48 A FAMILY AFFAIR
Athos had invented the phrase, family affair. A family affair was not subject to the investigation of the cardinal; a family affair concerned nobody. People might employ themselves in a family affair before all the world. Therefore Athos had invented the phrase, family affair.
Aramis had discovered the idea, the lackeys.
Porthos had discovered the means, the diamond.
D'Artagnan alone had discovered nothing — he, ordinarily the most inventive of the four; but it must be also said that the very name of Milady paralyzed him.
Ah! no, we were mistaken; he had discovered a purchaser for his diamond.
The breakfast at M. de Treville's was as gay and cheerful as possible. D'Artagnan already wore his uniform — for being nearly of the same size as Aramis, and as Aramis was so liberally paid by the publisher who purchased his poem as to allow him to buy everything double, he sold his friend a complete outfit.
D'Artagnan would have been at the height of his wishes if he had not constantly seen Milady like a dark cloud hovering in the horizon.
After breakfast, it was agreed that they should meet again in the evening at Athos's lodging, and there finish their plans.
D'Artagnan passed the day in exhibiting his Musketeer's uniform in every street of the camp.
In the evening, at the appointed hour, the four friends met. There only remained three things to decide — what they should write to Milady's brother; what they should write to the clever person at Tours; and which should be the lackeys to carry the letters.
Everyone offered his own. Athos talked of the discretion of Grimaud, who never spoke a word but when his master unlocked his mouth. Porthos boasted of the strength of Mousqueton, who was big enough to thrash four men of ordinary size. Aramis, confiding in the address of Bazin, made a pompous eulogium on his candidate. Finally, d'Artagnan had entire faith in the bravery of Planchet, and reminded them of the manner in which he had conducted himself in the ticklish affair of Boulogne.
These four virtues disputed the prize for a length of time, and gave birth to magnificent speeches which we do not repeat here for fear they should be deemed too long.
"Unfortunately," said Athos, "he whom we send must possess in himself alone the four qualities united."
"But where is such a lackey to be found?"
"Not to be found!" cried Athos. "I know it well, so take Grimaud."
"Take Planchet. Planchet is brave and shrewd; they are two qualities out of the four."
"Gentlemen," said Aramis, "the principal question is not to know which of our four lackeys is the most discreet, the most strong, the most clever, or the most brave; the principal thing is to know which loves money the best."
"What Aramis says is very sensible," replied Athos; "we must speculate upon the faults of people, and not upon their virtues. Monsieur Abbe, you are a great moralist."
"Doubtless," said Aramis, "for we not only require to be well served in order to succeed, but moreover, not to fail; for in case of failure, heads are in question, not for our lackeys — "
"Speak lower, Aramis," said Athos.
"That's wise — not for the lackeys," resumed Aramis, "but for the master — for the masters, we may say. Are our lackeys sufficiently devoted to us to risk their lives for us? No."
"My faith," said d'Artagnan. "I would almost answer for Planchet."
"Well, my dear friend, add to his natural devotedness a good sum of money, and then, instead of answering for him once, answer for him twice."
"Why, good God! you will be deceived just the same," said Athos, who was an optimist when things were concerned, and a pessimist when men were in question. "They will promise everything for the sake of the money, and on the road fear will prevent them from acting. Once taken, they will be pressed; when pressed, they will confess everything. What the devil! we are not children. To reach England" — Athos lowered his voice — "all France, covered with spies and creatures of the cardinal, must be crossed. A passport for embarkation must be obtained; and the party must be acquainted with English in order to ask the way to London. Really, I think the thing very difficult."
"Not at all," cried d'Artagnan, who was anxious the matter should be accomplished; "on the contrary, I think it very easy. It would be, no doubt, parbleu, if we write to Lord de Winter about affairs of vast importance, of the horrors of the cardinal — "
"Speak lower!" said Athos.
" — of intrigues and secrets of state," continued d'Artagnan, complying with the recommendation. "There can be no doubt we would all be broken on the wheel; but for God's sake, do not forget, as you yourself said, Athos, that we only write to him concerning a family affair; that we only write to him to entreat that as soon as Milady arrives in London he will put it out of her power to injure us. I will write to him, then, nearly in these terms."
"Let us see," said Athos, assuming in advance a critical look.
"Monsieur and dear friend — "
"Ah, yes! Dear friend to an Englishman," interrupted Athos; "well commenced! Bravo, d'Artagnan! Only with that word you would be quartered instead of being broken on the wheel."
"Well, perhaps. I will say, then, Monsieur, quite short."
"You may even say, My Lord," replied Athos, who stickled for propriety.
"My Lord, do you remember the little goat pasture of the Luxembourg?"
"Good, the Luxembourg! One might believe this is an allusion to the queen-mother! That's ingenious," said Athos.
"Well, then, we will put simply, My Lord, do you remember a certain little enclosure where your life was spared?"
"My dear d'Artagnan, you will never make anything but a very bad secretary. Where your life was spared! For shame! that's unworthy. A man of spirit is not to be reminded of such services. A benefit reproached is an offense committed."
"The devil!" said d'Artagnan, "you are insupportable. If the letter must be written under your censure, my faith, I renounce the task."
"And you will do right. Handle the musket and the sword, my dear fellow. You will come off splendidly at those two exercises; but pass the pen over to Monsieur Abbe. That's his province."
"Ay, ay!" said Porthos; "pass the pen to Aramis, who writes theses in Latin."
"Well, so be it," said d'Artagnan. "Draw up this note for us, Aramis; but by our Holy Father the Pope, cut it short, for I shall prune you in my turn, I warn you."
"I ask no better," said Aramis, with that ingenious air of confidence which every poet has in himself; "but let me be properly acquainted with the subject. I have heard here and there that this sister-in-law was a hussy. I have obtained proof of it by listening to her conversation with the cardinal."
"Lower! SACRE BLEU!" said Athos.
"But," continued Aramis, "the details escape me."
"And me also," said Porthos.
D'Artagnan and Athos looked at each other for some time in silence. At length Athos, after serious reflection and becoming more pale than usual, made a sign of assent to d'Artagnan, who by it understood he was at liberty to speak.
"Well, this is what you have to say," said d'Artagnan: "My Lord, your sister-in-law is an infamous woman, who wished to have you killed that she might inherit your wealth; but she could not marry your brother, being already married in France, and having been — " d'Artagnan stopped, as if seeking for the word, and looked at Athos.