Planchet was sent for, and instructions were given him. The matter had been named to him by d'Artagnan, who in the first place pointed out the money to him, then the glory, and then the danger.
"I will carry the letter in the lining of my coat," said Planchet; "and if I am taken I will swallow it."
"Well, but then you will not be able to fulfill your commission," said d'Artagnan.
"You will give me a copy this evening, which I shall know by heart tomorrow."
D'Artagnan looked at his friends, as if to say, "Well, what did I tell you?"
"Now," continued he, addressing Planchet, "you have eight days to get an interview with Lord de Winter; you have eight days to return — in all sixteen days. If, on the sixteenth day after your departure, at eight o'clock in the evening you are not here, no money — even if it be but five minutes past eight."
"Then, monsieur," said Planchet, "you must buy me a watch."
"Take this," said Athos, with his usual careless generosity, giving him his own, "and be a good lad. Remember, if you talk, if you babble, if you get drunk, you risk your master's head, who has so much confidence in your fidelity, and who answers for you. But remember, also, that if by your fault any evil happens to d'Artagnan, I will find you, wherever you may be, for the purpose of ripping up your belly."
"Oh, monsieur!" said Planchet, humiliated by the suspicion, and moreover, terrified at the calm air of the Musketeer.
"And I," said Porthos, rolling his large eyes, "remember, I will skin you alive."
"And I," said Aramis, with his soft, melodius voice, "remember that I will roast you at a slow fire, like a savage."
Planchet began to weep. We will not venture to say whether it was from terror created by the threats or from tenderness at seeing four friends so closely united.
D'Artagnan took his hand. "See, Planchet," said he, "these gentlemen only say this out of affection for me, but at bottom they all like you."
"Ah, monsieur," said Planchet, "I will succeed or I will consent to be cut in quarters; and if they do cut me in quarters, be assured that not a morsel of me will speak."
It was decided that Planchet should set out the next day, at eight o'clock in the morning, in order, as he had said, that he might during the night learn the letter by heart. He gained just twelve hours by this engagement; he was to be back on the sixteenth day, by eight o'clock in the evening.
In the morning, as he was mounting his horse, d'Artagnan, who felt at the bottom of his heart a partiality for the duke, took Planchet aside.
"Listen," said he to him. "When you have given the letter to Lord de Winter and he has read it, you will further say to him: Watch over his Grace Lord Buckingham, for they wish to assassinate him. But this, Planchet, is so serious and important that I have not informed my friends that I would entrust this secret to you; and for a captain's commission I would not write it."
"Be satisfied, monsieur," said Planchet, "you shall see if confidence can be placed in me."
Mounted on an excellent horse, which he was to leave at the end of twenty leagues in order to take the post, Planchet set off at a gallop, his spirits a little depressed by the triple promise made him by the Musketeers, but otherwise as light-hearted as possible.
Bazin set out the next day for Tours, and was allowed eight days for performing his commission.
The four friends, during the period of these two absences, had, as may well be supposed, the eye on the watch, the nose to the wind, and the ear on the hark. Their days were passed in endeavoring to catch all that was said, in observing the proceeding of the cardinal, and in looking out for all the couriers who arrived. More than once an involuntary trembling seized them when called upon for some unexpected service. They had, besides, to look constantly to their own proper safety; Milady was a phantom which, when it had once appeared to people, did not allow them to sleep very quietly.
On the morning of the eighth day, Bazin, fresh as ever, and smiling, according to custom, entered the cabaret of the Parpaillot as the four friends were sitting down to breakfast, saying, as had been agreed upon: "Monsieur Aramis, the answer from your cousin."
The four friends exchanged a joyful glance; half of the work was done. It is true, however, that it was the shorter and easier part.
Aramis, blushing in spite of himself, took the letter, which was in a large, coarse hand and not particular for its orthography.
"Good God!" cried he, laughing, "I quite despair of my poor Michon; she will never write like Monsieur de Voiture."
"What does you mean by boor Michon?" said the Swiss, who was chatting with the four friends when the letter came.
"Oh, pardieu, less than nothing," said Aramis; "a charming little seamstress, whom I love dearly and from whose hand I requested a few lines as a sort of keepsake."
"The duvil!" said the Swiss, "if she is as great a lady as her writing is large, you are a lucky fellow, gomrade!"
Aramis read the letter, and passed it to Athos.
"See what she writes to me, Athos," said he.
Athos cast a glance over the epistle, and to disperse all the suspicions that might have been created, read aloud:
"My cousin, My sister and I are skillful in interpreting dreams, and even entertain great fear of them; but of yours it may be said, I hope, every dream is an illusion. Adieu! Take care of yourself, and act so that we may from time to time hear you spoken of.
"And what dream does she mean?" asked the dragoon, who had approached during the reading.
"Yez; what's the dream?" said the Swiss.
"Well, pardieu!" said Aramis, "it was only this: I had a dream, and I related it to her."
"Yez, yez," said the Swiss; "it's simple enough to dell a dream, but I neffer dream."
"You are very fortunate," said Athos, rising; "I wish I could say as much!"
"Neffer," replied the Swiss, enchanted that a man like Athos could envy him anything. "Neffer, neffer!"
D'Artagnan, seeing Athos rise, did likewise, took his arm, and went out.
Porthos and Aramis remained behind to encounter the jokes of the dragoon and the Swiss.
As to Bazin, he went and lay down on a truss of straw; and as he had more imagination than the Swiss, he dreamed that Aramis, having become pope, adorned his head with a cardinal's hat.
But, as we have said, Bazin had not, by his fortunate return, removed more than a part of the uneasiness which weighed upon the four friends. The days of expectation are long, and d'Artagnan, in particular, would have wagered that the days were forty-four hours. He forgot the necessary slowness of navigation; he exaggerated to himself the power of Milady. He credited this woman, who appeared to him the equal of a demon, with agents as supernatural as herself; at the least noise, he imagined himself about to be arrested, and that Planchet was being brought back to be confronted with himself and his friends. Still further, his confidence in the worthy Picard, at one time so great, diminished day by day. This anxiety became so great that it even extended to Aramis and Porthos. Athos alone remained unmoved, as if no danger hovered over him, and as if he breathed his customary atmosphere.
On the sixteenth day, in particular, these signs were so strong in d'Artagnan and his two friends that they could not remain quiet in one place, and wandered about like ghosts on the road by which Planchet was expected.