Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

D'Artagnan saw upon the port, but more particularly in the interior of
the isle, an immense number of workmen in motion.  At his feet D'Artagnan
recognized the five _chalands_ laden with rough stone he had seen leave
the port of Piriac.  The smaller stones were transported to the shore by
means of a chain formed by twenty-five or thirty peasants.  The large
stones were loaded on trollies which conveyed them in the same direction
as the others, that is to say, towards the works, of which D'Artagnan
could as yet appreciate neither the strength nor the extent.  Everywhere
was to be seen an activity equal to that which Telemachus observed on his
landing at Salentum.  D'Artagnan felt a strong inclination to penetrate
into the interior; but he could not, under the penalty of exciting
mistrust, exhibit too much curiosity.  He advanced then little by little,
scarcely going beyond the line formed by the fishermen on the beach,
observing everything, saying nothing, and meeting all suspicion that
might have been excited with a half-silly question or a polite bow.  And
yet, whilst his companions carried on their trade, giving or selling
their fish to the workmen or the inhabitants of the city, D'Artagnan had
gained by degrees, and, reassured by the little attention paid to him, he
began to cast an intelligent and confident look upon the men and things
that appeared before his eyes.  And his very first glance fell on certain
movements of earth about which the eye of a soldier could not be
mistaken.  At the two extremities of the port, in order that their fires
should converge upon the great axis of the ellipse formed by the basin,
in the first place, two batteries had been raised, evidently destined to
receive flank pieces, for D'Artagnan saw the workmen finishing the
platform and making ready the demi-circumference in wood upon which the
wheels of the pieces might turn to embrace every direction over the
epaulement.  By the side of each of these batteries other workmen were
strengthening gabions filled with earth, the lining of another battery.
The latter had embrasures, and the overseer of the works called
successively men who, with cords, tied the _saucissons_ and cut the
lozenges and right angles of turfs destined to retain the matting of the
embrasures.  By the activity displayed in these works, already so far
advanced, they might be considered as finished: they were not yet
furnished with their cannons, but the platforms had their _gites_ and
their _madriers_ all prepared; the earth, beaten carefully, was
consolidated; and supposing the artillery to be on the island, in less
than two or three days the port might be completely armed.  That which
astonished D'Artagnan, when he turned his eyes from the coast batteries
to the fortifications of the city, was to see that Belle-Isle was
defended by an entirely new system, of which he had often heard the Comte
de la Fere speak as a wonderful advance, but of which he had as yet never
seen the application.  These fortifications belonged neither to the Dutch
method of Marollais, nor to the French method of the Chevalier Antoine de
Ville, but to the system of Manesson Mallet, a skillful engineer, who
about six or eight years previously had quitted the service of Portugal
to enter that of France.  The works had this peculiarity, that instead of
rising above the earth, as did the ancient ramparts destined to defend a
city from escalades, they, on the contrary, sank into it; and what
created the height of the walls was the depth of the ditches.  It did not
take long to make D'Artagnan perceive the superiority of such a system,
which gives no advantage to cannon.  Besides, as the _fosses_ were lower
than, or on a level with, the sea, these _fosses_ could be instantly
inundated by means of subterranean sluices.  Otherwise, the works were
almost complete, and a group of workmen, receiving orders from a man who
appeared to be conductor of the works, were occupied in placing the last
stones.  A bridge of planks thrown over the _fosses_ for the greater
convenience of the maneuvers connected with the barrows, joined the
interior to the exterior.  With an air of simple curiosity D'Artagnan
asked if he might be permitted to cross the bridge, and he was told that
no order prevented it.  Consequently he crossed the bridge, and advanced
towards the group.

This group was superintended by the man whom D'Artagnan had already
remarked, and who appeared to be the engineer-in-chief.  A plan was lying
open before him upon a large stone forming a table, and at some paces
from him a crane was in action.  This engineer, who by his evident
importance first attracted the attention of D'Artagnan, wore a
_justaucorps_, which, from its sumptuousness, was scarcely in harmony
with the work he was employed in, that rather necessitated the costume of
a master-mason than of a noble.  He was a man of immense stature and
great square shoulders, and wore a hat covered with feathers.  He
gesticulated in the most majestic manner, and appeared, for D'Artagnan
only saw his back, to be scolding the workmen for their idleness and want
of strength.

D'Artagnan continued to draw nearer.  At that moment the man with the
feathers ceased to gesticulate, and, with his hands placed upon his
knees, was following, half-bent, the effort of six workmen to raise a
block of hewn stone to the top of a piece of timber destined to support
that stone, so that the cord of the crane might be passed under it.  The
six men, all on one side of the stone, united their efforts to raise it
to eight or ten inches from the ground, sweating and blowing, whilst a
seventh got ready for when there should be daylight enough beneath it to
slide in the roller that was to support it.  But the stone had already
twice escaped from their hands before gaining a sufficient height for the
roller to be introduced.  There can be no doubt that every time the stone
escaped them, they bounded quickly backwards, to keep their feet from
being crushed by the refalling stone.  Every time, the stone, abandoned
by them, sunk deeper into the damp earth, which rendered the operation
more and more difficult.  A third effort was followed by no better
success, but with progressive discouragement.  And yet, when the six men
were bent towards the stone, the man with the feathers had himself, with
a powerful voice, given the word of command, "_Ferme!_" which regulates
maneuvers of strength.  Then he drew himself up.

"Oh! oh!" said he, "what is this all about?  Have I to do with men of
straw?  _Corne de boeuf!_ stand on one side, and you shall see how this
is to be done."

"_Peste!_" said D'Artagnan, "will he pretend to raise that rock? that
would be a sight worth looking at."

The workmen, as commanded by the engineer, drew back with their ears
down, and shaking their heads, with the exception of the one who held the
plank, who prepared to perform the office.  The man with the feathers
went up to the stone, stooped, slipped his hands under the face lying
upon the ground, stiffened his Herculean muscles, and without a strain,
with a slow motion, like that of a machine, lifted the end of the rock a
foot from the ground.  The workman who held the plank profited by the
space thus given him, and slipped the roller under the stone.

"That's the way," said the giant, not letting the rock fall again, but
placing it upon its support.

"_Mordioux!_" cried D'Artagnan, "I know but one man capable of such a
feat of strength."

"_Hein!_" cried the colossus, turning round.

"Porthos!" murmured D'Artagnan, seized with stupor, "Porthos at Belle-

On his part, the man with the feathers fixed his eyes upon the disguised
lieutenant, and, in spite of his metamorphosis, recognized him.
"D'Artagnan!" cried he; and the color mounted to his face.  "Hush!" said
he to D'Artagnan.

"Hush!" in his turn, said the musketeer.  In fact, if Porthos had just
been discovered by D'Artagnan, D'Artagnan had just been discovered by
Porthos.  The interest of the particular secret of each struck them both
at the same instant.  Nevertheless the first movement of the two men was
to throw their arms around each other.  What they wished to conceal from
the bystanders, was not their friendship, but their names.  But, after
the embrace, came reflection.

"What the devil brings Porthos to Belle-Isle, lifting stones?" said
D'Artagnan; only D'Artagnan uttered that question in a low voice.  Less
strong in diplomacy than his friend, Porthos thought aloud.

"How the devil did you come to Belle-Isle?" asked he of D'Artagnan; "and
what do you want to do here?"  It was necessary to reply without
hesitation.  To hesitate in answer to Porthos would have been a check,
for which the self-love of D'Artagnan would never have consoled itself.

"_Pardieu!_ my friend, I am at Belle-Isle because you are here."

"Ah, bah!" said Porthos, visibly stupefied with the argument and seeking
to account for it to himself, with the felicity of deduction we know to
be particular to him.

"Without doubt," continued D'Artagnan, unwilling to give his friend time
to recollect himself, "I have been to see you at Pierrefonds."



"And you did not find me there?"

"No, but I found Mouston."

"Is he well?"


"Well, but Mouston did not tell you I was here."

"Why should he _not?_  Have I, perchance, deserved to lose his

"No; but he did not know it."

"Well; that is a reason at least that does not offend my self-love."

"Then how did you manage to find me?"

"My dear friend, a great noble like you always leaves traced behind him
on his passage; and I should think but poorly of myself, if I were not
sharp enough to follow the traces of my friends."  This explanation,
flattering as it was, did not entirely satisfy Porthos.

"But I left no traces behind me, for I came here disguised," said Porthos.

"Ah!  You came disguised did you?" said D'Artagnan.


"And how?"

"As a miller."

"And do you think a great noble, like you, Porthos, can affect common
manners so as to deceive people?"

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: