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51. OFFICER

Meanwhile, the cardinal looked anxiously for news from England;
but no news arrived that was not annoying and threatening.

Although La Rochelle was invested, however certain success might
appear--thanks to the precautions taken, and above all to the
dyke, which prevented the entrance of any vessel into the
besieged city--the blockade might last a long time yet. This was
a great affront to the king's army, and a great inconvenience to
the cardinal, who had no longer, it is true, to embroil Louis
XIII with Anne of Austria--for that affair was over--but he had
to adjust matters for M. de Bassompierre, who was embroiled with
the Duc d'Angouleme.

As to Monsieur, who had begun the siege, he left to the cardinal
the task of finishing it.

The city, notwithstanding the incredible perseverance of its
mayor, had attempted a sort of mutiny for a surrender; the mayor
had hanged the mutineers. This execution quieted the ill-
disposed, who resolved to allow themselves to die of hunger--this
death always appearing to them more slow and less sure than
strangulation.

On their side, from time to time, the besiegers took the
messengers which the Rochellais sent to Buckingham, or the spies
which Buckingham sent to the Rochellais. In one case or the
other, the trial was soon over. The cardinal pronounced the
single word, "Hanged!" The king was invited to come and see the
hanging. He came languidly, placing himself in a good situation
to see all the details. This amused him sometimes a little, and
made him endure the siege with patience; but it did not prevent
his getting very tired, or from talking at every moment of
returning to Paris--so that if the messengers and the spies had
failed, his Eminence, notwithstanding all his inventiveness,
would have found himself much embarrassed.

Nevertheless, time passed on, and the Rochellais did not
surrender. The last spy that was taken was the bearer of a
letter. This letter told Buckingham that the city was at an
extremity; but instead of adding, "If your succor does not arrive
within fifteen days, we will surrender," it added, quite simply,
"If your succor comes not within fifteen days, we shall all be
dead with hunger when it comes."

The Rochellais, then, had no hope but in Buckingham. Buckingham
was their Messiah. It was evident that if they one day learned
positively that they must not count on Buckingham, their courage
would fail with their hope.

The cardinal looked, then, with great impatience for the news
from England which would announce to him that Buckingham would
not come.

The question of carrying the city by assault, though often
debated in the council of the king, had been always rejected. In
the first place, La Rochelle appeared impregnable. Then the
cardinal, whatever he said, very well knew that the horror of
bloodshed in this encounter, in which Frenchman would combat
against Frenchman, was a retrograde movement of sixty years
impressed upon his policy; and the cardinal was at that period
what we now call a man of progress. In fact, the sack of La
Rochelle, and the assassination of three of four thousand
Huguenots who allowed themselves to be killed, would resemble too
closely, in 1628, the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572; and
then, above all this, this extreme measure, which was not at all
repugnant to the king, good Catholic as he was, always fell
before this argument of the besieging generals--La Rochelle is
impregnable except to famine.

The cardinal could not drive from his mind the fear he
entertained of his terrible emissary--for he comprehended the
strange qualities of this woman, sometimes a serpent, sometimes a
lion. Had she betrayed him? Was she dead? He knew her well
enough in all cases to know that, whether acting for or against
him, as a friend or an enemy, she would not remain motionless
without great impediments; but whence did these impediments
arise? That was what he could not know.

And yet he reckoned, and with reason, on Milady. He had divined
in the past of this woman terrible things which his red mantle
alone could cover; and he felt, from one cause or another, that
this woman was his own, as she could look to no other but himself
for a support superior to the danger which threatened her.

He resolved, then, to carry on the war alone, and to look for no
success foreign to himself, but as we look for a fortunate
chance. He continued to press the raising of the famous dyke
which was to starve La Rochelle. Meanwhile, he cast his eyes
over that unfortunate city, which contained so much deep misery
and so many heroic virtues, and recalling the saying of Louis XI,
his political predecessor, as he himself was the predecessor of
Robespierre, he repeated this maxim of Tristan's gossip: "Divide
in order to reign."

Henry IV, when besieging Paris, had loaves and provisions thrown
over the walls. The cardinal had little notes thrown over in
which he represented to the Rochellais how unjust, selfish, and
barbarous was the conduct of their leaders. These leaders had
corn in abundance, and would not let them partake of it; they
adopted as a maxim--for they, too, had maxims--that it was of
very little consequence that women, children, and old men should
die, so long as the men who were to defend the walls remained
strong and healthy. Up to that time, whether from devotedness or
from want of power to act against it, this maxim, without being
generally adopted, nevertheless passed from theory into practice;
but the notes did it injury. The notes reminded the men that the
children, women, and old men whom they allowed to die were their
sons, their wives, and their fathers, and that it would be more
just for everyone to be reduced to the common misery, in order
that equal conditions should give birth to unanimous resolutions.

These notes had all the effect that he who wrote them could
expect, in that they induced a great number of the inhabitants to
open private negotiations with the royal army.

But at the moment when the cardinal saw his means already
bearing fruit, and applauded himself for having put it in action, an
inhabitant of La Rochelle who had contrived to pass the royal
lines--God knows how, such was the watchfulness of Bassompierre,
Schomberg, and the Duc d'Angouleme, themselves watched over by
the cardinal--an inhabitant of La Rochelle, we say, entered the
city, coming from Portsmouth, and saying that he had seen a
magnificent fleet ready to sail within eight days. Still
further, Buckingham announced to the mayor that at length the
great league was about to declare itself against France, and that
the kingdom would be at once invaded by the English, Imperial,
and Spanish armies. This letter was read publicly in all parts
of the city. Copies were put up at the corners of the streets;
and even they who had begun to open negotiations interrupted
them, being resolved to await the succor so pompously announced.

This unexpected circumstance brought back Richelieu's former
anxiety, and forced him in spite of himself once more to turn his
eyes to the other side of the sea.

During this time, exempt from the anxiety of its only and true
chief, the royal army led a joyous life, neither provisions nor
money being wanting in the camp. All the corps rivaled one
another in audacity and gaiety. To take spies and hang them, to
make hazardous expeditions upon the dyke or the sea, to imagine
wild plans, and to execute them coolly--such were the pastimes
which made the army find these days short which were not only so
long to the Rochellais, a prey to famine and anxiety, but even to
the cardinal, who blockaded them so closely.

Sometimes when the cardinal, always on horseback, like the lowest
GENDARME of the army, cast a pensive glance over those works, so
slowly keeping pace with his wishes, which the engineers, brought
from all the corners of France, were executing under his orders,
if he met a Musketeer of the company of Treville, he drew near
and looked at him in a peculiar manner, and not recognizing in
him one of our four companions, he turned his penetrating look
and profound thoughts in another direction.

One day when oppressed with a mortal weariness of mind, without
hope in the negotiations with the city, without news from
England, the cardinal went out, without any other aim than to be
out of doors, and accompanied only by Cahusac and La Houdiniere,
strolled along the beach. Mingling the immensity of his dreams
with the immensity of the ocean, he came, his horse going at a
foot's pace, to a hill from the top of which he perceived behind
a hedge, reclining on the sand and catching in its passage one of
those rays of the sun so rare at this period of the year, seven
men surrounded by empty bottles. Four of these men were our
Musketeers, preparing to listen to a letter one of them had just
received. This letter was so important that it made them forsake
their cards and their dice on the drumhead.

The other three were occupied in opening an enormous flagon of
Collicure wine; these were the lackeys of these gentlemen.

The cardinal was, as we have said, in very low spirits; and
nothing when he was in that state of mind increased his
depression so much as gaiety in others. Besides, he had another
strange fancy, which was always to believe that the causes of his
sadness created the gaiety of others. Making a sign to La
Houdiniere and Cahusac to stop, he alighted from his horse, and
went toward these suspected merry companions, hoping, by means of
the sand which deadened the sound of his steps and of the hedge
which concealed his approach, to catch some words of this
conversation which appeared so interesting. At ten paces from
the hedge he recognized the talkative Gascon; and as he had
already perceived that these men were Musketeers, he did not
doubt that the three others were those called the Inseparables;
that is to say, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

It may be supposed that his desire to hear the conversation was
augmented by this discovery. His eyes took a strange expression,
and with the step of a tiger-cat he advanced toward the hedge;
but he had not been able to catch more than a few vague syllables
without any positive sense, when a sonorous and short cry made
him start, and attracted the attention of the Musketeers.

"Officer!" cried Grimaud.

"You are speaking, you scoundrel!" said Athos, rising upon his
elbow, and transfixing Grimaud with his flaming look.

Grimaud therefore added nothing to his speech, but contented
himself with pointing his index finger in the direction of the
hedge, announcing by this gesture the cardinal and his escort.

With a single bound the Musketeers were on their feet, and
saluted with respect.

The cardinal seemed furious.

"It appears that Messieurs the Musketeers keep guard," said he.
"Are the English expected by land, or do the Musketeers consider
themselves superior officers?"

"Monseigneur," replied Athos, for amid the general fright he
alone had preserved the noble calmness and coolness that never
forsook him, "Monseigneur, the Musketeers, when they are not on
duty, or when their duty is over, drink and play at dice, and
they are certainly superior officers to their lackeys."

"Lackeys?" grumbled the cardinal. "Lackeys who have the order to
warn their masters when anyone passes are not lackeys, they are
sentinels."

"Your Eminence may perceive that if we had not taken this
precaution, we should have been exposed to allowing you to pass
without presenting you our respects or offering you our thanks
for the favor you have done us in uniting us. D'Artagnan,"
continued Athos, "you, who but lately were so anxious for such an
opportunity for expressing your gratitude to Monseigneur, here it
is; avail yourself of it."

These words were pronounced with that imperturbable phlegm which
distinguished Athos in the hour of danger, and with that
excessive politeness which made of him at certain moments a king
more majestic than kings by birth.

D'Artagnan came forward and stammered out a few words of
gratitude which soon expired under the gloomy looks of the
cardinal.

"It does not signify, gentlemen," continued the cardinal, without
appearing to be in the least swerved from his first intention by
the diversion which Athos had started, "it does not signify,
gentlemen. I do not like to have simple soldiers, because they
have the advantage of serving in a privileged corps, thus to play
the great lords; discipline is the same for them as for everybody
else."

Athos allowed the cardinal to finish his sentence completely, and
bowed in sign of assent. Then he resumed in his turn:
"Discipline, Monseigneur, has, I hope, in no way been forgotten
by us. We are not on duty, and we believed that not being on
duty we were at liberty to dispose of our time as we pleased. If
we are so fortunate as to have some particular duty to perform
for your Eminence, we are ready to obey you. Your Eminence may
perceive," continued Athos, knitting his brow, for this sort of
investigation began to annoy him, "that we have not come out
without our arms."

And he showed the cardinal, with his finger, the four muskets
piled near the drum, on which were the cards and dice.

"Your Eminence may believe," added d'Artagnan, "that we would
have come to meet you, if we could have supposed it was
Monseigneur coming toward us with so few attendants."

The cardinal bit his mustache, and even his lips a little.

"Do you know what you look like, all together, as you are armed
and guarded by your lackeys?" said the cardinal. "You look like
four conspirators."

"Oh, as to that, Monseigneur, it is true," said Athos; "we do
conspire, as your Eminence might have seen the other morning.
Only we conspire against the Rochellais."

"Ah, you gentlemen of policy!" replied the cardinal, knitting his
brow in his turn, "the secret of many unknown things might
perhaps be found in your brains, if we could read them as you
read that letter which you concealed as soon as you saw me
coming."

The color mounted to the face of Athos, and he made a step toward
his Eminence.

"One might think you really suspected us, monseigneur, and we
were undergoing a real interrogatory. If it be so, we trust your
Eminence will deign to explain yourself, and we should then at
least be acquainted with our real position."

"And if it were an interrogatory!" replied the cardinal. "Others
besides you have undergone such, Monsieur Athos, and have replied
thereto."

"Thus I have told your Eminence that you had but to question us,
and we are ready to reply."

"What was that letter you were about to read, Monsieur Aramis,
and which you so promptly concealed?"

"A woman's letter, monseigneur."

"Ah, yes, I see," said the cardinal; "we must be discreet with
this sort of letters; but nevertheless, we may show them to a
confessor, and you know I have taken orders."

"Monseigneur," said Athos, with a calmness the more terrible
because he risked his head in making this reply, "the letter is a
woman's letter, but it is neither signed Marion de Lorme, nor
Madame d'Aiguillon."

The cardinal became as pale as death; lightning darted from his
eyes. He turned round as if to give an order to Cahusac and
Houdiniere. Athos saw the movement; he made a step toward the
muskets, upon which the other three friends had fixed their eyes,
like men ill-disposed to allow themselves to be taken. The
cardinalists were three; the Musketeers, lackeys included, were
seven. He judged that the match would be so much the less equal,
if Athos and his companions were really plotting; and by one of
those rapid turns which he always had at command, all his anger
faded away into a smile.

"Well, well!" said he, "you are brave young men, proud in
daylight, faithful in darkness. We can find no fault with you
for watching over yourselves, when you watch so carefully over
others. Gentlemen, I have not forgotten the night in which you
served me as an escort to the Red Dovecot. If there were any
danger to be apprehended on the road I am going, I would request
you to accompany me; but as there is none, remain where you are,
finish your bottles, your game, and your letter. Adieu,
gentlemen!"

And remounting his horse, which Cahusac led to him, he saluted
them with his hand, and rode away.

The four young men, standing and motionless, followed him with
their eyes without speaking a single word until he had
disappeared. Then they looked at one another.

The countenances of all gave evidence of terror, for
notwithstanding the friendly adieu of his Eminence, they plainly
perceived that the cardinal went away with rage in his heart.

Athos alone smiled, with a self-possessed, disdainful smile.

When the cardinal was out of hearing and sight, "That Grimaud
kept bad watch!" cried Porthos, who had a great inclination to
vent his ill-humor on somebody.

Grimaud was about to reply to excuse himself. Athos lifted his
finger, and Grimaud was silent.

"Would you have given up the letter, Aramis?" said d'Artagnan.

"I," said Aramis, in his most flutelike tone, "I had made up my
mind. If he had insisted upon the letter being given up to him,
I would have presented the letter to him with one hand, and with
the other I would have run my sword through his body."

"I expected as much," said Athos; "and that was why I threw
myself between you and him. Indeed, this man is very much to
blame for talking thus to other men; one would say he had never
had to do with any but women and children."

"My dear Athos, I admire you, but nevertheless we were in the
wrong, after all."

"How, in the wrong?" said Athos. "Whose, then, is the air we
breathe? Whose is the ocean upon which we look? Whose is the
sand upon which we were reclining? Whose is that letter of your
mistress? Do these belong to the cardinal? Upon my honor, this
man fancies the world belongs to him. There you stood,
stammering, stupefied, annihilated. One might have supposed the
Bastille appeared before you, and that the gigantic Medusa had
converted you into stone. Is being in love conspiring? You are
in love with a woman whom the cardinal has caused to be shut up,
and you wish to get her out of the hands of the cardinal. That's
a match you are playing with his Eminence; this letter is your
game. Why should you expose your game to your adversary? That
is never done. Let him find it out if he can! We can find out
his!"

"Well, that's all very sensible, Athos," said d'Artagnan.

"In that case, let there be no more question of what's past, and
let Aramis resume the letter from his cousin where the cardinal
interrupted him."

Aramis drew the letter from his pocket; the three friends
surrounded him, and the three lackeys grouped themselves again
near the wine jar.

"You had only read a line or two," said d'Artagnan; "read the
letter again from the commencement."

"Willingly," said Aramis.

"My dear Cousin, I think I shall make up my mind to set out for
Bethune, where my sister has placed our little servant in the
convent of the Carmelites; this poor child is quite resigned, as
she knows she cannot live elsewhere without the salvation of her
soul being in danger. Nevertheless, if the affairs of our family
are arranged, as we hope they will be, I believe she will run the
risk of being damned, and will return to those she regrets,
particularly as she knows they are always thinking of her.
Meanwhile, she is not very wretched; what she most desires is a
letter from her intended. I know that such viands pass with
difficulty through convent gratings; but after all, as I have
given you proofs, my dear cousin, I am not unskilled in such
affairs, and I will take charge of the commission. My sister
thanks you for your good and eternal remembrance. She has
experienced much anxiety; but she is now at length a little
reassured, having sent her secretary away in order that nothing
may happen unexpectedly.

"Adieu, my dear cousin. Tell us news of yourself as often as you
can; that is to say, as often as you can with safety. I embrace
you.

"Marie Michon."

"Oh, what do I not owe you, Aramis?" said d'Artagnan. "Dear
Constance! I have at length, then, intelligence of you. She
lives; she is in safety in a convent; she is at Bethune! Where
is Bethune, Athos?"

"Why, upon the frontiers of Artois and of Flanders. The siege
once over, we shall be able to make a tour in that direction."

"And that will not be long, it is to be hoped," said Porthos;
"for they have this morning hanged a spy who confessed that the
Rochellais were reduced to the leather of their shoes. Supposing
that after having eaten the leather they eat the soles, I cannot
see much that is left unless they eat one another."

"Poor fools!" said Athos, emptying a glass of excellent Bordeaux
wine which, without having at that period the reputation it now
enjoys, merited it no less, "poor fools! As if the Catholic
religion was not the most advantageous and the most agreeable of
all religions! All the same," resumed he, after having clicked
his tongue against his palate, "they are brave fellows! But what
the devil are you about, Aramis?" continued Athos. "Why, you are
squeezing that letter into your pocket!"

"Yes," said d'Artagnan, "Athos is right, it must be burned. And
yet if we burn it, who knows whether Monsieur Cardinal has not a
secret to interrogate ashes?"

"He must have one," said Athos.

"What will you do with the letter, then?" asked Porthos.

"Come here, Grimaud," said Athos. Grimaud rose and obeyed. "As
a punishment for having spoken without permission, my friend, you
will please to eat this piece of paper; then to recompense you
for the service you will have rendered us, you shall afterward
drink this glass of wine. First, here is the letter. Eat
heartily."

Grimaud smiled; and with his eyes fixed upon the glass which
Athos held in his hand, he ground the paper well between his
teeth and then swallowed it.

"Bravo, Monsieur Grimaud!" said Athos; "and now take this.
That's well. We dispense with your saying grace."

Grimaud silently swallowed the glass of Bordeaux wine; but his
eyes, raised toward heaven during this delicious occupation,
spoke a language which, though mute, was not the less expressive.

"And now," said Athos, "unless Monsieur Cardinal should form the
ingenious idea of ripping up Grimaud, I think we may be pretty
much at our ease respecting the letter."

Meantime, his Eminence continued his melancholy ride, murmuring
between his mustaches, "These four men must positively be mine."





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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