Ten Years Later

Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 96 - Baisemeaux De Montlezun


After the austere lesson administered to De Wardes, Athos and D'Artagnan together descended the staircase which led to the courtyard of the Palais-Royal. "You perceive," said Athos to D'Artagnan, "that Raoul cannot, sooner or later, avoid a duel with De Wardes, for De Wardes is as brave as he is vicious and wicked."

"I know such fellows well," replied D'Artagnan; "I had an affair with the father. I assure you that, although at that time I had good muscles and a sort of brute courage - I assure you that the father did me some mischief. But you should have seen how I fought it out with him. Ah, Athos, such encounters never take place in these times! I had a hand which could never remain at rest, a hand like quicksilver, - you knew its quality, for you have seen me at work. My sword was no longer a piece of steel; it was a serpent that assumed every form and every length, seeking where it might thrust its head; in other words, where it might fix its bite. I advanced half a dozen paces, then three, and then, body to body, I pressed my antagonist closely, then I darted back again ten paces. No human power could resist that ferocious ardor. Well, De Wardes, the father, with the bravery of his race, with his dogged courage, occupied a good deal of my time; and my fingers, at the end of the engagement, were, I well remember, tired enough."

"It is, then, as I said," resumed Athos, "the son will always be looking out for Raoul, and will end by meeting him; and Raoul can easily be found when he is sought for."

"Agreed; but Raoul calculates well; he bears no grudge against De Wardes, - he has said so; he will wait until he is provoked, and in that case his position is a good one. The king will not be able to get out of temper about the matter; besides we shall know how to pacify his majesty. But why so full of these fears and anxieties? You don't easily get alarmed."

"I will tell you what makes me anxious; Raoul is to see the king to-morrow, when his majesty will inform him of his wishes respecting a certain marriage. Raoul, loving as he does, will get out of temper, and once in an angry mood, if he were to meet De Wardes, the shell would explode."

"We will prevent the explosion."

"Not I," said Athos, "for I must return to Blois. All this gilded elegance of the court, all these intrigues, sicken me. I am no longer a young man who can make terms with the meannesses of the day. I have read in the Great Book many things too beautiful and too comprehensive, to longer take any interest in the trifling phrases which these men whisper among themselves when they wish to deceive others. In one word, I am weary of Paris wherever and whenever you are not with me; and as I cannot have you with me always, I wish to return to Blois."

"How wrong you are, Athos; how you gainsay your origin and the destiny of your noble nature. Men of your stamp are created to continue, to the very last moment, in full possession of their great faculties. Look at my sword, a Spanish blade, the one I wore at Rochelle; it served me for thirty years without fail; one day in the winter it fell upon the marble floor on the Louvre and was broken. I had a hunting-knife made of it which will last a hundred years yet. You, Athos, with your loyalty, your frankness, your cool courage and your sound information, are the very man kings need to warn and direct them. Remain here; Monsieur Fouquet will not last as long as my Spanish blade."

"Is it possible," said Athos, smiling, "that my friend, D'Artagnan, who, after having raised me to the skies, making me an object of worship, casts me down from the top of Olympus, and hurls me to the ground? I have more exalted ambition, D'Artagnan. To be a minister - to be a slave, - never! Am I not still greater? I am nothing. I remember having heard you occasionally call me `the great Athos;' I defy you, therefore, if I were minister, to continue to bestow that title upon me. No, no; I do not yield myself in this manner."

"We will not speak of it any more, then; renounce everything, even the brotherly feeling which unites us."

"It is almost cruel what you say."

D'Artagnan pressed Athos's hand warmly. "No, no; renounce everything without fear. Raoul can get on without you. I am at Paris."

"In that case I shall return to Blois. We will take leave of each other to-night, to-morrow at daybreak I shall be on my horse again."

"You cannot return to your hotel alone; why did you not bring Grimaud with you?"

"Grimaud takes his rest now; he goes to bed early, for my poor old servant gets easily fatigued. He came from Blois with me, and I compelled him to remain within doors; for if, in retracing the forty leagues which separate us from Blois, he needed to draw breath even, he would die without a murmur. But I don't want to lose Grimaud."

"You shall have one of my musketeers to carry a torch for you. Hola! some one there," called out D'Artagnan, leaning over the gilded balustrade. The heads of seven or eight musketeers appeared. "I wish some gentleman who is so disposed to escort the Comte de la Fere," cried D'Artagnan.

"Thank you for your readiness, gentlemen," said Athos; "I regret to have occasion to trouble you in this manner."

"I would willingly escort the Comte de la Fere," said some one, "if I had not to speak to Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Who is that?" said D'Artagnan, looking into the darkness.

"I, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Heaven forgive me, if that is not Monsieur Baisemeaux's voice."

"It is, monsieur."

"What are you doing in the courtyard, my dear Baisemeaux?"

"I am waiting your orders, my dear Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Wretch that I am," thought D'Artagnan; "true, you have been told, I suppose, that some one was to be arrested, and have come yourself, instead of sending an officer?"

"I came because I had occasion to speak to you."

"You did not send to me?"

"I waited until you were disengaged," said Monsieur Baisemeaux, timidly.

"I leave you, D'Artagnan," said Athos.

"Not before I have presented Monsieur Baisemeaux de Montlezun, the governor of the Bastile."

Baisemeaux and Athos saluted each other.

"Surely you must know each other," said D'Artagnan.

"I have an indistinct recollection of Monsieur Baisemeaux," said Athos.

"You remember, my dear, Baisemeaux, the king's guardsman with whom we used formerly to have such delightful meetings in the cardinal's time?"

"Perfectly," said Athos, taking leave of him with affability.

"Monsieur le Comte de la Fere, whose nom de guerre was Athos," whispered D'Artagnan to Baisemeaux.

"Yes, yes, a brave man, one of the celebrated four."

"Precisely so. But, my dear Baisemeaux, shall we talk now?"

"If you please."

"In the first place, as for the orders - there are none. The king does not intend to arrest the person in question."

"So much the worse," said Baisemeaux with a sigh.

"What do you mean by so much the worse?" exclaimed D'Artagnan, laughing.

"No doubt of it," returned the governor, "my prisoners are my income."

"I beg your pardon, I did not see it in that light."

"And so there are no orders," repeated Baisemeaux with a sigh. "What an admirable situation yours is captain," he continued, after a pause, "captain-lieutenant of the musketeers."

"Oh, it is good enough; but I don't see why you should envy me; you, governor of the Bastile, the first castle in France."

"I am well aware of that," said Baisemeaux, in a sorrowful tone of voice.

"You say that like a man confessing his sins. I would willingly exchange my profits for yours."

"Don't speak of profits to me if you wish to save me the bitterest anguish of mind."

"Why do you look first on one side and then on the other, as if you were afraid of being arrested yourself, you whose business it is to arrest others?"

"I was looking to see whether any one could see or listen to us; it would be safer to confer more in private, if you would grant me such a favor."

"Baisemeaux, you seem to forget we are acquaintances of five and thirty years' standing. Don't assume such sanctified airs; make yourself quite comfortable; I don't eat governors of the Bastile raw."

"Heaven be praised!"

"Come into the courtyard with me, it's a beautiful moonlight night; we will walk up and down arm in arm under the trees, while you tell me your pitiful tale." He drew the doleful governor into the courtyard, took him by the arm as he had said, and, in his rough, good-humored way, cried: "Out with it, rattle away, Baisemeaux; what have you got to say?"

"It's a long story."

"You prefer your own lamentations, then; my opinion is, it will be longer than ever. I'll wager you are making fifty thousand francs out of your pigeons in the Bastile."

"Would to heaven that were the case, M. d'Artagnan."

"You surprise me, Baisemeaux; just look at you, acting the anchorite. I should like to show you your face in a glass, and you would see how plump and florid-looking you are, as fat and round as a cheese, with eyes like lighted coals; and if it were not for that ugly wrinkle you try to cultivate on your forehead, you would hardly look fifty years old, and you are sixty, if I am not mistaken."

"All quite true."

"Of course I knew it was true, as true as the fifty thousand francs profit you make," at which remark Baisemeaux stamped on the ground.

"Well, well," said D'Artagnan, "I will add up your accounts for you: you were captain of M. Mazarin's guards; and twelve thousand francs a year would in twelve years amount to one hundred and forty thousand francs."

"Twelve thousand francs! Are you mad?" cried Baisemeaux; "the old miser gave me no more than six thousand, and the expenses of the post amounted to six thousand five hundred francs. M. Colbert, who deducted the other six thousand francs, condescended to allow me to take fifty pistoles as a gratification; so that, if it were not for my little estate at Montlezun, which brings me in twelve thousand francs a year, I could not have met my engagements."

"Well, then, how about the fifty thousand francs from the Bastile? There, I trust, you are boarded and lodged, and get your six thousand francs salary besides."

"Admitted!"

"Whether the year be good or bad, there are fifty prisoners, who, on an average, bring you in a thousand francs a year each."

"I don't deny it."

"Well, there is at once an income of fifty thousand francs; you have held the post three years, and must have received in that time one hundred and fifty thousand francs."

"You forget one circumstance, dear M. d'Artagnan."

"What is that?"

"That while you received your appointment as captain from the king himself, I received mine as governor from Messieurs Tremblay and Louviere."

"Quite right, and Tremblay was not a man to let you have the post for nothing."

"Nor Louviere either: the result was, that I gave seventy-five thousand francs to Tremblay as his share."

"Very agreeable that! and to Louviere?"

"The very same."

"Money down?"

"No: that would have been impossible. The king did not wish, or rather M. Mazarin did not wish, to have the appearance of removing those two gentlemen, who had sprung from the barricades; he permitted them therefore, to make certain extravagant conditions for their retirement."

"What were those conditions?"

"Tremble...three years' income for the good-will."

"The deuce! so that the one hundred and fifty thousand francs have passed into their hands."

"Precisely so."

"And beyond that?"

"A sum of one hundred and fifty thousand francs, or fifteen thousand pistoles, whichever you please, in three payments."

"Exorbitant."

"Yes, but that is not all."

"What besides?"

"In default of the fulfillment by me of any one of those conditions, those gentlemen enter upon their functions again. The king has been induced to sign that."

"It is monstrous, incredible!"

"Such is the fact, however."

"I do indeed pity you, Baisemeaux. But why, in the name of fortune, did M. Mazarin grant you this pretended favor? It would have been far better to have refused you altogether."

"Certainly, but he was strongly persuaded to do so by my protector."

"Who is he?"

"One of your own friends, indeed; M. d'Herblay."

"M. d'Herblay! Aramis!"

"Just so; he has been very kind towards me."

"Kind! to make you enter into such a bargain!"

"Listen! I wished to leave the cardinal's service. M. d'Herblay spoke on my behalf to Louviere and Tremblay - they objected; I wished to have the appointment very much, for I knew what it could be made to produce; in my distress I confided in M. d'Herblay, and he offered to become my surety for the different payments."

"You astound me! Aramis become your surety?"

"Like a man of honor; he procured the signature; Tremblay and Louviere resigned their appointments, I have paid every year twenty-five thousand francs to these two gentlemen; on the thirty-first of May every year, M. d'Herblay himself comes to the Bastile, and brings me five thousand pistoles to distribute between my crocodiles."

"You owe Aramis one hundred and fifty thousand francs, then?"

"That is the very thing which is the cause of my despair, for I only owe him one hundred thousand."

"I don't quite understand you."

"He came and settled with the vampires only two years. To-day, however, is the thirty-first of May, and he has not been yet, and to-morrow, at midday, the payment falls due; if, therefore, I don't pay to-morrow, those gentlemen can, by the terms of the contract, break off the bargain; I shall be stripped of everything; I shall have worked for three years, and given two hundred and fifty thousand francs for nothing, absolutely for nothing at all, dear M. d'Artagnan."

"This is very strange," murmured D'Artagnan.

"You can now imagine that I may well have wrinkles on my forehead, can you not?"

"Yes, indeed!"

"And you can imagine, too, that notwithstanding I may be as round as a cheese, with a complexion like an apple, and my eyes like coals on fire, I may almost be afraid that I shall not have a cheese or an apple left me to eat, and that my eyes will be left me only to weep with."

"It is really a very grievous affair."

"I have come to you, M. d'Artagnan, for you are the only man who can get me out of my trouble."

"In what way?"

"You are acquainted with the Abbe d'Herblay and you know that he is a somewhat mysterious gentleman."

"Yes."

"Well, you can, perhaps, give me the address of his presbytery, for I have been to Noisy-le-Sec, and he is no longer there."

"I should think not, indeed. He is Bishop of Vannes."

"What! Vannes in Bretagne?"

"Yes."

The little man began to tear his hair, saying, "How can I get to Vannes from here by midday to-morrow? I am a lost man."

"Your despair quite distresses me."

"Vannes, Vannes!" cried Baisemeaux.

"But listen; a bishop is not always a resident. M. d'Herblay may not possibly be so far away as you fear."

"Pray tell me his address."

"I really don't know it."

"In that case I am lost. I will go and throw myself at the king's feet."

"But, Baisemeaux, I can hardly believe what you tell me; besides, since the Bastile is capable of producing fifty thousand francs a year, why have you not tried to screw one hundred thousand out of it?"

"Because I am an honest man, M. d'Artagnan, and because my prisoners are fed like ambassadors."

"Well, you're in a fair way to get out of your difficulties; give yourself a good attack of indigestion with your excellent living, and put yourself out of the way between this and midday to-morrow."

"How can you be hard-hearted enough to laugh?"

"Nay, you really afflict me. Come, Baisemeaux, if you can pledge me your word of honor, do so, that you will not open your lips to any one about what I am going to say to you."

"Never, never!"

"You wish to put your hand on Aramis?"

"At any cost!"

"Well, go and see where M. Fouquet is."

"Why, what connection can there be - - "

"How stupid you are! Don't you know that Vannes is in the diocese of Belle-Isle, or Belle-Isle in the diocese of Vannes? Belle-Isle belongs to M. Fouquet, and M. Fouquet nominated M. d'Herblay to that bishopric!"

"I see, I see; you restore me to life again."

"So much the better. Go and tell M. Fouquet very simply that you wish to speak to M. d'Herblay."

"Of course, of course," exclaimed Baisemeaux, delightedly.

"But," said D'Artagnan, checking him by a severe look, "your word of honor?"

"I give you my sacred word of honor," replied the little man, about to set off running.

"Where are you going?"

"To M. Fouquet's house."

"It is useless doing that, M. Fouquet is playing at cards with the king. All you can do is to pay M. Fouquet a visit early to-morrow morning."

"I will do so. Thank you."

"Good luck attend you," said D'Artagnan.

"Thank you."

"This is a strange affair," murmured D'Artagnan, as he slowly ascended the staircase after he had left Baisemeaux. "What possible interest can Aramis have in obliging Baisemeaux in this manner? Well, I suppose we shall learn some day or another."