Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 54

Chapter LIV:
Porthos's Plan of Action.

The great number of individuals we have introduced into this long story
is the reason why each of them has been forced to appear only in turn,
according to the exigencies of the recital. The result is, that our
readers have had no opportunity of meeting our friend Porthos since his
return from Fontainebleau. The honors which he had received from the
king had not changed the easy, affectionate character of that excellent-
hearted man; he may, perhaps, have held up his head a little higher than
usual, and a majesty of demeanor, as it were, may have betrayed itself
since the honor of dining at the king's table had been accorded him. His
majesty's banqueting-room had produced a certain effect on Porthos. Le
Seigneur de Bracieux et de Pierrefonds delighted to remember that, during
that memorable dinner, the numerous array of servants, and the large
number of officials in attendance on the guests, gave a certain tone and
effect to the repast, and seemed, as it were, to furnish the room.
Porthos undertook to confer upon Mouston a position of some kind or
other, in order to establish a sort of hierarchy among his other
domestics, and to create a military household, which was not unusual
among the great captains of the age, since, in the preceding century,
this luxury had been greatly encouraged by Messieurs de Treville, de
Schomberg, de la Vieuville, without alluding to M. de Richelieu, M. de
Conde, and de Bouillon-Turenne. And, therefore, why should not he,
Porthos, the friend of the king, and of M. Fouquet, a baron, and
engineer, etc., why should not he, indeed, enjoy all the delightful
privileges which large possessions and unusual merit invariably confer?
Somewhat neglected by Aramis, who, we know, was greatly occupied with M.
Fouquet; neglected, also, on account of his being on duty, by D'Artagnan;
tired of Truchen and Planchet, Porthos was surprised to find himself
dreaming, without precisely knowing why; but if any one had said to him,
"Do you want anything, Porthos?" he would most certainly have replied,
"Yes." After one of those dinners, during which Porthos attempted to
recall to his recollection all the details of the royal banquet, gently
joyful, thanks to the excellence of the wines; gently melancholy, thanks
to his ambitions ideas, Porthos was gradually falling off into a placid
doze, when his servant entered to announce that M. de Bragelonne wished
to speak to him. Porthos passed into an adjoining room, where he found
his young friend in the disposition of mind we are already aware of.
Raoul advanced towards Porthos, and shook him by the hand; Porthos,
surprised at his seriousness of aspect, offered him a seat. "Dear M. du
Vallon," said Raoul, "I have a service to ask of you."

"Nothing could happen more fortunately, my young friend," replied
Porthos; "I have eight thousand livres sent me this morning from
Pierrefonds; and if you want any money - "

"No, I thank you; it is not money."

"So much the worse, then. I have always heard it said that that is the
rarest service, but the easiest to render. The remark struck me; I like
to cite remarks that strike me."

"Your heart is as good as your mind is sound and true."

"You are much too kind, I declare. You will dine here, of course?"

"No; I am not hungry."

"Eh! not dine? What a dreadful country England is!"

"Not too much so, indeed - but - "

"Well, if such excellent fish and meat were not to be procured there, it
would hardly be endurable."

"Yes, I came to - "

"I am listening. Only just allow me to take a little sip. One gets
thirsty in Paris;" and he ordered a bottle of champagne to be brought;
and, having first filled Raoul's glass, he filled his own, drank it down
at a gulp, and then resumed: "I needed that, in order to listen to you
with proper attention. I am now entirely at your service. What do you
wish to ask me, dear Raoul? What do you want?"

"Give me your opinion on quarrels in general, my dear friend."

"My opinion! Well - but - Explain your idea a little more coherently,"
replied Porthos, rubbing his forehead.

"I mean - you are generally good-humored, good-tempered, whenever any
misunderstanding arises between a friend of yours and a stranger, for
instance?"

"Oh! in the best of tempers."

"Very good; but what do you do, in such a case?"

"Whenever any friend of mine gets into a quarrel, I always act on one
principle."

"What is that?"

"That lost time is irreparable, and one never arranges an affair so well
as when everything has been done to embroil the disputants as much as
possible."

"Ah! indeed, is that the principle on which you proceed?"

"Precisely; so, as soon as a quarrel takes place, I bring the two parties
together."

"Exactly."

"You understand that by this means it is impossible for an affair not to
be arranged."

"I should have thought that, treated in this manner, an affair would, on
the contrary - "

"Oh! not the least in the world. Just fancy, now, I have had in my life
something like a hundred and eighty to a hundred and ninety regular
duels, without reckoning hasty encounters, or chance meetings."

"It is a very handsome aggregate," said Raoul, unable to resist a smile.

"A mere nothing; but I am so gentle. D'Artagnan reckons his duels by
hundreds. It is very true he is a little too hard and sharp - I have
often told him so."

"And so," resumed Raoul, "you generally arrange the affairs of honor your
friends confide to you."

"There is not a single instance in which I have not finished by arranging
every one of them," said Porthos, with a gentleness and confidence that
surprised Raoul.

"But the way in which you settle them is at least honorable, I suppose?"

"Oh! rely upon that; and at this stage, I will explain my other principle
to you. As soon as my friend has intrusted his quarrel to me, this is
what I do; I go to his adversary at once, armed with a politeness and
self-possession absolutely requisite under such circumstances."

"That is the way, then," said Raoul, bitterly, "that you arrange affairs
so safely."

"I believe you. I go to the adversary, then, and say to him: 'It is
impossible, monsieur, that you are ignorant of the extent to which you
have insulted my friend.'" Raoul frowned at this remark.

"It sometimes happens - very often, indeed," pursued Porthos - "that my
friend has not been insulted at all; he has even been the first to give
offense; you can imagine, therefore, whether my language is or is not
well chosen." And Porthos burst into a peal of laughter.

"Decidedly," said Raoul to himself while the merry thunder of Porthos's
laughter was resounding in his ears, "I am very unfortunate. De Guiche
treats me with coolness, D'Artagnan with ridicule, Porthos is too tame;
no one will settle this affair in the only way I wish it to be settled.
And I came to Porthos because I wanted to find a sword instead of cold
reasoning at my service. My ill-luck dogs me."

Porthos, who had recovered himself, continued: "By one simple expression,
I leave my adversary without an excuse."

"That is as it may happen," said Raoul, absently.

"Not at all, it is quite certain. I have not left him an excuse; and
then it is that I display all my courtesy, in order to attain the happy
issue of my project. I advance, therefore, with an air of great
politeness, and taking my adversary by the hand, I say to him: 'Now that
you are convinced of having given the offense, we are sure of reparation;
between my friend and yourself, the future can only offer an exchange of
mutual courtesies of conduct, and consequently, my mission now is to
acquaint you with the length of my friend's sword.'"

"What!" said Raoul.

"Wait a minute. 'The length of my friend's sword. My horse is waiting
below; my friend is in such and such a spot and is impatiently awaiting
your agreeable society; I will take you with me; we can call upon your
second as we go along:' and the affair is arranged."

"And so," said Raoul, pale with vexation, "you reconcile the two
adversaries on the ground."

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Porthos. "Reconcile! What for?"

"You said that the affair was arranged."

"Of course! since my friend is waiting for him."

"Well! what then? If he is waiting - "

"Well! if he is waiting, it is merely to stretch his legs a little. The
adversary, on the contrary, is stiff from riding; they place themselves
in proper order, and my friend kills the opponent, and the affair is
ended."

"Ah! he kills him, then?" cried Raoul.

"I should think so," said Porthos. "Is it likely I should ever have as a
friend a man who allows himself to get killed? I have a hundred and one
friends; at the head of the list stand your father, Aramis, and
D'Artagnan, all of whom are living and well, I believe?"

"Oh, my dear baron," exclaimed Raoul, as he embraced Porthos.

"You approve of my method, then?" said the giant.

"I approve of it so thoroughly, that I shall have recourse to it this
very day, without a moment's delay, - at once, in fact. You are the very
man I have been looking for."

"Good; here I am, then; you want to fight, I suppose?"

"Absolutely."

"It is very natural. With whom?"

"With M. de Saint-Aignan."

"I know him - a most agreeable man, who was exceedingly polite to me the
day I had the honor of dining with the king. I shall certainly
acknowledge his politeness in return, even if it had not happened to be
my usual custom. So, he has given you an offense?"

"A mortal offense."

"The deuce! I can say so, I suppose?"

"More than that, even, if you like."

"That is a very great convenience."

"I may look upon it as one of your arranged affairs, may I not?" said
Raoul, smiling.

"As a matter of course. Where will you be waiting for him?"

"Ah! I forgot; it is a very delicate matter. M. de Saint-Aignan is a
very great friend of the king's."

"So I have heard it said."

"So that if I kill him - "

"Oh! you will kill him, certainly; you must take every precaution to do
so. But there is no difficulty in these matters now; if you had lived in
our early days, - ah, those were days worth living for!"

"My dear friend, you do not quite understand me. I mean, that M. de
Saint-Aignan being a friend of the king, the affair will be more
difficult to manage, since the king might learn beforehand - "

"Oh! no; that is not likely. You know my method: 'Monsieur, you have
just injured my friend, and - '"

"Yes, I know it."

"And then: 'Monsieur, I have horses below.' I carry him off before he
can have spoken to any one."

"Will he allow himself to be carried off like that?"

"I should think so! I should like to see it fail. It would be the first
time, if it did. It is true, though, that the young men of the present
day - Bah! I would carry him off bodily, if that were all," and Porthos,
adding gesture to speech, lifted Raoul and the chair he was sitting on
off the ground, and carried them round the room.

"Very good," said Raoul, laughing. "All we have to do is to state the
grounds of the quarrel with M. de Saint-Aignan."

"Well, but that is done, it seems."

"No, my dear M. du Vallon, the usage of the present day requires that the
cause of the quarrel should be explained."

"Very good. Tell me what it is, then."

"The fact is - "

"Deuce take it! how troublesome all this is! In former days we had no
occasion to say anything about the matter. People fought for the sake of
fighting; and I, for one, know no better reason than that."

"You are quite right, M. du Vallon."

"However, tell me what the cause is."

"It is too long a story to tell; only, as one must particularize to a
certain extent, and as, on the other hand, the affair is full of
difficulties, and requires the most absolute secrecy, you will have the
kindness merely to tell M. de Saint-Aignan that he has, in the first
place, insulted me by changing his lodgings."

"By changing his lodgings? Good," said Porthos, who began to count on
his fingers; "next?"

"Then in getting a trap-door made in his new apartments."

"I understand," said Porthos; "a trap-door: upon my word, that is very
serious; you ought to be furious at that. What the deuce does the fellow
mean by getting trap-doors made without first consulting you? Trap-
doors! _mordioux!_ I haven't got any, except in my dungeons at Bracieux."

"And you will please add," said Raoul, "that my last motive for
considering myself insulted is, the existence of the portrait that M. de
Saint-Aignan well knows."

"Is it possible? A portrait, too! A change of residence, a trap-door,
and a portrait! Why, my dear friend, with but one of these causes of
complaint there is enough, and more than enough, for all the gentlemen in
France and Spain to cut each other's throats, and that is saying but very
little."

"Well, my dear friend, you are furnished with all you need, I suppose?"

"I shall take a second horse with me. Select your own rendezvous, and
while you are waiting there, you can practice some of the best passes, so
as to get your limbs as elastic as possible."

"Thank you. I shall be waiting for you in the wood of Vincennes, close
to Minimes."

"All goes well, then. Where am I to find this M. de Saint-Aignan?"

"At the Palais Royal."

Porthos ran a huge hand-bell. "My court suit," he said to the servant
who answered the summons, "my horse, and a led horse to accompany me."
Then turning to Raoul, as soon as the servant had quitted the room, he
said: "Does your father know anything about this?"

"No; I am going to write to him."

"And D'Artagnan?"

"No, nor D'Artagnan either. He is very cautions, you know, and might
have diverted me from my purpose."

"D'Artagnan is a sound adviser, though," said Porthos, astonished that,
in his own loyal faith in D'Artagnan, any one could have thought of
himself, so long as there was a D'Artagnan in the world.

"Dear M. du Vallon," said Raoul, "do not question me any more, I implore
you. I have told you all that I had to say; it is prompt action I now
expect, sharp and decided as you know how to arrange it. That, indeed,
is my reason for having chosen you."

"You will be satisfied with me," replied Porthos.

"Do not forget, either, that, except ourselves, no one must know anything
of this meeting."

"People generally find these things out," said Porthos, dryly, "when a
dead body is discovered in a wood. But I promise everything, my dear
friend, except the concealment of the dead body. There it is, and it
must be seen, as a matter of course. It is a principle of mine, not to
bury bodies. That has a smack of the assassin about it. Every risk has
its peculiarities."

"To work, then, my dear friend."

"Rely upon me," said the giant, finishing the bottle, while a servant
spread out upon a sofa the gorgeously decorated dress trimmed with lace.

Raoul left the room, saying to himself, with a secret delight,
"Perfidious king! traitorous monarch! I cannot reach thee. I do not
wish it; for kings are sacred objects. But your friend, your accomplice,
your panderer - the coward who represents you - shall pay for your
crime. I will kill him in thy name, and, afterwards, we will bethink
ourselves of - _Louise_."

Alexandre Dumas pere