winter and the four friends repaired to
the convent; the bells tolled, the chapel was open, the grating of the
choir was closed. In the middle of the choir the body of the victim,
clothed in her novitiate dress, was exposed. On each side of the choir
and behind the gratings opening into the convent was assembled the whole
community of the Carmelites, who listened to the divine service, and
mingled their chant with the chant of the priests, without seeing the
profane, or being seen by them.
At the door of the chapel d’Artagnan felt his courage fall anew, and
returned to look for Athos; but Athos had disappeared.
Faithful to his mission of vengeance, Athos had requested to be
conducted to the garden; and there upon the sand following the light
steps of this woman, who left sharp tracks wherever she went, he
advanced toward the gate which led into the wood, and causing it to be
opened, he went out into the forest.
Then all his suspicions were confirmed; the road by which the carriage
had disappeared encircled the forest. Athos followed the road for some
time, his eyes fixed upon the ground; slight stains of blood, which came
from the wound inflicted upon the man who accompanied the carriage as a
courier, or from one of the horses, dotted the road. At the end of
three-quarters of a league, within fifty paces of Festubert, a larger
bloodstain appeared; the ground was trampled by horses. Between the
forest and this accursed spot, a little behind the trampled ground, was
the same track of small feet as in the garden; the carriage had stopped
here. At this spot Milady had come out of the wood, and entered the
carriage.
Satisfied with this discovery which confirmed all his suspicions, Athos
returned to the hotel, and found Planchet impatiently waiting for him.
Everything was as Athos had foreseen.
Planchet had followed the road; like Athos, he had discovered the stains
of blood; like Athos, he had noted the spot where the horses had halted.
But he had gone farther than Athos—for at the village of Festubert,
while drinking at an inn, he had learned without needing to ask a
question that the evening before, at half-past eight, a wounded man who
accompanied a lady traveling in a post-chaise had been obliged to stop,
unable to go further. The accident was set down to the account of
robbers, who had stopped the chaise in the wood. The man remained in the
village; the woman had had a relay of horses, and continued her journey.
Planchet went in search of the postillion who had driven her, and found
him. He had taken the lady as far as Fromelles; and from Fromelles she
had set out for Armentieres. Planchet took the crossroad, and by seven
o’clock in the morning he was at Armentieres.
There was but one tavern, the Post. Planchet went and presented himself
as a lackey out of a place, who was in search of a situation. He had not
chatted ten minutes with the people of the tavern before he learned that
a woman had come there alone about eleven o’clock the night before, had
engaged a chamber, had sent for the master of the hotel, and told him
she desired to remain some time in the neighborhood.
Planchet had no need to learn more. He hastened to the rendezvous, found
the lackeys at their posts, placed them as sentinels at all the outlets
of the hotel, and came to find Athos, who had just received this
information when his friends returned.
All their countenances were melancholy and gloomy, even the mild
countenance of Aramis.
"What is to be done?" asked d’Artagnan.
"To wait!" replied Athos.
Each retired to his own apartment.
At eight o’clock in the evening Athos ordered the horses to be saddled,
and Lord de Winter and his friends notified that they must prepare for
the expedition.
In an instant all five were ready. Each examined his arms, and put them
in order. Athos came down last, and found d’Artagnan already on
horseback, and growing impatient.
"Patience!" cried Athos; "one of our party is still wanting."
The four horsemen looked round them with astonishment, for they sought
vainly in their minds to know who this other person could be.
At this moment Planchet brought out Athos’s house; the Musketeer leaped
lightly into the saddle.
"Wait for me," cried he, "I will soon be back," and he set off at a
gallop.
In a quarter of an hour he returned, accompanied by a tall man, masked,
and wrapped in a large red cloak.
Lord de Winter and the three Musketeers looked at one another
inquiringly. Neither could give the others any information, for all were
ignorant who this man could be; nevertheless, they felt convinced that
all was as it should be, as it was done by the order of Athos.
At nine o’clock, guided by Planchet, the little cavalcade set out,
taking the route the carriage had taken.
It was a melancholy sight—that of these six men, traveling in silence,
each plunged in his own thoughts, sad as despair, gloomy as
chastisement.
End of Chapter 64 65 TRIAL
It was a stormy and dark night; vast clouds covered the heavens,
concealing the stars; the moon would not rise till midnight.
Occasionally, by the light of a flash of lightning which gleamed along
the horizon, the road stretched itself before them, white and solitary;
the flash extinct, all remained in darkness.
Every minute Athos was forced to restrain d’Artagnan, constantly in
advance of the little troop, and to beg him to keep in the line, which
in an instant he again departed from. He had but one thought—to go
forward; and he went.
They passed in silence through the little village of Festubert, where
the wounded servant was, and then skirted the wood of Richebourg. At
Herlier, Planchet, who led the column, turned to the left.
Several times Lord de Winter, Porthos, or Aramis, tried to talk with the
man in the red cloak; but to every interrogation which they put to him
he bowed, without response. The travelers then comprehended that there
must be some reason why the unknown preserved such a silence, and ceased
to address themselves to him.
The storm increased, the flashes succeeded one another more rapidly, the
thunder began to growl, and the wind, the precursor of a hurricane,
whistled in the plumes and the hair of the horsemen.
The cavalcade trotted on more sharply.
A little before they came to Fromelles the storm burst. They spread
their cloaks. There remained three leagues to travel, and they did it
amid torrents of rain.
D’Artagnan took off his hat, and could not be persuaded to make use of
his cloak. He found pleasure in feeling the water trickle over his
burning brow and over his body, agitated by feverish shudders.
The moment the little troop passed Goskal and were approaching the Port,
a man sheltered beneath a tree detached himself from the trunk with
which he had been confounded in the darkness, and advanced into the
middle of the road, putting his finger on his lips.
Athos recognized Grimaud.
"What’s the manner?" cried Athos. "Has she left Armentieres?"
Grimaud made a sign in the affirmative. D’Artagnan groaned his teeth.
"Silence, d’Artagnan!" said Athos. "I have charged myself with this
affair. It is for me, then, to interrogate Grimaud."
"Where is she?" asked Athos.
Grimaud extended his hands in the direction of the Lys. "Far from here?"
asked Athos.
Grimaud showed his master his forefinger bent.
"Alone?" asked Athos.
Grimaud made the sign yes.
"Gentlemen," said Athos, "she is alone within half a league of us, in
the direction of the river."
"That’s well," said d’Artagnan. "Lead us, Grimaud."
Grimaud took his course across the country, and acted as guide to the
cavalcade.
At the end of five hundred paces, more or less, they came to a rivulet,
which they forded.
By the aid of the lightning they perceived the village of Erquinheim.
"Is she there, Grimaud?" asked Athos.
Grimaud shook his head negatively.
"Silence, then!" cried Athos.
And the troop continued their route.
Another flash illuminated all around them. Grimaud extended his arm, and
by the bluish splendor of the fiery serpent they distinguished a little
isolated house on the banks of the river, within a hundred paces of a
ferry.
One window was lighted.
"Here we are!" said Athos.
At this moment a man who had been crouching in a ditch jumped up and
came towards them. It was Mousqueton. He pointed his finger to the
lighted window.
"She is there," said he.
"And Bazin?" asked Athos.
"While I watched the window, he guarded the door."
"Good!" said Athos. "You are good and faithful servants."
Athos sprang from his horse, gave the bridle to Grimaud, and advanced
toward the window, after having made a sign to the rest of the troop to
go toward the door.
The little house was surrounded by a low, quickset hedge, two or three
feet high. Athos sprang over the hedge and went up to the window, which
was without shutters, but had the half-curtains closely drawn.
He mounted the skirting stone that his eyes might look over the curtain.
By the light of a lamp he saw a woman, wrapped in a dark mantle, seated
upon a stool near a dying fire. Her elbows were placed upon a mean
table, and she leaned her head upon her two hands, which were white as
ivory.
He could not distinguish her countenance, but a sinister smile passed
over the lips of Athos. He was not deceived; it was she whom he sought.
At this moment a horse neighed. Milady raised her head, saw close to the
panes the pale face of Athos, and screamed.
Athos, perceiving that she knew him, pushed the window with his knee and
hand. The window yielded. The squares were broken to shivers; and Athos,
like the spectre of vengeance, leaped into the room.
Milady rushed to the door and opened it. More pale and menacing than
Athos, d’Artagnan stood on the threshold.
Milady recoiled, uttering a cry. D’Artagnan, believing she might have
means of flight and fearing she should escape, drew a pistol from his
belt; but Athos raised his hand.
"Put back that weapon, d’Artagnan!" said he; "this woman must be tried,
not assassinated. Wait an instant, my friend, and you shall be
satisfied. Come in, gentlemen."
D’Artagnan obeyed; for Athos had the solemn voice and the powerful
gesture of a judge sent by the Lord himself. Behind d’Artagnan entered
Porthos, Aramis, Lord de Winter, and the man in the red cloak.
The four lackeys guarded the door and the window.
Milady had sunk into a chair, with her hands extended, as if to conjure
this terrible apparition. Perceiving her brother-in-law, she uttered a
terrible cry.
"What do you want?" screamed Milady.
"We want," said Athos, "Charlotte Backson, who first was called Comtesse
de la Fere, and afterwards Milady de Winter, Baroness of Sheffield."
"That is I! that is I!" murmured Milady, in extreme terror; "what do you
want?"
"We wish to judge you according to your crime," said Athos; "you shall
be free to defend yourself. Justify yourself if you can. M. d’Artagnan,
it is for you to accuse her first."
D’Artagnan advanced.
"Before God and before men," said he, "I accuse this woman of having
poisoned Constance Bonacieux, who died yesterday evening."
He turned towards Porthos and Aramis.
"We bear witness to this," said the two Musketeers, with one voice.
D’Artagnan continued: "Before God and before men, I accuse this woman of
having attempted to poison me, in wine which she sent me from Villeroy,
with a forged letter, as if that wine came from my friends. God
preserved me, but a man named Brisemont died in my place."
"We bear witness to this," said Porthos and Aramis, in the same manner
as before.
"Before God and before men, I accuse this woman of having urged me to
the murder of the Baron de Wardes; but as no one else can attest the
truth of this accusation, I attest it myself. I have done." And
d’Artagnan passed to the other side of the room with Porthos and Aramis.
"Your turn, my Lord," said Athos.
The baron came forward.
"Before God and before men," said he, "I accuse this woman of having
caused the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham."
"The Duke of Buckingham assassinated!" cried all present, with one
voice.
"Yes," said the baron, "assassinated. On receiving the warning letter
you wrote to me, I had this woman arrested, and gave her in charge to a
loyal servant. She corrupted this man; she placed the poniard in his
hand; she made him kill the duke. And at this moment, perhaps, Felton is
paying with his head for the crime of this fury!"
A shudder crept through the judges at the revelation of these unknown
crimes.
"That is not all," resumed Lord de Winter. "My brother, who made you his
heir, died in three hours of a strange disorder which left livid traces
all over the body. My sister, how did your husband die?"
"Horror!" cried Porthos and Aramis.
"Assassin of Buckingham, assassin of Felton, assassin of my brother, I
demand justice upon you, and I swear that if it be not granted to me, I
will execute it myself."
And Lord de Winter ranged himself by the side of d’Artagnan, leaving the
place free for another accuser.
Milady let her head sink between her two hands, and tried to recall her
ideas, whirling in a mortal vertigo.
"My turn," said Athos, himself trembling as the lion trembles at the
sight of the serpent—"my turn. I married that woman when she was a
young girl; I married her in opposition to the wishes of all my family;
I gave her my wealth, I gave her my name; and one day I discovered that
this woman was branded—this woman was marked with a FLEUR-DE-LIS on her
left shoulder."
"Oh," said Milady, raising herself, "I defy you to find any tribunal
which pronounced that infamous sentence against me. I defy you to find
him who executed it."
"Silence!" said a hollow voice. "It is for me to reply to that!" And the
man in the red cloak came forward in his turn.
"What man is that? What man is that?" cried Milady, suffocated by
terror, her hair loosening itself, and rising above her livid
countenance as if alive.
All eyes were turned towards this man—for to all except Athos he was
unknown.
Even Athos looked at him with as much stupefaction as the others, for he
knew not how he could in any way find himself mixed up with the horrible
drama then unfolded.
After approaching Milady with a slow and solemn step, so that the table
alone separated them, the unknown took off his mask.
Milady for some time examined with increasing terror that pale face,
framed with black hair and whiskers, the only expression of which was
icy impassibility. Then she suddenly cried, "Oh, no, no!" rising and
retreating to the very wall. "No, no! it is an infernal apparition! It
is not he! Help, help!" screamed she, turning towards the wall, as if
she would tear an opening with her hands.
"Who are you, then?" cried all the witnesses of this scene.
"Ask that woman," said the man in the red cloak, "for you may plainly
see she knows me!"
"The executioner of Lille, the executioner of Lille!" cried Milady, a
prey to insensate terror, and clinging with her hands to the wall to
avoid falling.
Every one drew back, and the man in the red cloak remained standing
alone in the middle of the room.
"Oh, grace, grace, pardon!" cried the wretch, falling on her knees.
The unknown waited for silence, and then resumed, "I told you well that
she would know me. Yes, I am the executioner of Lille, and this is my
history."
All eyes were fixed upon this man, whose words were listened to with
anxious attention.
"That woman was once a young girl, as beautiful as she is today. She was
a nun in the convent of the Benedictines of Templemar. A young priest,
with a simple and trustful heart, performed the duties of the church of
that convent. She undertook his seduction, and succeeded; she would have
seduced a saint.
"Their vows were sacred and irrevocable. Their connection could not last
long without ruining both. She prevailed upon him to leave the country;
but to leave the country, to fly together, to reach another part of
France, where they might live at ease because unknown, money was
necessary. Neither had any. The priest stole the sacred vases, and sold
them; but as they were preparing to escape together, they were both
arrested.
"Eight days later she had seduced the son of the jailer, and escaped.
The young priest was condemned to ten years of imprisonment, and to be
branded. I was executioner of the city of Lille, as this woman has said.
I was obliged to brand the guilty one; and he, gentlemen, was my
brother!
"I then swore that this woman who had ruined him, who was more than his
accomplice, since she had urged him to the crime, should at least share
his punishment. I suspected where she was concealed. I followed her, I
caught her, I bound her; and I imprinted the same disgraceful mark upon
her that I had imprinted upon my poor brother.
"The day after my return to Lille, my brother in his turn succeeded in
making his escape; I was accused of complicity, and was condemned to
remain in his place till he should be again a prisoner. My poor brother
was ignorant of this sentence. He rejoined this woman; they fled
together into Berry, and there he obtained a little curacy. This woman
passed for his sister.
"The Lord of the estate on which the chapel of the curacy was situated
saw this pretend sister, and became enamoured of her—amorous to such a
degree that he proposed to marry her. Then she quitted him she had
ruined for him she was destined to ruin, and became the Comtesse de la
Fere—"
All eyes were turned towards Athos, whose real name that was, and who
made a sign with his head that all was true which the executioner had
said.
"Then," resumed he, "mad, desperate, determined to get rid of an
existence from which she had stolen everything, honor and happiness, my
poor brother returned to Lille, and learning the sentence which had
condemned me in his place, surrendered himself, and hanged himself that
same night from the iron bar of the loophole of his prison.
"To do justice to them who had condemned me, they kept their word. As
soon as the identity of my brother was proved, I was set at liberty.
"That is the crime of which I accuse her; that is the cause for which
she was branded."
"Monsieur d’Artagnan," said Athos, "what is the penalty you demand
against this woman?"
"The punishment of death," replied d’Artagnan.
"My Lord de Winter," continued Athos, "what is the penalty you demand
against this woman?"
"The punishment of death," replied Lord de Winter.
"Messieurs Porthos and Aramis," repeated Athos, "you who are her judges,
what is the sentence you pronounce upon this woman?"
"The punishment of death," replied the Musketeers, in a hollow voice.
Milady uttered a frightful shriek, and dragged herself along several
paces upon her knees toward her judges.
Athos stretched out his hand toward her.
"Charlotte Backson, Comtesse de la Fere, Milady de Winter," said he,
"your crimes have wearied men on earth and God in heaven. If you know a
prayer, say it—for you are condemned, and you shall die."
At these words, which left no hope, Milady raised herself in all her
pride, and wished to speak; but her strength failed her. She felt that a
powerful and implacable hand seized her by the hair, and dragged her
away as irrevocably as fatality drags humanity. She did not, therefore,
even attempt the least resistance, and went out of the cottage.
Lord de Winter, d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, went out close
behind her. The lackeys followed their masters, and the chamber was left
solitary, with its broken window, its open door, and its smoky lamp
burning sadly on the table.
End of Chapter 65
66 EXECUTION
It was near midnight; the moon, lessened by its decline, and reddened by
the last traces of the storm, arose behind the little town of
Armentieres, which showed against its pale light the dark outline of its
houses, and the skeleton of its high belfry. In front of them the Lys
rolled its waters like a river of molten tin; while on the other side
was a black mass of trees, profiled on a stormy sky, invaded by large
coppery clouds which created a sort of twilight amid the night. On the
left was an old abandoned mill, with its motionless wings, from the
ruins of which an owl threw out its shrill, periodical, and monotonous
cry. On the right and on the left of the road, which the dismal
procession pursued, appeared a few low, stunted trees, which looked like
deformed dwarfs crouching down to watch men traveling at this sinister
hour.
From time to time a broad sheet of lightning opened the horizon in its
whole width, darted like a serpent over the black mass of trees, and
like a terrible scimitar divided the heavens and the waters into two
parts. Not a breath of wind now disturbed the heavy atmosphere. A
deathlike silence oppressed all nature. The soil was humid and
glittering with the rain which had recently fallen, and the refreshed
herbs sent forth their perfume with additional energy.
Two lackeys dragged Milady, whom each held by one arm. The executioner
walked behind them, and Lord de Winter, d’Artagnan, Porthos, and Aramis
walked behind the executioner. Planchet and Bazin came last.
The two lackeys conducted Milady to the bank of the river. Her mouth was
mute; but her eyes spoke with their inexpressible eloquence,
supplicating by turns each of those on whom she looked.
Being a few paces in advance she whispered to the lackeys, "A thousand
pistoles to each of you, if you will assist my escape; but if you
deliver me up to your masters, I have near at hand avengers who will
make you pay dearly for my death."
Grimaud hesitated. Mousqueton trembled in all his members.
Athos, who heard Milady’s voice, came sharply up. Lord de Winter did the
same.
"Change these lackeys," said he; "she has spoken to them. They are no
longer sure."
Planchet and Bazin were called, and took the places of Grimaud and
Mousqueton.
On the bank of the river the executioner approached Milady, and bound
her hands and feet.
Then she broke the silence to cry out, "You are cowards, miserable
assassins—ten men combined to murder one woman. Beware! If I am not
saved I shall be avenged."
"You are not a woman," said Athos, coldly and sternly. "You do not
belong to the human species; you are a demon escaped from hell, whither
we send you back again."
"Ah, you virtuous men!" said Milady; "please to remember that he who
shall touch a hair of my head is himself an assassin."
"The executioner may kill, without being on that account an assassin,"
said the man in the red cloak, rapping upon his immense sword. "This is
the last judge; that is all. NACHRICHTER, as say our neighbors, the
Germans."
And as he bound her while saying these words, Milady uttered two or
three savage cries, which produced a strange and melancholy effect in
flying away into the night, and losing themselves in the depths of the
woods.
"If I am guilty, if I have committed the crimes you accuse me of,"
shrieked Milady, "take me before a tribunal. You are not judges! You
cannot condemn me!"
"I offered you Tyburn," said Lord de Winter. "Why did you not accept
it?"
"Because I am not willing to die!" cried Milady, struggling. "Because I
am too young to die!"
"The woman you poisoned at Bethune was still younger than you, madame,
and yet she is dead," said d’Artagnan.
"I will enter a cloister; I will become a nun," said Milady.
"You were in a cloister," said the executioner, "and you left it to ruin
my brother."
Milady uttered a cry of terror and sank upon her knees. The executioner
took her up in his arms and was carrying her toward the boat.
"Oh, my God!" cried she, "my God! are you going to drown me?"
These cries had something so heartrending in them that M. d’Artagnan,
who had been at first the most eager in pursuit of Milady, sat down on
the stump of a tree and hung his head, covering his ears with the palms
of his hands; and yet, notwithstanding, he could still hear her cry and
threaten.
D’Artagnan was the youngest of all these men. His heart failed him.
"Oh, I cannot behold this frightful spectacle!" said he. "I cannot
consent that this woman should die thus!"
Milady heard these few words and caught at a shadow of hope.
"d’Artagnan, d’Artagnan!" cried she; "remember that I loved you!"
The young man rose and took a step toward her.
But Athos rose likewise, drew his sword, and placed himself in the way.
"If you take one step farther, d’Artagnan," said he, "we shall cross
swords together."
D’Artagnan sank on his knees and prayed.
"Come," continued Athos, "executioner, do your duty."
"Willingly, monseigneur," said the executioner; "for as I am a good
Catholic, I firmly believe I am acting justly in performing my functions
on this woman."
"That’s well."
Athos made a step toward Milady.
"I pardon you," said he, "the ill you have done me. I pardon you for my
blasted future, my lost honor, my defiled love, and my salvation forever
compromised by the despair into which you have cast me. Die in peace!"
Lord de Winter advanced in his turn.
"I pardon you," said he, "for the poisoning of my brother, and the
assassination of his Grace, Lord Buckingham. I pardon you for the death
of poor Felton; I pardon you for the attempts upon my own person. Die in
peace!"
"And I," said M. d’Artagnan. "Pardon me, madame, for having by a trick
unworthy of a gentleman provoked your anger; and I, in exchange, pardon
you the murder of my poor love and your cruel vengeance against me. I
pardon you, and I weep for you. Die in peace!"
"I am lost!" murmured Milady in English. "I must die!"
Then she arose of herself, and cast around her one of those piercing
looks which seemed to dart from an eye of flame.
She saw nothing; she listened, and she heard nothing.
"Where am I to die?" said she.
"On the other bank," replied the executioner.
Then he placed her in the boat, and as he was going to set foot in it
himself, Athos handed him a sum of silver.
"Here," said he, "is the price of the execution, that it may be plain we
act as judges."
"That is correct," said the executioner; "and now in her turn, let this
woman see that I am not fulfilling my trade, but my debt."
And he threw the money into the river.
The boat moved off toward the left-hand shore of the Lys, bearing the
guilty woman and the executioner; all the others remained on the
right-hand bank, where they fell on their knees.
The boat glided along the ferry rope under the shadow of a pale cloud
which hung over the water at that moment.
The troop of friends saw it gain the opposite bank; the figures were
defined like black shadows on the red-tinted horizon.
Milady, during the passage had contrived to untie the cord which
fastened her feet. On coming near the bank, she jumped lightly on shore
and took to flight. But the soil was moist; on reaching the top of the
bank, she slipped and fell upon her knees.
She was struck, no doubt, with a superstitious idea; she conceived that
heaven denied its aid, and she remained in the attitude in which she had
fallen, her head drooping and her hands clasped.
Then they saw from the other bank the executioner raise both his arms
slowly; a moonbeam fell upon the blade of the large sword. The two arms
fell with a sudden force; they heard the hissing of the scimitar and the
cry of the victim, then a truncated mass sank beneath the blow.
The executioner then took off his red cloak, spread it upon the ground,
laid the body in it, threw in the head, tied all up by the four corners,
lifted it on his back, and entered the boat again.
In the middle of the stream he stopped the boat, and suspending his
burden over the water cried in a loud voice, "Let the justice of God be
done!" and he let the corpse drop into the depths of the waters, which
closed over it.
Three days afterward the four Musketeers were in Paris; they had not
exceeded their leave of absence, and that same evening they went to pay
their customary visit to M. de Treville.
"Well, gentlemen," said the brave captain, "I hope you have been well
amused during your excursion."
"Prodigiously," replied Athos in the name of himself and his comrades.
End of Chapter 66
67 CONCLUSION
On the sixth of the following month the king, in compliance with the
promise he had made the cardinal to return to La Rochelle, left his
capital still in amazement at the news which began to spread itself of
Buckingham’s assassination.
Although warned that the man she had loved so much was in great danger,
the queen, when his death was announced to her, would not believe the
fact, and even imprudently exclaimed, "it is false; he has just written
to me!"
But the next day she was obliged to believe this fatal intelligence;
Laporte, detained in England, as everyone else had been, by the orders
of Charles I, arrived, and was the bearer of the duke’s dying gift to
the queen.
The joy of the king was lively. He did not even give himself the trouble
to dissemble, and displayed it with affectation before the queen. Louis
XIII, like every weak mind, was wanting in generosity.
But the king soon again became dull and indisposed; his brow was not one
of those that long remain clear. He felt that in returning to camp he
should re-enter slavery; nevertheless, he did return.
The cardinal was for him the fascinating serpent, and himself the bird
which flies from branch to branch without power to escape.
The return to La Rochelle, therefore, was profoundly dull. Our four
friends, in particular, astonished their comrades; they traveled
together, side by side, with sad eyes and heads lowered. Athos alone
from time to time raised his expansive brow; a flash kindled in his
eyes, and a bitter smile passed over his lips, then, like his comrades,
he sank again into reverie.
As soon as the escort arrived in a city, when they had conducted the
king to his quarters the four friends either retired to their own or to
some secluded cabaret, where they neither drank nor played; they only
conversed in a low voice, looking around attentively to see that no one
overheard them.
One day, when the king had halted to fly the magpie, and the four
friends, according to their custom, instead of following the sport had
stopped at a cabaret on the high road, a man coming from la Rochelle on
horseback pulled up at the door to drink a glass of wine, and darted a
searching glance into the room where the four Musketeers were sitting.
"Holloa, Monsieur d’Artagnan!" said he, "is not that you whom I see
yonder?"
D’Artagnan raised his head and uttered a cry of joy. It was the man he
called his phantom; it was his stranger of Meung, of the Rue des
Fossoyeurs and of Arras.
D’Artagnan drew his sword, and sprang toward the door.
But this time, instead of avoiding him the stranger jumped from his
horse, and advanced to meet d’Artagnan.
"Ah, monsieur!" said the young man, "I meet you, then, at last! This
time you shall not escape me!"
"Neither is it my intention, monsieur, for this time I was seeking you;
in the name of the king, I arrest you."
"How! what do you say?" cried d’Artagnan.
"I say that you must surrender your sword to me, monsieur, and that
without resistance. This concerns your head, I warn you."
"Who are you, then?" demanded d’Artagnan, lowering the point of his
sword, but without yet surrendering it.
"I am the Chevalier de Rochefort," answered the other, "the equerry of
Monsieur le Cardinal Richelieu, and I have orders to conduct you to his
Eminence."
"We are returning to his Eminence, monsieur the Chevalier," said Athos,
advancing; "and you will please to accept the word of Monsieur
d’Artagnan that he will go straight to La Rochelle."
"I must place him in the hands of guards who will take him into camp."
"We will be his guards, monsieur, upon our word as gentlemen; but
likewise, upon our word as gentlemen," added Athos, knitting his brow,
"Monsieur d’Artagnan shall not leave us."
The Chevalier de Rochefort cast a glance backward, and saw that Porthos
and Aramis had placed themselves between him and the gate; he understood
that he was completely at the mercy of these four men.
"Gentlemen," said he, "if Monsieur d’Artagnan will surrender his sword
to me and join his word to yours, I shall be satisfied with your promise
to convey Monsieur d’Artagnan to the quarters of Monseigneur the
Cardinal."
"You have my word, monsieur, and here is my sword."
"This suits me the better," said Rochefort, "as I wish to continue my
journey."
"If it is for the purpose of rejoining Milady," said Athos, coolly, "it
is useless; you will not find her."
"What has become of her, then?" asked Rochefort, eagerly.
"Return to camp and you shall know."
Rochefort remained for a moment in thought; then, as they were only a
day’s journey from Surgeres, whither the cardinal was to come to meet
the king, he resolved to follow the advice of Athos and go with them.
Besides, this return offered him the advantage of watching his prisoner.
They resumed their route.
On the morrow, at three o’clock in the afternoon, they arrived at
Surgeres. The cardinal there awaited Louis XIII. The minister and the
king exchanged numerous caresses, felicitating each other upon the
fortunate chance which had freed France from the inveterate enemy who
set all Europe against her. After which, the cardinal, who had been
informed that d’Artagnan was arrested and who was anxious to see him,
took leave of the king, inviting him to come the next day to view the
work already done upon the dyke.
On returning in the evening to his quarters at the bridge of La Pierre,
the cardinal found, standing before the house he occupied, d’Artagnan,
without his sword, and the three Musketeers armed.
This time, as he was well attended, he looked at them sternly, and made
a sign with his eye and hand for d’Artagnan to follow him.
D’Artagnan obeyed.
"We shall wait for you, d’Artagnan," said Athos, loud enough for the
cardinal to hear him.
His Eminence bent his brow, stopped for an instant, and then kept on his
way without uttering a single word.
D’Artagnan entered after the cardinal, and behind d’Artagnan the door
was guarded.
His Eminence entered the chamber which served him as a study, and made a
sign to Rochefort to bring in the young Musketeer.
Rochefort obeyed and retired.
D’Artagnan remained alone in front of the cardinal; this was his second
interview with Richelieu, and he afterward confessed that he felt well
assured it would be his last.
Richelieu remained standing, leaning against the mantelpiece; a table
was between him and d’Artagnan.
"Monsieur," said the cardinal, "you have been arrested by my orders."
"So they tell me, monseigneur."
"Do you know why?"
"No, monseigneur, for the only thing for which I could be arrested is
still unknown to your Eminence."
Richelieu looked steadfastly at the young man.
"Holloa!" said he, "what does that mean?"
"If Monseigneur will have the goodness to tell me, in the first place,
what crimes are imputed to me, I will then tell him the deeds I have
really done."
"Crimes are imputed to you which had brought down far loftier heads than
yours, monsieur," said the cardinal.
"What, monseigneur?" said d’Artagnan, with a calmness which astonished
the cardinal himself.
"You are charged with having corresponded with the enemies of the
kingdom; you are charged with having surprised state secrets; you are
charged with having tried to thwart the plans of your general."
"And who charges me with this, monseigneur?" said d’Artagnan, who had no
doubt the accusation came from Milady, "a woman branded by the justice
of the country; a woman who has espoused one man in France and another
in England; a woman who poisoned her second husband and who attempted
both to poison and assassinate me!"
"What do you say, monsieur?" cried the cardinal, astonished; "and of
what woman are you speaking thus?"
"Of Milady de Winter," replied d’Artagnan, "yes, of Milady de Winter, of
whose crimes your Eminence is doubtless ignorant, since you have honored
her with your confidence."
"Monsieur," said the cardinal, "if Milady de Winter has committed the
crimes you lay to her charge, she shall be punished."
"She has been punished, monseigneur."
"And who has punished her?"
"We."
"She is in prison?"
"She is dead."
"Dead!" repeated the cardinal, who could not believe what he heard,
"dead! Did you not say she was dead?"
"Three times she attempted to kill me, and I pardoned her; but she
murdered the woman I loved. Then my friends and I took her, tried her,
and condemned her."
D’Artagnan then related the poisoning of Mme. Bonacieux in the convent
of the Carmelites at Bethune, the trial in the isolated house, and the
execution on the banks of the Lys.
A shudder crept through the body of the cardinal, who did not shudder
readily.
But all at once, as if undergoing the influence of an unspoken thought,
the countenance of the cardinal, till then gloomy, cleared up by
degrees, and recovered perfect serenity.
"So," said the cardinal, in a tone that contrasted strongly with the
severity of his words, "you have constituted yourselves judges, without
remembering that they who punish without license to punish are
assassins?"
"Monseigneur, I swear to you that I never for an instant had the
intention of defending my head against you. I willingly submit to any
punishment your Eminence may please to inflict upon me. I do not hold
life dear enough to be afraid of death."
"Yes, I know you are a man of a stout heart, monsieur," said the
cardinal, with a voice almost affectionate; "I can therefore tell you
beforehand you shall be tried, and even condemned."
"Another might reply to your Eminence that he had his pardon in his
pocket. I content myself with saying: Command, monseigneur; I am ready."
"Your pardon?" said Richelieu, surprised.
"Yes, monseigneur," said d’Artagnan.
"And signed by whom—by the king?" And the cardinal pronounced these
words with a singular expression of contempt.
"No, by your Eminence."
"By me? You are insane, monsieur."
"Monseigneur will doubtless recognize his own handwriting."
And d’Artagnan presented to the cardinal the precious piece of paper
which Athos had forced from Milady, and which he had given to d’Artagnan
to serve him as a safeguard.
His Eminence took the paper, and read in a slow voice, dwelling upon
every syllable:
"Dec. 3, 1627
"It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this
has done what he has done.
"RICHELIEU" The cardinal, after having read these two lines, sank into a
profound reverie; but he did not return the paper to d’Artagnan.
"He is meditating by what sort of punishment he shall cause me to die,"
said the Gascon to himself. "Well, my faith! he shall see how a
gentleman can die."
The young Musketeer was in excellent disposition to die heroically.
Richelieu still continued thinking, rolling and unrolling the paper in
his hands.
At length he raised his head, fixed his eagle look upon that loyal,
open, and intelligent countenance, read upon that face, furrowed with
tears, all the sufferings its possessor had endured in the course of a
month, and reflected for the third or fourth time how much there was in
that youth of twenty-one years before him, and what resources his
activity, his courage, and his shrewdness might offer to a good master.
On the other side, the crimes, the power, and the infernal genius of
Milady had more than once terrified him. He felt something like a secret
joy at being forever relieved of this dangerous accomplice.
Richelieu slowly tore the paper which d’Artagnan had generously
relinquished.
"I am lost!" said d’Artagnan to himself. And he bowed profoundly before
the cardinal, like a man who says, "Lord, Thy will be done!"
The cardinal approached the table, and without sitting down, wrote a few
lines upon a parchment of which two-thirds were already filled, and
affixed his seal.
"That is my condemnation," thought d’Artagnan; "he will spare me the
ENNUI of the Bastille, or the tediousness of a trial. That’s very kind
of him."
"Here, monsieur," said the cardinal to the young man. "I have taken from
you one CARTE BLANCHE to give you another. The name is wanting in this
commission; you can write it yourself."
D’Artagnan took the paper hesitatingly and cast his eyes over it; it was
a lieutenant’s commission in the Musketeers.
D’Artagnan fell at the feet of the cardinal.
"Monseigneur," said he, "my life is yours; henceforth dispose of it. But
this favor which you bestow upon me I do not merit. I have three friends
who are more meritorious and more worthy—"
"You are a brave youth, d’Artagnan," interrupted the cardinal, tapping
him familiarly on the shoulder, charmed at having vanquished this
rebellious nature. "Do with this commission what you will; only
remember, though the name be blank, it is to you I give it."
"I shall never forget it," replied d’Artagnan. "Your Eminence may be
certain of that."
The cardinal turned and said in a loud voice, "Rochefort!" The
chevalier, who no doubt was near the door, entered immediately.
"Rochefort," said the cardinal, "you see Monsieur d’Artagnan. I receive
him among the number of my friends. Greet each other, then; and be wise
if you wish to preserve your heads."
Rochefort and d’Artagnan coolly greeted each other with their lips; but
the cardinal was there, observing them with his vigilant eye.
They left the chamber at the same time.
"We shall meet again, shall we not, monsieur?"
"When you please," said d’Artagnan.
"An opportunity will come," replied Rochefort.
"Hey?" said the cardinal, opening the door.
The two men smiled at each other, shook hands, and saluted his Eminence.
"We were beginning to grow impatient," said Athos.
"Here I am, my friends," replied d’Artagnan; "not only free, but in
favor."
"Tell us about it."
"This evening; but for the moment, let us separate."
Accordingly, that same evening d’Artagnan repaired to the quarters of
Athos, whom he found in a fair way to empty a bottle of Spanish wine—an
occupation which he religiously accomplished every night.
D’Artagnan related what had taken place between the cardinal and
himself, and drawing the commission from his pocket, said, "Here, my
dear Athos, this naturally belongs to you."
Athos smiled with one of his sweet and expressive smiles.
"Friend," said he, "for Athos this is too much; for the Comte de la Fere
it is too little. Keep the commission; it is yours. Alas! you have
purchased it dearly enough."
D’Artagnan left Athos’s chamber and went to that of Porthos. He found
him clothed in a magnificent dress covered with splendid embroidery,
admiring himself before a glass.
"Ah, ah! is that you, dear friend?" exclaimed Porthos. "How do you think
these garments fit me?"
"Wonderfully," said d’Artagnan; "but I come to offer you a dress which
will become you still better."
"What?" asked Porthos.
"That of a lieutenant of Musketeers."
D’Artagnan related to Porthos the substance of his interview with the
cardinal, and said, taking the commission from his pocket, "Here, my
friend, write your name upon it and become my chief."
Porthos cast his eyes over the commission and returned it to d’Artagnan,
to the great astonishment of the young man.
"Yes," said he, "yes, that would flatter me very much; but I should not
have time enough to enjoy the distinction. During our expedition to
Bethune the husband of my duchess died; so, my dear, the coffer of the
defunct holding out its arms to me, I shall marry the widow. Look here!
I was trying on my wedding suit. Keep the lieutenancy, my dear, keep
it."
The young man then entered the apartment of Aramis. He found him
kneeling before a PRIEDIEU with his head leaning on an open prayer book.
He described to him his interview with the cardinal, and said, for the
third time drawing his commission from his pocket, "You, our friend, our
intelligence, our invisible protector, accept this commission. You have
merited it more than any of us by your wisdom and your counsels, always
followed by such happy results."
"Alas, dear friend!" said Aramis, "our late adventures have disgusted me
with military life. This time my determination is irrevocably taken.
After the siege I shall enter the house of the Lazarists. Keep the
commission, d’Artagnan; the profession of arms suits you. You will be a
brave and adventurous captain."
D’Artagnan, his eye moist with gratitude though beaming with joy, went
back to Athos, whom he found still at table contemplating the charms of
his last glass of Malaga by the light of his lamp.
"Well," said he, "they likewise have refused me."
"That, dear friend, is because nobody is more worthy than yourself."
He took a quill, wrote the name of d’Artagnan in the commission, and
returned it to him.
"I shall then have no more friends," said the young man. "Alas! nothing
but bitter recollections."
And he let his head sink upon his hands, while two large tears rolled
down his cheeks.
"You are young," replied Athos; "and your bitter recollections have time
to change themselves into sweet remembrances."
EPILOGUE
La Rochelle, deprived of the assistance of the English fleet and of the
diversion promised by Buckingham, surrendered after a siege of a year.
On the twenty-eighth of October, 1628, the capitulation was signed.
The king made his entrance into Paris on the twenty-third of December of
the same year. He was received in triumph, as if he came from conquering
an enemy and not Frenchmen. He entered by the Faubourg St. Jacques,
under verdant arches.
D’Artagnan took possession of his command. Porthos left the service, and
in the course of the following year married Mme. Coquenard; the coffer
so much coveted contained eight hundred thousand livres.
Mousqueton had a magnificent livery, and enjoyed the satisfaction of
which he had been ambitious all his life—that of standing behind a
gilded carriage.
Aramis, after a journey into Lorraine, disappeared all at once, and
ceased to write to his friends; they learned at a later period through
Mme. de Chevreuse, who told it to two or three of her intimates, that,
yielding to his vocation, he had retired into a convent—only into
which, nobody knew.
Bazin became a lay brother.
Athos remained a Musketeer under the command of d’Artagnan till the year
1633, at which period, after a journey he made to Touraine, he also quit
the service, under the pretext of having inherited a small property in
Roussillon.
Grimaud followed Athos.
D’Artagnan fought three times with Rochefort, and wounded him three
times.
"I shall probably kill you the fourth," said he to him, holding out his
hand to assist him to rise.
"It is much better both for you and for me to stop where we are,"
answered the wounded man. "CORBLEU—I am more your friend than you
think—for after our very first encounter, I could by saying a word to
the cardinal have had your throat cut!"
They this time embraced heartily, and without retaining any malice.
Planchet obtained from Rochefort the rank of sergeant in the Piedmont
regiment.
M Bonacieux lived on very quietly, wholly ignorant of what had become of
his wife, and caring very little about it. One day he had the imprudence
to recall himself to the memory of the cardinal. The cardinal had him
informed that he would provide for him so that he should never want for
anything in future. In fact, M. Bonacieux, having left his house at
seven o’clock in the evening to go to the Louvre, never appeared again
in the Rue des Fossoyeurs; the opinion of those who seemed to be best
informed was that he was fed and lodged in some royal castle, at the
expense of his generous Eminence.
End of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas