D’Artagnan then related the poisoning of Mme. Bonacieux in the convent of the Carmelites at Bethune, the trial in the isolated house, and the execution on the banks of the Lys.
A shudder crept through the body of the cardinal, who did not shudder readily.
But all at once, as if undergoing the influence of an unspoken thought, the countenance of the cardinal, till then gloomy, cleared up by degrees, and recovered perfect serenity.
“So,” said the cardinal, in a tone that contrasted strongly with the severity of his words, “you have constituted yourselves judges, without remembering that they who punish without license to punish are assassins?”
“Monseigneur, I swear to you that I never for an instant had the intention of defending my head against you. I willingly submit to any punishment your Eminence may please to inflict upon me. I do not hold life dear enough to be afraid of death.”
“Yes, I know you are a man of a stout heart, monsieur,” said the cardinal, with a voice almost affectionate; “I can therefore tell you beforehand you shall be tried, and even condemned.”
“Another might reply to your Eminence that he had his pardon in his pocket. I content myself with saying: Command, monseigneur; I am ready.”
“Your pardon?” said Richelieu, surprised.
“Yes, monseigneur,” said d’Artagnan.
“And signed by whom—by the king?” And the cardinal pronounced these words with a singular expression of contempt.
“No, by your Eminence.”
“By me? You are insane, monsieur.”
“Monseigneur will doubtless recognize his own handwriting.”
And d’Artagnan presented to the cardinal the precious piece of paper which Athos had forced from Milady, and which he had given to d’Artagnan to serve him as a safeguard.
His Eminence took the paper, and read in a slow voice, dwelling upon every syllable:
“It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this has done what he has done.
The cardinal, after having read these two lines, sank into a profound reverie; but he did not return the paper to d’Artagnan.
“He is meditating by what sort of punishment he shall cause me to die,” said the Gascon to himself. “Well, my faith! he shall see how a gentleman can die.”
The young Musketeer was in excellent disposition to die heroically.
Richelieu still continued thinking, rolling and unrolling the paper in his hands.
At length he raised his head, fixed his eagle look upon that loyal, open, and intelligent countenance, read upon that face, furrowed with tears, all the sufferings its possessor had endured in the course of a month, and reflected for the third or fourth time how much there was in that youth of twenty-one years before him, and what resources his activity, his courage, and his shrewdness might offer to a good master. On the other side, the crimes, the power, and the infernal genius of Milady had more than once terrified him. He felt something like a secret joy at being forever relieved of this dangerous accomplice.