“Ill—very ill, say you? And what is his malady?”

“Well, captain,” said Porthos, quite beside himself, “the truth is that we were six against six. But we were not captured by fair means, and before we had time to draw our swords two of our party were dead; and Athos, grievously wounded, was very little better. For you know Athos. Well, captain, he endeavoured twice to get up, and fell again twice. And we did not surrender—no! they dragged us away by force. On the way we escaped. As for Athos, they believed him to be dead, and left him very quietly on the field of battle, not thinking it worth the while to carry him away. Now, that’s the whole story. What the devil, captain, one cannot win all one’s battles! The great Pompey lost that of Pharsalia; and Francis the First, who was, as I have heard say, as good as any one else, nevertheless lost the battle of Pavia.”

“And I have the honour of assuring you that I killed one of them with his own sword,” said Aramis, “for mine was broken at the first parry. Killed him, or poniarded him, sir, as is most agreeable to you.”

“But pray, sir,” continued Aramis, who, seeing his captain relenting, took courage to make a petition—“pray, sir, do not say that Athos is wounded. He would be in despair if that should come to the ears of the king; and as the wound is very serious, seeing that after crossing the shoulder it penetrates into the chest, it is to be feared—”

At this instant the tapestry was raised, and a noble and handsome face, but frightfully pale, appeared under the fringe.

“Athos!” cried the two musketeers.

“Athos!” repeated M. de Tréville to himself.

“You have sent for me, sir,” said Athos to M. de Tréville in a feeble yet perfectly calm voice—“you have sent for me, as my comrades inform me, and I have hastened to receive your orders. I am here, sir; what do you want with me?”

And at these words the musketeer, in irreproachable costume, belted as usual, with a firm step entered the room. M. de Tréville, moved to the bottom of his heart by this proof of courage, sprang towards him.

“I was about to say to these gentlemen,” added he, “that I forbid my musketeers to expose their lives needlessly; for brave men are very dear to the king, and the king knows that his musketeers are the bravest fellows on earth. Your hand, Athos!”

And without waiting until the newcomer should himself respond to this proof of affection, M. de Tréville seized his right hand, and pressed it with all his might, without perceiving that Athos, whatever might be his self-command, allowed a slight murmur of pain to escape him, and, if possible, grew paler than he was before.

The door had remained open, so strong was the excitement produced by the arrival of Athos, whose wound, though kept as secret as possible, was known to all. A loud murmur of satisfaction hailed the last words of the captain, and two or three persons, carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, appeared through the openings of the tapestry. Doubtless M. de Tréville was about to reprehend severely this infringement on the rules of etiquette, when he suddenly felt the hand of Athos contract within his, and upon turning his eyes towards him, perceived he was about to faint. At the same instant Athos, who had rallied all his energies to contend against pain, at length overcome by it, fell upon the floor as if he was dead.

Immediately M. de Tréville opened the door and pointed the way to Porthos and Aramis, who carried off their comrade in their arms.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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