The Three Musketeers
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“You promised me to go,” said the queen.
“And I will keep my word! Your hand, madame, and I leave you!”
Closing her eyes, and leaning on Donna Estefana—for she felt her strength was failing her—Anne of Austria extended her hand.
On that beautiful hand Buckingham pressed his lips passionately, and then arose.
“Before six months have passed,” said he, “if I be not dead, I will see you again, if I must turn the world upside down to accomplish it.”
And true to his promise, he rushed out of the room.
In the corridor he found Madame Bonancieux awaiting him; and, with the same precaution, and the same good fortune, she led him forth out of the Louvre.
THERE WAS IN all this affair, as might be remarked, a person of whom, in spite of his precarious situation, we have appeared to take very little notice. This person was M. Bonancieux, a respectable martyr to the political and amorous intrigues which so thoroughly entangled themselves together in that chivalrous and gallant age. Fortunately, as our readers may or may not remember, we have promised not to lose sight of him.
The officers who had arrested him, conducted him at once to the Bastile, where he had to pass, all trembling as he was, before a company of soldiers, who were charging their muskets.
Taken from there into a partly subterraneous gallery, he had to endure the most brutal insults and ill-treatment. The attendants saw that he was not a nobleman, and they treated him therefore like a beggar.
In about half an hour, a registrar came to put an end to his tortures, but not to his anxiety, by ordering that the should be conducted to the question chamber. They generally questioned prisoners in their own cells, but they did not observe so much ceremony with M. Bonancieux.
Two guards laid hold of the mercer, and made him cross a court, and then, entering a corridor where there were three sentinels, they opened a door and pushed him into a low room, which only contained a table, a chair, and a commissary. The commissary was seated on the chair, and was engaged in writing at the table.
The two guards led the prisoner to the table, and at a signal from the commissary, went out of earshot. The commissary, who had till then kept his head bent down over his papers, raised it up to see who he had before him. This commissary was a man with a very crabbed look; a sharp nose; cheeks yellow and puffed out; small, but piercing eyes; and with a countenance reminding one, at the same time, of a polecat and a fox. His head, supported by a long and flexible neck, was thrust out of his full black robe, and balanced itself with a motion very much like that of a turtle putting its head out of its shell.
He began by asking M. Bonancieux his Christian name and surname, his age, profession, and place of abode.
The accused replied that his name was Jacques Bonancieux, that his age was 51 years, that he was a retired mercer, and lived in the Rue des Fossoyeurs, No.11.
Instead of continuing his questions, the commissary then made him a long speech on the danger of an obscure citizen interfering in public affairs. With this exordium he combined an exposition of the power and actions of the cardinal—that incomparable minister, the conqueror of all preceding ministers, and the example for all future ministers—whom no one could oppose or thwart with impunity.
After this second part of his discourse, he fixed his hawk’s eye on poor Bonancieux, and exhorted him to reflect upon the seriousness of his situation.
This the mercer had already done: he wished M. de la Porte at the devil for having put it into his head to marry his god-daughter, and cursed the hour when that god-daughter had been received into the queen’s service.
The foundation of M. Bonancieux’s character was profound selfishness, mingled with sordid avarice, the whole being seasoned with excessive cowardice. The love which he entertained towards his young wife was quite a secondary sentiment, and could not stand against those primary feelings which we have just enumerated.
Bonancieux, in fact, reflected on what had been said to him.
“But, Mr. Commissary,” he timidly observed, “believe me, that I know well and appreciate the incomparable merit of his eminence, by whom we have the honour of being governed.”
“Really!” said the commissary; with a doubtful look; “but if this be true, how came you to be in the Bastile?”
“How I am there, or rather, why I am there,” replied Bonancieux, “is what it is utterly impossible for me to tell you, seeing that I do not know myself; but most certainly it is not for having offended the cardinal, consciously at least.”
“It is certain, nevertheless, that you must have committed some crime, as you are here accused of high treason.”
“Of high treason!” cried Bonancieux, confounded; “of high treason! And how can you believe that a poor mercer, who hates the Huguenots, and abhors the Spaniards, can be accused of high treason? Reflect, sir—the thing is a moral impossibility.”
“M. Bonancieux,” said the commissary, regarding the accused with his little eyes, as though he had the power of looking into the very depths of his heart, “M. Bonancieux, you have a wife.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the trembling mercer, perceiving that it was on her account that he was now about to be inculpated; “that is to say, I had one.”
“What? you had one! And what have you done with her, that you have her no longer?”
“Some one has carried her off, sir!”
“Some one has taken her from you?” said the commissary. “Ah!”
Bonancieux perceived by this “ah!” that matters were getting worse and worse.
“Some one has taken her from you,” resumed the commissary. “And do you know who has been guilty of this abduction?”
“I think I know.”
“Who is it?”
“Remember that I affirm nothing, Mr. Commissary—I only suspect.”
“Whom do you suspect? Come, don’t hesitate to speak.”
M. Bonancieux was in the greatest perplexity. Ought he to deny everything, or to confess? From a total denial, it might be inferred that he knew too much to admit; and, by a general confession, he might give evidence of his good faith.
He determined, therefore, to have no concealments.
“I suspect,” said he, “a tall, dark man, of lofty air, who has all the appearance of a man of rank. He followed us, I think, many times, when I went to fetch my wife from the gate of the Louvre.”
The commissary appeared somewhat disturbed.
“And his name?” said he.
“Oh! as to his name, I do not know it; but if I should meet him, I could recognise him amongst a thousand persons.”
The brow of the commissary grew dark.
“You could recognise him amongst a thousand, you say?” continued he.
“That is to say,” replied Bonancieux, who saw that he had made a false step, “that is to say–”
“You have said that you could recognise him,” said the commissary; “very well, that is enough for today; it is necessary, before we proceed any further, that some one should be informed that you know the person who has carried off your wife.”
“But I did not tell you that I knew him!” cried M. Bonancieux, in despair. “I told you, on the contrary–”
“Take away the prisoner!” exclaimed the commissary to the two guards.
“Where to?” asked the registrar.
“To a dungeon.”
“Oh! to the first that offers, provided it be secure,” answered the commissary, with an indifference which filled the breast of poor Bonancieux with horror and dismay.
“Alas! alas!” said he, “I am undone. My wife must have committed some frightful crime; and I am supposed to be an accomplice, and shall be punished with her. She must have said something—have confessed that I was her confidant. A woman is such a weak creature! A dungeon! The first that offers! that’s it. A night is soon passed; and then, tomorrow, to the wheel, to the gibbet! Oh! my God, my God, have pity on me!”
Without in the least attending to the lamentations of Master Bonancieux, that were of a kind to which they were tolerably well accustomed, the two guards took him by the arms, and led him away, while the commissary hastily wrote a letter, for which his officer waited.
Bonancieux did not close an eye; not because his dungeon was very uncomfortable, but because his anxiety was very great. He sat upon his stool the whole night, trembling at every noise; and when the first rays of light penetrated his chamber, Aurora herself appeared to him to be dressed in funereal array.
Suddenly he heard the bolts withdrawn, and gave a terrible start. He believed that they were coming to conduct him to the scaffold; and, therefore, when he saw that it was only the commissary and his attendant, he was almost ready to embrace them.
“Your affair has become sadly complicated since last evening, my fine fellow,” said the commissary. “I advise you to tell the whole truth, for your repentance alone can mitigate the anger of the cardinal.”
“But I am ready to tell everything,” said Bonancieux; “everything, at least, that I know; question me, I beseech you!”
“In the first place, where is your wife?”
“I have just told you that some one has carried her off.”
“Yes, but since five o’clock yesterday evening, thanks to you, she has escaped.”
“My wife escaped!” cried Bonancieux; “oh! the wretch! Sir, if she has escaped, I assure you it is not my fault!”
“What were you doing, then, in the apartment of your neighbour, M. d’Artagnan, with whom you had a long conference in the course of the day?”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Commissary, yes, that is true; and I confess I was wrong in that; yes, I was in M. d’Artagnan’s apartments.”
“To entreat him to assist me in finding my wife. I thought I had a right to reclaim her. I was mistaken, it appears, and I humbly beg your pardon.”
“And what answer did M. d’Artagnan give?”
“M. d’Artagnan promised me his assistance; but I soon perceived that he betrayed me.”
“You would mislead justice! M. d’Artagnan made an agreement with you; and in virtue of that agreement, he put to flight the officers who had arrested your wife, and has now secreted her from all our researches.”
“M. d’Artagnan has hidden away my wife? Alas! what do you tell me?”
“Fortunately, M d’Artagnan is in our power, and you shall be confronted with him.”
“Ah, faith! I desire nothing better,” cried M. Bonancieux. “I shall not be sorry to see the face of an acquaintance.”
“Bring in M. d’Artagnan,” said the commissary to the two guards.
The guards brought in Athos.
“M. d’Artagnan,” said the commissary, addressing Athos, “declare what passed between you and that other gentleman.”
“But,” cried M. Bonancieux, “that is not M. d’Artagnan that you show me there.”
“What! not M. d’Artagnan?” cried the commissary.
“By no means,” answered Bonancieux.
“What is the gentleman’s name?” demanded the commissary.
“I cannot tell you; I don’t know him!” replied Bonancieux.
“What! you do not know him?”
“You have never set eyes on him?”
“Yes; but I do not know his name.”
“Your name?” demanded the commissary of Athos.
“Athos!” answered the musketeer.
“But that is not the name of a man; it is the name of a mountain!” cried the unfortunate commissary, who began to get confused.
“It is my name,” calmly replied Athos.
“But you said your name was d’Artagnan.”
“I said so?”
“The fact is, that they said to me—you are M. d’Artagnan. I replied—do you think so? My guards said they were sure of it. I did not wish to contradict them; besides, I might be mistaken.”
“Sir! you mock the majesty of justice.”
“Not at all,” calmly replied Athos.
“You are M. d’Artagnan?”
“You see that you still tell me so.”
“But,” cried M. Bonancieux, “I tell you, Mr. Commissary, that there is not the smallest doubt. M. d’Artagnan is my lodger, and, consequently, as he does not pay his rent, I know him only too well. M. d’Artagnan is a young man of nineteen or twenty years of age, at most, and this gentleman is at least thirty. M. d’Artagnan is in the guards of M. des Essarts, and this gentleman is in the company of M. de Treville’s musketeers: observe the uniform.”
“By heavens! it is true!” muttered the commissary. “It is true, by God!”
At this instant the door was quickly opened, and one of the turnkeys of the Bastile introduced a messenger, who gave the commissary a letter.
“Oh! the wretch!” exclaimed the commissary.
“What? of whom do you speak? It is not of my wife, I hope.”
“On the contrary, it is of her. Your affairs are in a nice state.”
“Do me the pleasure,” said the exasperated mercer, “to tell me, sir, how my affairs can be made worse by what my wife does whilst I am in prison?”
“Because what she does is the consequence of an infernal plan arranged between you!”
“I swear to you, Mr. Commissary, that you are in the most profound error; that I know nothing in the world of my wife’s actions; that I am completely ignorant of what she has done; and that, if she has committed follies, I renounce her, I give her the lie, and I curse her.”
“And now,” said Athos, “if you have no further business with me, dismiss me. Your M. Bonancieux is very tiresome.”
“Take the prisoners back to their dungeons,” said the commissary, pointing to Athos and Bonancieux, “and guard them more strictly than ever.”
“Nevertheless,” said Athos, with his usual tranquillity, “your business is with M. d’Artagnan; I do not well see how I can supply his place!”
“Do what I have ordered,” cried the commissary; “and the most solitary confinement—do you hear?”
The two followed the guards, Athos shrugging his shoulders, and M. Bonancieux uttering lamentations which might have softened the heart of a tiger.
They took the mercer into the same dungeon where he had passed the night, and left him there throughout the whole day. Hour after hour did poor Bonancieux weep like a very mercer; he was not at all a man of warlike soul, as he himself told us.
About nine o’clock in the evening, just as he had made up his mind to go to bed, he heard steps in his corridor. These steps approached his dungeon, the door opened, and the guards appeared.
“Follow me,” said a sergeant who commanded the guards.
“Follow you!” cried Bonancieux, “follow you at this time of night! And where? my God!”
“Where we have orders to conduct you.”
“But that is no answer.”
“It is, nevertheless, the only answer you will get.”
“O Lord! O Lord!” muttered the poor mercer, “now I am lost!”
He followed, mechanically, and without resistance.
He went down the same corridor as before, crossed a first court, then a second floor; and then, at the entrance gate, he found a carriage surrounded by four horse guards. They made him enter this carriage; the sergeant placed himself at his side; the door was locked, and they both found themselves in a moving prison.
The carriage proceeded slowly, like a funeral coach. Through the padlocked bars the prisoner could only see the horses and the pavement. But, like a true Parisian as he was, Bonancieux recognised each street by its corners, its lamps, and its signs. At the moment they reached St. Paul, where the criminals of the Bastile were executed, he nearly fainted, and crossed himself twice. He thought the carriage would have stopped there; but it went on, nevertheless. Farther on, he was seized with great fear: it was in skirting the cemetery of St. Jean, where the state criminals were buried. One thing alone encouraged him, which was, that before burying them, one generally cut off their heads; and his head was yet upon his shoulders. But when the carriage took the road to La Gr?ve, and he perceived the painted roof of the Hotel de Ville, and saw that the carriage went under its colonnade, he thought it was all over with him, and wished to confess himself to the sergeant; and, on the refusal of the latter, uttered such piteous cries, that the sergeant declared that if he continued to deafen him so, he would put a gag on him. This threat reassured him a little: if they meant to execute him at the Gr?ve, it was scarcely worth while to gag him, as they had nearly reached the place of execution. In fact, the carriage crossed this fatal place without stopping. There was only the Croix du Trahoir, then, to fear; and the carriage took the exact road to it.
This time there was no further room for doubt. It was at the Croix du Trahoir that inferior criminals were executed. Bonancieux had flattered himself, by considering that he was worthy of St. Paul, or the place de Gr?ve. It was at the Croix du Trahoir that his journey and his destiny would end. He could not yet see this unhappy cross, but he felt it, as it were, loom before him. When he was only about twenty paces from it, he heard a noise, and the carriage stopped. This was more than poor Bonancieux could bear: already crushed by the successive emotions he had experienced, he uttered a feeble cry, or rather groan, which might have been taken for the last sigh of a dying man, and fainted.
THE MOB THAT stopped the way was produced, not by the expectation of seeing a man hanged, but by the contemplation of man who was already hanging. After a moment’s hindrance, the carriage proceeded on its way, passed through the crowd, went along the Rue St. Honore, and turning at the Rue des Bons Enfants, stopped at a low doorway.
When the door opened, two guards, assisted by the sergeant, received Bonancieux in their arms, and pushed him into a court; they then made him ascend a staircase, and placed him in an antechamber. All these operations were performed nearly mechanically, as far as he was concerned. He had walked as in a dream, he had seen things as through a mist; he had heard without understanding; and they might have executed him then without his making the slightest resistance, or uttering an appeal for mercy.
He remained passive on the bench, with his back resting against the wall, and his arms hanging down, on the very spot where his guards had placed him.
And yet, as, in looking around him, he saw nothing threatening, as no real danger was indicated, as the bench was comfortably stuffed, as the wall was covered with beautiful cordovan leather, and as long curtains of red damask, held by gilt brackets, hung before the windows, he became by degrees aware that his fears were exaggerated, and began to move his head from right to left, and vertically. At this motion, which no one opposed, he resumed a little courage, ventured to draw up one leg, and then the other; and, at last, supporting himself upon his hands, he raised himself on the bench, and found himself on his feet.
At this moment an officer of pleasant appearance opened a door, exchanged a few words with some person in the next room, and then, turning towards the prisoner, said—
“Is it you who are called Bonancieux?”
“Yes, sir,” stammered the mercer, more dead than alive, “at your service.”
The officer bade the mercer precede him; and the latter, obeying without reply, entered a room where he appeared to be expected.
It was a large cabinet, the walls of which were furnished with offensive and defensive weapons—a close and suffocating room, in which there was already a fire, although it was scarcely yet the end of September. A square table, loaded with books and papers, and on which there was unrolled an immense plan of the town of Rochelle, occupied the middle of the apartment. In front of the chimney-piece there stood a man of middle height, with a proud and haughty air, piercing eyes, a large forehead, and an emaciated countenance, which was yet further elongated by an imperial, surmounted by a pair of moustaches.
Although this man was scarcely thirty-six or thirty-seven years old, both imperial and moustaches were beginning to grow gray. His appearance, except that he wore no sword, was military; and his buff leather boots, which were yet slightly covered with dust, pointed out that he had been on horseback during the day.
This individual was Armand-Jean Duplessis, Cardinal de Richelieu; not as he is represented—broken down like an old man, suffering like a martyr, his body shattered, his voice extinguished, buried in an enormous easy-chair, no longer living but by the power of his genius, and no longer supporting the struggle against Europe but by the eternal energy of his extraordinary mind—but such as he really was at this period; that is, a skilful and gallant cavalier, already feeble in body, but upheld by that moral force which made him one of the most unparalleled of mankind, and now preparing, after sustaining the Duc de Nevers in his duchy of Mantua, and taking Nismes, Castres, and Elzes, to drive the English from the Isle of Rh?, and to undertake the siege of La Rochelle.
At first sight, nothing denoted that it was the cardinal, and it was impossible for those who were unacquainted with his appearance to guess in whose presence they were.
The poor mercer remained standing at the door, whilst the eyes of the person we have been describing fixed themselves upon him as if they would penetrate his most secret thoughts.
“Is that this Bonancieux?” he demanded, after a moment’s pause.
“Yes, my lord!” replied the officer.
“Very well; give me those papers, and leave us.”
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