“I like to be surprised,” said Porthos, in a kindly tone; “do not spare me, therefore, I beg. I am hardened against emotions; don’t fear, speak out.”
“It is difficult, Porthos, it is- difficult; for in truth- I warn you- again- I have very strange things, very extraordinary things, to tell you.”
“Oh, you speak so well, my friend, that I could listen to you for days together. Speak, then, I beg; and- stop, I have an idea: I will, to make your task more easy, to assist you in telling me such things, question you.”
“I shall be pleased at your doing so.”
“What are we going to fight for?”
“If you put to me many such questions as that, if that is your way of assisting my task of revelation,- by such questions as that,- Porthos, you will not help me at all. On the contrary, that is precisely the Gordian knot. But, my friend, with a man like you, good, generous, and devoted, the confession must be made bravely. I have deceived you, my worthy friend.”
“You have deceived me!”
“Good heavens! yes.”
“Was it for my good, Aramis?”
“I thought so, Porthos; I thought so sincerely, my friend.”
“Then,” said the honest Seigneur de Bracieux, “you have rendered me a service, and I thank you for it,- for if you had not deceived me, I might have deceived myself. In what, then, have you deceived me?”
“In that I was serving the usurper against whom Louis XIV at this moment is directing his efforts.”
“The usurper!” said Porthos, scratching his head. “That is- well, I do not too clearly comprehend that!”
“He is one of the two Kings who are contending for the crown of France.”
“Very well! Then you were serving him who is not Louis XIV?”
“You have hit upon the matter in a word.”
“It results that-”
“We are rebels, my poor friend.”
“The devil! the devil!” cried Porthos, much disappointed.
“Oh, but, dear Porthos, be calm! we shall still find means of getting out of the affair, trust me.”
“It is not that which makes me uneasy,” replied Porthos; “that which alone touches me is that ugly word ‘rebels.’”
“And so the duchy that was promised me-,”
“It was the usurper who was to give it to you.”
“And that is not the same thing, Aramis,” said Porthos, majestically.
“My friend, if it had only depended upon me, you should have become a prince.”
Porthos began to bite his nails after a melancholy fashion. “That is where you have been wrong,” continued he, “in deceiving me; for that promised duchy I reckoned upon. Oh, I reckoned upon it seriously, knowing you to be a man of your word, Aramis.”
“Poor Porthos! pardon me, I implore you!”
“So, then,” continued Porthos, without replying to the bishop’s prayer,- “so then, it seems, I have quite fallen out with Louis XIV?”
“Oh, I will settle all that, my good friend; I will settle all that. I will take it upon myself alone!”
“No, no, Porthos, I conjure you, let me act. No false generosity; no inopportune devotedness! You knew nothing of my projects; you have done nothing of yourself. With me it is different. I alone am the author of the plot. I stood in need of my inseparable companion; I called upon you, and you came to me in remembrance of our ancient device, ‘All for one, one for all.’ My crime was that of being an egotist.”
“Now, that is the word I like,” said Porthos; “and seeing that you have acted entirely for yourself, it is impossible for me to blame you. It is so natural.” And upon this sublime reflection, Porthos pressed the hand of his friend cordially.
In presence of this ingenuous greatness of soul, Aramis felt himself little. It was the second time he had been compelled to bend before real superiority of heart, much more powerful than splendor of mind. He replied by a mute and energetic pressure to the kind endearment of his friend.
“Now,” said Porthos, “that we have come to an explanation, now that I am perfectly aware of our situation with respect to Louis XIV, I think, my friend, it is time to make me comprehend the political intrigue of which we are the victims,- for I plainly see there is a political intrigue at the bottom of all this.”
“D’Artagnan, my good Porthos, d’Artagnan is coming and will detail it to you in all its circumstances; but excuse me, I am overcome with grief, bowed down by pain, and I have need of all my presence of mind, of all my reflection, to extricate you from the false position in which I have so imprudently involved you; but nothing can be more clear, nothing more plain, than your position henceforth. The King, Louis XIV, has now but one enemy; that enemy is myself, myself alone. I have made you a prisoner, you have followed me; to-day I liberate you, you fly back to your Prince. You can perceive, Porthos, there is not a single difficulty in all this.”
“Do you think so?” said Porthos.
“I am quite sure of it.”
“Then why,” said the admirable good sense of Porthos,- “then why, if we are in such an easy position, why, my friend, do we prepare cannon, muskets, and engines of all sorts? It seems to me it would be much more simple to say to Captain d’Artagnan, ‘My dear friend, we have been mistaken; that error is to be repaired. Open the door to us; let us pass through, and good-day!’”
“Ah! that!” said Aramis, shaking his head.
“Why do you say ‘that’? Do you not approve of my plan, my friend?”
“I see a difficulty in it.”
“What is it?”
“The possibility that d’Artagnan may come with orders which will oblige us to defend ourselves.”
“What! defend ourselves against d’Artagnan? Folly! Against the good d’Artagnan?”
Aramis once more replied by shaking his head. “Porthos,” at length said he, “if I have had the matches lighted and the guns pointed; if I have had the signal of alarm sounded; if I have called every man to his post upon the ramparts,- those good ramparts of Belle-Isle which you have so well fortified,- it is for something. Wait to judge; or rather, no, do not wait-”
“What can I do?”
“If I knew, my friend, I would have told you.”
“But there is one thing much more simple than defending ourselves,- a boat, and away for France where-”
“My dear friend,” said Aramis, smiling with a sort of melancholy, “do not let us reason like children; let us be men in counsel and execution. But, hark! I hear a hail for landing at the port. Attention, Porthos, serious attention!”
“It is d’Artagnan, no doubt,” said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, approaching the parapet.
“Yes, it is I,” replied the captain of the Musketeers, running lightly up the steps of the pier, and gaining rapidly the little esplanade upon which his two friends waited for him. As soon as he came towards them Porthos and Aramis observed an officer who followed d’Artagnan, treading apparently in his very steps. The captain stopped upon the stairs of the pier when halfway up. His companion imitated him.
“Make your men draw back,” cried d’Artagnan to Porthos and Aramis; “let them retire out of hearing.” The order being given by Porthos was executed immediately. Then d’Artagnan, turning towards him who followed him, said, “Monsieur, we are no longer here on board the King’s fleet, where, in virtue of your order, you spoke so arrogantly to me just now.”
“Monsieur,” replied the officer, “I did not speak arrogantly to you; I simply but rigorously obeyed what I had been commanded. I have been directed to follow you; I follow you. I am directed not to allow you to communicate with any one without taking cognizance of what you do; I am present therefore at your interview.”
D’Artagnan trembled with rage, and Porthos and Aramis, who heard this dialogue, trembled likewise, but with uneasiness and fear. D’Artagnan, biting his mustache with that vivacity which denoted in him the state of exasperation closely to be followed by a terrible explosion, approached the officer.
“Monsieur,” said he, in a low voice, the more impressive, because affecting a calm, and filled with storm,- “Monsieur, when I sent a canoe hither, you wished to know what I wrote to the defenders of Belle-Isle. You produced an order to that effect; and in my turn I instantly showed you the note I had written. When the skipper of the boat sent by me returned; when I received the reply of these two gentlemen [pointing to Aramis and Porthos],- you heard every word the messenger said. All that was plainly in your orders, all that was well followed, well executed, punctiliously enough, was it not?”
“Yes, Monsieur,” stammered the officer; “yes, without doubt, but-”
“Monsieur,” continued d’Artagnan, growing warm,- “Monsieur, when I manifested the intention of quitting my vessel to cross to Belle-Isle, you insisted on coming with me. I did not hesitate; I brought you with me. You are now at Belle-Isle, are you not?”
“Yes, Monsieur; but-”
“But- the question no longer is of M. Colbert, who has given you that order, or of any one in the world whose instructions you are following; the question now is of a man who is a clog upon M. d’Artagnan, and who is alone with M. d’Artagnan upon steps whose base is bathed by thirty feet of salt water,- a bad position for that man, a bad position, Monsieur, I warn you.”
“But, Monsieur, if I am a restraint upon you,” said the officer timidly and almost faintly, “it is my duty which-”
“Monsieur, you have had the misfortune, you, or those who sent you, to insult me. It is done. I cannot seek redress from those who employ you,- they are unknown to me, or are at too great a distance. But you are under my hand, and I swear that if you make one step behind me when I lift a foot to go up to those gentlemen,- I swear to you by my name, I will cleave your head with my sword, and pitch you into the water. Oh, that must come which will come! I have only been six times angry in my life, Monsieur, and in the five times which have preceded this, I have killed my man.”
The officer did not stir; he became pale under this terrible threat, and replied with simplicity, “Monsieur, you are wrong in acting against the orders given me.”
Porthos and Aramis, mute and trembling at the top of the parapet, cried to the musketeer, “Dear d’Artagnan, take care!”
D’Artagnan made them a sign to keep silence, raised his foot with a terrifying calmness to mount the stair, and turned round, sword in hand, to see if the officer followed him. The officer made a sign of the cross and followed. Porthos and Aramis, who knew their d’Artagnan, uttered a cry, and rushed down to prevent the blow which they thought they already heard. But d’Artagnan, passing his sword into his left hand, said to the officer, in an agitated voice, “Monsieur, you are a brave man. You will better comprehend what I am going to say to you now than what I have just said to you.”
“Speak, M. d’Artagnan, speak!” replied the brave officer.
“These gentlemen we have just seen, and against whom you have orders, are my friends.”
“I know they are, Monsieur.”
“You can understand if I ought to act towards them as your instructions prescribe.”
“I understand your reserves.”
“Very well; permit me, then, to converse with them without a witness.”
“M. d’Artagnan, if I yielded to your request, if I did that which you beg me to do, I should break my word; but if I do not do it, I shall disoblige you. I prefer the one to the other. Converse with your friends, and do not despise me, Monsieur, for doing for the sake of you, whom I esteem and honor,- do not despise me for committing for you, and you alone, an unworthy act.” D’Artagnan, much agitated, passed his arms rapidly round the neck of the young man, and went up to his friends. The officer, enveloped in his cloak, sat down on the damp weed-covered steps.
“Well!” said d’Artagnan to his friends, “such is my position, as you see.” They all three embraced. All three pressed one another in their arms as in the glorious days of their youth.
“What is the meaning of all these rigors?” said Porthos.
“You ought to have some suspicions of what it is,” said d’Artagnan.
“Not much, I assure you, my dear captain,- for, in fact, I have done nothing; no more has Aramis,” the worthy baron hastened to say.
D’Artagnan darted a reproachful look at the prelate which penetrated that hardened heart.
“Dear Porthos!” cried the Bishop of Vannes.
“You see what has been done against you,” said d’Artagnan,- “interception of all that is coming to or going from Belle-Isle. Your boats are all seized. If you had endeavored to fly, you would have fallen into the hands of the cruisers which plough the sea in all directions on the watch for you. The King wants you to be taken, and he will take you.” And d’Artagnan tore several hairs from his gray mustache. Aramis became sombre, Porthos angry.
“My idea was this,” continued d’Artagnan: “to make you both come on board, to keep you near me, and restore you your liberty. But now, who can say that when I return to my ship I may not find a superior; that I may not find secret orders which will take from me my command, and give it to another, who will dispose of you and me and deprive us of all resources?”
“We must remain at Belle-Isle,” said Aramis, resolutely; “and I assure you, for my part, I will not surrender easily.” Porthos said nothing.
D’Artagnan remarked the silence of his friend. “I have another trial to make of this officer, of this brave fellow who accompanies me, whose courageous resistance makes me very happy,- for it denotes an honest man, who, although an enemy, is a thousand times better than a complaisant coward. Let us try to learn from him what he has the right of doing, and what his orders permit or forbid.”
“Let us try,” said Aramis.
D’Artagnan came to the parapet, leaned over towards the steps of the pier, and called the officer, who immediately came up. “Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, after having exchanged the most cordial courtesies, natural between gentlemen who know and appreciate each other worthily,- “Monsieur, if I wished to take away these gentlemen from this place, what would you do?”
“I should not oppose it, Monsieur; but having direct orders, formal orders, to take them under my guard, I should detain them.”
“Ah!” said d’Artagnan.
“It is all over,” said Aramis, gloomily. Porthos did not stir.
“But still take Porthos,” said the Bishop of Vannes; “he can prove to the King, I will help him in doing so, and you also can, M. d’Artagnan, that he has had nothing to do in this affair.”
“Hum!” said d’Artagnan. “Will you come? Will you follow me, Porthos? The King is merciful.”
“I beg to reflect,” said Porthos, nobly.
“You will remain here, then?”
“Until fresh orders,” said Aramis, with vivacity.
“Until we have had an idea,” resumed d’Artagnan; “and I now believe that will not be a long time, for I have one already.”
“Let us say adieu, then,” said Aramis; “but in truth, my good Porthos, you ought to go.”
“No!” said the latter, laconically.
“As you please,” replied Aramis, a little wounded in his nervous susceptibility at the morose tone of his companion. “Only I am reassured by the promise of an idea from d’Artagnan,- an idea I fancy I have divined.”
“Let us see,” said the musketeer, placing his ear near Aramis’s mouth. The latter spoke several words rapidly, to which d’Artagnan replied, “That is it precisely.”
“Infallible, then!” cried Aramis.
“During the first emotion that this resolution will cause, take care of yourself, Aramis.”
“Oh, don’t be afraid!”
“Now, Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan to the officer, “thanks, a thousand thanks! You have made yourself three friends for life.”
“Yes,” added Aramis. Porthos alone said nothing, but merely bowed.
D’Artagnan, having tenderly embraced his two old friends, left Belle-Isle with the inseparable companion M. Colbert had given him. Thus, with the exception of the explanation with which the worthy Porthos had been willing to be satisfied, nothing apparently was changed in the condition of the one or of the other. “Only,” said Aramis, “there is d’Artagnan’s idea.”
D’Artagnan did not return on board without examining to the bottom the idea he had discovered. Now, we know that when d’Artagnan did examine, he was accustomed to see through. As to the officer, become mute again, he left him full leisure to meditate. Therefore, on putting his foot on board his vessel, moored within cannon-shot of the island, the captain of the Musketeers had already got together all his means, offensive and defensive.
He immediately assembled his council, which consisted of the officers serving under his orders. These were eight in number,- a chief of the maritime forces; a major directing the artillery; an engineer; the officer we are acquainted with; and four lieutenants. Having assembled them in the chamber of the poop, d’Artagnan arose, took off his hat, and addressed them thus: “Gentlemen, I have been to reconnoitre Belle-Isle-en-Mer, and I have found in it a good and solid garrison; moreover, preparations are made for a defence that may prove troublesome. I therefore intend to send for two of the principal officers of the place that we may converse with them. Having separated them from their troops and their cannon, we shall be better able to deal with them,- particularly with good reasoning. Is this your opinion, gentlemen?”
The major of artillery rose. “Monsieur,” said he, with respect, but with firmness, “I have heard you say that the place is preparing to make a troublesome defence. The place is, then, as you know, determined upon rebellion?”
D’Artagnan was visibly put out by this reply; but he was not a man to allow himself to be subdued by so little, and resumed. “Monsieur,” said he, “your reply is just. But you are ignorant that Belle-Isle is a fief of M. Fouquet, and the ancient kings gave the right to the seigneurs of Belle-Isle to arm their people.”
The major made a movement.
“Oh, do not interrupt me,” continued d’Artagnan. “You are going to tell me that that right to arm themselves against the English was not a right to arm themselves against their King. But it is not M. Fouquet, I suppose, who holds Belle-Isle at this moment, since I arrested M. Fouquet the day before yesterday. Now, the inhabitants and defenders of Belle-Isle know nothing of that arrest. You would announce it to them in vain. It is a thing so unheard of and extraordinary, so unexpected, that they would not believe you. A Breton serves his master, and not his masters; he serves his master till he has seen him dead. Now, the Bretons, as I know, have not seen the body of M. Fouquet. It is not then surprising that they hold out against everything which is not M. Fouquet or his signature.”
The major bowed in sign of assent.
“That is why,” continued d’Artagnan, “I propose to cause two of the principal officers of the garrison to come on board my vessel. They will see you, gentlemen; they will see the forces we have at our disposal; they will consequently know what they have to expect, and the fate that attends them in case of rebellion. We will assure them, upon our honor, that M. Fouquet is a prisoner, and that all resistance can be only prejudicial to them. We will tell them that when the first cannon is fired there will be no mercy to be expected from the King. Then, I hope it at least, they will no longer resist. They will yield without fighting, and we shall have a place given up to us in a friendly way which it might cost us much trouble to subdue.”
The officer who had followed d’Artagnan to Belle-Isle was preparing to speak, but d’Artagnan interrupted him. “Yes, I know what you are going to tell me, Monsieur; I know that there is an order by the King to prevent all secret communications with the defenders of Belle-Isle, and that is exactly why I do not offer to communicate but in the presence of my staff.”
And d’Artagnan made an inclination of the head to his officers, which was intended to give a value to that condescension.
The officers looked at one another as if to read their opinions in their eyes, with the evident intention of acting, after they should have agreed, according to the desire of d’Artagnan. And already the latter saw with joy that the result of their consent would be the sending of a boat to Porthos and Aramis, when the King’s officer drew from his pocket a folded paper, which he placed in the hands of d’Artagnan. This paper bore upon its superscription the number “1.”
“What, still another!” murmured the surprised captain.
“Read, Monsieur,” said the officer, with a courtesy that was not free from sadness.
D’Artagnan, full of mistrust, unfolded the paper, and read these words:-
“Prohibition to M. d’Artagnan to assemble any council whatever, or to deliberate in any way before Belle-Isle be surrendered and the prisoners shot.
D’Artagnan repressed the movement of impatience that ran through his whole body, and with a gracious smile, “That is well, Monsieur,” said he; “the King’s orders shall be obeyed.”
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