"Well, then, I repeat, you are wrong. What is the use of one horse for us two? I could not ride behind. We should look like the two sons of Anmon, who had lost their brother. You cannot think of humiliating me by prancing along by my side on that magnificent charger. For my part, I should not hesitate a moment; I should take the hundred pistoles. We want money for our return to Paris."
"I am much attached to that horse, Athos."
"And there again you are wrong. A horse slips and injures a joint; a horse stumbles and breaks his knees to the bone; a horse eats out of a manger in which a glandered horse has eaten. There is a horse, while on the contrary, the hundred pistoles feed their master."
"But how shall we get back?"
"Upon our lackey's horses, PARDIEU. Anybody may see by our bearing that we are people of condition."
"Pretty figures we shall cut on ponies while Aramis and Porthos caracole on their steeds."
"Aramis! Porthos!" cried Athos, and laughed aloud.
"What is it?" asked d'Artagnan, who did not at all comprehend the hilarity of his friend.
"Nothing, nothing! Go on!"
"Your advice, then?"
"To take the hundred pistoles, d'Artagnan. With the hundred pistoles we can live well to the end of the month. We have undergone a great deal of fatigue, remember, and a little rest will do no harm."
"I rest? Oh, no, Athos. Once in Paris, I shall prosecute my search for that unfortunate woman!"
"Well, you may be assured that your horse will not be half so serviceable to you for that purpose as good golden louis. Take the hundred pistoles, my friend; take the hundred pistoles!"
D'Artagnan only required one reason to be satisfied. This last reason appeared convincing. Besides, he feared that by resisting longer he should appear selfish in the eyes of Athos. He acquiesced, therefore, and chose the hundred pistoles, which the Englishman paid down on the spot.
They then determined to depart. Peace with the landlord, in addition to Athos's old horse, cost six pistoles. D'Artagnan and Athos took the nags of Planchet and Grimaud, and the two lackeys started on foot, carrying the saddles on their heads.
However ill our two friends were mounted, they were soon far in advance of their servants, and arrived at Creveccoeur. From a distance they perceived Aramis, seated in a melancholy manner at his window, looking out, like Sister Anne, at the dust in the horizon.
"HOLA, Aramis! What the devil are you doing there?" cried the two friends.
"Ah, is that you, d'Artagnan, and you, Athos?" said the young man. "I was reflecting upon the rapidity with which the blessings of this world leave us. My English horse, which has just disappeared amid a cloud of dust, has furnished me with a living image of the fragility of the things of the earth. Life itself may be resolved into three words: ERAT, EST, FUIT."
"Which means — " said d'Artagnan, who began to suspect the truth.
"Which means that I have just been duped-sixty louis for a horse which by the manner of his gait can do at least five leagues an hour."
D'Artagnan and Athos laughed aloud.
"My dear d'Artagnan," said Aramis, "don't be too angry with me, I beg. Necessity has no law; besides, I am the person punished, as that rascally horsedealer has robbed me of fifty louis, at least. Ah, you fellows are good managers! You ride on our lackey's horses, and have your own gallant steeds led along carefully by hand, at short stages."
At the same instant a market cart, which some minutes before had appeared upon the Amiens road, pulled up at the inn, and Planchet and Grimaud came out of it with the saddles on their heads. The cart was returning empty to Paris, and the two lackeys had agreed, for their transport, to slake the wagoner's thirst along the route.
"What is this?" said Aramis, on seeing them arrive. "Nothing but saddles?"
"Now do you understand?" said Athos.
"My friends, that's exactly like me! I retained my harness by instinct. HOLA, Bazin! Bring my new saddle and carry it along with those of these gentlemen."
"And what have you done with your ecclesiastics?" asked d'Artagnan.
"My dear fellow, I invited them to a dinner the next day," replied Aramis. "They have some capital wine here — please to observe that in passing. I did my best to make them drunk. Then the curate forbade me to quit my uniform, and the Jesuit entreated me to get him made a Musketeer."
"Without a thesis?" cried d'Artagnan, "without a thesis? I demand the suppression of the thesis."
"Since then," continued Aramis, "I have lived very agreeably. I have begun a poem in verses of one syllable. That is rather difficult, but the merit in all things consists in the difficulty. The matter is gallant. I will read you the first canto. It has four hundred lines, and lasts a minute."
"My faith, my dear Aramis," said d'Artagnan, who detested verses almost as much as he did Latin, "add to the merit of the difficulty that of the brevity, and you are sure that your poem will at least have two merits."
"You will see," continued Aramis, "that it breathes irreproachable passion. And so, my friends, we return to Paris? Bravo! I am ready. We are going to rejoin that good fellow, Porthos. So much the better. You can't think how I have missed him, the great simpleton. To see him so self-satisfied reconciles me with myself. He would not sell his horse; not for a kingdom! I think I can see him now, mounted upon his superb animal and seated in his handsome saddle. I am sure he will look like the Great Mogul!"
They made a halt for an hour to refresh their horses. Aramis discharged his bill, placed Bazin in the cart with his comrades, and they set forward to join Porthos.
They found him up, less pale than when d'Artagnan left him after his first visit, and seated at a table on which, though he was alone, was spread enough for four persons. This dinner consisted of meats nicely dressed, choice wines, and superb fruit.
"Ah, PARDIEU!" said he, rising, "you come in the nick of time, gentlemen. I was just beginning the soup, and you will dine with me."
"Oh, oh!" said d'Artagnan, "Mousqueton has not caught these bottles with his lasso. Besides, here is a piquant FRICANDEAU and a fillet of beef."
"I am recruiting myself," said Porthos, "I am recruiting myself. Nothing weakens a man more than these devilish strains. Did you ever suffer from a strain, Athos?"
"Never! Though I remember, in our affair of the Rue Ferou, I received a sword wound which at the end of fifteen or eighteen days produced the same effect."
"But this dinner was not intended for you alone, Porthos?" said Aramis.
"No," said Porthos, "I expected some gentlemen of the neighborhood, who have just sent me word they could not come. You will take their places and I shall not lose by the exchange. HOLA, Mousqueton, seats, and order double the bottles!"
"Do you know what we are eating here?" said Athos, at the end of ten minutes.
"PARDIEU!" replied d'Artagnan, "for my part, I am eating veal garnished with shrimps and vegetables."
"And I some lamb chops," said Porthos.
"And I a plain chicken," said Aramis.
"You are all mistaken, gentlemen," answered Athos, gravely; "you are eating horse."
"Eating what?" said d'Artagnan.
"Horse!" said Aramis, with a grimace of disgust.