For Him the Bells Tolled
by Monsieur de Tréville
Cette histoire a été publiée ultérieurement dans le recueil Dead Men Don't Duel
At this time I take pen and paper in hand again to recount for the reader another incident in the careers of Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and D’Artagnan that the very able Monsieur Dumas was not completely informed about. It is only partly mentioned in his book The Three Musketeers so I am sure that the author was not aware of its conclusion.
Let us begin by turning to chapter XVI of The Three Musketeers entitled “In which Seguier, the Keeper of the Seals, looks again for the Chapter Bell which in his youth he rung so furiously.” Obviously that is a long title, in fact the longest of the book’s 67 chapter titles, but it alludes to a very peculiar event of great interest. The Monsieur de Seguier referred to was the King’s Keeper of the Seals, an important member of the court and a servant of His Majesty. He was also an agent of the Cardinal. After the king learned of the Duke of Buckingham’s visit to Paris from Cardinal Richelieu, at the Cardinal’s subtle suggestion he ordered Seguier to search the Queen, Anne of Austria, for any letters from Buckingham she might have hidden on her person.
This was an outrage to the dignity of Her Majesty, even though it was ordered by the King himself, and another example of the Cardinal’s scheming that was facilitated by his own minions in positions of importance.
The longer part of the chapter title alludes to Seguier’s youth. It was a period of unrivalled debauchery, even among the nobility in France during the era, which resulted in his family sending him to a monastery so that he might be somehow, possibly, hoping against hope, reformed. His father, a wise and worldly man, rightfully informed the prior beforehand that his son was subject to extreme temptation. The monk’s answer was that the young Seguier need only to ring the monastery bell whenever he was tempted and the brothers would come rushing to his aid to help him deal with the evil that was besetting him.
Unfortunately, he rang the bell so often that the monks had no rest day or night. It was claimed by many that they eventually expelled him from the abbey lest they never sleep again! The willingness of de Seguier to search the Queen surprised no one at court who knew this story.
A few days after this incident I was speaking to Athos in my office about some minor matters related to the company of Musketeers. Not only was he well attired, in a splendid red doublet, but Athos was observant as always. He could see that my mind was elsewhere, and that I was agitated.
“Monsieur de Treville, what troubles you?” he asked with considerable insight.
“Oh, there was a very disturbing incident at the palace this past week.”
“Would you be so kind as to share it with me?”
“It has reached my ears that the Keeper of Seals actually laid his hands on Her Majesty, the Queen, and attempted to search her for certain documents.”
“WHAT!! How dare he? That impudent rascal!! He should consider himself lucky to have any position of even the most minor importance, much less to commit such an outrage on Her Majesty!!”
“Athos, I think I should tell you the fuller story before you react to it and decide on an unwise course of action. The search was ordered by the King himself.”
Athos considered this for several moments.
“But nonetheless, it is wrong. De Seguier is one of the Cardinal’s lackeys who His Impertinence has slipped past His Majesty into the palace.” From his remarks it was clear to me that Athos had considerable information about the Keeper of Seals, and his derogatory reference to the Cardinal was certainly one I enjoyed.
“Athos,” I replied. “I can imagine what you are thinking, but you cannot do anything rash here. You certainly cannot kill him for this, it is not warranted. He was following the orders given to him by the King, even though his Majesty may have been unwise in issuing them. I assure you of this, given the unfortunate position, in our mutual opinion, that de Seguier holds at court and the favorable light both the King and Cardinal hold him in you would be punished severely for that.”
“DAMN HIM! DAMN HIM TO HELL NONETHELESS!” Athos replied.
Let me tell you, that as the commanding officer of the company of Musketeers, my men were completely subject to my discipline and my orders. But, we were alone on this occasion, and I was fully aware of Athos’s noble ancestry which went back generations and greatly exceeded that of my own family. So I understood just how offended he was by the recent events.
“Athos, I understand your outrage. I understand it completely. But killing de Seguier or doing him grievous bodily harm is simply impossible. Speaking not only as your commanding officer but as a friend, you cannot do it. I forbid you.”
There was silence. With no show of emotion Athos thought for several minutes.
“Monsieur de Treville, I promise you that de Seguier will not be killed or seriously hurt.”
“All I ask is that, and that you do not in any way bring dishonor on yourself or on the Musketeers.”
“You have my word, Monsieur.”
“And I value it highly,” I responded. He turned and left my office.
The next evening Athos related the story as well as my warnings to Aramis, Porthos, and young D’Artagnan in a tavern they frequented near the Musketeers’ headquarters.
“Unbelievable!” D’Artagnan burst out.
“Scandalous!” Porthos shouted with contempt.
“Outrageous!” Aramis said with fists clenched in rage.
“Nonetheless true,” Athos continued as he signaled to the grizzled innkeeper to bring more wine. “Something needs to be done about Monsieur de Seguier.”
“About him? On the contrary, I suggest we do something TO him that he will never forget,” Porthos noted.
“You have an idea, my dear Porthos?”
“No, none whatsoever. I know that de Seguier needs to pay for this, but I don’t know how.”
As they drank more wine Aramis was lost in his own deep thoughts. After a few minutes he said, “I have a plan. Some time ago a mutual acquaintance introduced me to him, based on our shared background related to the Church which he incorrectly felt was a common bond between us. I know him enough that I can invite him to have wine with me next week on Wednesday. We will go to the Three Eagles tavern near the Sorbonne which we all know very well. Here is what I want the three of you to do,” he said before his voice dropped to a whisper.
On the next Wednesday de Seguier arrived at the tidy and well-lit Three Eagles promptly at eight in the evening. He clothes were the finest available, made by the best tailor in Paris and sporting gold lace. Even the well-dressed Aramis’s clothes paled in comparison. It was a sign of the Keeper of the Seals status.
“So good of you to join me, Monsieur,” Aramis said with a smile. “It has been so long since we talked I feel that I have neglected you. But I intend to make up for this slight by paying for the wine this evening. The innkeeper has a most excellent wine cellar, with a very delightful Burgundy that he has been holding for me for just such an occasion.”
Unbeknown to the other man, Aramis had arranged for the inn’s most beautiful servant, a stunning, amply breasted blonde girl no more than 20 years of age, to serve their table that evening. Giving the owner a few more pistoles, he also made sure that a very attractive raven haired woman who was only a few years older was working that night as well. His guest noticed both lasses immediately and, had this been a few years earlier, he would have run to furiously ring the bell in the monastery doubly hard. Now he thought only of how he might arrange a liaison with one or the other of the women on a different evening.
Aramis had paid the innkeeper for a flask of pure alcohol which he concealed on his side of the table. He had also paid the man an even larger sum of money to forget that Aramis had purchased it from him and that he had it with him that evening.
“A wonderful place,” de Seguier exclaimed after eyeing the serving girls. He was of moderate height with jet black hair and a long nose. His enemies claimed that it made it easier for him to stick it in the affairs of others.
“Indeed,” Aramis responded, “the owner employs the most pleasing women.”
“I have noticed that,” the other said while staring at the blonde girl.
“Let us not let this fine wine go to waste.” Aramis passed him a full cup, in which he had first poured some alcohol while the other man was inspecting the young blonde.
“A most excellent vintage,” de Seguier said after tasting it. “I must speak to the owner about it before we leave.”
And so the revelry began. The wine flowed as easily as the conversation did, with Aramis’s guest continually dropping little remarks to reinforce his importance at court to the musketeer, who pretended to be impressed.
“More wine, more wine!” was Aramis’s cry to the owner when a bottle was emptied.
Whenever his guest went to relieve himself or he was otherwise sufficiently distracted, he added alcohol to the wine in his cup. Several times Aramis had one servant girl or the other take his own half full cup to the kitchen, where the owner gladly drank the wine, in exchange for an empty one to simulate that he was keeping pace with his companion.
“More wine, more wine!” came the call again.
As the evening continued, de Seguier, who had a tremendous capacity for alcohol, started to slightly slur his speech and to laugh heartily at Aramis’s remarks as well as his own.
“More wine, more wine! My friend is thirsty,” Aramis shouted.
“What? Have we finished another one? We are doing excellent work tonight!” the other man observed before he went outside yet again. At this point his steps were a little uncertain but still steady.
“Welcome back, Monsieur,” Aramis greeted him on his return.
“Thank goodness, you are still here my friend. I thought I might have misplaced you,” the other blurted out to his great amusement.
“I have not moved at all. You simply went to a different table looking for me when you came back in. A full cup of wine awaits you.”
“Splendid. What did you say this tavern was called?”
“The Three Eagles.”
“Did I ask you that already?”
“Yes, several times during the evening.”
“Oh my, so I did. But this time I shall remember it,” he bellowed.
Two more cups were emptied as they toasted each other.
By midnight de Seguier was visibly inebriated, leering at whatever damsel walked by and occasionally spilling his own fortified wine, perhaps on purpose because one of the servant girls always came with a cloth to clean up the table.
“Well, I muhst say, my dear Aramist, that it ihst time for me to go. I have mohst important duties to ascend to in the morning.” He staggered as he got up and only a quick grab for the table stopped him from falling over.
“Come, let me help you Monsieur.” Aramis took his arm and propped him against a wooden post that supported one of the roof’s beams while he paid the most grateful owner for the many bottles of wine that they had consumed.
“Now I will escort you home, as the wine seems to have had a slight effect on you.”
They walked through the dark and largely deserted streets of Paris, one clinging to the other to maintain his balance, toward de Seguier’s house. The night was nearly moonless.
When they were near it Aramis turned slightly and pointed down a dark alley. “If you go down this street you will soon be home. Good night.”
De Seguier staggered unknowingly down the pitch black passage. Suddenly, a hooded figure that could barely be seen loomed in front of him.
“Pardon me,” the Keeper of the Seals said, thinking that it was another drunk staggering home. But the man, in a monk’s cassock with a rope belt at the waist and the hood pulled as tightly as possible over his face, took a step to the left to block his way.
“De Seguier, you have sinned,” he said with a heavy voice. In his hand was a bell on a wooden handle. He swung it with medium force against the Keeper of the Seals’s arm.
“Clang!” the bell sounded.
“Ow!” came the response.
De Seguier turned to escape, but a second hooded figure came toward him and hit him on the shoulder with his bell.
“Clang!” went the bell.
He screamed again and turned 90 degrees. As he reached clumsily for his sword, a third man in a monk’s habit struck him on the hand with another bell.
Its clang was followed by a demand of “Repent, sinner!”
His third assailant pulled the sword from its sheath and threw it aside. The three hooded figures surrounded him, striking many blows with their bells, always on his body, never touching his head. The blows could be felt, but they were not hard enough to leave cuts or bruises.
“Clang! Clang! Clang!” the bells went.
“Ow, Ow, Ow!” the Keeper of the Seals answered.
He dropped to his knees, but the bells continued to bounce off his arms, chest, and back.
“De Seguier, you must consider the error of your ways. You refused to reform when you were a youth. This is your last chance.”
He shrieked in horror, but the attack continued. The sound of the bells bounced off the surrounding buildings, amplifying their rings and sending shock waves through his brain. By now he had received dozens of strikes from his attackers.
As the blows rained down further, he fell on his side in the dirt of the alley. The combination of alcohol, pain, and fright caused him to lose consciousness. The assault ceased at that point, and the three hooded men slipped away in the darkness.
He was found the next morning by a passerby, and his servants came and took him home where he retired to his bed for several days as the doctors treated him for the many bruises on his body. De Seguier dozed now and then, but the sound in his head of bells ringing and the vision of monks, who he had previously known only as men of peace, beating him mercilessly stopped him from getting any real sleep.
A week later he was still in a state of emotional distress but was at least able to leave his
bed. Shrugging aside the doctors’ concerns, he dressed himself and went out.
He went to the house of Aramis.
“My God, de Seguier, what happened to you? You look terrible,” was the greeting as he entered the musketeer’s rooms. Aramis gestured for him to be seated.
“I have had the most horrible experience and am greatly disturbed. On my way home from that tavern I must have wandered into an alley and then fallen down. That’s where I was found the next day, I’m told. I have been having nightmares ever since.”
“What kind of nightmares?”
“In my dreams monks are attacking me with bells and telling me to repent for my sins.”
“That is most singular,” Aramis observed.
“May I confess something to you?” the Keeper of the Seals asked.
“Monsieur, as I think you know I have not yet been ordained, so I can not absolve you of anything you might have done.”
“I don’t mean a formal confession with penance. I just want to tell you various things and ask your advice as a friend.” Nonetheless, he felt more comfortable confiding in someone who had trained for the priesthood.
“Certainly.” Aramis found the sequence of events rather amazing.
De Seguier first related to him the experience of his short stay in the monastery when he was younger, a story that Aramis already knew.
“More recently, in my position as Keeper of the Seals, I was told by His Majesty to search Her Majesty for a certain letter.”
“And did you?”
“I started to, but as soon as I touched her clothing she turned over the letter she had concealed on her body.”
“Did this not bother you?”
“At the time it did not bother me greatly, although I felt like ringing the monastery bell again. But I believe it is in fact causing me quite a lot of bother now.”
“I see, you associate the nature of this recent act with the actions of your youth and this recurring nightmare you are having is your mind returning to your time in the monastery and the ringing of the bell that occurred every time you were tempted by the flesh.”
“Precisely. I believe that putting my hands on the Queen is bedeviling me and that has triggered in my mind a perverse form of recollection of my days with the monks as a punishment.”
“That is terrible!”
“I cannot go on like this. I am getting no sleep and the image of monks attacking me is driving me insane. As I was walking over here a church bell rang, and I almost went out of my head!”
“Monsieur, you must remove yourself from the situation. Return to your family home, get as far away from Paris as possible.”
“You think it would be best if I resign my office and go to my country estate in Quercy?”
“Yes, I think that is the only solution. You simply cannot stay in Paris given that the current, very severe problem began here.”
“Then that is what I will do,” he said, rising to shake Aramis’s hand before leaving.
And so the Keeper of the Seals resigned and left Paris. On his estate the bell was removed from the parish church, so that it would not sound again, and no servant was allowed to ring a bell in his house.
The King was unhappy because he considered de Seguier a loyal servant. The Cardinal was unhappy because he lost a well-placed agent. The Queen, however, was extremely happy, especially after she learned through Madame Bonacieux that four gallant soldiers had, not for the last time, come to her aid.