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44. THE UTILITY OF STOVEPIPES
It was evident that without suspecting it, and actuated solely by their chivalrous and adventurous character, our three friends had just rendered a service to someone the cardinal honored with his special protection.
Now, who was that someone? That was the question the three Musketeers put to one another. Then, seeing that none of their replies could throw any light on the subject, Porthos called the host and asked for dice.
Porthos and Aramis placed themselves at the table and began to play. Athos walked about in a contemplative mood.
While thinking and walking, Athos passed and repassed before the pipe of the stove, broken in halves, the other extremity passing into the chamber above; and every time he passed and repassed he heard a murmur of words, which at length fixed his attention. Athos went close to it, and distinguished some words that appeared to merit so great an interest that he made a sign to his friends to be silent, remaining himself bent with his ear directed to the opening of the lower orifice.
"Listen, Milady," said the cardinal, "the affair is important. Sit down, and let us talk it over."
"Milady!" murmured Athos.
"I listen to your Eminence with greatest attention," replied a female voice which made the Musketeer start.
"A small vessel with an English crew, whose captain is on my side, awaits you at the mouth of Charente, at fort of the Point. He will set sail tomorrow morning."
"I must go thither tonight?"
"Instantly! That is to say, when you have received my instructions. Two men, whom you will find at the door on going out, will serve you as escort. You will allow me to leave first; then, after half an hour, you can go away in your turn."
"Yes, monseigneur. Now let us return to the mission with which you wish to charge me; and as I desire to continue to merit the confidence of your Eminence, deign to unfold it to me in terms clear and precise, that I may not commit an error."
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