Pairings: Athos/Porthos, Aramis/d'Artagnan, past Athos/Aramis
Rating: NC17 (overall)
Summary: Ghost story AU set (vaguely) in the 1920's. When literature professor Athos de la Fère is invited to spend Christmas with an old friend and one of his students insists on tagging along, he's not expecting it to be overly eventful. But then a mysterious stranger arrives at the door in search of an old manuscript and all hell may be very literally about to break loose...
AN: I spent a week reading entirely too much MR James and this happened. For evilmaniclaugh, Happy Christmas!
"Well I never."
D'Artagnan looked up from his cross-legged position on the rug as close as he could get to the fire without actually falling in, and found his tutor staring at a letter received that morning and only just opened.
"Some news?" he enquired eagerly, willing to take any opportunity to distract from trying to decipher the tetchy handwriting Athos had scrawled across his latest essay.
Athos glanced over at him. "An old friend of mine. We were undergraduates together. It seems he's come into something of an inheritance."
"Christmas goose on him this year then?" d'Artagnan grinned.
"It seems to be more in the way of property than money," Athos said, scanning the letter. "His uncle has left him a house. He's going up to inspect it and has invited me to join him there for Christmas."
D'Artagnan's face fell. Knowing Athos had no immediate family to speak of, he'd been hoping he would be around for the holidays, if only because Athos' rooms were substantially warmer than his and he was liberal with his port decanter. "Will you go?" he asked dismally.
"Yes, I don't see why not. It's been a while since I've seen him. It would be nice to catch up."
"Can I come too?"
Athos looked surprised. "Whyever would you want to spend a week in a most likely half-unfurnished house in the middle of nowhere?"
D'Artagnan shrugged. "Because the alternative is spending it on my own here. Everyone else has gone home to their families, and I haven't got one." He adopted what he hoped was a mournful and destitute expression and stared pensively into the fire. "Please, sir?"
Athos was silent for a moment, and when d'Artagnan risked a look round he found a crooked smile upon his face.
"What?" d'Artagnan demanded immediately, dropping any pretence at misery. He cherished those times he could get one of Athos' rare smiles out of him, but to receive one without trying was slightly unnerving.
"You know," Athos said slowly, "you only ever call me sir when you want something?"
"I do not!"
"Yes you do. I've been making something of a study of it." Athos looked faintly amused.
"Does that mean I can come then?" d'Artagnan asked, hopeful at not having been given a flat refusal.
"There may not be room. I can hardly land Aramis with an unexpected guest."
"You'll have to write back and accept though won't you? You could ask if he minded you bringing someone," d'Artagnan suggested. "And as to room, well I don't mind sharing with you."
Athos raised his eyebrows. "I might," he muttered, but d'Artagnan could tell he'd already given in. "Very well," Athos sighed. "If you must." He smirked. "You can help me make a start cataloguing the library he mentions."
D'Artagnan gave a heartfelt groan.
A week later they alighted from the train in what appeared to be the back of beyond. The only passengers to disembark at this particular stop, they were relieved to find a car arranged by Aramis waiting for them outside the station.
Even with the hood up it was a draughty ride, and the taciturn local driver said barely two words to them along the way. The cheering lights of the village quickly fell away behind and they found themselves travelling a long, straight and bleak stretch of road, with flurries of snow in the verges and only the occasional bare tree to break the monotony.
The skies were grey and heavy with the promise of more snow and Athos privately thought he'd never seen such a depressing landscape in his life. He found he was grateful after all for the presence of d'Artagnan, who chattered away cheerfully and constantly, and with no regard for whether anyone was listening.
After a couple of miles the flat landscape curved up into gentle hills, and dark woodland crowded in on the road. Rounding a bend, the house appeared with a suddenness that took them by surprise.
"Here you go sirs. Blackmere Manor."
They'd barely lifted their luggage out before the car was turning round and speeding off again, and they stared after it in some bemusement, having expected the driver to at least linger in hope of a tip even if the fare had been paid by Aramis.
"Maybe he wants to get home before the snow sets in," Athos ventured, casting an unfavourable eye at the heavy cloud. There was a distinctly sickly yellow tinge to it that didn't bode well.
The cry made them both turn, and Athos was relieved to see Aramis hurrying towards them from the door. Their driver had abandoned them with such haste that he'd been worrying what they would do if this turned out to be the wrong house. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but this odd looking structure had hardly been it.
"Hello Aramis." The two men embraced warmly, under the interested eye of d'Artagnan, who'd been curious to see what a long-standing friend of Athos' would be like.
"Good to see you my friend, it's been too long." Aramis smiled. "And this must be d'Artagnan? Pleased to meet you, I'm Aramis."
D'Artagnan held out his hand and Aramis shook it heartily. "I hope you don't mind me tagging along like this," d'Artagnan said apologetically, but Aramis waved away his concerns.
"Not at all! The more the merrier. There are four bedrooms in any case, I've had them all made up so you can take your pick." He turned towards the house and gestured dramatically. "What do you think?"
"It's certainly got - character," Athos ventured dubiously. It gave the impression of being a squat building, somehow crouching amidst the trees, but his eye counted at least three storeys in certain places, plus what looked like attic rooms. It was all gables and chimneys and odd angles, plus two enormous windows that wouldn't have looked out of place in a church.
"Wait till you see inside," Aramis grinned. "It'll knock your socks off." He helped them collect their various bags and lead the way in through a huge stone arch. The door was ancient oak, studded with iron, and Athos gave it a considering look.
"How old is this place?" he asked.
"Originally built in the fourteenth century," Aramis declared. "Been knocked around a bit since then obviously, and I'm sure you'll be pleased to know it's now got indoor plumbing." He shoved open an inner door and marched through. "Now. What do you think of this?"
They followed him through the door and both stopped dead in amazement. The room was huge, a genuine medieval hall, stretching up the whole height of the house. The two arched windows at the front were matched by two in the opposite wall, and various doors lead off at each end.
"It's amazing!" d'Artagnan said, staring up and around with his mouth open.
"It'll be a nightmare to heat," declared Athos.
"D'Artagnan, as clearly a man of taste, let me show you around," Aramis said, draping an arm around his shoulders and giving Athos a mock glare for his lack of enthusiasm. Athos followed them a few paces behind, smiling faintly.
Rooms leading off from the hall included a kitchen, a bathroom, and the promised library, which Athos had to be prised out of with promises of being allowed to return at his leisure.
At one end of the hall a narrow stone spiral staircase twisted up within the thickness of the wall to first one bedchamber and then a second smaller one above. At the other end of the hall, a wooden stair climbed to two more bedrooms, one of which was being occupied by Aramis; another, smaller bathroom, and, Athos was relieved to discover, a solar room furnished in the manner of a cosy parlour. There were lamps and a fire burning, and it was the first room that had felt homely.
"Athos, will you take the bedroom on the west stair?" Aramis asked. "It's the second biggest, after mine." He looked at d'Artagnan, rather speculatively, Athos thought. "Perhaps you'd like the one next to mine? It's not overly large, but it's warm and less of a climb than the one above Athos. Although don't let me dissuade you, if you'd rather be together." He looked meaningfully at Athos as he said this, but Athos just looked back at him steadily, and Aramis grinned.
"This one would be perfect, thank you," said d'Artagnan. It was a sweet little room, with tapestries keeping out the draughts and a window that looked out of the gable end. "I'll go and fetch my bags." He clattered off down the staircase, taking the steps two at a time.
Aramis drew Athos back into the parlour and smirked at him. "Well he's a fine young man. Where did you dig him up from?"
"I told you, he's one of my students."
Aramis raised a suggestive eyebrow. "I'm sure he gets very good grades."
Athos folded his arms. "If you think for one second I would involve myself in that fashion with someone under my tutelage - "
"Oh Athos, lighten up." Aramis patted him soothingly on the shoulder. "So you're not - you know?"
Aramis looked thoughtful. "So you wouldn't mind if I - ?"
"Don't you dare. He's nineteen and impressionable. Keep your mucky designs off him."
Aramis rolled his eyes. "You're so dull Athos. You weren't always like this. Wasn't that long ago you were up for a lot more," he murmured, leaning closer.
Athos placed a hand on his chest and pushed him back. "Long enough," he said softly, and Aramis sighed.
"Anyway," Athos said. "I thought you were engaged?"
Aramis looked embarrassed. "I was. She broke it off."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know," Athos apologised. "What happened?" he asked, before realising it was none of his business. But they'd been friends for a long time, and he was surprised Aramis hadn't told him before.
"Ah, well. Bit of awkwardness there actually. Small matter of an affair with one of the porters at the hospital."
"Her?" Athos asked in surprise, then saw the sheepish look on Aramis' face and sighed. "You," he concluded.
"You're going to get struck off one of these days you know," Athos scolded. "Or worse."
Aramis gave a philosophical shrug. "Actually I was thinking I might move out here permanently. There's bound to be a local GP practice would appreciate a surgeon from the city."
"You? Live out in the sticks?" Athos shook his head, amused. "You'd be dead of boredom within a week."
A sudden shout from d'Artagnan drew their attention, and they moved out onto the staircase to see what was up.
"It's snowing!" D'Artagnan was staring excitedly out of the window in the hall below.
"He's adorable," Aramis whispered, smirking.
"He's nineteen," Athos whispered back sternly. "Promise me you'll behave."
Aramis crossed his eyes petulantly and sighed. "Oh very well. But you can't stop me looking." He ran lightly down the stairs to join d'Artagnan, and Athos followed on with a resigned but tolerant smile.
By the time they had unpacked and reconvened with Aramis in the kitchen for a welcome hot meal, night had well and truly fallen and the snow was coming down thickly.
After dinner they adjourned to the library. Athos immediately started examining the contents of the shelves, but d'Artagnan was far more taken with the various glass cases ranged around the room.
"Your uncle must have been a bit of a collector," he said, examining a set of what appeared to be poisoned arrows. "Did he travel a lot, or was he just fond of auctions?"
Athos frowned at him, considering this impertinent in the extreme, but Aramis laughed.
"To tell you the truth I don't remember ever having met him, although I suppose I probably did as a boy. This whole thing came out of the blue, I presume I was his only surviving relative. I know very little about him, I have to say."
"He certainly has some interesting volumes," Athos said, absent-mindedly wiping dusty fingers on his trousers. "Some of these are quite rare."
"Tell me if they're worth anything, won't you?" Aramis grinned, putting his feet up on a stool and lighting a cigarette. Athos shook his head exasperatedly, knowing he was being goaded and refusing to rise to it.
"Hey look, a real crystal ball," d'Artagnan cried suddenly. On a pedestal in the corner was a large antique crystal globe in an ornate metal stand. He peered into its depths, frowning slightly. "Do you think it works?"
"Try it out," Aramis laughed. "Tell Athos his fortune."
D'Artagnan grinned wickedly, and grabbed a lace runner from a nearby sideboard, draping it over his head in the manner of a headscarf. He made dramatic passes over the crystal with his hands and looked over at Athos who was waiting to hear his fate with patient good humour.
"I see a tall, dark stranger about to enter your life," d'Artagnan intoned, and Aramis snorted with appreciative laughter.
"He wishes," Aramis muttered under his breath, drawing a warning frown from Athos.
D'Artagnan beamed, and was about to continue his predictions when a crashing noise echoed through the house, leaving them all looking at each other in startled confusion.
"What the devil?" Aramis was on his feet. "What was that?"
It was Athos who figured it out, as after a short pause the noise came again.
"It's your door knocker you idiot. There's someone at the door."
Aramis looked more startled than ever. "Who would be calling on me at this time of night?"
"You didn't invite anyone else?"
"No, just you two."
Intrigued, all three of them went out together through the great hall and into the passage beyond. Aramis drew back the bolts and hauled open the heavy door and Athos and d'Artagnan peered over his shoulder to see who it was that had come so far out of the village on such an appalling night.
The snow was still falling in dizzying flurries, and the man on the step seemed for a second to be a giant, until he moved into the light spilling from the hallway and they could see he was wearing a thick coat made thicker by a heavy layer of snow.
"Good grief," Aramis exclaimed. "Come in, quickly, you must be frozen."
The stranger had a deep voice, and as he accepted Aramis' invitation to enter and pushed the hood back from his face, the three of them were surprised to find he was young, dark-skinned and handsome.
He licked his lips, looking a little uncertain before their combined scrutiny, and Aramis shook himself.
"I'm terribly sorry, where are my manners? My name is Aramis, these are my friends, Athos and d'Artagnan." They nodded politely and the stranger nodded back, relaxing a little at their smiles. "What brings you out in such weather, and how can we help?"
"My name is du Vallon, Porthos du Vallon. My car broke down about two miles back, and this was the first house I've come to." He brushed snow off his shoulders, and then looked apologetic about the mess.
"I got lost in the blizzard, seemed to be driving round in circles for hours. It was hard to see the road, I think I hit something in the verge - after that she just fairly well gave up the ghost, and it was stay there all night or press on in search of civilisation. I saw your lights, I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not, here, let me take your coat. You must come in and warm yourself by the fire, no, I insist. You must be so cold." Aramis was immediately every inch the welcoming host, bustling round their unexpected visitor in an effort to make him comfortable. "Would you like some hot tea, or cocoa? Or perhaps some wine? Athos, would get the door? Thank you."
As Aramis lead the party back into the hall, Athos went to shut the front door. He glanced out into the night as he did so and paused a second, frowning at something. Then he shrugged and closed and bolted the door.
He found the others in the kitchen, Aramis boiling the kettle on the range, and the stranger, Porthos, seated at the table with d'Artagnan.
"So, where is it you were bound?" Aramis asked cheerfully. "Perhaps we can set you on the right track. You'd better stay here tonight, and we can see about your car in the morning, perhaps get someone out from the village."
"You're very kind." Porthos smiled warmly at him. "I was looking for a place called Blackmere Manor, have you heard of it?"
Aramis looked taken aback. "Well - but this is Blackmere Manor. Were you looking for me then?"
Porthos looked just as astonished. "Francois d'Herblay?" he ventured, looking round uncertainly and clearly thinking to himself that none of the three men had identified themselves as such.
Light dawned in Aramis' face. "That was my uncle."
"I'm afraid he passed away a couple of months back."
Porthos looked sombre. "Then I've had a wasted journey."
"Perhaps if you actually told us what you wanted, we might be able to help," Athos put in dryly.
"Yes. Sorry." Porthos looked embarrassed, and Aramis frowned at Athos, who ignored him.
"I'm a Fellow of the British Library - M. d'Herblay wrote to us explaining his intent to donate a certain manuscript. Unfortunately this was the first opportunity we've had to follow it up, and it seems I'm too late."
"What was the manuscript?" Athos asked.
"Oh, here, I have his letter." Porthos opened the bag he'd been carrying and drew out an envelope, from which he unfolded a sheet of typed foolscap and handed it to Aramis.
Aramis scanned it and shrugged, handing it to Athos. "I'm afraid the title means nothing to me. If it's here, I guess you're welcome to it, but I'd have no idea where to look."
Athos had been reading the letter closely, and now glanced up. "The letter's not signed?" he said mildly.
Everyone automatically looked at it. There was the name at the bottom, neatly typed, but no signature.
"I guess he forgot?" Porthos offered with a helpless shrug. "I imagined I'd be seeing the man himself, as you're aware. I didn't anticipate there would be any difficulty about it."
"There's no difficulty," Aramis assured him. "If it was my uncle's intent to donate it, I'd be happy to go along with his wishes."
"Based on some of the other items he collected, it might be quite valuable," Athos pointed out.
Aramis sighed. "I'm sure once we find it you'll be able to give us the benefit of your opinion," he said.
"Whether we want it or not," d'Artagnan added mischievously, making Aramis laugh.
Athos looked at him. "I'm sorry, were you expecting to pass next term?" he enquired.
D'Artagnan flushed. "This should be designated neutral ground," he muttered. "It's only fair."
"You think so do you?" Athos asked, and d'Artagnan's blush deepened until Aramis laughed out loud and clapped d'Artagnan on the shoulder.
"He's winding you up, don't let him fool you," Aramis declared.
D'Artagnan looked startled at the idea Athos should even know how to go about winding someone up, but when he looked back at his tutor Athos was smiling at him and he relaxed into a relieved grin.
Porthos had been watching all this with unobtrusive interest, quietly sipping his tea and looking from one to the other as they bickered.
They adjourned to the library, and considered the task before them. Porthos was certain the item in question was a manuscript rather than a large bound book, so many of the shelves could be discounted, but a slim volume that could be tucked in anywhere would be harder to locate.
Aramis quickly lost interest in the search and settled into an armchair to watch and supply unhelpful comments, but Athos, despite being initially reserved about the whole thing soon became enthused by the opportunity to look through everything. Every few minutes he would get distracted by some rare volume or other, but was disappointed by Porthos' lack of matching interest. He expounded on various things instead to d'Artagnan, who was glad of an excuse to stop rifling through the musty papers and listen to him, regardless of the topic.
Porthos seemed single-minded in his search, and the three of them made good headway through most of one wall of promising looking papers, only to end up dusty and tired and ultimately empty-handed.
D'Artagnan yawned widely and looked pleadingly at Athos, who took pity on him.
"Perhaps we should give up for tonight. Make another search tomorrow morning. Maybe we'll get lucky."
Despite Porthos' vote to keep searching he was overruled and the party broke up and retired to bed, with Porthos being shown to the small room above Athos'.
Athos lay in bed listening thoughtfully to the creaking of the floorboards above his head as Porthos walked to and fro. Then the footsteps ceased and the bed creaked as Porthos climbed in, and there was silence. It had been a long day and Athos was soon drifting in and out of sleep, propped against the pillows.
Athos gradually became aware of a pricking feeling of being watched. It became so intense that he rolled over, and was considerably startled to find a dark shape standing in the open doorway. Trying to call out, his voice wouldn't come, and the feeling of unease and inability to move got stronger and stronger until he woke with a gasp and realised he'd been asleep after all.
With hands that had a distinct tremor to them he sat up and kindled the lamp. To his relief, the bedroom door was still as firmly shut as he'd left it, and the room was otherwise empty. Half-laughing at his own nerves and the thumping of his heart, Athos had barely lain back against the pillows when he heard a strangled cry from somewhere above. He sat bolt upright again, listening intently, and when the noise came again he climbed out of bed and picked up the lamp.
Opening his door he walked cautiously up the twisting staircase to the next floor, the stone steps cold under his bare feet. The flickering lamplight made the walls crowd in on him, and he shivered uncomfortably.
The door to Porthos' room was closed, and he knocked hesitantly. The noises from within were still audible, and had a note of such distress that after a second Athos made up his mind and tried the handle.
To his surprise the door opened under his touch, and he stepped inside. The light of the lamp revealed Porthos still in bed, clearly asleep and twisting in the bedclothes, in the grip of a nightmare.
Athos set down the lamp and reached out to him. "Porthos. Porthos, wake up!"
Porthos' eyes flew open and he half-sat up, gasping in horrified breaths. Athos reached out to him instinctively, unsure if Porthos recognised him in the dim light.
"It's me, Athos. Only me. It's okay."
Porthos grabbed him fiercely, his breathing gradually calming as he processed where he was, and who was with him.
"Sorry," he managed, losing his death-grip on Athos' forearms and sitting back. "I was - having a nightmare."
"I think it's this house," Athos sympathised with some feeling, sitting down on the side of the bed. "It's rather creepy, don't you think?"
Porthos gave him an embarrassed smile. "Thank you for waking me. Did I disturb you?" he asked, wondering exactly how loudly he'd been yelling in his sleep.
Athos shook his head. "No, I was awake. Had a bad dream myself as a matter of fact," he confessed.
Porthos shuddered. "I dreamt there was this horrid old man in the doorway. Every time I looked round he was closer to me, then he was leaning over the bed, and - " he broke off with a grimace. "That's when you woke me, and by God am I grateful."
Athos was looking at him oddly, startled by how closely it had matched his own dream, but said nothing as Porthos was clearly still shaken.
"Will you be alright?"
Porthos looked uneasy. "Don't suppose you'd consider staying?" he asked, looking embarrassed to death to be asking but unwilling to spend a moment longer alone.
Athos was surprised. "There's not really room," he pointed out. The chamber was small, and only held a single bed. Porthos looked doleful and Athos sighed. "Would you like to come in with me?"
"Would you mind?"
Athos shook his head. "To be honest I should be glad of the company."
Together they descended to Athos' room and closed the door firmly behind them. The bed indeed proved plenty big enough for both of them, and as they lay down to sleep if Athos seemingly forgot to put out the light, certainly Porthos did not see fit to remind him.
When Porthos woke the next morning he found he was alone in the bed, with winter sunshine pouring in through the window. He dressed and made his way down to the bathroom below, where he was forced to linger outside for a moment as it proved to be currently occupied by Athos.
When he came out, Athos found Porthos studying a portrait on the nearby wall, a dark study in oils of a serious looking cleric.
"Aramis' uncle?" Athos said after greeting him, leaning over his shoulder and reading the plaque to see what had piqued his interest.
"It's funny," Porthos said, sounding not the least bit amused. "I must have caught sight of this last night on my way to bed without realising. I could swear that was the man in my dream." He shivered. "I don't think he wants me here."
Athos smiled. "But surely he's the one who invited you?" he said. Porthos muttered something inaudible, and disappeared hurriedly into the bathroom, leaving Athos staring thoughtfully at the door.
When Porthos emerged, feeling better for a hot bath, he followed the sound of voices to the kitchen where he found Aramis cooking sausages and d'Artagnan sitting at the table drinking tea.
"Good morning!" Aramis waved a fork at him. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thank you," Porthos said, seeing no reason to burden his host with tales of night terrors, particularly if Athos hadn't mentioned it to them.
"I'm afraid we'll have to fend for ourselves for the moment," Aramis continued. "I've been having a woman from the village come up to see to things, but I doubt she'll make it in this snow."
Porthos walked over to look out of the window. It must have been snowing heavily for most of the night, although it was bright and sunny at the moment.
"Where's Athos?" he asked, wondering if he'd made a start in the library already.
"Insisted on trying to get down to the village," d'Artagnan snorted. "Said he had some business to attend to, and would pick us up some supplies while he was at it."
"In this snow?" Porthos asked, astonished. "It must be thigh-high in places."
"I did offer to go with him, but he said he'd be fine," d'Artagnan said. "Oh, he said he'd see about a mechanic for your car too."
"Oh." Porthos looked uncomfortable. "That's - very kind of him."
Aramis laid a plateful of food in front of him. "I doubt anyone'll be able to come out for a day or so," he warned. "I think you might be stuck here for a bit. At least it'll give you a chance to have a decent look for that manuscript."
"I'm sorry to impose like this," Porthos told him, but Aramis waved his concerns away.
"It's no bother. The more the merrier." A thought occurred to him, and he looked apologetic. "Is there anyone that'll be worried you haven't come home? Sorry, we should have thought, Athos could have sent a telegram for you."
"No. No, there's no-one likely to miss me until after Christmas," Porthos told him, somewhat to Aramis' surprise.
"Oh, well, in that case you might as well stay for the duration," he offered, feeling sorry that Porthos apparently had no-one to go to for the holidays.
Porthos looked startled and then, it seemed to d'Artagnan, slightly guilty. "I couldn't possibly - "
"Nonsense, I insist," Aramis told him, and considered the matter settled.
As the day wore on and Athos didn't return, they started casting increasingly worried glances out of the windows. The skies were closing in again, with snow flurries starting to fall.
Occupied with their search in the library, the time slipped past until it was time for tea and there had still been no sign of Athos.
"I suppose he is alright, is he?" d'Artagnan said anxiously. The early dusk was falling, and the snow was getting harder.
"He can take care of himself," Aramis promised. "Although if it gets much later I might worry. He should have had plenty of time to get back in daylight, it's only a couple of miles."
Despite this, it was almost full dark before they heard the front door creak open, and footsteps in the main hall. D'Artagnan jumped to his feet and shot out of the library, closely followed by Aramis. Both were relieved to find Athos brushing snow from his coat and apparently unharmed.
"Athos! Where have you been? We thought something must have happened to you!" d'Artagnan cried, resisting the urge to embrace him with some difficulty.
Athos gave him a brief smile, but looked troubled. "Sorry if I alarmed anyone. There was something I needed to do. Is Porthos still here?"
"Yes, he's in the library," said Aramis. "We've had no luck finding this manuscript."
Athos nodded grimly. "Come with me. You'd both better hear this." He walked off, leaving Aramis and d'Artagnan to exchange bemused looks.
"Athos! You made it." Porthos was seated in one of the arm chairs sorting through a pile of papers, and greeted him with a smile which faltered a little as Athos just regarded him soberly.
"As you all know, I went into the village this morning," Athos said quietly and without preamble. "I wanted to send a telegram, and I decided to wait for the reply."
"Bit cold to hang around all day wasn't it?" Aramis exclaimed.
Athos inclined his head with a slight smile. "I settled myself in the public house, it turns out they do a very acceptable local ale."
D'Artagnan snorted. "You mean to say we were worried about you and all this time you were in the damn pub!"
"You were worried about me?"
"No," Aramis retorted. "Get on with the story. What's with all this telegraphing business, you said nothing about it this morning? Whatever was so important you had to hang around for the answer?"
"With all this snow I wasn't sure I would be able to get back into the village if I left it overnight," Athos said. "And as to the content - " he hesitated and looked at Porthos. "I sent an enquiry to the British Library. It turns out they have no record of any letter received from a Francois d'Herblay, or any mention of an intended donation by him."
Porthos had shot to his feet, looking flustered. "Well, but I have all the paperwork here with me, no wonder they can't find it," he stammered.
"Nor," said Athos with a quiet but firm inevitability, "do they have any associate or member of staff by the name of Porthos du Vallon."