Twenty Years After

Contents:
Author: "Alexandre Dumas, père"  | Date: 1845

CHAPTER XXX: The Port Wine

AT THE end of ten minutes the master were sleeping; but it was not so with the servants, who were hungry, and especially thirsty. Blaisois and Mousqueton were preparing their bed, which consisted of a plank and a portmanteau, while on a table fastened like that in the neighboring compartment a pot of beer and three glasses were balancing with the rolling of the sea.

"Cursed rolling!" said Blaisois; "I feel that it is going to make me as sick as I was when I came over."

"And only to have barley bread and beer to combat sea-sickness," replied Mousqueton, "bah!"

"But your straw-covered flask, M. Mouston," asked Blaisois,- "have you lost it?"

"Parry’s brother has kept it. These devils of Scots are always thirsty. And you, Grimaud," who had just returned after accompanying d’Artagnan, "are you thirsty too?"

"As a Scotchman," laconically replied Grimaud; and he took a seat near Blaisois and Mousqueton, took a note-book from his pocket, and began noting down items of expenditure, as he was the steward of the party.

"Oh, la, la!" said Blaisois, "how out of order my stomach is!"

"If that be so," said Mousqueton, with the air of a doctor, "take a little nourishment."

"You call that nourishment?" said Blaisois, pointing his finger with a piteous look at the barley bread and pot of beer.

"Blaisois," resumed Mousqueton, "remember that bread is the proper nourishment of the Frenchman; yet the Frenchman has not always got it. Ask Grimaud."

"Yes, but the beer," replied Blaisois, with a promptitude which did honor to his power of repartee; "is beer his true drink?"

"As for that," said Mousqueton, caught in a dilemma, and somewhat embarrassed how to reply, "I must confess it is not, and that beer is as antipathic to him as wine is to the English."

"What, M. Mouston," said Blaisois, who doubted for this once Mousqueton’s profound knowledge, for which, ordinarily, he had the highest admiration,- "what! the English not like wine?"

"They hate it."

"Yet I have seen them drink it."

"For penance; and the proof is," continued Mousqueton, bridling up, "that an English prince died one day because they put him into a cask of malvoisie. I have heard M. l’Abbe d’Herblay tell this as a fact."

"The fool!" said Blaisois. "I should like to have been in his place!"

"So you can," said Grimaud, while arranging his figures.

"What do you mean by, so I can?"

"Yes," continued Grimaud, while remembering four, and carrying it to the next column.

"So I can? Explain your meaning, M. Grimaud."

Mousqueton kept silence during Blaisois’s questions, but it was easy to see from the expression of his face that it was not at all from indifference.

Grimaud continued his calculations, and put down the sum total.

"Port," said he then, stretching out his hand in the direction of the first compartment visited by d’Artagnan and himself.

"What! those casks which I saw through the half-opened door?"

"Port," Grimaud repeated, beginning a fresh arithmetical operation.

"I have heard say," replied Blaisois, speaking to Mousqueton, "that port is an excellent Spanish wine."

"Excellent," said Mousqueton, passing the end of his tongue along his lips,- "excellent. There is some of it in the cellar of M. le Baron de Bracieux."

"Suppose we were to ask the English to sell us a bottle?" honest Blaisois asked.

"To sell!" said Mousqueton, carried away by his old marauding instincts. "It is easily seen, young man, that you have not had much experience of life. Now, why buy when one can take?"

"Take," said Blaisois; "covet thy neighbor’s goods!- the thing is forbidden, it seems to me."

"Where?" asked Mousqueton.

"In the commandments of God or of the Church, I am not sure which. But what I know is this: ’Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.’"

"That’s a child’s reason, M. Blaisois," said Mousqueton, in his most patronizing tone. "Yes, a child’s, I repeat the words. Where have you seen in the Scriptures, I ask you, that the English were your neighbors?"

"Well, nowhere; that’s true," said Blaisois.

"A child’s reason, I repeat. If you had been at the wars for ten years, as Grimaud and I have been, my dear Blaisois, you would soon have learned how to distinguish between thy neighbor’s goods and thine enemy’s. Now, an Englishman is an enemy, I think; and this port wine belongs to the English. Consequently it belongs to us, since we are French. Don’t you know the proverb, ’It’s so much gained of an enemy?’"

This eloquence, supported by all the authority which Mousqueton drew from his long experience, stupefied Blaisois. He lowered his head as if to gather his ideas, and suddenly raising his forehead as a man armed with an irresistible argument: "And will our masters," asked Blaisois, "be of your opinion, M. Mouston?"

Mousqueton smiled contemptuously.

"I should be obliged to go and disturb the sleep of those illustrious lords to tell them: ’Messieurs, your servant Mousqueton is thirsty. Will you give him permission to drink?’ What matters it, I ask you, to M. de Bracieux whether I am thirsty or not?"

"It is a very expensive wine," said Blaisois, shaking his head.

"Were it drinkable gold, M. Blaisois," said Mousqueton, "our masters would not deprive themselves of it. Learn that M. le Baron de Bracieux is himself rich enough to drink a tun of port, even if obliged to pay a pistole the drop. Now, I don’t see why the servants should deprive themselves of it, if the masters would not"; and Mousqueton getting up, took up the pot of beer which he emptied through a porthole to the last drop, and then went majestically towards the door leading to the first compartment.

"Ah, locked!" said he. "These devils of English, how suspicious they are!"

"Locked!" said Blaisois, in a tone no less disappointed than Mousqueton’s. "Ah, peste! that’s unfortunate; especially as I feel my stomach grow more and more disturbed."

Mousqueton turned towards Blaisois with a face so piteous that it was evident he shared in a high degree the disappointment of the brave fellow.

"Locked!" repeated he.

"But," ventured Blaisois, "I have heard you relate, M. Mouston, that once in your youth, at Chantilly I think, you fed your master and yourself by taking some partridges with a snare, some carp with a line, and some bottles of wine with a lasso."

"Without doubt," replied Mousqueton, "it is the exact truth; and here is Grimaud who can vouch for it. But there was a vent-hole to the cellar, and the wine was in bottles. I cannot throw the lasso through this partition nor draw with a cord a cask of wine which weighs perhaps two quintals."

"No, but you could remove two or three planks of the partition," said Blaisois, "and make a hole with a gimlet in one of the casks."

Mousqueton opened wide his round eyes, and looked at Blaisois like a man astonished at finding in another some unsuspected qualities.

"That’s true. It can be done; but we want a chisel to remove the boards, and a gimlet to bore a hole in the cask."

"The case of tools," said Grimaud, completing the balance of his accounts.

"Ah, yes! of course, and I did not think of it," said Mousqueton.

Grimaud was in fact not only the steward, but also the armorer of the company. Besides his account-book, he had his case of tools. It contained a gimlet of tolerable size. Mousqueton took it. To serve as a chisel, Mousqueton took the poniard which he carried in his belt. He then looked where the planks were not closely joined,- a thing not difficult to find,- and then set to work at once. Blaisois looked at him as he worked, with admiration mixed with impatience, venturing from time to time, on the manner of drawing a nail or making a hole, observations full of intelligence and clearness. In a short time Mousqueton had made three planks yield.

"There," said Blaisois.

Mousqueton was the opposite to the frog in the fable who thought himself larger than he was. Unfortunately, if he had succeeded in diminishing his name by a third, it was not the same with his stomach. He tried to get through the opening, but saw with grief that two or three more planks must be removed before the opening suited his bulk. He uttered a sigh. But Grimaud, who had finished his accounts, had seen the fruitless efforts made by Mousqueton to reach the promised land.

"Let me," said Grimaud.

This expression was worth more from him alone, as is known, than a whole poem. Mousqueton turned round.

"What, you?" he asked.

"Yes; I shall get through."

"That’s true," said Mousqueton, casting a look at the slender body of his friend; "you can easily do so."

"That’s all right; he knows the full casks," said Blaisois, "since he has already been in the cellar with M. le Chevalier d’Artagnan. Let M. Grimaud get through, M. Mouston."

"I should have passed through there as well as Grimaud," said Mousqueton, a little piqued.

"Yes, but it would take longer and I am very thirsty. I feel my stomach getting more and more upset."

"Go on, then, Grimaud," said Mousqueton, giving up to him the beer-pot and the gimlet.

"Rinse the glasses," said Grimaud. Then he gave Mousqueton a friendly nod that the latter might pardon him for finishing an adventure so brilliantly begun by another, and like a snake glided through the opening and disappeared.

Blaisois seemed in an ecstasy. Of all the exploits performed since their arrival in England by the extraordinary men with whom he had the honor to be connected, this seemed to him, without contradiction, the most miraculous.

"You will see presently," said Mousqueton, looking at Blaisois with an air of superiority from which the latter did not even attempt to escape,- "you will soon see, Blaisois, how we old soldiers can drink when thirsty."

"The cloak," said Grimaud, from the bottom of the cellar.

"Quite right," said Mousqueton.

"What does he want?" asked Blaisois.

"That the opening should be stopped up with a cloak."

"What’s that done for?"

"You innocent! Suppose some one should come in."

"Ah, that’s true!" exclaimed Blaisois, with increasing admiration. "But he will not see very clearly."

"Grimaud always sees clearly, by night as well as by day."

"He is a fortunate fellow; when I go without a candle, I cannot take two steps without hitting something."

"That’s because you have not been in the service; otherwise you would have learned to pick up a needle in a dark room. But silence! I think some one is coming."

Mousqueton gave a low whistle of warning which had been familiar to the servants in their younger days, took his place at the table again, and made a sign to Blaisois to do likewise.

Blaisois obeyed. The door opened. Two men enveloped in their cloaks appeared.

"Oh, oh!" said one of them, "not yet abed at a quarter past eleven? that’s against the rules. In a quarter of an hour let all lights be out, and every one be asleep."

The two men went to the compartment into which Grimaud had glided, and closed the door behind them.

"Ah!" said Blaisois, trembling; "he is lost!"

"Grimaud is by far too cunning a fox," muttered Mousqueton; and they waited, listening closely, and holding their breath. Ten minutes passed, during which they heard no noise leading them to suspect that Grimaud was discovered.

This time passed, Mousqueton and Blaisois saw the door open, the two men in cloaks come out, shut the door with the same precautions they had used in entering it, and then they went out renewing the order to go to bed and put out the lights.

"Shall we obey?" asked Blaisois; "all this seems to me suspicious."

"They have said a quarter of an hour; we have still five minutes," replied Mousqueton.

"If we forewarn the masters?"

"Let us wait for Grimaud."

"But if they have killed him?"

"Grimaud would have cried out."

"You know he is almost mute."

"We should have heard the blow, then."

"But if he does not come back?"

"Here he is.

In fact, at that moment Grimaud removed the cloak that covered the opening, and passed his head through the opening, his eyes staring from fright, showing small pupils in large white circles. He held in his hand the beer-pot, full of something or other, which he held near the smoky lamp, and ejaculated the simple monosyllable, "Oh!" with an expression of such profound terror that Mousqueton stepped back, frightened, and Blaisois felt ready to faint. Nevertheless, they both threw a look of curiosity into the beer-pot; it was full of powder.

Once convinced that the ship was laden with powder instead of wine, Grimaud rushed towards the hatchway, and in a bound reached the cabin where the four friends were asleep. He pushed the door gently open, which awakened d’Artagnan, who lay behind it.

Scarcely had d’Artagnan seen the disturbed look of Grimaud, before he felt sure that something extraordinary was going on; but Grimaud, with a gesture, made more quickly than words could be spoken, put his finger to his lips, and with a good puff extinguished the little lamp three paces off.

D’Artagnan raised himself on his elbow; Grimaud kneeled and whispered in his ear an account which was so extremely dramatic as to dispense with gesture or the play of the countenance. During this recital Athos, Porthos, and Aramis were sleeping like men who had not slept for a week; and in the between decks, Mousqueton from precaution was tying up his aigulets, while Blaisois, full of horror, the hair standing erect on his head, was trying to do the same. This is what had happened.

Grimaud had scarcely disappeared through the opening than he began his search, and found a cask. He struck it; it was empty. He went to another; that also was empty. But the third on which he made the trial gave so dull a sound that he could not be deceived. It was full.

He stopped there, felt for a suitable spot for boring a hole, and in the search put his hand on a cock.

"Good!" said Grimaud, "that will spare me my labor." And he put the beer-pot to it, turned the cock, and felt the contents passing into the pot. After taking the precaution to close the cock, he was going to put the pot to his lips, being too conscientious to take to his companions a liquor whose quality he could not guarantee, when he heard the signal of alarm given by Mousqueton. He suspected it was the night-watch on their rounds; he slipped between two casks, and hid himself behind one.

A moment after, in fact, two men in cloaks entered, and closed the door behind them. One of them carried a lantern with glass sides, carefully closed, and of such a height that the flame could not reach the top. Besides, the glass itself was covered with a sheet of white paper, which softened, or rather absorbed, the light and heat. This man was Groslow.

The other held in his hand something long, flexible, and twisted like a whitish cord. His face was covered with a broad-brimmed hat. Grimaud, thinking that the same feeling as his own brought them to the cellar, and that, like himself, they came to visit the port wine, shrank more and more behind the cask, saying to himself that if he were discovered the crime was not so very great.

The two men stopped at the cask behind which Grimaud was hiding.

"Have you the match?" asked the one carrying the lantern.

"Here it is," said the other.

At the voice of the latter, Grimaud shook, and felt a shiver penetrate even to the marrow of his bones. He lifted himself gently, so that his head was just above the cask, and beneath the large hat he recognized Mordaunt’s pale face.

"How long will this match burn?" he asked.

"Well, about five minutes."

This voice also seemed familiar to Grimaud. His glances went from the one to the other, and after Mordaunt he recognized Groslow.

"Then," said Mordaunt, "you are going to tell your men to hold themselves in readiness without telling them why. Is the boat in the ship’s wake?"

"Just as a dog follows his master at the end of a hempen leash."

"Then, when the clock chimes the quarter after midnight, collect your men, and get without noise into the boat-"

"After having lighted the match."

"I will see to that. I wish to make sure of my revenge. Are the oars in the canoe?"

"Everything is ready."

"Right."

"All is thoroughly understood, then," said Groslow.

Mordaunt knelt down, and fastened one end of the match to the cock, so as to have merely to light the other end.

Then when finished, he took out his watch.

"You understand?- a quarter past twelve," said he, getting up; "that is to say,"- he looked at his watch,- "in twenty minutes."

"Precisely, Monsieur," replied Groslow; "only I think it right to observe, for the last time, that there is some danger in the task you have kept for yourself, and that it would be much better to let one of the men set light to the train."

"My dear Groslow," said Mordaunt, "you know the French proverb, ’On n’est bien servi que par soi-meme’ [If you want a thing done well, do it yourself]. I shall put that in practice."

Grimaud had heard all, if he had not understood all; but what he saw supplied what he imperfectly comprehended. He had seen and recognized the two mortal enemies of the musketeers. He had seen Mordaunt lay the train; he had understood the proverb, which for its greater pithiness Mordaunt had said in French. Then he felt and felt again the contents of the jug, which he held in his hand, and in place of the liquid which Mousqueton and Blaisois were expecting to find, grains of coarse powder grated and were crushed under his fingers.

Mordaunt and the skipper went off. At the door he stopped, listening.

"Do you hear how soundly they are sleeping?" he said. In fact, one could hear through the boards Porthos snoring.

"It’s God who delivers them to us," said Groslow.

"And this time," said Mordaunt, "the Devil could not save them."

And they both went away.

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Chicago: Alexandre Dumas père, "Chapter XXX: The Port Wine," Twenty Years After Original Sources, accessed February 7, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FAKS76TIBT3U6Q.

MLA: Dumas, Alexandre, père. "Chapter XXX: The Port Wine." Twenty Years After, Original Sources. 7 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FAKS76TIBT3U6Q.

Harvard: Dumas, A, 'Chapter XXX: The Port Wine' in Twenty Years After. Original Sources, retrieved 7 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FAKS76TIBT3U6Q.