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26. The Rencontre.
They rode on in this way for ten minutes. Suddenly two dark forms seemed to separate from the mass, advanced, grew in size, and as they loomed up larger and larger, assumed the appearance of two horsemen.
"Aha!" cried D'Artagnan, "they're coming toward us."
"So much the worse for them," said Porthos.
"Who goes there?" cried a hoarse voice.
The three horsemen made no reply, stopped not, and all that was heard was the noise of swords drawn from the scabbards and the cocking of the pistols with which the two phantoms were armed.
"Bridle in mouth!" said D'Artagnan.
Porthos understood him and he and the lieutenant each drew with the left hand a pistol from their bolsters and cocked it in their turn.
"Who goes there?" was asked a second time. "Not a step forward, or you're dead men."
"Stuff!" cried Porthos, almost choked with dust and chewing his bridle as a horse chews his bit. "Stuff and nonsense; we have seen plenty of dead men in our time."
Hearing these words, the two shadows blockaded the road and by the light of the stars might be seen the shining of their arms.
"Back!" shouted D'Artagnan, "or you are dead!"
Two shots were the reply to this threat; but the assailants attacked their foes with such velocity that in a moment they were upon them; a third pistol-shot was heard, aimed by D'Artagnan, and one of his adversaries fell. As for Porthos, he assaulted the foe with such violence that, although his sword was thrust aside, the enemy was thrown off his horse and fell about ten steps from it.
"Finish, Mouston, finish the work!" cried Porthos. And he darted on beside his friend, who had already begun a fresh pursuit.
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