The passage from Belle-Isle to Sarzeau was made rapidly enough, thanks to one of those little corsairs of which D'Artagnan had been told during his voyage, and which, shaped for fast sailing and destined for the chase, were sheltered at that time in the roadstead of Locmaria, where one of them, with a quarter of its war-crew, performed duty between Belle-Isle and the continent. D'Artagnan had an opportunity of convincing himself that Porthos, though engineer and topographer, was not deeply versed in affairs of state. His perfect ignorance, with any other, might have passed for well-informed dissimulation. But D'Artagnan knew too well all the folds and refolds of his Porthos, not to find a secret if there were one there; like those regular, minute old bachelors, who know how to find, with their eyes shut, each book on the shelves of their library and each piece of linen in their wardrobe. So if he had found nothing, our cunning D'Artagnan, in rolling and unrolling his Porthos, it was because, in truth, there was nothing to be found.
"Be it so," said D'Artagnan; "I shall get to know more at Vannes in half an hour than Porthos has discovered at Belle-Isle in two months. Only, in order that I may know something, it is important that Porthos should not make use of the only stratagem I leave at his disposal. He must not warn Aramis of my arrival." All the care of the musketeer was then, for the moment, confined to the watching of Porthos. And let us hasten to say, Porthos did not deserve all this mistrust. Porthos thought of no evil. Perhaps, on first seeing him, D'Artagnan had inspired him with a little suspicion; but almost immediately D'Artagnan had reconquered in that good and brave heart the place he had always occupied, and not the least cloud darkened the large eye of Porthos, fixed from time to time with tenderness on his friend.
On landing, Porthos inquired if his horses were waiting and soon perceived them at the crossing of the road that winds round Sarzeau, and which, without passing through that little city, leads towards Vannes. These horses were two in number, one for M. de Vallon, and one for his equerry; for Porthos had an equerry since Mouston was only able to use a carriage as a means of locomotion. D'Artagnan expected that Porthos would propose to send forward his equerry upon one horse to bring back another, and he—D'Artagnan—had made up his mind to oppose this proposition. But nothing D'Artagnan had expected happened. Porthos simply told the equerry to dismount and await his return at Sarzeau, whilst D'Artagnan would ride his horse; which was arranged.
"Eh! but you are quite a man of precaution, my dear Porthos," said D'Artagnan to his friend, when he found himself in the saddle, upon the equerry's horse.
"Yes; but this is a kindness on the part of Aramis. I have not my stud here, and Aramis has placed his stables at my disposal."
"Good horses for bishop's horses, mordioux!" said D'Artagnan. "It is true, Aramis is a bishop of a peculiar kind."
"He is a holy man!" replied Porthos, in a tone almost nasal, and with his eyes raised towards heaven.
"Then he is much changed," said D'Artagnan; "you and I have known him passably profane."
"Grace has touched him," said Porthos.
"Bravo," said D'Artagnan, "that redoubles my desire to see my dear old friend." And he spurred his horse, which sprang off into a more rapid pace.
"Peste!" said Porthos, "if we go on at this rate, we shall only take one hour instead of two."
"To go how far, do you say, Porthos?"
"Four leagues and a half."
"That will be a good pace."
"I could have embarked you on the canal, but the devil take rowers and boat-horses! The first are like tortoises; the second like snails; and when a man is able to put a good horse between his knees, that horse is better than rowers or any other means."
"You are right; you above all, Porthos, who always look magnificent on horseback."
"Rather heavy, my friend; I was weighed the other day."
"And what do you weigh?"
"Three hundred-weight!" said Porthos, proudly.
"So that you must perceive, I am forced to choose horses whose loins are straight and wide, otherwise I break them down in two hours."
"Yes, giant's horses you must have, must you not?"
"You are very polite, my friend," replied the engineer, with affectionate majesty.
"As a case in point," replied D'Artagnan, "your horse seems to sweat already."
"Dame! It is hot! Ah, ah! do you see Vannes now?"
"Yes, perfectly. It is a handsome city, apparently."
"Charming, according to Aramis, at least; but I think it black; but black seems to be considered handsome by artists: I am sorry for it."
"Why so, Porthos?"
"Because I have lately had my chateau of Pierrefonds, which was gray with age, plastered white."
"Humph!" said D'Artagnan, "and white is more cheerful."
"Yes, but it is less august, as Aramis tells me. Fortunately there are dealers in black as well as white. I will have Pierrefonds replastered in black; that's all there is about it. If gray is handsome, you understand, my friend, black must be superb."
"Dame!" said D'Artagnan, "that appears logical."
"Were you never at Vannes, D'Artagnan?"
"Then you know nothing of the city?"
"Well, look!" said Porthos, raising himself in his stirrups, which made the fore-quarters of his horse bend sadly,—"do you see that corner, in the sun, yonder?"
"Yes, I see it plainly."
"Well, that is the cathedral."
"Which is called?"
"Saint-Pierre. Now look again—in the faubourg on the left, do you see another cross?"
"That is Saint-Patern, the parish preferred by Aramis."
"Without doubt. Saint-Patern, you see, passes for having been the first bishop of Vannes. It is true that Aramis pretends he was not. But he is so learned that that may be only a paro—a para—"
"A paradox," said D'Artagnan.
"Precisely; thank you! my tongue trips, I am so hot."
"My friend," said D'Artagnan, "continue your interesting description, I beg. What is that large white building with many windows?"
"Oh! that is the college of the Jesuits. Pardieu! you have an apt hand. Do you see, close to the college, a large house with steeples, turrets, built in a handsome Gothic style, as that fool, M. Getard, says?"
"Yes, that is plainly to be seen. Well?"
"Well, that is where Aramis resides."
"What! does he not reside at the episcopal palace?"
"No; that is in ruins. The palace likewise is in the city, and Aramis prefers the faubourgs. That is why, as I told you, he is partial to Saint-Patern; Saint-Patern is in the faubourg. Besides, there are in this faubourg a mall, a tennis-court, and a house of Dominicans. Look, that where the handsome steeple rises to the heavens."
"Next, you see the faubourg is like a separate city, it has its walls, its towers, its ditches; the quay is upon it likewise, and the boats land at the quay. If our little corsair did not draw eight feet of water, we could have come full sail up to Aramis's windows."
"Porthos, Porthos," cried D'Artagnan, "you are a well of knowledge, a spring of ingenious and profound reflections. Porthos, you no longer surprise me, you confound me."
"Here we are," said Porthos, turning the conversation with his usual modesty.
"And high time we were," thought D'Artagnan, "for Aramis's horse is melting away like a steed of ice."
They entered almost at the same instant the faubourg; but scarcely had they gone a hundred paces when they were surprised to find the streets strewed with leaves and flowers. Against the old walls of Vannes, hung the oldest and the strangest tapestries of France. From over balconies fell long white sheets stuck all over with bouquets. The streets were deserted; it was plain the entire population was assembled on one point. The blinds were closed, and the breeze penetrated into the houses under the hangings, which cast long, black shades between their places of issue and the walls. Suddenly, at the turning of a street, chants struck the ears of the newly arrived travelers. A crowd in holiday garb appeared through the vapors of incense which mounted to the heavens in blue fleeces, and clouds of rose-leaves fluttered as high as the first stories. Above all heads were to be seen the cross and banners, the sacred symbols of religion. Then, beneath these crosses and banners, as if protected by them, walked a whole world of young girls clothed in white, crowned with corn-flowers. At the two sides of the street, inclosing the cortege, marched the guards of the garrison, carrying bouquets in the barrels of their muskets and on the points of their lances. This was the procession.
Whilst D'Artagnan and Porthos were looking on with critical glances, which disguised an extreme impatience to get forward, a magnificent dais approached preceded by a hundred Jesuits and a hundred Dominicans, and escorted by two archdeacons, a treasurer, a penitent and twelve canons. A singer with a thundering voice—a man certainly picked out from all the voices of France, as was the drum-major of the imperial guard from all the giants of the empire—escorted by four other chanters, who appeared to be there only to serve him as an accompaniment, made the air resound, and the windows of the houses vibrate. Under the dais appeared a pale and noble countenance with black eyes, black hair streaked with threads of white, a delicate, compressed mouth, a prominent and angular chin. His head, full of graceful majesty, was covered with the episcopal mitre, a headdress which gave it, in addition to the character of sovereignty, that of asceticism and evangelic meditation.
"Aramis!" cried the musketeer, involuntarily, as this lofty countenance passed before him. The prelate started at the sound of the voice. He raised his large black eyes, with their long lashes, and turned them without hesitation towards the spot whence the exclamation proceeded. At a glance, he saw Porthos and D'Artagnan close to him. On his part, D'Artagnan, thanks to the keenness of his sight, had seen all, seized all. The full portrait of the prelate had entered his memory, never to leave it. One thing had particularly struck D'Artagnan. On perceiving him, Aramis had colored, then he had concentrated under his eyelids the fire of the look of the master, and the indefinable affection of the friend. It was evident that Aramis had asked himself this question:—"Why is D'Artagnan with Porthos, and what does he want at Vannes?" Aramis comprehended all that was passing in the mind of D'Artagnan, on turning his look upon him again, and seeing that he had not lowered his eyes. He knew the acuteness and intelligence of his friend; he feared to let him divine the secret of his blush and his astonishment. He was still the same Aramis, always having a secret to conceal. Therefore, to put an end to his look of an inquisitor, which it was necessary to get rid of at all events, as, at any price, a general extinguishes a battery which annoys him, Aramis stretched forth his beautiful white hand, upon which sparkled the amethyst of the pastoral ring; he cut the air with sign of the cross, and poured out his benediction upon his two friends. Perhaps thoughtful and absent, D'Artagnan, impious in spite of himself, might not have bent beneath this holy benediction; but Porthos saw his distraction, and laying his friendly hand upon the back of his companion, he crushed him down towards the earth. D'Artagnan was forced to give way; indeed, he was little short of being flat on the ground. In the meantime Aramis had passed. D'Artagnan, like Antaeus, had only touched the ground, and he turned towards Porthos, almost angry. But there was no mistaking the intention of the brave Hercules; it was a feeling of religious propriety that had influenced him. Besides, speech with Porthos, instead of disguising his thought, always completed it.
"It is very polite of him," said he, "to have given his benediction to us alone. Decidedly, he is a holy man, and a brave man." Less convinced than Porthos, D'Artagnan made no reply.
"Observe my friend," continued Porthos, "he has seen us; and, instead of continuing to walk on at the simple pace of the procession, as he did just now,—see, what a hurry he is in; do you see how the cortege is increasing its speed? He is eager to join us and embrace us, is that dear Aramis."
"That is true," replied D'Artagnan, aloud.—Then to himself:—"It is equally true he has seen me, the fox, and will have time to prepare himself to receive me."
But the procession had passed; the road was free. D'Artagnan and Porthos walked straight up to the episcopal palace, which was surrounded by a numerous crowd anxious to see the prelate return. D'Artagnan remarked that this crowd was composed principally of citizens and military men. He recognized in the nature of these partisans the address of his friend. Aramis was not the man to seek for a useless popularity. He cared very little for being beloved by people who could be of no service to him. Women, children, and old men, that is to say, the cortege of ordinary pastors; was not the cortege for him.
Ten minutes after the two friends had passed the threshold of the palace, Aramis returned like a triumphant conqueror; the soldiers presented arms to him as to a superior; the citizens bowed to him as to a friend and a patron, rather than as a head of the Church. There was something in Aramis resembling those Roman senators who had their doors always surrounded by clients. At the foot of the steps, he had a conference of half a minute with a Jesuit, who, in order to speak to him more secretly, passed his head under the dais. He then re-entered his palace; the doors closed slowly, and the crowd melted away, whilst chants and prayers were still resounding abroad. It was a magnificent day. Earthly perfumes were mingled with the perfumes of the air and the sea. The city breathed happiness, joy, and strength. D'Artagnan felt something like the presence of an invisible hand which had, all-powerfully, created this strength, this joy, this happiness, and spread everywhere these perfumes.
"Oh! oh!" said he, "Porthos has got fat; but Aramis is grown taller."