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Chapter 16

Chapter XVI:
Showing in What Way D'Artagnan Discharged the Mission with Which the King
Had Intrusted Him.

While the king was engaged in making these last-mentioned arrangements in
order to ascertain the truth, D'Artagnan, without losing a second, ran to
the stable, took down the lantern, saddled his horse himself, and
proceeded towards the place his majesty had indicated. According to the
promise he had made, he had not accosted any one; and, as we have
observed, he had carried his scruples so far as to do without the
assistance of the stable-helpers altogether. D'Artagnan was one of those
who in moments of difficulty pride themselves on increasing their own
value. By dint of hard galloping, he in less than five minutes reached
the wood, fastened his horse to the first tree he came to, and penetrated
to the broad open space on foot. He then began to inspect most
carefully, on foot and with his lantern in his hand, the whole surface of
the Rond-point, went forward, turned back again, measured, examined, and
after half an hour's minute inspection, he returned silently to where he
had left his horse, and pursued his way in deep reflection and at a foot-
pace to Fontainebleau. Louis was waiting in his cabinet; he was alone,
and with a pencil was scribbling on paper certain lines which D'Artagnan
at the first glance recognized as unequal and very much touched up. The
conclusion he arrived at was, that they must be verses. The king raised
his head and perceived D'Artagnan. "Well, monsieur," he said, "do you
bring me any news?"

"Yes, sire."

"What have you seen?"

"As far as probability goes, sire - " D'Artagnan began to reply.

"It was certainty I requested of you."

"I will approach it as near as I possibly can. The weather was very well
adapted for investigations of the character I have just made; it has been
raining this evening, and the roads were wet and muddy - "

"Well, the result, M. d'Artagnan?"

"Sire, your majesty told me that there was a horse lying dead in the
cross-road of the Bois-Rochin, and I began, therefore, by studying the
roads. I say the roads, because the center of the cross-road is reached
by four separate roads. The one that I myself took was the only one that
presented any fresh traces. Two horses had followed it side by side;
their eight feet were marked very distinctly in the clay. One of the
riders was more impatient than the other, for the footprints of the one
were invariably in advance of the other about half a horse's length."

"Are you quite sure they were traveling together?" said the king.

"Yes sire. The horses are two rather large animals of equal pace, -
horses well used to maneuvers of all kinds, for they wheeled round the
barrier of the Rond-point together."

"Well - and after?"

"The two cavaliers paused there for a minute, no doubt to arrange the
conditions of the engagement; the horses grew restless and impatient.
One of the riders spoke, while the other listened and seemed to have
contented himself by simply answering. His horse pawed the ground, which
proves that his attention was so taken up by listening that he let the
bridle fall from his hand."

"A hostile meeting did take place then?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Continue; you are a very accurate observer."

"One of the two cavaliers remained where he was standing, the one, in
fact, who had been listening; the other crossed the open space, and at
first placed himself directly opposite to his adversary. The one who had
remained stationary traversed the Rond-point at a gallop, about two-
thirds of its length, thinking that by this means he would gain upon his
opponent; but the latter had followed the circumference of the wood."

"You are ignorant of their names, I suppose?"

"Completely so, sire. Only he who followed the circumference of the wood
was mounted on a black horse."

"How do you know that?"

"I found a few hairs of his tail among the brambles which bordered the
sides of the ditch."

"Go on."

"As for the other horse, there can be no trouble in describing him, since
he was left dead on the field of battle."

"What was the cause of his death?"

"A ball which had passed through his brain."

"Was the ball that of a pistol or a gun?"

"It was a pistol-bullet, sire. Besides, the manner in which the horse
was wounded explained to me the tactics of the man who had killed it. He
had followed the circumference of the wood in order to take his adversary
in flank. Moreover, I followed his foot-tracks on the grass."

"The tracks of the black horse, do you mean?"

"Yes, sire."

"Go on, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"As your majesty now perceives the position of the two adversaries, I
will, for a moment, leave the cavalier who had remained stationary for
the one who started off at a gallop."

"Do so."

"The horse of the cavalier who rode at full speed was killed on the spot."

"How do you know that?"

"The cavalier had not time even to throw himself off his horse, and so
fell with it. I observed the impression of his leg, which, with a great
effort, he was enabled to extricate from under the horse. The spur,
pressed down by the weight of the animal, had plowed up the ground."

"Very good; and what did he do as soon as he rose up again?"

"He walked straight up to his adversary."

"Who still remained upon the verge of the forest?"

"Yes, sire. Then, having reached a favorable distance, he stopped
firmly, for the impression of both his heels are left in the ground quite
close to each other, fired, and missed his adversary."

"How do you know he did not hit him?"

"I found a hat with a ball through it."

"Ah, a proof, then!" exclaimed the king.

"Insufficient, sire," replied D'Artagnan, coldly; "it is a hat without
any letters indicating its ownership, without arms; a red feather, as all
hats have; the lace, even, had nothing particular in it."

"Did the man with the hat through which the bullet had passed fire a
second time?"

"Oh, sire, he had already fired twice."

"How did you ascertain that?"

"I found the waddings of the pistol."

"And what became of the bullet which did not kill the horse?"

"It cut in two the feather of the hat belonging to him against whom it
was directed, and broke a small birch at the other end of the open glade."

"In that case, then, the man on the black horse was disarmed, whilst his
adversary had still one more shot to fire?"

"Sire, while the dismounted rider was extricating himself from his horse,
the other was reloading his pistol. Only, he was much agitated while he
was loading it, and his hand trembled greatly."

"How do you know that?"

"Half the charge fell to the ground, and he threw the ramrod aside, not
having time to replace it in the pistol."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, this is marvellous you tell me."

"It is only close observation, sire, and the commonest highwayman could
tell as much."

"The whole scene is before me from the manner in which you relate it."

"I have, in fact, reconstructed it in my own mind, with merely a few
alterations."

"And now," said the king, "let us return to the dismounted cavalier. You
were saying that he walked towards his adversary while the latter was
loading his pistol."

"Yes; but at the very moment he himself was taking aim, the other fired."

"Oh!" said the king; "and the shot?"

"The shot told terribly, sire; the dismounted cavalier fell upon his
face, after having staggered forward three or four paces."

"Where was he hit?"

"In two places; in the first place, in his right hand, and then, by the
same bullet, in his chest."

"But how could you ascertain that?" inquired the king, full of admiration.

"By a very simple means; the butt end of the pistol was covered with
blood, and the trace of the bullet could be observed, with fragments of a
broken ring. The wounded man, in all probability, had the ring-finger
and the little finger carried off."

"As far as the hand goes, I have nothing to say; but the chest?"

"Sire, there were two small pools of blood, at a distance of about two
feet and a half from each other. At one of these pools of blood the
grass was torn up by the clenched hand; at the other, the grass was
simply pressed down by the weight of the body."

"Poor De Guiche!" exclaimed the king.

"Ah! it was M. de Guiche, then?" said the musketeer, quietly. "I
suspected it, but did not venture to mention it to your majesty."

"And what made you suspect it?"

"I recognized the De Gramont arms upon the holsters of the dead horse."

"And you think he is seriously wounded?"

"Very seriously, since he fell immediately, and remained a long time in
the same place; however, he was able to walk, as he left the spot,
supported by two friends."

"You met him returning, then?"

"No; but I observed the footprints of three men; the one on the right and
the one on the left walked freely and easily, but the one in the middle
dragged his feet as he walked; besides, he left traces of blood at every
step he took."

"Now, monsieur, since you saw the combat so distinctly that not a single
detail seems to have escaped you, tell me something about De Guiche's
adversary."

"Oh, sire, I do not know him."

"And yet you see everything very clearly."

"Yes, sire, I see everything; but I do not tell all I see; and, since the
poor devil has escaped, your majesty will permit me to say that I do not
intend to denounce him."

"And yet he is guilty, since he has fought a duel, monsieur."

"Not guilty in my eyes, sire," said D'Artagnan, coldly.

"Monsieur!" exclaimed the king, "are you aware of what you are saying?"

"Perfectly, sire; but, according to my notions, a man who fights a duel
is a brave man; such, at least, is my own opinion; but your majesty may
have another, it is but natural, for you are master here."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, I ordered you, however - "

D'Artagnan interrupted the king by a respectful gesture. "You ordered
me, sire, to gather what particulars I could, respecting a hostile
meeting that had taken place; those particulars you have. If you order
me to arrest M. de Guiche's adversary, I will do so; but do not order me
to denounce him to you, for in that case I will not obey."

"Very well! Arrest him, then."

"Give me his name, sire."

The king stamped his foot angrily; but after a moment's reflection, he
said, "You are right - ten times, twenty times, a hundred times right."

"That is my opinion, sire: I am happy that, this time, it accords with
your majesty's."

"One word more. Who assisted Guiche?"

"I do not know, sire."

"But you speak of two men. There was a person present, then, as second."

"There was no second, sire. Nay, more than that, when M. de Guiche fell,
his adversary fled without giving him any assistance."

"The miserable coward!" exclaimed the king.

"The consequence of your ordinances, sire. If a man has fought well, and
fairly, and has already escaped one chance of death, he naturally wishes
to escape a second. M. de Bouteville cannot be forgotten very easily."

"And so, men turn cowards."

"No, they become prudent."

"And he has fled, then, you say?"

"Yes; and as fast as his horse could possibly carry him."

"In what direction?"

"In the direction of the chateau."

"Well, and after that?"

"Afterwards, as I have had the honor of telling your majesty, two men on
foot arrived, who carried M. de Guiche back with them."

"What proof have you that these men arrived after the combat?"

"A very evident proof, sire; at the moment the encounter took place, the
rain had just ceased, the ground had not had time to imbibe the moisture,
and was, consequently, soaked; the footsteps sank in the ground; but
while M. de Guiche was lying there in a fainting condition, the ground
became firm again, and the footsteps made a less sensible impression."

Louis clapped his hands together in sign of admiration. "Monsieur
d'Artagnan," he said, "you are positively the cleverest man in my
kingdom."

"The identical thing M. de Richelieu thought, and M. de Mazarin said,
sire."

"And now, it remains for us to see if your sagacity is at fault."

"Oh! sire, a man may be mistaken; _humanum est errare_," said the
musketeer, philosophically.

Transcriber's note: "To err is human." - JB

"In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for I believe you
are never mistaken."

"Your majesty said that we were going to see whether such was the case,
or not."

"Yes."

"In what way, may I venture to ask?"

"I have sent for M. de Manicamp, and M. de Manicamp is coming."

"And M. de Manicamp knows the secret?"

"De Guiche has no secrets from M. de Manicamp."

D'Artagnan shook his head. "No one was present at the combat, I repeat;
and unless M. de Manicamp was one of the two men who brought him back - "

"Hush!" said the king, "he is coming; remain, and listen attentively."

"Very good, sire."

And, at the very same moment, Manicamp and Saint-Aignan appeared at the
threshold of the door.

Alexandre Dumas pere