On the sixth of the following month the king, in compliance with the promis_e had made the cardinal to return to La Rochelle, left his capital still i_mazement at the news which began to spread itself of Buckingham'_ssassination.
Although warned that the man she had loved so much was in great danger, th_ueen, when his death was announced to her, would not believe the fact, an_ven imprudently exclaimed, "it is false; he has just written to me!"
But the next day she was obliged to believe this fatal intelligence; Laporte, detained in England, as everyone else had been, by the orders of Charles I, arrived, and was the bearer of the duke's dying gift to the queen.
The joy of the king was lively. He did not even give himself the trouble t_issemble, and displayed it with affectation before the queen. Louis XIII, like every weak mind, was wanting in generosity.
But the king soon again became dull and indisposed; his brow was not one o_hose that long remain clear. He felt that in returning to camp he should re- enter slavery; nevertheless, he did return.
The cardinal was for him the fascinating serpent, and himself the bird whic_lies from branch to branch without power to escape.
The return to La Rochelle, therefore, was profoundly dull. Our four friends, in particular, astonished their comrades; they traveled together, side b_ide, with sad eyes and heads lowered. Athos alone from time to time raise_is expansive brow; a flash kindled in his eyes, and a bitter smile passe_ver his lips, then, like his comrades, he sank again into reverie.
As soon as the escort arrived in a city, when they had conducted the king t_is quarters the four friends either retired to their own or to some seclude_abaret, where they neither drank nor played; they only conversed in a lo_oice, looking around attentively to see that no one overheard them.
One day, when the king had halted to fly the magpie, and the four friends, according to their custom, instead of following the sport had stopped at _abaret on the high road, a man coming from la Rochelle on horseback pulled u_t the door to drink a glass of wine, and darted a searching glance into th_oom where the four Musketeers were sitting.
"Holloa, Monsieur d'Artagnan!" said he, "is not that you whom I see yonder?"
D'Artagnan raised his head and uttered a cry of joy. It was the man he calle_is phantom; it was his stranger of Meung, of the Rue des Fossoyeurs and o_rras.
D'Artagnan drew his sword, and sprang toward the door.
But this time, instead of avoiding him the stranger jumped from his horse, an_dvanced to meet d'Artagnan.
"Ah, monsieur!" said the young man, "I meet you, then, at last! This time yo_hall not escape me!"
"Neither is it my intention, monsieur, for this time I was seeking you; in th_ame of the king, I arrest you."
"How! what do you say?" cried d'Artagnan.
"I say that you must surrender your sword to me, monsieur, and that withou_esistance. This concerns your head, I warn you."
"Who are you, then?" demanded d'Artagnan, lowering the point of his sword, bu_ithout yet surrendering it.
"I am the Chevalier de Rochefort," answered the other, "the equerry o_onsieur le Cardinal Richelieu, and I have orders to conduct you to hi_minence."
"We are returning to his Eminence, monsieur the Chevalier," said Athos, advancing; "and you will please to accept the word of Monsieur d'Artagnan tha_e will go straight to La Rochelle."
"I must place him in the hands of guards who will take him into camp."
"We will be his guards, monsieur, upon our word as gentlemen; but likewise, upon our word as gentlemen," added Athos, knitting his brow, "Monsieu_'Artagnan shall not leave us."
The Chevalier de Rochefort cast a glance backward, and saw that Porthos an_ramis had placed themselves between him and the gate; he understood that h_as completely at the mercy of these four men.
"Gentlemen," said he, "if Monsieur d'Artagnan will surrender his sword to m_nd join his word to yours, I shall be satisfied with your promise to conve_onsieur d'Artagnan to the quarters of Monseigneur the Cardinal."
"You have my word, monsieur, and here is my sword."
"This suits me the better," said Rochefort, "as I wish to continue m_ourney."
"If it is for the purpose of rejoining Milady," said Athos, coolly, "it i_seless; you will not find her."
"What has become of her, then?" asked Rochefort, eagerly.
"Return to camp and you shall know."
Rochefort remained for a moment in thought; then, as they were only a day'_ourney from Surgeres, whither the cardinal was to come to meet the king, h_esolved to follow the advice of Athos and go with them. Besides, this retur_ffered him the advantage of watching his prisoner.
They resumed their route.
On the morrow, at three o'clock in the afternoon, they arrived at Surgeres.
The cardinal there awaited Louis XIII. The minister and the king exchange_umerous caresses, felicitating each other upon the fortunate chance which ha_reed France from the inveterate enemy who set all Europe against her. Afte_hich, the cardinal, who had been informed that d'Artagnan was arrested an_ho was anxious to see him, took leave of the king, inviting him to come th_ext day to view the work already done upon the dyke.
On returning in the evening to his quarters at the bridge of La Pierre, th_ardinal found, standing before the house he occupied, d'Artagnan, without hi_word, and the three Musketeers armed.
This time, as he was well attended, he looked at them sternly, and made a sig_ith his eye and hand for d'Artagnan to follow him.
"We shall wait for you, d'Artagnan," said Athos, loud enough for the cardina_o hear him.
His Eminence bent his brow, stopped for an instant, and then kept on his wa_ithout uttering a single word.
D'Artagnan entered after the cardinal, and behind d'Artagnan the door wa_uarded.
His Eminence entered the chamber which served him as a study, and made a sig_o Rochefort to bring in the young Musketeer.
Rochefort obeyed and retired.
D'Artagnan remained alone in front of the cardinal; this was his secon_nterview with Richelieu, and he afterward confessed that he felt well assure_t would be his last.
Richelieu remained standing, leaning against the mantelpiece; a table wa_etween him and d'Artagnan.
"Monsieur," said the cardinal, "you have been arrested by my orders."
"So they tell me, monseigneur."
"Do you know why?"
"No, monseigneur, for the only thing for which I could be arrested is stil_nknown to your Eminence."
Richelieu looked steadfastly at the young man.
"Holloa!" said he, "what does that mean?"
"If Monseigneur will have the goodness to tell me, in the first place, wha_rimes are imputed to me, I will then tell him the deeds I have really done."
"Crimes are imputed to you which had brought down far loftier heads tha_ours, monsieur," said the cardinal.
"What, monseigneur?" said d'Artagnan, with a calmness which astonished th_ardinal himself.
"You are charged with having corresponded with the enemies of the kingdom; yo_re charged with having surprised state secrets; you are charged with havin_ried to thwart the plans of your general."
"And who charges me with this, monseigneur?" said d'Artagnan, who had no doub_he accusation came from Milady, "a woman branded by the justice of th_ountry; a woman who has espoused one man in France and another in England; _oman who poisoned her second husband and who attempted both to poison an_ssassinate me!"
"What do you say, monsieur?" cried the cardinal, astonished; "and of wha_oman are you speaking thus?"
"Of Milady de Winter," replied d'Artagnan, "yes, of Milady de Winter, of whos_rimes your Eminence is doubtless ignorant, since you have honored her wit_our confidence."
"Monsieur," said the cardinal, "if Milady de Winter has committed the crime_ou lay to her charge, she shall be punished."
"She has been punished, monseigneur."
"And who has punished her?"
"She is in prison?"
"She is dead."
"Dead!" repeated the cardinal, who could not believe what he heard, "dead! Di_ou not say she was dead?"
"Three times she attempted to kill me, and I pardoned her; but she murdere_he woman I loved. Then my friends and I took her, tried her, and condemne_er."
D'Artagnan then related the poisoning of Mme. Bonacieux in the convent of th_armelites at Bethune, the trial in the isolated house, and the execution o_he banks of the Lys.
A shudder crept through the body of the cardinal, who did not shudder readily.
But all at once, as if undergoing the influence of an unspoken thought, th_ountenance of the cardinal, till then gloomy, cleared up by degrees, an_ecovered perfect serenity.
"So," said the cardinal, in a tone that contrasted strongly with the severit_f his words, "you have constituted yourselves judges, without rememberin_hat they who punish without license to punish are assassins?"
"Monseigneur, I swear to you that I never for an instant had the intention o_efending my head against you. I willingly submit to any punishment you_minence may please to inflict upon me. I do not hold life dear enough to b_fraid of death."
"Yes, I know you are a man of a stout heart, monsieur," said the cardinal, with a voice almost affectionate; "I can therefore tell you beforehand yo_hall be tried, and even condemned."
"Another might reply to your Eminence that he had his pardon in his pocket. _ontent myself with saying: Command, monseigneur; I am ready."
"Your pardon?" said Richelieu, surprised.
"Yes, monseigneur," said d'Artagnan.
"And signed by whom—by the king?" And the cardinal pronounced these words wit_ singular expression of contempt.
"No, by your Eminence."
"By me? You are insane, monsieur."
"Monseigneur will doubtless recognize his own handwriting."
And d'Artagnan presented to the cardinal the precious piece of paper whic_thos had forced from Milady, and which he had given to d'Artagnan to serv_im as a safeguard.
His Eminence took the paper, and read in a slow voice, dwelling upon ever_yllable:
"Dec. 3, 1627
"It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this ha_one what he has done.
The cardinal, after having read these two lines, sank into a profound reverie; but he did not return the paper to d'Artagnan.
"He is meditating by what sort of punishment he shall cause me to die," sai_he Gascon to himself. "Well, my faith! he shall see how a gentleman can die."
The young Musketeer was in excellent disposition to die heroically.
Richelieu still continued thinking, rolling and unrolling the paper in hi_ands.
At length he raised his head, fixed his eagle look upon that loyal, open, an_ntelligent countenance, read upon that face, furrowed with tears, all th_ufferings its possessor had endured in the course of a month, and reflecte_or the third or fourth time how much there was in that youth of twenty-on_ears before him, and what resources his activity, his courage, and hi_hrewdness might offer to a good master. On the other side, the crimes, th_ower, and the infernal genius of Milady had more than once terrified him. H_elt something like a secret joy at being forever relieved of this dangerou_ccomplice.
Richelieu slowly tore the paper which d'Artagnan had generously relinquished.
"I am lost!" said d'Artagnan to himself. And he bowed profoundly before th_ardinal, like a man who says, "Lord, Thy will be done!"
The cardinal approached the table, and without sitting down, wrote a few line_pon a parchment of which two-thirds were already filled, and affixed hi_eal.
"That is my condemnation," thought d'Artagnan; "he will spare me the ENNUI o_he Bastille, or the tediousness of a trial. That's very kind of him."
"Here, monsieur," said the cardinal to the young man. "I have taken from yo_ne CARTE BLANCHE to give you another. The name is wanting in this commission; you can write it yourself."
D'Artagnan took the paper hesitatingly and cast his eyes over it; it was _ieutenant's commission in the Musketeers.
D'Artagnan fell at the feet of the cardinal.
"Monseigneur," said he, "my life is yours; henceforth dispose of it. But thi_avor which you bestow upon me I do not merit. I have three friends who ar_ore meritorious and more worthy—"
"You are a brave youth, d'Artagnan," interrupted the cardinal, tapping hi_amiliarly on the shoulder, charmed at having vanquished this rebelliou_ature. "Do with this commission what you will; only remember, though the nam_e blank, it is to you I give it."
"I shall never forget it," replied d'Artagnan. "Your Eminence may be certai_f that."
The cardinal turned and said in a loud voice, "Rochefort!" The chevalier, wh_o doubt was near the door, entered immediately.
"Rochefort," said the cardinal, "you see Monsieur d'Artagnan. I receive hi_mong the number of my friends. Greet each other, then; and be wise if yo_ish to preserve your heads."
Rochefort and d'Artagnan coolly greeted each other with their lips; but th_ardinal was there, observing them with his vigilant eye.
They left the chamber at the same time.
"We shall meet again, shall we not, monsieur?"
"When you please," said d'Artagnan.
"An opportunity will come," replied Rochefort.
"Hey?" said the cardinal, opening the door.
The two men smiled at each other, shook hands, and saluted his Eminence.
"We were beginning to grow impatient," said Athos.
"Here I am, my friends," replied d'Artagnan; "not only free, but in favor."
"Tell us about it."
"This evening; but for the moment, let us separate."
Accordingly, that same evening d'Artagnan repaired to the quarters of Athos, whom he found in a fair way to empty a bottle of Spanish wine—an occupatio_hich he religiously accomplished every night.
D'Artagnan related what had taken place between the cardinal and himself, an_rawing the commission from his pocket, said, "Here, my dear Athos, thi_aturally belongs to you."
Athos smiled with one of his sweet and expressive smiles.
"Friend," said he, "for Athos this is too much; for the Comte de la Fere it i_oo little. Keep the commission; it is yours. Alas! you have purchased i_early enough."
D'Artagnan left Athos's chamber and went to that of Porthos. He found hi_lothed in a magnificent dress covered with splendid embroidery, admirin_imself before a glass.
"Ah, ah! is that you, dear friend?" exclaimed Porthos. "How do you think thes_arments fit me?"
"Wonderfully," said d'Artagnan; "but I come to offer you a dress which wil_ecome you still better."
"What?" asked Porthos.
"That of a lieutenant of Musketeers."
D'Artagnan related to Porthos the substance of his interview with th_ardinal, and said, taking the commission from his pocket, "Here, my friend, write your name upon it and become my chief."
Porthos cast his eyes over the commission and returned it to d'Artagnan, t_he great astonishment of the young man.
"Yes," said he, "yes, that would flatter me very much; but I should not hav_ime enough to enjoy the distinction. During our expedition to Bethune th_usband of my duchess died; so, my dear, the coffer of the defunct holding ou_ts arms to me, I shall marry the widow. Look here! I was trying on my weddin_uit. Keep the lieutenancy, my dear, keep it."
The young man then entered the apartment of Aramis. He found him kneelin_efore a PRIEDIEU with his head leaning on an open prayer book.
He described to him his interview with the cardinal, and said, for the thir_ime drawing his commission from his pocket, "You, our friend, ou_ntelligence, our invisible protector, accept this commission. You hav_erited it more than any of us by your wisdom and your counsels, alway_ollowed by such happy results."
"Alas, dear friend!" said Aramis, "our late adventures have disgusted me wit_ilitary life. This time my determination is irrevocably taken. After th_iege I shall enter the house of the Lazarists. Keep the commission, d'Artagnan; the profession of arms suits you. You will be a brave an_dventurous captain."
D'Artagnan, his eye moist with gratitude though beaming with joy, went back t_thos, whom he found still at table contemplating the charms of his last glas_f Malaga by the light of his lamp.
"Well," said he, "they likewise have refused me."
"That, dear friend, is because nobody is more worthy than yourself."
He took a quill, wrote the name of d'Artagnan in the commission, and returne_t to him.
"I shall then have no more friends," said the young man. "Alas! nothing bu_itter recollections."
And he let his head sink upon his hands, while two large tears rolled down hi_heeks.
"You are young," replied Athos; "and your bitter recollections have time t_hange themselves into sweet remembrances."