At the name of Lord de Winter, who was known to be one of his Grace's most intimate friends, the officer of the post gave orders to let Felton pass, who, besides, wore the uniform of a naval officer.
Felton darted into the palace.
At the moment he entered the vestibule, another man was entering likewise, dusty, out of breath, leaving at the gate a post horse, which, on reaching the palace, tumbled on his foreknees.
Felton and he addressed Patrick, the duke's confidential lackey, at the same moment. Felton named Lord de Winter; the unknown would not name anybody, and pretended that it was to the duke alone he would make himself known. Each was anxious to gain admission before the other.
Patrick, who knew Lord de Winter was in affairs of the service, and in relations of friendship with the duke, gave the preference to the one who came in his name. The other was forced to wait, and it was easily to be seen how he cursed the delay.
The valet led Felton through a large hall in which waited the deputies from La Rochelle, headed by the Prince de Soubise, and introduced him into a closet where Buckingham, just out of the bath, was finishing his toilet, upon which, as at all times, he bestowed extraordinary attention.
"Lieutenant Felton, from Lord de Winter," said Patrick.
"From Lord de Winter!" repeated Buckingham; "let him come in."
Felton entered. At that moment Buckingham was throwing upon a couch a rich toilet robe, worked with gold, in order to put on a blue velvet doublet embroidered with pearls.
"Why didn't the baron come himself?" demanded Buckingham. "I expected him this morning."
"He desired me to tell your Grace," replied Felton, "that he very much regretted not having that honor, but that he was prevented by the guard he is obliged to keep at the castle."
"Yes, I know that," said Buckingham; "he has a prisoner."
"It is of that prisoner that I wish to speak to your Grace," replied Felton.
"Well, then, speak!"
"That which I have to say of her can only be heard by yourself, my Lord!"
"Leave us, Patrick," said Buckingham; "but remain within sound of the bell. I shall call you presently."
Patrick went out.
"We are alone, sir," said Buckingham; "speak!"
"My Lord," said Felton, "the Baron de Winter wrote to you the other day to request you to sign an order of embarkation relative to a young woman named Charlotte Backson."
"Yes, sir; and I answered him, to bring or send me that order and I would sign it."
"Here it is, my Lord."
"Give it to me," said the duke.
And taking it from Felton, he cast a rapid glance over the paper, and perceiving that it was the one that had been mentioned to him, he placed it on the table, took a pen, and prepared to sign it.
"Pardon, my Lord," said Felton, stopping the duke; "but does your Grace know that the name of Charlotte Backson is not the true name of this young woman?"
"Yes, sir, I know it," replied the duke, dipping the quill in the ink.
"Then your Grace knows her real name?" asked Felton, in a sharp tone.
"I know it"; and the duke put the quill to the paper. Felton grew pale.
"And knowing that real name, my Lord," replied Felton, "will you sign it all the same?"
"Doubtless," said Buckingham, "and rather twice than once."
"I cannot believe," continued Felton, in a voice that became more sharp and rough, "that your Grace knows that it is to Milady de Winter this relates."
"I know it perfectly, although I am astonished that you know it."
"And will your Grace sign that order without remorse?"
Buckingham looked at the young man haughtily.
"Do you know, sir, that you are asking me very strange questions, and that I am very foolish to answer them?"
"Reply to them, my Lord," said Felton; "the circumstances are more serious than you perhaps believe."
Buckingham reflected that the young man, coming from Lord de Winter, undoubtedly spoke in his name, and softened.
"Without remorse," said he. "The baron knows, as well as myself, that Milady de Winter is a very guilty woman, and it is treating her very favorably to commute her punishment to transportation." The duke put his pen to the paper.
"You will not sign that order, my Lord!" said Felton, making a step toward the duke.
"I will not sign this order! And why not?"
"Because you will look into yourself, and you will do justice to the lady."
"I should do her justice by sending her to Tyburn," said Buckingham. "This lady is infamous."
"My Lord, Milady de Winter is an angel; you know that she is, and I demand her liberty of you."
"Bah! Are you mad, to talk to me thus?" said Buckingham.
"My Lord, excuse me! I speak as I can; I restrain myself. But, my Lord, think of what you're about to do, and beware of going too far!"
"What do you say? God pardon me!" cried Buckingham, "I really think he threatens me!"
"No, my Lord, I still plead. And I say to you: one drop of water suffices to make the full vase overflow; one slight fault may draw down punishment upon the head spared, despite many crimes."
"Mr. Felton," said Buckingham, "you will withdraw, and place yourself at once under arrest."
"You will hear me to the end, my Lord. You have seduced this young girl; you have outraged, defiled her. Repair your crimes toward her; let her go free, and I will exact nothing else from you."
"You will exact!" said Buckingham, looking at Felton with astonishment, and dwelling upon each syllable of the three words as he pronounced them.
"My Lord," continued Felton, becoming more excited as he spoke, "my Lord, beware! All England is tired of your iniquities; my Lord, you have abused the royal power, which you have almost usurped; my Lord, you are held in horror by God and men. God will punish you hereafter, but I will punish you here!"
"Ah, this is too much!" cried Buckingham, making a step toward the door.
Felton barred his passage.
"I ask it humbly of you, my Lord," said he; "sign the order for the liberation of Milady de Winter. Remember that she is a woman whom you have dishonored."
"Withdraw, sir," said Buckingham, "or I will call my attendant, and have you placed in irons."
"You shall not call," said Felton, throwing himself between the duke and the bell placed on a stand encrusted with silver. "Beware, my Lord, you are in the hands of God!"
"In the hands of the devil, you mean!" cried Buckingham, raising his voice so as to attract the notice of his people, without absolutely shouting.
"Sign, my Lord; sign the liberation of Milady de Winter," said Felton, holding out a paper to the duke.
"By force? You are joking! Holloa, Patrick!"
"Sign, my Lord!"
"Help!" shouted the duke; and at the same time he sprang toward his sword.
But Felton did not give him time to draw it. He held the knife with which Milady had stabbed herself, open in his bosom; at one bound he was upon the duke.
At that moment Patrick entered the room, crying, "A letter from France, my Lord."
"From France!" cried Buckingham, forgetting everything in thinking from whom that letter came.
Felton took advantage of this moment, and plunged the knife into his side up to the handle.
"Ah, traitor," cried Buckingham, "you have killed me!"
"Murder!" screamed Patrick.
Felton cast his eyes round for means of escape, and seeing the door free, he rushed into the next chamber, in which, as we have said, the deputies from La Rochelle were waiting, crossed it as quickly as possible, and rushed toward the staircase; but upon the first step he met Lord de Winter, who, seeing him pale, confused, livid, and stained with blood both on his hands and face, seized him by the throat, crying, "I knew it! I guessed it! But too late by a minute, unfortunate, unfortunate that I am!"
Felton made no resistance. Lord de Winter placed him in the hands of the guards, who led him, while awaiting further orders, to a little terrace commanding the sea; and then the baron hastened to the duke's chamber.
At the cry uttered by the duke and the scream of Patrick, the man whom Felton had met in the antechamber rushed into the chamber.
He found the duke reclining upon a sofa, with his hand pressed upon the wound.
"Laporte," said the duke, in a dying voice, "Laporte, do you come from her?"
"Yes, monseigneur," replied the faithful cloak bearer of Anne of Austria, "but too late, perhaps."
"Silence, Laporte, you may be overheard. Patrick, let no one enter. Oh, I cannot tell what she says to me! My God, I am dying!"
And the duke swooned.
Meanwhile, Lord de Winter, the deputies, the leaders of the expedition, the officers of Buckingham's household, had all made their way into the chamber. Cries of despair resounded on all sides. The news, which filled the palace with tears and groans, soon became known, and spread itself throughout the city.
The report of a cannon announced that something new and unexpected had taken place.
Lord de Winter tore his hair.
"Too late by a minute!" cried he, "too late by a minute! Oh, my God, my God! what a misfortune!"
He had been informed at seven o'clock in the morning that a rope ladder floated from one of the windows of the castle; he had hastened to Milady's chamber, had found it empty, the window open, and the bars filed, had remembered the verbal caution d'Artagnan had transmitted to him by his messenger, had trembled for the duke, and running to the stable without taking time to have a horse saddled, had jumped upon the first he found, had galloped off like the wind, had alighted below in the courtyard, had ascended the stairs precipitately, and on the top step, as we have said, had encountered Felton.
The duke, however, was not dead. He recovered a little, reopened his eyes, and hope revived in all hearts.
"Gentlemen," said he, "leave me alone with Patrick and Laporte—ah, is that you, de Winter? You sent me a strange madman this morning! See the state in which he has put me."
"Oh, my Lord!" cried the baron, "I shall never console myself."
"And you would be quite wrong, my dear de Winter," said Buckingham, holding out his hand to him. "I do not know the man who deserves being regretted during the whole life of another man; but leave us, I pray you."
The baron went out sobbing.
There only remained in the closet of the wounded duke Laporte and Patrick. A physician was sought for, but none was yet found.
"You will live, my Lord, you will live!" repeated the faithful servant of Anne of Austria, on his knees before the duke's sofa.
"What has she written to me?" said Buckingham, feebly, streaming with blood, and suppressing his agony to speak of her he loved, "what has she written to me? Read me her letter."
"Oh, my Lord!" said Laporte.
"Obey, Laporte, do you not see I have no time to lose?"
Laporte broke the seal, and placed the paper before the eyes of the duke; but Buckingham in vain tried to make out the writing.
"Read!" said he, "read! I cannot see. Read, then! For soon, perhaps, I shall not hear, and I shall die without knowing what she has written to me."
Laporte made no further objection, and read:
"My Lord, By that which, since I have known you, have suffered by you and for you, I conjure you, if you have any care for my repose, to countermand those great armaments which you are preparing against France, to put an end to a war of which it is publicly said religion is the ostensible cause, and of which, it is generally whispered, your love for me is the concealed cause. This war may not only bring great catastrophes upon England and France, but misfortune upon you, my Lord, for which I should never console myself.
"Be careful of your life, which is menaced, and which will be dear to me from the moment I am not obliged to see an enemy in you.
Buckingham collected all his remaining strength to listen to the reading of the letter; then, when it was ended, as if he had met with a bitter disappointment, he asked, "Have you nothing else to say to me by the living voice, Laporte?"
"The queen charged me to tell you to watch over yourself, for she had advice that your assassination would be attempted."
"And is that all—is that all?" replied Buckingham, impatiently.
"She likewise charged me to tell you that she still loved you."
"Ah," said Buckingham, "God be praised! My death, then, will not be to her as the death of a stranger!"
Laporte burst into tears.
"Patrick," said the due, "bring me the casket in which the diamond studs were kept."
Patrick brought the object desired, which Laporte recognized as having belonged to the queen.
"Now the scent bag of white satin, on which her cipher is embroidered in pearls."
Patrick again obeyed.
"Here, Laporte," said Buckingham, "these are the only tokens I ever received from her—this silver casket and these two letters. You will restore them to her Majesty; and as a last memorial"—he looked round for some valuable object—"you will add—"
He still sought; but his eyes, darkened by death, encountered only the knife which had fallen from the hand of Felton, still smoking with the blood spread over its blade.
"And you will add to them this knife," said the duke, pressing the hand of Laporte. He had just strength enough to place the scent bag at the bottom of the silver casket, and to let the knife fall into it, making a sign to Laporte that he was no longer able to speak; than, in a last convulsion, which this time he had not the power to combat, he slipped from the sofa to the floor.
Patrick uttered a loud cry.
Buckingham tried to smile a last time; but death checked his thought, which remained engraved on his brow like a last kiss of love.
At this moment the duke's surgeon arrived, quite terrified; he was already on board the admiral's ship, where they had been obliged to seek him.
He approached the duke, took his hand, held it for an instant in his own, and letting it fall, "All is useless," said he, "he is dead."
"Dead, dead!" cried Patrick.
At this cry all the crowd re-entered the apartment, and throughout the palace and town there was nothing but consternation and tumult.
As soon as Lord de Winter saw Buckingham was dead, he ran to Felton, whom the soldiers still guarded on the terrace of the palace.
"Wretch!" said he to the young man, who since the death of Buckingham had regained that coolness and self-possession which never after abandoned him, "wretch! what have you done?"
"I have avenged myself!" said he.
"Avenged yourself," said the baron. "Rather say that you have served as an instrument to that accursed woman; but I swear to you that this crime shall be her last."
"I don't know what you mean," replied Felton, quietly, "and I am ignorant of whom you are speaking, my Lord. I killed the Duke of Buckingham because he twice refused you yourself to appoint me captain; I have punished him for his injustice, that is all."
De Winter, stupefied, looked on while the soldiers bound Felton, and could not tell what to think of such insensibility.
One thing alone, however, threw a shade over the pallid brow of Felton. At every noise he heard, the simple Puritan fancied he recognized the step and voice of Milady coming to throw herself into his arms, to accuse herself, and die with him.
All at once he started. His eyes became fixed upon a point of the sea, commanded by the terrace where he was. With the eagle glance of a sailor he had recognized there, where another would have seen only a gull hovering over the waves, the sail of a sloop which was directed toward the cost of France.
He grew deadly pale, placed his hand upon his heart, which was breaking, and at once perceived all the treachery.
"One last favor, my Lord!" said he to the baron.
"What?" asked his Lordship.
"What o'clock is it?"
The baron drew out his watch. "It wants ten minutes to nine," said he.
Milady had hastened her departure by an hour and a half. As soon as she heard the cannon which announced the fatal event, she had ordered the anchor to be weighed. The vessel was making way under a blue sky, at great distance from the coast.
"God has so willed it!" said he, with the resignation of a fanatic; but without, however, being able to take his eyes from that ship, on board of which he doubtless fancied he could distinguish the white outline of her to whom he had sacrificed his life.
De Winter followed his look, observed his feelings, and guessed all.
"Be punished ALONE, for the first, miserable man!" said Lord de Winter to Felton, who was being dragged away with his eyes turned toward the sea; "but I swear to you by the memory of my brother whom I have loved so much that your accomplice is not saved."
Felton lowered his head without pronouncing a syllable.
As to Lord de Winter, he descended the stairs rapidly, and went straight to the port.
60 IN FRANCE
The first fear of the King of England, Charles I, on learning of the death of the duke, was that such terrible news might discourage the Rochellais; he tried, says Richelieu in his Memoirs, to conceal it from them as long as possible, closing all the ports of his kingdom, and carefully keeping watch that no vessel should sail until the army which Buckingham was getting together had gone, taking upon himself, in default of Buckingham, to superintend the departure.
He carried the strictness of this order so far as to detain in England the ambassadors of Denmark, who had taken their leave, and the regular ambassador of Holland, who was to take back to the port of Flushing the Indian merchantmen of which Charles I had made restitution to the United Provinces.
But as he did not think of giving this order till five hours after the event—that is to say, till two o'clock in the afternoon—two vessels had already left the port, the one bearing, as we know, Milady, who, already anticipating the event, was further confirmed in that belief by seeing the black flag flying at the masthead of the admiral's ship.
As to the second vessel, we will tell hereafter whom it carried, and how it set sail.
During this time nothing new occurred in the camp at La Rochelle; only the king, who was bored, as always, but perhaps a little more so in camp than elsewhere, resolved to go incognito and spend the festival of St. Louis at St. Germain, and asked the cardinal to order him an escort of only twenty Musketeers. The cardinal, who sometimes became weary of the king, granted this leave of absence with great pleasure to his royal lieutenant, who promised to return about the fifteenth of September.
M. de Treville, being informed of this by his Eminence, packed his portmanteau; and as without knowing the cause he knew the great desire and even imperative need which his friends had of returning to Paris, it goes without saying that he fixed upon them to form part of the escort.
The four young men heard the news a quarter of an hour after M. de Treville, for they were the first to whom he communicated it. It was then that d'Artagnan appreciated the favor the cardinal had conferred upon him in making him at last enter the Musketeers—for without that circumstance he would have been forced to remain in the camp while his companions left it.
It goes without saying that this impatience to return toward Paris had for a cause the danger which Mme. Bonacieux would run of meeting at the convent of Bethune with Milady, her mortal enemy. Aramis therefore had written immediately to Marie Michon, the seamstress at Tours who had such fine acquaintances, to obtain from the queen authority for Mme. Bonacieux to leave the convent, and to retire either into Lorraine or Belgium. They had not long to wait for an answer. Eight or ten days afterward Aramis received the following letter:
My Dear Cousin, Here is the authorization from my sister to withdraw our little servant from the convent of Bethune, the air of which you think is bad for her. My sister sends you this authorization with great pleasure, for she is very partial to the little girl, to whom she intends to be more serviceable hereafter.
I salute you,
To this letter was added an order, conceived in these terms:
At the Louvre, August 10, 1628 The superior of the convent of Bethune will place in the hands of the person who shall present this note to her the novice who entered the convent upon my recommendation and under my patronage.
It may be easily imagined how the relationship between Aramis and a seamstress who called the queen her sister amused the young men; but Aramis, after having blushed two or three times up to the whites of his eyes at the gross pleasantry of Porthos, begged his friends not to revert to the subject again, declaring that if a single word more was said to him about it, he would never again implore his cousins to interfere in such affairs.
There was no further question, therefore, about Marie Michon among the four Musketeers, who besides had what they wanted: that was, the order to withdraw Mme. Bonacieux from the convent of the Carmelites of Bethune. It was true that this order would not be of great use to them while they were in camp at La Rochelle; that is to say, at the other end of France. Therefore d'Artagnan was going to ask leave of absence of M. de Treville, confiding to him candidly the importance of his departure, when the news was transmitted to him as well as to his three friends that the king was about to set out for Paris with an escort of twenty Musketeers, and that they formed part of the escort.
Their joy was great. The lackeys were sent on before with the baggage, and they set out on the morning of the sixteenth.
The cardinal accompanied his Majesty from Surgeres to Mauzes; and there the king and his minister took leave of each other with great demonstrations of friendship.
The king, however, who sought distraction, while traveling as fast as possible—for he was anxious to be in Paris by the twenty-third—stopped from time to time to fly the magpie, a pastime for which the taste had been formerly inspired in him by de Luynes, and for which he had always preserved a great predilection. Out of the twenty Musketeers sixteen, when this took place, rejoiced greatly at this relaxation; but the other four cursed it heartily. D'Artagnan, in particular, had a perpetual buzzing in his ears, which Porthos explained thus: "A very great lady has told me that this means that somebody is talking of you somewhere."
At length the escort passed through Paris on the twenty-third, in the night. The king thanked M. de Treville, and permitted him to distribute furloughs for four days, on condition that the favored parties should not appear in any public place, under penalty of the Bastille.
The first four furloughs granted, as may be imagined, were to our four friends. Still further, Athos obtained of M. de Treville six days instead of four, and introduced into these six days two more nights—for they set out on the twenty-fourth at five o'clock in the evening, and as a further kindness M. de Treville post-dated the leave to the morning of the twenty-fifth.
"Good Lord!" said d'Artagnan, who, as we have often said, never stumbled at anything. "It appears to me that we are making a great trouble of a very simple thing. In two days, and by using up two or three horses (that's nothing; I have plenty of money), I am at Bethune. I present my letter from the queen to the superior, and I bring back the dear treasure I go to seek—not into Lorraine, not into Belgium, but to Paris, where she will be much better concealed, particularly while the cardinal is at La Rochelle. Well, once returned from the country, half by the protection of her cousin, half through what we have personally done for her, we shall obtain from the queen what we desire. Remain, then, where you are, and do not exhaust yourselves with useless fatigue. Myself and Planchet are all that such a simple expedition requires."
To this Athos replied quietly: "We also have money left—for I have not yet drunk all my share of the diamond, and Porthos and Aramis have not eaten all theirs. We can therefore use up four horses as well as one. But consider, d'Artagnan," added he, in a tone so solemn that it made the young man shudder, "consider that Bethune is a city where the cardinal has given rendezvous to a woman who, wherever she goes, brings misery with her. If you had only to deal with four men, d'Artagnan, I would allow you to go alone. You have to do with that woman! We four will go; and I hope to God that with our four lackeys we may be in sufficient number."
"You terrify me, Athos!" cried d'Artagnan. "My God! what do you fear?"
"Everything!" replied Athos.
D'Artagnan examined the countenances of his companions, which, like that of Athos, wore an impression of deep anxiety; and they continued their route as fast as their horses could carry them, but without adding another word.
On the evening of the twenty-fifth, as they were entering Arras, and as d'Artagnan was dismounting at the inn of the Golden Harrow to drink a glass of wine, a horseman came out of the post yard, where he had just had a relay, started off at a gallop, and with a fresh horse took the road to Paris. At the moment he passed through the gateway into the street, the wind blew open the cloak in which he was wrapped, although it was in the month of August, and lifted his hat, which the traveler seized with his hand the moment it had left his head, pulling it eagerly over his eyes.
D'Artagnan, who had his eyes fixed upon this man, became very pale, and let his glass fall.
"What is the matter, monsieur?" said Planchet. "Oh, come, gentlemen, my master is ill!"
The three friends hastened toward d'Artagnan, who, instead of being ill, ran toward his horse. They stopped him at the door.
"Well, where the devil are you going now?" cried Athos.
"It is he!" cried d'Artagnan, pale with anger, and with the sweat on his brow, "it is he! let me overtake him!"
"He? What he?" asked Athos.
"He, that man!"
"That cursed man, my evil genius, whom I have always met with when threatened by some misfortune, he who accompanied that horrible woman when I met her for the first time, he whom I was seeking when I offended our Athos, he whom I saw on the very morning Madame Bonacieux was abducted. I have seen him; that is he! I recognized him when the wind blew upon his cloak."
"The devil!" said Athos, musingly.
"To saddle, gentlemen! to saddle! Let us pursue him, and we shall overtake him!"
"My dear friend," said Aramis, "remember that he goes in an opposite direction from that in which we are going, that he has a fresh horse, and ours are fatigued, so that we shall disable our own horses without even a chance of overtaking him. Let the man go, d'Artagnan; let us save the woman."
"Monsieur, monsieur!" cried a hostler, running out and looking after the stranger, "monsieur, here is a paper which dropped out of your hat! Eh, monsieur, eh!"
"Friend," said d'Artagnan, "a half-pistole for that paper!"
"My faith, monsieur, with great pleasure! Here it is!"
The hostler, enchanted with the good day's work he had done, returned to the yard. D'Artagnan unfolded the paper.
"Well?" eagerly demanded all his three friends.
"Nothing but one word!" said d'Artagnan.
"Yes," said Aramis, "but that one word is the name of some town or village."
"Armentieres," read Porthos; "Armentieres? I don't know such a place."
"And that name of a town or village is written in her hand!" cried Athos.
"Come on, come on!" said d'Artagnan; "let us keep that paper carefully, perhaps I have not thrown away my half-pistole. To horse, my friends, to horse!"
And the four friends flew at a gallop along the road to Bethune.
61 THE CARMELITE CONVENT AT BETHUNE
Great criminals bear about them a kind of predestination which makes them surmount all obstacles, which makes them escape all dangers, up to the moment which a wearied Providence has marked as the rock of their impious fortunes.
It was thus with Milady. She escaped the cruisers of both nations, and arrived at Boulogne without accident.
When landing at Portsmouth, Milady was an Englishwoman whom the persecutions of the French drove from La Rochelle; when landing at Boulogne, after a two days' passage, she passed for a Frenchwoman whom the English persecuted at Portsmouth out of their hatred for France.
Milady had, likewise, the best of passports—her beauty, her noble appearance, and the liberality with which she distributed her pistoles. Freed from the usual formalities by the affable smile and gallant manners of an old governor of the port, who kissed her hand, she only remained long enough at Boulogne to put into the post a letter, conceived in the following terms:
"To his Eminence Monseigneur the Cardinal Richelieu, in his camp before La Rochelle.
"Monseigneur, Let your Eminence be reassured. His Grace the Duke of Buckingham WILL NOT SET OUT for France.
"MILADY DE ——
"BOULOGNE, evening of the twenty-fifth.
"P.S.—According to the desire of your Eminence, I report to the convent of the Carmelites at Bethune, where I will await your orders."
Accordingly, that same evening Milady commenced her journey. Night overtook her; she stopped, and slept at an inn. At five o'clock the next morning she again proceeded, and in three hours after entered Bethune. She inquired for the convent of the Carmelites, and went thither immediately.
The superior met her; Milady showed her the cardinal's order. The abbess assigned her a chamber, and had breakfast served.
All the past was effaced from the eyes of this woman; and her looks, fixed on the future, beheld nothing but the high fortunes reserved for her by the cardinal, whom she had so successfully served without his name being in any way mixed up with the sanguinary affair. The ever-new passions which consumed her gave to her life the appearance of those clouds which float in the heavens, reflecting sometimes azure, sometimes fire, sometimes the opaque blackness of the tempest, and which leave no traces upon the earth behind them but devastation and death.
After breakfast, the abbess came to pay her a visit. There is very little amusement in the cloister, and the good superior was eager to make the acquaintance of her new boarder.
Milady wished to please the abbess. This was a very easy matter for a woman so really superior as she was. She tried to be agreeable, and she was charming, winning the good superior by her varied conversation and by the graces of her whole personality.
The abbess, who was the daughter of a noble house, took particular delight in stories of the court, which so seldom travel to the extremities of the kingdom, and which, above all, have so much difficulty in penetrating the walls of convents, at whose threshold the noise of the world dies away.
Milady, on the contrary, was quite conversant with all aristocratic intrigues, amid which she had constantly lived for five or six years. She made it her business, therefore, to amuse the good abbess with the worldly practices of the court of France, mixed with the eccentric pursuits of the king; she made for her the scandalous chronicle of the lords and ladies of the court, whom the abbess knew perfectly by name, touched lightly on the amours of the queen and the Duke of Buckingham, talking a great deal to induce her auditor to talk a little.
But the abbess contented herself with listening and smiling without replying a word. Milady, however, saw that this sort of narrative amused her very much, and kept at it; only she now let her conversation drift toward the cardinal.
But she was greatly embarrassed. She did not know whether the abbess was a royalist or a cardinalist; she therefore confined herself to a prudent middle course. But the abbess, on her part, maintained a reserve still more prudent, contenting herself with making a profound inclination of the head every time the fair traveler pronounced the name of his Eminence.
Milady began to think she should soon grow weary of a convent life; she resolved, then, to risk something in order that she might know how to act afterward. Desirous of seeing how far the discretion of the good abbess would go, she began to tell a story, obscure at first, but very circumstantial afterward, about the cardinal, relating the amours of the minister with Mme. d'Aiguillon, Marion de Lorme, and several other gay women.
The abbess listened more attentively, grew animated by degrees, and smiled.
"Good," thought Milady; "she takes a pleasure in my conversation. If she is a cardinalist, she has no fanaticism, at least."
She then went on to describe the persecutions exercised by the cardinal upon his enemies. The abbess only crossed herself, without approving or disapproving.
This confirmed Milady in her opinion that the abbess was rather royalist than cardinalist. Milady therefore continued, coloring her narrations more and more.
"I am very ignorant of these matters," said the abbess, at length; "but however distant from the court we may be, however remote from the interests of the world we may be placed, we have very sad examples of what you have related. And one of our boarders has suffered much from the vengeance and persecution of the cardinal!"
"One of your boarders?" said Milady; "oh, my God! Poor woman! I pity her, then."
"And you have reason, for she is much to be pitied. Imprisonment, menaces, ill treatment-she has suffered everything. But after all," resumed the abbess, "Monsieur Cardinal has perhaps plausible motives for acting thus; and though she has the look of an angel, we must not always judge people by the appearance."
"Good!" said Milady to herself; "who knows! I am about, perhaps, to discover something here; I am in the vein."
She tried to give her countenance an appearance of perfect candor.
"Alas," said Milady, "I know it is so. It is said that we must not trust to the face; but in what, then, shall we place confidence, if not in the most beautiful work of the Lord? As for me, I shall be deceived all my life perhaps, but I shall always have faith in a person whose countenance inspires me with sympathy."
"You would, then, be tempted to believe," said the abbess, "that this young person is innocent?"
"The cardinal pursues not only crimes," said she: "there are certain virtues which he pursues more severely than certain offenses."
"Permit me, madame, to express my surprise," said the abbess.
"At what?" said Milady, with the utmost ingenuousness.
"At the language you use."
"What do you find so astonishing in that language?" said Milady, smiling.
"You are the friend of the cardinal, for he sends you hither, and yet—"
"And yet I speak ill of him," replied Milady, finishing the thought of the superior.
"At least you don't speak well of him."
"That is because I am not his friend," said she, sighing, "but his victim!"
"But this letter in which he recommends you to me?"
"Is an order for me to confine myself to a sort of prison, from which he will release me by one of his satellites."
"But why have you not fled?"
"Whither should I go? Do you believe there is a spot on the earth which the cardinal cannot reach if he takes the trouble to stretch forth his hand? If I were a man, that would barely be possible; but what can a woman do? This young boarder of yours, has she tried to fly?"
"No, that is true; but she—that is another thing; I believe she is detained in France by some love affair."
"Ah," said Milady, with a sigh, "if she loves she is not altogether wretched."
"Then," said the abbess, looking at Milady with increasing interest, "I behold another poor victim?"
"Alas, yes," said Milady.
The abbess looked at her for an instant with uneasiness, as if a fresh thought suggested itself to her mind.
"You are not an enemy of our holy faith?" said she, hesitatingly.
"Who—I?" cried Milady; "I a Protestant? Oh, no! I call to witness the God who hears us, that on the contrary I am a fervent Catholic!"
"Then, madame," said the abbess, smiling, "be reassured; the house in which you are shall not be a very hard prison, and we will do all in our power to make you cherish your captivity. You will find here, moreover, the young woman of whom I spoke, who is persecuted, no doubt, in consequence of some court intrigue. She is amiable and well-behaved."
"What is her name?"
"She was sent to me by someone of high rank, under the name of Kitty. I have not tried to discover her other name."
"Kitty!" cried Milady. "What? Are you sure?"
"That she is called so? Yes, madame. Do you know her?"
Milady smiled to herself at the idea which had occurred to her that this might be her old chambermaid. There was connected with the remembrance of this girl a remembrance of anger; and a desire of vengeance disordered the features of Milady, which, however, immediately recovered the calm and benevolent expression which this woman of a hundred faces had for a moment allowed them to lose.
"And when can I see this young lady, for whom I already feel so great a sympathy?" asked Milady.
"Why, this evening," said the abbess; "today even. But you have been traveling these four days, as you told me yourself. This morning you rose at five o'clock; you must stand in need of repose. Go to bed and sleep; at dinnertime we will rouse you."
Although Milady would very willingly have gone without sleep, sustained as she was by all the excitements which a new adventure awakened in her heart, ever thirsting for intrigues, she nevertheless accepted the offer of the superior. During the last fifteen days she had experienced so many and such various emotions that if her frame of iron was still capable of supporting fatigue, her mind required repose.
She therefore took leave of the abbess, and went to bed, softly rocked by the ideas of vengeance which the name of Kitty had naturally brought to her thoughts. She remembered that almost unlimited promise which the cardinal had given her if she succeeded in her enterprise. She had succeeded; d'Artagnan was then in her power!
One thing alone frightened her; that was the remembrance of her husband, the Comte de la Fere, whom she had believed dead, or at least expatriated, and whom she found again in Athos-the best friend of d'Artagnan.
But alas, if he was the friend of d'Artagnan, he must have lent him his assistance in all the proceedings by whose aid the queen had defeated the project of his Eminence; if he was the friend of d'Artagnan, he was the enemy of the cardinal; and she doubtless would succeed in involving him in the vengeance by which she hoped to destroy the young Musketeer.
All these hopes were so many sweet thoughts for Milady; so, rocked by them, she soon fell asleep.
She was awakened by a soft voice which sounded at the foot of her bed. She opened her eyes, and saw the abbess, accompanied by a young woman with light hair and delicate complexion, who fixed upon her a look full of benevolent curiosity.
The face of the young woman was entirely unknown to her. Each examined the other with great attention, while exchanging the customary compliments; both were very handsome, but of quite different styles of beauty. Milady, however, smiled in observing that she excelled the young woman by far in her high air and aristocratic bearing. It is true that the habit of a novice, which the young woman wore, was not very advantageous in a contest of this kind.
The abbess introduced them to each other. When this formality was ended, as her duties called her to chapel, she left the two young women alone.
The novice, seeing Milady in bed, was about to follow the example of the superior; but Milady stopped her.
"How, madame," said she, "I have scarcely seen you, and you already wish to deprive me of your company, upon which I had counted a little, I must confess, for the time I have to pass here?"
"No, madame," replied the novice, "only I thought I had chosen my time ill; you were asleep, you are fatigued."
"Well," said Milady, "what can those who sleep wish for—a happy awakening? This awakening you have given me; allow me, then, to enjoy it at my ease," and taking her hand, she drew her toward the armchair by the bedside.
The novice sat down.
"How unfortunate I am!" said she; "I have been here six months without the shadow of recreation. You arrive, and your presence was likely to afford me delightful company; yet I expect, in all probability, to quit the convent at any moment."
"How, you are going soon?" asked Milady.
"At least I hope so," said the novice, with an expression of joy which she made no effort to disguise.
"I think I learned you had suffered persecutions from the cardinal," continued Milady; "that would have been another motive for sympathy between us."
"What I have heard, then, from our good mother is true; you have likewise been a victim of that wicked priest."
"Hush!" said Milady; "let us not, even here, speak thus of him. All my misfortunes arise from my having said nearly what you have said before a woman whom I thought my friend, and who betrayed me. Are you also the victim of a treachery?"
"No," said the novice, "but of my devotion—of a devotion to a woman I loved, for whom I would have laid down my life, for whom I would give it still."
"And who has abandoned you—is that it?"
"I have been sufficiently unjust to believe so; but during the last two or three days I have obtained proof to the contrary, for which I thank God—for it would have cost me very dear to think she had forgotten me. But you, madame, you appear to be free," continued the novice; "and if you were inclined to fly it only rests with yourself to do so."
"Whither would you have me go, without friends, without money, in a part of France with which I am unacquainted, and where I have never been before?"
"Oh," cried the novice, "as to friends, you would have them wherever you want, you appear so good and are so beautiful!"
"That does not prevent," replied Milady, softening her smile so as to give it an angelic expression, "my being alone or being persecuted."
"Hear me," said the novice; "we must trust in heaven. There always comes a moment when the good you have done pleads your cause before God; and see, perhaps it is a happiness for you, humble and powerless as I am, that you have met with me, for if I leave this place, well-I have powerful friends, who, after having exerted themselves on my account, may also exert themselves for you."
"Oh, when I said I was alone," said Milady, hoping to make the novice talk by talking of herself, "it is not for want of friends in high places; but these friends themselves tremble before the cardinal. The queen herself does not dare to oppose the terrible minister. I have proof that her Majesty, notwithstanding her excellent heart, has more than once been obliged to abandon to the anger of his Eminence persons who had served her."
"Trust me, madame; the queen may appear to have abandoned those persons, but we must not put faith in appearances. The more they are persecuted, the more she thinks of them; and often, when they least expect it, they have proof of a kind remembrance."
"Alas!" said Milady, "I believe so; the queen is so good!"
"Oh, you know her, then, that lovely and noble queen, that you speak of her thus!" cried the novice, with enthusiasm.
"That is to say," replied Milady, driven into her entrenchment, "that I have not the honor of knowing her personally; but I know a great number of her most intimate friends. I am acquainted with Monsieur de Putange; I met Monsieur Dujart in England; I know Monsieur de Treville."
"Monsieur de Treville!" exclaimed the novice, "do you know Monsieur de Treville?"
"Yes, perfectly well—intimately even."
"The captain of the king's Musketeers?"
"The captain of the king's Musketeers."
"Why, then, only see!" cried the novice; "we shall soon be well acquainted, almost friends. If you know Monsieur de Treville, you must have visited him?"
"Often!" said Milady, who, having entered this track, and perceiving that falsehood succeeded, was determined to follow it to the end.
"With him, then, you must have seen some of his Musketeers?"
"All those he is in the habit of receiving!" replied Milady, for whom this conversation began to have a real interest.
"Name a few of those whom you know, and you will see if they are my friends."
"Well!" said Milady, embarrassed, "I know Monsieur de Louvigny, Monsieur de Courtivron, Monsieur de Ferussac."
The novice let her speak, then seeing that she paused, she said, "Don't you know a gentleman named Athos?"
Milady became as pale as the sheets in which she was lying, and mistress as she was of herself, could not help uttering a cry, seizing the hand of the novice, and devouring her with looks.
"What is the matter? Good God!" asked the poor woman, "have I said anything that has wounded you?"
"No; but the name struck me, because I also have known that gentleman, and it appeared strange to me to meet with a person who appears to know him well."
"Oh, yes, very well; not only him, but some of his friends, Messieurs Porthos and Aramis!"
"Indeed! you know them likewise? I know them," cried Milady, who began to feel a chill penetrate her heart.
"Well, if you know them, you know that they are good and free companions. Why do you not apply to them, if you stand in need of help?"
"That is to say," stammered Milady, "I am not really very intimate with any of them. I know them from having heard one of their friends, Monsieur d'Artagnan, say a great deal about them."
"You know Monsieur d'Artagnan!" cried the novice, in her turn seizing the hands of Milady and devouring her with her eyes.
Then remarking the strange expression of Milady's countenance, she said, "Pardon me, madame; you know him by what title?"
"Why," replied Milady, embarrassed, "why, by the title of friend."
"You deceive me, madame," said the novice; "you have been his mistress!"
"It is you who have been his mistress, madame!" cried Milady, in her turn.
"I?" said the novice.
"Yes, you! I know you now. You are Madame Bonacieux!"
The young woman drew back, filled with surprise and terror.
"Oh, do not deny it! Answer!" continued Milady.
"Well, yes, madame," said the novice, "Are we rivals?"
The countenance of Milady was illumined by so savage a joy that under any other circumstances Mme. Bonacieux would have fled in terror; but she was absorbed by jealousy.
"Speak, madame!" resumed Mme. Bonacieux, with an energy of which she might not have been believed capable. "Have you been, or are you, his mistress?"
"Oh, no!" cried Milady, with an accent that admitted no doubt of her truth. "Never, never!"
"I believe you," said Mme. Bonacieux; "but why, then, did you cry out so?"
"Do you not understand?" said Milady, who had already overcome her agitation and recovered all her presence of mind.
"How can I understand? I know nothing."
"Can you not understand that Monsieur d'Artagnan, being my friend, might take me into his confidence?"
"Do you not perceive that I know all—your abduction from the little house at St. Germain, his despair, that of his friends, and their useless inquiries up to this moment? How could I help being astonished when, without having the least expectation of such a thing, I meet you face to face—you, of whom we have so often spoken together, you whom he loves with all his soul, you whom he had taught me to love before I had seen you! Ah, dear Constance, I have found you, then; I see you at last!"
And Milady stretched out her arms to Mme. Bonacieux, who, convinced by what she had just said, saw nothing in this woman whom an instant before she had believed her rival but a sincere and devoted friend.
"Oh, pardon me, pardon me!" cried she, sinking upon the shoulders of Milady. "Pardon me, I love him so much!"
These two women held each other for an instant in a close embrace. Certainly, if Milady's strength had been equal to her hatred, Mme. Bonacieux would never have left that embrace alive. But not being able to stifle her, she smiled upon her.
"Oh, you beautiful, good little creature!" said Milady. "How delighted I am to have found you! Let me look at you!" and while saying these words, she absolutely devoured her by her looks. "Oh, yes it is you indeed! From what he has told me, I know you now. I recognize you perfectly."
The poor young woman could not possibly suspect what frightful cruelty was behind the rampart of that pure brow, behind those brilliant eyes in which she read nothing but interest and compassion.
"Then you know what I have suffered," said Mme. Bonacieux, "since he has told you what he has suffered; but to suffer for him is happiness."
Milady replied mechanically, "Yes, that is happiness." She was thinking of something else.
"And then," continued Mme. Bonacieux, "my punishment is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, this evening, perhaps, I shall see him again; and then the past will no longer exist."
"This evening?" asked Milady, roused from her reverie by these words. "What do you mean? Do you expect news from him?"
"I expect himself."
"Himself? D'Artagnan here?"
"But that's impossible! He is at the siege of La Rochelle with the cardinal. He will not return till after the taking of the city."
"Ah, you fancy so! But is there anything impossible for my d'Artagnan, the noble and loyal gentleman?"
"Oh, I cannot believe you!"
"Well, read, then!" said the unhappy young woman, in the excess of her pride and joy, presenting a letter to Milady.
"The writing of Madame de Chevreuse!" said Milady to herself. "Ah, I always thought there was some secret understanding in that quarter!" And she greedily read the following few lines:
My Dear Child, Hold yourself ready. OUR FRIEND will see you soon, and he will only see you to release you from that imprisonment in which your safety required you should be concealed. Prepare, then, for your departure, and never despair of us.
Our charming Gascon has just proved himself as brave and faithful as ever. Tell him that certain parties are grateful for the warning he has given.
"Yes, yes," said Milady; "the letter is precise. Do you know what that warning was?"
"No, I only suspect he has warned the queen against some fresh machinations of the cardinal."
"Yes, that's it, no doubt!" said Milady, returning the letter to Mme. Bonacieux, and letting her head sink pensively upon her bosom.
At that moment they heard the gallop of a horse.
"Oh!" cried Mme. Bonacieux, darting to the window, "can it be he?"
Milady remained still in bed, petrified by surprise; so many unexpected things happened to her all at once that for the first time she was at a loss.
"He, he!" murmured she; "can it be he?" And she remained in bed with her eyes fixed.
"Alas, no!" said Mme. Bonacieux; "it is a man I don't know, although he seems to be coming here. Yes, he checks his pace; he stops at the gate; he rings."
Milady sprang out of bed.
"You are sure it is not he?" said she.
"Yes, yes, very sure!"
"Perhaps you did not see well."
"Oh, if I were to see the plume of his hat, the end of his cloak, I should know HIM!"
Milady was dressing herself all the time.
"Yes, he has entered."
"It is for you or me!"
"My God, how agitated you seem!"
"Yes, I admit it. I have not your confidence; I fear the cardinal."
"Hush!" said Mme. Bonacieux; "somebody is coming."
Immediately the door opened, and the superior entered.
"Did you come from Boulogne?" demanded she of Milady.
"Yes," replied she, trying to recover her self-possession. "Who wants me?"
"A man who will not tell his name, but who comes from the cardinal."
"And who wishes to speak with me?"
"Who wishes to speak to a lady recently come from Boulogne."
"Then let him come in, if you please."
"Oh, my God, my God!" cried Mme. Bonacieux. "Can it be bad news?"
"I fear it."
"I will leave you with this stranger; but as soon as he is gone, if you will permit me, I will return."
"PERMIT you? I BESEECH you."
The superior and Mme. Bonacieux retired.
Milady remained alone, with her eyes fixed upon the door. An instant later, the jingling of spurs was heard upon the stairs, steps drew near, the door opened, and a man appeared.
Milady uttered a cry of joy; this man was the Comte de Rochefort—the demoniacal tool of his Eminence.
62 TWO VARIETIES OF DEMONS
"Ah," cried Milady and Rochefort together, "it is you!"
"Yes, it is I."
"And you come?" asked Milady.
"From La Rochelle; and you?"
"Dead or desperately wounded, as I left without having been able to hear anything of him. A fanatic has just assassinated him."
"Ah," said Rochefort, with a smile; "this is a fortunate chance—one that will delight his Eminence! Have you informed him of it?"
"I wrote to him from Boulogne. But what brings you here?"
"His Eminence was uneasy, and sent me to find you."
"I only arrived yesterday."
"And what have you been doing since yesterday?"
"I have not lost my time."
"Oh, I don't doubt that."
"Do you know whom I have encountered here?"
"How can I?"
"That young woman whom the queen took out of prison."
"The mistress of that fellow d'Artagnan?"
"Yes; Madame Bonacieux, with whose retreat the cardinal was unacquainted."
"Well, well," said Rochefort, "here is a chance which may pair off with the other! Monsieur Cardinal is indeed a privileged man!"
"Imagine my astonishment," continued Milady, "when I found myself face to face with this woman!"
"Does she know you?"
"Then she looks upon you as a stranger?"
Milady smiled. "I am her best friend."
"Upon my honor," said Rochefort, "it takes you, my dear countess, to perform such miracles!"
"And it is well I can, Chevalier," said Milady, "for do you know what is going on here?"
"They will come for her tomorrow or the day after, with an order from the queen."
"Indeed! And who?"
"d'Artagnan and his friends."
"Indeed, they will go so far that we shall be obliged to send them to the Bastille."
"Why is it not done already?"
"What would you? The cardinal has a weakness for these men which I cannot comprehend."
"Well, then, tell him this, Rochefort. Tell him that our conversation at the inn of the Red Dovecot was overheard by these four men; tell him that after his departure one of them came up to me and took from me by violence the safe-conduct which he had given me; tell him they warned Lord de Winter of my journey to England; that this time they nearly foiled my mission as they foiled the affair of the studs; tell him that among these four men two only are to be feared—d'Artagnan and Athos; tell him that the third, Aramis, is the lover of Madame de Chevreuse—he may be left alone, we know his secret, and it may be useful; as to the fourth, Porthos, he is a fool, a simpleton, a blustering booby, not worth troubling himself about."
"But these four men must be now at the siege of La Rochelle?"
"I thought so, too; but a letter which Madame Bonacieux has received from Madame the Constable, and which she has had the imprudence to show me, leads me to believe that these four men, on the contrary, are on the road hither to take her away."
"The devil! What's to be done?"
"What did the cardinal say about me?"
"I was to take your dispatches, written or verbal, and return by post; and when he shall know what you have done, he will advise what you have to do."
"I must, then, remain here?"
"Here, or in the neighborhood."
"You cannot take me with you?"
"No, the order is imperative. Near the camp you might be recognized; and your presence, you must be aware, would compromise the cardinal."
"Then I must wait here, or in the neighborhood?"
"Only tell me beforehand where you will wait for intelligence from the cardinal; let me know always where to find you."
"Observe, it is probable that I may not be able to remain here."
"You forget that my enemies may arrive at any minute."
"That's true; but is this little woman, then, to escape his Eminence?"
"Bah!" said Milady, with a smile that belonged only to herself; "you forget that I am her best friend."
"Ah, that's true! I may then tell the cardinal, with respect to this little woman—"
"That he may be at ease."
"Is that all?"
"He will know what that means."
"He will guess, at least. Now, then, what had I better do?"
"Return instantly. It appears to me that the news you bear is worth the trouble of a little diligence."
"My chaise broke down coming into Lilliers."
"Yes, I want your chaise."
"And how shall I travel, then?"
"You talk very comfortably,—a hundred and eighty leagues!"
"One can do it! Afterward?"
"Afterward? Why, in passing through Lilliers you will send me your chaise, with an order to your servant to place himself at my disposal."
"You have, no doubt, some order from the cardinal about you?"
"I have my FULL POWER."
"Show it to the abbess, and tell her that someone will come and fetch me, either today or tomorrow, and that I am to follow the person who presents himself in your name."
"Don't forget to treat me harshly in speaking of me to the abbess."
"To what purpose?"
"I am a victim of the cardinal. It is necessary to inspire confidence in that poor little Madame Bonacieux."
"That's true. Now, will you make me a report of all that has happened?"
"Why, I have related the events to you. You have a good memory; repeat what I have told you. A paper may be lost."
"You are right; only let me know where to find you that I may not run needlessly about the neighborhood."
"That's correct; wait!"
"Do you want a map?"
"Oh, I know this country marvelously!"
"You? When were you here?"
"I was brought up here."
"It is worth something, you see, to have been brought up somewhere."
"You will wait for me, then?"
"Let me reflect a little! Ay, that will do—at Armentieres."
"Where is that Armentieres?"
"A little town on the Lys; I shall only have to cross the river, and I shall be in a foreign country."
"Capital! but it is understood you will only cross the river in case of danger."
"That is well understood."
"And in that case, how shall I know where you are?"
"You do not want your lackey?"
"Is he a sure man?"
"To the proof."
"Give him to me. Nobody knows him. I will leave him at the place I quit, and he will conduct you to me."
"And you say you will wait for me at Armentieres?"
"Write that name on a bit of paper, lest I should forget it. There is nothing compromising in the name of a town. Is it not so?"
"Eh, who knows? Never mind," said Milady, writing the name on half a sheet of paper; "I will compromise myself."
"Well," said Rochefort, taking the paper from Milady, folding it, and placing it in the lining of his hat, "you may be easy. I will do as children do, for fear of losing the paper—repeat the name along the route. Now, is that all?"
"I believe so."
"Let us see: Buckingham dead or grievously wounded; your conversation with the cardinal overheard by the four Musketeers; Lord de Winter warned of your arrival at Portsmouth; d'Artagnan and Athos to the Bastille; Aramis the lover of Madame de Chevreuse; Porthos an ass; Madame Bonacieux found again; to send you the chaise as soon as possible; to place my lackey at your disposal; to make you out a victim of the cardinal in order that the abbess may entertain no suspicion; Armentieres, on the banks of the Lys. Is that all, then?"
"In truth, my dear Chevalier, you are a miracle of memory. A PROPOS, add one thing—"
"I saw some very pretty woods which almost touch the convent garden. Say that I am permitted to walk in those woods. Who knows? Perhaps I shall stand in need of a back door for retreat."
"You think of everything."
"And you forget one thing."
"To ask me if I want money."
"That's true. How much do you want?"
"All you have in gold."
"I have five hundred pistoles, or thereabouts."
"I have as much. With a thousand pistoles one may face everything. Empty your pockets."
"Right. And you go—"
"In an hour—time to eat a morsel, during which I shall send for a post horse."
"Capital! Adieu, Chevalier."
"Commend me to the cardinal."
"Commend me to Satan."
Milady and Rochefort exchanged a smile and separated. An hour afterward Rochefort set out at a grand gallop; five hours after that he passed through Arras.
Our readers already know how he was recognized by d'Artagnan, and how that recognition by inspiring fear in the four Musketeers had given fresh activity to their journey.
63 THE DROP OF WATER
Rochefort had scarcely departed when Mme. Bonacieux re-entered. She found Milady with a smiling countenance.
"Well," said the young woman, "what you dreaded has happened. This evening, or tomorrow, the cardinal will send someone to take you away."
"Who told you that, my dear?" asked Milady.
"I heard it from the mouth of the messenger himself."
"Come and sit down close to me," said Milady.
"Here I am."
"Wait till I assure myself that nobody hears us."
"Why all these precautions?"
"You shall know."
Milady arose, went to the door, opened it, looked in the corridor, and then returned and seated herself close to Mme. Bonacieux.
"Then," said she, "he has well played his part."
"He who just now presented himself to the abbess as a messenger from the cardinal."
"It was, then, a part he was playing?"
"Yes, my child."
"That man, then, was not—"
"That man," said Milady, lowering her voice, "is my brother."
"Your brother!" cried Mme. Bonacieux.
"No one must know this secret, my dear, but yourself. If you reveal it to anyone in the world, I shall be lost, and perhaps yourself likewise."
"Oh, my God!"
"Listen. This is what has happened: My brother, who was coming to my assistance to take me away by force if it were necessary, met with the emissary of the cardinal, who was coming in search of me. He followed him. At a solitary and retired part of the road he drew his sword, and required the messenger to deliver up to him the papers of which he was the bearer. The messenger resisted; my brother killed him."
"Oh!" said Mme. Bonacieux, shuddering.
"Remember, that was the only means. Then my brother determined to substitute cunning for force. He took the papers, and presented himself here as the emissary of the cardinal, and in an hour or two a carriage will come to take me away by the orders of his Eminence."
"I understand. It is your brother who sends this carriage."
"Exactly; but that is not all. That letter you have received, and which you believe to be from Madame de Chevreuse—"
"It is a forgery."
"How can that be?"
"Yes, a forgery; it is a snare to prevent your making any resistance when they come to fetch you."
"But it is d'Artagnan that will come."
"Do not deceive yourself. D'Artagnan and his friends are detained at the siege of La Rochelle."
"How do you know that?"
"My brother met some emissaries of the cardinal in the uniform of Musketeers. You would have been summoned to the gate; you would have believed yourself about to meet friends; you would have been abducted, and conducted back to Paris."
"Oh, my God! My senses fail me amid such a chaos of iniquities. I feel, if this continues," said Mme. Bonacieux, raising her hands to her forehead, "I shall go mad!"
"I hear a horse's steps; it is my brother setting off again. I should like to offer him a last salute. Come!"
Milady opened the window, and made a sign to Mme. Bonacieux to join her. The young woman complied.
Rochefort passed at a gallop.
"Adieu, brother!" cried Milady.
The chevalier raised his head, saw the two young women, and without stopping, waved his hand in a friendly way to Milady.
"The good George!" said she, closing the window with an expression of countenance full of affection and melancholy. And she resumed her seat, as if plunged in reflections entirely personal.
"Dear lady," said Mme. Bonacieux, "pardon me for interrupting you; but what do you advise me to do? Good heaven! You have more experience than I have. Speak; I will listen."
"In the first place," said Milady, "it is possible I may be deceived, and that d'Artagnan and his friends may really come to your assistance."
"Oh, that would be too much!" cried Mme. Bonacieux, "so much happiness is not in store for me!"
"Then you comprehend it would be only a question of time, a sort of race, which should arrive first. If your friends are the more speedy, you are to be saved; if the satellites of the cardinal, you are lost."
"Oh, yes, yes; lost beyond redemption! What, then, to do? What to do?"
"There would be a very simple means, very natural—"
"Tell me what!"
"To wait, concealed in the neighborhood, and assure yourself who are the men who come to ask for you."
"But where can I wait?"
"Oh, there is no difficulty in that. I shall stop and conceal myself a few leagues hence until my brother can rejoin me. Well, I take you with me; we conceal ourselves, and wait together."
"But I shall not be allowed to go; I am almost a prisoner."
"As they believe that I go in consequence of an order from the cardinal, no one will believe you anxious to follow me."
"Well! The carriage is at the door; you bid me adieu; you mount the step to embrace me a last time; my brother's servant, who comes to fetch me, is told how to proceed; he makes a sign to the postillion, and we set off at a gallop."
"But d'Artagnan! D'Artagnan! if he comes?"
"Shall we not know it?"
"Nothing easier. We will send my brother's servant back to Bethune, whom, as I told you, we can trust. He shall assume a disguise, and place himself in front of the convent. If the emissaries of the cardinal arrive, he will take no notice; if it is Monsieur d'Artagnan and his friends, he will bring them to us."
"He knows them, then?"
"Doubtless. Has he not seen Monsieur d'Artagnan at my house?"
"Oh, yes, yes; you are right. Thus all may go well—all may be for the best; but we do not go far from this place?"
"Seven or eight leagues at the most. We will keep on the frontiers, for instance; and at the first alarm we can leave France."
"And what can we do there?"
"But if they come?"
"My brother's carriage will be here first."
"If I should happen to be any distance from you when the carriage comes for you—at dinner or supper, for instance?"
"Do one thing."
"What is that?"
"Tell your good superior that in order that we may be as much together as possible, you ask her permission to share my repast."
"Will she permit it?"
"What inconvenience can it be?"
"Oh, delightful! In this way we shall not be separated for an instant."
"Well, go down to her, then, to make your request. I feel my head a little confused; I will take a turn in the garden."
"Go and where shall I find you?"
"Here, in an hour."
"Here, in an hour. Oh, you are so kind, and I am so grateful!"
"How can I avoid interesting myself for one who is so beautiful and so amiable? Are you not the beloved of one of my best friends?"
"Dear d'Artagnan! Oh, how he will thank you!"
"I hope so. Now, then, all is agreed; let us go down."
"You are going into the garden?"
"Go along this corridor, down a little staircase, and you are in it."
"Excellent; thank you!"
And the two women parted, exchanging charming smiles.
Milady had told the truth—her head was confused, for her ill-arranged plans clashed one another like chaos. She required to be alone that she might put her thoughts a little into order. She saw vaguely the future; but she stood in need of a little silence and quiet to give all her ideas, as yet confused, a distinct form and a regular plan.
What was most pressing was to get Mme. Bonacieux away, and convey her to a place of safety, and there, if matters required, make her a hostage. Milady began to have doubts of the issue of this terrible duel, in which her enemies showed as much perseverance as she did animosity.
Besides, she felt as we feel when a storm is coming on—that this issue was near, and could not fail to be terrible.
The principal thing for her, then, was, as we have said, to keep Mme. Bonacieux in her power. Mme. Bonacieux was the very life of d'Artagnan. This was more than his life, the life of the woman he loved; this was, in case of ill fortune, a means of temporizing and obtaining good conditions.
Now, this point was settled; Mme. Bonacieux, without any suspicion, accompanied her. Once concealed with her at Armentieres, it would be easy to make her believe that d'Artagnan had not come to Bethune. In fifteen days at most, Rochefort would be back; besides, during that fifteen days she would have time to think how she could best avenge herself on the four friends. She would not be weary, thank God! for she should enjoy the sweetest pastime such events could accord a woman of her character—perfecting a beautiful vengeance.
Revolving all this in her mind, she cast her eyes around her, and arranged the topography of the garden in her head. Milady was like a good general who contemplates at the same time victory and defeat, and who is quite prepared, according to the chances of the battle, to march forward or to beat a retreat.
At the end of an hour she heard a soft voice calling her; it was Mme. Bonacieux's. The good abbess had naturally consented to her request; and as a commencement, they were to sup together.
On reaching the courtyard, they heard the noise of a carriage which stopped at the gate.
"Do you hear anything?" said she.
"Yes, the rolling of a carriage."
"It is the one my brother sends for us."
"Oh, my God!"
"Come, come! courage!"
The bell of the convent gate was sounded; Milady was not mistaken.
"Go to your chamber," said she to Mme. Bonacieux; "you have perhaps some jewels you would like to take."
"I have his letters," said she.
"Well, go and fetch them, and come to my apartment. We will snatch some supper; we shall perhaps travel part of the night, and must keep our strength up."
"Great God!" said Mme. Bonacieux, placing her hand upon her bosom, "my heart beats so I cannot walk."
"Courage, courage! remember that in a quarter of an hour you will be safe; and think that what you are about to do is for HIS sake."
"Yes, yes, everything for him. You have restored my courage by a single word; go, I will rejoin you."
Milady ran up to her apartment quickly; she there found Rochefort's lackey, and gave him his instructions.
He was to wait at the gate; if by chance the Musketeers should appear, the carriage was to set off as fast as possible, pass around the convent, and go and wait for Milady at a little village which was situated at the other side of the wood. In this case Milady would cross the garden and gain the village on foot. As we have already said, Milady was admirably acquainted with this part of France.
If the Musketeers did not appear, things were to go on as had been agreed; Mme. Bonacieux was to get into the carriage as if to bid her adieu, and she was to take away Mme. Bonacieux.
Mme. Bonacieux came in; and to remove all suspicion, if she had any, Milady repeated to the lackey, before her, the latter part of her instructions.
Milady asked some questions about the carriage. It was a chaise drawn by three horses, driven by a postillion; Rochefort's lackey would precede it, as courier.
Milady was wrong in fearing that Mme. Bonacieux would have any suspicion. The poor young woman was too pure to suppose that any female could be guilty of such perfidy; besides, the name of the Comtesse de Winter, which she had heard the abbess pronounce, was wholly unknown to her, and she was even ignorant that a woman had had so great and so fatal a share in the misfortune of her life.
"You see," said she, when the lackey had gone out, "everything is ready. The abbess suspects nothing, and believes that I am taken by order of the cardinal. This man goes to give his last orders; take the least thing, drink a finger of wine, and let us be gone."
"Yes," said Mme. Bonacieux, mechanically, "yes, let us be gone."
Milady made her a sign to sit down opposite, poured her a small glass of Spanish wine, and helped her to the wing of a chicken.
"See," said she, "if everything does not second us! Here is night coming on; by daybreak we shall have reached our retreat, and nobody can guess where we are. Come, courage! take something."
Mme. Bonacieux ate a few mouthfuls mechanically, and just touched the glass with her lips.
"Come, come!" said Milady, lifting hers to her mouth, "do as I do."
But at the moment the glass touched her lips, her hand remained suspended; she heard something on the road which sounded like the rattling of a distant gallop. Then it grew nearer, and it seemed to her, almost at the same time, that she heard the neighing of horses.
This noise acted upon her joy like the storm which awakens the sleeper in the midst of a happy dream; she grew pale and ran to the window, while Mme. Bonacieux, rising all in a tremble, supported herself upon her chair to avoid falling. Nothing was yet to be seen, only they heard the galloping draw nearer.
"Oh, my God!" said Mme. Bonacieux, "what is that noise?"
"That of either our friends or our enemies," said Milady, with her terrible coolness. "Stay where you are, I will tell you."
Mme. Bonacieux remained standing, mute, motionless, and pale as a statue.
The noise became louder; the horses could not be more than a hundred and fifty paces distant. If they were not yet to be seen, it was because the road made an elbow. The noise became so distinct that the horses might be counted by the rattle of their hoofs.
Milady gazed with all the power of her attention; it was just light enough for her to see who was coming.
All at once, at the turning of the road she saw the glitter of laced hats and the waving of feathers; she counted two, then five, then eight horsemen. One of them preceded the rest by double the length of his horse.
Milady uttered a stifled groan. In the first horseman she recognized d'Artagnan.
"Oh, my God, my God," cried Mme. Bonacieux, "what is it?"
"It is the uniform of the cardinal's Guards. Not an instant to be lost! Fly, fly!"
"Yes, yes, let us fly!" repeated Mme. Bonacieux, but without being able to make a step, glued as she was to the spot by terror.
They heard the horsemen pass under the windows.
"Come, then, come, then!" cried Milady, trying to drag the young woman along by the arm. "Thanks to the garden, we yet can flee; I have the key, but make haste! in five minutes it will be too late!"
Mme. Bonacieux tried to walk, made two steps, and sank upon her knees. Milady tried to raise and carry her, but could not do it.
At this moment they heard the rolling of the carriage, which at the approach of the Musketeers set off at a gallop. Then three or four shots were fired.
"For the last time, will you come?" cried Milady.
"Oh, my God, my God! you see my strength fails me; you see plainly I cannot walk. Flee alone!"
"Flee alone, and leave you here? No, no, never!" cried Milady.
All at once she paused, a livid flash darted from her eyes; she ran to the table, emptied into Mme. Bonacieux's glass the contents of a ring which she opened with singular quickness. It was a grain of a reddish color, which dissolved immediately.
Then, taking the glass with a firm hand, she said, "Drink. This wine will give you strength, drink!" And she put the glass to the lips of the young woman, who drank mechanically.
"This is not the way that I wished to avenge myself," said Milady, replacing the glass upon the table, with an infernal smile, "but, my faith! we do what we can!" And she rushed out of the room.
Mme. Bonacieux saw her go without being able to follow her; she was like people who dream they are pursued, and who in vain try to walk.
A few moments passed; a great noise was heard at the gate. Every instant Mme. Bonacieux expected to see Milady, but she did not return. Several times, with terror, no doubt, the cold sweat burst from her burning brow.
At length she heard the grating of the hinges of the opening gates; the noise of boots and spurs resounded on the stairs. There was a great murmur of voices which continued to draw near, amid which she seemed to hear her own name pronounced.
All at once she uttered a loud cry of joy, and darted toward the door; she had recognized the voice of d'Artagnan.
"d'Artagnan! D'Artagnan!" cried she, "is it you? This way! this way!"
"Constance? Constance?" replied the young man, "where are you? where are you? My God!"
At the same moment the door of the cell yielded to a shock, rather than opened; several men rushed into the chamber. Mme. Bonacieux had sunk into an armchair, without the power of moving.
D'Artagnan threw down a yet-smoking pistol which he held in his hand, and fell on his knees before his mistress. Athos replaced his in his belt; Porthos and Aramis, who held their drawn swords in their hands, returned them to their scabbards.
"Oh, d'Artagnan, my beloved d'Artagnan! You have come, then, at last! You have not deceived me! It is indeed thee!"
"Yes, yes, Constance. Reunited!"
"Oh, it was in vain she told me you would not come! I hoped in silence. I was not willing to fly. Oh, I have done well! How happy I am!"
At this word SHE, Athos, who had seated himself quietly, started up.
"SHE! What she?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Why, my companion. She who out of friendship for me wished to take me from my persecutors. She who, mistaking you for the cardinal's Guards, has just fled away."
"Your companion!" cried d'Artagnan, becoming more pale than the white veil of his mistress. "Of what companion are you speaking, dear Constance?"
"Of her whose carriage was at the gate; of a woman who calls herself your friend; of a woman to whom you have told everything."
"Her name, her name!" cried d'Artagnan. "My God, can you not remember her name?"
"Yes, it was pronounced in my hearing once. Stop—but—it is very strange—oh, my God, my head swims! I cannot see!"
"Help, help, my friends! her hands are icy cold," cried d'Artagnan. "She is ill! Great God, she is losing her senses!"
While Porthos was calling for help with all the power of his strong voice, Aramis ran to the table to get a glass of water; but he stopped at seeing the horrible alteration that had taken place in the countenance of Athos, who, standing before the table, his hair rising from his head, his eyes fixed in stupor, was looking at one of the glasses, and appeared a prey to the most horrible doubt.
"Oh!" said Athos, "oh, no, it is impossible! God would not permit such a crime!"
"Water, water!" cried d'Artagnan. "Water!"
"Oh, poor woman, poor woman!" murmured Athos, in a broken voice.
Mme. Bonacieux opened her eyes under the kisses of d'Artagnan.
"She revives!" cried the young man. "Oh, my God, my God, I thank thee!"
"Madame!" said Athos, "madame, in the name of heaven, whose empty glass is this?"
"Mine, monsieur," said the young woman, in a dying voice.
"But who poured the wine for you that was in this glass?"
"But who is SHE?"
"Oh, I remember!" said Mme. Bonacieux, "the Comtesse de Winter."
The four friends uttered one and the same cry, but that of Athos dominated all the rest.
At that moment the countenance of Mme. Bonacieux became livid; a fearful agony pervaded her frame, and she sank panting into the arms of Porthos and Aramis.
D'Artagnan seized the hands of Athos with an anguish difficult to be described.
"And what do you believe?' His voice was stifled by sobs.
"I believe everything," said Athos biting his lips till the blood sprang to avoid sighing.
"d'Artagnan, d'Artagnan!" cried Mme. Bonacieux, "where art thou? Do not leave me! You see I am dying!"
D'Artagnan released the hands of Athos which he still held clasped in both his own, and hastened to her. Her beautiful face was distorted with agony; her glassy eyes had no longer their sight; a convulsive shuddering shook her whole body; the sweat rolled from her brow.
"In the name of heaven, run, call! Aramis! Porthos! Call for help!"
"Useless!" said Athos, "useless! For the poison which SHE pours there is no antidote."
"Yes, yes! Help, help!" murmured Mme. Bonacieux; "help!"
Then, collecting all her strength, she took the head of the young man between her hands, looked at him for an instant as if her whole soul passed into that look, and with a sobbing cry pressed her lips to his.
"Constance, Constance!" cried d'Artagnan.
A sigh escaped from the mouth of Mme. Bonacieux, and dwelt for an instant on the lips of d'Artagnan. That sigh was the soul, so chaste and so loving, which reascended to heaven.
D'Artagnan pressed nothing but a corpse in his arms. The young man uttered a cry, and fell by the side of his mistress as pale and as icy as herself.
Porthos wept; Aramis pointed toward heaven; Athos made the sign of the cross.
At that moment a man appeared in the doorway, almost as pale as those in the chamber. He looked around him and saw Mme. Bonacieux dead, and d'Artagnan in a swoon. He appeared just at that moment of stupor which follows great catastrophes.
"I was not deceived," said he; "here is Monsieur d'Artagnan; and you are his friends, Messieurs Athos, Porthos, and Aramis."
The persons whose names were thus pronounced looked at the stranger with astonishment. It seemed to all three that they knew him.
"Gentlemen," resumed the newcomer, "you are, as I am, in search of a woman who," added he, with a terrible smile, "must have passed this way, for I see a corpse."
The three friends remained mute—for although the voice as well as the countenance reminded them of someone they had seen, they could not remember under what circumstances.
"Gentlemen," continued the stranger, "since you do not recognize a man who probably owes his life to you twice, I must name myself. I am Lord de Winter, brother-in-law of THAT WOMAN."
The three friends uttered a cry of surprise.
Athos rose, and offering him his hand, "Be welcome, my Lord," said he, "you are one of us."
"I set out five hours after her from Portsmouth," said Lord de Winter. "I arrived three hours after her at Boulogne. I missed her by twenty minutes at St. Omer. Finally, at Lilliers I lost all trace of her. I was going about at random, inquiring of everybody, when I saw you gallop past. I recognized Monsieur d'Artagnan. I called to you, but you did not answer me; I wished to follow you, but my horse was too much fatigued to go at the same pace with yours. And yet it appears, in spite of all your diligence, you have arrived too late."
"You see!" said Athos, pointing to Mme. Bonacieux dead, and to d'Artagnan, whom Porthos and Aramis were trying to recall to life.
"Are they both dead?" asked Lord de Winter, sternly.
"No," replied Athos, "fortunately Monsieur d'Artagnan has only fainted."
"Ah, indeed, so much the better!" said Lord de Winter.
At that moment d'Artagnan opened his eyes. He tore himself from the arms of Porthos and Aramis, and threw himself like a madman on the corpse of his mistress.
Athos rose, walked toward his friend with a slow and solemn step, embraced him tenderly, and as he burst into violent sobs, he said to him with his noble and persuasive voice, "Friend, be a man! Women weep for the dead; men avenge them!"
"Oh, yes!" cried d'Artagnan, "yes! If it be to avenge her, I am ready to follow you."
Athos profited by this moment of strength which the hope of vengeance restored to his unfortunate friend to make a sign to Porthos and Aramis to go and fetch the superior.
The two friends met her in the corridor, greatly troubled and much upset by such strange events; she called some of the nuns, who against all monastic custom found themselves in the presence of five men.
"Madame," said Athos, passing his arm under that of d'Artagnan, "we abandon to your pious care the body of that unfortunate woman. She was an angel on earth before being an angel in heaven. Treat her as one of your sisters. We will return someday to pray over her grave."
D'Artagnan concealed his face in the bosom of Athos, and sobbed aloud.
"Weep," said Athos, "weep, heart full of love, youth, and life! Alas, would I could weep like you!"
And he drew away his friend, as affectionate as a father, as consoling as a priest, noble as a man who has suffered much.
All five, followed by their lackeys leading their horses, took their way to the town of Bethune, whose outskirts they perceived, and stopped before the first inn they came to.
"But," said d'Artagnan, "shall we not pursue that woman?"
"Later," said Athos. "I have measures to take."
"She will escape us," replied the young man; "she will escape us, and it will be your fault, Athos."
"I will be accountable for her," said Athos.
D'Artagnan had so much confidence in the word of his friend that he lowered his head, and entered the inn without reply.
Porthos and Aramis regarded each other, not understanding this assurance of Athos.
Lord de Winter believed he spoke in this manner to soothe the grief of d'Artagnan.
"Now, gentlemen," said Athos, when he had ascertained there were five chambers free in the hotel, "let everyone retire to his own apartment. d'Artagnan needs to be alone, to weep and to sleep. I take charge of everything; be easy."
"It appears, however," said Lord de Winter, "if there are any measures to take against the countess, it concerns me; she is my sister-in-law."
"And me," said Athos, "—she is my wife!"
D'Artagnan smiled—for he understood that Athos was sure of his vengeance when he revealed such a secret. Porthos and Aramis looked at each other, and grew pale. Lord de Winter thought Athos was mad.
"Now, retire to your chambers," said Athos, "and leave me to act. You must perceive that in my quality of a husband this concerns me. Only, d'Artagnan, if you have not lost it, give me the paper which fell from that man's hat, upon which is written the name of the village of—"
"Ah," said d'Artagnan, "I comprehend! that name written in her hand."
"You see, then," said Athos, "there is a god in heaven still!"
64 THE MAN IN THE RED CLOAK
The despair of Athos had given place to a concentrated grief which only rendered more lucid the brilliant mental faculties of that extraordinary man.
Possessed by one single thought—that of the promise he had made, and of the responsibility he had taken—he retired last to his chamber, begged the host to procure him a map of the province, bent over it, examined every line traced upon it, perceived that there were four different roads from Bethune to Armentieres, and summoned the lackeys.
Planchet, Grimaud, Bazin, and Mousqueton presented themselves, and received clear, positive, and serious orders from Athos.
They must set out the next morning at daybreak, and go to Armentieres—each by a different route. Planchet, the most intelligent of the four, was to follow that by which the carriage had gone upon which the four friends had fired, and which was accompanied, as may be remembered, by Rochefort's servant.
Athos set the lackeys to work first because, since these men had been in the service of himself and his friends he had discovered in each of them different and essential qualities. Then, lackeys who ask questions inspire less mistrust than masters, and meet with more sympathy among those to whom they address themselves. Besides, Milady knew the masters, and did not know the lackeys; on the contrary, the lackeys knew Milady perfectly.
All four were to meet the next day at eleven o'clock. If they had discovered Milady's retreat, three were to remain on guard; the fourth was to return to Bethune in order to inform Athos and serve as a guide to the four friends. These arrangements made, the lackeys retired.
Athos then arose from his chair, girded on his sword, enveloped himself in his cloak, and left the hotel. It was nearly ten o'clock. At ten o'clock in the evening, it is well known, the streets in provincial towns are very little frequented. Athos nevertheless was visibly anxious to find someone of whom he could ask a question. At length he met a belated passenger, went up to him, and spoke a few words to him. The man he addressed recoiled with terror, and only answered the few words of the Musketeer by pointing. Athos offered the man half a pistole to accompany him, but the man refused.
Athos then plunged into the street the man had indicated with his finger; but arriving at four crossroads, he stopped again, visibly embarrassed. Nevertheless, as the crossroads offered him a better chance than any other place of meeting somebody, he stood still. In a few minutes a night watch passed. Athos repeated to him the same question he had asked the first person he met. The night watch evinced the same terror, refused, in his turn, to accompany Athos, and only pointed with his hand to the road he was to take.
Athos walked in the direction indicated, and reached the suburb situated at the opposite extremity of the city from that by which he and his friends had entered it. There he again appeared uneasy and embarrassed, and stopped for the third time.
Fortunately, a mendicant passed, who, coming up to Athos to ask charity, Athos offered him half a crown to accompany him where he was going. The mendicant hesitated at first, but at the sight of the piece of silver which shone in the darkness he consented, and walked on before Athos.
Arrived at the angle of a street, he pointed to a small house, isolated, solitary, and dismal. Athos went toward the house, while the mendicant, who had received his reward, left as fast as his legs could carry him.
Athos went round the house before he could distinguish the door, amid the red color in which the house was painted. No light appeared through the chinks of the shutters; no noise gave reason to believe that it was inhabited. It was dark and silent as the tomb.
Three times Athos knocked without receiving an answer. At the third knock, however, steps were heard inside. The door at length was opened, and a man appeared, of high stature, pale complexion, and black hair and beard.
Athos and he exchanged some words in a low voice, then the tall man made a sign to the Musketeer that he might come in. Athos immediately profited by the permission, and the door was closed behind him.
The man whom Athos had come so far to seek, and whom he had found with so much trouble, introduced him into his laboratory, where he was engaged in fastening together with iron wire the dry bones of a skeleton. All the frame was adjusted except the head, which lay on the table.
All the rest of the furniture indicated that the dweller in this house occupied himself with the study of natural science. There were large bottles filled with serpents, ticketed according to their species; dried lizards shone like emeralds set in great squares of black wood, and bunches of wild odoriferous herbs, doubtless possessed of virtues unknown to common men, were fastened to the ceiling and hung down in the corners of the apartment. There was no family, no servant; the tall man alone inhabited this house.
Athos cast a cold and indifferent glance upon the objects we have described, and at the invitation of him whom he came to seek sat down near him.
Then he explained to him the cause of his visit, and the service he required of him. But scarcely had he expressed his request when the unknown, who remained standing before the Musketeer, drew back with signs of terror, and refused. Then Athos took from his pocket a small paper, on which two lines were written, accompanied by a signature and a seal, and presented them to him who had made too prematurely these signs of repugnance. The tall man had scarcely read these lines, seen the signature, and recognized the seal, when he bowed to denote that he had no longer any objection to make, and that he was ready to obey.