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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Consultation of the Musketeers
By Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870)
 
From ‘The Three Musketeers’

AS Athos had assumed, the bastion was only occupied by a dozen dead men, French and Rochellois.  1
  “Gentlemen,” said Athos, to whom the command of the expedition naturally fell, “while Grimaud lays out breakfast, we will begin by picking up the muskets and cartridges, and of course there is nothing in this employment to prevent our talking. Our friends here,” he added, pointing to the dead, “will pay no attention to us.”  2
  “But after we have made sure they have nothing in their pockets, we had better throw them into the trench,” said Porthos.  3
  “Yes,” replied Athos, “that is Grimaud’s business.”  4
  “Well then,” said D’Artagnan, “let Grimaud search them, and after he has done so, throw them over the wall.”  5
  “He shall do nothing of the sort,” replied Athos; “we may find them useful yet.”  6
  “You are going mad, my good fellow! Of what use can these dead men be?”  7
  “Don’t judge hastily, say the gospel and the Cardinal,” replied Athos. “How many guns have we got?”  8
  “Twelve,” said Aramis.  9
  “How many charges?”  10
  “A hundred.”  11
  “That will do. Now let us load.”  12
  They set to work; and as they finished loading the last gun, Grimaud made a sign that breakfast was ready.  13
  By a gesture Athos replied that they were ready also, and then pointed out a pepper-box turret, where Grimaud was to keep watch. To help him pass the time Athos allowed him to take some bread, two cutlets, and a bottle of wine….  14
  “Now,” said D’Artagnan, “that there is no chance of our being overheard, I hope you will tell us your secret.”  15
  “I trust, gentlemen, to give you both pleasure and glory at once,” replied Athos. “I have made you take a charming walk, and now here is an excellent breakfast; while below, as you may see through the loop-holes, are five hundred persons, who consider us to be either lunatics or heroes,—two classes of idiots who have much in common….”  16
  “What is the matter, Grimaud? As the circumstances are grave, I will allow you to speak, but be short, I beg. What is it?”  17
  “A troop.”  18
  “How many?”  19
  “Twenty?”  20
  “What are they?”  21
  “Sixteen pioneers, four soldiers.”  22
  “How far off?”  23
  “Five hundred paces.”  24
  “Then we have just time to finish this fowl and drink your health, D’Artagnan.”  25
  A few minutes later the troop hove in sight, marching along a narrow trench that connected the bastion and the town.  26
  “Bah!” said Athos. “It was scarcely worth while disturbing ourselves for a mere handful of rascals armed with pickaxes, hoes, and shovels. Grimaud had only got to make them a sign to return whence they came, and I am sure they would have left us in peace.”  27
  “I doubt it,” said D’Artagnan, “for they are advancing steadily. And besides the sappers, there are four soldiers and a brigadier, all armed with muskets.”  28
  “It is only because they have not seen us,” replied Athos.  29
  “Upon my honor,” cried Aramis, “I feel quite ashamed to fire on poor devils like that.”  30
  “False priest!” exclaimed Porthos, “to have pity on heretics.”  31
  “Aramis is right,” said Athos. “I will warn them.”  32
  “What on earth are you doing?” said D’Artagnan. “You will get yourself shot, my good fellow.”  33
  But Athos paid no attention to this remark, and mounting the breach, his hat in one hand and his musket in the other, he addressed the troop, who were so astonished at this unexpected apparition that they halted about fifty paces distant. “Gentlemen,” he said, bowing courteously as he spoke, “I am at this moment breakfasting with some friends in the shelter of this bastion. As you know, there is nothing so unpleasant as to be disturbed during your meals; therefore we should be greatly obliged if you would postpone any business you may have here, till we have finished, or else call again. Unless, indeed, you have the happy inspiration to quit the side of rebellion, and to drink, with us, to the health of the King of France.”  34
  “Do take care, Athos!” exclaimed D’Artagnan; “don’t you see they are aiming at you?”  35
  “Oh, yes, of course,” said Athos; “but they are only civilians, who don’t know how to shoot; and they will never touch me.”  36
  He had scarcely uttered the words when four muskets fired simultaneously. The balls fell round Athos, but not one grazed him.  37
  Four muskets immediately answered, but these were better directed than the others. Three of the soldiers fell dead, and one of the sappers was wounded.  38
  “Grimaud, another musket,” said Athos, who was still on the breach. Grimaud obeyed; a second volley was fired; the brigadier and two pioneers fell dead, and the rest of the troop took flight.  39
  “Now we must make a sortie,” cried Athos; and the four comrades dashed out of the fort, picked up the muskets belonging to the dead soldiers, and retreated to the bastion, carrying the trophies of their victory….  40
  “To arms!” called Grimaud.  41
  The young men jumped up and ran for their muskets.  42
  This time the advancing troop was composed of twenty or twenty-five men, but they were no longer sappers, but soldiers of the garrison.  43
  “Hadn’t we better return to the camp?” said Porthos. “The fight is not equal at all.”  44
  “Impossible, for three reasons,” said Athos. “First, because we haven’t finished breakfast; second, because we have several important things to discuss; and third, because there are still ten minutes before the hour is up.”  45
  “Well, anyway,” remarked Aramis, “we had better have some plan of campaign.”  46
  “It is very simple,” replied Athos. “The moment the enemy is within reach, we fire. If they still come on, we fire again, and go on firing as long as our guns are loaded. If any of them are left, and they try to carry the place by assault, we will let them get well into the ditch, and then drop on their heads a piece of the wall, that only keeps poised by a kind of miracle.”  47
  “Bravo,” cried Porthos. “Athos, you were born to be a general; and the Cardinal, who thinks himself a great commander, is not to be compared to you.”  48
  “Gentlemen,” replied Athos, “remember, one thing at a time. Cover your man well.”  49
  “I have mine,” said D’Artagnan.  50
  “And I,” said Porthos and Aramis.  51
  “Then fire;” and as Athos gave the word, the muskets rang out and four men fell. Then the drum beat, and the little army advanced to the charge, while all the while the fire was kept up, irregularly, but with a sure aim. The Rochellois however did not flinch, but came on steadily.  52
  When they reached the foot of the bastion, the enemy still numbered twelve or fifteen. A sharp fire received them, but they never faltered, and leaping the trench, prepared to scale the breach.  53
  “Now, comrades!” cried Athos. “Let us make an end of them. To the wall!”  54
  And all four, aided by Grimaud, began to push with their guns a huge block of wall, which swayed as if with the wind, and then rolled slowly down into the trench. A horrible cry was heard, a cloud of dust mounted upwards; and all was silent.  55
  “Have we crushed them all, do you think?” asked Athos.  56
  “It looks like it,” answered D’Artagnan.  57
  “No,” said Porthos, “for two or three are limping off.”  58
  Athos looked at his watch.  59
  “Gentlemen,” he said, “an hour has elapsed since we came here, and we have won our bet.”…  60
  “What is going on in the town?” asked Athos.  61
  “It is a call to arms.”  62
  They listened, and the sound of a drum reached their ears.  63
  “They must be sending us an entire regiment,” said Athos.  64
  “You don’t mean to fight a whole regiment?” said Porthos.  65
  “Why not?” asked the musketeer. “If we had only had the sense to bring another dozen bottles, I could make head against an army!”  66
  “As I live, the drum is coming nearer,” said D’Artagnan.  67
  “Let it,” replied Athos. “It takes a quarter of an hour to get from here to the town, so it takes a quarter of an hour to get from the town here. That is more than enough time for us to arrange our plans. If we leave this, we shall never find such a good position…. But I must first give Grimaud his orders;” and Athos made a sign to his servant.  68
  “Grimaud,” said he, pointing to the dead who were lying on the bastion, “you will take these gentlemen and prop them up against the wall, and put their hats on their heads and their guns in their hands.”  69
  “Great man!” ejaculated D’Artagnan; “I begin to see.”  70
  “You do?” asked Porthos.  71
  “Do you understand, Grimaud?” said Aramis.  72
  Grimaud nodded.  73
  “Then we are all right,” said Athos….  74
  “On guard!” cried D’Artagnan. “Look at those red and black points moving down there! A regiment, did you call it, Athos?—it is a perfect army!”  75
  “My word, yes!” said Athos, “there they come! How cunning to beat neither drums nor trumpets. Are you ready, Grimaud?”  76
  Grimaud silently nodded, and showed them a dozen dead men, arranged skillfully in various attitudes, some porting arms, some taking aim, others drawing their swords.  77
  “Well done!” exclaimed Athos, “it does honor to your imagination.”  78
  “If it is all the same to you,” said Porthos, “I should like to understand what is going on.”  79
  “Let us get away first,” replied D’Artagnan, “and you will understand after.”  80
  “One moment, please! Give Grimaud time to clear away the breakfast.”  81
  “Ah!” said Aramis; “the red and black specks are becoming more distinct, and I agree with D’Artagnan that we have no time to lose before we regain the camp.”  82
  “Very well,” rejoined Athos, “I have nothing to say against retreating. The wager was for an hour, and we have been here an hour and a half. Let us be off at once.”  83
  The four comrades went out at the back, following Grimaud, who had already departed with the basket.  84
  “Oh!” cried Athos, stopping suddenly, “what the devil is to be done?”  85
  “Has anything been forgotten?” asked Aramis.  86
  “Our flag, man, our flag! We can’t leave our flag in the enemy’s hands, if it is nothing but a napkin.” And Athos dashed again into the bastion, and bore away the flag unhurt, amid a volley of balls from the Rochellois.  87
  He waved his flag, while turning his back on the troops of the town, and saluting those of the camp. From both sides arose great cries, of anger on the one hand and enthusiasm on the other, and the napkin, pierced with three bullet-holes, was in truth transformed into a flag. “Come down, come down!” they shouted from the camp.  88
  Athos came down, and his friends, who had awaited him anxiously, received him with joy.  89
  “Be quick, Athos,” said D’Artagnan; “now that we have got everything but money, it would be stupid to get killed.”  90
  But Athos would not hurry himself, and they had to keep pace with him.  91
  By this time Grimaud and his basket were well beyond bullet range, while in the distance the sounds of rapid firing might be heard.  92
  “What are they doing?” asked Porthos; “what are they firing at?”  93
  “At our dead men,” replied Athos.  94
  “But they don’t fire back.”  95
  “Exactly so; therefore the enemy will come to the conclusion that there is an ambuscade. They will hold a council, and send an envoy with a flag of truce, and when they at last find out the joke, we shall be out of reach. So it is no use getting apoplexy by racing.”  96
  “Oh, I understand,” said Porthos, full of astonishment.  97
  “That is a mercy!” replied Athos, shrugging his shoulders, as they approached the camp, which was watching their progress in a ferment of admiration.  98
  This time a new fusillade was begun, and the balls whistled close to the heads of the four victors and fell about their ears. The Rochellois had entered the bastion.  99
  “What bad shooting!” said D’Artagnan. “How many was it we killed? Twelve?”  100
  “Twelve or fifteen.”  101
  “And how many did we crush?”  102
  “Eight or ten.”  103
  “And not a scratch to show for it.”  104
  “Ah, what is that on your hand, D’Artagnan? It looks to me like blood.”  105
  “It’s nothing,” replied D’Artagnan.  106
  “A spent ball?”  107
  “Not even that.”  108
  “But what is it, then?” As we have said, the silent and resolute Athos loved D’Artagnan like his own son, and showed every now and then all the anxiety of a father.  109
  “The skin is rubbed off, that is all,” said D’Artagnan. “My fingers were caught between two stones—the stone of the wall and the stone of my ring.”  110
  “That is what comes of having diamonds,” remarked Athos disdainfully….  111
  “Here we are at the camp, and they are coming to meet us and bring us in triumphantly.”  112
  And he only spoke the truth, for the whole camp was in a turmoil. More than two thousand people had gazed, as at a play, at the lucky bit of braggadocio of the four friends,—braggadocio of which they were far from suspecting the real motive. The cry of “Long live the musketeers,” resounded on all sides, and M. De Busigny was the first to hold out his hand to Athos and to declare that he had lost his wager. The dragoon and the Swiss had followed him, and all the others had followed the dragoon and the Swiss. There was nothing but congratulations, hand-shakings, embraces; and the tumult became so great that the Cardinal thought there must be a revolt, and sent La Houdinière, his captain of guards, to find out what was the matter.  113
  “Well?” asked the Cardinal, as his messenger returned.  114
  “Well, monseigneur,” replied La Houdinière, “it is about three musketeers and a guardsman who made a bet with M. De Busigny to go and breakfast at the Bastion Saint-Gervais, and while breakfasting, held it for two hours against the enemy, and killed I don’t know how many Rochellois.”  115
  “You asked the names of these gentlemen?”  116
  “Yes, monseigneur.”  117
  “What are they?”  118
  “Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.”  119
  “Always my three heroes,” murmured the Cardinal. “And the guardsman?”  120
  “M. D’Artagnan.”  121
  “Always my young rogue! I must gain over these men.”  122
  And the same evening, the Cardinal had a conversation with M. De Treville about the morning’s exploit, with which the whole camp was still ringing. M. De Treville, who had heard it all at first hand, gave his Eminence all the details, not forgetting the episode of the napkin.  123
  “Very good, M. De Treville,” said the Cardinal; “but you must get me that napkin, and I will have three golden lilies embroidered on it, and give as a banner to your company.”  124
  “Monseigneur,” replied M. De Treville, “that would be an injustice to the guards. M. D’Artagnan does not belong to me, but to M. Des Essarts.”  125
  “Then you must take him,” said the Cardinal. “As these four brave soldiers love each other so much, they ought certainly to be in the same regiment.”  126
  That evening M. De Treville announced the good news to the three musketeers and to D’Artagnan, and invited them all to breakfast the following day.  127
  D’Artagnan was nearly beside himself with joy. As we know, it had been the dream of his life to be a musketeer.  128
 
 
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