have done us in uniting us.—D’Artagnan,” continued Athos, “you were only just now so anxious for such an opportunity for expressing your thanks to monseigneur. Here it is; avail yourself of it.”

These words were pronounced with that perfect imperturbability which distinguished Athos in the hour of danger, and with that excessive politeness which made of him at certain moments a king more majestic than kings by birth.

D’Artagnan came forward and stammered out a few words of thanks, which soon expired under the cardinal’s gloomy looks.

“No, matter, gentlemen,” continued the cardinal, without appearing to be in the least diverted from his first intention by the incident which Athos had raised—“no matter, gentlemen. I do not like simple soldiers, because they have the advantage of serving in a privileged corps, thus to play the great lords; and discipline is the same for them as for everybody else.”

Athos allowed the cardinal to finish his sentence completely, and bowing in sign of assent, he replied in his turn.

“Discipline, monseigneur, has in no way, I hope, been forgotten by us. We are not on duty, and we believe that, as we are not on duty, we are at liberty to dispose of our time as we please. If we are so fortunate as to have some particular command from your Eminence, we are ready to obey you. Your Eminence may perceive,” continued Athos, frowning, for such an investigation began to annoy him, “that we have come out with our arms, so as to be ready for the least alarm.”

And he showed the cardinal the four muskets stacked near the drum, on which were the cards and dice.

“We beg your Eminence to believe,” added D’Artagnan, “that we should have come to meet you, if we could have supposed it was you coming toward us with so few attendants.”

“Do you know what you look like, always together, as you are, armed, and sentinelled by your lackeys?” said the cardinal. “You look like four conspirators.”

“Oh, so far, monseigneur, it’s true,” said Athos; “we do conspire, as your Eminence might have seen the other day, only we conspire against the Rochellais.”

“Eh, politicians!” replied the cardinal, frowning in his turn; “the secret of many things unknown might perhaps be found in your brains, if we could read in them as you were reading that letter which you concealed when you saw me coming.”

The colour mounted to Athos’s face, and he made a step toward his Eminence.

“One would think that you really suspected us, monseigneur, and that we are undergoing a cross-examination. If it be so, we trust your Eminence will deign to explain yourself, and we shall then at least be acquainted with our real position.”

“And if it were an examination,” replied the cardinal, “others beside you have undergone such, Monsieur Athos, and have replied to them.”

“So, monseigneur, I have told your Eminence that you have but to question us, and we are ready to reply.”

“What was that letter you were about to read, Monsieur Aramis, and which you concealed?”

“A woman’s letter, monseigneur.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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