The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père - HTML preview
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Soubrette And Mistress
Meantime, as we have said, despite the cries of his conscience and the wise counsels of Athos, d'Artagnan became hourly more in love with Milady. Thus he never failed to pay his diurnal court to her; and the self-satisfied Gascon was convinced that sooner or later she could not fail to respond.
One day, when he arrived with his head in the air, and as light at heart as a man who awaits a shower of gold, he found the SOUBRETTE under the gateway of the hotel; but this time the pretty Kitty was not contented with touching him as he passed, she took him gently by the hand.
"Good!" thought d'Artagnan, "She is charged with some message for me from her mistress; she is about to appoint some rendezvous of which she had not courage to speak." And he looked down at the pretty girl with the most triumphant air imaginable."I wish to say three words to you, Monsieur Chevalier," stammered the SOUBRETTE. "Speak, my child, speak," said d'Artagnan; "I listen." "Here? Impossible! That which I have to say is too long, and above all, too secret." "Well, what is to be done?" "If Monsieur Chevalier would follow me?" said Kitty, timidly. "Where you please, my dear child." "Come, then." And Kitty, who had not let go the hand of d'Artagnan, led him up a little dark, winding staircase, and after ascending about fifteen steps, opened a door. "Come in here, Monsieur Chevalier," said she; "here we shall be alone, and can talk." "And whose room is this, my dear child?"
"It is mine, Monsieur Chevalier; it communicates with my mistress's by that door. But you need not fear. She will not hear what we say; she never goes to bed before midnight,. D'Artagnan cast a glance around him. The little apartment was charming for its taste and neatness; but in spite of himself, his eyes were directed to that door which Kitty said led to Milady's chamber.Kitty guessed what was passing in the mind of the young man, and heaved a deep sigh. "You love my mistress, then, very dearly, Monsieur Chevalier?" said she. "Oh, more than I can say, Kitty! I am mad for her!" Kitty breathed a second sigh. "Alas, monsieur," said she, "that is too bad." "What the devil do you see so bad in it?" said d'Artagnan. "Because, monsieur," replied Kitty, "my mistress loves you not at all." "HEIN!" said d'Artagnan, "can she have charged you to tell me so?" "Oh, no, monsieur; but out of the regard I have for you, I have taken the resolution to tell you so." "Much obliged, my dear Kitty; but for the intention only--for the information, you must agree, is not likely to be at all agreeable." "That is to say, you don't believe what I have told you; is it not so?" "We have always some difficulty in believing such things, my pretty dear, were it only from self-love." "Then you don't believe me?" "I confess that unless you deign to give me some proof of what you advance--" "What do you think of this?" Kitty drew a little note from her bosom. "For me?" said Derogation, seizing the letter. "No; for another." "For another?" "Yes." "His name; his name!" cried d'Artagnan. "Read the address." "Monsieur El Comte de Wardes."
The remembrance of the scene at St. Germain presented itself to the mind of the presumptuous Gascon. As quick as thought, he tore open the letter, in spite of the cry which Kitty uttered on seeing what he was going to do, or rather, what he was doing."Oh, good Lord, Monsieur Chevalier," said she, "what are you doing?" "I?" said d'Artagnan; "nothing," and he read,
"You have not answered my first note. Are you indisposed, or have you forgotten the glances you favored me with at the ball of Mme. de Guise? You have an opportunity now, Count; do not allow it to escape."d'Artagnan became very pale; he was wounded in his SELF- love: he thought that it was in his LOVE. "Poor dear Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Kitty, in a voice full of compassion, and pressing anew the young man's hand. "You pity me, little one?" said d'Artagnan. "Oh, yes, and with all my heart; for I know what it is to be in love." "You know what it is to be in love?" said d'Artagnan, looking at her for the first time with much attention. "Alas, yes." "Well, then, instead of pitying me, you would do much better to assist me in avenging myself on your mistress." "And what sort of revenge would you take?" "I would triumph over her, and supplant my rival." "I will never help you in that, Monsieur Chevalier," said Kitty, warmly. "And why not?" demanded d'Artagnan. "For two reasons." "What ones?" "The first is that my mistress will never love you." "How do you know that?" "You have cut her to the heart." "I? In what can I have offended her--I who ever since I have known her have lived at her feet like a slave? Speak, I beg you!" "I will never confess that but to the man--who should read to the bottom of my soul!" D'Artagnan looked at Kitty for the second time. The young girl had freshness and beauty which many duchesses would have purchased with their coronets. "Kitty," said he, "I will read to the bottom of your soul when-ever you like; don't let that disturb you." And he gave her a kiss at which the poor girl became as red as a cherry. "Oh, no," said Kitty, "it is not me you love! It is my mistress you love; you told me so just now." "And does that hinder you from letting me know the second reason?"
"The second reason, Monsieur the Chevalier," replied Kitty, emboldened by the kiss in the first place, and still further by the expression of the eyes of the young man, "is that in love, everyone for herself!"
Then only d'Artagnan remembered the languishing glances of Kitty, her constantly meeting him in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, those touches of the hand every time she met him, and her deep sighs; but absorbed by his desire to please the great lady, he had disdained the soubrette. He whose game is the eagle takes no heed of the sparrow.
But this time our Gascon saw at a glance all the advantage to be derived from the love which Kitty had just confessed so innocently, or so boldly: the interception of letters addressed to the Comte de Wardes, news on the spot, entrance at all hours into Kitty's chamber, which was contiguous to her mistress's. The perfidious deceiver was, as may plainly be perceived, already sacrificing, in intention, the poor girl in order to obtain Milady, willy-nilly."Well," said he to the young girl, "are you willing, my dear Kitty, that I should give you a proof of that love which you doubt?" "What love?" asked the young girl. "Of that which I am ready to feel toward you." "And what is that proof?" "Are you willing that I should this evening pass with you the time I generally spend with your mistress?" "Oh, yes," said Kitty, clapping her hands, "very willing." "Well, then, come here, my dear," said d'Artagnan, establishing himself in an easy chair; "come, and let me tell you that you are the prettiest SOUBRETTE I ever saw!"
And he did tell her so much, and so well, that the poor girl, who asked nothing better than to believe him, did believe him. Nevertheless, to d'Artagnan's great astonishment, the pretty Kitty defended herself resolutely.Time passes quickly when it is passed in attacks and defenses. Midnight sounded, and almost at the same time the bell was rung in Milady's chamber. "Good God," cried Kitty, "there is my mistress calling me! Go; go directly!"
D'Artagnan rose, took his hat, as if it had been his intention to obey, then, opening quickly the door of a large closet instead of that leading to the staircase, he buried himself amid the robes and dressing gowns of Milady."What are you doing?" cried Kitty. D'Artagnan, who had secured the key, shut himself up in the closet without reply. "Well," cried Milady, in a sharp voice. "Are you asleep, that you don't answer when I ring?" And d'Artagnan heard the door of communication opened violently. "Here am I, Milady, here am I!" cried Kitty, springing forward to meet her mistress.
Both went into the bedroom, and as the door of communication remained open, d'Artagnan could hear Milady for some time scolding her maid. She was at length appeased, and the conversation turned upon him while Kitty was assisting her mistress."Well," said Milady, "I have not seen our Gascon this evening."
"What, Milady! has he not come?" said Kitty. "Can he be inconstant before being happy?"
"Oh, no; he must have been prevented by Monsieur de Treville or Monsieur Dessessart. I understand my game, Kitty; I have this one safe."
"What will I do with him? Be easy, Kitty, there is something between that man and me that he is quite ignorant of: he nearly made me lose my credit with his Eminence. Oh, I will be revenged!""I believed that Madame loved him." "I love him? I detest him! An idiot, who held the life of Lord de Winter in his hands and did not kill him, by which I missed three hundred thousand livres' income." "That's true," said Kitty; "your son was the only heir of his uncle, and until his majority you would have had the enjoyment of his fortune."
D'Artagnan shuddered to the marrow at hearing this suave creature reproach him, with that sharp voice which she took such pains to conceal in conversation, for not having killed a man whom he had seen load her with kindnesses."For all this," continued Milady, "I should long ago have revenged myself on him if, and I don't know why, the cardinal had not requested me to conciliate him." "Oh, yes; but Madame has not conciliated that little woman he was so fond of." "What, the mercer's wife of the Rue des Fossoyeurs? Has he not already forgotten she ever existed? Fine vengeance that, on my faith!" A cold sweat broke from d'Artagnan's brow. Why, this woman was a monster! He resumed his listening, but unfortunately the toilet was finished. "That will do," said Milady; "go into your own room, and tomorrow endeavor again to get me an answer to the letter I gave you." "For Monsieur de Wardes?" said Kitty. "To be sure; for Monsieur de Wardes." "Now, there is one," said Kitty, "who appears to me quite a different sort of a man from that poor Monsieur d'Artagnan."
"Go to bed, mademoiselle," said Milady; "I don't like comments." D'Artagnan heard the door close; then the noise of two bolts by which Milady fastened herself in. On her side, but as softly as possible, Kitty turned the key of the lock, and then d'Artagnan opened the closet door."Oh, good Lord!" said Kitty, in a low voice, "what is the matter with you? How pale you are!" "The abominable creature" murmured d'Artagnan. "Silence, silence, begone!" said Kitty. "There is nothing but a wainscot between my chamber and Milady's; every word that is uttered in one can be heard in the other." "That's exactly the reason I won't go," said d'Artagnan. "What!" said Kitty, blushing. "Or, at least, I will go--later." He drew Kitty to him. She had the less motive to resist, resistance would make so much noise. Therefore Kitty surrendered.
It was a movement of vengeance upon Milady. D'Artagnan believed it right to say that vengeance is the pleasure of the gods. With a little more heart, he might have been contented with this new conquest; but the principal features of his character were ambition and pride. It must, however, be confessed in his justification that the first use he made of his influence over Kitty was to try and find out what had become of Mme. Bonacieux; but the poor girl swore upon the crucifix to d'Artagnan that she was entirely ignorant on that head, her mistress never admitting her into half her secrets--only she believed she could say she was not dead.
As to the cause which was near making Milady lose her credit with the cardinal, Kitty knew nothing about it; but this time d'Artagnan was better informed than she was. As he had seen Milady on board a vessel at the moment he was leaving England, he suspected that it was, almost without a doubt, on account of the diamond studs.But what was clearest in all this was that the true hatred, the profound hatred, the inveterate hatred of Milady, was increased by his not having killed her brother-in-law.
D'Artagnan came the next day to Milady's, and finding her in a very ill-humor, had no doubt that it was lack of an answer from M. de Wardes that provoked her thus. Kitty came in, but Milady was very cross with her. The poor girl ventured a glance at d'Artagnan which said, "See how I suffer on your account!"
Toward the end of the evening, however, the beautiful lioness became milder; she smilingly listened to the soft speeches of d'Artagnan, and even gave him her hand to kiss. D'Artagnan departed, scarcely knowing what to think, but as he was a youth who did not easily lose his head, while continuing to pay his court to Milady, he had framed a little plan in his mind.
He found Kitty at the gate, and, as on the preceding evening, went up to her chamber. Kitty had been accused of negligence and severely scolded. Milady could not at all comprehend the silence of the Comte de Wardes, and she ordered Kitty to come at nine o'clock in the morning to take a third letter.D'Artagnan made Kitty promise to bring him that letter on the following morning. The poor girl promised all her lover desired; she was mad.
Things passed as on the night before. D'Artagnan concealed himself in his closet; Milady called, undressed, sent away Kitty, and shut the door. As the night before, d'Artagnan did not return home till five o'clock in the morning.
At eleven o'clock Kitty came to him. She held in her hand a fresh billet from Milady. This time the poor girl did not even argue with d'Artagnan; she gave it to him at once. She belonged body and soul to her handsome soldier.D'Artagnan opened the letter and read as follows: This is the third time I have written to you to tell you that I love you. Beware that I do not write to you a fourth time to tell you that I detest you. If you repent of the manner in which you have acted toward me, the young girl who brings you this will tell you how a man of spirit may obtain his pardon. d'Artagnan colored and grew pale several times in reading this billet. "Oh, you love her still," said Kitty, who had not taken her eyes off the young man's countenance for an instant. "No, Kitty, you are mistaken. I do not love her, but I will avenge myself for her contempt." "Oh, yes, I know what sort of vengeance! You told me that!" "What matters it to you, Kitty? You know it is you alone whom I love." "How can I know that?" "By the scorn I will throw upon her."
D'Artagnan took a pen and wrote: Madame, Until the present moment I could not believe that it was to me your first two letters were addressed, so unworthy did I feel myself of such an honor; besides, I was so seriously indisposed that I could not in any case have replied to them.But now I am forced to believe in the excess of your kindness, since not only your letter but your servant assures me that I have the good fortune to be beloved by you. She has no occasion to teach me the way in which a man of spirit may obtain his pardon. I will come and ask mine at eleven o'clock this evening. To delay it a single day would be in my eyes now to commit a fresh offense. From him whom you have rendered the happiest of men, Comte de Wardes
This note was in the first place a forgery; it was likewise an indelicacy. It was even, according to our present manners, something like an infamous action; but at that period people did not manage affairs as they do today. Besides, d'Artagnan from her own admission knew Milady culpable of treachery in matters more important, and could entertain no respect for her. And yet, notwithstanding this want of respect, he felt an uncontrollable passion for this woman boiling in his veins--passion drunk with contempt; but passion or thirst, as the reader pleases.
D'Artagnan's plan was very simple. By Kitty's chamber he could gain that of her mistress. He would take advantage of the first moment of surprise, shame, and terror, to triumph over her. He might fail, but something must be left to chance. In eight days the campaign would open, and he would be compelled to leave Paris; d'Artagnan had no time for a prolonged love siege."There," said the young man, handing Kitty the letter sealed; "give that to Milady. It is the count's reply." Poor Kitty became as pale as death; she suspected what the letter contained.
"Listen, my dear girl," said d'Artagnan; "you cannot but perceive that all this must end, some way or other. Milady may discover that you gave the first billet to my lackey instead of to the count's; that it is I who have opened the others which ought to have been opened by de Wardes. Milady will then turn you out of doors, and you know she is not the woman to limit her vengeance. "Alas!" said Kitty, "for whom have I exposed myself to all that?""For me, I well know, my sweet girl," said d'Artagnan. "But I am grateful, I swear to you." "But what does this note contain?" "Milady will tell you." "Ah, you do not love me!" cried Kitty, "and I am very wretched."
To this reproach there is always one response which deludes women. D'Artagnan replied in such a manner that Kitty remained in her great delusion. Although she cried freely before deciding to transmit the letter to her mistress, she did at last so decide, which was all d'Artagnan wished. Finally he promised that he would leave her mistress's presence at an early hour that evening, and that when he left the mistress he would ascend with the maid. This promise completed poor Kitty's consolation.
Since the four friends had been each in search of his equipments, there had been no fixed meeting between them. They dined apart from one another, wherever they might happen to be, or rather where they could. Duty likewise on its part took a portion of that precious time which was gliding away so rapidly--only they had agreed to meet once a week, about one o'clock, at the residence of Athos, seeing that he, in agreement with the vow he had formed, did not pass over the threshold of his door.This day of reunion was the same day as that on which Kitty came to find d'Artagnan. Soon as Kitty left him, d'Artagnan directed his steps toward the Rue Ferou.
He found Athos and Aramis philosophizing. Aramis had some slight inclination to resume the cassock. Athos, according to his system, neither encouraged nor dissuaded him. Athos believed that everyone should be left to his own free will. He never gave advice but when it was asked, and even then he required to be asked twice."People, in general," he said, "only ask advice not to follow it; or if they do follow it, it is for the sake of having someone to blame for having given it." Porthos arrived a minute after d'Artagnan. The four friends were reunited. The four countenances expressed four different feelings: that of Porthos, tranquillity; that of d'Artagnan, hope; that of Aramis, uneasiness; that of Athos, carelessness.
At the end of a moment's conversation, in which Porthos hinted that a lady of elevated rank had condescended to relieve him from his embarrassment, Mousqueton entered. He came to request his master to return to his lodgings, where his presence was urgent, as he piteously said."Is it my equipment?" "Yes and no," replied Mousqueton. "Well, but can't you speak?" "Come, monsieur." Porthos rose, saluted his friends, and followed Mousqueton. An instant after, Bazin made his appearance at the door. "What do you want with me, my friend?" said Aramis, with that mildness of language which was observable in him every time that his ideas were directed toward the Church. "A man wishes to see Monsieur at home," replied Bazin. "A man! What man?" "A mendicant." "Give him alms, Bazin, and bid him pray for a poor sinner." "This mendicant insists upon speaking to you, and pretends that you will be very glad to see him." "Has he sent no particular message for me?" "Yes. If Monsieur Aramis hesitates to come," he said, "tell him I am from Tours."
"From Tours!" cried Aramis. "A thousand pardons, gentlemen; but no doubt this man brings me the news I expected." And rising also, he went off at a quick pace. There remained Athos and d'Artagnan."I believe these fellows have managed their business. What do you think, d'Artagnan?" said Athos.
"I know that Porthos was in a fair way," replied d'Artagnan; "and as to Aramis to tell you the truth, I have never been seriously uneasy on his account. But you, my dear Athos-- you, who so generously distributed the Englishman's pistoles, which were our legitimate property--what do you mean to do?"
"I am satisfied with having killed that fellow, my boy, seeing that it is blessed bread to kill an Englishman; but if I had pocketed his pistoles, they would have weighed me down like a remorse."Go to, my dear Athos; you have truly inconceivable ideas."
"Let it pass. What do you think of Monsieur de Treville telling me, when he did me the honor to call upon me yesterday, that you associated with the suspected English, whom the cardinal protects?""That is to say, I visit an Englishwoman--the one I named." "Oh, ay! the fair woman on whose account I gave you advice, which naturally you took care not to adopt." "I gave you my reasons."
"Yes; you look there for your outfit, I think you said." "Not at all. I have acquired certain knowledge that that woman was concerned in the abduction of Madame Bonacieux.""Yes, I understand now: to find one woman, you court another. It is the longest road, but certainly the most amusing."
D'Artagnan was on the point of telling Athos all; but one consideration restrained him. Athos was a gentleman, punctilious in points of honor; and there were in the plan which our lover had devised for Milady, he was sure, certain things that would not obtain the assent of this Puritan. He was therefore silent; and as Athos was the least inquisitive of any man on earth, d'Artagnan's confidence stopped there. We will therefore leave the two friends, who had nothing important to say to each other, and follow Aramis.
Upon being informed that the person who wanted to speak to him came from Tours, we have seen with what rapidity the young man followed, or rather went before, Bazin; he ran without stopping from the Rue Ferou to the Rue de Vaugirard. On entering he found a man of short stature and intelligent eyes, but covered with rags."You have asked for me?" said the Musketeer. "I wish to speak with Monsieur Aramis. Is that your name, monsieur?" "My very own. You have brought me something?" "Yes, if you show me a certain embroidered handkerchief." "Here it is," said Aramis, taking a small key from his breast and opening a little ebony box inlaid with mother of pearl, "here it is. Look." "That is right," replied the mendicant; "dismiss your lackey."
In fact, Bazin, curious to know what the mendicant could want with his master, kept pace with him as well as he could, and arrived almost at the same time he did; but his quickness was not of much use to him. At the hint from the mendicant his master made him a sign to retire, and he was obliged to obey.
Bazin gone, the mendicant cast a rapid glance around him in order to be sure that nobody could either see or hear him, and opening his ragged vest, badly held together by a leather strap, he began to rip the upper part of his doublet, from which he drew a letter.Aramis uttered a cry of joy at the sight of the seal, kissed the superscription with an almost religious respect, and opened the epistle, which contained what follows:
"My Friend, it is the will of fate that we should be still for some time separated; but the delightful days of youth are not lost beyond return. Perform your duty in camp; I will do mine elsewhere. Accept that which the bearer brings you; make the campaign like a handsome true gentleman, and think of me, who kisses tenderly your black eyes."Adieu; or rather, AU REVOIR."
The mendicant continued to rip his garments; and drew from amid his rags a hundred and fifty Spanish double pistoles, which he laid down on the table; then he opened the door, bowed, and went out before the young man, stupefied by his letter, had ventured to address a word to him.Aramis then reperused the letter, and perceived a postscript: P.S. You may behave politely to the bearer, who is a count and a grandee of Spain! "Golden dreams!" cried Aramis. "Oh, beautiful life! Yes, we are young; yes, we shall yet have happy days! My love, my blood, my life! all, all, all, are thine, my adored mistress!" And he kissed the letter with passion, without even vouchsafing a look at the gold which sparkled on the table. Bazin scratched at the door, and as Aramis had no longer any reason to exclude him, he bade him come in.
Bazin was stupefied at the sight of the gold, and forgot that he came to announce d'Artagnan, who, curious to know who the mendicant could be, came to Aramis on leaving Athos.Now, as d'Artagnan used no ceremony with Aramis, seeing that Bazin forgot to announce him, he announced himself. "The devil! my dear Aramis," said d'Artagnan, "if these are the prunes that are sent to you from Tours, I beg you will make my compliments to the gardener who gathers them."
"You are mistaken, friend d'Artagnan," said Aramis, always on his guard; "this is from my publisher, who has just sent me the price of that poem in one-syllable verse which I began yonder.""Ah, indeed," said d'Artagnan. "Well, your publisher is very generous, my dear Aramis, that's all I can say."
"How, monsieur?" cried Bazin, "a poem sell so dear as that! It is incredible! Oh, monsieur, you can write as much as you like; you may become equal to Monsieur de Voiture and Monsieur de Benserade. I like that. A poet is as good as an abbe. Ah! Monsieur Aramis, become a poet, I beg of you.""Bazin, my friend," said Aramis, "I believe you meddle with my conversation." Bazin perceived he was wrong; he bowed and went out.
"Ah!" said d'Artagnan with a smile, "you sell your productions at their weight in gold. You are very fortunate, my friend; but take care or you will lose that letter which is peeping from your doublet, and which also comes, no doubt, from your publisher."Aramis blushed to the eyes, crammed in the letter, and re-buttoned his doublet. "My dear d'Artagnan," said he, "if you please, we will join our friends; as I am rich, we will today begin to dine together again, expecting that you will be rich in your turn."
"My faith!" said d'Artagnan, with great pleasure. "It is long since we have had a good dinner; and I, for my part, have a somewhat hazardous expedition for this evening, and shall not be sorry, I confess, to fortify myself with a few glasses of good old Burgundy.""Agreed, as to the old Burgundy; I have no objection to that," said Aramis, from whom the letter and the gold had removed, as by magic, his ideas of conversion.
And having put three or four double pistoles into his pocket to answer the needs of the moment, he placed the others in the ebony box, inlaid with mother of pearl, in which was the famous handkerchief which served him as a talisman.
The two friends repaired to Athos's, and he, faithful to his vow of not going out, took upon him to order dinner to be brought to them. As he was perfectly acquainted with the details of gastronomy, d'Artagnan and Aramis made no objection to abandoning this important care to him.They went to find Porthos, and at the corner of the Rue Bac met Mousqueton, who, with a most pitiable air, was driving before him a mule and a horse. D'Artagnan uttered a cry of surprise, which was not quite free from joy. "Ah, my yellow horse," cried he. "Aramis, look at that horse!" "Oh, the frightful brute!" said Aramis. "Ah, my dear," replied d'Artagnan, "upon that very horse I came to Paris." "What, does Monsieur know this horse?" said Mousqueton. "It is of an original color," said Aramis; "I never saw one with such a hide in my life."
"I can well believe it," replied d'Artagnan, "and that was why I got three crowns for him. It must have been for his hide, for, CERTESf, the carcass is not worth eighteen livres. But how did this horse come into your bands, Mousqueton?"
"Pray," said the lackey, "say nothing about it, monsieur; it is a frightful trick of the husband of our duchess!"
"Why, we are looked upon with a rather favorable eye by a lady of quality, the Duchesse de--but, your pardon; my master has commanded me to be discreet. She had forced us to accept a little souvenir, a magnificent Spanish GENET and an Andalusian mule, which were beautiful to look upon. The husband heard of the affair; on their way he confiscated the two magnificent beasts which were being sent to us, and substituted these horrible animals.""Which you are taking back to him?" said d'Artagnan. "Exactly!" replied Mousqueton. "You may well believe that we will not accept such steeds as these in exchange for those which had been promised to us."
"No, PARDIEU; though I should like to have seen Porthos on my yellow horse. That would give me an idea of how I looked when I arrived in Paris. But don't let us hinder you, Mousqueton; go and perform your master's orders. Is he at home?""Yes, monsieur," said Mousqueton, "but in a very ill humor. Get up!"
He continued his way toward the Quai des Grands Augustins, while the two friends went to ring at the bell of the unfortunate Porthos. He, having seen them crossing the yard, took care not to answer, and they rang in vain.
Meanwhile Mousqueton continued on his way, and crossing the Pont Neuf, still driving the two sorry animals before him, he reached the Rue aux Ours. Arrived there, he fastened, according to the orders of his master, both horse and mule to the knocker of the procurator's door; then, without taking any thought for their future, he returned to Porthos, and told him that his commission was completed.
In a short time the two unfortunate beasts, who had not eaten anything since the morning, made such a noise in raising and letting fall the knocker that the procurator ordered his errand boy to go and inquire in the neighborhood to whom this horse and mule belonged.
Mme. Coquenard recognized her present, and could not at first comprehend this restitution; but the visit of Porthos soon enlightened her. The anger which fired the eyes of the Musketeer, in spite of his efforts to suppress it, terrified his sensitive inamorata. In fact, Mousqueton had not concealed from his master that he had met d'Artagnan and Aramis, and that d'Artagnan in the yellow horse had recognized the Bearnese pony upon which he had come to Paris, and which he had sold for three crowns.
Porthos went away after having appointed a meeting with the procurator's wife in the cloister of St. Magloire. The procurator, seeing he was going, invited him to dinner--an invitation which the Musketeer refused with a majestic air.
All that which a man wounded in his self-love could let fall in the shape of imprecations and reproaches upon the head of a woman Porthos let fall upon the bowed head of the procurator's wife.
"Alas," said she, "I did all for the best! One of our clients is a horsedealer; he owes money to the office, and is backward in his pay. I took the mule and the horse for what he owed us; he assured me that they were two noble steeds.""Well, madame," said Porthos, "if he owed you more than five crowns, your horsedealer is a thief." "There is no harm in trying to buy things cheap, Monsieur Porthos," said the procurator's wife, seeking to excuse herself. "No, madame; but they who so assiduously try to buy things cheap ought to permit others to seek more generous friends." And Porthos, turning on his heel, made a step to retire. "Monsieur Porthos! Monsieur Porthos!" cried the procurator's wife. "I have been wrong; I see it. I ought not to have driven a bargain when it was to equip a cavalier like you."
Porthos, without reply, retreated a second step. The procurator's wife fancied she saw him in a brilliant cloud, all surrounded by duchesses and marchionesses, who cast bags of money at his feet."Stop, in the name of heaven, Monsieur Porthos!" cried she. "Stop, and let us talk." "Talking with you brings me misfortune," said Porthos. "But, tell me, what do you ask?" "Nothing; for that amounts to the same thing as if I asked you for something."
The procurator's wife hung upon the arm of Porthos, and in the violence of her grief she cried out, "Monsieur Porthos, I am ignorant of all such matters! How should I know what a horse is? How should I know what horse furniture is?""You should have left it to me, then, madame, who know what they are; but you wished to be frugal, and consequently to lend at usury." "It was wrong, Monsieur Porthos; but I will repair that wrong, upon my word of honor." "How so?" asked the Musketeer.
"Listen. This evening M. Coquenard is going to the house of the Due de Chaulnes, who has sent for him. It is for a consultation, which will last three hours at least. Come! We shall be alone, and can make up our accounts.""In good time. Now you talk, my dear." "You pardon me?" "We shall see," said Porthos, majestically; and the two separated saying, "Till this evening." "The devil!" thought Porthos, as he walked away, "it appears I am getting nearer to Monsieur Coquenard's strongbox at last."
A Gascon A Match For CupidThe evening so impatiently waited for by Porthos and by d'Artagnan at last arrived.
As was his custom, d'Artagnan presented himself at Milady's at about nine o'clock. He found her in a charming humor. Never had he been so well received. Our Gascon knew, by the first glance of his eye, that his billet had been delivered, and that this billet had had its effect.
Kitty entered to bring some sherbet. Her mistress put on a charming face, and smiled on her graciously; but alas! the poor girl was so sad that she did not even notice Milady's condescension.
D'Artagnan looked at the two women, one after the other, and was forced to acknowledge that in his opinion Dame Nature had made a mistake in their formation. To the great lady she had given a heart vile and venal; to the SOUBRETTE she had given the heart of a duchess.
At ten o'clock Milady began to appear restless. D'Artagnan knew what she wanted. She looked at the clock, rose, reseated herself, smiled at d'Artagnan with an air which said, "You are very amiable, no doubt, but you would be charming if you would only depart."
D'Artagnan rose and took his hat; Milady gave him her hand to kiss. The young man felt her press his hand, and comprehended that this was a sentiment, not of coquetry, but of gratitude because of his departure."She loves him devilishly," he murmured. Then he went out.
This time Kitty was nowhere waiting for him; neither in the antechamber, nor in the corridor, nor beneath the great door. It was necessary that d'Artagnan should find alone the staircase and the little chamber. She heard him enter, but she did not raise her head. The young man went to her and took her hands; then she sobbed aloud.
As d'Artagnan had presumed, on receiving his letter, Milady in a delirium of joy had told her servant everything; and by way of recompense for the manner in which she had this time executed the commission, she had given Kitty a purse.
Returning to her own room, Kitty had thrown the purse into a corner, where it lay open, disgorging three or four gold pieces on the carpet. The poor girl, under the caresses of d'Artagnan, lifted her head. D'Artagnan himself was frightened by the change in her countenance. She joined her hands with a suppliant air, but without venturing to speak a word. As little sensitive as was the heart of d'Artagnan, he was touched by this mute sorrow; but he held too tenaciously to his projects, above all to this one, to change the program which he had laid out in advance. He did not therefore allow her any hope that he would flinch; only he represented his action as one of simple vengeance. For the rest this vengeance was very easy; for Milady, doubtless to conceal her blushes from her lover, had ordered Kitty to extinguish all the lights in the apartment, and even in the little chamber itself. Before daybreak M. de Wardes must take his departure, still in obscurity.
Presently they heard Milady retire to her room. D'Artagnan slipped into the wardrobe. Hardly was he concealed when the little bell sounded. Kitty went to her mistress, and did not leave the door open; but the partition was so thin that one could hear nearly all that passed between the two women.
Milady seemed overcome with joy, and made Kitty repeat the smallest details of the pretended interview of the soubrette with de Wardes when he received the letter; how he had responded; what was the expression of his face; if he seemed very amorous. And to all these questions poor Kitty, forced to put on a pleasant face, responded in a stifled voice whose dolorous accent her mistress did not however remark, solely because happiness is egotistical.
Finally, as the hour for her interview with the count approached, Milady had everything about her darkened, and ordered Kitty to return to her own chamber, and introduce de Wardes whenever he presented himself.Kitty's detention was not long. Hardly had d'Artagnan seen,
through a crevice in his closet, that the whole apartment was in obscurity, than he slipped out of his concealment, at the very moment when Kitty reclosed the door of communication."What is that noise?" demanded Milady. "It is I," said d'Artagnan in a subdued voice, "I, the Comte de Wardes." "Oh, my God, my God!" murmured Kitty, "he has not even waited for the hour he himself named!" "Well," said Milady, in a trembling voice, "why do you not enter? Count, Count," added she, "you know that I wait for you." At this appeal d'Artagnan drew Kitty quietly away, and slipped into the chamber.
If rage or sorrow ever torture the heart, it is when a lover receives under a name which is not his own protestations of love addressed to his happy rival. D'Artagnan was in a dolorous situation which he had not foreseen. Jealousy gnawed his heart; and he suffered almost as much as poor Kitty, who at that very moment was crying in the next chamber.
"Yes, Count," said Milady, in her softest voice, and pressing his hand in her own, "I am happy in the love which your looks and your words have expressed to me every time we have met. I also--I love you. Oh, tomorrow, tomorrow, I must have some pledge from you which will prove that you think of me; and that you may not forget me, take this!" and she slipped a ring from her finger onto d'Artagnan's. d'Artagnan remembered having seen this ring on the finger of Milady; it was a magnificent sapphire, encircled with brilliants.
The first movement of d'Artagnan was to return it, but Milady added, "No, no! Keep that ring for love of me. Besides, in accepting it," she added, in a voice full of emotion, "you render me a much greater service than you imagine."
"This woman is full of mysteries," murmured d'Artagnan to himself. At that instant he felt himself ready to reveal all. He even opened his mouth to tell Milady who he was, and with what a revengeful purpose he had come; but she added, "Poor angel, whom that monster of a Gascon barely failed to kill."The monster was himself. "Oh," continued Milady, "do your wounds still make you suffer?" "Yes, much," said d'Artagnan, who did not well know how to answer. "Be tranquil," murmured Milady; "I will avenge you--and cruelly!" "PESTE!" said d'Artagnan to himself, "the moment for confidences has not yet come."
It took some time for d'Artagnan to resume this little dialogue; but then all the ideas of vengeance which he had brought with him had completely vanished. This woman exercised over him an unaccountable power; he hated and adored her at the same time. He would not have believed that two sentiments so opposite could dwell in the same heart, and by their union constitute a passion so strange, and as it were, diabolical.
Presently it sounded one o'clock. It was necessary to separate. D'Artagnan at the moment of quitting Milady felt only the liveliest regret at the parting; and as they addressed each other in a reciprocally passionate adieu, another interview was arranged for the following week.
Poor Kitty hoped to speak a few words to d'Artagnan when he passed through her chamber; but Milady herself reconducted him through the darkness, and only quit him at the staircase.The next morning d'Artagnan ran to find Athos. He was engaged in an adventure so singular that he wished for counsel. He therefore told him all.
"Your Milady," said he, "appears to be an infamous creature, but not the less you have done wrong to deceive her. In one fashion or another you have a terrible enemy on your hands."
While thus speaking Athos regarded with attention the sapphire set with diamonds which had taken, on d'Artagnan's finger, the place of the queen's ring, carefully kept in a casket.
"It is impossible it can be she," said be. "How could this ring come into the hands of Milady Clarik? And yet it is difficult to suppose such a resemblance should exist between two jewels.""Do you know this ring?" said d'Artagnan. "I thought I did," replied Athos; "but no doubt I was mistaken." And he returned d'Artagnan the ring without, however, ceasing to look at it.
"Pray, d'Artagnan," said Athos, after a minute, "either take off that ring or turn the mounting inside; it recalls such cruel recollections that I shall have no head to converse with you. Don't ask me for counsel; don't tell me you are perplexed what to do. But stop! let me look at that sapphire again; the one I mentioned to you had one of its faces scratched by accident."D'Artagnan took off the ring, giving it again to Athos. Athos started. "Look," said he, "is it not strange?" and he pointed out to d'Artagnan the scratch he had remembered. "But from whom did this ring come to you, Athos?" "From my mother, who inherited it from her mother. As I told you, it is an old family jewel." "And you--sold it?" asked d'Artagnan, hesitatingly. "No," replied Athos, with a singular smile. "I gave it away in a night of love, as it has been given to you."
D'Artagnan became pensive in his turn; it appeared as if there were abysses in Milady's soul whose depths were dark and unknown. He took back the ring, but put it in his pocket and not on his finger.
"d'Artagnan," said Athos, taking his hand, "you know I love you; if I had a son I could not love him better. Take my advice, renounce this woman. I do not know her, but a sort of intuition tells me she is a lost creature, and that there is something fatal about her.""You are right," said d'Artagnan; "I will have done with her. I own that this woman terrifies me." "Shall you have the courage?" said Athos. "I shall," replied d'Artagnan, "and instantly."
"In truth, my young friend, you will act rightly," said the gentleman, pressing the Gascon's hand with an affection almost paternal; "and God grant that this woman, who has scarcely entered into your life, may not leave a terrible trace in it!" And Athos bowed to d'Artagnan like a man who wishes it understood that he would not be sorry to be left alone with his thoughts.On reaching home d'Artagnan found Kitty waiting for him. A month of fever could not have changed her more than this one night of sleeplessness and sorrow.
She was sent by her mistress to the false de Wardes. Her mistress was mad with love, intoxicated with joy. She wished to know when her lover would meet her a second night; and poor Kitty, pale and trembling, awaited d'Artagnan's reply. The counsels of his friend, joined to the cries of his own heart, made him determine, now his pride was saved and his vengeance satisfied, not to see Milady again. As a reply, he wrote the following letter:
Do not depend upon me, madame, for the next meeting. Since my convalescence I have so many affairs of this kind on my hands that I am forced to regulate them a little. When your turn comes, I shall have the honor to inform you of it. I kiss your hands.
Comte de Wardes Not a word about the sapphire. Was the Gascon determined to keep it as a weapon against Milady, or else, let us be frank, did he not reserve the sapphire as a last resource for his outfit? It would be wrong to judge the actions of one period from the point of view of another. That which would now be considered as disgraceful to a gentleman was at that time quite a simple and natural affair, and the younger sons of the best families were frequently supported by their mistresses. D'Artagnan gave the open letter to Kitty, who at first was unable to comprehend it, but who became almost wild with joy on reading it a second time. She could scarcely believe in her happiness; and d'Artagnan was forced to renew with the living voice the assurances which he had written. And whatever might be
-considering the violent character of Milady--the danger which the poor girl incurred in giving this billet to her mistress, she ran back to the Place Royale as fast as her legs could carry her.
Milady opened the letter with eagerness equal to Kitty's in bringing it; but at the first words she read she became livid. She crushed the paper in her band, and turning with flashing eyes upon Kitty, she cried, "What is this letter?""The answer to Madame's," replied Kitty, all in a tremble.
"Impossible!" cried Milady. "It is impossible a gentleman could have written such a letter to a woman." Then all at once, starting, she cried, "My God! can he have--" and she stopped. She ground her teeth; she was of the color of ashes. She tried to go toward the window for air, but she could only stretch forth her arms; her legs failed her, and she sank into an armchair. Kitty, fearing she was ill, hastened toward her and was beginning to open her dress; but Milady started up, pushing her away. "What do you want with me?" said she, "and why do you place your hand on me?""I thought that Madame was ill, and I wished to bring her help," responded the maid, frightened at the terrible expression which had come over her mistress's face. "I faint? I? I? Do you take me for half a woman? When I am insulted I do not faint; I avenge myself!" And she made a sign for Kitty to leave the room.
Dream Of VengeanceThat evening Milady gave orders that when M. d'Artagnan came as usual, he should be immediately admitted; but he did not come.
The next day Kitty went to see the young man again, and related to him all that had passed on the preceding evening. d'Artagnan smiled; this jealous anger of Milady was his revenge.That evening Milady was still more impatient than on the preceding evening. She renewed the order relative to the Gascon; but as before she expected him in vain. The next morning, when Kitty presented herself at d'Artagnan's, she was no longer joyous and alert as on the two preceding days; but on the contrary sad as death. D'Artagnan asked the poor girl what was the matter with her; but she, as her only reply, drew a letter from her pocket and gave it to him. This letter was in Milady's handwriting; only this time it was addressed to M. d'Artagnan, and not to M. de Wardes. He opened it and read as follows:
Dear M. d'Artagnan, It is wrong thus to neglect your friends, particularly at the moment you are about to leave them for so long a time. My brother-in-law and myself expected you yesterday and the day before, but in vain. Will it be the same this evening?Your very grateful, Milady Clarik "That's all very simple," said d'Artagnan; "I expected this letter. My credit rises by the fall of that of the Comte de Wardes." "And will you go?" asked Kitty.
"Listen to me, my dear girl," said the Gascon, who sought for an excuse in his own eyes for breaking the promise he had made Athos; "you must understand it would be impolitic not to accept such a positive invitation. Milady, not seeing me come again, would not be able to understand what could cause the interruption of my visits, and might suspect something; who could say how far the vengeance of such a woman would go?"
"Oh, my God!" said Kitty, "you know how to represent things in such a way that you are always in the right. You are going now to pay your court to her again, and if this time you succeed in pleasing her in your own name and with your own face, it will be much worse than before."
Instinct made poor Kitty guess a part of what was to happen. d'Artagnan reassured her as well as he could, and promised to remain insensible to the seductions of Milady.
He desired Kitty to tell her mistress that he could not be more grateful for her kindnesses than he was, and that he would be obedient to her orders. He did not dare to write for fear of not being able--to such experienced eyes as those of Milady--to disguise his writing sufficiently.
As nine o'clock sounded, d'Artagnan was at the Place Royale. It was evident that the servants who waited in the antechamber were warned, for as soon as d'Artagnan appeared, before even he had asked if Milady were visible, one of them ran to announce him."Show him in," said Milady, in a quick tone, but so piercing that d'Artagnan heard her in the antechamber. He was introduced. "I am at home to nobody," said Milady; "observe, to nobody." The servant went out.
D'Artagnan cast an inquiring glance at Milady. She was pale, and looked fatigued, either from tears or want of sleep. The number of lights had been intentionally diminished, but the young woman could not conceal the traces of the fever which had devoured her for two days.
D'Artagnan approached her with his usual gallantry. She then made an extraordinary effort to receive him, but never did a more distressed countenance give the lie to a more amiable smile.To the questions which d'Artagnan put concerning her health, she replied, "Bad, very bad." "Then," replied he, "my visit is ill-timed; you, no doubt, stand in need of repose, and I will withdraw." "No. no!" said Milady. "On the contrary, stay, Monsieur d'Artagnan; your agreeable company will divert me." "Oh, oh!" thought d'Artagnan. "She has never been so kind before. On guard!"
Milady assumed the most agreeable air possible, and conversed with more than her usual brilliancy. At the same time the fever, which for an instant abandoned her, returned to give luster to her eyes, color to her cheeks, and vermillion to her lips. D'Artagnan was again in the presence of the Circe who had before surrounded him with her enchantments. His love, which he believed to be extinct but which was only asleep, awoke again in his heart. Milady smiled, and d'Artagnan felt that he could damn himself for that smile. There was a moment at which he felt something like remorse.By degrees, Milady became more communicative. She asked d'Artagnan if he had a mistress.
"Alas!" said d'Artagnan, with the most sentimental air he could assume, "can you be cruel enough to put such a question to me--to me, who, from the moment I saw you, have only breathed and sighed through you and for you?"Milady smiled with a strange smile. "Then you love me?" said she. "Have I any need to tell you so? Have you not perceived it?" "It may be; but you know the more hearts are worth the capture, the more difficult they are to be won." "Oh, difficulties do not affright me," said d'Artagnan. "I shrink before nothing but impossibilities." "Nothing is impossible," replied Milady, "to true love." "Nothing, madame?" "Nothing," replied Milady.
"The devil!" thought d'Artagnan. "The note is changed. Is she going to fall in love with me, by chance, this fair inconstant; and will she be disposed to give me myself another sapphire like that which she gave me for de Wardes?"D'Artagnan rapidly drew his seat nearer to Milady's. "Well, now," she said, "let us see what you would do to prove this love of which you speak." "All that could be required of me. Order; I am ready." "For everything?" "For everything," cried d'Artagnan, who knew beforehand that he had not much to risk in engaging himself thus. "Well, now let us talk a little seriously," said Milady, in her turn drawing her armchair nearer to d'Artagnan's chair. "I am all attention, madame," said he. Milady remained thoughtful and undecided for a moment; then, as if appearing to have formed a resolution, she said, "I have an enemy." "You, madame!" said d'Artagnan, affecting surprise; "is that possible, my God?--good and beautiful as you are!" "A mortal enemy." "Indeed!" "An enemy who has insulted me so cruelly that between him and me it is war to the death. May I reckon on you as an auxiliary?" D'Artagnan at once perceived the ground which the vindictive creature wished to reach. "You may, madame," said he, with emphasis. "My arm and my life belong to you, like my love." "Then," said Milady, "since you are as generous as you are loving--" She stopped. "Well?" demanded d'Artagnan. "Well," replied Milady, after a moment of silence, "from the present time, cease to talk of impossibilities." "Do not overwhelm me with happiness," cried d'Artagnan, throwing himself on his knees, and covering with kisses the hands abandoned to him. "Avenge me of that infamous de Wardes," said Milady, between her teeth, "and I shall soon know how to get rid of you--you double idiot, you animated sword blade!"
"Fall voluntarily into my arms, hypocritical and dangerous woman," said d'Artagnan, likewise to himself, "after having abused me with such effrontery, and afterward I will laugh at you with him whom you wish me to kill."D'Artagnan lifted up his head. "I am ready," said he. "You have understood me, then, dear Monsieur d'Artagnan" said Milady. "I could interpret one of your looks." "Then you would employ for me your arm which has already acquired so much renown?" "Instantly!" "But on my part," said Milady, "how should I repay such a service? I know these lovers. They are men who do nothing for nothing." "You know the only reply that I desire," said d'Artagnan, "the only one worthy of you and of me!" And he drew nearer to her. She scarcely resisted. "Interested man!" cried she, smiling.
"Ah," cried d'Artagnan, really carried away by the passion this woman had the power to kindle in his heart, "ah, that is because my happiness appears so impossible to me; and I have such fear that it should fly away from me like a dream that I pant to make a reality of it.""Well, merit this pretended happiness, then!" "I am at your orders," said d'Artagnan. "Quite certain?" said Milady, with a last doubt. "Only name to me the base man that has brought tears into your beautiful eyes!" "Who told you that I had been weeping?" said she. "It appeared to me--" "Such women as I never weep," said Milady. "So much the better! Come, tell me his name!" "Remember that his name is all my secret." "Yet I must know his name." "Yes, you must; see what confidence I have in you!" "You overwhelm me with joy. What is his name?" "You know him." "Indeed." "Yes." "It is surely not one of my friends?" replied d'Artagnan, affecting hesitation in order to make her believe him ignorant. "If it were one of your friends you would hesitate, then?" cried Milady; and a threatening glance darted from her eyes. "Not if it were my own brother!" cried d'Artagnan, as if carried away by his enthusiasm. Our Gascon promised this without risk, for he knew all that was meant. "I love your devotedness," said Milady. "Alas, do you love nothing else in me?" asked d'Artagnan. "I love you also, YOU!" said she, taking his hand. The warm pressure made d'Artagnan tremble, as if by the touch that fever which consumed Milady attacked himself. "You love me, you!" cried he. "Oh, if that were so, I should lose my reason!"
And he folded her in his arms, She made no effort to remove her lips from his kisses; only she did not respond to them. Her lips were cold; it appeared to d'Artagnan that he had embraced a statue.
He was not the less intoxicated with joy, electrified by love. He almost believed in the tenderness of Milady; he almost believed in the crime of de Wardes. If de Wardes had at that moment been under his hand, he would have killed him.Milady seized the occasion, "His name is--" said she, in her turn. "De Wardes; I know it," cried d'Artagnan. "And how do you know it?" asked Milady, seizing both his hands, and endeavoring to read with her eyes to the bottom of his heart. D'Artagnan felt he had allowed himself to be carried away, and that he had committed an error. "Tell me, tell me, tell me, I say," repeated Milady, "how do you know it?" "How do I know it?" said d'Artagnan. "Yes." "I know it because yesterday Monsieur de Wardes, in a saloon where I was, showed a ring which he said he had received from you." "Wretch!" cried Milady. The epithet, as may be easily understood, resounded to the very bottom of d'Artagnan's heart. "Well?" continued she. "Well, I will avenge you of this wretch," replied d'Artagnan, giving himself the airs of Don Japhet of Armenia. "Thanks, my brave friend!" cried Milady; "and when shall I be avenged?" "Tomorrow--immediately--when you please!" Milady was about to cry out, "Immediately," but she reflected that such precipitation would not be very gracious toward d'Artagnan.
Besides, she had a thousand precautions to take, a thousand counsels to give to her defender, in order that he might avoid explanations with the count before witnesses. All this was answered by an expression of d'Artagnan's. "Tomorrow," said he, "you will be avenged, or I shall be dead.""No," said she, "you will avenge me; but you will not be dead. He is a coward." "With women, perhaps; but not with men. I know something of him." "But it seems you had not much reason to complain of your fortune in your contest with him." "Fortune is a courtesan; favorable yesterday, she may turn her back tomorrow." "Which means that you now hesitate?" "No, I do not hesitate; God forbid! But would it be just to allow me to go to a possible death without having given me at least something more than hope?"
Milady answered by a glance which said, "Is that all?--speak, then." And then accompanying the glance with explanatory words, "That is but too just," said she, tenderly.
"Oh, you are an angel!" exclaimed the young man.
"Well, mademoiselle, what are you thinking about, standing there like a statue? Do as I bid you: show the chevalier out; and this evening at eleven o'clock--you have heard what I said.""It appears that these appointments are all made for eleven o'clock," thought d'Artagnan; "that's a settled custom." Milady held out her hand to him, which he kissed tenderly. "But," said he, as he retired as quickly as possible from the reproaches of Kitty, "I must not play the fool. This woman is certainly a great liar. I must take care."
D'Artagnan left the hotel instead of going up at once to Kitty's chamber, as she endeavored to persuade him to do--and that for two reasons: the first, because by this means he should escape reproaches, recriminations, and prayers; the second, because be was not sorry to have an opportunity of reading his own thoughts and endeavoring, if possible, to fathom those of this woman.
What was most clear in the matter was that d'Artagnan loved Milady like a madman, and that she did not love him at all. In an instant d'Artagnan perceived that the best way in which he could act would be to go home and write Milady a long letter, in which he would confess to her that he and de Wardes were, up to the present moment absolutely the same, and that consequently he could not undertake, without committing suicide, to kill the Comte de Wardes. But he also was spurred on by a ferocious desire of vengeance. He wished to subdue this woman in his own name; and as this vengeance appeared to him to have a certain sweetness in it, he could not make up his mind to renounce it.
He walked six or seven times round the Place Royale, turning at every ten steps to look at the light in Milady's apartment, which was to be seen through the blinds. It was evident that this time the young woman was not in such haste to retire to her apartment as she had been the first.
At length the light disappeared. With this light was extinguished the last irresolution in the heart of d'Artagnan. He recalled to his mind the details of the first night, and with a beating heart and a brain on fire he re-entered the hotel and flew toward Kitty's chamber.
The poor girl, pale as death and trembling in all her limbs, wished to delay her lover; but Milady, with her ear on the watch, had heard the noise d'Artagnan had made, and opening the door, said, "Come in."
All this was of such incredible immodesty, of such monstrous effrontery, that d'Artagnan could scarcely believe what he saw or what he heard. He imagined himself to be drawn into one of those fantastic intrigues one meets in dreams. He, however, darted not the less quickly toward Milady, yielding to that magnetic attraction which the loadstone exercises over iron.
As the door closed after them Kitty rushed toward it. Jealousy, fury, offended pride, all the passions in short that dispute the heart of an outraged woman in love, urged her to make a revelation; but she reflected that she would be totally lost if she confessed having assisted in such a machination, and above all, that d'Artagnan would also be lost to her forever. This last thought of love counseled her to make this last sacrifice.
D'Artagnan, on his part, had gained the summit of all his wishes. It was no longer a rival who was beloved; it was himself who was apparently beloved. A secret voice whispered to him, at the bottom of his heart, that he was but an instrument of vengeance, that he was only caressed till he had given death; but pride, but self-love, but madness silenced this voice and stifled its murmurs. And then our Gascon, with that large quantity of conceit which we know he possessed, compared himself with de Wardes, and asked himself why, after all, he should not be beloved for himself?
He was absorbed entirely by the sensations of the moment. Milady was no longer for him that woman of fatal intentions who had for a moment terrified him; she was an ardent, passionate mistress, abandoning herself to love which she also seemed to feel. Two hours thus glided away. When the transports of the two lovers were calmer, Milady, who had not the same motives for forgetfulness that d'Artagnan had, was the first to return to reality, and asked the young man if the means which were on the morrow to bring on the encounter between him and de Wardes were already arranged in his mind.But d'Artagnan, whose ideas had taken quite another course, forgot himself like a fool, and answered gallantly that it was too late to think about duels and sword thrusts. This coldness toward the only interests that occupied her mind terrified Milady, whose questions became more pressing.
Then d'Artagnan, who had never seriously thought of this impossible duel, endeavored to turn the conversation; but he could not succeed. Milady kept him within the limits she had traced beforehand with her irresistible spirit and her iron will.D'Artagnan fancied himself very cunning when advising Milady to renounce, by pardoning de Wardes, the furious projects she had formed. But at the first word the young woman started, and exclaimed in a sharp, bantering tone. which sounded strangely in the darkness, "Are you afraid, dear Monsieur d'Artagnan?" "You cannot think so, dear love!" replied d'Artagnan; "but now, suppose this poor Comte de Wardes were less guilty than you think him?" "At all events," said Milady, seriously, "he has deceived me, and from the moment he deceived me, he merited death." "He shall die, then, since you condemn him!" said d'Artagnan, in so firm a tone that it appeared to Milady an undoubted proof of devotion. This reassured her.
We cannot say how long the night seemed to Milady, but d'Artagnan believed it to be hardly two hours before the daylight peeped through the window blinds, and invaded the chamber with its paleness. Seeing d'Artagnan about to leave her, Milady recalled his promise to avenge her on the Comte de Wardes."I am quite ready," said d'Artagnan; "but in the first place I should like to be certain of one thing." "And what is that?" asked Milady. "That is, whether you really love me?" "I have given you proof of that, it seems to me." "And I am yours, body and soul!" "Thanks, my brave lover; but as you are satisfied of my love, you must, in your turn, satisfy me of yours. Is it not so?" "Certainly; but if you love me as much as you say," replied d'Artagnan, "do you not entertain a little fear on my account?" "What have I to fear?" "Why, that I may be dangerously wounded--killed even." "Impossible!" cried Milady, "you are such a valiant man, and such an expert swordsman." "You would not, then, prefer a method," resumed d'Artagnan, "which would equally avenge you while rendering the combat useless?" Milady looked at her lover in silence. The pale light of the first rays of day gave to her clear eyes a strangely frightful expression. "Really," said she, "I believe you now begin to hesitate."
"No, I do not hesitate; but I really pity this poor Comte de Wardes, since you have ceased to love him. I think that a man must be so severely punished by the loss of your love that he stands in need of no other chastisement.""Who told you that I loved him?" asked Milady, sharply.
"At least, I am now at liberty to believe, without too much fatuity, that you love another," said the young man, in a caressing tone, "and I repeat that I am really interested for the count.""You?" asked Milady. "Yes, I." "And why YOU?" "Because I alone know--" "What?" "That he is far from being, or rather having been, so guilty toward you as he appears." "Indeed!" said Milady, in an anxious tone; "explain yourself, for I really cannot tell what you mean." And she looked at d'Artagnan, who embraced her tenderly, with eyes which seemed to burn themselves away. "Yes; I am a man of honor," said d'Artagnan, determined to come to an end, "and since your love is mine, and I am satisfied I possess it--for I do possess it, do I not?" "Entirely; go on." "Well, I feel as if transformed--a confession weighs on my mind." "A confession!" "If I had the least doubt of your love I would not make it, but you love me, my beautiful mistress, do you not?" "Without doubt." "Then if through excess of love I have rendered myself culpable toward you, you will pardon me?" "Perhaps." D'Artagnan tried with his sweetest smile to touch his lips to Milady's, but she evaded him. "This confession," said she, growing paler, "what is this confession?" "You gave de Wardes a meeting on Thursday last in this very room, did you not?"
"No, no! It is not true," said Milady, in a tone of voice so firm, and with a countenance so unchanged, that if d'Artagnan had not been in such perfect possession of the fact, he would have doubted."Do not lie, my angel," said d'Artagnan, smiling; "that would be useless." "What do you mean? Speak! you kill me." "Be satisfied; you are not guilty toward me, and I have already pardoned you." "What next? what next?" "De Wardes cannot boast of anything." "How is that? You told me yourself that that ring--" "That ring I have! The Comte de Wardes of Thursday and the d'Artagnan of today are the same person."
The imprudent young man expected a surprise, mixed with shame--a slight storm which would resolve itself into tears; but he was strangely deceived, and his error was not of long duration.Pale and trembling, Milady repulsed d'Artagnan's attempted embrace by a violent blow on the chest, as she sprang out of bed. It was almost broad daylight.
D'Artagnan detained her by her night dress of fine India linen, to implore her pardon; but she, with a strong movement, tried to escape. Then the cambric was torn from her beautiful shoulders; and on one of those lovely shoulders, round and white, d'Artagnan recognized, with inexpressible astonishment, the FLEUR-DE-LIS--that indelible mark which the hand of the infamous executioner had imprinted."Great God!" cried d'Artagnan, loosing his hold of her dress, and remaining mute, motionless, and frozen.
But Milady felt herself denounced even by his terror. He had doubtless seen all. The young man now knew her secret, her terrible secret--the secret she concealed even from her maid with such care, the secret of which all the world was ignorant, except himself.She turned upon him, no longer like a furious woman, but like a wounded panther. "Ah, wretch!" cried she, "you have basely betrayed me, and still more, you have my secret! You shall die."
And she flew to a little inlaid casket which stood upon the dressing table, opened it with a feverish and trembling band, drew from it a small poniard, with a golden haft and a sharp thin blade, and then threw herself with a bound upon d'Artagnan.
Although the young man was brave, as we know, he was terrified at that wild countenance, those terribly dilated pupils, those pale cheeks, and those bleeding lips. He recoiled to the other side of the room as he would have done from a serpent which was crawling toward him, and his sword coming in contact with his nervous hand, he drew it almost unconsciously from the scabbard. But without taking any heed of the sword, Milady endeavored to get near enough to him to stab him, and did not stop till she felt the sharp point at her throat.
She then tried to seize the sword with her hands; but d'Artagnan kept it free from her grasp, and presenting the point, sometimes at her eyes, sometimes at her breast, compelled her to glide behind the bedstead, while he aimed at making his retreat by the door which led to Kitty's apartment.Milady during this time continued to strike at him with horrible fury, screaming in a formidable way. As all this, however, bore some resemblance to a duel, d'Artagnan began to recover himself little by little. "Well, beautiful lady, very well," said be; "but, PARDIEU, if you don't calm yourself, I will design a second FLEUR-DE-LIS upon one of those pretty checks!" "Scoundrel, infamous scoundrel!" howled Milady.
But d'Artagnan, still keeping on the defensive, drew near to Kitty's door. At the noise they made, she in overturning the furniture in her efforts to get at him, he in screening himself behind the furniture to keep out of her reach, Kitty opened the door. D'Artagnan, who had unceasingly maneuvered to gain this point, was not at more than three paces from it. With one spring he flew from the chamber of Milady into that of the maid, and quick as lightning, he slammed to the door, and placed all his weight against it, while Kitty pushed the bolts.
Then Milady attempted to tear down the doorcase, with a strength apparently above that of a woman; but finding she could not accomplish this, she in her fury stabbed at the door with her poniard, the point of which repeatedly glittered through the wood. Every blow was accompanied with terrible imprecations.
"Quick, Kitty, quick!" said d'Artagnan, in a low voice, as soon as the bolts were fast, "let me get out of the hotel; for if we leave her time to turn round, she will have me killed by the servants.""But you can't go out so," said Kitty; "you are naked."
"That's true," said d'Artagnan, then first thinking of the costume he found himself in, "that's true. But dress me as well as you are able, only make haste; think, my dear girl, it's life and death!"
Kitty was but too well aware of that. In a turn of the hand she muffled him up in a flowered robe, a large hood, and a cloak. She gave him some slippers, in which he placed his naked feet, and then conducted him down the stairs. It was time. Milady had already rung her bell, and roused the whole hotel. The porter was drawing the cord at the moment Milady cried from her window, "Don't open!"
D'Artagnan was so completely bewildered that without taking any heed of what might become of Kitty he ran at full speed across half Paris, and did not stop till he came to Athos's door. The confusion of his mind, the terror which spurred him on, the cries of some of the patrol who started in pursuit of him, and the hooting of the people who, notwithstanding the early hour, were going to their work, only made him precipitate his course.He crossed the court, ran up the two flights to Athos's apartment, and knocked at the door enough to break it down.
Grimaud came, rubbing his half-open eyes, to answer this noisy summons, and d'Artagnan sprang with such violence into the room as nearly to overturn the astonished lackey.In spite of his habitual silence, the poor lad this time found his speech. "Holloa, there!" cried he; "what do you want, you strumpet? What's your business here, you hussy?"
D'Artagnan threw off his hood, and disengaged his hands from the folds of the cloak. At sight of the mustaches and the naked sword, the poor devil perceived he had to deal with a man. He then concluded it must be an assassin."Help! murder! help!" cried he. "Hold your tongue, you stupid fellow!" said the young man; "I am d'Artagnan; don't you know me? Where is your master?" "You, Monsieur d'Artagnan!" cried Grimaud, "impossible." "Grimaud," said Athos, coming out of his apartment in a dressing gown, "Grimaud, I thought I heard you permitting yourself to speak?" "Ah, monsieur, it is--" "Silence!"
Grimaud contented himself with pointing d'Artagnan out to his master with his finger. Athos recognized his comrade, and phlegmatic as he was, he burst into a laugh which was quite excused by the strange masquerade before his eyes--petticoats falling over his shoes, sleeves tucked up, and mustaches stiff with agitation."Don't laugh, my friend!" cried d'Artagnan; "for heaven's sake, don't laugh, for upon my soul, it's no laughing matter!"
And he pronounced these words with such a solemn air and with such a real appearance of terror, that Athos eagerly seized his hand, crying, "Are you wounded, my friend? How pale you are!""No, but I have just met with a terrible adventure! Are you alone, Athos?" "PARBLEU! whom do you expect to find with me at this hour?" "Well, well!" and d'Artagnan rushed into Athos's chamber.
"Come, speak!" said the latter, closing the door and bolting it, that they might not be disturbed. "Is the king dead? Have you killed the cardinal? You are quite upset! Come, come, tell me; I am dying with curiosity and uneasiness!""Athos," said d'Artagnan, getting rid of his female garments, and appearing in his shirt, "prepare yourself to hear an incredible, an unheard-of story." "Well, but put on this dressing gown first," said the Musketeer to his friend. D'Artagnan donned the robe as quickly as he could, mistaking one sleeve for the other, so greatly was he still agitated. "Well?" said Athos. "Well," replied d'Artagnan, bending his mouth to Athos's ear, and lowering his voice, "Milady is marked with a FLEUR-DE-LIS upon her shoulder!" "Ah!" cried the Musketeer, as if he had received a ball in his heart. "Let us see," said d'Artagnan. "Are you SURE that the OTHER is dead?" "THE OTHER?" said Athos, in so stifled a voice that d'Artagnan scarcely heard him. "Yes, she of whom you told me one day at Amiens." Athos uttered a groan, and let his head sink on his hands. "This is a woman of twenty-six or twenty-eight years." "Fair," said Athos, "is she not?" "Very." "Blue and clear eyes, of a strange brilliancy, with black eyelids and eyebrows?" "Yes." "Tall, well-made? She has lost a tooth, next to the eyetooth on the left?" "Yes." "The FLEUR-DE-LIS is small, rosy in color, and looks as if efforts had been made to efface it by the application of poultices?" "Yes." "But you say she is English?" "She is called Milady, but she may be French. Lord de Winter is only her brother-in-law," "I will see her, d'Artagnan!" "Beware, Athos, beware. You tried to kill her; she is a woman to return you the like, and not to fail." "She will not dare to say anything; that would be to denounce herself." "She is capable of anything or everything. Did you ever see her furious?" "No," said Athos. "A tigress, a panther! Ah, my dear Athos, I am greatly afraid I have drawn a terrible vengeance on both of us!" D'Artagnan then related all--the mad passion of Milady and her menaces of death.
"You are right; and upon my soul, I would give my life for a hair," said Athos. "Fortunately, the day after tomorrow we leave Paris. We are going according to all probability to La Rochelle, and once gone--""She will follow you to the end of the world, Athos, if she recognizes you. Let her, then, exhaust her vengeance on me alone!"
"My dear friend, of what consequence is it if she kills me?" said Athos. "Do you, perchance, think I set any great store by life?"
"There is something horribly mysterious under all this, Athos; this woman is one of the cardinal's spies, I am sure of that."
"In that case, take care! If the cardinal does not hold you in high admiration for the affair of London, he entertains a great hatred for you; but as, considering everything, he cannot accuse you openly, and as hatred must be satisfied, particularly when it's a cardinal's hatred, take care of yourself. If you go out, do not go out alone; when you eat, use every precaution. Mistrust everything, in short, even your own shadow.""Fortunately," said d'Artagnan, "all this will be only necessary till after tomorrow evening, for when once with the army, we shall have, I hope, only men to dread." "In the meantime," said Athos, "I renounce my plan of seclusion, and wherever you go, I will go with you. You must return to the Rue des Fossoyeurs; I will accompany you." "But however near it may be," replied d'Artagnan, "I cannot go thither in this guise." "That's true," said Athos, and he rang the bell. Grimaud entered. Athos made him a sign to go to d'Artagnan's residence, and bring back some clothes. Grimaud replied by another sign that be understood perfectly, and set off.
"All this will not advance your outfit," said Athos; "for if I am not mistaken, you have left the best of your apparel with Milady, and she will certainly not have the politeness to return it to you. Fortunately, you have the sapphire.""The jewel is yours, my dear Athos! Did you not tell me it was a family jewel?"
"Yes, my grandfather gave two thousand crowns for it, as he once told me. It formed part of the nuptial present he made his wife, and it is magnificent. My mother gave it to me, and I, fool as I was, instead of keeping the ring as a holy relic, gave it to this wretch.""Then, my friend, take back this ring, to which I see you attach much value." "I take back the ring, after it has passed through the hands of that infamous creature? Never; that ring is defiled, d'Artagnan." "Sell it, then." "Sell a jewel which came from my mother! I vow I should consider it a profanation."
"Pledge it, then; you can borrow at least a thousand crowns on it. With that sum you can extricate yourself from your present difficulties; and when you are full of money again, you can redeem it, and take it back cleansed from its ancient stains, as it will have passed through the hands of usurers."Athos smiled. "You are a capital companion, d'Artagnan," said be; "your never-failing cheerfulness raises poor souls in affliction. Well, let us pledge the ring, but upon one condition." "What?" "That there shall be five hundred crowns for you, and five hundred crowns for me."
"Don't dream it, Athos. I don't need the quarter of such a sum--I who am still only in the Guards--and by selling my saddles, I shall procure it. What do I want? A horse for Planchet, that's all. Besides, you forget that I have a ring likewise.""To which you attach more value, it seems, than I do to mine; at least, I have thought so."
"Yes, for in any extreme circumstance it might not only extricate us from some great embarrassment, but even a great danger. It is not only a valuable diamond, but it is an enchanted talisman."
"I don't at all understand you, but I believe all you say to be true. Let us return to my ring, or rather to yours. You shall take half the sum that will be advanced upon it, or I will throw it into the Seine; and I doubt, as was the case with Polycrates, whether any fish will be sufficiently complaisant to bring it back to us.""Well, I will take it, then," said d'Artagnan.
At this moment Grimaud returned, accompanied by Planchet; the latter, anxious about his master and curious to know what had happened to him, had taken advantage of the opportunity and brought the garments himself.
d'Artagnan dressed himself, and Athos did the same. When the two were ready to go out, the latter made Grimaud the sign of a man taking aim, and the lackey immediately took down his musketoon, and prepared to follow his master.They arrived without accident at the Rue des Fossoyeurs. Bonacieux was standing at the door, and looked at d'Artagnan hatefully. "Make haste, dear lodger," said he; "there is a very pretty girl waiting for you upstairs; and you know women don't like to be kept waiting."
"That's Kitty!" said d'Artagnan to himself, and darted into the passage. Sure enough! Upon the landing leading to the chamber, and crouching against the door, he found the poor girl, all in a tremble. As soon as she perceived him, she cried, "You have promised your protection; you have promised to save me from her anger. Remember, it is you who have ruined me!""Yes, yes, to be sure, Kitty," said d'Artagnan; "be at ease, my girl. But what happened after my departure?"
"How can I tell!" said Kitty. "The lackeys were brought by the cries she made. She was mad with passion. There exist no imprecations she did not pour out against you. Then I thought she would remember it was through my chamber you had penetrated hers, and that then she would suppose I was your accomplice; so I took what little money I had and the best of my things, and I got away."Poor dear girl! But what can I do with you? I am going away the day after tomorrow." "Do what you please, Monsieur Chevalier. Help me out of Paris; help me out of France!" "I cannot take you, however, to the siege of La Rochelle," aid d'Artagnan. "No; but you can place me in one of the provinces with some lady of your acquaintance-in your own country, for instance."
"My dear little love! In my country the ladies do without chambermaids. But stop! I can manage your business for you. Planchet, go and find Aramis. Request him to come here directly. We have something very important to say to him.""I understand," said Athos; "but why not Porthos? I should have thought that his duchess -" "Oh, Porthos's duchess is dressed by her husband's clerks," said d'Artagnan, laughing. "Besides, Kitty would not like to live in the Rue aux Ours. Isn't it so, Kitty?" "I do not care where I live," said Kitty, "provided I am well concealed, and nobody knows where I am." "Meanwhile, Kitty, when we are about to separate, and you are no longer jealous of me--" "Monsieur Chevalier, far off or near," said Kitty, "I shall always love you." "Where the devil will constancy niche itself next?" murmured Athos.
"And I, also," said d'Artagnan, "I also. I shall always love you; be sure of that. But now answer me. I attach great importance to the question I am about to put to you. Did you never hear talk of a young woman who was carried off one night?"
"There, now! Oh, Monsieur Chevalier, do you love that woman still?"
"You, to be sure!" said d'Artagnan, pressing Athos's hand. "You know the interest we both take in this poor little Madame Bonacieux. Besides, Kitty will tell nothing; will you, Kitty? You understand, my dear girl," continued d'Artagnan, "she is the wife of that frightful baboon you saw at the door as you came in.""Oh, my God! You remind me of my fright! If he should have known me again!" "How? know you again? Did you ever see that man before?" "He came twice to Milady's." "That's it. About what time?" "Why, about fifteen or eighteen days ago." "Exactly so." "And yesterday evening he came again." "Yesterday evening?" "Yes, just before you came." "My dear Athos, we are enveloped in a network of spies. And do you believe he knew you again, Kitty?" "I pulled down my hood as soon as I saw him, but perhaps it was too late." "Go down, Athos--he mistrusts you less than me--and see if he be still at his door." Athos went down and returned immediately. "He has gone," said he, "and the house door is shut." "He has gone to make his report, and to say that all the pigeons are at this moment in the dovecot" "Well, then, let us all fly," said Athos, "and leave nobody here but Planchet to bring us news." "A minute. Aramis, whom we have sent for!" "That's true," said Athos; "we must wait for Aramis." At that moment Aramis entered. The matter was all explained to him, and the friends gave him to understand that among all his high connections he must find a place for Kitty. Aramis reflected for a minute, and then said, coloring, "Will it be really rendering you a service, d'Artagnan?" "I shall be grateful to you all my life."
"Very well. Madame de Bois-Tracy asked me, for one of her friends who resides in the provinces, I believe, for a trustworthy maid. If you can, my dear d'Artagnan, answer for Mademoiselle-""Oh, monsieur, be assured that I shall be entirely devoted to the person who will give me the means of quitting Paris." "Then," said Aramis, "this falls out very well." He placed himself at the table and wrote a little note which he sealed with a ring, and gave the billet to Kitty. "And now, my dear girl," said d'Artagnan, "you know that it is not good for any of us to be here. Therefore let us separate. We shall meet again in better days." "And whenever we find each other, in whatever place it may be," said Kitty, "you will find me loving you as I love you today." "Dicers' oaths!" said Athos, while d'Artagnan went to conduct Kitty downstairs. An instant afterward the three young men separated, agreeing to meet again at four o'clock with Athos, and leaving Planchet to guard the house. Aramis returned home, and Athos and d'Artagnan busied themselves about pledging the sapphire.
As the Gascon had foreseen, they easily obtained three hundred pistoles on the ring. Still further, the Jew told them that if they would sell it to him, as it would make a magnificent pendant for earrings, he would give five hundred pistoles for it.
Athos and d'Artagnan, with the activity of two soldiers and the knowledge of two connoisseurs, hardly required three hours to purchase the entire equipment of the Musketeer. Besides, Athos was very easy, and a noble to his fingers' ends. When a thing suited him he paid the price demanded, without thinking to ask for any abatement. D'Artagnan would have remonstrated at this; but Athos put his hand upon his shoulder, with a smile, and d'Artagnan understood that it was all very well for such a little Gascon gentleman as himself to drive a bargain, but not for a man who had the bearing of a prince. The Musketeer met with a superb Andalusian horse, black as jet, nostrils of fire, legs clean and elegant, rising six years. He examined him, and found him sound and without blemish. They asked a thousand livres for him.He might perhaps have been bought for less; but while d'Artagnan was discussing the price with the dealer, Athos was counting out the money on the table. Grimaud had a stout, short Picard cob, which cost three hundred livres.
But when the saddle and arms for Grimaud were purchased, Athos had not a sou left of his hundred and fifty pistoles. d'Artagnan offered his friend a part of his share which he should return when convenient.But Athos only replied to this proposal by shrugging his shoulders. "How much did the Jew say he would give for the sapphire if be purchased it?" said Athos. "Five hundred pistoles."
"That is to say, two hundred more--a hundred pistoles for you and a hundred pistoles for me. Well, now, that would be a real fortune to us, my friend; let us go back to the Jew's again.""What! "will you--"
"This ring would certainly only recall very bitter remembrances; then we shall never be masters of three hundred pistoles to redeem it, so that we really should lose two hundred pistoles by the bargain. Go and tell him the ring is his, d'Artagnan, and bring back the two hundred pistoles with you.""Reflect, Athos!" "Ready money is needful for the present time, and we must learn how to make sacrifices. Go, d'Artagnan, go; Grimaud will accompany you with his musketoon." A half hour afterward, d'Artagnan returned with the two thousand livres, and without having met with any accident. It was thus Athos found at home resources which he did not expect.
At four o'clock the four friends were all assembled with Athos. Their anxiety about their outfits had all disappeared, and each countenance only preserved the expression of its own secret disquiet--for behind all present happiness is concealed a fear for the future.Suddenly Planchet entered, bringing two letters for d'Artagnan. The one was a little billet, genteelly folded, with a pretty seal in green wax on which was impressed a dove bearing a green branch. The other was a large square epistle, resplendent with the terrible arms of his Eminence the cardinal duke.
At the sight of the little letter the heart of d'Artagnan bounded, for he believed he recognized the handwriting, and although he had seen that writing but once, the memory of it remained at the bottom of his heart.He therefore seized the little epistle, and opened it eagerly.
"Be," said the letter, "on Thursday next, at from six to seven o'clock in the evening, on the road to Chaillot, and look carefully into the carriages that pass; but if you have any consideration for your own life or that of those who love you, do not speak a single word, do not make a movement which may lead anyone to believe you have recognized her who exposes herself to everything for the sake of seeing you but for an instant."No signature. "That's a snare," said Athos; "don't go, d'Artagnan." "And yet," replied d'Artagnan, "I think I recognize the writing." "It may be counterfeit," said Athos. "Between six and seven o'clock the road of Chaillot is quite deserted; you might as well go and ride in the forest of Bondy." "But suppose we all go," said d'Artagnan; "what the devil! They won't devour us all four, four lackeys, horses, arms, and all!" "And besides, it will be a chance for displaying our new equipments," said Porthos. "But if it is a woman who writes," said Aramis, "and that woman desires not to be seen, remember, you compromise her, d'Artagnan; which is not the part of a gentleman." "We will remain in the background," said Porthos, "and he will advance alone." "Yes; but a pistol shot is easily fired from a carriage which goes at a gallop." "Bah!" said d'Artagnan, "they will miss me; if they fire we will ride after the carriage, and exterminate those who may be in it. They must be enemies." "He is right," said Porthos; "battle. Besides, we must try our own arms." "Bah, let us enjoy that pleasure," said Aramis, with his mild and careless manner. "As you please," said Athos. "Gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, "it is half past four, and we have scarcely time to be on the road of Chaillot by six." "Besides, if we go out too late, nobody will see us," said Porthos, "and that will be a pity. Let us get ready, gentlemen."
"But this second letter," said Athos, "you forget that; it appears to me, however, that the seal denotes that it deserves to be opened. For my part, I declare, d'Artagnan, I think it of much more consequence than the little piece of waste paper you have so cunningly slipped into your bosom."D'Artagnan blushed. "Well," said he, "let us see, gentlemen, what are his Eminence's commands," and d'Artagnan unsealed the letter and read, "M. d'Artagnan, of the king's Guards, company Dessessart, is expected at the PalaisCardinal this evening, at eight o'clock. "La Houdiniere, CAPTAIN OF THE GUARDS" "The devil!" said Athos; "here's a rendezvous much more serious than the other." "I will go to the second after attending the first," said d'Artagnan. "One is for seven o'clock, and the other for eight; there will be time for both."
"Hum! I would not go at all," said Aramis. "A gallant knight cannot decline a rendezvous with a lady; but a prudent gentleman may excuse himself from not waiting on his Eminence, particularly when he has reason to believe he is not invited to make his compliments."
"I am of Aramis's opinion," said Porthos. "Gentlemen," replied d'Artagnan, "I have already received by Monsieur de Cavois a similar invitation from his Eminence. I neglected it, and on the morrow a serious misfortune happened to me--Constance disappeared. Whatever may ensue, I will go.""If you are determined," said Athos, "do so." "But the Bastille?" said Aramis. "Bah! you will get me out if they put me there," said d'Artagnan.
"To be sure we will," replied Aramis and Porthos, with admirable promptness and decision, as if that were the simplest thing in the world, "to be sure we will get you out; but meantime, as we are to set off the day after tomorrow, you would do much better not to risk this Bastille."
"Let us do better than that," said Athos; "do not let us leave him during the whole evening. Let each of us wait at a gate of the palace with three Musketeers behind him; if we see a close carriage, at all suspicious in appearance, come out, let us fall upon it. It is a long time since we have had a skirmish with the Guards of Monsieur the Cardinal; Monsieur de Treville must think us dead.""To a certainty, Athos," said Aramis, "you were meant to be a general of the army! What do you think of the plan, gentlemen?" "Admirable!" replied the young men in chorus.
"Well," said Porthos, "I will run to the hotel, and engage our comrades to hold themselves in readiness by eight o'clock; the rendezvous, the Place du Palais-Cardinal. Meantime, you see that the lackeys saddle the horses.""I have no horse," said d'Artagnan; "but that is of no consequence, I can take one of Monsieur de Treville's." "That is not worth while," said Aramis, "you can have one of mine." "One of yours! how many have you, then?" asked d'Artagnan. "Three," replied Aramis, smiling. "Certes," cried Athos, "you are the best-mounted poet of France or Navarre." "Well, my dear Aramis, you don't want three horses? I cannot comprehend what induced you to buy three!" "Therefore I only purchased two," said Aramis. "The third, then, fell from the clouds, I suppose?"
"No, the third was brought to me this very morning by a groom out of livery, who would not tell me in whose service he was, and who said he had received orders from his master.""Or his mistress," interrupted d'Artagnan.
"That makes no difference," said Aramis, coloring; "and who affirmed, as I said, that he had received orders from his master or mistress to place the horse in my stable, without informing me whence it came.""It is only to poets that such things happen," said Athos, gravely. "Well, in that case, we can manage famously," said d'Artagnan; "which of the two horses will you ride--that which you bought or the one that was given to you?" "That which was given to me, assuredly. You cannot for a moment imagine, d'Artagnan, that I would commit such an offense toward--" "The unknown giver," interrupted d'Artagnan. "Or the mysterious benefactress," said Athos. "The one you bought will then become useless to you?" "Nearly so." "And you selected it yourself?" "With the greatest care. The safety of the horseman, you know, depends almost always upon the goodness of his horse." "Well, transfer it to me at the price it cost you?" "I was going to make you the offer, my dear d'Artagnan, giving you all the time necessary for repaying me such a trifle." "How much did it cost you?" "Eight hundred livres." "Here are forty double pistoles, my dear friend," said d'Artagnan, taking the sum from his pocket; "I know that is the coin in which you were paid for your poems." "You are rich, then?" said Aramis. "Rich? Richest, my dear fellow!" And d'Artagnan chinked the remainder of his pistoles in his pocket. "Send your saddle, then, to the hotel of the Musketeers, and your horse can be brought back with ours." "Very well; but it is already five o'clock, so make haste."
A quarter of an hour afterward Porthos appeared at the end of the Rue Ferou on a very handsome genet. Mousqueton followed him upon an Auvergne horse, small but very handsome. Porthos was resplendent with joy and pride.
At the same time, Aramis made his appearance at the other end of the street upon a superb English charger. Bazin followed him upon a roan, holding by the halter a vigorous Mecklenburg horse; this was d'Artagnan mount.The two Musketeers met at the gate. Athos and d'Artagnan watched their approach from the window. "The devil!" cried Aramis, "you have a magnificent horse there, Porthos."
"Yes," replied Porthos, "it is the one that ought to have been sent to me at first. A bad joke of the husband's substituted the other; but the husband has been punished since, and I have obtained full satisfaction."
Planchet and Grimaud appeared in their turn, leading their masters' steeds. D'Artagnan and Athos put themselves into saddle with their companions, and all four set forward; Athos upon a horse he owed to a woman, Aramis on a horse he owed to his mistress, Porthos on a horse he owed to his procurator's wife, and d'Artagnan on a horse he owed to his good fortune--the best mistress possible.The lackeys followed.
As Porthos had foreseen, the cavalcade produced a good effect; and if Mme. Coquenard had met Porthos and seen what a superb appearance he made upon his handsome Spanish genet, she would not have regretted the bleeding she had inflicted upon the strongbox of her husband.
Near the Louvre the four friends met with M. de Treville, who was returning from St. Germain; he stopped them to offer his compliments upon their appointments, which in an instant drew round them a hundred gapers.
D'Artagnan profited by the circumstance to speak to M. de Treville of the letter with the great red seal and the cardinal's arms. It is well understood that he did not breathe a word about the other.
M. de Treville approved of the resolution he had adopted, and assured him that if on the morrow he did not appear, he himself would undertake to find him, let him be where he might.
A short gallop brought them to the road of Chaillot; the day began to decline, carriages were passing and repassing. d'Artagnan, keeping at some distance from his friends, darted a scrutinizing glance into every carriage that appeared, but saw no face with which he was acquainted.
At length, after waiting a quarter of an hour and just as twilight was beginning to thicken, a carriage appeared, coming at a quick pace on the road of Sevres. A presentiment instantly told d'Artagnan that this carriage contained the person who had appointed the rendezvous; the young man was himself astonished to find his heart beat so violently. Almost instantly a female head was put out at the window, with two fingers placed upon her mouth, either to enjoin silence or to send him a kiss. D'Artagnan uttered a slight cry of joy; this woman, or rather this apparition-- for the carriage passed with the rapidity of a vision--was Mme. Bonacieux.
By an involuntary movement and in spite of the injunction given, d'Artagnan put his horse into a gallop, and in a few strides overtook the carriage; but the window was hermetically closed, the vision had disappeared.D'Artagnan then remembered the injunction: "If you value your own life or that of those who love you, remain motionless, and as if you had seen nothing." He stopped, therefore, trembling not for himself but for the poor woman who had evidently exposed herself to great danger by appointing this rendezvous. The carriage pursued its way, still going at a great pace, till it dashed into Paris, and disappeared.
D'Artagnan remained fixed to the spot, astounded and not knowing what to think. If it was Mme. Bonacieux and if she was returning to Paris, why this fugitive rendezvous, why this simple exchange of a glance, why this lost kiss? If, on the other side, it was not she--which was still quite possible--for the little light that remained rendered a mistake easy--might it not be the commencement of some plot against him through the allurement of this woman, for whom his love was known?
His three companions joined him. All had plainly seen a woman's head appear at the window, but none of them, except Athos, knew Mme. Bonacieux. The opinion of Athos was that it was indeed she; but less preoccupied by that pretty face than d'Artagnan, he had fancied he saw a second head, a man's head, inside the carriage.
"If that be the case," said d'Artagnan, "they are doubtless transporting her from one prison to another. But what can they intend to do with the poor creature, and how shall I ever meet her again?"
"Friend," said Athos, gravely, "remember that it is the dead alone with whom we are not likely to meet again on this earth. You know something of that, as well as I do, I think. Now, if your mistress is not dead, if it is she we have just seen, you will meet with her again some day or other. And perhaps, my God!" added he, with that misanthropic tone which was peculiar to him, "perhaps sooner than you wish."
Half past seven had sounded. The carriage had been twenty minutes behind the time appointed. D'Artagnan's friends reminded him that he had a visit to pay, but at the same time bade him observe that there was yet time to retract.
But d'Artagnan was at the same time impetuous and curious. He had made up his mind that he would go to the Palais- Cardinal, and that he would learn what his Eminence had to say to him. Nothing could turn him from his purpose.
They reached the Rue St. Honore, and in the Place du Palais- Cardinal they found the twelve invited Musketeers, walking about in expectation of their comrades. There only they explained to them the matter in hand.
D'Artagnan was well known among the honorable corps of the king's Musketeers, in which it was known he would one day take his place; he was considered beforehand as a comrade. It resulted from these antecedents that everyone entered heartily into the purpose for which they met; besides, it would not be unlikely that they would have an opportunity of playing either the cardinal or his people an ill turn, and for such expeditions these worthy gentlemen were always ready.
Athos divided them into three groups, assumed the command of one, gave the second to Aramis, and the third to Porthos; and then each group went and took their watch near an entrance.D'Artagnan, on his part, entered boldly at the principal gate.
Although he felt himself ably supported, the young man was not without a little uneasiness as he ascended the great staircase, step by step. His conduct toward Milady bore a strong resemblance to treachery, and he was very suspicious of the political relations which existed between that woman and the cardinal. Still further, de Wardes, whom he had treated so ill, was one of the tools of his Eminence; and d'Artagnan knew that while his Eminence was terrible to his enemies, he was strongly attached to his friends.
"If de Wardes has related all our affair to the cardinal, which is not to be doubted, and if he has recognized me, as is probable, I may consider myself almost as a condemned man," said d'Artagnan, shaking his head. "But why has he waited till now? That's all plain enough. Milady has laid her complaints against me with that hypocritical grief which renders her so interesting, and this last offense has made the cup overflow."
"Fortunately," added he, "my good friends are down yonder, and they will not allow me to be carried away without a struggle. Nevertheless, Monsieur de Treville's company of Musketeers alone cannot maintain a war against the cardinal, who disposes of the forces of all France, and before whom the queen is without power and the king without will. d'Artagnan, my friend, you are brave, you are prudent, you have excellent qualities; but the women will ruin you!"
He came to this melancholy conclusion as he entered the antechamber. He placed his letter in the hands of the usher on duty, who led him into the waiting room and passed on into the interior of the palace.
In this waiting room were five or six of the cardinals Guards, who recognized d'Artagnan, and knowing that it was he who had wounded Jussac, they looked upon him with a smile of singular meaning.
This smile appeared to d'Artagnan to be of bad augury. Only, as our Gascon was not easily intimidated--or rather, thanks to a great pride natural to the men of his country, he did not allow one easily to see what was passing in his mind when that which was passing at all resembled fear--he placed himself haughtily in front of Messieurs the Guards, and waited with his hand on his hip, in an attitude by no means deficient in majesty.The usher returned and made a sign to d'Artagnan to follow him. It appeared to the young man that the Guards, on seeing him depart, chuckled among themselves. He traversed a corridor, crossed a grand saloon, entered a library, and found himself in the presence of a man seated at a desk and writing. The usher introduced him, and retired without speaking a word. D'Artagnan remained standing and examined this man.
D'Artagnan at first believed that he had to do with some judge examining his papers; but he perceived that the man at the desk wrote, or rather corrected, lines of unequal length, scanning the words on his fingers. He saw then that he was with a poet. At the end of an instant the poet closed his manuscript, upon the cover of which was written "Mirame, a Tragedy in Five Acts," and raised his head.D'Artagnan recognized the cardinal.
A Terrible Vision
The cardinal leaned his elbow on his manuscript, his cheek upon his hand, and looked intently at the young man for a moment. No one had a more searching eye than the Cardinal de Richelieu, and d'Artagnan felt this glance run through his veins like a fever.
He however kept a good countenance, holding his hat in his hand and awaiting the good pleasure of his Eminence, without too much assurance, but also without too much humility."Monsieur," said the cardinal, "are you a d'Artagnan from Bearn?" "Yes, monseigneur," replied the young man. "There are several branches of the d'Artagnans at Tarbes and in its environs," said the cardinal; "to which do you belong?" "I am the son of him who served in the Religious Wars under the great King Henry, the father of his gracious Majesty." "That is well. It is you who set out seven or eight months ago from your country to seek your fortune in the capital?" "Yes, monseigneur." "You came through Meung, where something befell you. I don't very well know what, but still something." "Monseigneur," said d'Artagnan, "this was what happened to me--"
"Never mind, never mind!" resumed the cardinal, with a smile which indicated that he knew the story as well as he who wished to relate it. "You were recommended to Monsieur de Treville, were you not?""Yes, monseigneur; but in that unfortunate affair at Meung--"
"The letter was lost," replied his Eminence; "yes, I know that. But Monsieur de Treville is a skilled physiognomist, who knows men at first sight; and he placed you in the company of his brother-in-law, Monsieur Dessessart, leaving you to hope that one day or other you should enter the Musketeers.""Monseigneur is correctly informed," said d'Artagnan.
"Since that time many things have happened to you. You were walking one day behind the Chartreux, when it would have been better if you had been elsewhere. Then you took with your friends a journey to the waters of Forges; they stopped on the road, but you continued yours. That is all very simple: you had business in England.""Monseigneur," said d'Artagnan, quite confused, "I went--"
"Hunting at Windsor, or elsewhere--that concerns nobody. I know, because it is my office to know everything. On your return you were received by an august personage, and I perceive with pleasure that you preserve the souvenir she gave you."D'Artagnan placed his hand upon the queen's diamond, which he wore, and quickly turned the stone inward; but it was too late. "The day after that, you received a visit from Cavois," resumed the cardinal. "He went to desire you to come to the palace. You have not returned that visit, and you were wrong." "Monseigneur, I feared I had incurred disgrace with your Eminence."
"How could that be, monsieur? Could you incur my displeasure by having followed the orders of your superiors with more intelligence and courage than another would have done? It is the people who do not obey that I punish, and not those who, like you, obey-but too well. As a proof, remember the date of the day on which I had you bidden to come to me, and seek in your memory for what happened to you that very night."
That was the very evening when the abduction of Mme. Bonacieux took place. D'Artagnan trembled; and he likewise recollected that during the past half hour the poor woman had passed close to him, without doubt carried away by the same power that had caused her disappearance.
"In short," continued the cardinal, "as I have heard nothing of you for some time past, I wished to know what you were doing. Besides, you owe me some thanks. You must yourself have remarked how much you have been considered in all the circumstances."D'Artagnan bowed with respect. "That," continued the cardinal, "arose not only from a feeling of natural equity, but likewise from a plan I have marked out with respect to you." D'Artagnan became more and more astonished.
"I wished to explain this plan to you on the day you received my first invitation; but you did not come. Fortunately, nothing is lost by this delay, and you are now about to hear it. Sit down there, before me, d'Artagnan; you are gentleman enough not to listen standing." And the cardinal pointed with his finger to a chair for the young man, who was so astonished at what was passing that he awaited a second sign from his interlocutor before he obeyed.
"You are brave, Monsieur d'Artagnan," continued his Eminence; "you are prudent, which is still better. I like men of head and heart. Don't be afraid," said he, smiling. "By men of heart I mean men of courage. But young as you are, and scarcely entering into the world, you have powerful enemies; if you do not take great heed, they will destroy you."
"Yes, that's true; but alone as you are, you have done much already, and will do still more, I don't doubt. Yet you have need, I believe, to be guided in the adventurous career you have undertaken; for, if I mistake not, you came to Paris with the ambitious idea of making your fortune.""I am at the age of extravagant hopes, monseigneur," said d'Artagnan.
"There are no extravagant hopes but for fools, monsieur, and you are a man of understanding. Now, what would you say to an ensign's commission in my Guards, and a company after the campaign?""Ah, monseigneur." "You accept it, do you not?" "Monseigneur," replied d'Artagnan, with an embarrassed air. "How? You refuse?" cried the cardinal, with astonishment. "I am in his Majesty's Guards, monseigneur, and I have no reason to be dissatisfied." "But it appears to me that my Guards--mine--are also his Majesty's Guards; and whoever serves in a French corps serves the king." "Monseigneur, your Eminence has ill understood my words."
"You want a pretext, do you not? I comprehend. Well, you have this excuse: advancement, the opening campaign, the opportunity which I offer you--so much for the world. As regards yourself, the need of protection; for it is fit you should know, Monsieur d'Artagnan, that I have received heavy and serious complaints against you. You do not consecrate your days and nights wholly to the king's service."D'Artagnan colored.
"In fact," said the cardinal, placing his hand upon a bundle of papers, "I have here a whole pile which concerns you. I know you to be a man of resolution; and your services, well directed, instead of leading you to ill, might be very advantageous to you. Come; reflect, and decide."
"Your goodness confounds me, monseigneur," replied d'Artagnan, "and I am conscious of a greatness of soul in your Eminence that makes me mean as an earthworm; but since Monseigneur permits me to speak freely--"
"Then, I will presume to say that all my friends are in the king's Musketeers and Guards, and that by an inconceivable fatality my enemies are in the service of your Eminence; I should, therefore, be ill received here and ill regarded there if I accepted what Monseigneur offers me.""Do you happen to entertain the haughty idea that I have not yet made you an offer equal to your value?" asked the cardinal, with a smile of disdain.
"Monseigneur, your Eminence is a hundred times too kind to me; and on the contrary, I think I have not proved myself worthy of your goodness. The siege of La Rochelle is about to be resumed, monseigneur. I shall serve under the eye of your Eminence, and if I have the good fortune to conduct myself at the siege in such a manner as merits your attention, then I shall at least leave behind me some brilliant action to justify the protection with which you honor me. Everything is best in its time, monseigneur. Hereafter, perhaps, I shall have the right of giving myself; at present I shall appear to sell myself."
"That is to say, you refuse to serve me, monsieur," said the cardinal, with a tone of vexation, through which, however, might be seen a sort of esteem; "remain free, then, and guard your hatreds and your sympathies.""Monseigneur--"
"Well, well," said the cardinal, "I don't wish you any ill; but you must be aware that it is quite trouble enough to defend and recompense our friends. We owe nothing to our enemies; and let me give you a piece of advice; take care of yourself, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for from the moment I withdraw my hand from behind you, I would not give an obolus for your life.""I will try to do so, monseigneur," replied the Gascon, with a noble confidence.
"Remember at a later period and at a certain moment, if any mischance should happen to you," said Richelieu, significantly, "that it was I who came to seek you, and that I did all in my power to prevent this misfortune befalling you."
"I shall entertain, whatever may happen," said d'Artagnan, placing his hand upon his breast and bowing, "an eternal gratitude toward your Eminence for that which you now do for me."
"Well, let it be, then, as you have said, Monsieur d'Artagnan; we shall see each other again after the campaign. I will have my eye upon you, for I shall be there," replied the cardinal, pointing with his finger to a magnificent suit of armor he was to wear, "and on our return, well--we will settle our account!"
This last expression of Richelieu's conveyed a terrible doubt; it alarmed d'Artagnan more than a menace would have done, for it was a warning. The cardinal, then, was seeking to preserve him from some misfortune which threatened him. He opened his mouth to reply, but with a haughty gesture the cardinal dismissed him.
D'Artagnan went out, but at the door his heart almost failed him, and he felt inclined to return. Then the noble and severe countenance of Athos crossed his mind; if he made the compact with the cardinal which he required, Athos would no more give him his hand-Athos would renounce him.It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it.
D'Artagnan descended by the staircase at which he had entered, and found Athos and the four Musketeers waiting his appearance, and beginning to grow uneasy. With a word, d'Artagnan reassured them; and Planchet ran to inform the other sentinels that it was useless to keep guard longer, as his master had come out safe from the Palais-Cardinal.
Returned home with Athos, Aramis and Porthos inquired eagerly the cause of the strange interview; but d'Artagnan confined himself to telling them that M. de Richelieu had sent for him to propose to him to enter into his guards with the rank of ensign, and that he had refused."And you were right," cried Aramis and Porthos, with one voice.
Athos fell into a profound reverie and answered nothing. But when they were alone he said, "You have done that which you ought to have done, d'Artagnan; but perhaps you have been wrong."D'Artagnan sighed deeply, for this voice responded to a secret voice of his soul, which told him that great misfortunes awaited him.
The whole of the next day was spent in preparations for departure. D'Artagnan went to take leave of M. de Treville. At that time it was believed that the separation of the Musketeers and the Guards would be but momentary, the king holding his Parliament that very day and proposing to set out the day after. M. de Treville contented himself with asking d'Artagnan if he could do anything for him, but d'Artagnan answered that he was supplied with all he wanted.
That night brought together all those comrades of the Guards of M. Dessessart and the company of Musketeers of M. de Treville who had been accustomed to associate together. They were parting to meet again when it pleased God, and if it pleased God. That night, then, was somewhat riotous, as may be imagined. In such cases extreme preoccupation is only to be combated by extreme carelessness.
At the first sound of the morning trumpet the friends separated; the Musketeers hastening to the hotel of M. de Treville, the Guards to that of M. Dessessart. Each of the captains then led his company to the Louvre, where the king held his review.
The king was dull and appeared ill, which detracted a little from his usual lofty bearing. In fact, the evening before, a fever had seized him in the midst of the Parliament, while he was holding his Bed of Justice. He had, not the less, decided upon setting out that same evening; and in spite of the remonstrances that had been offered to him, he persisted in having the review, hoping by setting it at defiance to conquer the disease which began to lay hold upon him.
The review over, the Guards set forward alone on their march, the Musketeers waiting for the king, which allowed Porthos time to go and take a turn in his superb equipment in the Rue aux Ours.
The procurator's wife saw him pass in his new uniform and on his fine horse. She loved Porthos too dearly to allow him to part thus; she made him a sign to dismount and come to her. Porthos was magnificent; his spurs jingled, his cuirass glittered, his sword knocked proudly against his ample limbs. This time the clerks evinced no inclination to laugh, such a real ear clipper did Porthos appear.
The Musketeer was introduced to M. Coquenard, whose little gray eyes sparkled with anger at seeing his cousin all blazing new. Nevertheless, one thing afforded him inward consolation; it was expected by everybody that the campaign would be a severe one. He whispered a hope to himself that this beloved relative might be killed in the field.
Porthos paid his compliments to M. Coquenard and bade him farewell. M. Coquenard wished him all sorts of prosperities. As to Mme. Coquenard, she could not restrain her tears; but no evil impressions were taken from her grief as she was known to be very much attached to her relatives, about whom she was constantly having serious disputes with her husband.But the real adieux were made in Mme. Coquenard's chamber; they were heartrending.
As long as the procurator's wife could follow him with her eyes, she waved her handkerchief to him, leaning so far out of the window as to lead people to believe she wished to precipitate herself. Porthos received all these attentions like a man accustomed to such demonstrations, only on turning the corner of the street he lifted his hat gracefully, and waved it to her as a sign of adieu.
On his part Aramis wrote a long letter. To whom? Nobody knew. Kitty, who was to set out that evening for Tours, was waiting in the next chamber.
In the meantime d'Artagnan was defiling with his company. Arriving at the Faubourg St. Antoine, he turned round to look gaily at the Bastille; but as it was the Bastille alone he looked at, he did not observe Milady, who, mounted upon a light chestnut horse, designated him with her finger to two ill-looking men who came close up to the ranks to take notice of him. To a look of interrogation which they made, Milady replied by a sign that it was he. Then, certain that there could be no mistake in the execution of her orders, she started her horse and disappeared.The two men followed the company, and on leaving the aubourg St. Antoine, mounted two horses properly equipped, which a servant without livery had waiting for them.
The Seige Of La Rochelle
The Siege of La Rochelle was one of the great political events of the reign of Louis XIII, and one of the great military enterprises of the cardinal. It is, then, interesting and even necessary that we should say a few words about it, particularly as many details of this siege are connected in too important a manner with the story we have undertaken to relate to allow us to pass it over in silence.
The political plans of the cardinal when he undertook this siege were extensive. Let us unfold them first, and then pass on to the private plans which perhaps had not less influence upon his Eminence than the others.
Of the important cities given up by Henry IV to the Huguenots as places of safety, there only remained La Rochelle. It became necessary, therefore, to destroy this last bulwark of Calvinism--a dangerous leaven with which the ferments of civil revolt and foreign war were constantly mingling.
Spaniards, Englishmen, and Italian malcontents, adventurers of all nations, and soldiers of fortune of every sect, flocked at the first summons under the standard of the Protestants, and organized themselves like a vast association, whose branches diverged freely over all parts of Europe.
La Rochelle, which had derived a new importance from the ruin of the other Calvinist cities, was, then, the focus of dissensions and ambition. Moreover, its port was the last in the kingdom of France open to the English, and by closing it against England, our eternal enemy, the cardinal completed the work of Joan of Arc and the Duc de Guise.
Thus Bassompierre, who was at once Protestant and Catholic-- Protestant by conviction and Catholic as commander of the order of the Holy Ghost; Bassompierre, who was a German by birth and a Frenchman at heart--in short, Bassompierre, who had a distinguished command at the siege of La Rochelle, said, in charging at the head of several other Protestant nobles like himself, "You will see, gentlemen, that we shall be fools enough to take La Rochelle."
And Bassompierre was right. The cannonade of the Isle of Re presaged to him the dragonnades of the Cevennes; the taking of La Rochelle was the preface to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
We have hinted that by the side of these views of the leveling and simplifying minister, which belong to history, the chronicler is forced to recognize the lesser motives of the amorous man and jealous rival.
Richelieu, as everyone knows, had loved the queen. Was this love a simple political affair, or was it naturally one of those profound passions which Anne of Austria inspired in those who approached her? That we are not able to say; but at all events, we have seen, by the anterior developments of this story, that Buckingham had the advantage over him, and in two or three circumstances, particularly that of the diamond studs, had, thanks to the devotedness of the three Musketeers and the courage and conduct of d'Artagnan, cruelly mystified him.
It was, then, Richelieu's object, not only to get rid of an enemy of France, but to avenge himself on a rival; but this vengeance must be grand and striking and worthy in every way of a man who held in his hand, as his weapon for combat, the forces of a kingdom.
Richelieu knew that in combating England he combated Buckingham; that in triumphing over England he triumphed over Buckingham--in short, that in humiliating England in the eyes of Europe he humiliated Buckingham in the eyes of the queen.
On his side Buckingham, in pretending to maintain the honor of England, was moved by interests exactly like those of the cardinal. Buckingham also was pursuing a private vengeance. Buckingham could not under any pretense be admitted into France as an ambassador; he wished to enter it as a conqueror.
It resulted from this that the real stake in this game, which two most powerful kingdoms played for the good pleasure of two amorous men, was simply a kind look from Anne of Austria.
The first advantage had been gained by Buckingham. Arriving unexpectedly in sight of the Isle of Re with ninety vessels and nearly twenty thousand men, he had surprised the Comte de Toiras, who commanded for the king in the Isle, and he had, after a bloody conflict, effected his landing.
Allow us to observe in passing that in this fight perished the Baron de Chantal; that the Baron de Chantal left a little orphan girl eighteen months old, and that this little girl was afterward Mme. de Sevigne.The Comte de Toiras retired into the citadel St. Martin with his garrison, and threw a hundred men into a little fort called the fort of La Pree.
This event had hastened the resolutions of the cardinal; and till the king and he could take the command of the siege of La Rochelle, which was determined, he had sent Monsieur to direct the first operations, and had ordered all the troops he could dispose of to march toward the theater of war. It was of this detachment, sent as a vanguard, that our friend d'Artagnan formed a part.
The king, as we have said, was to follow as soon as his Bed of Justice had been held; but on rising from his Bed of Justice on the twenty-eighth of June, he felt himself attacked by fever. He was, notwithstanding, anxious to set out; but his illness becoming more serious, he was forced to stop at Villeroy.
Now, whenever the king halted, the Musketeers halted. It followed that d'Artagnan, who was as yet purely and simply in the Guards, found himself, for the time at least, separated from his good friends--Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. This separation, which was no more than an unpleasant circumstance, would have certainly become a cause of serious uneasiness if he had been able to guess by what unknown dangers he was surrounded.
Everything was in the same state. The Duke of Buckingham and his English, masters of the Isle of Re, continued to besiege, but without success, the citadel St. Martin and the fort of La Pree; and hostilities with La Rochelle had commenced, two or three days before, about a fort which the Duc d'Angouleme had caused to be constructed near the city.
The Guards, under the command of M. Dessessart, took up their quarters at the Minimes; but, as we know, d'Artagnan, possessed with ambition to enter the Musketeers, had formed but few friendships among his comrades, and he felt himself isolated and given up to his own reflections.
His reflections were not very cheerful. From the time of his arrival in Paris, he had been mixed up with public affairs; but his own private affairs had made no great progress, either in love or fortune. As to love, the only woman he could have loved was Mme. Bonacieux; and Mme. Bonacieux had disappeared, without his being able to discover what had become of her. As to fortune, he had made--he, humble as he was--an enemy of the cardinal; that is to say, of a man before whom trembled the greatest men of the kingdom, beginning with the king.
That man had the power to crush him, and yet he had not done so. For a mind so perspicuous as that of d'Artagnan, this indulgence was a light by which he caught a glimpse of a better future.Then he had made himself another enemy, less to be feared, he thought; but nevertheless, he instinctively felt, not to be despised. This enemy was Milady.
In exchange for all this, he had acquired the protection and good will of the queen; but the favor of the queen was at the present time an additional cause of persecution, and her protection, as it was known, protected badly--as witness Chalais and Mme. Bonacieux.
What he had clearly gained in all this was the diamond, worth five or six thousand livres, which he wore on his finger; and even this diamond--supposing that d'Artagnan, in his projects of ambition, wished to keep it, to make it someday a pledge for the gratitude of the queen--had not in the meanwhile, since he could not part with it, more value than the gravel he trod under his feet.
We say the gravel he trod under his feet, for d'Artagnan made these reflections while walking solitarily along a pretty little road which led from the camp to the village of Angoutin. Now, these reflections had led him further than he intended, and the day was beginning to decline when, by the last ray of the setting sun, he thought he saw the barrel of a musket glitter from behind a hedge.
D'Artagnan had a quick eye and a prompt understanding. He comprehended that the musket had not come there of itself, and that he who bore it had not concealed himself behind a hedge with any friendly intentions. He determined, therefore, to direct his course as clear from it as he could when, on the opposite side of the road, from behind a rock, he perceived the extremity of another musket.This was evidently an ambuscade.
The young man cast a glance at the first musket and saw, with a certain degree of inquietude, that it was leveled in his direction; but as soon as he perceived that the orifice of the barrel was motionless, he threw himself upon the ground. At the same instant the gun was fired, and he heard the whistling of a ball pass over his head.
No time was to be lost. D'Artagnan sprang up with a bound, and at the same instant the ball from the other musket tore up the gravel on the very spot on the road where he had thrown himself with his face to the ground.
D'Artagnan was not one of those foolhardy men who seek a ridiculous death in order that it may be said of them that they did not retreat a single step. Besides, courage was out of the question here; d'Artagnan had fallen into an ambush."If there is a third shot," said he to himself, "I am a lost man."
He immediately, therefore, took to his heels and ran toward the camp, with the swiftness of the young men of his country, so renowned for their agility; but whatever might be his speed, the first who fired, having had time to reload, fired a second shot, and this time so well aimed that it struck his hat, and carried it ten paces from him.
As he, however, had no other hat, he picked up this as he ran, and arrived at his quarters very pale and quite out of breath. He sat down without saying a word to anybody, and began to reflect.This event might have three causes:
The first and the most natural was that it might be an ambuscade of the Rochellais, who might not be sorry to kill one of his Majesty's Guards, because it would be an enemy the less, and this enemy might have a well-furnished purse in his pocket.
D'Artagnan took his hat, examined the hole made by the ball, and shook his head. The ball was not a musket ball--it was an arquebus ball. The accuracy of the aim had first given him the idea that a special weapon had been employed. This could not, then, be a military ambuscade, as the ball was not of the regular caliber.
This might be a kind remembrance of Monsieur the Cardinal. It may be observed that at the very moment when, thanks to the ray of the sun, he perceived the gun barrel, he was thinking with astonishment on the forbearance of his Eminence with respect to him.But d'Artagnan again shook his head. For people toward whom he had but to put forth his hand, his Eminence had rarely recourse to such means. It might be a vengeance of Milady; that was most probable. He tried in vain to remember the faces or dress of the assassins; he had escaped so rapidly that he had not had leisure to notice anything. "Ah, my poor friends!" murmured d'Artagnan; "where are you? And that you should fail me!"
D'Artagnan passed a very bad night. Three or four times he started up, imagining that a man was approaching his bed for the purpose of stabbing him. Nevertheless, day dawned without darkness having brought any accident.But d'Artagnan well suspected that that which was deferred was not relinquished. D'Artagnan remained all day in his quarters, assigning as a reason to himself that the weather was bad.
At nine o'clock the next morning, the drums beat to arms. The Duc d'Orleans visited the posts. The guards were under arms, and d'Artagnan took his place in the midst of his comrades.Monsieur passed along the front of the line; then all the superior officers approached him to pay their compliments, M. Dessessart, captain of the Guards, as well as the others.
At the expiration of a minute or two, it appeared to d'Artagnan that M. Dessessart made him a sign to approach. He waited for a fresh gesture on the part of his superior, for fear he might be mistaken; but this gesture being repeated, he left the ranks, and advanced to receive orders.
"Monsieur is about to ask for some men of good will for a dangerous mission, but one which will do honor to those who shall accomplish it; and I made you a sign in order that you might hold yourself in readiness."
"Thanks, my captain!" replied d'Artagnan, who wished for nothing better than an opportunity to distinguish himself under the eye of the lieutenant general. In fact the Rochellais had made a sortie during the night, and had retaken a bastion of which the royal army had gained possession two days before. The matter was to ascertain, by reconnoitering, how the enemy guarded this bastion.At the end of a few minutes Monsieur raised his voice, and said, "I want for this mission three or four volunteers, led by a man who can be depended upon."
"As to the man to be depended upon, I have him under my hand, monsieur," said M. Dessessart, pointing to d'Artagnan; "and as to the four or five volunteers, Monsieur has but to make his intentions known, and the men will not be wanting.""Four men of good will who will risk being killed with me!" said d'Artagnan, raising his sword.
Two of his comrades of the Guards immediately sprang forward, and two other soldiers having joined them, the number was deemed sufficient. D'Artagnan declined all others, being unwilling to take the first chance from those who had the priority.
It was not known whether, after the taking of the bastion, the Rochellais had evacuated it or left a garrison in it; the object then was to examine the place near enough to verify the reports.D'Artagnan set out with his four companions, and followed the trench; the two Guards marched abreast with him, and the two soldiers followed behind.
They arrived thus, screened by the lining of the trench, till they came within a hundred paces of the bastion. There, on turning round, d'Artagnan perceived that the two soldiers had disappeared.He thought that, beginning to be afraid, they had stayed behind, and he continued to advance. At the turning of the counterscarp they found themselves within about sixty paces of the bastion. They saw no one, and the bastion seemed abandoned.
The three composing our forlorn hope were deliberating whether they should proceed any further, when all at once a circle of smoke enveloped the giant of stone, and a dozen balls came whistling around d'Artagnan and his companions.
They knew all they wished to know; the bastion was guarded. A longer stay in this dangerous spot would have been useless imprudence. D'Artagnan and his two companions turned their backs, and commenced a retreat which resembled a flight.
On arriving at the angle of the trench which was to serve them as a rampart, one of the Guardsmen fell. A ball had passed through his breast. The other, who was safe and sound, continued his way toward the camp.
D'Artagnan was not willing to abandon his companion thus, and stooped to raise him and assist him in regaining the lines; but at this moment two shots were fired. One ball struck the head of the already-wounded guard, and the other flattened itself against a rock, after having passed within two inches of d'Artagnan.
The young man turned quickly round, for this attack could not have come from the bastion, which was hidden by the angle of the trench. The idea of the two soldiers who had abandoned him occurred to his mind, and with them he remembered the assassins of two evenings before. He resolved this time to know with whom he had to deal, and fell upon the body of his comrade as if he were dead.
He quickly saw two heads appear above an abandoned work within thirty paces of him; they were the heads of the two soldiers. D'Artagnan had not been deceived; these two men had only followed for the purpose of assassinating him, hoping that the young man's death would be placed to the account of the enemy.
As he might be only wounded and might denounce their crime, they came up to him with the purpose of making sure. Fortunately, deceived by d'Artagnan's trick, they neglected to reload their guns.When they were within ten paces of him, d'Artagnan, who in falling had taken care not to let go his sword, sprang up close to them.
The assassins comprehended that if they fled toward the camp without having killed their man, they should be accused by him; therefore their first idea was to join the enemy. One of them took his gun by the barrel, and used it as he would a club. He aimed a terrible blow at d'Artagnan, who avoided it by springing to one side; but by this movement he left a passage free to the bandit, who darted off toward the bastion. As the Rochellais who guarded the bastion were ignorant of the intentions of the man they saw coming toward them, they fired upon him, and he fell, struck by a ball which broke his shoulder.
Meantime d'Artagnan had thrown himself upon the other soldier, attacking him with his sword. The conflict was not long; the wretch had nothing to defend himself with but his discharged arquebus. The sword of the Guardsman slipped along the barrel of the nowuseless weapon, and passed through the thigh of the assassin, who fell.D'Artagnan immediately placed the point of his sword at his throat. "Oh, do not kill me!" cried the bandit. "Pardon, pardon, my officer, and I will tell you all." "Is your secret of enough importance to me to spare your life for it?" asked the young man, withholding his arm. "Yes; if you think existence worth anything to a man of twenty, as you are, and who may hope for everything, being handsome and brave, as you are." "Wretch," cried d'Artagnan, "speak quickly! Who employed you to assassinate me?" "A woman whom I don't know, but who is called Milady." "But if you don't know this woman, how do you know her name?"
"My comrade knows her, and called her so. It was with him she agreed, and not with me; he even has in his pocket a letter from that person, who attaches great importance to you, as I have heard him say.""But how did you become concerned in this villainous affair?" "He proposed to me to undertake it with him, and I agreed." "And how much did she give you for this fine enterprise?" "A hundred louis."
"Well, come!" said the young man, laughing, "she thinks I am worth something. A hundred louis? Well, that was a temptation for two wretches like you. I understand why you accepted it, and I grant you my pardon; but upon one condition.""What is that?" said the soldier, uneasy at perceiving that all was not over. "That you will go and fetch me the letter your comrade has in his pocket." "But," cried the bandit, "that is only another way of killing me. How can I go and fetch that letter under the fire of the bastion?" "You must nevertheless make up your mind to go and get it, or I swear you shall die by my hand."
"Pardon, monsieur; pity! In the name of that young lady you love, and whom you perhaps believe dead but who is not!" cried the bandit, throwing himself upon his knees and leaning upon his hand--for he began to lose his strength with his blood."And how do you know there is a young woman whom I love, and that I believed that woman dead?" asked d'Artagnan. "By that letter which my comrade has in his pocket."
"You see, then," said d'Artagnan, "that I must have that letter. So no more delay, no more hesitation; or else whatever may be my repugnance to soiling my sword a second time with the blood of a wretch like you, I swear by my faith as an honest man--" and at these words d'Artagnan made so fierce a gesture that the wounded man sprang up. "Stop, stop!" cried he, regaining strength by force of terror. "I will go--I will go!"D'Artagnan took the soldier's arquebus, made him go on before him, and urged him toward his companion by pricking him behind with his sword.
It was a frightful thing to see this wretch, leaving a long track of blood on the ground he passed over, pale with approaching death, trying to drag himself along without being seen to the body of his accomplice, which lay twenty paces from him.
Terror was so strongly painted on his face, covered with a cold sweat, that d'Artagnan took pity on him, and casting upon him a look of contempt, "Stop," said he, "I will show you the difference between a man of courage and such a coward as you. Stay where you are; I will go myself."
And with a light step, an eye on the watch, observing the movements of the enemy and taking advantage of the accidents of the ground, d'Artagnan succeeded in reaching the second soldier.There were two means of gaining his object--to search him on the spot, or to carry him away, making a buckler of his body, and search him in the trench. D'Artagnan preferred the second means, and lifted the assassin onto his shoulders at the moment the enemy fired. A slight shock, the dull noise of three balls which penetrated the flesh, a last cry, a convulsion of agony, proved to d'Artagnan that the would-be assassin had saved his life. D'Artagnan regained the trench, and threw the corpse beside the wounded man, who was as pale as death.
Then he began to search. A leather pocketbook, a purse, in which was evidently a part of the sum which the bandit had received, with a dice box and dice, completed the possessions of the dead man.He left the box and dice where they fell, threw the purse to the wounded man, and eagerly opened the pocketbook. Among some unimportant papers he found the following letter, that which he had sought at the risk of his life:
"Since you have lost sight of that woman and she is now in safety in the convent, which you should never have allowed her to reach, try, at least, not to miss the man. If you do, you know that my hand stretches far, and that you shall pay very dearly for the hundred louis you have from me."
No signature. Nevertheless it was plain the letter came from Milady. He consequently kept it as a piece of evidence, and being in safety behind the angle of the trench, he began to interrogate the wounded man. He confessed that he had undertaken with his comrade-the same who was killed--to carry off a young woman who was to leave Paris by the Barriere de La Villette; but having stopped to drink at a cabaret, they had missed the carriage by ten minutes.
Then the young man tremblingly comprehended what a terrible thirst for vengeance urged this woman on to destroy him, as well as all who loved him, and how well she must be acquainted with the affairs of the court, since she had discovered all. There could be no doubt she owed this information to the cardinal.
But amid all this he perceived, with a feeling of real joy, that the queen must have discovered the prison in which poor Mme. Bonacieux was explaining her devotion, and that she had freed her from that prison; and the letter he had received from the young woman, and her passage along the road of Chaillot like an apparition, were now explained.Then also, as Athos had predicted, it became possible to find Mme. Bonacieux, and a convent was not impregnable.
This idea completely restored clemency to his heart. He turned toward the wounded man, who had watched with intense anxiety all the various expressions of his countenance, and holding out his arm to him, said, "Come, I will not abandon you thus. Lean upon me, and let us return to the camp.""Yes," said the man, who could scarcely believe in such magnanimity, "but is it not to have me hanged?" "You have my word," said he; "for the second time I give you your life."
The wounded man sank upon his knees, to again kiss the feet of his preserver; but d'Artagnan, who had no longer a motive for staying so near the enemy, abridged the testimonials of his gratitude.
The Guardsman who had returned at the first discharge announced the death of his four companions. They were therefore much astonished and delighted in the regiment when they saw the young man come back safe and sound.
D'Artagnan explained the sword wound of his companion by a sortie which he improvised. He described the death of the other soldier, and the perils they had encountered. This recital was for him the occasion of veritable triumph. The whole army talked of this expedition for a day, and Monsieur paid him his compliments upon it. Besides this, as every great action bears its recompense with it, the brave exploit of d'Artagnan resulted in the restoration of the tranquility he had lost. In fact, d'Artagnan believed that he might be tranquil, as one of his two enemies was killed and the other devoted to his interests.