Twenty Years After

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

CHAPTER XXIII: Whitehall

THE Parliament condemned Charles Stuart to death, as it was easy to foresee. Political trials are always empty formalities, for the same passions which bring the accusation pronounce the judgment also. Such is the terrible logic of revolutions.

Although our friends expected this result, it yet filled them with grief. D’Artagnan, whose mind was most fruitful of resources in the most critical moments, again swore that he would attempt everything possible to prevent the end of this bloody tragedy. But how? That was what he as yet only saw vaguely. All depended on the nature of the circumstances. Meanwhile, until a complete plan could be arranged, it was necessary at any price to gain time, to prevent the execution from taking place the next day as the judges had decided. The only means was to remove the executioner from London. This done, the sentence could not be carried out. Without doubt one from the town nearest to London would be sent for; but that would cause the gain of a day at least, and a day in such a case might be salvation, perhaps. D’Artagnan undertook this more than difficult task.

A matter not less necessary was to warn Charles Stuart of their attempt to save him, so that he might, as far as possible, second their efforts, or at least do nothing to frustrate them. Aramis undertook this perilous task. Charles had asked permission for Bishop Juxon to visit him in his prison at Whitehall. Mordaunt had that very evening been to the bishop’s to acquaint him with the king’s desire as well as Cromwell’s acquiescence. Aramis resolved to obtain from the bishop, either by terror or persuasion, permission to let him assume his dress and so get admission to Whitehall. Then Athos undertook to have ready, in any case, the means of leaving England in case of failure or success.

Night being come, they fixed upon eleven o’clock for meeting again at the inn; and each started off on his dangerous mission.

Whitehall was guarded by three regiments of cavalry, and still more by the unceasing anxiety of Cromwell, who was going to and fro, and sending his generals or his agents continually.

Alone, and in his accustomed room, which was lighted by two wax candles, the condemned monarch sorrowfully regarded his past grandeur, as on his death-bed one sees the image of life more brilliant and sweet than ever. Parry was still with his master, and since his condemnation had not ceased weeping.

Charles Stuart, leaning on a table, was looking at a medallion, on which were the portraits of his wife and daughter. He was awaiting first Juxon; after Juxon, martyrdom.

Sometimes his thoughts rested upon those brave French gentlemen, who already appeared removed a hundred leagues, fabulous, chimerical, and like those figures one sees in dreams and which disappear on waking. Sometimes Charles asked himself if all that had just happened to him was not a dream, or at least the delirium of a fever.

While thus thinking, he rose, took a few steps as if to shake off his torpor, went to the window, and just below it he saw the muskets of the guards. Then he was compelled to confess that he was indeed awake, and that his bloody dream was very real. He returned silent to his chair, again leaned on the table, and mused.

"Alas!" he said to himself, "if I only had as confessor one of those luminaries of the Church whose soul has sounded the mysteries of life, and all its littlenesses, his words might perhaps silence the voice which utters its wailing in my soul. But I shall have a priest of common mind, whose career I have cut short by my misfortune. He will talk to me of God and death, as to other dying men, without understanding that I am leaving a throne to a usurper, while my children will be without bread." Then raising the portrait to his lips, he quietly mentioned by name each of his children.

It was, as we have said, a misty, dark night. The hour was slowly struck by the neighboring church clock. The pale light of the two candles showed in that large, lofty apartment phantoms lighted up by strange reflections. These phantoms were King Charles’s ancestors, who seemed to come forth from their frames of gold; these reflections were the last bluish flickering lights of a coal fire, which was going out.

A deep sadness seized upon Charles. He thought of the world, which seems so beautiful when one is about leaving it; of the caresses of his children, which one feels to be so sweet and gentle when one is separated from them never to see them again; then of his wife, that noble, courageous creature who had sustained him to the very last. He drew from his breast the cross of diamonds and the Star of the Garter which she had sent him by those generous Frenchmen, and kissed them; then remembering that she would never see these objects again until he was laid cold and beheaded in the tomb, he felt one of those cold shivers pass over him which death throws about us as its first cloak.

Then in this room which recalled to him so many royal memories, where had passed so many courtiers and so many flatteries, alone with a despairing servitor whose feeble soul could not support that of royalty, the king suffered his courage to fall to the level of his weakness, of this darkness, and of this winter cold; and- shall we say it?- this king who died so grandly, so sublimely, with the smile of resignation on his lips, wiped away in the shadow a tear which had fallen on the table and trembled on the gold embroidered cloth.

Suddenly steps were heard in the corridors; the door opened, torches filled the chamber with a smoky light, and an ecclesiastic in episcopal dress entered, followed by two guards. The latter retired; the chamber returned to its obscurity.

"Juxon!" exclaimed Charles, "Juxon! Thanks, my last friend; you come very opportunely."

The bishop cast a side-long, suspicious look on the man who was sobbing in the chimney corner.

"Come, Parry," said the king, "don’t weep any more; God has come to us."

"If it is Parry," said the bishop, "I have nothing further to fear; so, Sire, permit me to salute your Majesty, and to say who I am, and for what I have come."

On hearing the voice, Charles was going to make an exclamation, but Aramis put his fingers to his lips, and made a low bow to the King of England.

"The chevalier!" murmured Charles.

"Yes, Sire," said Aramis, raising his voice,- "Yes, Bishop Juxon, faithful chevalier of Christ, who comes at the desire of your Majesty."

Charles joined his hands together. He had recognized d’Herblay; he felt stupefied, astounded in the presence of these men, who, foreigners, without any other motive than a sense of duty imposed by conscience, were thus struggling against a people’s will and a king’s destiny.

"You!" he said,- "you! how have you succeeded in reaching here? Good heavens! if they recognize you, you will be lost."

Parry was standing; his whole figure expressed a naive and profound admiration.

"Don’t think of me, Sire," said Aramis, enjoining silence on him; "think only of yourself. Your friends are watching, as you see. What we shall do I know not yet, but four determined men can do much. Meanwhile, do not close your eyes tonight; don’t be astonished at anything, and await everything."

Charles shook his head.

"Friend," said he, "do you know that you have no time to lose, and that if you are going to act, you must make haste? At ten tomorrow I must die."

"Sire, something will happen meanwhile which will render the execution impossible."

The king looked at Aramis with astonishment. At that moment even a strange sound was heard beneath the window, like that of a load of wood being unloaded.

"Do you hear?" said the king.

This sound was followed by a cry of pain.

"I hear," said Aramis; "but I don’t understand the noise, and especially that cry."

"I don’t know who uttered the cry," said the king; "but the sound I am going to explain to you. Do you know that I am to be executed outside this window?" Charles added, pointing towards the outside, which was guarded by soldiers and sentinels.

"Yes, Sire, I know it."

"Well, these beams are for my scaffold. Some workman has been wounded in the unloading of them." Aramis shivered in spite of himself. "You see it is useless to persevere any longer. I am condemned; leave me to my fate."

"Sire," said Aramis, resuming his composure, "they may erect the scaffold, but they will be unable to find an executioner."

"What do you mean?" the king asked.

"I mean, Sire, that the executioner is by this time carried away or bribed, and they will have to postpone the execution till the next day."

"Well?"

"Well, tomorrow night we will carry you off."

"How can that be done?" exclaimed the king, whose face was lighted up by a flash of joy.

"Oh, Monsieur!" murmured Parry, his hands joined, "may you be blessed, you and yours!"

"I must know this," said the king, "in order to second your efforts if I can."

"I know not, Sire; but the cleverest, the bravest, the most devoted of us four told me when leaving, ’Chevalier, tell the king that tomorrow at ten at night we will rescue him.’ Since he has said this, he will do it."

"Tell me the name of this generous friend that I may preserve lasting gratitude for him, whether he succeed or not."

"D’Artagnan, Sire, the same who failed in saving you when Colonel Harrison entered so inopportunely."

"You are, in fact, wonderful men; and if I had been told of such deeds, I should not have believed them."

"Now, Sire, listen to me. Do not forget that we are watching for your safety every moment; the smallest gesture, the slightest song, the least sign from those who approach you, watch, listen to, criticise everything."

"Oh, Chevalier, what can I say? No words, coming even from the depths of my heart, could express my gratitude. If you succeed, I will not say that you save a king,- no, in the sight of the scaffold, royalty is a small thing,- but you will preserve a husband to his wife, a father to his children. Chevalier, press my hand; it is that of a friend who will love you to his last sigh."

Aramis wished to kiss the king’s hand, but the king seized his and held it against his heart.

Just then a man entered without even knocking at the door; he who entered was one of those Puritan half-priests, half-soldiers of whom there were swarms about Cromwell.

"What do you want, sir?" said the king.

"I want to know if Charles Stuart’s confession is ended."

"What matters it to you? We are not of the same religion."

"All men are brethren, One of my brethren is about to die, and I am come to prepare him for death."

"Enough," said Parry; "the king has nothing to do with your exhortations."

"Sire," said Aramis, in a low voice, "treat him gently; he is probably a spy."

"After the reverend bishop," said the king, "I will hear you with pleasure."

The man retired with a dubious look, not without having observed Juxon with a scrutiny which did not escape the king.

"Chevalier," said he, when the door was closed, "I believe you were right, and that the man came with bad intentions; take care when you withdraw that no harm happen to you."

"Sire, I thank your Majesty, but don’t be uneasy; under this robe I have a coat of mail and a poniard."

"Go then, Monsieur, and may God keep you in safety, as I used to say when I was king."

Aramis went out; Charles conducted him to the door. Aramis pronounced his blessing, which made the guards bow, passed majestically through the anterooms, which were filled with soldiers, entered his coach, and returned to the bishop. Juxon awaited him with some anxiety.

"Well?" said he, when he saw Aramis. "Well," said the latter, "all has succeeded according to my wishes; spies, guards, satellites took me for you, and the king blesses you, waiting for you to bless him."

"God protect you, my son, for your example has given me both hope and courage."

Aramis resumed his clothes and cloak, and then left, informing Juxon that he should once more have recourse to him. He had gone scarcely ten yards when he saw that he was followed by a man wrapped up in an ample cloak. The man came straight towards him. It was Porthos.

"My dear friend!" said Aramis, giving him his hand.

"You see, my dear fellow, that each of us has his work; mine was to guard you, and I was doing so. Have you seen the king?"

"Yes; and all goes on well. But where are our friends?"

"We appointed eleven o’clock for meeting at the inn."

"There is no time to lose, then."

In fact, half-past ten then struck by the clock of St. Paul’s. However, as they made haste, they arrived first. After them came Athos.

"All is right," said he, before his friends had had time to question him.

"What have you done?" said Aramis.

"I have hired a little felucca, narrow like a pirogue, swift as a swallow. It awaits us at Greenwich, opposite the Isle of Dogs; it has a captain and crew of four, who for fifty pounds will be at our disposal for the next three nights. Once on board with the king, we will go down the Thames, and in two hours will be in the open sea. Then like true pirates we will keep to the coast, or if the sea is free, we will make head for Boulogne. Should I be killed, the captain’s name is Rogers, and the felucca’s the ’Lightning.’ A handkerchief knotted at the corners is the sign of recognition."

A short time after, d’Artagnan came in.

"Empty your pockets," said he, "and make up a hundred pounds,- for as for mine," and d’Artagnan turned his inside out, "they are empty."

The amount was soon made up. D’Artagnan went out, but returned a moment after.

"There!" said he, "it is finished. Ouf! not without trouble."

"The executioner has left London?" Athos asked.

"Ah, well! that was not quite sure enough. He could go out at one gate and enter again by another."

"And where is he?" asked Athos.

"In the cellar of the inn. Mousqueton is seated at the door; and here’s the key."

"Bravo!" said Aramis. "But how did you get the man to agree to be out of the way?"

"As everything is decided in this world,- by money; it has cost me a good deal, but he has agreed to it."

"And how much did it cost you, friend?" said Athos; "for you understand that we are no longer poor musketeers without house and home, and that all expenditure must be in common."

"It has cost me twelve thousand livres," said d’Artagnan.

"And how did you raise that sum? Did you possess it?"

"From the queen’s famous diamond," said d’Artagnan, with a sigh.

"Ah, that’s true; I had noticed it on your finger."

"You had re-purchased it of M. d’Essarts?" asked Porthos.

"Ah, yes! but it is written that I should not be able to keep it. What would you have? Diamonds, so one is told to believe, have their likes and dislikes, like men; it seems that that one detested me."

"But," said Athos, "although matters are all arranged as far as the executioner is concerned, unfortunately they have their assistants, as I know."

"Yes, that one has his; but we are in luck’s way."

"How so?"

"Just when I thought I was going to have a second bargain to strike, my man was brought home with a fractured thigh. From an excess of zeal he accompanied the wagon which carried the beams and framing timber for the scaffold; one of the beams fell on his leg and fractured it."

"Ah," said Aramis, "it was he, then, who uttered the cry which I heard when in the king’s chamber."

"That’s probable," said d’Artagnan; "but as he is a very thoughtful man, he promised when leaving to send four skillful men to help those already engaged in the work; and on returning to his master’s house, he wrote at once to M. Tom Low, a journeyman carpenter, who is a friend of his, to be at Whitehall to fulfill his promise. This is the letter, which he sent by a special messenger who was to take it for tenpence, and who has sold it to me for a louis."

"And what the devil do you mean to do with that letter?" Athos asked.

"You do not guess?" said d’Artagnan, whose eyes brightened up with intelligence.

"No, upon my soul!"

"Well, my dear Athos, who speak English as well as John Bull himself, you are Mr. Tom Low, and we are his three companions; now do you understand?"

Athos burst forth into exclamations of joy and gratitude, ran to a closet, and took out some workmen’s clothes, in which the four friends dressed themselves; after which they left the inn, Athos carrying a saw, Porthos a crowbar, Aramis an axe, and d’Artagnan a hammer and nails.

The letter of the executioner’s assistant proved to the master carpenter that they were the men whom he had been expecting.

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Chicago: Alexandre Dumas père, "Chapter XXIII: Whitehall," Twenty Years After in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCC3JDSE7LLENR7.

MLA: Dumas, Alexandre, père. "Chapter XXIII: Whitehall." Twenty Years After, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 21 Aug. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCC3JDSE7LLENR7.

Harvard: Dumas, A, 'Chapter XXIII: Whitehall' in Twenty Years After. cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCC3JDSE7LLENR7.