Twenty Years After

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

CHAPTER XXXIII: The Monk

Two men lay there; one of them motionless, lying on his face, pierced by three shots,- he was quite dead. The other had been placed against a tree by the two servants; his eyes were raised to heaven, his hands clasped together, and he was praying earnestly. He had received a ball which had broken his thigh.

The young men went up first of all to the dead man, and looked at him with astonishment.

"It is a priest," said Bragelonne; "he wears the tonsure. Oh, the wretches, to raise their hands against God’s ministers!"

"Come here, Monsieur," said Urbain,- an old soldier who had gone through all the campaigns with the cardinal duke,- "come here. Nothing can be done with the other, while perhaps we can save this one."

The wounded man smiled sadly.

"Save me? no," said he; "but help me to die,- yes."

"Are you a priest?" asked Raoul.

"No, Monsieur."

"Your unfortunate companion seems to me to belong to the Church," replied Raoul.

"He is the curate of Bethune. He was conveying to a safe place the sacred vessels of his church and the treasure of the chapter,- for the prince abandoned our city yesterday, and perhaps the Spaniard will be there tomorrow. Now, as they knew that hostile parties were traversing the country, and the mission was perilous, no one dared to accompany him, and then I offered myself."

"And these wretches have attacked you? These wretches have fired upon a priest?"

"Messieurs," said the wounded man, looking around him, "I am suffering much, and yet I should like to be carried to some house."

"Where you might be attended to?" said Guiche.

"No; but where I might confess."

"But perhaps," said Raoul, "you are not wounded so dangerously as you think."

"Monsieur," said the wounded man, "believe me, there is no time to lose. The ball has broken the thigh-bone, and penetrated to the intestines."

"Are you a doctor?" asked Guiche.

"No," said the dying man; "but I know something of wounds, and mine is mortal. Try to remove me to a place where I can find a priest, or take the trouble to bring one to me here, and God will recompense you for this holy act. It is my soul I want to save; my body is lost."

"Since you die while doing a good action, that is impossible! and God will help you."

"Messieurs, for Heaven’s sake," said the wounded man, summoning up all his strength as if to rise, "don’t lose time in useless talk! Help me to gain the nearest village, or bring to me here the first monk or priest you may meet with. But perhaps no one will dare to come, and I shall die without absolution. Oh!" added the wounded man, with an expression of terror which made the young men shudder, "you will not permit that, will you? It would be too terrible!"

"Monsieur, be calm," said Guiche. "I swear to you that you are going to have the consolation you ask; tell me only where there is a house where we can ask help, or a village where we can go for a priest."

"Thanks; and may God reward you! There is an inn half a league from here following this road, and scarcely a league beyond the inn you will come to the village of Greney. Go and find the curate. If he is not in, go to the convent of the Augustinians, which is the last house on the right, and bring any one who has received from our holy Church the power of absolution in articulo mortis."

"M. d’Arminges," said Guiche, "stay by this unfortunate man, and take care that he is removed as gently as possible. Make a litter of branches; put all our cloaks on it. Two of our servants will carry it, while the third will hold himself ready to take the place of the tired bearer. We are going to find a priest."

"Go, Count," said the preceptor; "but for Heaven’s sake do not expose yourself!"

"Don’t be alarmed. Besides, we are saved for the day. You know the saying, Non bis in idem."

"Keep up your courage, Monsieur!" said Raoul to the wounded man; "we are going to do what you desired."

"May God bless you, Messieurs!" answered the dying man, with an accent of gratitude impossible to describe.

The young men set off at a gallop in the direction indicated, while the preceptor attended to the making of the litter.

In about ten minutes they came to the inn. Raoul, without dismounting, called the host, and told him they were bringing to him a wounded man, and begged him in the meanwhile to get all things prepared for dressing his wound,- a bed, bandages, some lint,- desiring him if he knew of a doctor in the neighborhood to send for him at once, and offering to pay the messenger.

The host, who saw two young lords richly dressed, promised to do all they asked, and our cavaliers therefore set off afresh, and went at a brisk pace towards Greney.

They had gone more than a league, and could see the first houses of the village, whose roofs of red tiles presented a strong contrast to the green trees which surrounded them, when they perceived, coming towards them, mounted on a mule, a poor monk, who from his large hat and robe of gray wool they took for an Augustinian friar. This time chance seemed to send them what they were looking for.

The monk drew near. He was about twenty-two or twenty-three, but older in appearance from his ascetic practices. He was pale, not of that dead paleness which is beautiful, but of a bilious yellow; his short hair, which reached scarcely lower than the circle traced on his forehead by his hat, was light, and his eyes, of a clear blue, seemed devoid of life.

"Monsieur," said Raoul, with his usual politeness, "are you an ecclesiastic?"

"Why do you ask me that?" said the stranger, with an almost rude impassiveness.

"To know it," said Guiche haughtily.

The stranger touched his mule with his heel, and went on. Guiche leaped before him, and stopped his progress.

"Answer, Monsieur!" said he; "we have asked you in a polite manner, and every question deserves a reply."

"I am free, I suppose, to tell or not to tell who I am to the first persons who take the liberty of questioning me."

Guiche had great difficulty in restraining the strong desire he felt to break the monk’s bones.

"First of all," said he, trying to restrain himself, "we are not persons to be treated with impertinence; my friend is the Vicomte de Bragelonne, and I am the Comte de Guiche. It is not from mere caprice we asked you the question, for a man who is wounded and dying desires the aid of the Church. If you are a priest, I summon you, in the name of humanity, to follow me to aid this man; if you are not, that alters the case. I forewarn you, in the name of that courtesy which you appear so completely to ignore, that I shall punish you for your insolence."

The monk’s paleness turned into lividness, and he smiled in such a strange manner that Raoul, who kept his eyes on him, felt this smile oppress his heart as if it were an insult.

"It is some Spanish or Flemish spy," said he, putting his hand upon his pistol. A menacing look like a flash replied to Raoul.

"Well, Monsieur," said Guiche, "will you answer me?"

"I am a priest, Messieurs," said the young man; and his face resumed its usual impassiveness.

"Then, Father," said Raoul, letting his pistol drop again into the holster, and impressing upon his words a respectful accent which did not come from his heart, "then if you are a priest, you will have, as my friend has told you, an opportunity of exercising your calling. An unfortunate fellow who is wounded begs the help of a minister of God; our people are waiting on him."

"I will go," said the monk; and he touched the mule with his heel.

"If you do not go there, Monsieur," said Guiche, "remember that we have horses capable of overtaking your mule, and sufficient influence to cause you to be seized wherever you are; and then, I swear it to you, your trial will be soon finished. A tree and a cord can be found anywhere."

The eye of the monk flashed anew, but that was all. He repeated his phrase,- "I will go there"; and he set out.

"Let us follow him," said Guiche, "that will be the surest way."

"I was going to propose it to you," said Bragelonne; and the two young men turned round, regulating their pace by that of the monk whom they thus followed within pistol-shot.

At the end of five minutes the monk turned round to make sure whether he were followed or not.

"Do you see?" said Raoul. "We have done right to follow him."

"What a horrible-looking fellow he is!" said the count.

"Horrible," replied Raoul. "In expression above all; that yellowish hair, those leaden eyes, those lips which disappear at the least word he utters."

"Yes, yes," said Guiche, who had been less struck than Raoul with all these details, because Raoul was examining while Guiche was talking,- "yes, a strange face; but these monks are subjected to such degrading practices! The fasts make them pale; the strictness of discipline makes them hypocrites; and it is by force of weeping for the good things of life they have lost, and which we enjoy, that their eyes grow dull."

"However," said Raoul, "the poor man will have a priest; but really, the penitent has the look of possessing a better conscience than his confessor. I must confess I have been used to seeing better-looking priests."

"Ah," said Guiche, "don’t you understand? This is one of the begging friars who travel about till a living drops from heaven. They are mostly foreigners: Scotch, Irish, Danes. I have sometimes had pointed out to me such as this one."

"As ugly?"

"No; but reasonably hideous, still."

"What a misfortune for this poor wounded man to die in the hands of such a monk!"

"Bah!" said Guiche; "absolution comes not from him who gives it, but from God. Yet I would rather die impenitent than have to do with such a confessor. You agree with me, don’t you, Viscount? And I see you caress the pommel of your pistol as if you had some intention of breaking his head."

"Yes, Count; and what will surprise you, I have felt an indefinable horror at the look of this man. Have you ever disturbed a serpent when going along?" asked Raoul.

"Never."

"Well, that has happened to me in our forests about Blois. I well remember the first which I ever saw, with its dull eye and curved body, shaking its head and darting its tongue; I remained fixed and pale, and as if fascinated, till M. le Comte de la Fere-"

"Your father?" asked Guiche.

"No; my guardian," replied Raoul, blushing.

"Very well."

"Till the count said to me, ’Come, Bragelonne, draw.’ Then only I ran at the reptile, and cut it in two just when it raised itself on its tail, and hissing, prepared to attack me. Well, I swear to you, I felt the same sensation at the sight of this man when he said, ’Why do you ask me that?’ and looked at me."

"Then you reproach yourself for not having cut him in two as you did the serpent?"

"Faith, yes! almost," said Raoul.

Just then they came in sight of the little inn, and saw coming towards it the wounded man’s party, led by M. d’Arminges. Two men carried the dying man; the third led the horses. The young men spurred forward.

"There’s the wounded man," said Guiche, when passing by the friar; "be good enough to hasten a little, Sir monk."

As to Raoul, he separated himself from the monk the whole width of the road, and passed him, turning aside his head with disgust. Thus, the young men preceded the confessor instead of following him.

They went up to the wounded man, and announced the good news. The latter raised himself up to look in the direction indicated, saw the monk hastening on, and fell back on his litter, his face lit up with joy.

"Now," said the young man, "we have done all we can for you, and as we are in haste to join the prince’s army, we must resume our journey; you will excuse us, will you not, Monsieur? They say there is going to be a battle, and we would not wish to arrive the next day."

"Go, my young lords," said the wounded man; "and may you both be blessed for your piety! You have in fact, and as you have said, done for me all that you could do. I can only say to you once more: ’May God preserve you, you and those who are dear to you!’"

"Monsieur," said Guiche to his preceptor, "we are going on; you will rejoin us on the way to Cambrin."

The host was at his door, and had prepared everything,- bed, bandages, and lint,- and a groom had gone to find a physician at Lens, the nearest city.

"Well," said the host, "it shall be done as you desire; but do you not stop, Monsieur, to dress your wound?" continued he, addressing Bragelonne.

"Oh, my wound is nothing," said the viscount; "and it will be time for me to occupy myself with it at the next halt,- only have the goodness, if you see a horseman pass who inquires of you concerning a young man riding a chestnut horse, and followed by a servant, to tell him you have seen me, but that I have resumed my journey, and expect to dine at Mazingarbe, and sleep at Cambrin. That horseman is my servant."

"Would it not be better, and for greater security," replied the landlord, "that I should ask his name and tell him yours?"

"There is no harm in an increase of precaution," said Raoul; "my name is Vicomte de Bragelonne, and his Grimaud."

At this moment the wounded man arrived from one side, and the monk from the other. The two young men stepped aside to allow the litter to pass; on his side the monk dismounted from his mule, and ordered that it should be taken to the stables without unsaddling it.

"Sir monk," said Guiche, "confess well this honest man, and do not trouble yourself as to your expense or that of your mule; it is all paid."

"Thanks, Monsieur!" said the monk, with one of those smiles which had made Bragelonne shiver.

"Come, Count," said Raoul, who seemed instinctively to be unable to bear the presence of the Augustinian,- "come, I feel myself ill here."

"Thanks, still once more, My fine young lords," said the wounded man, "and do not forget me in your prayers."

"Rest tranquil," said Guiche, spurring his horse to rejoin Bragelonne, now in advance.

At that moment, the litter, borne by the two servants, was entering the house. The landlord and his wife were standing on the stairs. The wounded man seemed to suffer terrible pain; and yet his chief concern was to know if the monk was following.

At the sight of this pale and bloodstained man, the wife seized her husband’s arm.

"Well, what’s the matter?" said the latter. "Do you feel ill?"

"No; but look!" said the wife, pointing to the wounded man. "Do you not recognize him?"

"That man? wait now-"

"Ah, I see you recognize him," said the wife, "for you are turning pale."

"Indeed," exclaimed the landlord. "Ill luck to our house! It is the former public executioner of Bethune."

"The executioner of Bethune!" muttered the monk, starting, and showing on his face the feeling of repugnance which the penitent produced in him. M. d’Arminges who stood at the door, observed his hesitation.

"Sir monk," said he, "whether he is or has been an executioner, he is none the less a man. Render him the last service he demands from you, and your work will be only the more meritorious."

The monk answered nothing, but he continued silently his way towards the chamber, where the two servants had already placed the dying man on a bed.

On seeing the man of God approach the bedside of the wounded man, the two servants went out, closing the door on the monk and the dying man. D’Arminges and Olivain awaited them; they all mounted, and set off at a trot, following the road at the extremity of which Raoul and his companion had already disappeared. Just as the preceptor and his escort disappeared, a fresh traveller stopped before the inn.

"What does Monsieur want?" said the landlord, still pale and trembling from the discovery he had just made.

The traveller imitated a man drinking, and dismounting, pointed to his horse, and signified that he wished it to be groomed.

"Ah, devil!" said the host to himself, "it seems that this one is mute."

"And where would you like to drink?"

"Here," said the traveller, pointing to a table.

"I made a mistake," said the host; "he is not quite dumb"; and he bowed, and went to fetch a bottle of wine and some biscuits, which he placed before his taciturn guest.

"Does Monsieur wish anything else?"

"Yes, indeed," said the traveller.

"What does Monsieur wish?"

"To know if you have seen a young gentleman, about fifteen years of age, on a chestnut horse, and followed by a servant, pass this way."

"Vicomte de Bragelonne?" said the host.

"Precisely."

"Then your name is Grimaud?"

The traveller nodded assent.

"Well, then! your master was here a quarter of an hour ago. He will dine at Mazingarbe, and sleep at Cambrin."

"How far to Mazingarbe?"

"Two leagues and a half."

"Thanks."

Grimaud, sure of overtaking his master before the end of the day, seemed more at ease, wiped his forehead, and poured out a glass of wine, which he drank in silence. He had just put the glass on the table, and was going to fill it again, when a terrible cry came from the room where the monk and dying man were.

Grimaud jumped up at once.

"What is that?" said he. "Where does that cry come from?"

"From the wounded man’s room," said the landlord.

"What wounded man?"

"The former executioner of Bethune, who has just been assassinated by some Spanish partisans, and who is now confessing to an Augustinian friar. He seems to be suffering a good deal."

"The former executioner of Bethune?" muttered Grimaud, bringing him back to his recollection,- "a man from fifty-five to sixty years of age, tall, muscular, swarthy, with black hair and beard?"

"That is he, except that his beard is gray and his hair has become white. Do you know him?" asked the host.

"I saw him once," said Grimaud, whose countenance grew severe at the picture which his memory recalled.

The host’s wife had run to them, trembling all over.

"Did you hear?" said she to her husband.

"Yes," replied the host, looking with uneasiness towards the door. At this moment a cry less strong than the first, but followed by a prolonged groan, was heard. The three persons looked at one another, shuddering.

"We must see what it is," said Grimaud.

"One would say it was the cry of a man being killed," muttered the host.

"Jesus!" said his wife, crossing herself.

If Grimaud spoke little, as has been seen, he could act with vigor. He rushed towards the door, and shook it vigorously, but it was fastened inside by a bolt.

"Open the door!" cried the host. "Sir monk, open at once!"

No one replied.

"Open, or I will break down the door," then said Grimaud.

Still silence.

Grimaud looked about him, and caught sight of a crowbar which by chance lay in a corner. He snatched it up, and before the host could prevent him, he had forced open the door.

The room was saturated with blood, which ran through the mattresses. The wounded man did not speak, and was at the point of death. The monk had disappeared.

"The monk?" cried the host. "Where is he?"

Grimaud rushed to a window which looked upon a courtyard.

"He has escaped that way," cried he.

"Do you think so?" said the scared host. "Boy, see if the monk’s mule is in the stable."

"No mule there!" said the boy.

Grimaud frowned. The host clasped his hands together, and looked round with distrust. As for his wife, she did not dare enter the room, but stood frightened at the door.

Grimaud came close up to the wounded man, looking at his coarse, strongly-marked features, which recalled such a terrible recollection.

At last, after a moment of sad and mute contemplation, "There is no longer any doubt," said he; "it is really he."

"Is he still alive?" asked the host.

Grimaud, without answering, opened the wounded man’s waistcoat to feel his heart, while the host approached; but all of a sudden they both drew back, the host uttering a cry of terror, Grimaud turning pale.

The blade of a poniard was thrust up to the hilt into the left side of the executioner’s breast.

"Run and fetch help," said Grimaud; "I will stay by him."

The host left the room thoroughly frightened; as for his wife, she had fled at the cry uttered by her husband.

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Chicago: Alexandre Dumas père, "Chapter XXXIII: The Monk," Twenty Years After Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MYJDMMULBWNWVS.

MLA: Dumas, Alexandre, père. "Chapter XXXIII: The Monk." Twenty Years After, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MYJDMMULBWNWVS.

Harvard: Dumas, A, 'Chapter XXXIII: The Monk' in Twenty Years After. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MYJDMMULBWNWVS.