The Three Musketeers
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Treville had seized on the weak point in his master’s character; and to this knowledge he owed the long and constant favour of a king who has not left behind him the reputation of having been constant in his friendships. He paraded his musketeers before the cardinal Armand Duplessis with an air of insolence which made the gray moustache of his eminence curl with anger. Treville also thoroughly understood the war of that period, when, if you lived not at the expense of the enemy, you lived at that of your countrymen. His soldiers formed a legion of very devils, under no discipline but his own. Swaggering bullies, given to wine, the king’s musketeers, or rather M. de Treville’s, spread themselves through the taverns, the public walks, and the theatres, talking loud, curling their moustaches, jingling their swords, hustling the guards of the cardinal when they met them, indulging, in the open street, in a thousand jokes; sometimes killed, but then certain of being lamented and avenged; sometimes killing, but then quite certain not to languish in prison, since M. de Treville was always at hand to procure their pardon and release. Therefore M. de Treville was lauded in every tone, sung of in every key, by these men, who adored him; yet, hang-dogs as they were, they trembled before him as scholars before their master, obedient to a word, and ready to meet death to wipe away any reproach. M. de Treville had used this powerful lever, first, for the king and his friends, and next, for himself and his own friends. The captain of the musketeers was, therefore, admired, feared, and loved, which state constitutes the apogee of human affairs.
Louis XIV. absorbed all the lesser stars of his court, by his vast brilliancy; but his father, “Sol pluribus impar,” imparted his personal splendour to many of his favourites—his individual valour to each of his courtiers. Besides the king’s levee, and that of the cardinal, there were then at Paris at least two hundred smaller ones, fairly exclusive; and amongst these two hundred smaller levees, that of M. de Treville was one of those most frequented. From six o’clock in the morning during summer, and eight in the winter, the courtyard of his hotel, in the Rue du Vieux Colombier, resembled a camp. From fifty to sixty musketeers, who appeared to relieve each other, and to present a number always imposing, were stalking about incessantly, armed to the teeth, and ready for anything. From one end to the other of one of those long staircases, on whose space our modern civilisation would build an entire mansion, ascended and descended those petitioners who sought favours; with provincial gentlemen, eager to be enrolled; and liveried lacqueys of every colour, in the act of delivering messages from their masters to M. de Treville. In the antechamber, on long circular benches, reclined the ?lite, that is, such of them as had assembled; a continual buzzing prevailed from morning till night; whilst M. de Treville, in his cabinet adjoining the antechamber, received visits, listened to complaints, gave his orders, and, like the king in his balcony at the Louvre, had only to place himself at his window to review his men and their arms.
On the day when d’Artagnan presented himself, the assembly was very imposing, especially to a provincial just arrived in Paris.It is true, this provincial was a Gascon, and at this period more especially, d’Artagnan’s countrymen had the reputation of not being easily intimidated. In fact, as soon as any one had passed the threshold of the massive door, studded with long square nails, he found himself in the midst of a troop of swordsmen, who were cruising about the court, talking, quarrelling, and jesting with each other. To clear a path through these eddies, it was necessary to be an officer, a man of rank, or a pretty woman. It was, therefore, in the midst of this crowd and disorder that our youth, holding his long rapier against his slender legs, and the rim of his beaver in his hand, advanced with palpitating heart, yet with that sort of half smile of provincial embarrassment which wishes to create a good impression. When he had passed one group, he breathed more freely; but he perceived that they turned to look at him, and d’Artagnan, who to that day had invariably entertained a pretty good opinion of himself, for the first time in his life thought himself ridiculous. When he had reached the staircase it was still worse; on the first step were four musketeers, who amused themselves in the following manner, whilst ten or a dozen of their companions waited on the landing-place till it was their turn to have a share in the game. One of them on a higher step, with a naked sword in his hand, prevented, or endeavoured to prevent, the other three from mounting the stairs; whilst these three skirmished with him very actively with their swords. D’Artagnan at first took these swords for foils, and thought they were buttoned; but he soon found, by certain scratches, that each weapon was as sharp as possible, and at each of these scratches, not only the spectators, but the actors themselves, laughed most heartily. The one who held the higher step at that time, kept his opponents at bay in a dexterous manner. A circle was formed round him, the condition of the game being, that at every hit, he who was struck should relinquish the pastime, and surrender his turn of reception by M. de Treville to the one who had touched him. In five minutes three were grazed, one on the hand, one on the chin, and another on the ear, by this defender of the staircase, who was himself untouched—a proof of his skill which, according to the rules of the game, entitled him to three turns of favour. This sport surprised our young traveller, although he did not wish it to appear that he was astonished. He had seen in his own province (that province where, moreover, the fiery passions are so promptly roused) a good many provocatives to duels, and yet the gasconade of these four players appeared much stronger than any he had heard of even in Gascony. He fancied he was transported into that famous country of giants where Gulliver afterwards went, and was so much frightened. And yet he had not reached the end: the landing-place and antechamber still remained. On the landing-place they did not fight, but recounted histories of the fair sex; and in the antechamber, tales of the court. On the landing-place d’Artagnan blushed; in the antechamber he shuddered. But if his good manners were shocked on the landing-place, his respect for the cardinal was scandalised in the antechamber. There, to his great astonishment, he heard the policy which made all Europe tremble, openly criticised, as well as the private life of the cardinal, which so many powerful men had been punished for attempting to scrutinise. That great man, whom d’Artagnan’s father had so deeply reverenced, M. de Treville and his men made their butt, deriding his bandy legs and crooked back. Some sang carols on Madame d’Aiguillon, his mistress, and Madame de Combalet, his niece; whilst others planned adventures against the pages and guards of the cardinal duke himself. All these things appeared to d’Artagnan monstrous impossibilities. Nevertheless, when the name of the king accidentally slipped out in the midst of these jokes on the cardinal, a sort of momentary gag stopped all their jeering mouths; they looked around with hesitation, and seemed to doubt the discretion of the wall of M. de Treville’s cabinet. But some allusion soon brought back the conversation to his eminence. The wit was of the most brilliant kind, and none of his actions was uncommented upon. “Verily,” thought d’Artagnan with terror, “these gentry will soon be put into the Bastile and hanged. Doubtless, I shall accompany them, for having heard all they have said. I shall, without doubt, be taken for an accomplice. What would my father say—he who enjoined me so strongly to respect the cardinal—if he knew that I was in the company of such reprobates?”
Of course, while d’Artagnan dared not join in the conversation, he kept his eyes and ears wide open, and every sense on the alert, that he might lose nothing; and in spite of the paternal advice, he found himself drawn by his tastes and instinct, rather to praise than blame the incredible things he heard around him. Nevertheless, as he was absolutely a stranger to the crowd of M. de Treville’s courtiers, and it was the first time he had been seen there, some one came to inquire what he wanted. At this question he humbly gave his name, relying on his being a countryman, and requested the servant to solicit a moment’s audience of M. de Treville—a request which the inquirer, in the tone of a protector, promised to make at the proper time.
D’Artagnan, a little recovered from his first surprise, had now time to study the dresses and countenances of those around him. In the midst of the most animated group was a musketeer of great height, of a haughty countenance, and so fantastical a costume as to attract general attention. He did not wear his uniform tunic, which was not absolutely indispensable at that period of less liberty, yet greater independence, but a close coat of celestial blue, slightly faded and worn, and on this coat a magnificent border of gold embroidery, which glittered like scales upon a sunlit stream; a long mantle or cloak of crimson velvet hung gracefully from his shoulders, discovering the front alone of his splendid belt, from which depended his enormous rapier. This musketeer, who had just come from guard, complained of having caught cold, and coughed occasionally with great affectation. Therefore, as he averred, he had taken his cloak; and whilst he was talking loudly over the group, and proudly curling his moustache, every one much admired the embroidered belt, and d’Artagnan more than any one else.
“What would you have?” said the musketeer. “It is the fashion; I know very well that it is foolish, but it is the fashion; besides, one must spend one’s hereditary property on something or other.”
“Ah, Porthos!” cried one of the bystanders, “do not try to make us believe that this lace comes from the paternal generosity: it was given you by the veiled lady with whom I met you the other Sunday, near the gate of St. Honore.”
“No, upon my honour, and by the faith of a gentleman, I bought it with my own money,” said he whom they called Porthos.
“Yes, as I bought this new purse with what my mistress put in the old,” cried another musketeer.
“But it is true,” said Porthos, “and the proof is, that I paid twelve pistoles for it.”
The wonder and admiration were redoubled, though the doubt still existed.
“Is it not so, Aramis?” inquired Porthos, turning to another musketeer.
The person thus appealed to formed a perfect contrast to the one who thus questioned him, and who designated him by the name of Aramis. He was a young man, not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, with a soft and ingenuous countenance, a black and mild eye, and cheeks rosy and damask as an autumnal peach; his slender moustache marked a perfect straight line along his upper lip; his hands appeared to dread hanging down, for fear of making their veins swell; and he was continually pinching the tips of his ears, to make them preserve a delicate and transparent carnation hue. Habitually he talked little and slowly, often bowed, laughed quietly, merely showing his teeth, which were good, and of which, as of the rest of his person, he appeared to take the greatest care. He replied to his friend’s question by an affirmative inclination of the head, and this affirmation appeared to settle all doubt concerning the embroidery. They therefore continued to admire it, but said no more about it; and by a sudden change of thought, the conversation at once passed to another subject.
“What do you think of this story of Chalais’s squire?” inquired another musketeer, not addressing any one in particular, but the company in general.
“And what does he say?” demanded Porthos in a conceited tone.
“He says that he found Rochefort, the tool of the cardinal, at Brussels, disguised as a Capuchin friar; and that this cursed Rochefort, thanks to his disguise, had deceived M. de Laignes, simpleton as he is.”
“He is a simpleton,” said Porthos; “but is it a fact?”
“I heard it from Aramis,” answered the musketeer.
“Ah, you know it well enough, Porthos,” said Aramis.
“I told it you myself yesterday evening; do not let us talk any more about it.”
“Not talk any more about it! that’s your view of the matter,” said Porthos; “not talk any more about it! Egad, you would make short work of it. What! the cardinal sets a spy upon a gentleman, robs him of his correspondence through a traitor, a robber, a gallows-bird; cut Chalais’s throat through this spy, and by means of this correspondence, under the flimsy pretext that he desired to kill the king, and marry monsieur to the queen! No one knew one word of this enigma; you told us of it yesterday evening, to the great astonishment of every one; and whilst we are still all amazed at the news, you come today and say to us, ‘Let us talk no more about it!’”
“Well, then, since it better suits your humour, let us talk about it,” calmly replied Aramis.
“Were I poor Chalais’s squire,” cried Porthos, “this Rochefort would pass a bad minute with me!”
“And the red duke would make but short work with you,” replied Aramis.
“Ah, the red duke! bravo, bravo, the red duke!” exclaimed Porthos, with an approving nod, and clapping his hands; “the red duke is charming! Rest assured, my dear fellow, that I will disseminate the title. What a genius he has, this Aramis! what a pity that you could not follow your vocation, my dear fellow; what an exquisite abb? you would have made!”
“Oh, it is a mere transitory delay,” replied Aramis; “one day or other I shall be one; for you well know, Porthos, that I continue to study theology with that intention.”
“He will actually do as he says,” replied Porthos; “he will do it, sooner or later.”
“Very soon,” said Aramis.
“He only waits for one thing to decide what he will do, and to resume his cassock, which is hung up behind his uniform,” replied another musketeer.
“And what event does he wait for?” inquired another.
“He waits till the queen has given an heir to the crown of France.”
“Let us not jest on this subject, gentlemen,” said Porthos; “thank God, the queen is yet of an age to give it one.”
“It is said that the Duke of Buckingham is in France,” observed Aramis with a mocking laugh, which gave to his remark, simple as it was in appearance, a meaning sufficiently scandalous.
“Aramis, my friend, this time you are wrong,” rejoined Porthos, “and your wit always leads you too far. It would be the worse for you if M. de Treville heard you talking in this manner.”
“Do not lecture me, Porthos,” cried Aramis, in whose soft eye something like the lightning’s flash now passed.
“My dear fellow, be either musketeer or abb?; be one or the other; but not one and the other,” exclaimed Porthos. “You may remember that Athos told you the other day, that you eat at every rack. But let us not dispute, I beseech you; it would be perfectly useless. You know what is settled between you and me and Athos: you go to Madame d’Aiguillon’s, and you pay her attentions; you then repair to Madame de Bois Tracy, the cousin of Madame de Chevreuse, and a woman in whose good graces you are thought to stand highly. Nay, my dear fellow, confess not your good fortune: no one demands your secret; every one knows your discretion; but since you possess this virtue yourself, surely you will not grudge some portion of it to the queen. Let who will talk about the king and the cardinal, but the queen is sacred; and if you discuss her at all, let it be respectfully.”
“Porthos, you are as presumptuous as Narcissus!” said Aramis; “you know that I detest moralising, except from Athos. As to you, my dear fellow, you have rather too splendid a belt to be powerful on that subject. I will be an abb? if it suits me; in the meantime I am a musketeer, in which character I say what I choose, and at this moment I choose to tell you that you irritate me.”
“That will do! gentlemen! gentlemen!” cried out all around them.
“M. de Treville awaits M. d’Artagnan,” interrupted the lackey, opening the door of the cabinet.
At this declaration, during which the door remained open, every one was silent; and in the midst of this general silence the young Gascon, passing through part of the antechamber, entered the cabinet of the captain of the musketeers, felicitating himself with all his heart upon just escaping the conclusion of this singular quarrel.
M. DE TREVILLE was at this moment in a very bad humour; nevertheless, as the young man bowed to the ground, he politely saluted him, and smiled on receiving his compliments, which in their accent, recalled both his youth and his country at the same time—a double recollection, which makes a man smile at every period of his life. But going towards the antechamber, and making a sign with his hand to d’Artagnan, as if requesting permission to finish with others before he began with him, he called three times, raising his voice each time so as to run through the intermediate scale between the tone of command and that of anger—“Athos!”—“Porthos”—“ARAMIS!” The two musketeers, whose acquaintance we have already made, and who answered to the two last of these three names, immediately quitted the group of which they formed a portion, and advanced towards the cabinet, the door of which was closed immediately they had passed its threshold. Their bearing, although not quite calm, was at the same time full of dignity and submission, and their apparent indifference excited the admiration of d’Artagnan, who saw in these men a species of demi-gods, and in their chief an Olympian Jupiter, armed with all his thunders.
When the two musketeers had entered, and the door was closed behind them—when the murmuring buzz of the antechamber, to which the summons that had been given had doubtless furnished a new topic, had recommenced—when, lastly, M. de Treville had paced the whole length of his cabinet three or four times in silence, but with a frowning brow, passing each time before Porthos and Aramis, upright and mute as on parade, he suddenly stopped directly in front of them, and measuring them from top to toe with an angry look, exclaimed, “Do you know what the king said to me, and that not later than last evening? Do you know, gentlemen?”
“No,” answered the two musketeers, after a moment’s silence; “no, sir, we do not.”
“But we hope you will do us the honour of informing us,” added Aramis in his most polished tone, and with the most graceful bow.
“He told me that, for the future, he should recruit his musketeers from those of the cardinal.”
“From those of the cardinal! And why?” demanded Porthos with heat.
“Because he saw very well that his thin dregs required to be enlivened by some good and generous wine!”
The two musketeers blushed up to the very eyes.
D’Artagnan knew not where he was, and wished himself an hundred feet below the earth.
“Yes, yes,” continued M. De Treville, becoming more warm, “yes, his majesty was right; for, upon my honour, the musketeers cut but a sorry figure at court. Yesterday, whilst playing with the king, the cardinal recounted, with an air of condolence which much annoyed me, that on the previous day these cursed musketeers, these devils incarnate—and he dwelt on these words with an ironical accent, which annoyed me the more—these cutters and slashers—(looking at me with the eye of a tiger)—had loitered beyond closing time in a tavern in the Rue Ferou, and that a picquet of his guards (I thought he would laugh in my face) had been obliged to arrest the disturbers. ‘Od’s-life! you ought to know something about this. Arrest the musketeers! You were amongst them—you, sirs! do not deny it; you were recognised, and the cardinal named you. But it is all my own fault; yes, my fault; for I choose my own men. Look ye, Aramis! why did you ask me for a tunic, when a cassock suited you so well? Hark ye, Porthos! have you got such a splendid belt, only to hang to it a sword of straw? And Athos—I do not see Athos; where is he?”
“Sir,” answered Aramis, in a melancholy tone, “he is ill, very ill.”
“Ill! very ill, say you? and of what disorder?”
“We fear it is the small-pox,” answered Porthos, anxious to put in a word; “and this would be very distressing, since it would certainly spoil his face.”
“The small-pox! This is a marvellous story you are telling me, Porthos! Ill of small-pox at his age! No, no; but doubtless he is wounded, perhaps killed. Ah! if I were certain of this! Zounds, gentlemen, I do not understand why you haunt such loose places, why you quarrel in the streets, and play with the sword in the crossways; and I do not wish you to afford mirth for the cardinal’s guards, who are brave men, quiet, and skilful, who never throw themselves open to an arrest, and who, moreover, would not allow themselves to be arrested, not they! I am sure they would rather die than be arrested or escape! It is you who fly! who scamper away! A fine thing for the royal musketeers, indeed!”
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