On the sixth of the following month the king, in compliance with the promise he had made the cardinal to leave Paris and to return to Rochelle, departed from his capital, unable to recover from his amazement at the news which was just beginning to spread abroad that Buckingham had been assassinated.

The return to Rochelle was profoundly dull. Our four friends in particular astonished their comrades. They travelled together, side by side, with melancholy eyes and hanging heads. Athos alone from time to time raised his broad brow. A flash kindled in his eyes, a bitter smile passed over his lips. Then, like his comrades, he again resumed his reveries.

When the escort arrived in a city, as soon as they had escorted the king to his lodgings the four friends either retired to their own quarters or to some secluded tavern, where they neither drank nor played. They only conversed in a low voice, looking around attentively that no one overheard them.

One day, when the king had halted on the way to fly the magpie, and the four friends, according to their custom, instead of following the sport, had stopped at a tavern on the turnpike, a man, riding full speed from Rochelle, pulled up at the door to drink a glass of wine, and glanced into the room where the four musketeers were sitting at table.

“Hello, Monsieur d’Artagnan!” said he, “isn’t it you I see there?”

D’Artagnan raised his head and uttered a cry of joy. It was the man he had called his phantom; it was the stranger of Meung, of the Rue des Fossoyeurs, and of Arras.

D’Artagnan drew his sword and sprang toward the door.

But this time, instead of eluding him, the stranger leaped from his horse and advanced to meet D’Artagnan.

“Ah, sir!” said the young man, “I meet you, then, at last! This time you shall not escape me!”

“Neither is it my intention, sir, for this time I was seeking you. I arrest you in the name of the king. I tell you that you must surrender your sword to me, sir, and that without resistance. Your life depends upon it. I warn you.”

“But who are you?” demanded D’Artagnan, lowering the point of his sword, but without yet surrendering it.

“I am the Chevalier de Rochefort.” answered the stranger, “Cardinal Richelieu’s equerry, and I have orders to conduct you to his Eminence.”

“We are returning to his Eminence, chevalier,” said Athos, advancing; “and you will be good enough to accept M. d’Artagnan’s word that he will go straight to Rochelle.”

“I must place him in the hands of guards who will take him to camp.”

“We will serve as his guards, sir, on our word as gentlemen; but, on our word as gentlemen, likewise,” added Athos, “M. d’Artagnan shall not leave us.”

The Chevalier de Rochefort cast a glance backward, and saw that Porthos and Aramis had taken their places between him and the door. He perceived that he was completely at the mercy of these four men.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “if M. d’Artagnan will surrender his sword to me and join his word to yours, I shall be satisfied with your promise to convey M. d’Artagnan to the cardinal’s quarters.”

“You have my word, sir, and here is my sword.”

“This suits me all the better,” said Rochefort, “as I must continue my journey.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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