Athos slowly raised his pistol, stretched out his arm so that the weapon almost touched Milady’s forehead, and then, in a voice the more terrible from having the supreme calmness of a fixed resolution, “Madame,” said he, “you will this instant deliver to me the paper the cardinal signed; or upon my soul, I will blow your brains out.”
With another man, Milady might have preserved some doubt; but she knew Athos. Nevertheless, she remained motionless.
“You have one second to decide,” said he.
Milady saw by the contraction of his countenance that the trigger was about to be pulled; she reached her hand quickly to her bosom, drew out a paper, and held it toward Athos.
“Take it,” said she, “and be accursed!”
Athos took the paper, returned the pistol to his belt, approached the lamp to be assured that it was the paper, unfolded it, and read:
Dec. 3, 1627
It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.
“And now,” said Athos, resuming his cloak and putting on his hat, “now that I have drawn your teeth, viper, bite if you can.”
And he left the chamber without once looking behind him.
At the door he found the two men and the spare horse which they held.
“Gentlemen,” said he, “Monseigneur’s order is, you know, to conduct that woman, without losing time, to the fort of the Point, and never to leave her till she is on board.”
As these words agreed wholly with the order they had received, they bowed their heads in sign of assent.
With regard to Athos, he leaped lightly into the saddle and set out at full gallop; only instead of following the road, he went across the fields, urging his horse to the utmost and stopping occasionally to listen.
In one of those halts he heard the steps of several horses on the road. He had no doubt it was the cardinal and his escort. He immediately made a new point in advance, rubbed his horse down with some heath and leaves of trees, and placed himself across the road, about two hundred paces from the camp.
“Who goes there?” cried he, as soon as he perceived the horsemen.
“That is our brave Musketeer, I think,” said the cardinal.
“Yes, monseigneur,” said Porthos, “it is he.”
“Monsieur Athos,” said Richelieu, “receive my thanks for the good guard you have kept. Gentlemen, we are arrived; take the gate on the left. The watchword is, ‘King and Re.’”
Saying these words, the cardinal saluted the three friends with an inclination of his head, and took the right hand, followed by his attendant—for that night he himself slept in the camp.
“Well!” said Porthos and Aramis together, as soon as the cardinal was out of hearing, “well, he signed the paper she required!”