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21. THE COUNTESS DE WINTER

As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan,
not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By
adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his
own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a
position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's
letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which
astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested
in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England,
had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then,
upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan
related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the
devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and
bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a
single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for
which he had repaid M. de Wardes with such terrible coin. While
he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest
simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man
with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much
prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a
countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.

The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at
the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in
town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept
on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom
he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three
accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn
his head to see what became of those he had knocked down.
d'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled
curses.

On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his
horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the
bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan
did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble
creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the
satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens
and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.

The duke walked so fast that d'Artagnan had some trouble in
keeping up with him. He passed through several apartments, of an
elegance of which even the greatest nobles of France had not even
an idea, and arrived at length in a bedchamber which was at once
a miracle of taste and of richness. In the alcove of this
chamber was a door concealed in the tapestry which the duke
opened with a little gold key which he wore suspended from his
neck by a chain of the same metal. With discretion d'Artagnan
remained behind; but at the moment when Buckingham crossed the
threshold, he turned round, and seeing the hesitation of the
young man, "Come in!" cried he, "and if you have the good fortune
to be admitted to her Majesty's presence, tell her what you have
seen."

Encouraged by this invitation, d'Artagnan followed the duke, who
closed the door after them. The two found themselves in a small
chapel covered with a tapestry of Persian silk worked with gold,
and brilliantly lighted with a vast number of candles. Over a
species of altar, and beneath a canopy of blue velvet, surmounted
by white and red plumes, was a full-length portrait of Anne of
Austria, so perfect in its resemblance that d'Artagnan uttered a
cry of surprise on beholding it. One might believe the queen was
about to speak. On the altar, and beneath the portrait, was the
casket containing the diamond studs.

The duke approached the altar, knelt as a priest might have done
before a crucifix, and opened the casket. "There, said he,
drawing from the casket a large bow of blue ribbon all sparkling
with diamonds, "there are the precious studs which I have taken
an oath should be buried with me. The queen have them to me, the
queen requires them again. Her will be done, like that of God,
in all things."

Then, he began to kiss, one after the other, those dear studs
with which he was about to part. All at once he uttered a
terrible cry.

"What is the matter?" exclaimed d'Artagnan, anxiously; "what has
happened to you, my Lord?"

"All is lost!" cried Buckingham, becoming as pale as a corpse;
"two of the studs are wanting, there are only ten."

"Can you have lost them, my Lord, or do you think they have been
stolen?"

"They have been stolen," replied the duke, "and it is the
cardinal who has dealt this blow. Hold; see! The ribbons which
held them have been cut with scissors."

"If my Lord suspects they have been stolen, perhaps the person
who stole them still has them in his hands."

"Wait, wait!" said the duke. "The only time I have worn these
studs was at a ball given by the king eight days ago at Windsor.
The Comtesse de Winter, with whom I had quarreled, became
reconciled to me at that ball. That reconciliation was nothing
but the vengeance of a jealous woman. I have never seen her from
that day. The woman is an agent of the cardinal."

"He has agents, then, throughout the world?" cried d'Artagnan.

"Oh, yes," said Buckingham, grating his teeth with rage. "Yes,
he is a terrible antagonist. But when is this ball to take
place?"

"Monday next."

"Monday next! Still five days before us. That's more time than
we want. Patrick!" cried the duke, opening the door of the
chapel, "Patrick!" His confidential valet appeared.

"My jeweler and my secretary."

The valet went out with a mute promptitude which showed him
accustomed to obey blindly and without reply.

But although the jeweler had been mentioned first, it was the
secretary who first made his appearance. This was simply because
he lived in the hotel. He found Buckingham seated at a table in
his bedchamber, writing orders with his own hand.

"Mr. Jackson," said he, "go instantly to the Lord Chancellor, and
tell him that I charge him with the execution of these orders. I
wish them to be promulgated immediately."

"But, my Lord, if the Lord Chancellor interrogates me upon the
motives which may have led your Grace to adopt such an
extraordinary measure, what shall I reply?"

"That such is my pleasure, and that I answer for my will to no
man."

"Will that be the answer," replied the secretary, smiling, "which
he must transmit to his Majesty if, by chance, his Majesty should
have the curiosity to know why no vessel is to leave any of the
ports of Great Britain?"

"You are right, Mr. Jackson," replied Buckingham. "He will say,
in that case, to the king that I am determined on war, and that
this measure is my first act of hostility against France."

The secretary bowed and retired.

"We are safe on that side," said Buckingham, turning toward
d'Artagnan. "If the studs are not yet gone to Paris, they will
not arrive till after you."

"How so?"

"I have just placed an embargo on all vessels at present in his
Majesty's ports, and without particular permission, not one dare
lift an anchor."

D'Artagnan looked with stupefaction at a man who thus employed
the unlimited power with which he was clothed by the confidence
of a king in the prosecution of his intrigues. Buckingham saw by
the expression of the young man's face what was passing in his
mind, and he smiled.

"Yes," said he, "yes, Anne of Austria is my true queen. Upon a
word from her, I would betray my country, I would betray my king,
I would betray my God. She asked me not to send the Protestants
of La Rochelle the assistance I promised them; I have not done
so. I broke my word, it is true; but what signifies that? I
obeyed my love; and have I not been richly paid for that
obedience? It was to that obedience I owe her portrait."

D'Artagnan was amazed to note by what fragile and unknown threads
the destinies of nations and the lives of men are suspended. He
was lost in these reflections when the goldsmith entered. He was
an Irishman--one of the most skillful of his craft, and who
himself confessed that he gained a hundred thousand livres a year
by the Duke of Buckingham.

"Mr. O'Reilly," said the duke, leading him into the chapel, "look
at these diamond studs, and tell me what they are worth apiece."

The goldsmith cast a glance at the elegant manner in which they
were set, calculated, one with another, what the diamonds were
worth, and without hesitation said, "Fifteen hundred pistoles
each, my Lord."

"How many days would it require to make two studs exactly like
them? You see there are two wanting."

"Eight days, my Lord."

"I will give you three thousand pistoles apiece if I can have
them by the day after tomorrow."

"My Lord, they shall be yours."

"You are a jewel of a man, Mr. O'Reilly; but that is not all.
These studs cannot be trusted to anybody; it must be done in the
palace."

"Impossible, my Lord! There is no one but myself can so execute
them that one cannot tell the new from the old."

"Therefore, my dear Mr. O'Reilly, you are my prisoner. And if
you wish ever to leave my palace, you cannot; so make the best of
it. Name to me such of your workmen as you need, and point out
the tools they must bring."

The goldsmith knew the duke. He knew all objection would be
useless, and instantly determined how to act.

"May I be permitted to inform my wife?" said he.

"Oh, you may even see her if you like, my dear Mr. O'Reilly.
Your captivity shall be mild, be assured; and as every
inconvenience deserves its indemnification, here is, in addition
to the price of the studs, an order for a thousand pistoles, to
make you forget the annoyance I cause you."

D'Artagnan could not get over the surprise created in him by this
minister, who thus open-handed, sported with men and millions.

As to the goldsmith, he wrote to his wife, sending her the order
for the thousand pistoles, and charging her to send him, in
exchange, his most skillful apprentice, an assortment of
diamonds, of which he gave the names and the weight, and the
necessary tools.

Buckingham conducted the goldsmith to the chamber destined for
him, and which, at the end of half an hour, was transformed into
a workshop. Then he placed a sentinel at each door, with an
order to admit nobody upon any pretense but his VALET DE CHAMBRE,
Patrick. We need not add that the goldsmith, O'Reilly, and his
assistant, were prohibited from going out under any pretext.
This point, settled, the duke turned to d'Artagnan. "Now, my
young friend," said he, "England is all our own. What do you
wish for? What do you desire?"

"A bed, my Lord," replied d'Artagnan. "At present, I confess,
that is the thing I stand most in need of."

Buckingham gave d'Artagnan a chamber adjoining his own. He
wished to have the young man at hand--not that he at all
mistrusted him, but for the sake of having someone to whom he
could constantly talk of the queen.

In one hour after, the ordinance was published in London that no
vessel bound for France should leave port, not even the packet
boat with letters. In the eyes of everybody this was a
declaration of war between the two kingdoms.

On the day after the morrow, by eleven o'clock, the two diamond
studs were finished, and they were so completely imitated, so
perfectly alike, that Buckingham could not tell the new ones from
the old ones, and experts in such matters would have been
deceived as he was. He immediately called d'Artagnan. "Here,"
said he to him, "are the diamond studs that you came to bring;
and be my witness that I have done all that human power could
do."

"Be satisfied, my Lord, I will tell all that I have seen. But
does your Grace mean to give me the studs without the casket?"

"The casket would encumber you. Besides, the casket is the more
precious from being all that is left to me. You will say that I
keep it."

"I will perform your commission, word for word, my Lord."

"And now," resumed Buckingham, looking earnestly at the young
man, "how shall I ever acquit myself of the debt I owe you?"

D'Artagnan blushed up to the whites of his eyes. He saw that the
duke was searching for a means of making him accept something and
the idea that the blood of his friends and himself was about to
be paid for with English gold was strangely repugnant to him.

"Let us understand each other, my Lord," replied d'Artagnan, "and
let us make things clear beforehand in order that there may be no
mistake. I am in the service of the King and Queen of France,
and form part of the company of Monsieur Dessessart, who, as well
as his brother-in-law, Monsieur de Treville, is particularly
attached to their Majesties. What I have done, then, has been
for the queen, and not at all for your Grace. And still further,
it is very probable I should not have done anything of this, if
it had not been to make myself agreeable to someone who is my
lady, as the queen is yours."

"Yes," said the duke, smiling, "and I even believe that I know
that other person; it is--"

"My Lord, I have not named her!" interrupted the young man,
warmly.

"That is true," said the duke; "and it is to this person I am
bound to discharge my debt of gratitude."

"You have said, my Lord; for truly, at this moment when there is
question of war, I confess to you that I see nothing in your
Grace but an Englishman, and consequently an enemy whom I should
have much greater pleasure in meeting on the field of battle than
in the park at Windsor or the corridors of the Louvre--all which,
however, will not prevent me from executing to the very point my
commission or from laying down my life, if there be need of it,
to accomplish it; but I repeat it to your Grace, without your
having personally on that account more to thank me for in this
second interview than for what I did for you in the first."

"We say, 'Proud as a Scotsman,'" murmured the Duke of Buckingham.

"And we say, 'Proud as a Gascon,'" replied d'Artagnan. "The
Gascons are the Scots of France."

D'Artagnan bowed to the duke, and was retiring.

"Well, are you going away in that manner? Where, and how?"

"That's true!"

"Fore Gad, these Frenchmen have no consideration!"

"I had forgotten that England was an island, and that you were
the king of it."

"Go to the riverside, ask for the brig SUND, and give this letter
to the captain; he will convey you to a little port, where
certainly you are not expected, and which is ordinarily only
frequented by fishermen."

"The name of that port?"

"St. Valery; but listen. When you have arrived there you will go
to a mean tavern, without a name and without a sign--a mere
fisherman's hut. You cannot be mistaken; there is but one."

"Afterward?"

"You will ask for the host, and will repeat to him the word
'Forward!'"

"Which means?"

"In French, EN AVANT. It is the password. He will give you a
horse all saddled, and will point out to you the road you ought
to take. You will find, in the same way, four relays on your
route. If you will give at each of these relays your address in
Paris, the four horses will follow you thither. You already know
two of them, and you appeared to appreciate them like a judge.
They were those we rode on; and you may rely upon me for the
others not being inferior to them. These horses are equipped for
the field. However proud you may be, you will not refuse to
accept one of them, and to request your three companions to
accept the others--that is, in order to make war against us.
Besides, the end justified the means, as you Frenchmen say, does
it not?"

"Yes, my Lord, I accept them," said d'Artagnan; "and if it please
God, we will make a good use of your presents."

"Well, now, your hand, young man. Perhaps we shall soon meet on
the field of battle; but in the meantime we shall part good
friends, I hope."

"Yes, my Lord; but with the hope of soon becoming enemies."

"Be satisfied; I promise you that."

"I depend upon your word, my Lord."

D'Artagnan bowed to the duke, and made his way as quickly as
possible to the riverside. Opposite the Tower of London he found
the vessel that had been named to him, delivered his letter to
the captain, who after having it examined by the governor of the
port made immediate preparations to sail.

Fifty vessels were waiting to set out. Passing alongside one of
them, d'Artagnan fancied he perceived on board it the woman of
Meung--the same whom the unknown gentleman had called Milady, and
whom d'Artagnan had thought so handsome; but thanks to the
current of the stream and a fair wind, his vessel passed so
quickly that he had little more than a glimpse of her.

The next day about nine o'clock in the morning, he landed at St.
Valery. D'Artagnan went instantly in search of the inn, and
easily discovered it by the riotous noise which resounded from
it. War between England and France was talked of as near and
certain, and the jolly sailors were having a carousal.

D'Artagnan made his way through the crowd, advanced toward the
host, and pronounced the word "Forward!" The host instantly made
him a sign to follow, went out with him by a door which opened
into a yard, led him to the stable, where a saddled horse awaited
him, and asked him if he stood in need of anything else.

"I want to know the route I am to follow," said d'Artagnan.

"Go from hence to Blangy, and from Blangy to Neufchatel. At
Neufchatel, go to the tavern of the Golden Harrow, give the
password to the landlord, and you will find, as you have here, a
horse ready saddled."

"Have I anything to pay?" demanded d'Artagnan.

"Everything is paid," replied the host, "and liberally. Begone,
and may God guide you!"

"Amen!" cried the young man, and set off at full gallop.

Four hours later he was in Neufchatel. He strictly followed the
instructions he had received. At Neufchatel, as at St. Valery,
he found a horse quite ready and awaiting him. He was about to
remove the pistols from the saddle he had quit to the one he was
about to fill, but he found the holsters furnished with similar
pistols.

"Your address at Paris?"

"Hotel of the Guards, company of Dessessart."

"Enough," replied the questioner.

"Which route must I take?" demanded d'Artagnan, in his turn.

"That of Rouen; but you will leave the city on your right. You
must stop at the little village of Eccuis, in which there is but
one tavern--the Shield of France. Don't condemn it from
appearances; you will find a horse in the stables quite as good
as this."

"The same password?"

"Exactly."

"Adieu, master!"

"A good journey, gentlemen! Do you want anything?"

D'Artagnan shook his head, and set off at full speed. At Eccuis,
the same scene was repeated. He found as provident a host and a
fresh horse. He left his address as he had done before, and set
off again at the same pace for Pontoise. At Pontoise he changed
his horse for the last time, and at nine o'clock galloped into
the yard of Treville's hotel. He had made nearly sixty leagues
in little more than twelve hours.

M. de Treville received him as if he had seen him that same
morning; only, when pressing his hand a little more warmly than
usual, he informed him that the company of Dessessart was on duty
at the Louvre, and that he might repair at once to his post.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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