"Go to the riverside, ask for the brig Sund, and give this letter to the captain; he will convey you to a little port, where certainly you are not expected, and which is ordinarily only frequented by fishermen."
"The name of that port?"
"St. Valery; but listen. When you have arrived there you will go to a mean tavern, without a name and without a sign - a mere fisherman's hut. You cannot be mistaken; there is but one."
"You will ask for the host, and will repeat to him the word 'Forward!'"
"In French, en avant. It is the password. He will give you a horse all saddled, and will point out to you the road you ought to take. You will find, in the same way, four relays on your route. If you will give at each of these relays your address in Paris, the four horses will follow you thither. You already know two of them, and you appeared to appreciate them like a judge. They were those we rode on; and you may rely upon me for the others not being inferior to them. These horses are equipped for the field. However proud you may be, you will not refuse to accept one of them, and to request your three companions to accept the others - that is, in order to make war against us. Besides, the end justified the means, as you Frenchmen say, does it not?"
"Yes, my Lord, I accept them," said d'Artagnan; "and if it please God, we will make a good use of your presents."
"Well, now, your hand, young man. Perhaps we shall soon meet on the field of battle; but in the meantime we shall part good friends, I hope."
"Yes, my Lord; but with the hope of soon becoming enemies."
"Be satisfied; I promise you that."
"I depend upon your word, my Lord."
D'Artagnan bowed to the duke, and made his way as quickly as possible to the riverside. Opposite the Tower of London he found the vessel that had been named to him, delivered his letter to the captain, who after having it examined by the governor of the port made immediate preparations to sail.
Fifty vessels were waiting to set out. Passing alongside one of them, d'Artagnan fancied he perceived on board it the woman of Meung - the same whom the unknown gentleman had called Milady, and whom d'Artagnan had thought so handsome; but thanks to the current of the stream and a fair wind, his vessel passed so quickly that he had little more than a glimpse of her.
The next day about nine o'clock in the morning, he landed at St. Valery. D'Artagnan went instantly in search of the inn, and easily discovered it by the riotous noise which resounded from it. War between England and France was talked of as near and certain, and the jolly sailors were having a carousal.
"Go from hence to Blangy, and from Blangy to Neufchatel. At Neufchatel, go to the tavern of the Golden Harrow, give the password to the landlord, and you will find, as you have here, a horse ready saddled."
"Have I anything to pay?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Everything is paid," replied the host, "and liberally. Begone, and may God guide you!"
"Amen!" cried the young man, and set off at full gallop.
Four hours later he was in Neufchatel. He strictly followed the instructions he had received. At Neufchatel, as at St. Valery, he found a horse quite ready and awaiting him. He was about to remove the pistols from the saddle he had quit to the one he was about to fill, but he found the holsters furnished with similar pistols.
"Your address at Paris?"
"Hotel of the Guards, company of Des Essart."
"Enough," replied the questioner.
"Which route must I take?" demanded d'Artagnan, in his turn.
"That of Rouen; but you will leave the city on your right. You must stop at the little village of Eccuis, in which there is but one tavern - the Shield of France. Don't condemn it from appearances; you will find a horse in the stables quite as good as this."
"The same password?"
"A good journey, gentlemen! Do you want anything?"
D'Artagnan shook his head, and set off at full speed. At Eccuis, the same scene was repeated. He found as provident a host and a fresh horse. He left his address as he had done before, and set off again at the same pace for Pontoise. At Pontoise he changed his horse for the last time, and at nine o'clock galloped into the yard of Treville's hotel. He had made nearly sixty leagues in little more than twelve hours.
M. de Treville received him as if he had seen him that same morning; only, when pressing his hand a little more warmly than usual, he informed him that the company of Des Essart was on duty at the Louvre, and that he might repair at once to his post.
- Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers