“How?” replied d’Artagnan, “you care little if she kills Buckingham or causes him to be killed? But the duke is our friend.”
“The duke is English; the duke fights against us. Let her do what she likes with the duke; I care no more about him than an empty bottle.” And Athos threw fifteen paces from him an empty bottle from which he had poured the last drop into his glass.
“A moment,” said d’Artagnan. “I will not abandon Buckingham thus. He gave us some very fine horses.”
“And moreover, very handsome saddles,” said Porthos, who at the moment wore on his cloak the lace of his own.
“Besides,” said Aramis, “God desires the conversion and not the death of a sinner.”
“Amen!” said Athos, “and we will return to that subject later, if such be your pleasure; but what for the moment engaged my attention most earnestly, and I am sure you will understand me, d’Artagnan, was the getting from this woman a kind of carte blanche which she had extorted from the cardinal, and by means of which she could with impunity get rid of you and perhaps of us.”
“But this creature must be a demon!” said Porthos, holding out his plate to Aramis, who was cutting up a fowl.
“And this carte blanche,” said d’Artagnan, “this carte blanche, does it remain in her hands?”
“No, it passed into mine; I will not say without trouble, for if I did I should tell a lie.”
“My dear Athos, I shall no longer count the number of times I am indebted to you for my life.”
“Then it was to go to her that you left us?” said Aramis.
“And you have that letter of the cardinal?” said d’Artagnan.
“Here it is,” said Athos; and he took the invaluable paper from the pocket of his uniform. D’Artagnan unfolded it with one hand, whose trembling he did not even attempt to conceal, to 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.
“In fact,” said Aramis, “it is an absolution according to rule.”
“That paper must be torn to pieces,” said d’Artagnan, who fancied he read in it his sentence of death.
“On the contrary,” said Athos, “it must be preserved carefully. I would not give up this paper if covered with as many gold pieces.”
“And what will she do now?” asked the young man.
“Why,” replied Athos, carelessly, “she is probably going to write to the cardinal that a damned Musketeer, named Athos, has taken her safe-conduct from her by force; she will advise him in the same letter to get rid of his two friends, Aramis and Porthos, at the same time. The cardinal will remember that these are the same men who have often crossed his path; and then some fine morning he will arrest d’Artagnan, and for fear he should feel lonely, he will send us to keep him company in the Bastille.”