47 THE COUNCIL OF THE MUSKETEERS
As Athos had foreseen, the bastion was only occupied by a dozen corpses, French and Rochellais.
"Gentlemen," said Athos, who had assumed the command of the expedition, "while Grimaud spreads the table, let us begin by collecting the guns and cartridges together. We can talk while performing that necessary task. These gentlemen," added he, pointing to the bodies, "cannot hear us."
"But we could throw them into the ditch," said Porthos, "after having assured ourselves they have nothing in their pockets."
"Yes," said Athos, "that's Grimaud's business."
"Well, then," cried d'Artagnan, "pray let Grimaud search them and throw them over the walls."
"Heaven forfend!" said Athos; "they may serve us."
"These bodies serve us?" said Porthos. "You are mad, dear friend."
"Judge not rashly, say the gospel and the cardinal," replied Athos. "How many guns, gentlemen?"
"Twelve," replied Aramis.
"How many shots?"
"That's quite as many as we shall want. Let us load the guns."
The four Musketeers went to work; and as they were loading the last musket Grimaud announced that the breakfast was ready.
Athos replied, always by gestures, that that was well, and indicated to Grimaud, by pointing to a turret that resembled a pepper caster, that he was to stand as sentinel. Only, to alleviate the tediousness of the duty, Athos allowed him to take a loaf, two cutlets, and a bottle of wine.
"And now to table," said Athos.
The four friends seated themselves on the ground with their legs crossed like Turks, or even tailors.
"And now," said d'Artagnan, "as there is no longer any fear of being overheard, I hope you are going to let me into your secret."
"I hope at the same time to procure you amusement and glory, gentlemen," said Athos. "I have induced you to take a charming promenade; here is a delicious breakfast; and yonder are five hundred persons, as you may see through the loopholes, taking us for heroes or madmen — two classes of imbeciles greatly resembling each other."
"But the secret!" said d'Artagnan.
"The secret is," said Athos, "that I saw Milady last night."
D'Artagnan was lifting a glass to his lips; but at the name of Milady, his hand trembled so, that he was obliged to put the glass on the ground again for fear of spilling the contents."
"You saw your wi — "
"Hush!" interrupted Athos. "You forget, my dear, you forget that these gentlemen are not initiated into my family affairs like yourself. I have seen Milady."
"Where?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Within two leagues of this place, at the inn of the Red Dovecot."
"In that case I am lost," said d'Artagnan.
"Not so bad yet," replied Athos; "for by this time she must have quit the shores of France."
D'Artagnan breathed again.
"But after all," asked Porthos, "who is Milady?"
"A charming woman!" said Athos, sipping a glass of sparkling wine. "Villainous host!" cried he, "he has given us Anjou wine instead of champagne, and fancies we know no better! Yes," continued he, "a charming woman, who entertained kind views toward our friend d'Artagnan, who, on his part, has given her some offense for which she tried to revenge herself a month ago by having him killed by two musket shots, a week ago by trying to poison him, and yesterday by demanding his head of the cardinal."
"What! by demanding my head of the cardinal?" cried d'Artagnan, pale with terror.
"Yes, that is true as the Gospel," said Porthos; "I heard her with my own ears."
"I also," said Aramis.
"Then," said d'Artagnan, letting his arm fall with discouragement, "it is useless to struggle longer. I may as well blow my brains out, and all will be over."
"That's the last folly to be committed," said Athos, "seeing it is the only one for which there is no remedy."
"But I can never escape," said d'Artagnan, "with such enemies. First, my stranger of Meung; then de Wardes, to whom I have given three sword wounds; next Milady, whose secret I have discovered; finally, the cardinal, whose vengeance I have balked."
"Well," said Athos, "that only makes four; and we are four — one for one. Pardieu! if we may believe the signs Grimaud is making, we are about to have to do with a very different number of people. What is it, Grimaud? Considering the gravity of the occasion, I permit you to speak, my friend; but be laconic, I beg. What do you see?"
"Of how many persons?"
"What sort of men?"
"Sixteen pioneers, four soldiers."
"How far distant?"
"Five hundred paces."
"Good! We have just time to finish this fowl and to drink one glass of wine to your health, d'Artagnan."
"To your health!" repeated Porthos and Aramis.
"Well, then, to my health! although I am very much afraid that your good wishes will not be of great service to me."
"Bah!" said Athos, "God is great, as say the followers of Mohammed, and the future is in his hands."
Then, swallowing the contents of his glass, which he put down close to him, Athos arose carelessly, took the musket next to him, and drew near to one of the loopholes.
Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan followed his example. As to Grimaud, he received orders to place himself behind the four friends in order to reload their weapons.
"Pardieu!" said Athos, "it was hardly worth while to distribute ourselves for twenty fellows armed with pickaxes, mattocks, and shovels. Grimaud had only to make them a sign to go away, and I am convinced they would have left us in peace."
"I doubt that," replied d'Artagnan, "for they are advancing very resolutely. Besides, in addition to the pioneers, there are four soldiers and a brigadier, armed with muskets."
"That's because they don't see us," said Athos.
"My faith," said Aramis, "I must confess I feel a great repugnance to fire on these poor devils of civilians."
"He is a bad priest," said Porthos, "who has pity for heretics."
"In truth," said Athos, "Aramis is right. I will warn them."
"What the devil are you going to do?" cried d'Artagnan, "you will be shot."
But Athos heeded not his advice. Mounting on the breach, with his musket in one hand and his hat in the other, he said, bowing courteously and addressing the soldiers and the pioneers, who, astonished at this apparition, stopped fifty paces from the bastion: "Gentlemen, a few friends and myself are about to breakfast in this bastion. Now, you know nothing is more disagreeable than being disturbed when one is at breakfast. We request you, then, if you really have business here, to wait till we have finished or repast, or to come again a short time hence, unless; unless, which would be far better, you form the salutary resolution to quit the side of the rebels, and come and drink with us to the health of the King of France."