"Crimes are imputed to you which had brought down far loftier heads than yours, monsieur," said the cardinal.
"What, monseigneur?" said d'Artagnan, with a calmness which astonished the cardinal himself.
"You are charged with having corresponded with the enemies of the kingdom; you are charged with having surprised state secrets; you are charged with having tried to thwart the plans of your general."
"And who charges me with this, monseigneur?" said d'Artagnan, who had no doubt the accusation came from Milady, "a woman branded by the justice of the country; a woman who has espoused one man in France and another in England; a woman who poisoned her second husband and who attempted both to poison and assassinate me!"
"What do you say, monsieur?" cried the cardinal, astonished; "and of what woman are you speaking thus?"
"Of Milady de Winter," replied d'Artagnan, "yes, of Milady de Winter, of whose crimes your Eminence is doubtless ignorant, since you have honored her with your confidence."
"Monsieur," said the cardinal, "if Milady de Winter has committed the crimes you lay to her charge, she shall be punished."
"She has been punished, monseigneur."
"And who has punished her?"
"She is in prison?"
"She is dead."
"Dead!" repeated the cardinal, who could not believe what he heard, "dead! Did you not say she was dead?"
"Three times she attempted to kill me, and I pardoned her; but she murdered the woman I loved. Then my friends and I took her, tried her, and condemned her."
D'Artagnan then related the poisoning of Mme. Bonacieux in the convent of the Carmelites at Bethune, the trial in the isolated house, and the execution on the banks of the Lys.
A shudder crept through the body of the cardinal, who did not shudder readily.
But all at once, as if undergoing the influence of an unspoken thought, the countenance of the cardinal, till then gloomy, cleared up by degrees, and recovered perfect serenity.
"So," said the cardinal, in a tone that contrasted strongly with the severity of his words, "you have constituted yourselves judges, without remembering that they who punish without license to punish are assassins?"
"Monseigneur, I swear to you that I never for an instant had the intention of defending my head against you. I willingly submit to any punishment your Eminence may please to inflict upon me. I do not hold life dear enough to be afraid of death."
"Yes, I know you are a man of a stout heart, monsieur," said the cardinal, with a voice almost affectionate; "I can therefore tell you beforehand you shall be tried, and even condemned."
"Another might reply to your Eminence that he had his pardon in his pocket. I content myself with saying: Command, monseigneur; I am ready."
"Your pardon?" said Richelieu, surprised.
"Yes, monseigneur," said d'Artagnan.
"And signed by whom — by the king?" And the cardinal pronounced these words with a singular expression of contempt.
"No, by your Eminence."
"By me? You are insane, monsieur."
"Monseigneur will doubtless recognize his own handwriting."
And d'Artagnan presented to the cardinal the precious piece of paper which Athos had forced from Milady, and which he had given to d'Artagnan to serve him as a safeguard.
His Eminence took the paper, and read in a slow voice, dwelling upon every syllable:
"Dec. 3, 1627
"It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.
The cardinal, after having read these two lines, sank into a profound reverie; but he did not return the paper to d'Artagnan.
"He is meditating by what sort of punishment he shall cause me to die," said the Gascon to himself. "Well, my faith! he shall see how a gentleman can die."
The young Musketeer was in excellent disposition to die heroically.
Richelieu still continued thinking, rolling and unrolling the paper in his hands.
At length he raised his head, fixed his eagle look upon that loyal, open, and intelligent countenance, read upon that face, furrowed with tears, all the sufferings its possessor had endured in the course of a month, and reflected for the third or fourth time how much there was in that youth of twenty-one years before him, and what resources his activity, his courage, and his shrewdness might offer to a good master. On the other side, the crimes, the power, and the infernal genius of Milady had more than once terrified him. He felt something like a secret joy at being forever relieved of this dangerous accomplice.
Richelieu slowly tore the paper which d'Artagnan had generously relinquished.
"I am lost!" said d'Artagnan to himself. And he bowed profoundly before the cardinal, like a man who says, "Lord, Thy will be done!"
The cardinal approached the table, and without sitting down, wrote a few lines upon a parchment of which two-thirds were already filled, and affixed his seal.
"That is my condemnation," thought d'Artagnan; "he will spare me the ENNUI of the Bastille, or the tediousness of a trial. That's very kind of him."
"Here, monsieur," said the cardinal to the young man. "I have taken from you one CARTE BLANCHE to give you another. The name is wanting in this commission; you can write it yourself."
D'Artagnan took the paper hesitatingly and cast his eyes over it; it was a lieutenant's commission in the Musketeers.
D'Artagnan fell at the feet of the cardinal.
"Monseigneur," said he, "my life is yours; henceforth dispose of it. But this favor which you bestow upon me I do not merit. I have three friends who are more meritorious and more worthy — "
"You are a brave youth, d'Artagnan," interrupted the cardinal, tapping him familiarly on the shoulder, charmed at having vanquished this rebellious nature. "Do with this commission what you will; only remember, though the name be blank, it is to you I give it."
"I shall never forget it," replied d'Artagnan. "Your Eminence may be certain of that."
The cardinal turned and said in a loud voice, "Rochefort!" The chevalier, who no doubt was near the door, entered immediately.
"Rochefort," said the cardinal, "you see Monsieur d'Artagnan. I receive him among the number of my friends. Greet each other, then; and be wise if you wish to preserve your heads."
Rochefort and d'Artagnan coolly greeted each other with their lips; but the cardinal was there, observing them with his vigilant eye.
They left the chamber at the same time.
"We shall meet again, shall we not, monsieur?"
"When you please," said d'Artagnan.
"An opportunity will come," replied Rochefort.
"Hey?" said the cardinal, opening the door.