Chapter 4: The Rat and the Cheese.

  1. 3: Porthos’s Strength
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 5: Planchet’s Country House

D’Artagnan and Porthos returned on foot, as D’Artagnan had arrived. When D’Artagnan, as he entered the shop of the Pilon d’Or, had announced to Planchet that M. du Vallon would be one of the privileged travelers, and when the plume in Porthos’ hat had made the wooden candles suspended over the front jingle together, something almost like a melancholy presentiment troubled the delight which Planchet had promised himself for the next day. But the grocer’s heart was of sterling metal, a precious relic of the good old time, which always remains what it has always been for those who are getting old the time of their youth, and for those who are young the old age of their ancestors. Planchet, notwithstanding the sort of internal shiver, which he checked immediately he experienced it, received Porthos, therefore, with a respect mingled with the most tender cordiality. Porthos, who was a little cold and stiff in his manners at first, on account of the social difference which existed at that period between a baron and a grocer, soon began to get a little softened when he perceived so much good feeling and so many kind attentions in Planchet. He was particularly touched by the liberty which was permitted him to plunge his large hands into the boxes of dried fruits and preserves, into the sacks of nuts and almonds, and into the drawers full of sweetmeats. So that, notwithstanding Planchet’s pressing invitations to go upstairs to the entresol, he chose as his favorite seat, during the evening which he had to spend at Planchet’s house, the shop itself, where his fingers could always find whatever his nose had first detected for him. The delicious figs from Provence, filberts from the forest, Tours plums, were subjects of his interrupted attention for five consecutive hours. His teeth, like millstones, cracked heaps of nuts, the shells of which were scattered all over the floor, where they were trampled by every one who went in and out of the shop; Porthos pulled from the stalk with his lips, at one mouthful, bunches of the rich Muscatel raisins with their beautiful bloom, and a half pound of which passed at one gulp from his mouth to his stomach. In one of the corners of the shop, Planchet’s assistants, crouching down in a fright, looked at each other without venturing to open their lips. They did not know who Porthos was, for they had never seen him before. The race of those Titans who had worn the cuirasses of Hugues Capet, Philip Augustus, and Francis I. had already begun to disappear. They could not help thinking he might possibly be the ogre of the fairy tale, who was going to turn the whole contents of Planchet’s shop into his insatiable stomach, and that, too, without in the slightest degree displacing the barrels and chests that were in it. Cracking, munching, chewing, nibbling, sucking, and swallowing, Porthos occasionally said to the grocer:

“You do a very good business here, friend Planchet.”

“He will very soon have none at all to do if this continues,” grumbled the foreman, who had Planchet’s word that he should be his successor. And in his despair, he approached Porthos, who blocked up the whole of the passage reading from the back shop to the shop itself. He hoped that Porthos would rise, and that this movement would distract his devouring ideas.

“What do you want, my man?” asked Porthos very affably.

“I should like to pass you, monsieur, if it is not troubling you too much.”

“Very well,” said Porthos; “it does not trouble me in the least.”

At the same moment he took hold of the young fellow by the waistband, lifted him off the ground, and placed him very gently on the other side, smiling all the while with the same affable expression. As soon as Porthos had placed him on the ground, the lad’s legs so shook under him that he fell back upon some sacks of corks. But noticing the giant’s gentleness of manner, he ventured again, and said:

“Ah, monsieur! pray be careful.”

“What about?” inquired Porthos.

“You are positively putting fire into your body.”

“How is that, my good fellow?” said Porthos.

“All those things are very heating to the system.”


“Raisins, nuts, and almonds.”

“Yes; but if raisins, nuts, and almonds are heating----”

“There is no doubt at all of it, monsieur.”

“Honey is very cooling,” said Porthos, stretching out his hand toward a small barrel of honey which was opened, and he plunged the scoop, with which the wants of the customers were supplied, into it, and swallowed a good half pound at one gulp.

“I must trouble you for some water now, my man,” said Porthos.

“In a pail, monsieur?” asked the lad simply.

“No, in a water-bottle; that will be quite enough;” and raising the bottle to his mouth, as a trumpeter does his trumpet, he emptied the bottle at a single draught.

Planchet was moved in all the sentiments which correspond to the fibers of propriety and self-love. However, a worthy representative of the hospitality which prevailed in early days, he feigned to be talking very earnestly with D’Artagnan, and incessantly repeated: “Ah! monsieur, what a happiness! what an honor!”

“What time shall we have supper, Planchet?” inquired Porthos; “I feel hungry.”

The foreman clasped his hands together. The two others got under the counters, fearing that Porthos might have a taste for human flesh.

“We shall only take a sort of snack here,” said D’Artagnan; “and when we get to Planchet’s country-seat we shall have supper.”

“Ah! ah! so we are going to your country house, Planchet,” said Porthos; “so much the better.”

“You overwhelm me, Monsieur le Baron.”

The “Monsieur le Baron” had a great effect upon the men, who detected a personage of the highest quality in an appetite of that kind. They had never heard that an ogre was ever called “Monsieur le Baron.”

“I will take a few biscuits to eat on the road,” said Porthos carelessly; and he emptied a whole jar of aniseed biscuits into the huge pocket of his doublet.

“My shop is saved!” exclaimed Planchet.

“Yes, as the cheese was,” said the foreman.

“What cheese?”

“That Dutch cheese, inside which a rat had made his way, and we only found the rind left.”

Planchet looked all round his shop, and observing the different articles which had escaped Porthos’ teeth, he found the comparison somewhat exaggerated. The foreman, who remarked what was passing in his master’s mind, said: “Take care; he is not gone yet.”

“Have you any fruit here?” said Porthos, as he went upstairs to the entresol, where it had just been announced that some refreshment was prepared.

“Alas!” thought the grocer, addressing a look at D’Artagnan full of entreaty, which the latter half-understood.

As soon as they had finished eating they set off. It was late when the three riders, who had left Paris about six in the evening, arrived at Fontainebleau. The journey had passed very agreeably. Porthos took a fancy to Planchet’s society, because the latter was very respectful in his manners, and seemed delighted to talk to him about his meadows, his woods, and his rabbit-warrens. Porthos had all the taste and pride of a landed proprietor. When D’Artagnan saw his two companions in earnest conversation, he took the opposite side of the road, and letting his bridle drop upon his horse’s neck, separated himself from the whole world, as he had done from Porthos and Planchet. The moon shone softly through the foliage of the forest. The odors of the open country rose deliciously perfumed to the horses’ nostrils, and they snorted and pranced about delightedly. Porthos and Planchet began to talk about hay crops. Planchet admitted to Porthos that in the more advanced years of his life he had certainly neglected agricultural pursuits for commerce, but that his childhood had been passed in Picardy in the beautiful meadows where the grass grew as high as the knees, and where he had played under the green apple-trees covered with red-checked fruit; he went on to say that he had solemnly promised himself that as soon as he should have made his fortune he would return to nature, and end his days, as he had begun them, as near as he possibly could to the earth itself, where all men must go at last.

“Eh, eh!” said Porthos, “in that case, my dear Monsieur Planchet, your retreat is not far distant.”

“How so?”

“Why, you seem to be in the way of making your fortune very soon.”

“Well, we are getting on pretty well, I must admit.”

“Come, tell me what is the extent of your ambition, and what is the amount you intend to retire upon?”

“There is one circumstance, monsieur,” said Planchet without answering the question, “which occasions me a good deal of anxiety.”

“What is it?” inquired Porthos, looking all round him as if in search of the circumstance that annoyed Planchet, and desirous of freeing him from it.

“Why, formerly,” said the grocer, “you used to call me Planchet quite short, and you would have spoken to me then in a much more familiar manner than you do now.”

“Certainly, certainly, I should have said so formerly,” replied the good-natured Porthos, with an embarrassment full of delicacy, “but formerly--”

“Formerly I was Monsieur d’Artagnan’s lackey; is not that what you mean?”


“Well; if I am not quite his lackey, I am as much as ever I was his devoted servant; and more than that, since that time--”

“Well, Planchet?”

“Since that time, I have had the honor of being in partnership with him.”

“Oh! oh!” said Porthos. “What, has D’Artagnan gone into the grocery business?”

“No, no,” said D’Artagnan, whom these words had drawn out of his reverie, and who entered into the conversation with that readiness and rapidity which distinguished every operation of his mind and body. “It was not D’Artagnan who entered into the grocery business, but Planchet who entered into a political affair with me.”

“Yes,” said Planchet, with mingled pride and satisfaction, “we transacted a little business which brought me in one hundred thousand francs, and Monsieur d’Artagnan two hundred thousand francs.”

“Oh! oh!” said Porthos, with admiration.

“So that, Monsieur le Baron,” continued the grocer, “I again beg you to be kind enough to call me Planchet, as you used to do; and to speak to me as familiarly as in old times. You cannot possibly imagine the pleasure that it would give me.

“If that be the case, my dear Planchet, I will do so, certainly,” replied Porthos. And as he was quite close to Planchet, he raised his hand, as if to strike him on the shoulder, in token of friendly cordiality; but a fortunate movement of the horse made him miss his aim, so that his hand fell on the crupper of Planchet’s horse, instead; which made the animal’s legs almost give way.

D’Artagnan burst out laughing, as he said, “Take care, Planchet, for if Porthos begins to like you so much he will caress you, and if he caresses you, he will knock you as flat as a pancake. Porthos is still as strong as ever, you know.”

“Oh!” said Planchet, “Mousqueton is not dead, and yet Monsieur le Baron is very fond of him.”

“Certainly,” said Porthos, with a sigh which made al1 the three horses rear; “and I was only saying, this very morning, to D’Artagnan, how much I regretted him. But tell me, Planchet?”

“Thank you, Monsieur le Baron, thank you.”

“Good lad, good lad! How many acres of park have you got?”

“Of park?”

“Yes; we will reckon up the meadows presently, and the woods afterward.”

“Whereabouts, monsieur?”

“At your château.”

“Oh, Monsieur le Baron; I have neither château, nor park, nor meadows, nor woods.”

“What have you got, then?” inquired Porthos, “and why do you call it a country-seat?”

“I did not call it a country-seat, Monsieur le Baron,” replied Planchet, somewhat humiliated, “but a country box.”

“Ah! ah! I understand. You are modest.”

“No, Monsieur le Baron; I speak the plain truth. I have rooms for a couple of friends, that’s all.”

“But in that case, whereabouts do your friends walk?”

“In the first place, they can walk about the king’s forest, which is very beautiful.”

“Yes, I know the forest is very fine,” said Porthos; “nearly as beautiful as my forest at Berry.”

Planchet opened his eyes very wide. “Have you a forest of the same kind as the forest at Fontainebleau, Monsieur le Baron?” he stammered out.

“Yes; I have two, indeed, but the one at Berry is my favorite.”

“Why so?” asked Planchet

“Because I don’t know where it ends; and, also, because it is full of poachers.”

“How can the poachers make the forest so agreeable to you?”

“Because they hunt my game, and I hunt them--which, in these peaceful times, is for me a picture of war on a small scale.”

They had reached this turn of the conversation when Planchet, looking up, perceived the house at the commencement of Fontainebleau, the outline of which stood out strongly upon the dark face of the heavens; while, rising above the compact and irregularly formed mass of buildings, the pointed roofs of the château were clearly visible, the slates of which glistened beneath the light of the moon like the scales of an immense fish. “Gentlemen,” said Planchet, “I have the honor to inform you that we have arrived at Fontainebleau.”

  1. 3: Porthos’s Strength
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 5: Planchet’s Country House