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Chapter 33

Chapter XXXIII
Promises
Scarcely had d’Artagnan re-entered his apartment with his two friends, when one of the soldiers of the fort came to inform him that the governor was seeking for him. The bark which Raoul had perceived at sea, and which appeared so eager to gain the port, came to Ste. Marguerite with an important despatch for the captain of the Musketeers. On opening it, d’Artagnan recognized the writing of the King: “I should think,” said Louis XIV, “that you must have completed the execution of my orders, M. d’Artagnan; return then immediately to Paris, and join me at the Louvre.”

“There is the end of my exile!” cried the musketeer with joy; “God be praised, I am no longer a jailer!” and he showed the letter to Athos.

“So then you must leave us?” replied the latter, in a melancholy tone.

“Yes; but to meet again, dear friend, seeing that Raoul is old enough now to go alone with M. de Beaufort, and will prefer that his father should go back in company with M. d’Artagnan, rather than that he should travel two hundred leagues solitarily to reach home at La Fere; would you not, Raoul?”

“Certainly,” stammered the latter, with an expression of tender regret.

“No, no, my friend,” interrupted Athos, “I will never quit Raoul till the day his vessel shall have disappeared on the horizon. As long as he remains in France, he shall not be separated from me.”

“As you please, dear friend; but we will, at least, leave Ste. Marguerite together. Take advantage of the bark which will convey me back to Antibes.”

“With all my heart; we cannot too soon be at a distance from this fort, and from the spectacle which saddened us so just now.”

The three friends quitted the little isle, after paying their respects to the governor, and by the last flashes of the departing tempest they took their farewell of the white walls of the fort. D’Artagnan parted from his friends that same night, after having seen fire set to the carriage-case upon the shore by the orders of De Saint-Mars, according to the advice the captain had given him. Before getting on horseback, and after leaving the arms of Athos, “My friends,” said he, “you too much resemble two soldiers who are abandoning their post. Something warns me that Raoul will require being supported by you in his rank. Will you allow me to ask permission to go over into Africa with a hundred good muskets? The King will not refuse me, and I will take you with me.”

“M. d’Artagnan,” replied Raoul, pressing his hand with emotion, “thanks for that offer, which would give us more than we wish, either Monsieur the Count or I. I, who am young, stand in need of labor of mind and fatigue of body; Monsieur the Count wants the profoundest repose. You are his best friend. I recommend him to your care. In watching over him, you will hold both our souls in your hands.”

“I must go; my horse is all in a fret,” said d’Artagnan, with whom the most manifest sign of a lively emotion was the change of ideas in a conversation. “Come, Count, how many days longer has Raoul to stay here?”

“Three days at most.”

“And how long will it take you to reach home?”

“Oh, a considerable time,” replied Athos. “I shall not like the idea of being separated too quickly from Raoul. Time will travel too fast of itself to require me to aid it by distance. I shall only make half-stages.”

“And why so, my friend? Nothing is more dull than travelling slowly; and hostelry life does not become a man like you.”

“My friend, I came hither on post-horses; but I wish to purchase two animals of a superior kind. Now, to take them home fresh, it would not be prudent to make them travel more than seven or eight leagues a day.”

“Where is Grimaud?”

“He arrived yesterday morning with Raoul’s appointments; and I have left him to sleep.”

“That is, never to come back again,” d’Artagnan suffered to escape him. “Till we meet again, then, dear Athos; and if you are diligent, well, I shall embrace you the sooner.” So saying, he put his foot in the stirrup, which Raoul held.

“Farewell!” said the young man, embracing him.

“Farewell!” said d’Artagnan, as he got into his saddle. His horse made a movement which divided the cavalier from his friends.

This scene had taken place in front of the house chosen by Athos, near the gates of Antibes, whither d’Artagnan, after his supper, had ordered his horses to be brought. The road began there, and extended white and undulating in the vapors of the night. The horse eagerly inhaled the salt sharp perfume of the marshes. D’Artagnan put him into a trot; and Athos and Raoul sadly turned towards the house. All at once they heard the rapid approach of a horse’s steps, and at first believed it to be one of those singular echoes which deceive the ear at every turn in a road; but it was really the return of the horseman. They uttered a cry of joyous surprise; and the captain, springing to the ground like a young man, seized within his arms the two beloved forms of Athos and Raoul. He held them long embraced thus, without speaking a word, or suffering the sigh which was bursting his breast to escape him. Then, as rapidly as he had come back, he set off again, with a sharp application of his spurs to the sides of his fiery horse.

“Alas!” said the count, in a low voice, “alas! alas!”

“Evil presage!” on his side said d’Artagnan to himself, making up for lost time. “I could not smile upon them. An evil presage!”

The next day Grimaud was on foot again. The service commanded by M. de Beaufort was happily accomplished. The flotilla, sent to Toulon by the exertions of Raoul, had set out, dragging after it in little nutshells almost invisible, the wives and friends of the fishermen and smugglers impressed into the service of the fleet. The time, so short, which remained for the father and the son to live together, appeared to have doubled the rapidity of its flight, as the swiftness of everything increases which moves towards the gulf of eternity.

Athos and Raoul returned to Toulon, which place began to be filled with the noise of carriages, the noise of arms, the noise of neighing horses. The trumpeters sounded their spirited marches; the drummers signalized their strength; the streets were overflowing with soldiers, servants, and tradespeople. The Duc de Beaufort was everywhere, superintending the embarkation with the zeal and interest of a good captain. He encouraged even the most humble of his companions; he scolded his lieutenants, even those of the highest rank. Artillery, provisions, baggage,- he insisted upon seeing all himself. He examined the equipment of every soldier; he assured himself of the health and soundness of every horse. It was plain that light, boastful, and egotistical in his hotel, the gentleman became the soldier again, the high noble a captain, in face of the responsibility he had accepted. And yet it must be admitted that whatever was the care with which he presided over the preparations for departure, it was easy to perceive careless precipitation, and the absence of all the precaution which makes the French soldier the first soldier in the world, because he is the one most abandoned to his own physical and moral resources.

All things having satisfied, or appearing to have satisfied, the admiral, he paid his compliments to Raoul, and gave the last orders for sailing the next morning at daybreak. He invited the count and his son to dine with him; but they, under a pretext of the service, kept themselves apart. Gaining their hostelry, situated under the trees of the great place, they took their repast in haste; and Athos led Raoul to the rocks which command the city,- vast gray mountains, whence the view is infinite, and embraces a liquid horizon which appears, so remote is it, on a level with the rocks themselves. The night was fine, as it always is in these happy climates. The moon, rising behind the rocks, spread out like a silver sheet upon the blue carpet of the sea. In the roadsteads manoeuvred silently the vessels which had just taken their places to facilitate the embarkation. The sea, loaded with phosphoric light, opened beneath the hulls of the barks which transported the baggage and munitions; every dip of the prow ploughed up this gulf of white flames, and from every oar dropped liquid diamonds. The sailors, rejoicing in the largesses of the admiral, were heard murmuring their slow and artless songs. Sometimes the grinding of the chains was mixed with the dull noise of shot falling into the holds. These harmonies and this spectacle oppress the heart like fear, and dilate it like hope. All this life speaks of death.

Athos had seated himself with his son upon the moss, among the brambles of the promontory. Around their heads passed and repassed large bats, carried along in the fearful whirl of their blind chase. The feet of Raoul were across the edge of the cliff, and hung in that void which engenders vertigo and incites to self-destruction. When the moon had risen to its full height, caressing with its light the neighboring peaks, when the watery mirror was illumined to its full extent, and the little red fires had made their openings in the black masses of every ship, Athos collected all his ideas and all his courage, and said, “God has made all that we see, Raoul; he has made us also,- poor atoms mixed up with this great universe. We shine like those fires and those stars; we sigh like those waves; we suffer like those great ships, which are worn out in ploughing the waves, in obeying the wind which urges them towards an end, as the breath of God blows us towards a port. Everything likes to live, Raoul; and all is beautiful in living things.”

“Monsieur,” said Raoul, “we have before us a beautiful spectacle!”

“How good d’Artagnan is!” interrupted Athos, suddenly; “and what a rare good fortune it is to be supported during a whole life by such a friend as he is! That is what you have wanted, Raoul.”

“A friend!” cried Raoul; “I have wanted a friend!”

“M. de Guiche is an agreeable companion,” resumed the count, coldly; “but I believe in the times in which you live men are more engaged in their own interests and their own pleasures than they were in our times. You have sought a secluded life; that is a great happiness, but you have lost your strength in it. We four, more weaned from these delicate abstractions which constitute your joy,- we found in ourselves much greater powers of resistance when misfortune came.”

“I have not interrupted you, Monsieur, to tell you that I had a friend, and that that friend is M. Guiche. Certainly he is good and generous, and moreover he loves me; but I have lived under the guard of another friendship, Monsieur, as precious and as strong as that of which you speak: your own.”

“I have not been a friend for you, Raoul,” said Athos.

“Eh, Monsieur! and in what respect not?”

“Because I have given you reason to think that life has but one face; because, sad and severe, alas! I have always cut off for you- without, God knows, wishing to do so- the joyous buds which incessantly spring from the tree of youth; so that at this moment I repent not having made of you a more expansive, dissipated, animated man.”

“I know why you say that, Monsieur. No, it is not you who have made me what I am,- it is love, which took possession of me at the time when children have only inclinations; it is the constancy natural to my character, which with other creatures is but a habit. I believed that I should always be as I was; I thought God had cast me in a path quite cleared, quite straight, bordered with fruits and flowers. I had watching over me your vigilance and your strength. I believed myself to be vigilant and strong. Nothing prepared me; I fell once, and that once deprived me of courage for the whole of my life. It is quite true that I wrecked myself. Oh, no, Monsieur! you are nothing in my past but a happiness; you are nothing in my future but a hope! No, I have no reproach to make against life, such as you made it for me; I bless you, and I love you ardently.”

“My dear Raoul, your words do me good; they prove to me that you will act a little for me in the time that is to come.”

“I shall act only for you, Monsieur.”

“Raoul, what I have never hitherto done with respect to you, I will hence forward do; I will be your friend, not your father. We will live in expanding ourselves, instead of living and holding ourselves prisoners, when you come back; and that will be soon, will it not?”

“Certainly, Monsieur,- for such an expedition cannot be of long duration.”

“Soon, then, Raoul, soon, instead of living moderately upon my income, I will give you the capital of my estates; it will suffice for launching you into the world till my death,- and you will give me, I hope, before that time, the consolation of not seeing my race extinct.”

“I will do all you shall command,” said Raoul, much agitated.

“It is not necessary, Raoul, that your duty as aide-de-camp should lead you into too hazardous enterprises. You have gone through your ordeal; you are known to be good under fire. Remember that war with the Arabs is a war of snares, ambuscades, and assassinations.”

“So it is said, Monsieur.”

“There is never much glory in falling in an ambuscade. It is a death which always implies some rashness or want of foresight. Often, indeed, he who falls in it meets with but little pity. They who are not pitied, Raoul, have died uselessly. Still further, the conqueror laughs, and we Frenchmen ought not to allow stupid infidels to triumph over our mistakes. Do you clearly understand what I am saying to you, Raoul? God forbid I should encourage you to avoid encounters!”

“I am naturally prudent, Monsieur, and I have very good fortune,” said Raoul, with a smile which chilled the heart of his poor father; “for,” the young man hastened to add, “in twenty combats in which I have been, I have only received one scratch.”

“There is in addition,” said Athos, “the climate to be dreaded; that is an ugly end, that fever! King Saint-Louis prayed God to send him an arrow or the plague, rather than the fever.”

“Oh, Monsieur! with sobriety, with due exercise-”

“I have already obtained from M. de Beaufort a promise that his despatches shall be sent off every fort-night to France. You, as his aide-de-camp, will be charged with expediting them, and will be sure not to forget me?”

“No, Monsieur,” said Raoul, almost choked with emotion.

“Besides, Raoul, as you are a good Christian, and I am one also, we ought to reckon upon a more special protection of God and his guardian angels. Promise me that if anything evil should happen to you on any occasion, you will think of me at once.”

“First and at once! Oh, yes, Monsieur!

“And will call upon me?”

“Instantly.”

“You dream of me sometimes, do you not, Raoul?”

“Every night, Monsieur. During my early youth I saw you in my dreams, calm and mild, with one hand stretched out over my head; and that it was that made me sleep so soundly- formerly.”

“We love each other so dearly,” said the count, “that from this moment in which we separate a portion of both our souls will travel with one and the other of us, and will dwell wherever we may dwell. Whenever you may be sad, Raoul, I feel that my heart will be drowned in sadness; and when you smile on thinking of me, be assured you will send me, from however remote a distance, a ray of your joy.”

“I will not promise you to be joyous,” replied the young man; “but you may be certain that I will never pass an hour without thinking of you; not one hour, I swear, unless I be dead.”

Athos could contain himself no longer; he threw his arm round the neck of his son, and held him embraced with all the power of his heart. The moon began to be now eclipsed by twilight; a golden band mounted on the horizon announcing the approach of day. Athos threw his cloak over the shoulders of Raoul, and led him back to the city, where burdens and porters were already in motion, as in a vast ant-hill. At the end of the plateau which Athos and Bragelonne were quitting, they saw a dark shadow moving backwards and forwards, as if in indecision or ashamed to be seen. It was Grimaud, who in his anxiety had tracked his master, and was waiting for him.

“Oh, my good Grimaud,” cried Raoul, “what do you want? You have come to tell us it is time to go, have you not?”

“Alone?” said Grimaud, addressing Athos, and pointing to Raoul in a tone of reproach, which showed to what an extent the old man was troubled.

“Oh, you are right!” cried the count. “No, Raoul shall not go alone; no, he shall not be left alone in a strange land without some friendly hand to support him, some friendly heart to recall to him all he loved!”

“I?” said Grimaud.

“You? yes, you!” cried Raoul, touched to his inmost heart.

“Alas!” said Athos, “you are very old, my good Grimaud.”

“So much the better,” replied the latter, with an inexpressible depth of feeling and intelligence.

“But the embarkation has begun,” said Raoul, “and you are not prepared.”

“Yes,” said Grimaud, showing the keys of his trunks, mixed with those of his young master.

“But,” again objected Raoul, “you cannot leave Monsieur the Count thus alone,- Monsieur the Count whom you have never quitted?”

Grimaud turned his dimmed eyes upon Athos and Raoul, as if to measure the strength of both. The count uttered not a word.

“Monsieur the Count will prefer my going,” said Grimaud.

“I should,” said Athos, by an inclination of the head.

At that moment the drums suddenly rolled, and the clarions filled the air with their inspiring notes. The regiments destined for the expedition began to march out from the city. They advanced to the number of five, each composed of forty companies. Royals marched first, distinguished by their white uniform, faced with blue. The ordonnance colors, quartered crosswise, violet and dead leaf, with a sprinkling of golden fleurs-de-lis, left the white-colored flag, with its fleurdelisee cross, to dominate over the whole. Musketeers at the wings, with their forked sticks in their hands and their muskets on their shoulders, and pikemen in the centre, with their lances, fourteen feet in length, marched gayly towards the transports, which carried them in detail to the ships. The regiments of Picardy, Navarre, Normandy, and Royal Vaisseau, followed after. M. de Beaufort had known well how to select his troops. He himself was seen closing the march with his staff; it would take him a full hour to reach the sea. Raoul with Athos turned his steps slowly towards the beach, in order to take his place when the prince embarked. Grimaud, acting with the ardor of a young man, superintended the embarkation of Raoul’s baggage in the admiral’s vessel. Athos, with his arm passed through that of the son he was about to lose, absorbed in melancholy meditation, was deaf to the noise around him. An officer came quickly towards them to inform Raoul that M. de Beaufort desired to have him by his side.

“Have the kindness to tell the prince,” said Raoul, “that I request he will allow me this hour to enjoy the company of my father.”

“No, no,” said Athos; “an aide-decamp ought not thus to quit his general. Please to tell the prince, Monsieur, that the viscount will join him immediately.”

The officer set off at a gallop.

“Whether we part here or part there,” added the count, “it is no less a separation.”

Athos carefully brushed the dust off his son’s coat, and passed his hand over his hair as they walked along. “But, Raoul,” said he, “you want money. M. de Beaufort’s train will be splendid, and I am certain it will be agreeable to you to purchase horses and arms, which are very dear things in Africa. Now, as you are not actually in the service of the King or of M. de Beaufort, and are simply a volunteer, you must not reckon upon either pay or largesses; but I should not like you to want for anything at Djidgelli. Here are two hundred pistoles; if you would please me, Raoul, spend them.”

Raoul pressed the hand of his father, and at the turning of a street they saw M. de Beaufort, mounted upon a magnificent white genet, which replied by graceful curvets to the applause of the women of the city. The duke called Raoul and held out his hand to the count, speaking to him for some time with such a kindly expression that the heart of the poor father felt a little comforted. It seemed, however, to both father and son that they were proceeding to a scene of torture. There was a terrible moment,- that at which on quitting the sands of the shore the soldiers and sailors exchanged the last kisses with their families and friends; a supreme moment, in which, notwithstanding the clearness of the heaven, the warmth of the sun, the perfumes of the air, and the rich life that was circulating in their veins, everything appeared black, everything appeared bitter, everything created doubts of a God, even while speaking by the mouth of God. It was customary for the admiral and his suite to embark last; the cannon waited to announce with its formidable voice that the leader had placed his foot on board his vessel. Athos, forgetful of both the admiral and the fleet, and of his own dignity as a strong man, opened his arms to his son, and pressed him convulsively to his heart.

“Accompany us on board,” said the duke, very much affected; “you will gain a good half-hour.”

“No,” said Athos, “my farewell is spoken. I do not wish to speak a second.”

“Then, Viscount, embark,- embark quickly!” added the prince, wishing to spare the tears of these two men, whose hearts were bursting. And paternally, tenderly, very much as Porthos might have done, he took Raoul in his arms and placed him in the boat; the oars of which, at a signal, immediately were dipped in the waves. He himself, forgetful of ceremony, jumped into his boat, and pushed it off with a vigorous foot.

“Adieu!” cried Raoul.

Athos replied only by a sign, but he felt something burning on his hand; it was the respectful kiss of Grimaud,- the last farewell of the faithful servant. This kiss given, Grimaud jumped from the step of the pier upon the stem of a two-oared yawl, which had just been taken in tow by a chaland served by twelve galley-oars. Athos seated himself on the pier, stunned, deaf, abandoned. Every instant took from him one of the features, one of the shades of the pale face of his son. With his arms hanging down, his eyes fixed, his mouth open, he remained confounded with Raoul,- in one same look, in one same thought, in one same stupor. The sea by degrees carried away boats and faces to that distance at which men become nothing but points, loves nothing but remembrances. Athos saw his son ascend the ladder of the admiral’s ship; he saw him lean upon the rail of the deck, and place himself in such a manner as to be always an object in the eye of his father. In vain the cannon thundered; in vain from the ship sounded a long and loud tumult, responded to by immense acclamations from the shore; in vain did the noise deafen the ear of the father, and the smoke obscure the cherished object of all his aspirations. Raoul appeared to him up to the last moment; and the imperceptible atom, passing from black to pale, from pale to white, from white to nothing, disappeared from the view of Athos very long after, from all the eyes of the spectators, had disappeared both gallant ships and swelling sails.

Towards mid-day, when the sun devoured space, and scarcely the tops of the masts dominated the incandescent line of the sea, Athos perceived a soft, aerial shadow rise and vanish as soon as seen. This was the smoke of a cannon, which M. de Beaufort ordered to be fired as a last salute to the coast of France. The point was buried in its turn beneath the sky, and Athos returned painfully and slowly to his hostelry.

Alexandre Dumas pere