Dead Men Don’t Duel
by Monsieur de Tréville
The story I am about to tell you is not mentioned at all in The Three Musketeers, even though it was widely known in Paris at the time. I suspect that its omission was either an oversight, or that Monsieur Dumas found it to be somewhat tangential to the main themes of his history and, therefore, did not include it in the first part of his work.
It began on a pleasant summer day when I was summoned to the Louvre by the King to meet with him and the Cardinal. They were quite perturbed about the staggering number of Frenchmen who were being killed year in and year out in duels, and they finally decided to put a stop to it by strictly enforcing the edicts against the practice. Their purpose was to forewarn me, so that I could warn my men—as the Cardinal had already done with his own guardsmen—that the prohibitions were now real, and that the penalties for violators would be severe.
The next day I issued my own orders to the company of Musketeers forbidding them in the strongest terms from engaging in duels and, to emphasize the point, Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and d’Artagnan were summoned to my office. They entered as a group when Aramis arrived somewhat after the others.
“Gentlemen, I will come straight to the point. You are familiar with the edicts against dueling and my own new orders to the King’s Musketeers on the subject, which includes three of you. Since the four of you are inseparable, I have asked Monsieur d’Artagnan here to hear me as well. There will be no more of duels, it stops as of this instant.” I growled at them.
Warnings had been publicly issued to reinforce the edicts before, although in fact dueling had been ignored and even encouraged when it came to battles between the Musketeers and the Cardinals guardsmen.
“I understand completely,” Athos replied with a smile and a low sweep of his hand which held his new hat.
“Of course, Monsieur de Treville,” Aramis added with a wink.
“It is totally clear,” Porthos said while he playfully nudged d’Artagnan in the ribs with his elbow.
“No, you obviously don’t understand!!” I thundered. “The fact that the edicts have not been enforced in the past by all concerned is completely and absolutely irrelevant. Now they will be enforced. The first person caught dueling will be lucky if he just goes to prison. Anyone who kills a man during such an encounter will surely be beheaded.”
“France needs you and I need you with your heads firmly on your shoulders,” I continued. “Not collected in a basket on the scaffold after the public executioner has done his duty.”
“My God, for once this is serious,” Aramis observed.
“Yes, very serious. France is famous throughout Europe for its addiction to dueling. It has become almost a national disease. Do you know that between seven and eight thousand noblemen were killed in such encounters during the 21 year reign of Henri IV? That’s more aristocrats than died in all of France’s wars during the same period of time. The king will not have the country lose the flower of its nobility. What would we become, a nation of peasants and priests?”
“We will do our best, Monsieur,” Athos assured me.
“You must do even better than that,” I warned them. “No matter what the incident or provocation, you cannot issue or accept a challenge. The four of you, given your abilities, histories, and reputations, must be especially careful because I believe His Majesty wants nothing more than to make an example out of someone so that it is clear to the entire country that the mood has changed.”
“But what about the Cardinal’s guards? What if they provoke us, as they always have before?” Porthos asked, providing a somewhat one-sided description of the past.
“I am sure that his Eminence is having a similar conversation with his guards right now, because he is not eager to lose any of his best men either. They will be fully aware of the situation.”
And so they were, as evidenced by an event that occurred within a fortnight. Athos and his three companions were still in uniform and drinking one evening in the Three Eagles tavern after coming off duty. It was well known that Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and D’Artagnan could regularly be found there. Several of its serving girls were remarkably pretty, the old man who owned it was a congenial host, and he stocked some very desirable wines. The serving girls knew the reputations of these four gentlemen and were so impressed with their courtesy and manners that they vied with each other for the right to serve them. So much so that the owner often had to step in and settle minor disputes about who was assigned to which table. For their part, the young ladies, not knowing the full backgrounds of the four friends, found Athos’s indifference to members of the opposite sex puzzling, and the charming and handsome Aramis’s lack of interest in them, because he was destined for a career in the church, curious. They contented themselves with dreams of capturing the heart of young d’Artagnan or the attention of the seemingly well to do Porthos.
Not long after the four men were seated a contingent of the Cardinal’s guards, also in uniform, walked in. The newcomers found themselves a table almost within reach of their long-time adversaries and ordered several bottles of the finest wine on hand. Bernajoux. Bicarat, Cahusac, and Jussac, the greatest of the Cardinal’s swordsmen, were all there.
When a slender, brown haired servant girl produced the bottles, she brought one to Aramis.
“Monsieur, these gentlemen,” she said, pointing toward the guardsmen, “ask that you join them in a drink.”
When Aramis nodded she uncorked the bottle and quickly produced a new set of four cups.
As soon as the cups were full all around, Jussac rose and pointed his toward them. “To the King’s Musketeers,” he proclaimed.
Both tables joined in the toast.
“To the Cardinal’s guards,” Athos said in return as they drank a second toast.
This slight gesture spoke volumes to everyone who observed it, including other musketeers lounging in the tavern.
Unfortunately, not all of the nobles living in Paris saw or wanted to see that the climate had changed dramatically. There were many young firebrands, most notably several who dueled almost without provocation or reason and had no intention of changing. Perhaps they were too young or too ignorant to understand the situation. Regardless of the reason for it, they refused to understand that things were now quite different.
Some two weeks after the Musketeers and Cardinal’s guards toasted each other, Athos and his friends were gathered again in the Three Eagles. The sun still shone into the main room as it descended into the west, and several pretty waiting girls brightened the interior with their loveliness. As they chatted over wine about the recent events and the total absence of any duels in Paris since Monsieur de Treville had given them his private warning, the inn door was thrown open with considerable noise.
In strode the Comte de Bouteville, followed by his cousin, the Comte de Chapelles, the Comte de Coligny, and Sieur de la Berthe. De Bouteville was a tall young man with a long face and long nose. His thin hair fell over his shoulders on to his green doublet. Comte de Chapelles, dressed in brown, bore a certain resemblance to him. The rather stocky de la Berthe had on a fine, red jacket and the Comte de Coligny, given his wealth, wore an exquisite dark blue doublet with matching pants.
De Bouteville had fought his first duel at the age of 15, and he had reportedly been in a dozen or more other meetings since then. He fought for any reason and often for no reason other than to fight. His companions were little better.
“Oh, I see the King’s brave soldiers are here,” he said when he spied Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and d’Aragnan sitting near the door. “My friends and I have been looking to make your acquaintance.”
“As you probably know, I am Athos, Porthos is seated next to me, and Aramis is directly across from me. Monsieur D’Artagnan is sitting beside him. It is very good to meet you. Now if you don’t mind we have business to discuss.”
“Not so fast, Monsieur Athos, we have our own business with you. Paris has been remarkably quiet lately. We must liven it up again.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” Athos inquired.
“Why, by a meeting on the field of honor! My friends and I have heard of the four of you for quite some time now and it is only proper that we meet. Where do you prefer? A spot in the woods very early in the morning? Behind the Carmelite convent late in the afternoon?”
Hearing no response, de Bouteville continued. “Good God, have we sought out the wrong men?”
“Perhaps you have not heard, but the edicts forbid dueling,” Aramis responded.
“The edicts are as toothless as an old woman,” De la Berthe countered. “They have never been enforced.”
“I assure you, gentlemen, that now they are being enforced.” Athos corrected.
“What are the edicts to men of spirit such as us? What about you, Monsieur D’Artagnan? You and I should meet at sword point,” the Comte de Bouteville continued.
D’Artagnan refrained from responding.
“You don’t like my suggestions? Perhaps you have another place in mind, maybe some secluded location you prefer. I assure that I will meet you anywhere at any time. How about in front of the Louvre at noon? Or I can meet you on the high altar in Notre Dame on a Sunday morning during mass?” De Bouteville stopped for a moment. “Or are you afraid to meet me?”
D’Artagnan jumped to his feet. If Athos had not held him back, he would have run de Bouteville through then and there, edicts or no edicts.
“Good Lord, you are a blasphemous idiot. May God strike you down for what you just said,” Aramis’s curse deflected the attention now to him, as the Comte de Bouteville and his friends edged forward.
“I have a better idea, musketeer, why don’t you strike me down? After I’ve met Monsieur d’Artagnan, you and I will duel next.”
“That will surely never happen,” Aramis answered calmly.
“Why not?” He sneered at what he thought was a show of cowardice.
“Because dead men don’t duel.”
The other party was taken completely aback by Aramis’s matter of fact retort and a crowd gathered around them, including people who were walking past the inn and heard the argument through the open door. The aristocrats had expected that a challenge or perhaps some slight provocation would have led to a quietly arranged meeting with the soldiers later. It was now all becoming much too public for even their liking.
De Bouteville’s party turned and stormed out of the inn.
“My God, what manner of fools are these?” Aramis asked.
“They are puffed up by some minor successes. They have all fought duels in the past but until recently not against accomplished swordsmen. De Bouteville fought Jussac to a draw not long after you came to Paris, d’Artagnan. But Jussac was still suffering from the wound you had just given him. If he had been completely healthy, I assure you that he would have skewered the comte in under 30 seconds.”
“It’s a good thing you stopped me, Athos, or I would have killed for what he said to me,” d’Artagnan responded.
“If it would have gotten that far I would have killed him before you had the chance. You are young and have your whole life ahead of you. Mine no longer means quite so much to me,” Athos said gravely. “But let us not lose our heads here.”
They smiled at Athos’s little joke.
“Athos, we all remember Monsieur de Treville’s little sermon to us about the seriousness of the edicts. But we are in a difficult predicament. These young hotheads will surely challenge us again. And if we don’t meet them, they will call us cowards. The situation is completely unacceptable to me.
“I know Aramis, but there is no easy solution to this problem. We had best think about this very carefully.”
And they did think about it, for several days until the other three found a message from Porthos waiting for them at their lodgings. It said simply “Come to my house tonight at eight.”
They arrived at the appointed hour to find wine and Porthos waiting for them. When they were seated he began to speak.
“I have a plan,” he said simply.
“Really?!” was the answer. Porthos was a man of loud words and bold actions, but he was not noted as a deep thinker.
“Yes, let me explain it to you. We will meet them with sword in hand.”
“Have you forgotten about the edicts?” D’Artagnan asked.
“Not at all. They practice fencing every Tuesday afternoon at the school of Monsieur Montclair. We will go there next Tuesday and engage in a little fencing contest with them. The tips of the foils will be buttoned, and I am sure that Montclair will oversee the whole event. I think we will get our point across.”
“Very good, very witty of you Porthos,” Aramis laughed.
“A most interesting idea, my dear Porthos. I commend you for it.” Athos added.
Porthos beamed at the praise he received.
A few days later heads turned, especially among Comte de Bouteville and his friends, when Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and d’Artagnan entered the fencing school. Monsieur Montclair was an old soldier who was perhaps the finest fencing master in Paris. Many of his students were very proficient swordsmen, and d’Artagnan and his musketeer friends were known by sight to quite a few of the men there that day and by reputation to all of them. There was a buzz inside as everyone stopped what he was doing and turned to converse with his neighbor.
“Greetings, gentlemen. How may I help you?” the fencing master inquired.
“We have come to fence with some of your students,” Porthos said pointing to their intended adversaries. “I presume you can provide us with foils?”
“Of course, this is a fencing school. That is what we do here.”
Athos and his companions chose weapons from a rack and examined them carefully, thrusting and slashing with them and turning them in their hands in various ways.
De Bouteville approached and the rules were worked out. Each man was to fight each of the four men in the other party ten times, making forty contests for each of the eight men. The winner in each contest was the man who scored three touchs first. Everyone else cleared to the sides so that the eight combatants could begin. Monsieur Montclair walked from contest to contest to make sure that order was preserved.
In the first round Athos fought Comte de Bouteville, using his right hand, D’Artagnan faced Comte de Chapelles, Aramis engaged with the Comte de Coligny, and Porthos squared off against Sieur de la Berthe. Athos and his friends fought conservatively. The other party, full of self-confidence, charged in almost recklessly. After a few moments the second group was calling out “touche” regularly to acknowledge that points were being scored against them by the soldiers.
Athos finished first, with D’Artagnan soon following him, and then in a few moments Aramis and Porthos were done with their adversaries. It was agreed that there would be five minutes for rest and refreshment after the last pair of fencers finished. When the time expired they switched opponents and started again.
The second set of contests was dissimilar to the first, in that now the Comte de Bouteville and his party were much more careful. The battles took longer, but the results were the same as before. Athos and his fellows triumphed quite handily.
After some water, the third round started. The Comte and his friends, who did not have the hard discipline of soldiers, started to show fatigue. They yielded points at various times because they were sloppy or they lacked speed. Again the soldiers were the clear victors all around.
In the fourth round the aristocrats fought largely on the defensive and found themselves hard pressed by the soldiers. In some instances they were overwhelmed by strength or technique or both and the three touchs needed to win a contest came quickly. The fourth round was the shortest of the four segments by far.
When it was over Monsieur Montclair made some final notations on a chalk board and then announced the results to all assembled.
“Monsieur Athos defeated the Comte de Bouteville nine times, and he bested Comte de Chapelles, Comte de Coligny, and the Sieur de la Berthe in ten of ten contests. Monsieur D’Artagnan has won in all encontests against the Comte de Bouteville, Comte de Coligny, and the Sieur de la Berthe, and he has defeated the Comte de Chapelles nine times.”
It was true, in one contest, after each man had already scored two points, D’Artagnan was pressing the Comte de Chapelles hard, but he slipped on a wet spot on the floor and gave up a third point.
“Monsieur Aramis has bested the Comte de Bouteville and Comte de Coligny eight times and his other opponents nine times. Finally, Monsieur Porthos has defeated the Comte de Bouteville seven times, the Comte de Coligny nine times, and the other two gentlemen eight times.”
As the noblemen were going to return their blades, Athos said to them, “Come, gentlemen, how about some more sport. I offer to fight each of you in turn ten times with my left hand.”
“But surely, Monsieur, you desire rest before we begin again?” Athos was asked. “You will have none comparable to ours once we start fencing.”
“No, no. No reason to wait overly long between rounds. I’m quite willing to fence with you under these conditions.”
In that way another forty contests were completed, with the results favoring Athos just as they had when he fought with his right hand, even though he fought forty times with only a short break between each set of ten.
When it was all over the Comte de Bouteville approached them.
“Gentlemen, my friends and I salute you. Your skills are extraordinary. Furthermore, we apologize for our behavior at the inn about a week ago. Whatever may be your reasons for not wanting to duel at this time, you are surely not doing it because you fear us. On our part, while we enjoy dueling, we would not enjoy being killed while doing it. And that is almost surely what would have happen if we met you with rapiers.”
“Your apology is accepted,” Aramis said in return.
Although Porthos’s fencing contest ended the soldiers’ predicament and at the same time enhanced their reputations, the young aristocrats failed to learn any long term lessons from it. Not long thereafter de Bouteville killed the Comte de Thorigny in a duel. The next year his second perished in a public contest, which caused de Bouteville to flee to the Netherlands in fear of punishment. He soon sent word back to France seeking a pardon from the King. When none was issued, he showed his disdain by slipping back into the country and fighting the Marquis de Beuvron in broad daylight within sight of the royal palace. De Beuvron’s second was killed in this combat.
For King Louis XIII this was well beyond excusable. De Bouteville and his second, the aforementioned Comte de Chapelles, were captured and publicly beheaded for their part in this affair while the Marquis de Beuvron was able to escape to England.