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41. THE SEIGE OF LA ROCHELLE

The Siege of La Rochelle was one of the great political
events of the reign of Louis XIII, and one of the great
military enterprises of the cardinal. It is, then,
interesting and even necessary that we should say a few
words about it, particularly as many details of this siege
are connected in too important a manner with the story we
have undertaken to relate to allow us to pass it over in
silence.

The political plans of the cardinal when he undertook this
siege were extensive. Let us unfold them first, and then
pass on to the private plans which perhaps had not less
influence upon his Eminence than the others.

Of the important cities given up by Henry IV to the
Huguenots as places of safety, there only remained La
Rochelle. It became necessary, therefore, to destroy this
last bulwark of Calvinism--a dangerous leaven with which the
ferments of civil revolt and foreign war were constantly
mingling.

Spaniards, Englishmen, and Italian malcontents, adventurers
of all nations, and soldiers of fortune of every sect,
flocked at the first summons under the standard of the
Protestants, and organized themselves like a vast
association, whose branches diverged freely over all parts
of Europe.

La Rochelle, which had derived a new importance from the
ruin of the other Calvinist cities, was, then, the focus of
dissensions and ambition. Moreover, its port was the last
in the kingdom of France open to the English, and by closing
it against England, our eternal enemy, the cardinal
completed the work of Joan of Arc and the Duc de Guise.

Thus Bassompierre, who was at once Protestant and Catholic--
Protestant by conviction and Catholic as commander of the
order of the Holy Ghost; Bassompierre, who was a German by
birth and a Frenchman at heart--in short, Bassompierre, who
had a distinguished command at the siege of La Rochelle,
said, in charging at the head of several other Protestant
nobles like himself, "You will see, gentlemen, that we shall
be fools enough to take La Rochelle."

And Bassompierre was right. The cannonade of the Isle of Re
presaged to him the dragonnades of the Cevennes; the taking
of La Rochelle was the preface to the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes.

We have hinted that by the side of these views of the
leveling and simplifying minister, which belong to history,
the chronicler is forced to recognize the lesser motives of
the amorous man and jealous rival.

Richelieu, as everyone knows, had loved the queen. Was this
love a simple political affair, or was it naturally one of
those profound passions which Anne of Austria inspired in
those who approached her? That we are not able to say; but
at all events, we have seen, by the anterior developments of
this story, that Buckingham had the advantage over him, and
in two or three circumstances, particularly that of the
diamond studs, had, thanks to the devotedness of the three
Musketeers and the courage and conduct of d'Artagnan,
cruelly mystified him.

It was, then, Richelieu's object, not only to get rid of an
enemy of France, but to avenge himself on a rival; but this
vengeance must be grand and striking and worthy in every way
of a man who held in his hand, as his weapon for combat, the
forces of a kingdom.

Richelieu knew that in combating England he combated
Buckingham; that in triumphing over England he triumphed
over Buckingham--in short, that in humiliating England in
the eyes of Europe he humiliated Buckingham in the eyes of
the queen.

On his side Buckingham, in pretending to maintain the honor
of England, was moved by interests exactly like those of the
cardinal. Buckingham also was pursuing a private vengeance.
Buckingham could not under any pretense be admitted into
France as an ambassador; he wished to enter it as a
conqueror.

It resulted from this that the real stake in this game,
which two most powerful kingdoms played for the good
pleasure of two amorous men, was simply a kind look from
Anne of Austria.

The first advantage had been gained by Buckingham. Arriving
unexpectedly in sight of the Isle of Re with ninety vessels
and nearly twenty thousand men, he had surprised the Comte
de Toiras, who commanded for the king in the Isle, and he
had, after a bloody conflict, effected his landing.

Allow us to observe in passing that in this fight perished
the Baron de Chantal; that the Baron de Chantal left a
little orphan girl eighteen months old, and that this little
girl was afterward Mme. de Sevigne.

The Comte de Toiras retired into the citadel St. Martin with
his garrison, and threw a hundred men into a little fort
called the fort of La Pree.

This event had hastened the resolutions of the cardinal; and
till the king and he could take the command of the siege of
La Rochelle, which was determined, he had sent Monsieur to
direct the first operations, and had ordered all the troops
he could dispose of to march toward the theater of war. It
was of this detachment, sent as a vanguard, that our friend
d'Artagnan formed a part.

The king, as we have said, was to follow as soon as his Bed
of Justice had been held; but on rising from his Bed of
Justice on the twenty-eighth of June, he felt himself
attacked by fever. He was, notwithstanding, anxious to set
out; but his illness becoming more serious, he was forced to
stop at Villeroy.

Now, whenever the king halted, the Musketeers halted. It
followed that d'Artagnan, who was as yet purely and simply
in the Guards, found himself, for the time at least,
separated from his good friends--Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.
This separation, which was no more than an unpleasant
circumstance, would have certainly become a cause of serious
uneasiness if he had been able to guess by what unknown
dangers he was surrounded.

He, however, arrived without accident in the camp
established before La Rochelle, of the tenth of the month of
September of the year 1627.

Everything was in the same state. The Duke of Buckingham
and his English, masters of the Isle of Re, continued to
besiege, but without success, the citadel St. Martin and the
fort of La Pree; and hostilities with La Rochelle had
commenced, two or three days before, about a fort which the
Duc d'Angouleme had caused to be constructed near the city.

The Guards, under the command of M. Dessessart, took up
their quarters at the Minimes; but, as we know, d'Artagnan,
possessed with ambition to enter the Musketeers, had formed
but few friendships among his comrades, and he felt himself
isolated and given up to his own reflections.

His reflections were not very cheerful. From the time of
his arrival in Paris, he had been mixed up with public
affairs; but his own private affairs had made no great
progress, either in love or fortune. As to love, the only
woman he could have loved was Mme. Bonacieux; and Mme.
Bonacieux had disappeared, without his being able to
discover what had become of her. As to fortune, he had
made--he, humble as he was--an enemy of the cardinal; that
is to say, of a man before whom trembled the greatest men of
the kingdom, beginning with the king.

That man had the power to crush him, and yet he had not done
so. For a mind so perspicuous as that of d'Artagnan, this
indulgence was a light by which he caught a glimpse of a
better future.

Then he had made himself another enemy, less to be feared,
he thought; but nevertheless, he instinctively felt, not to
be despised. This enemy was Milady.

In exchange for all this, he had acquired the protection and
good will of the queen; but the favor of the queen was at
the present time an additional cause of persecution, and her
protection, as it was known, protected badly--as witness
Chalais and Mme. Bonacieux.

What he had clearly gained in all this was the diamond,
worth five or six thousand livres, which he wore on his
finger; and even this diamond--supposing that d'Artagnan, in
his projects of ambition, wished to keep it, to make it
someday a pledge for the gratitude of the queen--had not in
the meanwhile, since he could not part with it, more value
than the gravel he trod under his feet.

We say the gravel he trod under his feet, for d'Artagnan
made these reflections while walking solitarily along a
pretty little road which led from the camp to the village of
Angoutin. Now, these reflections had led him further than
he intended, and the day was beginning to decline when, by
the last ray of the setting sun, he thought he saw the
barrel of a musket glitter from behind a hedge.

D'Artagnan had a quick eye and a prompt understanding. He
comprehended that the musket had not come there of itself,
and that he who bore it had not concealed himself behind a
hedge with any friendly intentions. He determined,
therefore, to direct his course as clear from it as he could
when, on the opposite side of the road, from behind a rock,
he perceived the extremity of another musket.

This was evidently an ambuscade.

The young man cast a glance at the first musket and saw,
with a certain degree of inquietude, that it was leveled in
his direction; but as soon as he perceived that the orifice
of the barrel was motionless, he threw himself upon the
ground. At the same instant the gun was fired, and he heard
the whistling of a ball pass over his head.

No time was to be lost. D'Artagnan sprang up with a bound,
and at the same instant the ball from the other musket tore
up the gravel on the very spot on the road where he had
thrown himself with his face to the ground.

D'Artagnan was not one of those foolhardy men who seek a
ridiculous death in order that it may be said of them that
they did not retreat a single step. Besides, courage was
out of the question here; d'Artagnan had fallen into an
ambush.

"If there is a third shot," said he to himself, "I am a lost
man."

He immediately, therefore, took to his heels and ran toward
the camp, with the swiftness of the young men of his
country, so renowned for their agility; but whatever might
be his speed, the first who fired, having had time to
reload, fired a second shot, and this time so well aimed
that it struck his hat, and carried it ten paces from him.

As he, however, had no other hat, he picked up this as he
ran, and arrived at his quarters very pale and quite out of
breath. He sat down without saying a word to anybody, and
began to reflect.

This event might have three causes:

The first and the most natural was that it might be an
ambuscade of the Rochellais, who might not be sorry to kill
one of his Majesty's Guards, because it would be an enemy
the less, and this enemy might have a well-furnished purse
in his pocket.

D'Artagnan took his hat, examined the hole made by the ball,
and shook his head. The ball was not a musket ball--it was
an arquebus ball. The accuracy of the aim had first given
him the idea that a special weapon had been employed. This
could not, then, be a military ambuscade, as the ball was
not of the regular caliber.

This might be a kind remembrance of Monsieur the Cardinal.
It may be observed that at the very moment when, thanks to
the ray of the sun, he perceived the gun barrel, he was
thinking with astonishment on the forbearance of his
Eminence with respect to him.

But d'Artagnan again shook his head. For people toward whom
he had but to put forth his hand, his Eminence had rarely
recourse to such means.

It might be a vengeance of Milady; that was most probable.

He tried in vain to remember the faces or dress of the
assassins; he had escaped so rapidly that he had not had
leisure to notice anything.

"Ah, my poor friends!" murmured d'Artagnan; "where are you?
And that you should fail me!"

D'Artagnan passed a very bad night. Three or four times he
started up, imagining that a man was approaching his bed for
the purpose of stabbing him. Nevertheless, day dawned
without darkness having brought any accident.

But d'Artagnan well suspected that that which was deferred
was not relinquished.

D'Artagnan remained all day in his quarters, assigning as a
reason to himself that the weather was bad.

At nine o'clock the next morning, the drums beat to arms.
The Duc d'Orleans visited the posts. The guards were under
arms, and d'Artagnan took his place in the midst of his
comrades.

Monsieur passed along the front of the line; then all the
superior officers approached him to pay their compliments,
M. Dessessart, captain of the Guards, as well as the others.

At the expiration of a minute or two, it appeared to
d'Artagnan that M. Dessessart made him a sign to approach.
He waited for a fresh gesture on the part of his superior,
for fear he might be mistaken; but this gesture being
repeated, he left the ranks, and advanced to receive orders.

"Monsieur is about to ask for some men of good will for a
dangerous mission, but one which will do honor to those who
shall accomplish it; and I made you a sign in order that you
might hold yourself in readiness."

"Thanks, my captain!" replied d'Artagnan, who wished for
nothing better than an opportunity to distinguish himself
under the eye of the lieutenant general.

In fact the Rochellais had made a sortie during the night,
and had retaken a bastion of which the royal army had gained
possession two days before. The matter was to ascertain, by
reconnoitering, how the enemy guarded this bastion.

At the end of a few minutes Monsieur raised his voice, and
said, "I want for this mission three or four volunteers, led
by a man who can be depended upon."

"As to the man to be depended upon, I have him under my
hand, monsieur," said M. Dessessart, pointing to d'Artagnan;
"and as to the four or five volunteers, Monsieur has but to
make his intentions known, and the men will not be wanting."

"Four men of good will who will risk being killed with me!"
said d'Artagnan, raising his sword.

Two of his comrades of the Guards immediately sprang
forward, and two other soldiers having joined them, the
number was deemed sufficient. D'Artagnan declined all
others, being unwilling to take the first chance from those
who had the priority.

It was not known whether, after the taking of the bastion,
the Rochellais had evacuated it or left a garrison in it;
the object then was to examine the place near enough to
verify the reports.

D'Artagnan set out with his four companions, and followed
the trench; the two Guards marched abreast with him, and the
two soldiers followed behind.

They arrived thus, screened by the lining of the trench,
till they came within a hundred paces of the bastion.
There, on turning round, d'Artagnan perceived that the two
soldiers had disappeared.

He thought that, beginning to be afraid, they had stayed
behind, and he continued to advance.

At the turning of the counterscarp they found themselves
within about sixty paces of the bastion. They saw no one,
and the bastion seemed abandoned.

The three composing our forlorn hope were deliberating
whether they should proceed any further, when all at once a
circle of smoke enveloped the giant of stone, and a dozen
balls came whistling around d'Artagnan and his companions.

They knew all they wished to know; the bastion was guarded.
A longer stay in this dangerous spot would have been useless
imprudence. D'Artagnan and his two companions turned their
backs, and commenced a retreat which resembled a flight.

On arriving at the angle of the trench which was to serve
them as a rampart, one of the Guardsmen fell. A ball had
passed through his breast. The other, who was safe and
sound, continued his way toward the camp.

D'Artagnan was not willing to abandon his companion thus,
and stooped to raise him and assist him in regaining the
lines; but at this moment two shots were fired. One ball
struck the head of the already-wounded guard, and the other
flattened itself against a rock, after having passed within
two inches of d'Artagnan.

The young man turned quickly round, for this attack could
not have come from the bastion, which was hidden by the
angle of the trench. The idea of the two soldiers who had
abandoned him occurred to his mind, and with them he
remembered the assassins of two evenings before. He
resolved this time to know with whom he had to deal, and
fell upon the body of his comrade as if he were dead.

He quickly saw two heads appear above an abandoned work
within thirty paces of him; they were the heads of the two
soldiers. D'Artagnan had not been deceived; these two men
had only followed for the purpose of assassinating him,
hoping that the young man's death would be placed to the
account of the enemy.

As he might be only wounded and might denounce their crime,
they came up to him with the purpose of making sure.
Fortunately, deceived by d'Artagnan's trick, they neglected
to reload their guns.

When they were within ten paces of him, d'Artagnan, who in
falling had taken care not to let go his sword, sprang up
close to them.

The assassins comprehended that if they fled toward the camp
without having killed their man, they should be accused by
him; therefore their first idea was to join the enemy. One
of them took his gun by the barrel, and used it as he would
a club. He aimed a terrible blow at d'Artagnan, who avoided
it by springing to one side; but by this movement he left a
passage free to the bandit, who darted off toward the
bastion. As the Rochellais who guarded the bastion were
ignorant of the intentions of the man they saw coming toward
them, they fired upon him, and he fell, struck by a ball
which broke his shoulder.

Meantime d'Artagnan had thrown himself upon the other
soldier, attacking him with his sword. The conflict was not
long; the wretch had nothing to defend himself with but his
discharged arquebus. The sword of the Guardsman slipped
along the barrel of the now-useless weapon, and passed
through the thigh of the assassin, who fell.

D'Artagnan immediately placed the point of his sword at his
throat.

"Oh, do not kill me!" cried the bandit. "Pardon, pardon, my
officer, and I will tell you all."

"Is your secret of enough importance to me to spare your
life for it?" asked the young man, withholding his arm.

"Yes; if you think existence worth anything to a man of
twenty, as you are, and who may hope for everything, being
handsome and brave, as you are."

"Wretch," cried d'Artagnan, "speak quickly! Who employed
you to assassinate me?"

"A woman whom I don't know, but who is called Milady."

"But if you don't know this woman, how do you know her
name?"

"My comrade knows her, and called her so. It was with him
she agreed, and not with me; he even has in his pocket a
letter from that person, who attaches great importance to
you, as I have heard him say."

"But how did you become concerned in this villainous
affair?"

"He proposed to me to undertake it with him, and I agreed."

"And how much did she give you for this fine enterprise?"

"A hundred louis."

"Well, come!" said the young man, laughing, "she thinks I am
worth something. A hundred louis? Well, that was a
temptation for two wretches like you. I understand why you
accepted it, and I grant you my pardon; but upon one
condition."

"What is that?" said the soldier, uneasy at perceiving that
all was not over.

"That you will go and fetch me the letter your comrade has
in his pocket."

"But," cried the bandit, "that is only another way of
killing me. How can I go and fetch that letter under the
fire of the bastion?"

"You must nevertheless make up your mind to go and get it,
or I swear you shall die by my hand."

"Pardon, monsieur; pity! In the name of that young lady you
love, and whom you perhaps believe dead but who is not!"
cried the bandit, throwing himself upon his knees and
leaning upon his hand--for he began to lose his strength
with his blood.

"And how do you know there is a young woman whom I love, and
that I believed that woman dead?" asked d'Artagnan.

"By that letter which my comrade has in his pocket."

"You see, then," said d'Artagnan, "that I must have that
letter. So no more delay, no more hesitation; or else
whatever may be my repugnance to soiling my sword a second
time with the blood of a wretch like you, I swear by my
faith as an honest man--" and at these words d'Artagnan made
so fierce a gesture that the wounded man sprang up.

"Stop, stop!" cried he, regaining strength by force of
terror. "I will go--I will go!"

D'Artagnan took the soldier's arquebus, made him go on
before him, and urged him toward his companion by pricking
him behind with his sword.

It was a frightful thing to see this wretch, leaving a long
track of blood on the ground he passed over, pale with
approaching death, trying to drag himself along without
being seen to the body of his accomplice, which lay twenty
paces from him.

Terror was so strongly painted on his face, covered with a
cold sweat, that d'Artagnan took pity on him, and casting
upon him a look of contempt, "Stop," said he, "I will show
you the difference between a man of courage and such a
coward as you. Stay where you are; I will go myself."

And with a light step, an eye on the watch, observing the
movements of the enemy and taking advantage of the accidents
of the ground, d'Artagnan succeeded in reaching the second
soldier.

There were two means of gaining his object--to search him on
the spot, or to carry him away, making a buckler of his
body, and search him in the trench.

D'Artagnan preferred the second means, and lifted the
assassin onto his shoulders at the moment the enemy fired.

A slight shock, the dull noise of three balls which
penetrated the flesh, a last cry, a convulsion of agony,
proved to d'Artagnan that the would-be assassin had saved
his life.

D'Artagnan regained the trench, and threw the corpse beside
the wounded man, who was as pale as death.

Then he began to search. A leather pocketbook, a purse, in
which was evidently a part of the sum which the bandit had
received, with a dice box and dice, completed the
possessions of the dead man.

He left the box and dice where they fell, threw the purse to
the wounded man, and eagerly opened the pocketbook.

Among some unimportant papers he found the following letter,
that which he had sought at the risk of his life:


"Since you have lost sight of that woman and she is now in
safety in the convent, which you should never have allowed
her to reach, try, at least, not to miss the man. If you
do, you know that my hand stretches far, and that you shall
pay very dearly for the hundred louis you have from me."


No signature. Nevertheless it was plain the letter came
from Milady. He consequently kept it as a piece of
evidence, and being in safety behind the angle of the
trench, he began to interrogate the wounded man. He
confessed that he had undertaken with his comrade--the same
who was killed--to carry off a young woman who was to leave
Paris by the Barriere de La Villette; but having stopped to
drink at a cabaret, they had missed the carriage by ten
minutes.

"But what were you to do with that woman?" asked d'Artagnan,
with anguish.

"We were to have conveyed her to a hotel in the Place
Royale," said the wounded man.

"Yes, yes!" murmured d'Artagnan; "that's the place--Milady's
own residence!"

Then the young man tremblingly comprehended what a terrible
thirst for vengeance urged this woman on to destroy him, as
well as all who loved him, and how well she must be
acquainted with the affairs of the court, since she had
discovered all. There could be no doubt she owed this
information to the cardinal.

But amid all this he perceived, with a feeling of real joy,
that the queen must have discovered the prison in which poor
Mme. Bonacieux was explaining her devotion, and that she had
freed her from that prison; and the letter he had received
from the young woman, and her passage along the road of
Chaillot like an apparition, were now explained.

Then also, as Athos had predicted, it became possible to
find Mme. Bonacieux, and a convent was not impregnable.

This idea completely restored clemency to his heart. He
turned toward the wounded man, who had watched with intense
anxiety all the various expressions of his countenance, and
holding out his arm to him, said, "Come, I will not abandon
you thus. Lean upon me, and let us return to the camp."

"Yes," said the man, who could scarcely believe in such
magnanimity, "but is it not to have me hanged?"

"You have my word," said he; "for the second time I give you
your life."

The wounded man sank upon his knees, to again kiss the feet
of his preserver; but d'Artagnan, who had no longer a motive
for staying so near the enemy, abridged the testimonials of
his gratitude.

The Guardsman who had returned at the first discharge
announced the death of his four companions. They were
therefore much astonished and delighted in the regiment when
they saw the young man come back safe and sound.

D'Artagnan explained the sword wound of his companion by a
sortie which he improvised. He described the death of the
other soldier, and the perils they had encountered. This
recital was for him the occasion of veritable triumph. The
whole army talked of this expedition for a day, and Monsieur
paid him his compliments upon it. Besides this, as every
great action bears its recompense with it, the brave exploit
of d'Artagnan resulted in the restoration of the tranquility
he had lost. In fact, d'Artagnan believed that he might be
tranquil, as one of his two enemies was killed and the other
devoted to his interests.

This tranquillity proved one thing--that d'Artagnan did not
yet know Milady.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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