As Athos and Porthos had foreseen, at the expiration of a half hour, d'Artagnan returned. He had again missed his man, who had disappeared as if b_nchantment. D'Artagnan had run, sword in hand, through all the neighborin_treets, but had found nobody resembling the man he sought for. Then he cam_ack to the point where, perhaps, he ought to have begun, and that was t_nock at the door against which the stranger had leaned; but this prove_seless—for though he knocked ten or twelve times in succession, no on_nswered, and some of the neighbors, who put their noses out of their window_r were brought to their doors by the noise, had assured him that that house, all the openings of which were tightly closed, had not been inhabited for si_onths.
While d'Artagnan was running through the streets and knocking at doors, Arami_ad joined his companions; so that on returning home d'Artagnan found th_eunion complete.
"Well!" cried the three Musketeers all together, on seeing d'Artagnan ente_ith his brow covered with perspiration and his countenance upset with anger.
"Well!" cried he, throwing his sword upon the bed, "this man must be the devi_n person; he has disappeared like a phantom, like a shade, like a specter."
"Do you believe in apparitions?" asked Athos of Porthos.
"I never believe in anything I have not seen, and as I never have see_pparitions, I don't believe in them."
"The Bible," said Aramis, "make our belief in them a law; the ghost of Samue_ppeared to Saul, and it is an article of faith that I should be very sorry t_ee any doubt thrown upon, Porthos."
"At all events, man or devil, body or shadow, illusion or reality, this man i_orn for my damnation; for his flight has caused us to miss a glorious affair, gentlemen—an affair by which there were a hundred pistoles, and perhaps more, to be gained."
"How is that?" cried Porthos and Aramis in a breath.
As to Athos, faithful to his system of reticence, he contented himself wit_nterrogating d'Artagnan by a look.
"Planchet," said d'Artagnan to his domestic, who just then insinuated his hea_hrough the half-open door in order to catch some fragments of th_onversation, "go down to my landlord, Monsieur Bonacieux, and ask him to sen_e half a dozen bottles of Beaugency wine; I prefer that."
"Ah, ah! You have credit with your landlord, then?" asked Porthos.
"Yes," replied d'Artagnan, "from this very day; and mind, if the wine is bad, we will send him to find better."
"We must use, and not abuse," said Aramis, sententiously.
"I always said that d'Artagnan had the longest head of the four," said Athos, who, having uttered his opinion, to which d'Artagnan replied with a bow, immediately resumed his accustomed silence.
"But come, what is this about?" asked Porthos.
"Yes," said Aramis, "impart it to us, my dear friend, unless the honor of an_ady be hazarded by this confidence; in that case you would do better to kee_t to yourself."
"Be satisfied," replied d'Artagnan; "the honor of no one will have cause t_omplain of what I have to tell."
He then related to his friends, word for word, all that had passed between hi_nd his host, and how the man who had abducted the wife of his worthy landlor_as the same with whom he had had the difference at the hostelry of the Joll_iller.
"Your affair is not bad," said Athos, after having tasted like a connoisseu_nd indicated by a nod of his head that he thought the wine good; "and one ma_raw fifty or sixty pistoles from this good man. Then there only remains t_scertain whether these fifty or sixty pistoles are worth the risk of fou_eads."
"But observe," cried d'Artagnan, "that there is a woman in the affair—a woma_arried off, a woman who is doubtless threatened, tortured perhaps, and al_ecause she is faithful to her mistress."
"Beware, d'Artagnan, beware," said Aramis. "You grow a little too warm, in m_pinion, about the fate of Madame Bonacieux. Woman was created for ou_estruction, and it is from her we inherit all our miseries."
At this speech of Aramis, the brow of Athos became clouded and he bit hi_ips.
"It is not Madame Bonacieux about whom I am anxious," cried d'Artagnan, "bu_he queen, whom the king abandons, whom the cardinal persecutes, and who see_he heads of all her friends fall, one after the other."
"Why does she love what we hate most in the world, the Spaniards and th_nglish?"
"Spain is her country," replied d'Artagnan; "and it is very natural that sh_hould love the Spanish, who are the children of the same soil as herself. A_o the second reproach, I have heard it said that she does not love th_nglish, but an Englishman."
"Well, and by my faith," said Athos, "it must be acknowledged that thi_nglishman is worthy of being loved. I never saw a man with a nobler air tha_is."
"Without reckoning that he dresses as nobody else can," said Porthos. "I wa_t the Louvre on the day when he scattered his pearls; and, PARDIEU, I picke_p two that I sold for ten pistoles each. Do you know him, Aramis?"
"As well as you do, gentlemen; for I was among those who seized him in th_arden at Amiens, into which Monsieur Putange, the queen's equerry, introduce_e. I was at school at the time, and the adventure appeared to me to be crue_or the king."
"Which would not prevent me," said d'Artagnan, "if I knew where the Duke o_uckingham was, from taking him by the hand and conducting him to the queen, were it only to enrage the cardinal, and if we could find means to play him _harp turn, I vow that I would voluntarily risk my head in doing it."
"And did the mercer[](footnotes.xml#footnote_3)," rejoined Athos, "tel_ou, d'Artagnan, that the queen thought that Buckingham had been brought ove_y a forged letter?"
"She is afraid so."
"Wait a minute, then," said Aramis.
"What for?" demanded Porthos.
"Go on, while I endeavor to recall circumstances."
"And now I am convinced," said d'Artagnan, "that this abduction of the queen'_oman is connected with the events of which we are speaking, and perhaps wit_he presence of Buckingham in Paris."
"The Gascon is full of ideas," said Porthos, with admiration.
"I like to hear him talk," said Athos; "his dialect amuses me."
"Gentlemen," cried Aramis, "listen to this."
"Listen to Aramis," said his three friends.
"Yesterday I was at the house of a doctor of theology, whom I sometime_onsult about my studies."
"He resides in a quiet quarter," continued Aramis; "his tastes and hi_rofession require it. Now, at the moment when I left his house—"
Here Aramis paused.
"Well," cried his auditors; "at the moment you left his house?"
Aramis appeared to make a strong inward effort, like a man who, in the ful_elation of a falsehood, finds himself stopped by some unforeseen obstacle; but the eyes of his three companions were fixed upon him, their ears were wid_pen, and there were no means of retreat.
"This doctor has a niece," continued Aramis.
"Ah, he has a niece!" interrupted Porthos.
"A very respectable lady," said Aramis.
The three friends burst into laughter.
"Ah, if you laugh, if you doubt me," replied Aramis, "you shall know nothing."
"We believe like Mohammedans, and are as mute as tombstones," said Athos.
"I will continue, then," resumed Aramis. "This niece comes sometimes to se_er uncle; and by chance was there yesterday at the same time that I was, an_t was my duty to offer to conduct her to her carriage."
"Ah! She has a carriage, then, this niece of the doctor?" interrupted Porthos, one of whose faults was a great looseness of tongue. "A nice acquaintance, m_riend!"
"Porthos," replied Aramis, "I have had the occasion to observe to you mor_han once that you are very indiscreet; and that is injurious to you among th_omen."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," cried d'Artagnan, who began to get a glimpse of th_esult of the adventure, "the thing is serious. Let us try not to jest, if w_an. Go on Aramis, go on."
"All at once, a tall, dark gentleman—just like yours, d'Artagnan."
"The same, perhaps," said he.
"Possibly," continued Aramis, "came toward me, accompanied by five or six me_ho followed about ten paces behind him; and in the politest tone, 'Monsieu_uke,' said he to me, 'and you madame,' continued he, addressing the lady o_y arm—"
"The doctor's niece?"
"Hold your tongue, Porthos," said Athos; "you are insupportable."
"'—will you enter this carriage, and that without offering the leas_esistance, without making the least noise?'"
"He took you for Buckingham!" cried d'Artagnan.
"I believe so," replied Aramis.
"But the lady?" asked Porthos.
"He took her for the queen!" said d'Artagnan.
"Just so," replied Aramis.
"The Gascon is the devil!" cried Athos; "nothing escapes him."
"The fact is," said Porthos, "Aramis is of the same height, and something o_he shape of the duke; but it nevertheless appears to me that the dress of _usketeer—"
"I wore an enormous cloak," said Aramis.
"In the month of July? The devil!" said Porthos. "Is the doctor afraid tha_ou may be recognized?"
"I can comprehend that the spy may have been deceived by the person; but th_ace—"
"I had a large hat," said Aramis.
"Oh, good lord," cried Porthos, "what precautions for the study of theology!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, "do not let us lose our time i_esting. Let us separate, and let us seek the mercer's wife—that is the key o_he intrigue."
"A woman of such inferior condition! Can you believe so?" said Porthos, protruding his lips with contempt.
"She is goddaughter to Laporte, the confidential valet of the queen. Have _ot told you so, gentlemen? Besides, it has perhaps been her Majesty'_alculation to seek on this occasion for support so lowly. High heads expos_hemselves from afar, and the cardinal is longsighted."
"Well," said Porthos, "in the first place make a bargain with the mercer, an_ good bargain."
"That's useless," said d'Artagnan; "for I believe if he does not pay us, w_hall be well enough paid by another party."
At this moment a sudden noise of footsteps was heard upon the stairs; the doo_as thrown violently open, and the unfortunate mercer rushed into the chambe_n which the council was held.
"Save me, gentlemen, for the love of heaven, save me!" cried he. "There ar_our men come to arrest me. Save me! Save me!"
Porthos and Aramis arose.
"A moment," cried d'Artagnan, making them a sign to replace in the scabbar_heir half-drawn swords. "It is not courage that is needed; it is prudence."
"And yet," cried Porthos, "we will not leave—"
"You will leave d'Artagnan to act as he thinks proper," said Athos. "He has, _epeat, the longest head of the four, and for my part I declare that I wil_bey him. Do as you think best, d'Artagnan."
At this moment the four Guards appeared at the door of the antechamber, bu_eeing four Musketeers standing, and their swords by their sides, the_esitated about going farther.
"Come in, gentlemen, come in," called d'Artagnan; "you are here in m_partment, and we are all faithful servants of the king and cardinal."
"Then, gentlemen, you will not oppose our executing the orders we hav_eceived?" asked one who appeared to be the leader of the party.
"On the contrary, gentlemen, we would assist you if it were necessary."
"What does he say?" grumbled Porthos.
"You are a simpleton," said Athos. "Silence!"
"But you promised me—" whispered the poor mercer.
"We can only save you by being free ourselves," replied d'Artagnan, in _apid, low tone; "and if we appear inclined to defend you, they will arrest u_ith you."
"It seems, nevertheless—"
"Come, gentlemen, come!" said d'Artagnan, aloud; "I have no motive fo_efending Monsieur. I saw him today for the first time, and he can tell you o_hat occasion; he came to demand the rent of my lodging. Is that not true, Monsieur Bonacieux? Answer!"
"That is the very truth," cried the mercer; "but Monsieur does not tell you—"
"Silence, with respect to me, silence, with respect to my friends; silenc_bout the queen, above all, or you will ruin everybody without savin_ourself! Come, come, gentlemen, remove the fellow." And d'Artagnan pushed th_alf-stupefied mercer among the Guards, saying to him, "You are a shabby ol_ellow, my dear. You come to demand money of me—of a Musketeer! To prison wit_im! Gentlemen, once more, take him to prison, and keep him under key as lon_s possible; that will give me time to pay him."
The officers were full of thanks, and took away their prey. As they were goin_own d'Artagnan laid his hand on the shoulder of their leader.
"May I not drink to your health, and you to mine?" said d'Artagnan, fillin_wo glasses with the Beaugency wine which he had obtained from the liberalit_f M. Bonacieux.
"That will do me great honor," said the leader of the posse, "and I accep_hankfully."
"Then to yours, monsieur—what is your name?"
"To yours, my gentlemen! What is your name, in your turn, if you please?"
"To yours, monsieur."
"And above all others," cried d'Artagnan, as if carried away by hi_nthusiasm, "to that of the king and the cardinal."
The leader of the posse would perhaps have doubted the sincerity of d'Artagna_f the wine had been bad; but the wine was good, and he was convinced.
"What diabolical villainy you have performed here," said Porthos, when th_fficer had rejoined his companions and the four friends found themselve_lone. "Shame, shame, for four Musketeers to allow an unfortunate fellow wh_ried for help to be arrested in their midst! And a gentleman to hobnob with _ailiff!"
"Porthos," said Aramis, "Athos has already told you that you are a simpleton, and I am quite of his opinion. D'Artagnan, you are a great man; and when yo_ccupy Monsieur de Treville's place, I will come and ask your influence t_ecure me an abbey."
"Well, I am in a maze," said Porthos; "do YOU approve of what d'Artagnan ha_one?"
"PARBLEU! Indeed I do," said Athos; "I not only approve of what he has done, but I congratulate him upon it."
"And now, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, without stopping to explain his conduc_o Porthos, "All for one, one for all—that is our motto, is it not?"
"And yet—" said Porthos.
"Hold out your hand and swear!" cried Athos and Aramis at once.
Overcome by example, grumbling to himself, nevertheless, Porthos stretched ou_is hand, and the four friends repeated with one voice the formula dictated b_'Artagnan:
"All for one, one for all."
"That's well! Now let us everyone retire to his own home," said d'Artagnan, a_f he had done nothing but command all his life; "and attention! For from thi_oment we are at feud with the cardinal."