Chapter 91: The Vision of le Duc d'Almeda
In which the destiny of Aramis is revealed
As we once related to our readers the vision of Athos, we now relate to them the vision of Aramis.
Six years have passed since the Duc d'Almeda had returned to Spain, and that glorious Marshal had met his end. Once more, and for the last time, Aramis found himself on a diplomatic mission to France. Old and hoary, he was relinquishing his position as ambassador, as he had previously relinquished his position as general of the Jesuits, and once this last mission was complete, he would return to Spain and his estates, and there live out the remainder of whatever life God would be pleased to give him.
Before he left France for the last time, however, he had three visits to pay to old friends.
The first visit was in Paris. Aramis had heard, of course, of the death of D'Artagnan. M. Colbert had written to him of it. He ordered his carriage to stop outside the chapel where that brave musketeer of old was interred. He stood silently for a long moment, his hand resting on the cold marble tomb. In their lifetimes, more communication had passed unspoken between him and D'Artagnan, than ever had been said. And now, words were not necessary to convey to his friend all that passed in his heart.
His second visit was on the road through Blois. He recalled to mind his last meeting with D'Artagnan. The old musketeer had told him that they should love each other for four, since they were now but two. But D'Artagnan had carried Athos' spirit with him, as surely as Aramis carried that of Porthos. Had he not accepted Athos' title and lands from the King shortly after the funeral of that most noble man? Aramis had not had to ask D'Artagnan; he could see it in his eyes, and hear it in his voice, as they paused at the chapel in Blois that day during the King's hunt. He had not taken the title and lands from ambition, but from the simple inability to bear the thought of Athos' estates belonging to a stranger.
Now, however, they did, for D'Artagnan had had no heir. Aramis had not sought to inquire after the identity of the new owner, nor could he bear to look at the old chateau as he passed.
He stopped the carriage at the entrance to the little chapel, and made his way inside. The cypress tree had grown, completely shading the enclosure where the noblest of them all was buried.
"You once gave me your absolution, my dear friend," he murmured, looking down at the cross that marked Athos' tomb. Beside him lay Raoul, and near them, faithful Grimaud, who, upon the death of D'Artagnan, having no one from the former days to serve, died one morning as quietly as he had lived.
"But Spain," he continued, " has given me the punishment, the penance, that I deserve."
D'Artagnan had accepted the lands and title of Comte for Athos' sake; Aramis had accepted the title of Duc for Porthos'. The duchy offered to him, and the title it conferred meant nothing to him. His ambition—that constant force that had driven him throughout his life—had been mortally wounded with that brave giant's death. It was why, under other pretenses, he had given up his position in the Jesuits; why he had not sought a Cardinal's hat. But a duke's title and lands were the very thing that Porthos had wanted most in the world; they were the very thing that Aramis had promised him that night when he convinced his friend to lend his assistance in that fateful plot. And so, Aramis had accepted the duchy as a daily reminder of his greatest failure: that of having caused the death of his dearest friend.
His final stop in France was at Belle-Isle. He gave orders for his servant to attend to their departure for Spain; a departure by sea, by the very route he had taken ten years earlier. While it was cloudy, his servant said, it did not look like rain. Their departure would take place on time, and he had two hours until then.
He slowly made his way around the fortress. Though it had been ten years since he had last seen this place, he knew it by heart.
The mountain of rock that had formed Porthos' sepulcher had been overcome by moss and lichen over the past ten years, and to the untrained eye, it would have been mistaken for a grassy hill. But Aramis had not—could not—would not—ever forgotten that mound. He approached it slowly, reverently.
"Brave Porthos!" he murmured. "Dearest friend!" He blinked back tears: a wind had blown from the sea into his face, although, an observer might have noticed that the leaves of the nearby trees did not stir. Suddenly, the idea of leaving France forever, of dying and being buried in Spain, away from those he had loved, struck his heart with a pain he could hardly bear. Had they not been called The Inseparables? To be taken away now, forever disunited from his beloved friends, seemed impossible to bear.
His breath caught in his throat as he sank to his knees next to the mossy hill and embraced it. A ray of light broke through the clouds, falling on his head. He looked up into the heavens to see the clouds part, and to see a most wondrous scene appear before his eyes.
There, in the heavens, seated around a table, were Athos, Porthos, and D'Artagnan, dressed in their uniforms of old, swords and pistols at their sides. Their youthfulness had returned, and they were engaged in eating and drinking and talking, laughing as they used to do, interrupting each other, each trying to make himself heard over the others. D'Artagnan and Porthos sat at the ends of the table, facing one another, while Athos sat along the back side, where it seemed that, if he had wanted to, he could look down on Aramis. The other side of the table held an empty plate, and a vacant chair, and Aramis felt the weight of his separation from them, a gulf that seemed eternally unspanable.
"My friends!" Aramis murmured, as another pain shot through his heart.
D'Artagnan and Porthos continued on in their way, but Athos paused. His eye fixed on Aramis, and he smiled down on him as he rose from his seat.
"My dear friend," he said, in his noble and quiet voice, "we have been waiting for you."
At his words, both D'Artagnan and Porthos stopped their banter and turned to follow Athos' gaze. They rose as well. D'Artagnan smiled, and Porthos laughed his great laugh.
"You will forgive us for starting without you, won't you, dear Aramis?" asked Porthos. "You know how I hate to be kept waiting when a good table is set before me."
Aramis could not help but smile in his turn. "Noble Athos! Dear D'Artagnan! Brave Porthos!"
"The wine is good," said Athos, "and the food plentiful. All that is wanting is your company, my friend." And a solemnity, so characteristic of that noble being, came over him. He stretched out his hand to him. D'Artagnan did likewise, but Porthos, eternally merry, threw wide his arms in a gesture of welcoming.
At this, the heavens broke open, and the sun poured down upon the former musketeer, blinding him to the vision before him. He could still hear dear Porthos' laugh, however, and he threw wide his arms in turn, lifting his face to the sky. For a moment, he felt himself to be a youth of twenty-three again.
"Wait for me, my friends," cried he, breathless. "I am coming to you! I am coming!"
The servant, along with an officer of the ship that was bound for Spain, looked down on the body of the old ambassador, the Duc d'Almeda, his arms stretched wide and an expression of ineffable joy on his face—an expression that no one had ever seen the Duc display before.
"Who was he?" asked the officer.
"The last of his kind," replied the servant.
"Shall we send to Vannes for the bishop to take charge?"
"Send to the bishop, yes," said the servant, "that he may come and perform the Mass, but we shall bury him here, where he so clearly found happiness."