The three musketeers are sure that the cardinal is speaking to someone of great importance. However, they have no idea who that someone is. Bored, Porthos and Aramis get some dice from the innkeeper and begin to play with one another. Meanwhile, Athos paces back and forth, thinking. As he paces, he notices a broken stovepipe that goes in the direction of the room where the cardinal is speaking with his mysterious companion. Athos puts his ear to the broken pipe and realizes he can hear the cardinal speaking. He signals to Porthos and Aramis to be quiet and waves them over so they can hear the conversation.
Resourceful as always, Athos quickly manages to figure out a way to eavesdrop on the cardinal. This scene echoes earlier ones in which d’Artagnan spied on the cardinal’s men via a hole he made in his floor. However, this scene is almost comical in its construction, as the method of spying is slightly absurd.
As it turns out, the cardinal is speaking to Milady, who he is sending to England on a mission. Her job is to speak with the Duke of Buckingham and convince him to end the war. The cardinal tells Milady to inform the duke that he has several pieces of evidence that will expose the affair between the duke and the queen. The cardinal seems to know all about the various meetings between the duke and the queen and gives Milady all of the necessary information, including what the duke was wearing during each instance.
Although the cardinal’s plans run counter to the interests of the queen, they are arguably for the good of the country. Although the cardinal is one of the novel’s villains, he is a nuanced figure who does try to serve his country well. However, because he opposes the queen, the cardinal will never be an ally in the eyes of d'Artagnan and his friends.
The cardinal is sure that the duke will surrender once he learns that the queen’s reputation is in danger. After all, the war only started in the first place because of the duke’s love for the queen. However, Milady also wants to know what happens if the duke declines to surrender. In that case, the cardinal instructs Milady to find a religious fanatic who will assassinate the duke. However, he doesn’t think things will go that far.
Here, the cardinal shows his less honorable side. Although he wants to end the war in a manner that is relatively free of bloodshed, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Like France, England is a country that was in constant political turmoil because of religious conflict in the early 17th century. As such, a political assassination by a religious fanatic would not seem out of place.
Milady promises to settle this matter for the cardinal if he will allow her to kill d’Artagnan. The cardinal says he will send d’Artagnan to the Bastille if Milady can provide proof that d’Artagnan conspired with the Duke of Buckingham. However, this isn’t good enough for Milady. She tells the cardinal that she will trade him a life for a life. The cardinal replies that he doesn’t want to know what she means but agrees to the terms. Having heard enough, Athos decides to leave the inn immediately. He tells his companions to stay behind and inform the cardinal that he left to scout out the roads.
The cardinal’s deal with Milady cements him as the novel’s villain. While it is understandable that he would use questionable means to dispatch his political enemies, it is less forgivable that he would allow Milady to kill one of his own men. Of course, the cardinal doesn’t realize that he is being spied on and that his words will get back to d’Artagnan almost immediately.