We wish a happy birthday to Alexandre Dumas today with the musketeers. In the 1620s at the court of Louis XIII, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis with their companion, the headstrong d’Artagnan, are engaged in a battle against Richelieu, the King’s minister, and the beautiful, unscrupulous spy, Milady. Behind the flashing blades and bravura, Dumas explores the eternal conflict between good and evil. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 27, “The Wife of Athos.”
‘Now we must obtain some intelligence of Athos,’ said d’Artagnan to the joyous Aramis, after he had told him everything that had happened since their departure from Paris, and after an excellent dinner had made the one forget his thesis, and the other his fatigue.
‘Do you believe, then, that any misfortune has befallen him?’ demanded Aramis. ‘Athos is so cool, so brave, and wields his sword so skilfully!’
‘Yes, doubtless, and no one knows better than I do the courage and address of Athos. But I like better the shock of lances on my sword than the blows of sticks; and I fear that Athos may have been beaten by the rabble, who hit hard, and do not leave off quickly. It is, I confess, on this account that I should like to set out as soon as possible.’
‘I will endeavour to accompany you,’ said Aramis, although I am scarcely in a fit state to mount a horse. Yesterday, I used the discipline, which you see on the wall; but the pain made me give up that pious exercise.’
‘My dear friend, none ever heard of endeavouring to cure the wounds of a carbine by the strokes of a cat-o’-nine-tails. But you were ill; and, as illness makes the head light, I excuse you.’
‘And when shall you set out?’
‘Tomorrow, at break of day. Rest as well as you can to-night, and to-morrow, if you are able, we will go together.’
‘Farewell, then, till to-morrow,’ said Aramis; ‘for, iron as you are, you must surely want some rest.’
When d’Artagnan entered Aramis’s room, the next morning, he found him looking out of the window.
‘What are you looking at?’ said he.
‘Faith, I am admiring those three magnificent horses which the stable-boys are holding: it is a princely pleasure to travel on such animals.’
‘Well, then, my dear Aramis, you will give yourself that pleasure, for one of those horses belongs to you.’
‘Nonsense! and which!’
‘Whichever you like, for I have no preference.’
‘and the rich caparison which covers him – is that, also, mine?’
‘You are laughing at me, d’Artagnan.’
‘I have left off laughing since you began to speak French again.’
‘And are those gilded holsters, that velvet housing, and that saddle, studded with silver, mine?’
‘Yours! Just as that horse which steps so proudly is mine; and that other one which caracoles so bravely, is for Athos.’
‘I ‘faith, they are superb animals.’
‘I am glad that they suit your taste.’
‘Is it the king, then, who has made you this present?’
‘You may be quite sure that it was not cardinal: but do not disturb yourself as to whence they came, only be satisfied that one of them is your own.’
‘I choose the one that the red-haired valet is holding.’
‘Thank God!’ cried Aramis, ‘this drives away the last remnant of my pain. I would mount such a horse with thirty bullets in my body. Ah! upon my soul, what superb stirrups. Hallo! Bazin, come here this instant.’
Bazin appeared, silent and melancholy, at the door.
‘Polish up my sword, smarten my hat, brush my cloak, and load my pistols!’ said Aramis.
‘The last order is unnecessary,’ said d’Artagnan, ‘for there are loaded pistols in your holsters.’
Bazin sighed deeply.
‘Come, Master Bazin, console yourself,’ said d’Artagnan; ‘the kingdom of heaven may be gained in any condition of life.’
‘But he was already such a good theologian,’ said Bazin, almost in tears; ‘he would have become a bishop – perhaps even a cardinal.’
‘Well! my poor Bazin, let us see, and reflect a little. What is the use of being a churchman, pray? You do not by that means avoid going to war; for you see that the cardinal is about to make his first campaign with a head-piece on, and a halbert in his hand; and M. de Nearest de la Valette, what do you say to him? He is a cardinal too, and ask his lackey how often he had made lint for him.’
‘Alas!’ sighed Bazin, ‘I know it, sir. The whole world is turned topsy turvey, nowadays.’
Alexandre Dumas was a French novelist, dramatist, and pioneer of the romantic theatre. The Three Musketeers (1844) is one of the world’s greatest historical adventure stories. Its heroes have become symbols for the spirit of youth, daring, and comradeship. The Oxford World’s Classics edition is edited by David Coward, Emeritus Professor of French Literature, University of Leeds.
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Image credit: A Game of Piquet by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, 1881. National Museum of Wales. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.