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Two decades have passed since the famous swordsmen triumphed over Cardinal Richelieu and Milady in The Three Musketeers. Time has weakened their resolve, and dispersed their loyalties. But treasons and strategems still cry out for justice: civil war endangers the throne of France, while in England, Cromwell threatens to send Charles I to the scaffold. Dumas brings his immortal quartet out of retirement to cross swords with time, the malevolence of men, and the forces of history. But their greatest test is the titanic struggle with the son of Milady who wears the face of evil.
964 pages, with a reading time of ~14.75 hours (241,242 words), and first published in 1845. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2009.
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In a splendid chamber of the Palais Royal, formerly styled the Palais Cardinal, a man was sitting in deep reverie, his head supported on his hands, leaning over a gilt and inlaid table which was covered with letters and papers. Behind this figure glowed a vast fireplace alive with leaping flames; great logs of oak blazed and crackled on the polished brass andirons whose flicker shone upon the superb habiliments of the lonely tenant of the room, which was illumined grandly by twin candelabra rich with wax-lights.
Any one who happened at that moment to contemplate that red simar–the gorgeous robe of office–and the rich lace, or who gazed on that pale brow, bent in anxious meditation, might, in the solitude of that apartment, combined with the silence of the ante-chambers and the measured paces of the guards upon the landing-place, have fancied that the shade of Cardinal Richelieu lingered still in his accustomed haunt.
It was, alas! the ghost of former greatness. France enfeebled, the authority of her sovereign contemned, her nobles returning to their former turbulence and insolence, her enemies within her frontiers–all proved the great Richelieu no longer in existence.
In truth, that the red simar which occupied the wonted place was his no longer, was still more strikingly obvious from the isolation which seemed, as we have observed, more appropriate to a phantom than a living creature–from the corridors deserted by courtiers, and courts crowded with guards–from that spirit of bitter ridicule, which, arising from the streets below, penetrated through the very casements of the room, which resounded with the murmurs of a whole city leagued against the minister; as well as from the distant and incessant sounds of guns firing–let off, happily, without other end or aim, except to show to the guards, the Swiss troops and the military who surrounded the Palais Royal, that the people were possessed of arms.
The shade of Richelieu was Mazarin. Now Mazarin was alone and defenceless, as he well knew.
“Foreigner!” he ejaculated, “Italian! that is their mean yet mighty byword of reproach–the watchword with which they assassinated, hanged, and made away with Concini; and if I gave them their way they would assassinate, hang, and make away with me in the same manner, although they have nothing to complain of except a tax or two now and then. Idiots! ignorant of their real enemies, they do not perceive that it is not the Italian who speaks French badly, but those who can say fine things to them in the purest Parisian accent, who are their real foes.
“Yes, yes,” Mazarin continued, whilst his wonted smile, full of subtlety, lent a strange expression to his pale lips; “yes, these noises prove to me, indeed, that the destiny of favorites is precarious; but ye shall know I am no ordinary favorite. No! The Earl of Essex, ’tis true, wore a splendid ring, set with diamonds, given him by his royal mistress, whilst I–I have nothing but a simple circlet of gold, with a cipher on it and a date; but that ring has been blessed in the chapel of the Palais Royal, so they will never ruin me, as they long to do, and whilst they shout, ’Down with Mazarin!’ I, unknown, and unperceived by them, incite them to cry out, ’Long live the Duke de Beaufort’ one day; another, ’Long live the Prince de Conde;’ and again, ’Long live the parliament!’” And at this word the smile on the cardinal’s lips assumed an expression of hatred, of which his mild countenance seemed incapable. “The parliament! We shall soon see how to dispose,” he continued, “of the parliament! Both Orleans and Montargis are ours. It will be a work of time, but those who have begun by crying out: Down with Mazarin! will finish by shouting out, Down with all the people I have mentioned, each in his turn.
“Richelieu, whom they hated during his lifetime and whom they now praise after his death, was even less popular than I am. Often he was driven away, oftener still had he a dread of being sent away. The queen will never banish me, and even were I obliged to yield to the populace she would yield with me; if I fly, she will fly; and then we shall see how the rebels will get on without either king or queen.
“Oh, were I not a foreigner! were I but a Frenchman! were I but of gentle birth!”