27 THE WIFE OF ATHOS
"We have now to search for Athos," said d'Artagnan to the vivacious Aramis, when he had informed him of all that had passed since their departure from the capital, and an excellent dinner had made one of them forget his thesis and the other his fatigue.
"Do you think, then, that any harm can have happened to him?" asked Aramis. "Athos is so cool, so brave, and handles his sword so skillfully."
"No doubt. Nobody has a higher opinion of the courage and skill of Athos than I have; but I like better to hear my sword clang against lances than against staves. I fear lest Athos should have been beaten down by serving men. Those fellows strike hard, and don't leave off in a hurry. This is why I wish to set out again as soon as possible."
"I will try to accompany you," said Aramis, "though I scarcely feel in a condition to mount on horseback. Yesterday I undertook to employ that cord which you see hanging against the wall, but pain prevented my continuing the pious exercise."
"That's the first time I ever heard of anybody trying to cure gunshot wounds with cat-o'-nine-tails; but you were ill, and illness renders the head weak, therefore you may be excused."
"When do you mean to set out?"
"Tomorrow at daybreak. Sleep as soundly as you can tonight, and tomorrow, if you can, we will take our departure together."
"Till tomorrow, then," said Aramis; "for iron-nerved as you are, you must need repose."
The next morning, when d'Artagnan entered Aramis's chamber, he found him at the window.
"What are you looking at?" asked d'Artagnan.
"My faith! I am admiring three magnificent horses which the stable boys are leading about. It would be a pleasure worthy of a prince to travel upon such horses."
"Well, my dear Aramis, you may enjoy that pleasure, for one of those three horses is yours."
"Ah, bah! Which?"
"Whichever of the three you like, I have no preference."
"And the rich caparison, is that mine, too?"
"You laugh, d'Artagnan."
"No, I have left off laughing, now that you speak French."
"What, those rich holsters, that velvet housing, that saddle studded with silver-are they all for me?"
"For you and nobody else, as the horse which paws the ground is mine, and the other horse, which is caracoling, belongs to Athos."
"PESTE! They are three superb animals!"
"I am glad they please you."
"Why, it must have been the king who made you such a present."
"Certainly it was not the cardinal; but don't trouble yourself whence they come, think only that one of the three is your property."
"I choose that which the red-headed boy is leading."
"It is yours!"
"Good heaven! That is enough to drive away all my pains; I could mount him with thirty balls in my body. On my soul, handsome stirrups! HOLA, Bazin, come here this minute."
Bazin appeared on the threshold, dull and spiritless.
"That last order is useless," interrupted d'Artagnan; "there are loaded pistols in your holsters."
"Come, Monsieur Bazin, make yourself easy," said d'Artagnan; "people of all conditions gain the kingdom of heaven."
"Monsieur was already such a good theologian," said Bazin, almost weeping; "he might have become a bishop, and perhaps a cardinal."
"Well, but my poor Bazin, reflect a little. Of what use is it to be a churchman, pray? You do not avoid going to war by that means; you see, the cardinal is about to make the next campaign, helm on head and partisan in hand. And Monsieur de Nogaret de la Valette, what do you say of him? He is a cardinal likewise. Ask his lackey how often he has had to prepare lint of him."
"Alas!" sighed Bazin. "I know it, monsieur; everything is turned topsy-turvy in the world nowadays."
While this dialogue was going on, the two young men and the poor lackey descended.
"Hold my stirrup, Bazin," cried Aramis; and Aramis sprang into the saddle with his usual grace and agility, but after a few vaults and curvets of the noble animal his rider felt his pains come on so insupportably that he turned pale and became unsteady in his seat. D'Artagnan, who, foreseeing such an event, had kept his eye on him, sprang toward him, caught him in his arms, and assisted him to his chamber.
"That's all right, my dear Aramis, take care of yourself," said he; "I will go alone in search of Athos."
"You are a man of brass," replied Aramis.
"No, I have good luck, that is all. But how do you mean to pass your time till I come back? No more theses, no more glosses upon the fingers or upon benedictions, hey?"
Aramis smiled. "I will make verses," said he.
"Yes, I dare say; verses perfumed with the odor of the billet from the attendant of Madame de Chevreuse. Teach Bazin prosody; that will console him. As to the horse, ride him a little every day, and that will accustom you to his maneuvers."
"Oh, make yourself easy on that head," replied Aramis. "You will find me ready to follow you."
They took leave of each other, and in ten minutes, after having commended his friend to the cares of the hostess and Bazin, d'Artagnan was trotting along in the direction of Amiens.
How was he going to find Athos? Should he find him at all? The position in which he had left him was critical. He probably had succumbed. This idea, while darkening his brow, drew several sighs from him, and caused him to formulate to himself a few vows of vengeance. Of all his friends, Athos was the eldest, and the least resembling him in appearance, in his tastes and sympathies.
Yet he entertained a marked preference for this gentleman. The noble and distinguished air of Athos, those flashes of greatness which from time to time broke out from the shade in which he voluntarily kept himself, that unalterable equality of temper which made him the most pleasant companion in the world, that forced and cynical gaiety, that bravery which might have been termed blind if it had not been the result of the rarest coolness — such qualities attracted more than the esteem, more than the friendship of d'Artagnan; they attracted his admiration.
Indeed, when placed beside M. de Treville, the elegant and noble courtier, Athos in his most cheerful days might advantageously sustain a comparison. He was of middle height; but his person was so admirably shaped and so well proportioned that more than once in his struggles with Porthos he had overcome the giant whose physical strength was proverbial among the Musketeers. His head, with piercing eyes, a straight nose, a chin cut like that of Brutus, had altogether an indefinable character of grandeur and grace. His hands, of which he took little care, were the despair of Aramis, who cultivated his with almond paste and perfumed oil. The sound of his voice was at once penetrating and melodious; and then, that which was inconceivable in Athos, who was always retiring, was that delicate knowledge of the world and of the usages of the most brilliant society — those manners of a high degree which appeared, as if unconsciously to himself, in his least actions.