The Other Side
4. The Way Out
Evening was drawing on, and hot tempers had cooled in the chillier air. The wounded guards were in the hospital wing, Widimer had gone sweating and panting off to explain the disaster to Cardinal Richelieu, and Dogtanian sat neglected on his barracks bed.
"Mon Dieu, why must I be so impulsive?" he asked out loud. "I am sure to be thrown out of the Guards for this. Not that it matters, for I suspect Monsieur Treville will not want me back among his cadets." He gave a small whimper. No one had yet blamed him for the catastrophe, but he had no doubt that retribution was coming. He was simply not important enough to be bothered with right now. He had disrupted the spectacular parade, disgracing Musketeers and Guards alike in the eyes of the city, and no doubt all of France once the news spread. Why, his actions probably amounted to treason and the King himself would order Dogtanian's head cut off! He shivered at the thought.
"Dogtanian? Are you in here?" A silhouette appeared in the doorway, framed by the soft light from the corridor. Dogtanian, sitting in the gloom, blinked and rubbed his eyes.
"Bouton, is that you? You should be resting!"
"I discharged myself." With a grin, the Dalmatian took a seat beside the smaller dog. "Now listen. I have a plan to get you out of the Cardinal's Guards without expulsion, but you will have to carry it out yourself." He indicated his arm, which was held across his chest by a sling.
"I'll do anything!" Dogtanian said fervently, curling his paw into a fist.
"Well then, do you remember when I tricked you at the inn, I made you sign two pieces of paper?"
"I do," growled the pup, glowering at Bouton.
"You still have one copy?" Dogtanian put a paw to his breast pocket and nodded as he felt the crackle of paper.
"That is your commission. The other copy is in Cardinal Richelieu's private safe; I saw him put it there when I delivered it. The key is in the third drawer of his desk. Take it and destroy both copies, and no one will have any proof that you were ever in the Cardinal's Guards. You will be free to leave."
"But Richelieu's office is locked and heavily guarded!"
"The door, yes. But the window is left ajar for the good of the Cardinal's health, and there is a wisteria plant growing up the wall. Someone small and light should be able to climb it and squeeze in. The guards in the grounds change at midnight, leaving that side of the palace out of sight for a few minutes. Need I say more?"
"Bouton, you are a friend!" Dogtanian breathed.
"Thank you, Dogtanian. To be your friend would be a great honour. I must go now." With a bow, the Dalmatian left.
Dogtanian began planning immediately. He would first have to get out of the barracks. His bed was nearest the window, but from there it was a sheer drop from the first storey. He could not risk a twisted ankle or worse when he would have to move fast and perform feats of agility. So he would have to creep past the other cadets and make his way through the building, avoiding patrols. The doors would be locked, but there was a small window in the pantry which was left open to help keep the food cool.
His schemes were interrupted by a thunder of booted feet as the other cadets came up to bed. Dogtanian gulped and prepared for the onslaught.
"You! Made us look like fools!"
"Upset the whole parade!"
"This black eye will take days to heal!" They advanced on Dogtanian, teeth bared. Things looked bad for our hero, as he had undressed and had nothing with which to defend himself. Then one voice spoke out.
"Don't touch him!"
"What's it to you, Rigolo?" There were snarls of agreement, and the hostile ring closed around Dogtanian. His defender, a jolly-looking white terrier, stepped forward.
"We're cadets; no one ever tells us anything. But I overheard two officers talking. Dogtanian was tricked into doing what he did to make the Musketeers look bad, but it backfired. It's not his fault he broke rank, and it's certainly not his fault those mongrels of Treville's attacked us. Did Dogtanian lift a paw in the fight? No, he tried to stop it. I saw him with my own eyes rescue our comrade Bouton from two Muskehound cadets and take him to safety. And finally, Dogtanian is a Gascon, as am I, and we Gascons stick together. I for one would like to shake him by the hand."
So saying, Rigolo marched over to Dogtanian, removed his hat and extended a paw.
Dogtanian took it gratefully.
"Many thanks," he whispered.
"That's alright. My loyalty to my departmente outweighs that which I owe the Cardinal."
The mood changed, for Rigolo was a popular character among the junior guardsmen. Before long a friendly pillow-fight was in progress, and by the time the orderly came to scold them and blow out the candles they were all firm friends.
Most of the occupants of the barracks slept soundly, exhausted by the day's events. But Dogtanian lay awake, pinching himself hard when his tired eyelids threatened to droop shut. Ten o'clock passed, and eleven, marked by the many church bells of Paris. At last he heard the big cathedral bell boom out the quarter to, and slipped out of bed in stocking feet. He made his way to the door, hardly daring to breathe. He almost cried out when one of the sleepers turned over with a loud snore, but all remained still and he completed his journey. Now a slow, slow turn of the handle and a gentle push at the door to prevent its creaking, and he was out in the corridor.
Every second candle had been extinguished, leaving pools of black shadow between the friendly lights. Dogtanian darted from one to the next like a shadow himself, ears cocked for the sound of another being. If caught he planned to say he was thirsty and wanted a drink, but the further he got from the washroom the flimsier the excuse became.
He froze as he heard footsteps approaching, and shrank into the space behind a suit of armour. A long, flickering shadow came into view; a guard carrying a lantern. Dogtanian crouched, putting a paw over his nose as the thick dust in his hiding-place threatened to make him sneeze. Glancing neither right nor left, the guard tramped past. He looked tired and bored, and clearly wished only to reach the end of his patrol and go to bed.
When he was safely out of the way, Dogtanian crossed to the great staircase. Swiftly and silently he slid down the banister rail - the most effective method of missing squeaky steps. Now he was near his goal, but it was darker on the ground floor and he would have to be careful not to trip or knock anything.
Working from memory, he turned left and shuffled carefully towards the kitchen. Something brushed his legs, and he stifled a small yelp before recognising the kitchen cat. "Hello, my friend," he whispered, giving her a stroke. It felt good to have some company as he made his way into the dark pantry.
The morning's meal was laid out ready for breakfast, and Dogtanian had not eaten for hours. His stomach growled, but he shook his head. "I don't have much time," he told himself firmly. His head and shoulders went easily through the window, and after a panicky interval of struggling and kicking the rest of him followed.
It was almost midnight. Dogtanian had just a couple of minutes to get to the south wall, where Richelieu had his office in the tower. Sticking close to the building, he followed it round until he was in the right spot. Clearly in the still night air he heard the departing guards exchanging a few words with the fresh troops, chatting and laughing. Now was his chance.
At first the going was easy. The wisteria was thick at its base and bore his weight well. He scrambled quickly from branch to branch. But halfway up the plant tapered; branches were thinner and further between. As Dogtanian grasped for a handhold he could feel the small suckers that held the creeping plant peel away from the wall. By now, too, the guards would have switched over, and it was only a matter of time before a patrol passed this way. Then his clutching paw found the windowsill, and he hauled himself over it and into the room.
He found himself in the Cardinal's inner sanctum, behind the red velvet curtain that separated this private place from the office where Richelieu received his visitors. In the public area was the safe, and in the safe was his passport to freedom. He raised his hand to part the curtain - then froze. He was not alone.
Three voices came to Dogtanian through the curtain. He knew all of them well. The Cardinal's was sly, dripping with hypocrisy. The blunt, straightforward tones belonged to Dogtanian's former Captain, Monsieur Treville. And the third voice, vague and slightly weak, was that of Louis XIII the Just.
"Gentlemen, as you know, I have summoned you to this midnight meeting to discuss a matter of the greatest importance to France," the King was saying. "I need hardly remind you that should a single word of what we are about to say leaves these four walls, it could spell disaster for our country. But first, I simply must speak to you both about this afternoon's disgraceful exhibition."
"Sir, I cannot -" Monsieur Treville began. At the same time, Richelieu said "It was all the fault of -"
Louis interrupted with more force than he was accustomed to use. "I will not have you try to shift the blame. I have heard the rumours, and I have stopped my ears to them. The fault lies with nobody but the two of you."
Both leaders bowed their heads, ashamed.
"I don't care which side started the riot," the King continued. "This is simply the latest in a string of such incidents. If this petty rivalry between the Musketeers and the Guards does not cease, I shall have to conclude that neither of you is fit to command a force."
Dogtanian's ears burned. Though it went unspoken, he knew that all three must be thinking the blackest thoughts about himself. He wished he were not overhearing this conversation; it went against his honour to eavesdrop. But he could not retreat without making a noise and being discovered; besides, he just had to get that paper.
"I trust I will not have to mention this again," Louis concluded. "And now, on to more important matters."
Dogtanian had no wish to listen to affairs of state. Apart from the fact that politics sent him to sleep, he did not want to be executed as a spy. He glanced around uncomfortably, and suddenly became aware that he was not the sole audience of the King's secret meeting.
Crouched at the other end of the room was a tall hound, caped and masked. He was listening so intently that he had not noticed Dogtanian. The pup realised that this must truly be a spy - from one of the other great powers of Europe, no doubt. He knew that to reveal his own presence would let him in for many an awkward question, but the fate of France was at stake. He gathered himself together and pounced like a cat on the listener, at the same time crying at the top of his lungs "Help! A spy!"
The spy put up quite a fight. Thrashing and biting, the pair rolled through the curtain before the astonished eyes of the King and his companions. Richelieu bellowed for his guards, while Treville drew his sword and watched anxiously for an opportunity to disable his opponent without harming Dogtanian.
When the chance came, Treville made a dive and pinned the struggling spy in his burly arms. Three of the Cardinal's guards arrived in double-time and took him away at gunpoint. Quiet restored, the three men faced Dogtanian, who whimpered as he desperately sought a plausible reason for his presence.
The King broke the silence. Stepping forward, he kissed Dogtanian on both cheeks. "Bravo, my lad! Well done! Where were your guards, Richelieu, eh? Asleep on the job as usual? But this young man encountered a secret agent in your very grounds and followed him on his own initiative." He patted Dogtanian's head. "He must be rewarded. He is one of your cadets, Treville, I believe?"
Treville cleared his throat, still looking confused. "In fact, your Majesty, he is currently serving under the Cardinal."
"Ah, Richelieu, so you do have some men of high calibre among your ranks? Well, well. It is you, then, who must reward your faithful soldier."
His eyes narrowed with distaste, Richelieu turned to Dogtanian.
"It will be my pleasure, your Majesty," he growled, his sulky tones belying his words. "What reward would you like, cadet?"
Dogtanian bowed low. "If you please, sir, I would like to leave the Cardinal's Guards and rejoin the Royal Musketeers."
A tic started under Richelieu's left eye, and he gave a pained grunt. "Very well. I will, of course, be sorry to lose you." Monsieur Treville, slightly behind the King, was grinning hugely, but this was visible only to Dogtanian.
"Splendid!" King Louis twirled his small moustache. "I hope that young Dogtanian's serving in both forces will usher in a new age of cooperation between Musketeers and Guards."
The expressions on the faces of the respective factions' leaders said that it was unlikely. Richelieu took a key from his desk, crossed the room to the iron safe and withdrew the second copy of Dogtanian's commission. After showing it to everyone present, he solemnly held one corner to the candle flame. All four watched as it burned away to nothing, and the Cardinal's pet raven gave a satisfied croak.
Dogtanian had to spend one more night in the Guards' barracks, after all. As the King drank a toast to him, joined willingly by Treville and less so by Richelieu, he fell fast asleep with his head on the table. Rather than wake him, Louis ordered two guards to carry him gently to bed, and the interrupted discussions resumed. When Dogtanian woke in the morning, he found his familiar old clothes cleaned and pressed on the chair beside him.
He had planned to leave quietly, slipping out of the back entrance as if he had never come. But when he walked into the yard he found the entire force of the Cardinal's Guards lined up in two rows. Was this another scheme to prevent him leaving? He scowled as Widimer walked towards him, and his fingers itched for his sword-hilt.
The Captain of the Guards was in a cheerful mood, despite the humiliation of the day before. He was getting rid of the little troublemaker Dogtanian, Rochefort's plan had gone horribly wrong, and even the Cardinal had not scolded him. "Farewell, Dogtanian!" he said with his usual swagger. "I hope you will remember the lessons you've learned with us, and always march properly in future!"
"Oh, I will, Captain Widimer!" promised Dogtanian.
"You'll make a fine soldier someday." Widimer concluded. And I'm glad it's Treville and not me who has the task of making you one! he added silently.
It was Rigolo who shouted out "Three cheers for Dogtanian!" as the Gascon marched towards the gate with his head held high. But the loudest cheer was from Bouton.
Only a few paces now separated Dogtanian from his freedom. He could see faithful Planchet waiting outside, holding his beloved horse Sandy by the bridle. There, too, were Monsieur Treville, Porthos, Aramis and Athos, waiting to escort him in style to the headquarters of the Musketeers. And nearest the gate stood...
Forgetting everything Widimer had said about his marching, Dogtanian completed the journey at a run.
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