On the first Monday of the month of April, 1625, the market townof Meung, in which the author of ROMANCE OF THE ROSE was born,appeared to be in as perfect a state of revolution as if theHuguenots had just made a second La Rochelle of it. Manycitizens, seeing the women flying toward the High Street, leavingtheir children crying at the open doors, hastened to don thecuirass, and supporting their somewhat uncertain courage with amusket or a partisan, directed their steps toward the hostelry ofthe Jolly Miller, before which was gathered, increasing everyminute, a compact group, vociferous and full of curiosity.In those times panics were common, and few days passed withoutsome city or other registering in its archives an event of thiskind. There were nobles, who made war against each other; therewas the king, who made war against the cardinal; there was Spain,which made war against the king. Then, in addition to theseconcealed or public, secret or open wars, there were robbers,mendicants, Huguenots, wolves, and scoundrels, who made war uponeverybody. The citizens always took up arms readily againstthieves, wolves or scoundrels, often against nobles or Huguenots,sometimes against the king, but never against cardinal or Spain.It resulted, then, from this habit that on the said first Mondayof April, 1625, the citizens, on hearing the clamor, and seeingneither the red-and-yellow standard nor the livery of the Duc deRichelieu, rushed toward the hostel of the Jolly Miller. Whenarrived there, the cause of the hubbub was apparent to all.A young man--we can sketch his portrait at a dash. Imagine toyourself a Don Quixote of eighteen; a Don Quixote without hiscorselet, without his coat of mail, without his cuisses; a DonQuixote clothed in a wooden doublet, the blue color of which hadfaded into a nameless shade between lees of wine and a heavenlyazure; face long and brown; high cheek bones, a sign of sagacity;the maxillary muscles enormously developed, an infallible sign bywhich a Gascon may always be detected, even without his cap--andour young man wore a cap set off with a sort of feather; the eyeopen and intelligent; the nose hooked, but finely chiseled. Toobig for a youth, too small for a grown man, an experienced eyemight have taken him for a farmer's son upon a journey had it notbeen for the long sword which, dangling from a leather baldric,hit against the calves of its owner as he walked, and against therough side of his steed when he was on horseback.For our young man had a steed which was the observed of allobservers. It was a Bearn pony, from twelve to fourteen yearsold, yellow in his hide, without a hair in his tail, but notwithout windgalls on his legs, which, though going with his headlower than his knees, rendering a martingale quite unnecessary,contrived nevertheless to perform his eight leagues a day.Unfortunately, the qualities of this horse were so well concealedunder his strange-colored hide and his unaccountable gait, thatat a time when everybody was a connoisseur in horseflesh, theappearance of the aforesaid pony at Meung--which place he hadentered about a quarter of an hour before, by the gate ofBeaugency--produced an unfavorable feeling, which extended to hisrider.
And this feeling had been more painfully perceived by youngD'Artagnan--for so was the Don Quixote of this second Rosinantenamed--from his not being able to conceal from himself theridiculous appearance that such a steed gave him, good horsemanas he was. He had sighed deeply, therefore, when accepting thegift of the pony from M. D'Artagnan the elder. He was notignorant that such a beast was worth at least twenty livres; andthe words which had accompanied the present were above all price."My son," said the old Gascon gentleman, in that pure BearnPATOIS of which Henry IV could never rid himself, "this horse wasborn in the house of your father about thirteen years ago, andhas remained in it ever since, which ought to make you love it.Never sell it; allow it to die tranquilly and honorably of oldage, and if you make a campaign with it, take as much care of itas you would of an old servant. At court, provided you have everthe honor to go there," continued M. D'Artagnan the elder, "--anhonor to which, remember, your ancient nobility gives you theright--sustain worthily your name of gentleman, which has beenworthily borne by your ancestors for five hundred years, both foryour own sake and the sake of those who belong to you. By thelatter I mean your relatives and friends. Endure nothing fromanyone except Monsieur the Cardinal and the king. It is by hiscourage, please observe, by his courage alone, that a gentlemancan make his way nowadays. Whoever hesitates for a secondperhaps allows the bait to escape which during that exact secondfortune held out to him. You are young. You ought to be bravefor two reasons: the first is that you are a Gascon, and thesecond is that you are my son. Never fear quarrels, but seekadventures. I have taught you how to handle a sword; you havethews of iron, a wrist of steel. Fight on all occasions. Fightthe more for duels being forbidden, since consequently there istwice as much courage in fighting. I have nothing to give you,my son, but fifteen crowns, my horse, and the counsels you havejust heard. Your mother will add to them a recipe for a certainbalsam, which she had from a Bohemian and which has themiraculous virtue of curing all wounds that do not reach theheart. Take advantage of all, and live happily and long. I havebut one word to add, and that is to propose an example to you--not mine, for I myself have never appeared at court, and haveonly taken part in religious wars as a volunteer; I speak ofMonsieur de Treville, who was formerly my neighbor, and who hadthe honor to be, as a child, the play-fellow of our king, LouisXIII, whom God preserve! Sometimes their play degenerated intobattles, and in these battles the king was not always thestronger. The blows which he received increased greatly hisesteem and friendship for Monsieur de Treville. Afterward,Monsieur de Treville fought with others: in his first journey toParis, five times; from the death of the late king till the youngone came of age, without reckoning wars and sieges, seven times;and from that date up to the present day, a hundred times,perhaps! So that in spite of edicts, ordinances, and decrees,there he is, captain of the Musketeers; that is to say, chief ofa legion of Caesars, whom the king holds in great esteem and whomthe cardinal dreads--he who dreads nothing, as it is said. Stillfurther, Monsieur de Treville gains ten thousand crowns a year;he is therefore a great noble. He began as you begin. Go to himwith this letter, and make him your model in order that you maydo as he has done."
Upon which M. D'Artagnan the elder girded his own sword round hisson, kissed him tenderly on both cheeks, and gave him hisbenediction.
On leaving the paternal chamber, the young man found his mother,who was waiting for him with the famous recipe of which thecounsels we have just repeated would necessitate frequentemployment. The adieux were on this side longer and more tenderthan they had been on the other--not that M. D'Artagnan did notlove his son, who was his only offspring, but M. D'Artagnan was aman, and he would have considered it unworthy of a man to giveway to his feelings; whereas Mme. D'Artagnan was a woman, andstill more, a mother. She wept abundantly; and--let us speak itto the praise of M. D'Artagnan the younger--notwithstanding theefforts he made to remain firm, as a future Musketeer ought,nature prevailed, and he shed many tears, of which he succeededwith great difficulty in concealing the half.
The same day the young man set forward on his journey, furnishedwith the three paternal gifts, which consisted, as we have said,of fifteen crowns, the horse, and the letter for M. de Treville--the counsels being thrown into the bargain.
With such a VADE MECUM D'Artagnan was morally and physically anexact copy of the hero of Cervantes, to whom we so happilycompared him when our duty of an historian placed us under thenecessity of sketching his portrait. Don Quixote took windmillsfor giants, and sheep for armies; D'Artagnan took every smile foran insult, and every look as a provocation--whence it resultedthat from Tarbes to Meung his fist was constantly doubled, or hishand on the hilt of his sword; and yet the fist did not descendupon any jaw, nor did the sword issue from its scabbard. It wasnot that the sight of the wretched pony did not excite numeroussmiles on the countenances of passers-by; but as against the sideof this pony rattled a sword of respectable length, and as overthis sword gleamed an eye rather ferocious than haughty, thesepassers-by repressed their hilarity, or if hilarity prevailedover prudence, they endeavored to laugh only on one side, likethe masks of the ancients. D'Artagnan, then, remained majesticand intact in his susceptibility, till he came to this unluckycity of Meung.
But there, as he was alighting from his horse at the gate of theJolly Miller, without anyone--host, waiter, or hostler--coming tohold his stirrup or take his horse, D'Artagnan spied, though anopen window on the ground floor, a gentleman, well-made and ofgood carriage, although of rather a stern countenance, talkingwith two persons who appeared to listen to him with respect.D'Artagnan fancied quite naturally, according to his custom, thathe must be the object of their conversation, and listened. Thistime D'Artagnan was only in part mistaken; he himself was not inquestion, but his horse was. The gentleman appeared to beenumerating all his qualities to his auditors; and, as I havesaid, the auditors seeming to have great deference for thenarrator, they every moment burst into fits of laughter. Now, asa half-smile was sufficient to awaken the irascibility of theyoung man, the effect produced upon him by this vociferous mirthmay be easily imagined.
Nevertheless, D'Artagnan was desirous of examining the appearanceof this impertinent personage who ridiculed him. He fixed hishaughty eye upon the stranger, and perceived a man of from fortyto forty-five years of age, with black and piercing eyes, palecomplexion, a strongly marked nose, and a black and well-shapedmustache. He was dressed in a doublet and hose of a violetcolor, with aiguillettes of the same color, without any otherornaments than the customary slashes, through which the shirtappeared. This doublet and hose, though new, were creased, liketraveling clothes for a long time packed in a portmanteau.D'Artagnan made all these remarks with the rapidity of a mostminute observer, and doubtless from an instinctive feeling thatthis stranger was destined to have a great influence over hisfuture life.
Now, as at the moment in which D'Artagnan fixed his eyes upon thegentleman in the violet doublet, the gentleman made one of hismost knowing and profound remarks respecting the Bearnese pony,his two auditors laughed even louder than before, and he himself,though contrary to his custom, allowed a pale smile (if I mayallowed to use such an expression) to stray over his countenance.This time there could be no doubt; D'Artagnan was reallyinsulted. Full, then, of this conviction, he pulled his cap downover his eyes, and endeavoring to copy some of the court airs hehad picked up in Gascony among young traveling nobles, headvanced with one hand on the hilt of his sword and the otherresting on his hip. Unfortunately, as he advanced, his angerincreased at every step; and instead of the proper and loftyspeech he had prepared as a prelude to his challenge, he foundnothing at the tip of his tongue but a gross personality, whichhe accompanied with a furious gesture.
"I say, sir, you sir, who are hiding yourself behind thatshutter--yes, you, sir, tell me what you are laughing at, and wewill laugh together!"
The gentleman raised his eyes slowly from the nag to hiscavalier, as if he required some time to ascertain whether itcould be to him that such strange reproaches were addressed;then, when he could not possibly entertain any doubt of thematter, his eyebrows slightly bent, and with an accent of ironyand insolence impossible to be described, he replied toD'Artagnan, "I was not speaking to you, sir."
"But I am speaking to you!" replied the young man, additionallyexasperated with this mixture of insolence and good manners, ofpoliteness and scorn.
The stranger looked at him again with a slight smile, andretiring from the window, came out of the hostelry with a slowstep, and placed himself before the horse, within two paces ofD'Artagnan. His quiet manner and the ironical expression of hiscountenance redoubled the mirth of the persons with whom he hadbeen talking, and who still remained at the window.D'Artagnan, seeing him approach, drew his sword a foot out of thescabbard.
"This horse is decidedly, or rather has been in his youth, abuttercup," resumed the stranger, continuing the remarks he hadbegun, and addressing himself to his auditors at the window,without paying the least attention to the exasperation ofD'Artagnan, who, however placed himself between him and them."It is a color very well known in botany, but till the presenttime very rare among horses."
"There are people who laugh at the horse that would not dare tolaugh at the master," cried the young emulator of the furiousTreville.
"I do not often laugh, sir," replied the stranger, "as you mayperceive by the expression of my countenance; but nevertheless Iretain the privilege of laughing when I please."
"And I," cried D'Artagnan, "will allow no man to laugh when itdispleases me!"
"Indeed, sir," continued the stranger, more calm than ever;"well, that is perfectly right!" and turning on his heel, wasabout to re-enter the hostelry by the front gate, beneath whichD'Artagnan on arriving had observed a saddled horse.But, D'Artagnan was not of a character to allow a man to escapehim thus who had the insolence to ridicule him. He drew hissword entirely from the scabbard, and followed him, crying,"Turn, turn, Master Joker, lest I strike you behind!""Strike me!" said the other, turning on his heels, and surveyingthe young man with as much astonishment as contempt. "Why, mygood fellow, you must be mad!" Then, in a suppressed tone, as ifspeaking to himself, "This is annoying," continued he. "What agodsend this would be for his Majesty, who is seeking everywherefor brave fellows to recruit for his Musketeers!"He had scarcely finished, when D'Artagnan made such a furiouslunge at him that if he had not sprung nimbly backward, it isprobable he would have jested for the last time. The stranger,then perceiving that the matter went beyond raillery, drew hissword, saluted his adversary, and seriously placed himself onguard. But at the same moment, his two auditors, accompanied bythe host, fell upon D'Artagnan with sticks, shovels and tongs.This caused so rapid and complete a diversion from the attackthat D'Artagnan's adversary, while the latter turned round toface this shower of blows, sheathed his sword with the sameprecision, and instead of an actor, which he had nearly been,became a spectator of the fight--a part in which he acquittedhimself with his usual impassiveness, muttering, nevertheless, "Aplague upon these Gascons! Replace him on his orange horse, andlet him begone!"
"Not before I have killed you, poltroon!" cried D'Artagnan,making the best face possible, and never retreating one stepbefore his three assailants, who continued to shower blows uponhim.
"Another gasconade!" murmured the gentleman. "By my honor, theseGascons are incorrigible! Keep up the dance, then, since he willhave it so. When he is tired, he will perhaps tell us that hehas had enough of it."
But the stranger knew not the headstrong personage he had to dowith; D'Artagnan was not the man ever to cry for quarter. Thefight was therefore prolonged for some seconds; but at lengthD'Artagnan dropped his sword, which was broken in two pieces bythe blow of a stick. Another blow full upon his forehead at thesame moment brought him to the ground, covered with blood andalmost fainting.
It was at this moment that people came flocking to the scene ofaction from all sides. The host, fearful of consequences, withthe help of his servants carried the wounded man into thekitchen, where some trifling attentions were bestowed upon him.As to the gentleman, he resumed his place at the window, andsurveyed the crowd with a certain impatience, evidently annoyedby their remaining undispersed.
"Well, how is it with this madman?" exclaimed he, turning roundas the noise of the door announced the entrance of the host, whocame in to inquire if he was unhurt.
"Your excellency is safe and sound?" asked the host."Oh, yes! Perfectly safe and sound, my good host; and I wish toknow what has become of our young man."
"He is better," said the host, "he fainted quite away.""Indeed!" said the gentleman.
"But before he fainted, he collected all his strength tochallenge you, and to defy you while challenging you.""Why, this fellow must be the devil in person!" cried thestranger.
"Oh, no, your Excellency, he is not the devil," replied the host,with a grin of contempt; "for during his fainting we rummaged hisvalise and found nothing but a clean shirt and eleven crowns--which however, did not prevent his saying, as he was fainting,that if such a thing had happened in Paris, you should have causeto repent of it at a later period."
"Then," said the stranger coolly, "he must be some prince indisguise."
"I have told you this, good sir," resumed the host, "in orderthat you may be on your guard."
"Did he name no one in his passion?"