“We are gentlemen, monseigneur,” said Athos; “put us on our honour, and give yourself no uneasiness. Thank God, we can keep a secret.”

The cardinal fixed his keen eyes on the bold speaker.

“You have a quick ear, Monsieur Athos,” said the cardinal; “but now listen to this: it is not from mistrust that I ask you to follow me, but for my security. No doubt your companions are MM. Porthos and Aramis.”

“Yes, your Eminence,” said Athos, while the two musketeers who had remained behind advanced, hat in hand.

“I know you, gentlemen,” said the cardinal, “I know you. I know you are not altogether my friends, and I am sorry for it; but I know you are brave and loyal gentlemen, and that confidence may be reposed in you. Monsieur Athos, do me the honour of accompanying me, you and your two friends, and then I shall have an escort to excite envy in his Majesty, if we should meet him.”

The three musketeers bowed to the necks of their horses.

“Well, on my honour,” said Athos, “your Eminence is right in taking us with you; we have seen ill-looking faces on the road, and we have even had a quarrel at the Red Dovecot with four of them.”

“And pray what was your quarrel about?”

“These fellows were drunk,” said Athos, “and knowing that a lady had arrived at the tavern this evening, they were on the point of forcing her door.”

“Forcing her door!” said the cardinal; “and for what purpose?”

“To do her violence, without doubt,” said Athos. “I have had the honour of informing your Eminence that these wretches were drunk.”

“And was the lady young and handsome?” asked the cardinal in some anxiety.

“We did not see her, monseigneur,” said Athos.

“You did not see her! Ah, very well,” replied the cardinal quickly; “you acted quite right in defending a woman’s honour; and as I myself am going to the Red Dovecot, I shall know whether you have told me truth or not.”

Athos bowed.

“And now, gentlemen, that’s all very well,” continued his Eminence. “I know what I wanted to know. Follow me.”

The three musketeers fell behind his Eminence, who again enveloped his face in his cloak and started up his horse, keeping at from eight to ten paces in advance of his four companions.

They soon reached the silent, solitary tavern. The landlord doubtless knew what illustrious visitor was coming, and had consequently sent intruders away.

At ten paces from the door the cardinal made a sign to his attendant and the three musketeers to halt. A saddled horse was fastened to the window-shutter. The cardinal knocked three times in a peculiar manner.

A man enveloped in a cloak immediately came out, and exchanged some rapid words with the cardinal; after which he got on horseback and set off in the direction of Surgères, which was likewise that of Paris.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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