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Dumas manages to jam enough action and storyline into the novel to make it worth the read. Despite being a weaker work in Dumas’ bibliography, it displays the craftsmanship in blending action and suspense that were so common to his novels.
130,282 words, with a reading time of ~ 7.9 hours (~ 521 pages), and first published in 1843. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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On the 22d of March, in the year of our Lord 1718, a young cavalier of high bearing, about twenty-six or twenty-eight years of age, mounted on a pure-bred Spanish charger, was waiting, toward eight o’clock in the morning, at that end of the Pont Neuf which abuts on the Quai de l’Ecole.
He was so upright and firm in his saddle, that one might have imagined him to be placed there as a sentinel by the Lieutenant-General of Police, Messire Voyer d’Argenson. After waiting about half an hour, during which time he impatiently examined the clock of the Samaritaine, his glance, wandering till then, appeared to rest with satisfaction on an individual who, coming from the Place Dauphine, turned to the right, and advanced toward him.
The man who thus attracted the attention of the young chevalier was a powerfully-built fellow of five feet ten, wearing, instead of a peruke, a forest of his own black hair, slightly grizzled, dressed in a manner half-bourgeois, half-military, ornamented with a shoulder-knot which had once been crimson, but from exposure to sun and rain had become a dirty orange. He was armed with a long sword slung in a belt, and which bumped ceaselessly against the calves of his legs. Finally, he wore a hat once furnished with a plume and lace, and which–in remembrance, no doubt, of its past splendor–its owner had stuck so much over his left ear, that it seemed as if only a miracle of equilibrium could keep it in its place. There was altogether in the countenance and in the carriage and bearing of the man (who seemed from forty to forty-five years of age, and who advanced swaggering and keeping the middle of the road, curling his mustache with one hand, and with the other signing to the carriages to give place), such a character of insolent carelessness, that the cavalier who watched him smiled involuntarily, as he murmured to himself, “I believe this is my man.”
In consequence of this probability, he walked straight up to the new-comer, with the evident intention of speaking to him. The latter, though he evidently did not know the cavalier, seeing that he was going to address him, placed himself in the third position, and waited, one hand on his sword and the other on his mustache, to hear what the person who was coming up had to say to him. Indeed, as the man with the orange ribbon had foreseen, the young cavalier stopped his horse by him, and touching his hat–“Sir,” said he, “I think I may conclude, from your appearance and manner, that you are a gentleman; am I mistaken?”
“No, palsam-bleu!” replied he to whom this strange question was addressed, touching his hat in his turn. “I am delighted that my appearance speaks so well for me, for, however little you would think that you were giving me my proper title, you may call me captain.”
“I am enchanted that you are a soldier; it is an additional security to me that you are incapable of leaving a brave man in distress.”
“Welcome, provided always the brave man has no need of my purse, for I confess, freely, that I have just left my last crown in a cabaret on the Port de la Tonnelle.”
“Nobody wants your purse, captain; on the contrary, I beg you to believe that mine is at your disposal.”
“To whom have I the honor to speak?” asked the captain, visibly touched by this reply, “and in what can I oblige you?”
“I am the Baron Rene de Valef,” replied the cavalier.
“I think,” interrupted the captain, “that I knew, in the Flemish wars, a family of that name.”
“It was mine, since we are from Liege.” The two speakers exchanged bows.
“You must know then,” continued the Baron de Valef, “that the Chevalier Raoul d’Harmental, one of my most intimate friends, last night, in my company, picked up a quarrel, which will finish this morning by a meeting. Our adversaries were three, and we but two. I went this morning to the houses of the Marquis de Gacé and Comte de Sourgis, but unfortunately neither the one nor the other had passed the night in his bed; so, as the affair could not wait, as I must set out in two hours for Spain, and that we absolutely require a second, or rather a third, I installed myself on the Pont Neuf with the intention of addressing the first gentleman who passed. You passed, and I addressed myself to you.”
“And you have done right, pardieu! rest satisfied, baron, I am your man. What hour is fixed for the meeting?”
“Half-past nine this morning.”
“Where will it take place?”
“At the Port Maillot.”
“Diable! there is no time to lose; but you are on horseback and I am on foot; how shall we manage that?”
“There is a way, captain.”
“What is it?”
“It is that you should do me the honor of mounting behind me.”
“I warn you, however,” added the young cavalier, with a slight smile, “that my horse is rather spirited.”