The Utility of Stove-Pipes
It was evident that without suspecting it, and actuated solely by their chivalric and adventurous characters, our three friends had just rendered a service to some one whom the cardinal honoured with his special protection.
Now who was that some one? This was the question the three musketeers put to each other. Then, seeing that none of the replies their wits could furnish was satisfactory, Porthos called the landlord and asked for dice.
Porthos and Aramis sat down at the table and began to play. Athos walked about in a contemplative mood.
While thinking and walking, Athos kept passing and re-passing before the stove-pipe, broken in half, the other end of which went into the upper chamber; and every time he passed he heard a murmur of words, which at length attracted his attention. Athos went close to it, and distinguished some words which undoubtedly seemed to deserve so deep an interest that he beckoned to his friends to be silent, remaining himself bent, with his ear placed against the opening of the lower orifice.
Listen, milady, said the cardinal; the affair is important. Sit down and let us talk.
Milady! murmured Athos.
I am listening to your Eminence with the greatest attention, replied a womans voice that made the musketeer start.
A small vessel, with an English crew, whose captain is devoted to me, awaits you at the mouth of the Charente, at Fort de la Pointe. He will set sail to-morrow morning.
I must go there to-night, then?
Instantly! That is to say, as soon as you have received my instructions. Two men, whom you will find at the door on going out, will serve as your escort. You will let me leave first, and, half an hour after, you can go away in your turn.
Yes, monseigneur. Now let us return to the mission in which you wish to employ me, and, as I desire to continue to merit your Eminences confidence, deign to explain it to me in clear and precise terms, so that I may not commit any error.
There was a moment of deep silence between the two speakers. It was evident the cardinal was weighing beforehand the terms in which he was about to speak, and that milady was collecting all the powers of her mind to understand the things he was about to say, and to engrave them in her memory when they were spoken.
Athos took advantage of this moment to tell his two companions to fasten the door on the inside, and to beckon them to come and listen with him.
The two musketeers, who loved their ease, each brought a chair for himself and one for Athos. All three then sat down with their heads together and their ears alert.
You will go to London, pursued the cardinal; when you reach London you will seek out Buckingham.
I must beg your Eminence to observe, said milady, that since the affair of the diamond studs, about which the duke always suspected me, his Grace has been very mistrustful of me.
Well, this time, said the cardinal, it is not a question of worming yourself into his confidence, but you will present yourself frankly and loyally as a negotiator.
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