Contrairement aux autres romans de H. Bedford-Jones (D'Artagnan et The
King's passport) et à ce que pourrait faire
le titre, ce livre ne met nullement en scène les mousquetaires.
L'histoire se passe au XXème siècle et raconte
les aventures de jeunes Américains héritiers d'une
petite île sauvage au large de la Bretagne. Le vieux château
de leurs ancêtres, truffé de passages secrets et
de souterrains, est censé cacher le trésor familial,
enterré avant la Révolution. Avant de le trouver,
il leur faudra affronter d'affreux cousins, avides eux aussi
de richesses, et sans scrupules.
Et d'Artagnan? Le célèbre mousquetaire ne joue
strictement aucun rôle dans le récit. Simplement,
les indications pour trouver le trésor ont jadis été
écrites au dos d'un certificat de démobilisation
accordé à l'ancêtre français des héros,
qui servait dans le régiment de d'Artagnan, et signé
par ce dernier. C'est ce certificat, qualifié de "lettre"
et acheté aux enchères à Drouot au début
du récit, qui donne son nom au roman.
Détail intéressant: ce document semble exister
réellement, puisqu'il est reproduit en fac-similé
au début du volume. Il s'agit là, en fait, d'une
technique habituelle de Bedford-Jones, qui aime partir d'un élément
réel pour imaginer ses récits: un véritable
laissez-passer pour The King's passport; un fragment
d'article de Dumas pour D'Artagnan.
Mais D'Artagnan's letter se révèle
doublement décevant: par l'absence de véritable
lien avec l'oeuvre de Dumas d'une part, et par le manque d'originalité
du récit, d'autre part.
Extrait du chapitre 1 A letter from d'Artagnan is
always worth having
Then Quaintance forgot it all, as the bids droned on and he
saw his objective about to come up next. This was a large sheaf
of papers bound about with twine-a collection of autographs owned
by the defunct family, autographs of minor celebrities, to be
sold as a lot. To Quaintance it meant a good deal, however. Did
it not contain a document written and signed by d'Artagnan?
At a tap on the arm, Quaintance turned and shook hands warmly
with the venerable Paillot, whose old bookshop on the Quai des
Augustins was one of his favorite haunts. Paillot fixed him with
his bleary eye and chuckled.
"You, my friend? Do not tell me that you have swallowed
the bait. Look round-do you observe Cretin here, or M. Jupel,
or that estimable Frontin? Not at all."
"I observe you, though," and Quaintance laughed. "Are
you after the d'Artagnan document?"
"Bah! Not I," said the dealer, with a grimace. "A
fraud! I have examined it, me! It is dated 1676-three years after
the death of the great d'Artagnan!"
"There was more than one d'Artagnan," said Quaintance,
as the hammer fell and the sheaf of documents was brought forward
by a commissaire.
"True; also there was more than one Bonaparte," and
the old dealer chuckled. Quaintance turned quickly to him.
"Come, mon ami! Fraud or not, I want the d'Artagnan document!
The others in the lot are of no importance to me. Must I bid
against you or not?"
"Of a certainty," and Paillot nodded. "Look you!
In the lot is a letter dated 1835, from the actor Lepeintre to
the more eminent artist Sarthé, regretting that he could
not make the other a loan. Later, the one starved to death in
an attic in Paris, and the other drowned himself in the Seine.
That is why I am here."
"Good!" broke in Quaintance hastily. "Leave the
bidding to me. Let me buy the lot, keep the d'Artagnan letter,
and you can have the rest for nothing. Agreed?"
Paillot shrugged his lean shoulders. "But yes!" he
exclaimed, his bleary eyes greedy at the thought of the profitable
deal. The expert was just droning out his description of the
"-including a document in the writing of M. d'Artagnan,
not guaranteed genuine, but known to have been in the possession
of this family since the First Republic. Ten francs."
"Ten francs!" repeated Maître Gabriel. "Pressez,
"A hundred," said an eager voice, choked with excitement.
Quaintance glanced around and found everyone staring at the dark,
vulpine young man in the front row.
"A thousand," said Quaintance, catching the eye of
Gabriel. The latter stared at him.
"A thousand, M. Quaintance?"
The American nodded. With an impetuous, angered start, the young
man turned, his eyes blazing to see who had lifted his bid so
insanely. The commissaire spoke to him quickly.
"At the side, m'sieu, against you!"
"Two thousand!" said the young man. There was a gasp
from the crowd. The bidder stared at Quaintance triumphantly,
and the look stung.
"Ten thousand," said Quaintance calmly.
There was a chorus of excited voices. "Mon Dieu!" sighed
Paillot. "Name of a little black dog! This is incredible!" Every face turned to Quaintance.
"American!" said some one. But Quaintance, smiling
slightly now, was regarding his opponent intently. The young
man, his face deeply flushed, sprang to his feet, heedless of
"But this-this is madness!" he cried out furiously.
"It is crooked work!"
The ivory hammer fell.