The Man in the Red Cloak

Athos’s despair had given place to a concentrated grief, which made this man’s brilliant mental faculties keener than ever.

Possessed by a single thought—that of the promise he had made, and of the responsibility he had assumed—he was the last to retire to his room. He begged the host to get him a map of the province, bent over it, examined the lines traced on it, perceived that there were four different roads from Béthune to Armentières, and called the valets.

Planchet, Grimaud, Bazin, and Mousqueton presented themselves, and received Athos’s clear, positive, and serious orders. They were to set out the next morning at daybreak, and to go to Armentières—each by a different route. Planchet, the most intelligent of the four, was to follow the road by which had passed the carriage on which the four friends had fired, and which was accompanied, as will be remembered, by Rochefort’s servant.

All four were to meet the next day at eleven o’clock. If they had discovered milady’s retreat, three were to remain on guard; the fourth was to return to Béthune, to inform Athos and serve as a guide to the four friends.

When these arrangements were made the lackeys retired.

Athos then arose from his chair, girded on his sword, enveloped himself in his cloak, and left the hotel. It was nearly ten o’clock. At ten o’clock in the evening, we know, the streets in provincial towns are very little frequented.

Athos reached the suburb, situated at the end of the city, opposite where he and his friends had entered it. Here he appeared uneasy and embarrassed, and stopped.

Fortunately, a beggar passed and came up to Athos to ask charity. Athos offered him a crown to accompany him where he was going. The beggar hesitated at first, but at the sight of the piece of silver glittering in the darkness, he consented, and walked on before Athos.

Reaching the corner of a street, he showed in the distance a small house isolated, solitary, dismal. Athos went to the house, while the beggar, having received his reward, hurried away as fast as he could walk.

Athos went round the house before he could distinguish the door from the reddish colour in which the house was painted. No light shone through the chinks of the shutters; no sound gave reason to believe that it was inhabited. It was dark and silent as a tomb.

Three times Athos knocked and no one responded. At the third knock, however, the door was half opened, and a man of lofty stature, pale complexion, and black hair and beard appeared.

Athos and he exchanged some words in a low voice. Then the tall man made a sign to the musketeer that he might come in. Athos immediately took advantage of the permission, and the door closed after him.

Then he explained to him the cause of his visit, and the service he required of him. But scarcely had he expressed his request when the unknown, who had remained standing before the musketeer, drew back in terror, and refused. Then Athos took from his pocket a small paper, on which were written two lines, accompanied by a signature and a seal, and presented them to him who had been too premature in showing these signs of repugnance. The tall man had scarcely read the two lines, seen the signature, and recognized the seal, when he bowed to denote that he had no longer any objection to make, and that he was ready to obey.

Athos required no more. He arose, bowed, went out, returned by the same way he had come, re-entered the hotel, and shut himself up in his room.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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