"And I also am to fight with this gentleman," said Aramis, coming in his turn onto the place.
"But not until two o'clock," said d'Artagnan, with the same calmness.
"But what are you going to fight about, Athos?" asked Aramis.
"Faith! I don't very well know. He hurt my shoulder. And you, Porthos?"
"Faith! I am going to fight — because I am going to fight," answered Porthos, reddening.
Athos, whose keen eye lost nothing, perceived a faintly sly smile pass over the lips of the young Gascon as he replied, "We had a short discussion upon dress."
"And you, Aramis?" asked Athos.
"Oh, ours is a theological quarrel," replied Aramis, making a sign to d'Artagnan to keep secret the cause of their duel.
Athos indeed saw a second smile on the lips of d'Artagnan.
"Indeed?" said Athos.
"Yes; a passage of St. Augustine, upon which we could not agree," said the Gascon.
"Decidedly, this is a clever fellow," murmured Athos.
"And now you are assembled, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, "permit me to offer you my apologies."
At this word APOLOGIES, a cloud passed over the brow of Athos, a haughty smile curled the lip of Porthos, and a negative sign was the reply of Aramis.
"You do not understand me, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, throwing up his head, the sharp and bold lines of which were at the moment gilded by a bright ray of the sun. "I asked to be excused in case I should not be able to discharge my debt to all three; for Monsieur Athos has the right to kill me first, which must much diminish the face-value of your bill, Monsieur Porthos, and render yours almost null, Monsieur Aramis. And now, gentlemen, I repeat, excuse me, but on that account only, and — on guard!"
At these words, with the most gallant air possible, d'Artagnan drew his sword.
The blood had mounted to the head of d'Artagnan, and at that moment he would have drawn his sword against all the Musketeers in the kingdom as willingly as he now did against Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.
It was a quarter past midday. The sun was in its zenith, and the spot chosen for the scene of the duel was exposed to its full ardor.
"It is very hot," said Athos, drawing his sword in its turn, "and yet I cannot take off my doublet; for I just now felt my wound begin to bleed again, and I should not like to annoy Monsieur with the sight of blood which he has not drawn from me himself."
"That is true, Monsieur," replied d'Artagnan, "and whether drawn by myself or another, I assure you I shall always view with regret the blood of so brave a gentleman. I will therefore fight in my doublet, like yourself."
"Come, come, enough of such compliments!" cried Porthos. "Remember, we are waiting for our turns."
"Speak for yourself when you are inclined to utter such incongruities," interrupted Aramis. "For my part, I think what they say is very well said, and quite worthy of two gentlemen."
"When you please, monsieur," said Athos, putting himself on guard.
"I waited your orders," said d'Artagnan, crossing swords.
But scarcely had the two rapiers clashed, when a company of the Guards of his Eminence, commanded by M. de Jussac, turned the corner of the convent.
"The cardinal's Guards!" cried Aramis and Porthos at the same time. "Sheathe your swords, gentlemen, sheathe your swords!"
But it was too late. The two combatants had been seen in a position which left no doubt of their intentions.
"Halloo!" cried Jussac, advancing toward them and making a sign to his men to do so likewise, "halloo, Musketeers? Fighting here, are you? And the edicts? What is become of them?"
"You are very generous, gentlemen of the Guards," said Athos, full of rancor, for Jussac was one of the aggressors of the preceding day. "If we were to see you fighting, I can assure you that we would make no effort to prevent you. Leave us alone, then, and you will enjoy a little amusement without cost to yourselves."
"Gentlemen," said Jussac, "it is with great regret that I pronounce the thing impossible. Duty before everything. Sheathe, then, if you please, and follow us."
"Monsieur," said Aramis, parodying Jussac, "it would afford us great pleasure to obey your polite invitation if it depended upon ourselves; but unfortunately the thing is impossible — Monsieur de Treville has forbidden it. Pass on your way, then; it is the best thing to do."
This raillery exasperated Jussac. "We will charge upon you, then," said he, "if you disobey."
"There are five of them," said Athos, half aloud, "and we are but three; we shall be beaten again, and must die on the spot, for, on my part, I declare I will never appear again before the captain as a conquered man."
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis instantly drew near one another, while Jussac drew up his soldiers.
This short interval was sufficient to determine d'Artagnan on the part he was to take. It was one of those events which decide the life of a man; it was a choice between the king and the cardinal — the choice made, it must be persisted in. To fight, that was to disobey the law, that was to risk his head, that was to make at one blow an enemy of a minister more powerful than the king himself. All this young man perceived, and yet, to his praise we speak it, he did not hesitate a second. Turning towards Athos and his friends, "Gentlemen," said he, "allow me to correct your words, if you please. You said you were but three, but it appears to me we are four."
"But you are not one of us," said Porthos.
"That's true," replied d'Artagnan; "I have not the uniform, but I have the spirit. My heart is that of a Musketeer; I feel it, monsieur, and that impels me on."
"Withdraw, young man," cried Jussac, who doubtless, by his gestures and the expression of his countenance, had guessed d'Artagnan's design. "You may retire; we consent to that. Save your skin; begone quickly."
D'Artagnan did not budge.
"Decidedly, you are a brave fellow," said Athos, pressing the young man's hand.
"Come, come, choose your part," replied Jussac.
"Well," said Porthos to Aramis, "we must do something."
"Monsieur is full of generosity," said Athos.
But all three reflected upon the youth of d'Artagnan, and dreaded his inexperience.
"We should only be three, one of whom is wounded, with the addition of a boy," resumed Athos; "and yet it will not be the less said we were four men."
"Yes, but to yield!" said Porthos.
"That IS difficult," replied Athos.
D'Artagnan comprehended their irresolution.
"Try me, gentlemen," said he, "and I swear to you by my honor that I will not go hence if we are conquered."
"What is your name, my brave fellow?" said Athos.
"Well, then, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d'Artagnan, forward!" cried Athos.
"Come, gentlemen, have you decided?" cried Jussac for the third time.
"It is done, gentlemen," said Athos.