39 A VISION
At four o'clock the four friends were all assembled with Athos. Their anxiety about their outfits had all disappeared, and each countenance only preserved the expression of its own secret disquiet — for behind all present happiness is concealed a fear for the future.
Suddenly Planchet entered, bringing two letters for d'Artagnan.
The one was a little billet, genteelly folded, with a pretty seal in green wax on which was impressed a dove bearing a green branch.
The other was a large square epistle, resplendent with the terrible arms of his Eminence the cardinal duke.
At the sight of the little letter the heart of d'Artagnan bounded, for he believed he recognized the handwriting, and although he had seen that writing but once, the memory of it remained at the bottom of his heart.
He therefore seized the little epistle, and opened it eagerly.
"Be," said the letter, "on Thursday next, at from six to seven o'clock in the evening, on the road to Chaillot, and look carefully into the carriages that pass; but if you have any consideration for your own life or that of those who love you, do not speak a single word, do not make a movement which may lead anyone to believe you have recognized her who exposes herself to everything for the sake of seeing you but for an instant."
"That's a snare," said Athos; "don't go, d'Artagnan."
"And yet," replied d'Artagnan, "I think I recognize the writing."
"It may be counterfeit," said Athos. "Between six and seven o'clock the road of Chaillot is quite deserted; you might as well go and ride in the forest of Bondy."
"But suppose we all go," said d'Artagnan; "what the devil! They won't devour us all four, four lackeys, horses, arms, and all!"
"And besides, it will be a chance for displaying our new equipments," said Porthos.
"But if it is a woman who writes," said Aramis, "and that woman desires not to be seen, remember, you compromise her, d'Artagnan; which is not the part of a gentleman."
"We will remain in the background," said Porthos, "and he will advance alone."
"Yes; but a pistol shot is easily fired from a carriage which goes at a gallop."
"Bah!" said d'Artagnan, "they will miss me; if they fire we will ride after the carriage, and exterminate those who may be in it. They must be enemies."
"He is right," said Porthos; "battle. Besides, we must try our own arms."
"Bah, let us enjoy that pleasure," said Aramis, with his mild and careless manner.
"As you please," said Athos.
"Gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, "it is half past four, and we have scarcely time to be on the road of Chaillot by six."
"Besides, if we go out too late, nobody will see us," said Porthos, "and that will be a pity. Let us get ready, gentlemen."
"But this second letter," said Athos, "you forget that; it appears to me, however, that the seal denotes that it deserves to be opened. For my part, I declare, d'Artagnan, I think it of much more consequence than the little piece of waste paper you have so cunningly slipped into your bosom."
"Well," said he, "let us see, gentlemen, what are his Eminence's commands," and d'Artagnan unsealed the letter and read,
"M. d'Artagnan, of the king's Guards, company Dessessart, is expected at the Palais-Cardinal this evening, at eight o'clock.
"La Houdiniere, CAPTAIN OF THE GUARDS"
"The devil!" said Athos; "here's a rendezvous much more serious than the other."
"I will go to the second after attending the first," said d'Artagnan. "One is for seven o'clock, and the other for eight; there will be time for both."
"Hum! I would not go at all," said Aramis. "A gallant knight cannot decline a rendezvous with a lady; but a prudent gentleman may excuse himself from not waiting on his Eminence, particularly when he has reason to believe he is not invited to make his compliments."
"I am of Aramis's opinion," said Porthos.
"Gentlemen," replied d'Artagnan, "I have already received by Monsieur de Cavois a similar invitation from his Eminence. I neglected it, and on the morrow a serious misfortune happened to me — Constance disappeared. Whatever may ensue, I will go."
"If you are determined," said Athos, "do so."
"But the Bastille?" said Aramis.
"Bah! you will get me out if they put me there," said d'Artagnan.
"To be sure we will," replied Aramis and Porthos, with admirable promptness and decision, as if that were the simplest thing in the world, "to be sure we will get you out; but meantime, as we are to set off the day after tomorrow, you would do much better not to risk this Bastille."
"Let us do better than that," said Athos; "do not let us leave him during the whole evening. Let each of us wait at a gate of the palace with three Musketeers behind him; if we see a close carriage, at all suspicious in appearance, come out, let us fall upon it. It is a long time since we have had a skirmish with the Guards of Monsieur the Cardinal; Monsieur de Treville must think us dead."
"To a certainty, Athos," said Aramis, "you were meant to be a general of the army! What do you think of the plan, gentlemen?"
"Admirable!" replied the young men in chorus.
"Well," said Porthos, "I will run to the hotel, and engage our comrades to hold themselves in readiness by eight o'clock; the rendezvous, the Place du Palais-Cardinal. Meantime, you see that the lackeys saddle the horses."
"I have no horse," said d'Artagnan; "but that is of no consequence, I can take one of Monsieur de Treville's."
"That is not worth while," said Aramis, "you can have one of mine."
"One of yours! how many have you, then?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Three," replied Aramis, smiling.
"Certes," cried Athos, "you are the best-mounted poet of France or Navarre."
"Well, my dear Aramis, you don't want three horses? I cannot comprehend what induced you to buy three!"
"Therefore I only purchased two," said Aramis.
"The third, then, fell from the clouds, I suppose?"
"No, the third was brought to me this very morning by a groom out of livery, who would not tell me in whose service he was, and who said he had received orders from his master."
"Or his mistress," interrupted d'Artagnan.
"That makes no difference," said Aramis, coloring; "and who affirmed, as I said, that he had received orders from his master or mistress to place the horse in my stable, without informing me whence it came."
"It is only to poets that such things happen," said Athos, gravely.
"Well, in that case, we can manage famously," said d'Artagnan; "which of the two horses will you ride — that which you bought or the one that was given to you?"
"That which was given to me, assuredly. You cannot for a moment imagine, d'Artagnan, that I would commit such an offense toward — "