"To make, madame, in the name of the king, and without prejudice to the respect which I have the honor to owe to your Majesty a close examination into all your papers."
"How, monsieur, an investigation of my papers—mine! Truly, this is an indignity!"
"Be kind enough to pardon me, madame; but in this circumstance I am but the instrument which the king employs. Has not his Majesty just left you, and has he not himself asked you to prepare for this visit?"
"Search, then, monsieur! I am a criminal, as it appears. Estafania, give up the keys of my drawers and my desks."
For form's sake the chancellor paid a visit to the pieces of furniture named; but he well knew that it was not in a piece of furniture that the queen would place the important letter she had written that day.
When the chancellor had opened and shut twenty times the drawers of the secretaries, it became necessary, whatever hesitation he might experience—it became necessary, I say, to come to the conclusion of the affair; that is to say, to search the queen herself. The chancellor advanced, therefore, toward Anne of Austria, and said with a very perplexed and embarrassed air, "And now it remains for me to make the principal examination."
"What is that?" asked the queen, who did not understand, or rather was not willing to understand.
"His majesty is certain that a letter has been written by you during the day; he knows that it has not yet been sent to its address. This letter is not in your table nor in your secretary; and yet this letter must be somewhere."
"Would you dare to lift your hand to your queen?" said Anne of Austria, drawing herself up to her full height, and fixing her eyes upon the chancellor with an expression almost threatening.
"I am a faithful subject of the king, madame, and all that his Majesty commands I shall do."
"Well, it is true!" said Anne of Austria; "and the spies of the cardinal have served him faithfully. I have written a letter today; that letter is not yet gone. The letter is here." And the queen laid her beautiful hand on her bosom.
"Then give me that letter, madame," said the chancellor.
"I will give it to none but the king monsieur," said Anne.
"If the king had desired that the letter should be given to him, madame, he would have demanded it of you himself. But I repeat to you, I am charged with reclaiming it; and if you do not give it up—"
"He has, then, charged me to take it from you."
"How! What do you say?"
"That my orders go far, madame; and that I am authorized to seek for the suspected paper, even on the person of your Majesty."
"What horror!" cried the queen.
"Be kind enough, then, madame, to act more compliantly."
"The conduct is infamously violent! Do you know that, monsieur?"
"The king commands it, madame; excuse me."
"I will not suffer it! No, no, I would rather die!" cried the queen, in whom the imperious blood of Spain and Austria began to rise.
The chancellor made a profound reverence. Then, with the intention quite patent of not drawing back a foot from the accomplishment of the commission with which he was charged, and as the attendant of an executioner might have done in the chamber of torture, he approached Anne of Austria, for whose eyes at the same instant sprang tears of rage.
The queen was, as we have said, of great beauty. The commission might well be called delicate; and the king had reached, in his jealousy of Buckingham, the point of not being jealous of anyone else.
Without doubt the chancellor, Seguier looked about at that moment for the rope of the famous bell; but not finding it he summoned his resolution, and stretched forth his hands toward the place where the queen had acknowledged the paper was to be found.
Anne of Austria took one step backward, became so pale that it might be said she was dying, and leaning with her left hand upon a table behind her to keep herself from falling, she with her right hand drew the paper from her bosom and held it out to the keeper of the seals.
"There, monsieur, there is that letter!" cried the queen, with a broken and trembling voice; "take it, and deliver me from your odious presence."
The chancellor, who, on his part, trembled with an emotion easily to be conceived, took the letter, bowed to the ground, and retired. The door was scarcely closed upon him, when the queen sank, half fainting, into the arms of her women.
The chancellor carried the letter to the king without having read a single word of it. The king took it with a trembling hand, looked for the address, which was wanting, became very pale, opened it slowly, then seeing by the first words that it was addressed to the King of Spain, he read it rapidly.
It was nothing but a plan of attack against the cardinal. The queen pressed her brother and the Emperor of Austria to appear to be wounded, as they really were, by the policy of Richelieu—the eternal object of which was the abasement of the house of Austria—to declare war against France, and as a condition of peace, to insist upon the dismissal of the cardinal; but as to love, there was not a single word about it in all the letter.
The king, quite delighted, inquired if the cardinal was still at the Louvre; he was told that his Eminence awaited the orders of his Majesty in the business cabinet.
The king went straight to him.
"There, Duke," said he, "you were right and I was wrong. The whole intrigue is political, and there is not the least question of love in this letter; but, on the other hand, there is abundant question of you."
The cardinal took the letter, and read it with the greatest attention; then, when he had arrived at the end of it, he read it a second time. "Well, your Majesty," said he, "you see how far my enemies go; they menace you with two wars if you do not dismiss me. In your place, in truth, sire, I should yield to such powerful instance; and on my part, it would be a real happiness to withdraw from public affairs."
"What say you, Duke?"
"I say, sire, that my health is sinking under these excessive struggles and these never-ending labors. I say that according to all probability I shall not be able to undergo the fatigues of the siege of La Rochelle, and that it would be far better that you should appoint there either Monsieur de Conde, Monsieur de Bassopierre, or some valiant gentleman whose business is war, and not me, who am a churchman, and who am constantly turned aside for my real vocation to look after matters for which I have no aptitude. You would be the happier for it at home, sire, and I do not doubt you would be the greater for it abroad."
"Monsieur Duke," said the king, "I understand you. Be satisfied, all who are named in that letter shall be punished as they deserve, even the queen herself."
"What do you say, sire? God forbid that the queen should suffer the least inconvenience or uneasiness on my account! She has always believed me, sire, to be her enemy; although your Majesty can bear witness that I have always taken her part warmly, even against you. Oh, if she betrayed your Majesty on the side of your honor, it would be quite another thing, and I should be the first to say, 'No grace, sire—no grace for the guilty!' Happily, there is nothing of the kind, and your Majesty has just acquired a new proof of it."
"That is true, Monsieur Cardinal," said the king, "and you were right, as you always are; but the queen, not the less, deserves all my anger."
"It is you, sire, who have now incurred hers. And even if she were to be seriously offended, I could well understand it; your Majesty has treated her with a severity—"
"It is thus I will always treat my enemies and yours, Duke, however high they may be placed, and whatever peril I may incur in acting severely toward them."
"The queen is my enemy, but is not yours, sire; on the contrary, she is a devoted, submissive, and irreproachable wife. Allow me, then, sire, to intercede for her with your Majesty."
"Let her humble herself, then, and come to me first."
"On the contrary, sire, set the example. You have committed the first wrong, since it was you who suspected the queen."
"What! I make the first advances?" said the king. "Never!"
"Sire, I entreat you to do so."
"Besides, in what manner can I make advances first?"
"By doing a thing which you know will be agreeable to her."
"What is that?"
"Give a ball; you know how much the queen loves dancing. I will answer for it, her resentment will not hold out against such an attention."
"Monsieur Cardinal, you know that I do not like worldly pleasures."
"The queen will only be the more grateful to you, as she knows your antipathy for that amusement; besides, it will be an opportunity for her to wear those beautiful diamonds which you gave her recently on her birthday and with which she has since had no occasion to adorn herself."
"We shall see, Monsieur Cardinal, we shall see," said the king, who, in his joy at finding the queen guilty of a crime which he cared little about, and innocent of a fault of which he had great dread, was ready to make up all differences with her, "we shall see, but upon my honor, you are too indulgent toward her."
"Sire," said the cardinal, "leave severity to your ministers. Clemency is a royal virtue; employ it, and you will find that you derive advantage therein."
Thereupon the cardinal, hearing the clock strike eleven, bowed low, asking permission of the king to retire, and supplicating him to come to a good understanding with the queen.
Anne of Austria, who, in consequence of the seizure of her letter, expected reproaches, was much astonished the next day to see the king make some attempts at reconciliation with her. Her first movement was repellent. Her womanly pride and her queenly dignity had both been so cruelly offended that she could not come round at the first advance; but, overpersuaded by the advice of her women, she at last had the appearance of beginning to forget. The king took advantage of this favorable moment to tell her that her had the intention of shortly giving a fete.
A fete was so rare a thing for poor Anne of Austria that at this announcement, as the cardinal had predicted, the last trace of her resentment disappeared, if not from her heart at least from her countenance. She asked upon what day this fete would take place, but the king replied that he must consult the cardinal upon that head.
Indeed, every day the king asked the cardinal when this fete should take place; and every day the cardinal, under some pretext, deferred fixing it. Ten days passed away thus.
On the eighth day after the scene we have described, the cardinal received a letter with the London stamp which only contained these lines: "I have them; but I am unable to leave London for want of money. Send me five hundred pistoles, and four or five days after I have received them I shall be in Paris."
On the same day the cardinal received this letter the king put his customary question to him.
Richelieu counted on his fingers, and said to himself, "She will arrive, she says, four or five days after having received the money. It will require four or five days for the transmission of the money, four or five days for her to return; that makes ten days. Now, allowing for contrary winds, accidents, and a woman's weakness, there are twelve days."
"Well, Monsieur Duke," said the king, "have you made your calculations?"
"Yes, sire. Today is the twentieth of September. The aldermen of the city give a fete on the third of October. That will fall in wonderfully well; you will not appear to have gone out of your way to please the queen."
Then the cardinal added, "A PROPOS, sire, do not forget to tell her Majesty the evening before the fete that you should like to see how her diamond studs become her."
17 BONACIEUX AT HOME
It was the second time the cardinal had mentioned these diamond studs to the king. Louis XIII was struck with this insistence, and began to fancy that this recommendation concealed some mystery.
More than once the king had been humiliated by the cardinal, whose police, without having yet attained the perfection of the modern police, were excellent, being better informed than himself, even upon what was going on in his own household. He hoped, then, in a conversation with Anne of Austria, to obtain some information from that conversation, and afterward to come upon his Eminence with some secret which the cardinal either knew or did not know, but which, in either case, would raise him infinitely in the eyes of his minister.
He went then to the queen, and according to custom accosted her with fresh menaces against those who surrounded her. Anne of Austria lowered her head, allowed the torrent to flow on without replying, hoping that it would cease of itself; but this was not what Louis XIII meant. Louis XIII wanted a discussion from which some light or other might break, convinced as he was that the cardinal had some afterthought and was preparing for him one of those terrible surprises which his Eminence was so skillful in getting up. He arrived at this end by his persistence in accusation.
"But," cried Anne of Austria, tired of these vague attacks, "but, sire, you do not tell me all that you have in your heart. What have I done, then? Let me know what crime I have committed. It is impossible that your Majesty can make all this ado about a letter written to my brother."
The king, attacked in a manner so direct, did not know what to answer; and he thought that this was the moment for expressing the desire which he was not going to have made until the evening before the fete.
"Madame," said he, with dignity, "there will shortly be a ball at the Hotel de Ville. I wish, in order to honor our worthy aldermen, you should appear in ceremonial costume, and above all, ornamented with the diamond studs which I gave you on your birthday. That is my answer."
The answer was terrible. Anne of Austria believed that Louis XIII knew all, and that the cardinal had persuaded him to employ this long dissimulation of seven or eight days, which, likewise, was characteristic. She became excessively pale, leaned her beautiful hand upon a CONSOLE, which hand appeared then like one of wax, and looking at the king with terror in her eyes, she was unable to reply by a single syllable.
"You hear, madame," said the king, who enjoyed the embarrassment to its full extent, but without guessing the cause. "You hear, madame?"
"Yes, sire, I hear," stammered the queen.
"You will appear at this ball?"
"With those studs?"
The queen's paleness, if possible, increased; the king perceived it, and enjoyed it with that cold cruelty which was one of the worst sides of his character.
"Then that is agreed," said the king, "and that is all I had to say to you."
"But on what day will this ball take place?" asked Anne of Austria.
Louis XIII felt instinctively that he ought not to reply to this question, the queen having put it in an almost dying voice.
"Oh, very shortly, madame," said he; "but I do not precisely recollect the date of the day. I will ask the cardinal."
"It was the cardinal, then, who informed you of this fete?"
"Yes, madame," replied the astonished king; "but why do you ask that?"
"It was he who told you to invite me to appear with these studs?"
"That is to say, madame—"
"It was he, sire, it was he!"
"Well, and what does it signify whether it was he or I? Is there any crime in this request?"
"Then you will appear?"
"That is well," said the king, retiring, "that is well; I count upon it."
The queen made a curtsy, less from etiquette than because her knees were sinking under her. The king went away enchanted.
"I am lost," murmured the queen, "lost!—for the cardinal knows all, and it is he who urges on the king, who as yet knows nothing but will soon know everything. I am lost! My God, my God, my God!"
She knelt upon a cushion and prayed, with her head buried between her palpitating arms.
In fact, her position was terrible. Buckingham had returned to London; Mme. Chevreuse was at Tours. More closely watched than ever, the queen felt certain, without knowing how to tell which, that one of her women had betrayed her. Laporte could not leave the Louvre; she had not a soul in the world in whom she could confide. Thus, while contemplating the misfortune which threatened her and the abandonment in which she was left, she broke out into sobs and tears.
"Can I be of service to your Majesty?" said all at once a voice full of sweetness and pity.
The queen turned sharply round, for there could be no deception in the expression of that voice; it was a friend who spoke thus.
In fact, at one of the doors which opened into the queen's apartment appeared the pretty Mme. Bonacieux. She had been engaged in arranging the dresses and linen in a closet when the king entered; she could not get out and had heard all.
The queen uttered a piercing cry at finding herself surprised—for in her trouble she did not at first recognize the young woman who had been given to her by Laporte.
"Oh, fear nothing, madame!" said the young woman, clasping her hands and weeping herself at the queen's sorrows; "I am your Majesty's, body and soul, and however far I may be from you, however inferior may be my position, I believe I have discovered a means of extricating your Majesty from your trouble."
"You, oh, heaven, you!" cried the queen; "but look me in the face. I am betrayed on all sides. Can I trust in you?"
"Oh, madame!" cried the young woman, falling on her knees; "upon my soul, I am ready to die for your Majesty!"
This expression sprang from the very bottom of the heart, and, like the first, there was no mistaking it.
"Yes," continued Mme. Bonacieux, "yes, there are traitors here; but by the holy name of the Virgin, I swear that no one is more devoted to your Majesty than I am. Those studs which the king speaks of, you gave them to the Duke of Buckingham, did you not? Those studs were enclosed in a little rosewood box which he held under his arm? Am I deceived? Is it not so, madame?"
"Oh, my God, my God!" murmured the queen, whose teeth chattered with fright.
"Well, those studs," continued Mme. Bonacieux, "we must have them back again."
"Yes, without doubt, it is necessary," cried the queen; "but how am I to act? How can it be effected?"
"Someone must be sent to the duke."
"But who, who? In whom can I trust?"
"Place confidence in me, madame; do me that honor, my queen, and I will find a messenger."
"But I must write."
"Oh, yes; that is indispensable. Two words from the hand of your Majesty and your private seal."
"But these two words would bring about my condemnation, divorce, exile!"
"Yes, if they fell into infamous hands. But I will answer for these two words being delivered to their address."
"Oh, my God! I must then place my life, my honor, my reputation, in your hands?"
"Yes, yes, madame, you must; and I will save them all."
"But how? Tell me at least the means."
"My husband had been at liberty these two or three days. I have not yet had time to see him again. He is a worthy, honest man who entertains neither love nor hatred for anybody. He will do anything I wish. He will set out upon receiving an order from me, without knowing what he carries, and he will carry your Majesty's letter, without even knowing it is from your Majesty, to the address which is on it."
The queen took the two hands of the young woman with a burst of emotion, gazed at her as if to read her very heart, and seeing nothing but sincerity in her beautiful eyes, embraced her tenderly.
"Do that," cried she, "and you will have saved my life, you will have saved my honor!"
"Do not exaggerate the service I have the happiness to render your Majesty. I have nothing to save for your Majesty; you are only the victim of perfidious plots."
"That is true, that is true, my child," said the queen, "you are right."
"Give me then, that letter, madame; time presses."
The queen ran to a little table, on which were ink, paper, and pens. She wrote two lines, sealed the letter with her private seal, and gave it to Mme. Bonacieux.
"And now," said the queen, "we are forgetting one very necessary thing."
"What is that, madame?"
Mme. Bonacieux blushed.
"Yes, that is true," said she, "and I will confess to your Majesty that my husband—"
"Your husband has none. Is that what you would say?"
"He has some, but he is very avaricious; that is his fault. Nevertheless, let not your Majesty be uneasy, we will find means."
"And I have none, either," said the queen. Those who have read the MEMOIRS of Mme. de Motteville will not be astonished at this reply. "But wait a minute."
Anne of Austria ran to her jewel case.
"Here," said she, "here is a ring of great value, as I have been assured. It came from my brother, the King of Spain. It is mine, and I am at liberty to dispose of it. Take this ring; raise money with it, and let your husband set out."
"In an hour you shall be obeyed."
"You see the address," said the queen, speaking so low that Mme. Bonacieux could hardly hear what she said, "To my Lord Duke of Buckingham, London."
"The letter shall be given to himself."
"Generous girl!" cried Anne of Austria.
Mme. Bonacieux kissed the hands of the queen, concealed the paper in the bosom of her dress, and disappeared with the lightness of a bird.
Ten minutes afterward she was at home. As she told the queen, she had not seen her husband since his liberation; she was ignorant of the change that had taken place in him with respect to the cardinal—a change which had since been strengthened by two or three visits from the Comte de Rochefort, who had become the best friend of Bonacieux, and had persuaded him, without much trouble, was putting his house in order, the furniture of which he had found mostly broken and his closets nearly empty—justice not being one of the three things which King Solomon names as leaving no traces of their passage. As to the servant, she had run away at the moment of her master's arrest. Terror had had such an effect upon the poor girl that she had never ceased walking from Paris till she reached Burgundy, her native place.
The worthy mercer had, immediately upon re-entering his house, informed his wife of his happy return, and his wife had replied by congratulating him, and telling him that the first moment she could steal from her duties should be devoted to paying him a visit.
This first moment had been delayed five days, which, under any other circumstances, might have appeared rather long to M. Bonacieux; but he had, in the visit he had made to the cardinal and in the visits Rochefort had made him, ample subjects for reflection, and as everybody knows, nothing makes time pass more quickly than reflection.
This was the more so because Bonacieux's reflections were all rose-colored. Rochefort called him his friend, his dear Bonacieux, and never ceased telling him that the cardinal had a great respect for him. The mercer fancied himself already on the high road to honors and fortune.
On her side Mme. Bonacieux had also reflected; but, it must be admitted, upon something widely different from ambition. In spite of herself her thoughts constantly reverted to that handsome young man who was so brave and appeared to be so much in love. Married at eighteen to M. Bonacieux, having always lived among her husband's friends—people little capable of inspiring any sentiment whatever in a young woman whose heart was above her position—Mme. Bonacieux had remained insensible to vulgar seductions; but at this period the title of gentleman had great influence with the citizen class, and d'Artagnan was a gentleman. Besides, he wore the uniform of the Guards, which next to that of the Musketeers was most admired by the ladies. He was, we repeat, handsome, young, and bold; he spoke of love like a man who did love and was anxious to be loved in return. There was certainly enough in all this to turn a head only twenty-three years old, and Mme. Bonacieux had just attained that happy period of life.
The couple, then, although they had not seen each other for eight days, and during that time serious events had taken place in which both were concerned, accosted each other with a degree of preoccupation. Nevertheless, Bonacieux manifested real joy, and advanced toward his wife with open arms. Madame Bonacieux presented her cheek to him.
"Let us talk a little," said she.
"How!" said Bonacieux, astonished.
"Yes, I have something of the highest importance to tell you."
"True," said he, "and I have some questions sufficiently serious to put to you. Describe to me your abduction, I pray you."
"Oh, that's of no consequence just now," said Mme. Bonacieux.
"And what does it concern, then—my captivity?"
"I heard of it the day it happened; but as you were not guilty of any crime, as you were not guilty of any intrigue, as you, in short, knew nothing that could compromise yourself or anybody else, I attached no more importance to that event than it merited."
"You speak very much at your ease, madame," said Bonacieux, hurt at the little interest his wife showed in him. "Do you know that I was plunged during a day and night in a dungeon of the Bastille?"
"Oh, a day and night soon pass away. Let us return to the object that brings me here."
"What, that which brings you home to me? Is it not the desire of seeing a husband again from whom you have been separated for a week?" asked the mercer, piqued to the quick.
"Yes, that first, and other things afterward."
"It is a thing of the highest interest, and upon which our future fortune perhaps depends."
"The complexion of our fortune has changed very much since I saw you, Madam Bonacieux, and I should not be astonished if in the course of a few months it were to excite the envy of many folks."
"Yes, particularly if you follow the instructions I am about to give you."
"Yes, you. There is good and holy action to be performed, monsieur, and much money to be gained at the same time."
Mme. Bonacieux knew that in talking of money to her husband, she took him on his weak side. But a man, were he even a mercer, when he had talked for ten minutes with Cardinal Richelieu, is no longer the same man.
"Much money to be gained?" said Bonacieux, protruding his lip.
"About how much?"
"A thousand pistoles, perhaps."
"What you demand of me is serious, then?"
"It is indeed."
"What must be done?"
"You must go away immediately. I will give you a paper which you must not part with on any account, and which you will deliver into the proper hands."
"And whither am I to go?"
"I go to London? Go to! You jest! I have no business in London."
"But others wish that you should go there."
"But who are those others? I warn you that I will never again work in the dark, and that I will know not only to what I expose myself, but for whom I expose myself."
"An illustrious person sends you; an illustrious person awaits you. The recompense will exceed your expectations; that is all I promise you."
"More intrigues! Nothing but intrigues! Thank you, madame, I am aware of them now; Monsieur Cardinal has enlightened me on that head."
"The cardinal?" cried Mme. Bonacieux. "Have you seen the cardinal?"
"He sent for me," answered the mercer, proudly.
"And you responded to his bidding, you imprudent man?"
"Well, I can't say I had much choice of going or not going, for I was taken to him between two guards. It is true also, that as I did not then know his Eminence, if I had been able to dispense with the visit, I should have been enchanted."
"He ill-treated you, then; he threatened you?"
"He gave me his hand, and called me his friend. His friend! Do you hear that, madame? I am the friend of the great cardinal!"
"Of the great cardinal!"
"Perhaps you would contest his right to that title, madame?"
"I would contest nothing; but I tell you that the favor of a minister is ephemeral, and that a man must be mad to attach himself to a minister. There are powers above his which do not depend upon a man or the issue of an event; it is to these powers we should rally."
"I am sorry for it, madame, but I acknowledge not her power but that of the great man whom I have the honor to serve."
"You serve the cardinal?"
"Yes, madame; and as his servant, I will not allow you to be concerned in plots against the safety of the state, or to serve the intrigues of a woman who is not French and who has a Spanish heart. Fortunately we have the great cardinal; his vigilant eye watches over and penetrates to the bottom of the heart."
Bonacieux was repeating, word for word, a sentence which he had heard from the Comte de Rochefort; but the poor wife, who had reckoned on her husband, and who, in that hope, had answered for him to the queen, did not tremble the less, both at the danger into which she had nearly cast herself and at the helpless state to which she was reduced. Nevertheless, knowing the weakness of her husband, and more particularly his cupidity, she did not despair of bringing him round to her purpose.
"Ah, you are a cardinalist, then, monsieur, are you?" cried she; "and you serve the party of those who maltreat your wife and insult your queen?"
"Private interests are as nothing before the interests of all. I am for those who save the state," said Bonacieux, emphatically.
"And what do you know about the state you talk of?" said Mme. Bonacieux, shrugging her shoulders. "Be satisfied with being a plain, straightforward citizen, and turn to that side which offers the most advantages."
"Eh, eh!" said Bonacieux, slapping a plump, round bag, which returned a sound a money; "what do you think of this, Madame Preacher?"
"Whence comes that money?"
"You do not guess?"
"From the cardinal?"
"From him, and from my friend the Comte de Rochefort."
"The Comte de Rochefort! Why it was he who carried me off!"
"That may be, madame!"
"And you receive silver from that man?"
"Have you not said that that abduction was entirely political?"
"Yes; but that abduction had for its object the betrayal of my mistress, to draw from me by torture confessions that might compromise the honor, and perhaps the life, of my august mistress."
"Madame," replied Bonacieux, "your august mistress is a perfidious Spaniard, and what the cardinal does is well done."
"Monsieur," said the young woman, "I know you to be cowardly, avaricious, and foolish, but I never till now believed you infamous!"
"Madame," said Bonacieux, who had never seen his wife in a passion, and who recoiled before this conjugal anger, "madame, what do you say?"
"I say you are a miserable creature!" continued Mme. Bonacieux, who saw she was regaining some little influence over her husband. "You meddle with politics, do you—and still more, with cardinalist politics? Why, you sell yourself, body and soul, to the demon, the devil, for money!"
"No, to the cardinal."
"It's the same thing," cried the young woman. "Who calls Richelieu calls Satan."
"Hold your tongue, hold your tongue, madame! You may be overheard."
"Yes, you are right; I should be ashamed for anyone to know your baseness."
"But what do you require of me, then? Let us see."
"I have told you. You must depart instantly, monsieur. You must accomplish loyally the commission with which I deign to charge you, and on that condition I pardon everything, I forget everything; and what is more," and she held out her hand to him, "I restore my love."
Bonacieux was cowardly and avaricious, but he loved his wife. He was softened. A man of fifty cannot long bear malice with a wife of twenty-three. Mme. Bonacieux saw that he hesitated.
"Come! Have you decided?" said she.
"But, my dear love, reflect a little upon what you require of me. London is far from Paris, very far, and perhaps the commission with which you charge me is not without dangers?"
"What matters it, if you avoid them?"
"Hold, Madame Bonacieux," said the mercer, "hold! I positively refuse; intrigues terrify me. I have seen the Bastille. My! Whew! That's a frightful place, that Bastille! Only to think of it makes my flesh crawl. They threatened me with torture. Do you know what torture is? Wooden points that they stick in between your legs till your bones stick out! No, positively I will not go. And, MORBLEU, why do you not go yourself? For in truth, I think I have hitherto been deceived in you. I really believe you are a man, and a violent one, too."
"And you, you are a woman—a miserable woman, stupid and brutal. You are afraid, are you? Well, if you do not go this very instant, I will have you arrested by the queen's orders, and I will have you placed in the Bastille which you dread so much."
Bonacieux fell into a profound reflection. He weighed the two angers in his brain—that of the cardinal and that of the queen; that of the cardinal predominated enormously.
"Have me arrested on the part of the queen," said he, "and I—I will appeal to his Eminence."
At once Mme. Bonacieux saw that she had gone too far, and she was terrified at having communicated so much. She for a moment contemplated with fright that stupid countenance, impressed with the invincible resolution of a fool that is overcome by fear.
"Well, be it so!" said she. "Perhaps, when all is considered, you are right. In the long run, a man knows more about politics than a woman, particularly such as, like you, Monsieur Bonacieux, have conversed with the cardinal. And yet it is very hard," added she, "that a man upon whose affection I thought I might depend, treats me thus unkindly and will not comply with any of my fancies."
"That is because your fancies go too far," replied the triumphant Bonacieux, "and I mistrust them."
"Well, I will give it up, then," said the young woman, sighing. "It is well as it is; say no more about it."
"At least you should tell me what I should have to do in London," replied Bonacieux, who remembered a little too late that Rochefort had desired him to endeavor to obtain his wife's secrets.
"It is of no use for you to know anything about it," said the young woman, whom an instinctive mistrust now impelled to draw back. "It was about one of those purchases that interest women—a purchase by which much might have been gained."
But the more the young woman excused herself, the more important Bonacieux thought the secret which she declined to confide to him. He resolved then to hasten immediately to the residence of the Comte de Rochefort, and tell him that the queen was seeking for a messenger to send to London.
"Pardon me for quitting you, my dear Madame Bonacieux," said he; "but, not knowing you would come to see me, I had made an engagement with a friend. I shall soon return; and if you will wait only a few minutes for me, as soon as I have concluded my business with that friend, as it is growing late, I will come back and reconduct you to the Louvre."
"Thank you, monsieur, you are not brave enough to be of any use to me whatever," replied Mme. Bonacieux. "I shall return very safely to the Louvre all alone."
"As you please, Madame Bonacieux," said the ex-mercer. "Shall I see you again soon?"
"Next week I hope my duties will afford me a little liberty, and I will take advantage of it to come and put things in order here, as they must necessarily be much deranged."
"Very well; I shall expect you. You are not angry with me?"
"Not the least in the world."
"Till then, then?"
Bonacieux kissed his wife's hand, and set off at a quick pace.
"Well," said Mme. Bonacieux, when her husband had shut the street door and she found herself alone; "that imbecile lacked but one thing to become a cardinalist. And I, who have answered for him to the queen—I, who have promised my poor mistress—ah, my God, my God! She will take me for one of those wretches with whom the palace swarms and who are placed about her as spies! Ah, Monsieur Bonacieux, I never did love you much, but now it is worse than ever. I hate you, and on my word you shall pay for this!"
At the moment she spoke these words a rap on the ceiling made her raise her head, and a voice which reached her through the ceiling cried, "Dear Madame Bonacieux, open for me the little door on the alley, and I will come down to you."
18 LOVER AND HUSBAND
"Ah, Madame," said d'Artagnan, entering by the door which the young woman opened for him, "allow me to tell you that you have a bad sort of a husband."
"You have, then, overheard our conversation?" asked Mme. Bonacieux, eagerly, and looking at d'Artagnan with disquiet.
"But how, my God?"
"By a mode of proceeding known to myself, and by which I likewise overheard the more animated conversation which he had with the cardinal's police."
"And what did you understand by what we said?"
"A thousand things. In the first place, that, unfortunately, your husband is a simpleton and a fool; in the next place, you are in trouble, of which I am very glad, as it gives me a opportunity of placing myself at your service, and God knows I am ready to throw myself into the fire for you; finally, that the queen wants a brave, intelligent, devoted man to make a journey to London for her. I have at least two of the three qualities you stand in need of, and here I am."
Mme. Bonacieux made no reply; but her heart beat with joy and secret hope shone in her eyes.
"And what guarantee will you give me," asked she, "if I consent to confide this message to you?"
"My love for you. Speak! Command! What is to be done?"
"My God, my God!" murmured the young woman, "ought I to confide such a secret to you, monsieur? You are almost a boy."
"I see that you require someone to answer for me?"
"I admit that would reassure me greatly."
"Do you know Athos?"
"No. Who are these gentleman?"
"Three of the king's Musketeers. Do you know Monsieur de Treville, their captain?"
"Oh, yes, him! I know him; not personally, but from having heard the queen speak of him more than once as a brave and loyal gentleman."
"You do not fear lest he should betray you to the cardinal?"
"Oh, no, certainly not!"
"Well, reveal your secret to him, and ask him whether, however important, however valuable, however terrible it may be, you may not confide it to me."
"But this secret is not mine, and I cannot reveal it in this manner."
"You were about to confide it to Monsieur Bonacieux," said d'Artagnan, with chagrin.
"As one confides a letter to the hollow of a tree, to the wing of a pigeon, to the collar of a dog."
"And yet, me—you see plainly that I love you."
"You say so."
"I am an honorable man."
"You say so."
"I am a gallant fellow."
"I believe it."
"I am brave."
"Oh, I am sure of that!"
"Then, put me to the proof."
Mme. Bonacieux looked at the young man, restrained for a minute by a last hesitation; but there was such an ardor in his eyes, such persuasion in his voice, that she felt herself constrained to confide in him. Besides, she found herself in circumstances where everything must be risked for the sake of everything. The queen might be as much injured by too much reticence as by too much confidence; and—let us admit it—the involuntary sentiment which she felt for her young protector decided her to speak.
"Listen," said she; "I yield to your protestations, I yield to your assurances. But I swear to you, before God who hears us, that if you betray me, and my enemies pardon me, I will kill myself, while accusing you of my death."
"And I—I swear to you before God, madame," said d'Artagnan, "that if I am taken while accomplishing the orders you give me, I will die sooner than do anything that may compromise anyone."
Then the young woman confided in him the terrible secret of which chance had already communicated to him a part in front of the Samaritaine. This was their mutual declaration of love.
D'Artagnan was radiant with joy and pride. This secret which he possessed, this woman whom he loved! Confidence and love made him a giant.
"I go," said he; "I go at once."
"How, you will go!" said Mme. Bonacieux; "and your regiment, your captain?"
"By my soul, you had made me forget all that, dear Constance! Yes, you are right; a furlough is needful."
"Still another obstacle," murmured Mme. Bonacieux, sorrowfully.
"As to that," cried d'Artagnan, after a moment of reflection, "I shall surmount it, be assured."
"I will go this very evening to Treville, whom I will request to ask this favor for me of his brother-in-law, Monsieur Dessessart."
"But another thing."
"What?" asked d'Artagnan, seeing that Mme. Bonacieux hesitated to continue.
"You have, perhaps, no money?"
"PERHAPS is too much," said d'Artagnan, smiling.
"Then," replied Mme. Bonacieux, opening a cupboard and taking from it the very bag which a half hour before her husband had caressed so affectionately, "take this bag."
"The cardinal's?" cried d'Artagnan, breaking into a loud laugh, he having heard, as may be remembered, thanks to the broken boards, every syllable of the conversation between the mercer and his wife.
"The cardinal's," replied Mme. Bonacieux. "You see it makes a very respectable appearance."
"PARDIEU," cried d'Artagnan, "it will be a double amusing affair to save the queen with the cardinal's money!"
"You are an amiable and charming young man," said Mme. Bonacieux. "Be assured you will not find her Majesty ungrateful."
"Oh, I am already grandly recompensed!" cried d'Artagnan. "I love you; you permit me to tell you that I do—that is already more happiness than I dared to hope."
"Silence!" said Mme. Bonacieux, starting.
"Someone is talking in the street."
"It is the voice of—"
"Of my husband! Yes, I recognize it!"
D'Artagnan ran to the door and pushed the bolt.
"He shall not come in before I am gone," said he; "and when I am gone, you can open to him."
"But I ought to be gone, too. And the disappearance of his money; how am I to justify it if I am here?"
"You are right; we must go out."
"Go out? How? He will see us if we go out."
"Then you must come up into my room."
"Ah," said Mme. Bonacieux, "you speak that in a tone that frightens me!"
Mme. Bonacieux pronounced these words with tears in her eyes. d'Artagnan saw those tears, and much disturbed, softened, he threw himself at her feet.
"With me you will be as safe as in a temple; I give you my word of a gentleman."
"Let us go," said she, "I place full confidence in you, my friend!"
D'Artagnan drew back the bolt with precaution, and both, light as shadows, glided through the interior door into the passage, ascended the stairs as quietly as possible, and entered d'Artagnan's chambers.
Once there, for greater security, the young man barricaded the door. They both approached the window, and through a slit in the shutter they saw Bonacieux talking with a man in a cloak.
At sight of this man, d'Artagnan started, and half drawing his sword, sprang toward the door.
It was the man of Meung.
"What are you going to do?" cried Mme. Bonacieux; "you will ruin us all!"
"But I have sworn to kill that man!" said d'Artagnan.
"Your life is devoted from this moment, and does not belong to you. In the name of the queen I forbid you to throw yourself into any peril which is foreign to that of your journey."
"And do you command nothing in your own name?"
"In my name," said Mme. Bonacieux, with great emotion, "in my name I beg you! But listen; they appear to be speaking of me."
D'Artagnan drew near the window, and lent his ear.
M. Bonacieux had opened his door, and seeing the apartment, had returned to the man in the cloak, whom he had left alone for an instant.
"She is gone," said he; "she must have returned to the Louvre."
"You are sure," replied the stranger, "that she did not suspect the intentions with which you went out?"
"No," replied Bonacieux, with a self-sufficient air, "she is too superficial a woman."
"Is the young Guardsman at home?"
"I do not think he is; as you see, his shutter is closed, and you can see no light shine through the chinks of the shutters."
"All the same, it is well to be certain."
"By knocking at his door. Go."
"I will ask his servant."
Bonacieux re-entered the house, passed through the same door that had afforded a passage for the two fugitives, went up to d'Artagnan's door, and knocked.
No one answered. Porthos, in order to make a greater display, had that evening borrowed Planchet. As to d'Artagnan, he took care not to give the least sign of existence.
The moment the hand of Bonacieux sounded on the door, the two young people felt their hearts bound within them.
"There is nobody within," said Bonacieux.
"Never mind. Let us return to your apartment. We shall be safer there than in the doorway."
"Ah, my God!" whispered Mme. Bonacieux, "we shall hear no more."
"On the contrary," said d'Artagnan, "we shall hear better."
D'Artagnan raised the three or four boards which made his chamber another ear of Dionysius, spread a carpet on the floor, went upon his knees, and made a sign to Mme. Bonacieux to stoop as he did toward the opening.
"You are sure there is nobody there?" said the stranger.
"I will answer for it," said Bonacieux.
"And you think that your wife—"
"Has returned to the Louvre."
"Without speaking to anyone but yourself?"
"I am sure of it."
"That is an important point, do you understand?"
"Then the news I brought you is of value?"
"The greatest, my dear Bonacieux; I don't conceal this from you."
"Then the cardinal will be pleased with me?"
"I have no doubt of it."
"The great cardinal!"
"Are you sure, in her conversation with you, that your wife mentioned no names?"
"I think not."
"She did not name Madame de Chevreuse, the Duke of Buckingham, or Madame de Vernet?"
"No; she only told me she wished to send me to London to serve the interests of an illustrious personage."
"The traitor!" murmured Mme. Bonacieux.
"Silence!" said d'Artagnan, taking her hand, which, without thinking of it, she abandoned to him.
"Never mind," continued the man in the cloak; "you were a fool not to have pretended to accept the mission. You would then be in present possession of the letter. The state, which is now threatened, would be safe, and you—"
"Well you—the cardinal would have given you letters of nobility."
"Did he tell you so?"
"Yes, I know that he meant to afford you that agreeable surprise."
"Be satisfied," replied Bonacieux; "my wife adores me, and there is yet time."
"The ninny!" murmured Mme. Bonacieux.
"Silence!" said d'Artagnan, pressing her hand more closely.
"How is there still time?" asked the man in the cloak.
"I go to the Louvre; I ask for Mme. Bonacieux; I say that I have reflected; I renew the affair; I obtain the letter, and I run directly to the cardinal."
"Well, go quickly! I will return soon to learn the result of your trip."
The stranger went out.
"Infamous!" said Mme. Bonacieux, addressing this epithet to her husband.
"Silence!" said d'Artagnan, pressing her hand still more warmly.
A terrible howling interrupted these reflections of d'Artagnan and Mme. Bonacieux. It was her husband, who had discovered the disappearance of the moneybag, and was crying "Thieves!"
"Oh, my God!" cried Mme. Bonacieux, "he will rouse the whole quarter."
Bonacieux called a long time; but as such cries, on account of their frequency, brought nobody in the Rue des Fossoyeurs, and as lately the mercer's house had a bad name, finding that nobody came, he went out continuing to call, his voice being heard fainter and fainter as he went in the direction of the Rue du Bac.
"Now he is gone, it is your turn to get out," said Mme. Bonacieux. "Courage, my friend, but above all, prudence, and think what you owe to the queen."
"To her and to you!" cried d'Artagnan. "Be satisfied, beautiful Constance. I shall become worthy of her gratitude; but shall I likewise return worthy of your love?"
The young woman only replied by the beautiful glow which mounted to her cheeks. A few seconds afterward d'Artagnan also went out enveloped in a large cloak, which ill-concealed the sheath of a long sword.
Mme. Bonacieux followed him with her eyes, with that long, fond look with which he had turned the angle of the street, she fell on her knees, and clasping her hands, "Oh, my God," cried she, "protect the queen, protect me!"
19 PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
D'Artagnan went straight to M. de Treville's. He had reflected that in a few minutes the cardinal would be warned by this cursed stranger, who appeared to be his agent, and he judged, with reason, he had not a moment to lose.
The heart of the young man overflowed with joy. An opportunity presented itself to him in which there would be at the same time glory to be acquired, and money to be gained; and as a far higher encouragement, it brought him into close intimacy with a woman he adored. This chance did, then, for him at once more than he would have dared to ask of Providence.
M. de Treville was in his saloon with his habitual court of gentlemen. D'Artagnan, who was known as a familiar of the house, went straight to his office, and sent word that he wished to see him on something of importance.
D'Artagnan had been there scarcely five minutes when M. de Treville entered. At the first glance, and by the joy which was painted on his countenance, the worthy captain plainly perceived that something new was on foot.
All the way along d'Artagnan had been consulting with himself whether he should place confidence in M. de Treville, or whether he should only ask him to give him CARTE BLANCHE for some secret affair. But M. de Treville had always been so thoroughly his friend, had always been so devoted to the king and queen, and hated the cardinal so cordially, that the young man resolved to tell him everything.
"Did you ask for me, my good friend?" said M. de Treville.
"Yes, monsieur," said d'Artagnan, lowering his voice, "and you will pardon me, I hope, for having disturbed you when you know the importance of my business."
"Speak, then, I am all attention."
"It concerns nothing less," said d'Artagnan, "than the honor, perhaps the life of the queen."
"What did you say?" asked M. de Treville, glancing round to see if they were surely alone, and then fixing his questioning look upon d'Artagnan.
"I say, monsieur, that chance has rendered me master of a secret—"
"Which you will guard, I hope, young man, as your life."
"But which I must impart to you, monsieur, for you alone can assist me in the mission I have just received from her Majesty."
"Is this secret your own?"
"No, monsieur; it is her Majesty's."
"Are you authorized by her Majesty to communicate it to me?"
"No, monsieur, for, on the contrary, I am desired to preserve the profoundest mystery."
"Why, then, are you about to betray it to me?"
"Because, as I said, without you I can do nothing; and I am afraid you will refuse me the favor I come to ask if you do not know to what end I ask it."
"Keep your secret, young man, and tell me what you wish."
"I wish you to obtain for me, from Monsieur Dessessart, leave of absence for fifteen days."
"This very night."
"You leave Paris?"
"I am going on a mission."
"May you tell me whither?"
"Has anyone an interest in preventing your arrival there?"
"The cardinal, I believe, would give the world to prevent my success."
"And you are going alone?"
"I am going alone."
"In that case you will not get beyond Bondy. I tell you so, by the faith of de Treville."
"You will be assassinated."
"And I shall die in the performance of my duty."
"But your mission will not be accomplished."
"That is true," replied d'Artagnan.
"Believe me," continued Treville, "in enterprises of this kind, in order that one may arrive, four must set out."
"Ah, you are right, monsieur," said d'Artagnan; "but you know Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and you know if I can dispose of them."
"Without confiding to them the secret which I am not willing to know?"
"We are sworn, once for all, to implicit confidence and devotedness against all proof. Besides, you can tell them that you have full confidence in me, and they will not be more incredulous than you."
"I can send to each of them leave of absence for fifteen days, that is all—to Athos, whose wound still makes him suffer, to go to the waters of Forges; to Porthos and Aramis to accompany their friend, whom they are not willing to abandon in such a painful condition. Sending their leave of absence will be proof enough that I authorize their journey."
"Thanks, monsieur. You are a hundred times too good."
"Begone, then, find them instantly, and let all be done tonight! Ha! But first write your request to Dessessart. Perhaps you had a spy at your heels; and your visit, if it should ever be known to the cardinal, will thus seem legitimate."
D'Artagnan drew up his request, and M. de Treville, on receiving it, assured him that by two o'clock in the morning the four leaves of absence should be at the respective domiciles of the travelers.
"Have the goodness to send mine to Athos's residence. I should dread some disagreeable encounter if I were to go home."
"Be easy. Adieu, and a prosperous voyage. A PROPOS," said M. de Treville, calling him back.
"Have you any money?"
D'Artagnan tapped the bag he had in his pocket.
"Enough?" asked M. de Treville.
"Three hundred pistoles."
"Oh, plenty! That would carry you to the end of the world. Begone, then!"
D'Artagnan saluted M. de Treville, who held out his hand to him; d'Artagnan pressed it with a respect mixed with gratitude. Since his first arrival at Paris, he had had constant occasion to honor this excellent man, whom he had always found worthy, loyal, and great.
His first visit was to Aramis, at whose residence he had not been since the famous evening on which he had followed Mme. Bonacieux. Still further, he had seldom seen the young Musketeer; but every time he had seen him, he had remarked a deep sadness imprinted on his countenance.
This evening, especially, Aramis was melancholy and thoughtful. d'Artagnan asked some questions about this prolonged melancholy. Aramis pleaded as his excuse a commentary upon the eighteenth chapter of St. Augustine, which he was forced to write in Latin for the following week, and which preoccupied him a good deal.
After the two friends had been chatting a few moments, a servant from M. de Treville entered, bringing a sealed packet.
"What is that?" asked Aramis.
"The leave of absence Monsieur has asked for," replied the lackey.
"For me! I have asked for no leave of absence."
"Hold your tongue and take it!" said d'Artagnan. "And you, my friend, there is a demipistole for your trouble; you will tell Monsieur de Treville that Monsieur Aramis is very much obliged to him. Go."
The lackey bowed to the ground and departed.
"What does all this mean?" asked Aramis.
"Pack up all you want for a journey of a fortnight, and follow me."
"But I cannot leave Paris just now without knowing—"
"What is become of her? I suppose you mean—" continued d'Artagnan.
"Become of whom?" replied Aramis.
"The woman who was here—the woman with the embroidered handkerchief."
"Who told you there was a woman here?" replied Aramis, becoming as pale as death.
"I saw her."
"And you know who she is?"
"I believe I can guess, at least."
"Listen!" said Aramis. "Since you appear to know so many things, can you tell me what is become of that woman?"
"I presume that she has returned to Tours."
"To Tours? Yes, that may be. You evidently know her. But why did she return to Tours without telling me anything?"
"Because she was in fear of being arrested."
"Why has she not written to me, then?"
"Because she was afraid of compromising you."
"d'Artagnan, you restore me to life!" cried Aramis. "I fancied myself despised, betrayed. I was so delighted to see her again! I could not have believed she would risk her liberty for me, and yet for what other cause could she have returned to Paris?"
"For the cause which today takes us to England."
"And what is this cause?" demanded Aramis.
"Oh, you'll know it someday, Aramis; but at present I must imitate the discretion of 'the doctor's niece.'"
Aramis smiled, as he remembered the tale he had told his friends on a certain evening. "Well, then, since she has left Paris, and you are sure of it, d'Artagnan, nothing prevents me, and I am ready to follow you. You say we are going—"
"To see Athos now, and if you will come thither, I beg you to make haste, for we have lost much time already. A PROPOS, inform Bazin."
"Will Bazin go with us?" asked Aramis.
"Perhaps so. At all events, it is best that he should follow us to Athos's."
Aramis called Bazin, and, after having ordered him to join them at Athos's residence, said "Let us go then," at the same time taking his cloak, sword, and three pistols, opening uselessly two or three drawers to see if he could not find stray coin. When well assured this search was superfluous, he followed d'Artagnan, wondering to himself how this young Guardsman should know so well who the lady was to whom he had given hospitality, and that he should know better than himself what had become of her.
Only as they went out Aramis placed his hand upon the arm of d'Artagnan, and looking at him earnestly, "You have not spoken of this lady?" said he.
"To nobody in the world."
"Not even to Athos or Porthos?"
"I have not breathed a syllable to them."
Tranquil on this important point, Aramis continued his way with d'Artagnan, and both soon arrived at Athos's dwelling. They found him holding his leave of absence in one hand, and M. de Treville's note in the other.
"Can you explain to me what signify this leave of absence and this letter, which I have just received?" said the astonished Athos.
My dear Athos,
I wish, as your health absolutely requires it, that you should rest for a fortnight. Go, then, and take the waters of Forges, or any that may be more agreeable to you, and recuperate yourself as quickly as possible.
"Well, this leave of absence and that letter mean that you must follow me, Athos."
"To the waters of Forges?"
"There or elsewhere."
"In the king's service?"
"Either the king's or the queen's. Are we not their Majesties' servants?"
At that moment Porthos entered. "PARDIEU!" said he, "here is a strange thing! Since when, I wonder, in the Musketeers, did they grant men leave of absence without their asking for it?"
"Since," said d'Artagnan, "they have friends who ask it for them."
"Ah, ah!" said Porthos, "it appears there's something fresh here."
"Yes, we are going—" said Aramis.
"To what country?" demanded Porthos.
"My faith! I don't know much about it," said Athos. "Ask d'Artagnan."
"To London, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan.
"To London!" cried Porthos; "and what the devil are we going to do in London?"
"That is what I am not at liberty to tell you, gentlemen; you must trust to me."
"But in order to go to London," added Porthos, "money is needed, and I have none."
"Nor I," said Aramis.
"Nor I," said Athos.
"I have," replied d'Artagnan, pulling out his treasure from his pocket, and placing it on the table. "There are in this bag three hundred pistoles. Let each take seventy-five; that is enough to take us to London and back. Besides, make yourselves easy; we shall not all arrive at London."
"Because, in all probability, some one of us will be left on the road."
"Is this, then, a campaign upon which we are now entering?"
"One of a most dangerous kind, I give you notice."
"Ah! But if we do risk being killed," said Porthos, "at least I should like to know what for."
"You would be all the wiser," said Athos.
"And yet," said Aramis, "I am somewhat of Porthos's opinion."
"Is the king accustomed to give you such reasons? No. He says to you jauntily, 'Gentlemen, there is fighting going on in Gascony or in Flanders; go and fight,' and you go there. Why? You need give yourselves no more uneasiness about this."
"d'Artagnan is right," said Athos; "here are our three leaves of absence which came from Monsieur de Treville, and here are three hundred pistoles which came from I don't know where. So let us go and get killed where we are told to go. Is life worth the trouble of so many questions? D'Artagnan, I am ready to follow you."
"And I also," said Porthos.
"And I also," said Aramis. "And, indeed, I am not sorry to quit Paris; I had need of distraction."
"Well, you will have distractions enough, gentlemen, be assured," said d'Artagnan.
"And, now, when are we to go?" asked Athos.
"Immediately," replied d'Artagnan; "we have not a minute to lose."
"Hello, Grimaud! Planchet! Mousqueton! Bazin!" cried the four young men, calling their lackeys, "clean my boots, and fetch the horses from the hotel."
Each Musketeer was accustomed to leave at the general hotel, as at a barrack, his own horse and that of his lackey. Planchet, Grimaud, Mousqueton, and Bazin set off at full speed.
"Now let us lay down the plan of campaign," said Porthos. "Where do we go first?"
"To Calais," said d'Artagnan; "that is the most direct line to London."
"Well," said Porthos, "this is my advice—"
"Four men traveling together would be suspected. D'Artagnan will give each of us his instructions. I will go by the way of Boulogne to clear the way; Athos will set out two hours after, by that of Amiens; Aramis will follow us by that of Noyon; as to d'Artagnan, he will go by what route he thinks is best, in Planchet's clothes, while Planchet will follow us like d'Artagnan, in the uniform of the Guards."
"Gentlemen," said Athos, "my opinion is that it is not proper to allow lackeys to have anything to do in such an affair. A secret may, by chance, be betrayed by gentlemen; but it is almost always sold by lackeys."
"Porthos's plan appears to me to be impracticable," said d'Artagnan, "inasmuch as I am myself ignorant of what instructions I can give you. I am the bearer of a letter, that is all. I have not, and I cannot make three copies of that letter, because it is sealed. We must, then, as it appears to me, travel in company. This letter is here, in this pocket," and he pointed to the pocket which contained the letter. "If I should be killed, one of you must take it, and continue the route; if he be killed, it will be another's turn, and so on—provided a single one arrives, that is all that is required."
"Bravo, d'Artagnan, your opinion is mine," cried Athos, "Besides, we must be consistent; I am going to take the waters, you will accompany me. Instead of taking the waters of Forges, I go and take sea waters; I am free to do so. If anyone wishes to stop us, I will show Monsieur de Treville's letter, and you will show your leaves of absence. If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves; if we are tried, we will stoutly maintain that we were only anxious to dip ourselves a certain number of times in the sea. They would have an easy bargain of four isolated men; whereas four men together make a troop. We will arm our four lackeys with pistols and musketoons; if they send an army out against us, we will give battle, and the survivor, as d'Artagnan says, will carry the letter."
"Well said," cried Aramis; "you don't often speak, Athos, but when you do speak, it is like St. John of the Golden Mouth. I agree to Athos's plan. And you, Porthos?"
"I agree to it, too," said Porthos, "if d'Artagnan approves of it. D'Artagnan, being the bearer of the letter, is naturally the head of the enterprise; let him decide, and we will execute."
"Well," said d'Artagnan, "I decide that we should adopt Athos's plan, and that we set off in half an hour."
"Agreed!" shouted the three Musketeers in chorus.
Each one, stretching out his hand to the bag, took his seventy-five pistoles, and made his preparations to set out at the time appointed.
20 THE JOURNEY
At two o'clock in the morning, our four adventurers left Paris by the Barriere St. Denis. As long as it was dark they remained silent; in spite of themselves they submitted to the influence of the obscurity, and apprehended ambushes on every side.
With the first rays of day their tongues were loosened; with the sun gaiety revived. It was like the eve of a battle; the heart beat, the eyes laughed, and they felt that the life they were perhaps going to lose, was, after all, a good thing.
Besides, the appearance of the caravan was formidable. The black horses of the Musketeers, their martial carriage, with the regimental step of these noble companions of the soldier, would have betrayed the most strict incognito. The lackeys followed, armed to the teeth.
All went well till they arrived at Chantilly, which they reached about eight o'clock in the morning. They needed breakfast, and alighted at the door of an AUBERGE, recommended by a sign representing St. Martin giving half his cloak to a poor man. They ordered the lackeys not to unsaddle the horses, and to hold themselves in readiness to set off again immediately.
They entered the common hall, and placed themselves at table. A gentleman, who had just arrived by the route of Dammartin, was seated at the same table, and was breakfasting. He opened the conversation about rain and fine weather; the travelers replied. He drank to their good health, and the travelers returned his politeness.
But at the moment Mousqueton came to announce that the horses were ready, and they were arising from table, the stranger proposed to Porthos to drink the health of the cardinal. Porthos replied that he asked no better if the stranger, in his turn, would drink the health of the king. The stranger cried that he acknowledged no other king but his Eminence. Porthos called him drunk, and the stranger drew his sword.
"You have committed a piece of folly," said Athos, "but it can't be helped; there is no drawing back. Kill the fellow, and rejoin us as soon as you can."
All three remounted their horses, and set out at a good pace, while Porthos was promising his adversary to perforate him with all the thrusts known in the fencing schools.
"There goes one!" cried Athos, at the end of five hundred paces.
"But why did that man attack Porthos rather than any other one of us?" asked Aramis.
"Because, as Porthos was talking louder than the rest of us, he took him for the chief," said d'Artagnan.
"I always said that this cadet from Gascony was a well of wisdom," murmured Athos; and the travelers continued their route.
At Beauvais they stopped two hours, as well to breathe their horses a little as to wait for Porthos. At the end of two hours, as Porthos did not come, not any news of him, they resumed their journey.
At a league from Beauvais, where the road was confined between two high banks, they fell in with eight or ten men who, taking advantage of the road being unpaved in this spot, appeared to be employed in digging holes and filling up the ruts with mud.
Aramis, not liking to soil his boots with this artificial mortar, apostrophized them rather sharply. Athos wished to restrain him, but it was too late. The laborers began to jeer the travelers and by their insolence disturbed the equanimity even of the cool Athos, who urged on his horse against one of them.
Then each of these men retreated as far as the ditch, from which each took a concealed musket; the result was that our seven travelers were outnumbered in weapons. Aramis received a ball which passed through his shoulder, and Mousqueton another ball which lodged in the fleshy part which prolongs the lower portion of the loins. Therefore Mousqueton alone fell from his horse, not because he was severely wounded, but not being able to see the wound, he judged it to be more serious than it really was.
"It was an ambuscade!" shouted d'Artagnan. "Don't waste a charge! Forward!"
Aramis, wounded as he was, seized the mane of his horse, which carried him on with the others. Mousqueton's horse rejoined them, and galloped by the side of his companions.
"That will serve us for a relay," said Athos.
"I would rather have had a hat," said d'Artagnan. "Mine was carried away by a ball. By my faith, it is very fortunate that the letter was not in it."
"They'll kill poor Porthos when he comes up," said Aramis.
"If Porthos were on his legs, he would have rejoined us by this time," said Athos. "My opinion is that on the ground the drunken man was not intoxicated."
They continued at their best speed for two hours, although the horses were so fatigued that it was to be feared they would soon refuse service.
The travelers had chosen crossroads in the hope that they might meet with less interruption; but at Crevecoeur, Aramis declared he could proceed no farther. In fact, it required all the courage which he concealed beneath his elegant form and polished manners to bear him so far. He grew more pale every minute, and they were obliged to support him on his horse. They lifted him off at the door of a cabaret, left Bazin with him, who, besides, in a skirmish was more embarrassing than useful, and set forward again in the hope of sleeping at Amiens.
"MORBLEU," said Athos, as soon as they were again in motion, "reduced to two masters and Grimaud and Planchet! MORBLEU! I won't be their dupe, I will answer for it. I will neither open my mouth nor draw my sword between this and Calais. I swear by—"
"Don't waste time in swearing," said d'Artagnan; "let us gallop, if our horses will consent."
And the travelers buried their rowels in their horses' flanks, who thus vigorously stimulated recovered their energies. They arrived at Amiens at midnight, and alighted at the AUBERGE of the Golden Lily.
The host had the appearance of as honest a man as any on earth. He received the travelers with his candlestick in one hand and his cotton nightcap in the other. He wished to lodge the two travelers each in a charming chamber; but unfortunately these charming chambers were at the opposite extremities of the hotel. d'Artagnan and Athos refused them. The host replied that he had no other worthy of their Excellencies; but the travelers declared they would sleep in the common chamber, each on a mattress which might be thrown upon the ground. The host insisted; but the travelers were firm, and he was obliged to do as they wished.
They had just prepared their beds and barricaded their door within, when someone knocked at the yard shutter; they demanded who was there, and recognizing the voices of their lackeys, opened the shutter. It was indeed Planchet and Grimaud.
"Grimaud can take care of the horses," said Planchet. "If you are willing, gentlemen, I will sleep across your doorway, and you will then be certain that nobody can reach you."
"And on what will you sleep?" said d'Artagnan.
"Here is my bed," replied Planchet, producing a bundle of straw.
"Come, then," said d'Artagnan, "you are right. Mine host's face does not please me at all; it is too gracious."
"Nor me either," said Athos.
Planchet mounted by the window and installed himself across the doorway, while Grimaud went and shut himself up in the stable, undertaking that by five o'clock in the morning he and the four horses should be ready.
The night was quiet enough. Toward two o'clock in the morning somebody endeavored to open the door; but as Planchet awoke in an instant and cried, "Who goes there?" somebody replied that he was mistaken, and went away.
At four o'clock in the morning they heard a terrible riot in the stables. Grimaud had tried to waken the stable boys, and the stable boys had beaten him. When they opened the window, they saw the poor lad lying senseless, with his head split by a blow with a pitchfork.
Planchet went down into the yard, and wished to saddle the horses; but the horses were all used up. Mousqueton's horse which had traveled for five or six hours without a rider the day before, might have been able to pursue the journey; but by an inconceivable error the veterinary surgeon, who had been sent for, as it appeared, to bleed one of the host's horses, had bled Mousqueton's.
This began to be annoying. All these successive accidents were perhaps the result of chance; but they might be the fruits of a plot. Athos and d'Artagnan went out, while Planchet was sent to inquire if there were not three horses for sale in the neighborhood. At the door stood two horses, fresh, strong, and fully equipped. These would just have suited them. He asked where their masters were, and was informed that they had passed the night in the inn, and were then settling their bill with the host.
Athos went down to pay the reckoning, while d'Artagnan and Planchet stood at the street door. The host was in a lower and back room, to which Athos was requested to go.
Athos entered without the least mistrust, and took out two pistoles to pay the bill. The host was alone, seated before his desk, one of the drawers of which was partly open. He took the money which Athos offered to him, and after turning and turning it over and over in his hands, suddenly cried out that it was bad, and that he would have him and his companions arrested as forgers.
"You blackguard!" cried Athos, going toward him, "I'll cut your ears off!"
At the same instant, four men, armed to the teeth, entered by side doors, and rushed upon Athos.
"I am taken!" shouted Athos, with all the power of his lungs. "Go on, d'Artagnan! Spur, spur!" and he fired two pistols.
D'Artagnan and Planchet did not require twice bidding; they unfastened the two horses that were waiting at the door, leaped upon them, buried their spurs in their sides, and set off at full gallop.
"Do you know what has become of Athos?" asked d'Artagnan of Planchet, as they galloped on.
"Ah, monsieur," said Planchet, "I saw one fall at each of his two shots, and he appeared to me, through the glass door, to be fighting with his sword with the others."
"Brave Athos!" murmured d'Artagnan, "and to think that we are compelled to leave him; maybe the same fate awaits us two paces hence. Forward, Planchet, forward! You are a brave fellow."
"As I told you, monsieur," replied Planchet, "Picards are found out by being used. Besides, I am here in my own country, and that excites me."
And both, with free use of the spur, arrived at St. Omer without drawing bit. At St. Omer they breathed their horses with the bridles passed under their arms for fear of accident, and ate a morsel from their hands on the stones of the street, after they departed again.
At a hundred paces from the gates of Calais, d'Artagnan's horse gave out, and could not by any means be made to get up again, the blood flowing from his eyes and his nose. There still remained Planchet's horse; but he stopped short, and could not be made to move a step.
Fortunately, as we have said, they were within a hundred paces of the city; they left their two nags upon the high road, and ran toward the quay. Planchet called his master's attention to a gentleman who had just arrived with his lackey, and only preceded them by about fifty paces. They made all speed to come up to this gentleman, who appeared to be in great haste. His boots were covered with dust, and he inquired if he could not instantly cross over to England.
"Nothing would be more easy," said the captain of a vessel ready to set sail, "but this morning came an order to let no one leave without express permission from the cardinal."
"I have that permission," said the gentleman, drawing the paper from his pocket; "here it is."
"Have it examined by the governor of the port," said the shipmaster, "and give me the preference."
"Where shall I find the governor?"
"At his country house."
"And that is situated?"
"At a quarter of a league from the city. Look, you may see it from here—at the foot of that little hill, that slated roof."
"Very well," said the gentleman. And, with his lackey, he took the road to the governor's country house.
D'Artagnan and Planchet followed the gentleman at a distance of five hundred paces. Once outside the city, d'Artagnan overtook the gentleman as he was entering a little wood.
"Monsieur, you appear to be in great haste?"
"No one can be more so, monsieur."
"I am sorry for that," said d'Artagnan; "for as I am in great haste likewise, I wish to beg you to render me a service."
"To let me sail first."
"That's impossible," said the gentleman; "I have traveled sixty leagues in forty hours, and by tomorrow at midday I must be in London."
"I have performed that same distance in forty hours, and by ten o'clock in the morning I must be in London."
"Very sorry, monsieur; but I was here first, and will not sail second."
"I am sorry, too, monsieur; but I arrived second, and must sail first."
"The king's service!" said the gentleman.
"My own service!" said d'Artagnan.
"But this is a needless quarrel you seek with me, as it seems to me."
"PARBLEU! What do you desire it to be?"
"What do you want?"
"Would you like to know?"
"Well, then, I wish that order of which you are bearer, seeing that I have not one of my own and must have one."
"You jest, I presume."
"I never jest."
"Let me pass!"
"You shall not pass."
"My brave young man, I will blow out your brains. HOLA, Lubin, my pistols!"
"Planchet," called out d'Artagnan, "take care of the lackey; I will manage the master."
Planchet, emboldened by the first exploit, sprang upon Lubin; and being strong and vigorous, he soon got him on the broad of his back, and placed his knee upon his breast.
"Go on with your affair, monsieur," cried Planchet; "I have finished mine."
Seeing this, the gentleman drew his sword, and sprang upon d'Artagnan; but he had too strong an adversary. In three seconds d'Artagnan had wounded him three times, exclaiming at each thrust, "One for Athos, one for Porthos; and one for Aramis!"
At the third hit the gentleman fell like a log. D'Artagnan believed him to be dead, or at least insensible, and went toward him for the purpose of taking the order; but the moment he extended his hand to search for it, the wounded man, who had not dropped his sword, plunged the point into d'Artagnan's breast, crying, "One for you!"
"And one for me—the best for last!" cried d'Artagnan, furious, nailing him to the earth with a fourth thrust through his body.
This time the gentleman closed his eyes and fainted. D'Artagnan searched his pockets, and took from one of them the order for the passage. It was in the name of Comte de Wardes.
Then, casting a glance on the handsome young man, who was scarcely twenty-five years of age, and whom he was leaving in his gore, deprived of sense and perhaps dead, he gave a sigh for that unaccountable destiny which leads men to destroy each other for the interests of people who are strangers to them and who often do not even know that they exist. But he was soon aroused from these reflections by Lubin, who uttered loud cries and screamed for help with all his might.
Planchet grasped him by the throat, and pressed as hard as he could. "Monsieur," said he, "as long as I hold him in this manner, he can't cry, I'll be bound; but as soon as I let go he will howl again. I know him for a Norman, and Normans are obstinate."
In fact, tightly held as he was, Lubin endeavored still to cry out.
"Stay!" said d'Artagnan; and taking out his handkerchief, he gagged him.
"Now," said Planchet, "let us bind him to a tree."
This being properly done, they drew the Comte de Wardes close to his servant; and as night was approaching, and as the wounded man and the bound man were at some little distance within the wood, it was evident they were likely to remain there till the next day.
"And now," said d'Artagnan, "to the Governor's."
"But you are wounded, it seems," said Planchet.
"Oh, that's nothing! Let us attend to what is more pressing first, and then we will attend to my wound; besides, it does not seem very dangerous."
And they both set forward as fast as they could toward the country house of the worthy functionary.
The Comte de Wardes was announced, and d'Artagnan was introduced.
"You have an order signed by the cardinal?" said the governor.
"Yes, monsieur," replied d'Artagnan; "here it is."
"Ah, ah! It is quite regular and explicit," said the governor.
"Most likely," said d'Artagnan; "I am one of his most faithful servants."
"It appears that his Eminence is anxious to prevent someone from crossing to England?"
"Yes; a certain d'Artagnan, a Bearnese gentleman who left Paris in company with three of his friends, with the intention of going to London."
"Do you know him personally?" asked the governor.
"Describe him to me, then."
"Nothing more easy."
And d'Artagnan gave, feature for feature, a description of the Comte de Wardes.
"Is he accompanied?"
"Yes; by a lackey named Lubin."
"We will keep a sharp lookout for them; and if we lay hands on them his Eminence may be assured they will be reconducted to Paris under a good escort."
"And by doing so, Monsieur the Governor," said d'Artagnan, "you will deserve well of the cardinal."
"Shall you see him on your return, Monsieur Count?"
"Without a doubt."
"Tell him, I beg you, that I am his humble servant."
"I will not fail."
Delighted with this assurance the governor countersigned the passport and delivered it to d'Artagnan. D'Artagnan lost no time in useless compliments. He thanked the governor, bowed, and departed. Once outside, he and Planchet set off as fast as they could; and by making a long detour avoided the wood and reentered the city by another gate.
The vessel was quite ready to sail, and the captain was waiting on the wharf. "Well?" said he, on perceiving d'Artagnan.
"Here is my pass countersigned," said the latter.
"And that other gentleman?
"He will not go today," said d'Artagnan; "but here, I'll pay you for us two."
"In that case let us go," said the shipmaster.
"Let us go," repeated d'Artagnan.
He leaped with Planchet into the boat, and five minutes after they were on board. It was time; for they had scarcely sailed half a league, when d'Artagnan saw a flash and heard a detonation. It was the cannon which announced the closing of the port.
He had now leisure to look to his wound. Fortunately, as d'Artagnan had thought, it was not dangerous. The point of the sword had touched a rib, and glanced along the bone. Still further, his shirt had stuck to the wound, and he had lost only a few drops of blood.
D'Artagnan was worn out with fatigue. A mattress was laid upon the deck for him. He threw himself upon it, and fell asleep.
On the morrow, at break of day, they were still three or four leagues from the coast of England. The breeze had been so light all night, they had made but little progress. At ten o'clock the vessel cast anchor in the harbor of Dover, and at half past ten d'Artagnan placed his foot on English land, crying, "Here I am at last!"
But that was not all; they must get to London. In England the post was well served. D'Artagnan and Planchet took each a post horse, and a postillion rode before them. In a few hours they were in the capital.
D'Artagnan did not know London; he did not know a word of English; but he wrote the name of Buckingham on a piece of paper, and everyone pointed out to him the way to the duke's hotel.
The duke was at Windsor hunting with the king. D'Artagnan inquired for the confidential valet of the duke, who, having accompanied him in all his voyages, spoke French perfectly well; he told him that he came from Paris on an affair of life and death, and that he must speak with his master instantly.
The confidence with which d'Artagnan spoke convinced Patrick, which was the name of this minister of the minister. He ordered two horses to be saddled, and himself went as guide to the young Guardsman. As for Planchet, he had been lifted from his horse as stiff as a rush; the poor lad's strength was almost exhausted. d'Artagnan seemed iron.
On their arrival at the castle they learned that Buckingham and the king were hawking in the marshes two or three leagues away. In twenty minutes they were on the spot named. Patrick soon caught the sound of his master's voice calling his falcon.
"Whom must I announce to my Lord Duke?" asked Patrick.
"The young man who one evening sought a quarrel with him on the Pont Neuf, opposite the Samaritaine."
"A singular introduction!"
"You will find that it is as good as another."
Patrick galloped off, reached the duke, and announced to him in the terms directed that a messenger awaited him.
Buckingham at once remembered the circumstance, and suspecting that something was going on in France of which it was necessary he should be informed, he only took the time to inquire where the messenger was, and recognizing from afar the uniform of the Guards, he put his horse into a gallop, and rode straight up to d'Artagnan. Patrick discreetly kept in the background.
"No misfortune has happened to the queen?" cried Buckingham, the instant he came up, throwing all his fear and love into the question.
"I believe not; nevertheless I believe she runs some great peril from which your Grace alone can extricate her."
"I!" cried Buckingham. "What is it? I should be too happy to be of any service to her. Speak, speak!"
"Take this letter," said d'Artagnan.
"This letter! From whom comes this letter?"
"From her Majesty, as I think."
"From her Majesty!" said Buckingham, becoming so pale that d'Artagnan feared he would faint as he broke the seal.
"What is this rent?" said he, showing d'Artagnan a place where it had been pierced through.
"Ah," said d'Artagnan, "I did not see that; it was the sword of the Comte de Wardes which made that hole, when he gave me a good thrust in the breast."
"You are wounded?" asked Buckingham, as he opened the letter.
"Oh, nothing but a scratch," said d'Artagnan.
"Just heaven, what have I read?" cried the duke. "Patrick, remain here, or rather join the king, wherever he may be, and tell his Majesty that I humbly beg him to excuse me, but an affair of the greatest importance recalls me to London. Come, monsieur, come!" and both set off towards the capital at full gallop.
21 THE COUNTESS DE WINTER
As they rode along, the duke endeavored to draw from d'Artagnan, not all that had happened, but what d'Artagnan himself knew. By adding all that he heard from the mouth of the young man to his own remembrances, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a position of the seriousness of which, for the rest, the queen's letter, short but explicit, gave him the clue. But that which astonished him most was that the cardinal, so deeply interested in preventing this young man from setting his foot in England, had not succeeded in arresting him on the road. It was then, upon the manifestation of this astonishment, that d'Artagnan related to him the precaution taken, and how, thanks to the devotion of his three friends, whom he had left scattered and bleeding on the road, he had succeeded in coming off with a single sword thrust, which had pierced the queen's letter and for which he had repaid M. de Wardes with such terrible coin. While he was listening to this recital, delivered with the greatest simplicity, the duke looked from time to time at the young man with astonishment, as if he could not comprehend how so much prudence, courage, and devotedness could be allied with a countenance which indicated not more than twenty years.
The horses went like the wind, and in a few minutes they were at the gates of London. D'Artagnan imagined that on arriving in town the duke would slacken his pace, but it was not so. He kept on his way at the same rate, heedless about upsetting those whom he met on the road. In fact, in crossing the city two or three accidents of this kind happened; but Buckingham did not even turn his head to see what became of those he had knocked down. d'Artagnan followed him amid cries which strongly resembled curses.