Twenty Years After

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

CHAPTER XXVII: The King’s Highway

THEY dashed along thus the whole length of the faubourg St. Antoine towards Vincennes. They were soon out of the city, soon in the forest, and then in sight of the village. The horses seemed to become more and more excited at each step, and their nostrils began to redden like blazing furnaces. D’Artagnan, using his spurs freely, was quite two feet in advance of Porthos. Mousqueton followed two lengths off, the guards at different distances according to the goodness of their horses.

From rising ground d’Artagnan saw a group of persons standing on the other side of the moat, fronting that part of the prison which overlooks St. Maur. He was sure the prisoner had escaped from that side, and that there he must obtain information. In five minutes he had reached that point, where the guards successively rejoined him.

The group of people were fully occupied; they were looking at the cord still hanging to the loop-hole, and broken off about twenty feet from the ground. Their eyes measured the height, and they exchanged many conjectures. On the top of the rampart were sentinels with a scared look going to and fro. A guard of soldiers, commanded by a sergeant, kept the people off the place where the duke had taken horse.

D’Artagnan spurred directly to the sergeant.

"Officer," said the sergeant, "you must not stop here."

"That order is not for me," said d’Artagnan. "Have they pursued the fugitives?"

"Yes, officer; but unfortunately they are well mounted."

"And how many are there?"

"Four all right, and a fifth carried off wounded."

"Four!" said d’Artagnan, looking at Porthos. "Do you hear, Baron? Only four of them!"

A glad smile lighted up Porthos’s face.

"And how far in advance are they?"

"Two hours and a quarter, officer."

"That’s nothing; we are well mounted, are we not, Porthos?"

Porthos sighed; he was thinking what awaited his poor horses.

"Very well," said d’Artagnan; "in what direction are they gone?"

"As to that, officer, I must not say."

D’Artagnan drew a paper from his pocket.

"Order from the king," said he.

"Speak to the governor, then."

"And where is he?"

"In the country."

Rage showed itself in d’Artagnan’s face. He frowned; he was red to his temples.

"You rascal," said he to the sergeant, "I believe you are laughing at me. Listen!"

He unfolded the paper, presented it with one hand to the sergeant, and with the other took out a pistol and cocked it.

"Order from the king, I tell you. Read and reply, or I blow out your brains. Which road have they taken?"

The sergeant saw that d’Artagnan was in earnest.

"The road towards Vendomois," he replied.

"By what gate did they go out?"

"St. Maur gate."

"If you are deceiving me, you rogue, you shall be hanged tomorrow."

"And if you catch up with them you will not return to have me hanged," muttered the sergeant.

D’Artagnan shrugged his shoulders, made a sign to his escort, and spurred on.

"This way, this way!" cried d’Artagnan, directing his course towards the gate of the park indicated.

But now that the duke had escaped, the concierge had thought it proper to double-lock the gate. He had to be obliged to open it as the sergeant had been forced, and that caused a loss of ten minutes more. This last obstacle cleared, the troop resumed their course with the same speed. But the horses could not all keep up with the same ardor. Three came to a stand after an hour’s running; one fell. D’Artagnan, who did not turn his head, did not observe it. Porthos told it to him in his quiet way.

"If only we two come up with them," said d’Artagnan, "it is all that is necessary, since there are only four of them."

"That is true," said Porthos, and he put spurs to his horse.

At the end of two hours the horses had gone twelve leagues without a halt; their legs began to tremble, and the foam sprinkled the doublets of the cavaliers, while the sweat penetrated their clothing.

"Let us rest a moment to let these poor creatures breathe," said Porthos.

"On the contrary, let us kill them," said d’Artagnan, "and overtake the fugitives. I see fresh traces; they have passed here not more than a quarter of an hour ago." In fact, the road was ploughed by horses’ feet.

They saw these traces by the lingering rays of the sun. They set out afresh, but after two leagues Mousqueton’s horse came down.

"Good!" said Porthos, "there is Phoebus ruined!"

"The cardinal will pay you a thousand pistoles for him."

"Oh," said Porthos, "I am above that."

"Let us go on again at a gallop."

"Yes, if we can."

In fact, d’Artagnan’s horse refused to go any farther; a last stroke of the spur, instead of making it go, caused it to fall.

"Ah, the deuce! There is Vulcan come to grief!"

"Mordieu!" cried d’Artagnan, tearing his hair, "I am brought to a stand! Give me your horse, Porthos. Eh! but what the devil are you doing?"

"Ah, I am falling!" said Porthos, "or rather it is Bayard."

D’Artagnan wished to raise the horse, while Porthos drew himself out from his stirrups as well as he could, but he perceived that blood was pouring out from the animal’s nostrils. "And the three!" said he; "now all is finished!"

At that moment they heard a neigh.

"Chut!" said d’Artagnan.

"What is the matter?"

"I can hear a horse."

"It is one of our companions who has caught up with us."

"No," said d’Artagnan; "it is in front."

"Then that’s another matter," said Porthos, and he listened in the direction referred to by d’Artagnan.

"Monsieur," said Mousqueton, who, after having left his horse on the road, had just come up to them on foot, "Phoebus has been unable-"

"Silence!" said Porthos.

In fact, at that moment a second neigh was heard, brought by the night breeze.

"It is only five hundred paces from here, in front of us," said d’Artagnan.

"In fact, Monsieur," said Mousqueton, "at that distance there is a hunting-lodge."

"Mousqueton, your pistols."

"I have them, Monsieur."

"Take yours, Porthos."

"I am holding them."

"Well," said d’Artagnan, seizing his, "now you understand, Porthos."

"Not too well."

"We are riding on the king’s service."


"For the king’s service we require these horses."

"That’s it," said Porthos.

"Not a word. To work!"

All three advanced in the dark as silent as ghosts. At a turn in the road they saw a light shining among the trees.

"There’s the house," said d’Artagnan, in a whisper. "Do as I do, Porthos."

They glided from tree to tree, and got within twenty paces of the house without being seen. From there they saw, by means of a lantern hung up in a shed, four good-looking horses. A man was grooming them. Near them were the saddles and bridles. D’Artagnan drew near quickly, making a sign to his two companions to keep a few steps behind.

"I buy these horses," said he to the groom.

The latter turned round astonished, but said nothing.

"Didn’t you understand, stupid?" said d’Artagnan.

"Well enough," said the latter.

"Why didn’t you answer?"

"Because they are not for sale."

"Then I take them," said d’Artagnan, and he laid hold of the one within reach.

His two companions appeared just then, and did the same.

"But Messieurs," cried the lackey, "they have just done a journey of six leagues, and it is scarcely a half-hour since they were unsaddled."

"A half-hour of rest is enough," said d’Artagnan, "and they will only be better in wind."

The groom called for help. A sort of steward came out just at the moment when d’Artagnan and his companions were saddling the horses. The steward talked very big.

"My dear friend," d’Artagnan said, "if you say another word I will blow out your brains"; and he showed him the barrel of his pistol, which he put immediately under his arm to continue his work.

"But, Monsieur," said the steward, "do you know that these horses belong to M. de Montbazon?"

"So much the better; they ought to be good ones."

"Monsieur," said the steward, retreating step by step in his endeavor to gain the door, "I forewarn you that I am going to call my people."

"And I mine," said d’Artagnan. "I am lieutenant in the king’s Musketeers; I have ten troopers following me, and- stop, you can hear them galloping. We shall soon see them."

They heard nothing, but the steward was afraid to listen.

"Are you ready, Porthos?" said d’Artagnan.

"I have finished."

"And you, Mouston?"

"I too."

"Then mount and set off."

All three sprang into their saddles.

"Help!" said the steward: "help! servants and guns!"

"Off!" said d’Artagnan; "we shall get musket-shots for that"; and the three set off like the wind.

"Help!" bellowed the steward, while the groom ran towards the neighboring building.

"Take care not to kill your horses!" cried d’Artagnan, bursting into laughter.

"Fire!" responded the steward.

A gleam like that of a lightning flash lighted up the road, then a bang; and the three travellers heard the balls whiz by, which were lost in the air.

"They shoot like lackeys," said Porthos. "They fired better than that in the time of M. de Richelieu. Do you recollect the route of Crevecoeur, Mousqueton?"

"Ah! Monsieur, my right buttock yet pains me."

"Are you sure we are on the scent, d’Artagnan?" asked Porthos.

"Why, didn’t you understand, then?"


"That these horses are M. de Montbazon’s."


"Well, M. de Montbazon is the husband of Madame de Montbazon, and she is M. de Beaufort’s mistress."

"Ah! I see now," said Porthos. "She has placed the relays."


"And we are chasing the duke with the horses he has just left behind?"

"My dear Porthos, you really possess a superior understanding," said d’Artagnan, with a half-serious, half-jesting manner.

"Pooh, take me as I am."

They went on for an hour; the horses were white with foam, and the blood dripped from them.

"Hi! what’s that I saw then?" said d’Artagnan.

"You are very fortunate if you see anything on such a night," said Porthos.


"So did I," said Mousqueton; "I saw them."

"Ah, ah! have we caught up with them?"

"Good! a dead horse," said d’Artagnan, bringing back his horse from a bolt he had just made; "it seems that they also are at the end of their breath."

"It seems we hear the sound of a troop of horsemen," said Porthos, leaning over the horse’s mane.


"They are many in number."

"Then that’s another matter," said d’Artagnan.

"Another horse," said Porthos.


"No, dying."

"Saddled or unsaddled?"


"It is they, then."

"Courage! we have them."

"But if they are many in number," said Mousqueton, "it is not we who will take them, but they who will capture us.

"Bah!" said d’Artagnan; "they will believe us to be stronger than they because we are in pursuit; then they will be afraid, and separate."

"That’s certain," said Porthos.

"Ah, do you see?" exclaimed d’Artagnan.

"Yes, more sparks; I saw them too this time," said Porthos.

"Forward, forward!" said d’Artagnan, in a rough voice, "and in five minutes we shall have fun"; and they were off again.

The horses, furious from pain and emulation, flew along the dark road, in the midst of which they began to perceive a more compact and darker mass than the rest of the horizon.


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Chicago: Alexandre Dumas père, "Chapter XXVII: The King’s Highway," Twenty Years After Original Sources, accessed June 2, 2023,

MLA: Dumas, Alexandre, père. "Chapter XXVII: The King’s Highway." Twenty Years After, Original Sources. 2 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Dumas, A, 'Chapter XXVII: The King’s Highway' in Twenty Years After. Original Sources, retrieved 2 June 2023, from