On entering the court of his hotel, Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without thinking what became of the animal, threw the bridle on his neck, and sprang toward the vestibule. D'Artagnan did the same, with a little more concern, however, for the noble creatures, whose merits he fully appreciated; but he had the satisfaction of seeing three or four grooms run from the kitchens and the stables, and busy themselves with the steeds.
The duke walked so fast that d'Artagnan had some trouble in keeping up with him. He passed through several apartments, of an elegance of which even the greatest nobles of France had not even an idea, and arrived at length in a bedchamber which was at once a miracle of taste and of richness. In the alcove of this chamber was a door concealed in the tapestry which the duke opened with a little gold key which he wore suspended from his neck by a chain of the same metal. With discretion d'Artagnan remained behind; but at the moment when Buckingham crossed the threshold, he turned round, and seeing the hesitation of the young man, "Come in!" cried he, "and if you have the good fortune to be admitted to her Majesty's presence, tell her what you have seen."
Encouraged by this invitation, d'Artagnan followed the duke, who closed the door after them. The two found themselves in a small chapel covered with a tapestry of Persian silk worked with gold, and brilliantly lighted with a vast number of candles. Over a species of altar, and beneath a canopy of blue velvet, surmounted by white and red plumes, was a full-length portrait of Anne of Austria, so perfect in its resemblance that d'Artagnan uttered a cry of surprise on beholding it. One might believe the queen was about to speak. On the altar, and beneath the portrait, was the casket containing the diamond studs.
The duke approached the altar, knelt as a priest might have done before a crucifix, and opened the casket. "There," said he, drawing from the casket a large bow of blue ribbon all sparkling with diamonds, "there are the precious studs which I have taken an oath should be buried with me. The queen gave them to me, the queen requires them again. Her will be done, like that of God, in all things."
Then, he began to kiss, one after the other, those dear studs with which he was about to part. All at once he uttered a terrible cry.
"What is the matter?" exclaimed d'Artagnan, anxiously; "what has happened to you, my Lord?"
"All is lost!" cried Buckingham, becoming as pale as a corpse; "two of the studs are wanting, there are only ten."
"Can you have lost them, my Lord, or do you think they have been stolen?"
"They have been stolen," replied the duke, "and it is the cardinal who has dealt this blow. Hold; see! The ribbons which held them have been cut with scissors."
"If my Lord suspects they have been stolen, perhaps the person who stole them still has them in his hands."
"Wait, wait!" said the duke. "The only time I have worn these studs was at a ball given by the king eight days ago at Windsor. The Comtesse de Winter, with whom I had quarreled, became reconciled to me at that ball. That reconciliation was nothing but the vengeance of a jealous woman. I have never seen her from that day. The woman is an agent of the cardinal."
"He has agents, then, throughout the world?" cried d'Artagnan.
"Oh, yes," said Buckingham, grating his teeth with rage. "Yes, he is a terrible antagonist. But when is this ball to take place?"
"Monday next! Still five days before us. That's more time than we want. Patrick!" cried the duke, opening the door of the chapel, "Patrick!" His confidential valet appeared.
"My jeweler and my secretary."
The valet went out with a mute promptitude which showed him accustomed to obey blindly and without reply.
But although the jeweler had been mentioned first, it was the secretary who first made his appearance. This was simply because he lived in the hotel. He found Buckingham seated at a table in his bedchamber, writing orders with his own hand.
"Mr. Jackson," said he, "go instantly to the Lord Chancellor, and tell him that I charge him with the execution of these orders. I wish them to be promulgated immediately."
"But, my Lord, if the Lord Chancellor interrogates me upon the motives which may have led your Grace to adopt such an extraordinary measure, what shall I reply?"
"That such is my pleasure, and that I answer for my will to no man."
"Will that be the answer," replied the secretary, smiling, "which he must transmit to his Majesty if, by chance, his Majesty should have the curiosity to know why no vessel is to leave any of the ports of Great Britain?"
"You are right, Mr. Jackson," replied Buckingham. "He will say, in that case, to the king that I am determined on war, and that this measure is my first act of hostility against France."
The secretary bowed and retired.
"We are safe on that side," said Buckingham, turning toward d'Artagnan. "If the studs are not yet gone to Paris, they will not arrive till after you."
"I have just placed an embargo on all vessels at present in his Majesty's ports, and without particular permission, not one dare lift an anchor."
D'Artagnan looked with stupefaction at a man who thus employed the unlimited power with which he was clothed by the confidence of a king in the prosecution of his intrigues. Buckingham saw by the expression of the young man's face what was passing in his mind, and he smiled.
"Yes," said he, "yes, Anne of Austria is my true queen. Upon a word from her, I would betray my country, I would betray my king, I would betray my God. She asked me not to send the Protestants of La Rochelle the assistance I promised them; I have not done so. I broke my word, it is true; but what signifies that? I obeyed my love; and have I not been richly paid for that obedience? It was to that obedience I owe her portrait."
D'Artagnan was amazed to note by what fragile and unknown threads the destinies of nations and the lives of men are suspended. He was lost in these reflections when the goldsmith entered. He was an Irishman—one of the most skillful of his craft, and who himself confessed that he gained a hundred thousand livres a year by the Duke of Buckingham.
"Mr. O'Reilly," said the duke, leading him into the chapel, "look at these diamond studs, and tell me what they are worth apiece."
The goldsmith cast a glance at the elegant manner in which they were set, calculated, one with another, what the diamonds were worth, and without hesitation said, "Fifteen hundred pistoles each, my Lord."
"How many days would it require to make two studs exactly like them? You see there are two wanting."
"Eight days, my Lord."
"I will give you three thousand pistoles apiece if I can have them by the day after tomorrow."
"My Lord, they shall be yours."
"You are a jewel of a man, Mr. O'Reilly; but that is not all. These studs cannot be trusted to anybody; it must be done in the palace."
"Impossible, my Lord! There is no one but myself can so execute them that one cannot tell the new from the old."
"Therefore, my dear Mr. O'Reilly, you are my prisoner. And if you wish ever to leave my palace, you cannot; so make the best of it. Name to me such of your workmen as you need, and point out the tools they must bring."
The goldsmith knew the duke. He knew all objection would be useless, and instantly determined how to act.
"May I be permitted to inform my wife?" said he.
"Oh, you may even see her if you like, my dear Mr. O'Reilly. Your captivity shall be mild, be assured; and as every inconvenience deserves its indemnification, here is, in addition to the price of the studs, an order for a thousand pistoles, to make you forget the annoyance I cause you."
D'Artagnan could not get over the surprise created in him by this minister, who thus open-handed, sported with men and millions.
As to the goldsmith, he wrote to his wife, sending her the order for the thousand pistoles, and charging her to send him, in exchange, his most skillful apprentice, an assortment of diamonds, of which he gave the names and the weight, and the necessary tools.
Buckingham conducted the goldsmith to the chamber destined for him, and which, at the end of half an hour, was transformed into a workshop. Then he placed a sentinel at each door, with an order to admit nobody upon any pretense but his VALET DE CHAMBRE, Patrick. We need not add that the goldsmith, O'Reilly, and his assistant, were prohibited from going out under any pretext. This point, settled, the duke turned to d'Artagnan. "Now, my young friend," said he, "England is all our own. What do you wish for? What do you desire?"
"A bed, my Lord," replied d'Artagnan. "At present, I confess, that is the thing I stand most in need of."
Buckingham gave d'Artagnan a chamber adjoining his own. He wished to have the young man at hand—not that he at all mistrusted him, but for the sake of having someone to whom he could constantly talk of the queen.
In one hour after, the ordinance was published in London that no vessel bound for France should leave port, not even the packet boat with letters. In the eyes of everybody this was a declaration of war between the two kingdoms.
On the day after the morrow, by eleven o'clock, the two diamond studs were finished, and they were so completely imitated, so perfectly alike, that Buckingham could not tell the new ones from the old ones, and experts in such matters would have been deceived as he was. He immediately called d'Artagnan. "Here," said he to him, "are the diamond studs that you came to bring; and be my witness that I have done all that human power could do."
"Be satisfied, my Lord, I will tell all that I have seen. But does your Grace mean to give me the studs without the casket?"
"The casket would encumber you. Besides, the casket is the more precious from being all that is left to me. You will say that I keep it."
"I will perform your commission, word for word, my Lord."
"And now," resumed Buckingham, looking earnestly at the young man, "how shall I ever acquit myself of the debt I owe you?"
D'Artagnan blushed up to the whites of his eyes. He saw that the duke was searching for a means of making him accept something and the idea that the blood of his friends and himself was about to be paid for with English gold was strangely repugnant to him.
"Let us understand each other, my Lord," replied d'Artagnan, "and let us make things clear beforehand in order that there may be no mistake. I am in the service of the King and Queen of France, and form part of the company of Monsieur Dessessart, who, as well as his brother-in-law, Monsieur de Treville, is particularly attached to their Majesties. What I have done, then, has been for the queen, and not at all for your Grace. And still further, it is very probable I should not have done anything of this, if it had not been to make myself agreeable to someone who is my lady, as the queen is yours."
"Yes," said the duke, smiling, "and I even believe that I know that other person; it is—"
"My Lord, I have not named her!" interrupted the young man, warmly.
"That is true," said the duke; "and it is to this person I am bound to discharge my debt of gratitude."
"You have said, my Lord; for truly, at this moment when there is question of war, I confess to you that I see nothing in your Grace but an Englishman, and consequently an enemy whom I should have much greater pleasure in meeting on the field of battle than in the park at Windsor or the corridors of the Louvre—all which, however, will not prevent me from executing to the very point my commission or from laying down my life, if there be need of it, to accomplish it; but I repeat it to your Grace, without your having personally on that account more to thank me for in this second interview than for what I did for you in the first."
"We say, 'Proud as a Scotsman,'" murmured the Duke of Buckingham.
"And we say, 'Proud as a Gascon,'" replied d'Artagnan. "The Gascons are the Scots of France."
D'Artagnan bowed to the duke, and was retiring.
"Well, are you going away in that manner? Where, and how?"
"Fore Gad, these Frenchmen have no consideration!"
"I had forgotten that England was an island, and that you were the king of it."
"Go to the riverside, ask for the brig SUND, and give this letter to the captain; he will convey you to a little port, where certainly you are not expected, and which is ordinarily only frequented by fishermen."
"The name of that port?"
"St. Valery; but listen. When you have arrived there you will go to a mean tavern, without a name and without a sign—a mere fisherman's hut. You cannot be mistaken; there is but one."
"You will ask for the host, and will repeat to him the word 'Forward!'"
"In French, EN AVANT. It is the password. He will give you a horse all saddled, and will point out to you the road you ought to take. You will find, in the same way, four relays on your route. If you will give at each of these relays your address in Paris, the four horses will follow you thither. You already know two of them, and you appeared to appreciate them like a judge. They were those we rode on; and you may rely upon me for the others not being inferior to them. These horses are equipped for the field. However proud you may be, you will not refuse to accept one of them, and to request your three companions to accept the others—that is, in order to make war against us. Besides, the end justified the means, as you Frenchmen say, does it not?"
"Yes, my Lord, I accept them," said d'Artagnan; "and if it please God, we will make a good use of your presents."
"Well, now, your hand, young man. Perhaps we shall soon meet on the field of battle; but in the meantime we shall part good friends, I hope."
"Yes, my Lord; but with the hope of soon becoming enemies."
"Be satisfied; I promise you that."
"I depend upon your word, my Lord."
D'Artagnan bowed to the duke, and made his way as quickly as possible to the riverside. Opposite the Tower of London he found the vessel that had been named to him, delivered his letter to the captain, who after having it examined by the governor of the port made immediate preparations to sail.
Fifty vessels were waiting to set out. Passing alongside one of them, d'Artagnan fancied he perceived on board it the woman of Meung—the same whom the unknown gentleman had called Milady, and whom d'Artagnan had thought so handsome; but thanks to the current of the stream and a fair wind, his vessel passed so quickly that he had little more than a glimpse of her.
The next day about nine o'clock in the morning, he landed at St. Valery. D'Artagnan went instantly in search of the inn, and easily discovered it by the riotous noise which resounded from it. War between England and France was talked of as near and certain, and the jolly sailors were having a carousal.
D'Artagnan made his way through the crowd, advanced toward the host, and pronounced the word "Forward!" The host instantly made him a sign to follow, went out with him by a door which opened into a yard, led him to the stable, where a saddled horse awaited him, and asked him if he stood in need of anything else.
"I want to know the route I am to follow," said d'Artagnan.
"Go from hence to Blangy, and from Blangy to Neufchatel. At Neufchatel, go to the tavern of the Golden Harrow, give the password to the landlord, and you will find, as you have here, a horse ready saddled."
"Have I anything to pay?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Everything is paid," replied the host, "and liberally. Begone, and may God guide you!"
"Amen!" cried the young man, and set off at full gallop.
Four hours later he was in Neufchatel. He strictly followed the instructions he had received. At Neufchatel, as at St. Valery, he found a horse quite ready and awaiting him. He was about to remove the pistols from the saddle he had quit to the one he was about to fill, but he found the holsters furnished with similar pistols.
"Your address at Paris?"
"Hotel of the Guards, company of Dessessart."
"Enough," replied the questioner.
"Which route must I take?" demanded d'Artagnan, in his turn.
"That of Rouen; but you will leave the city on your right. You must stop at the little village of Eccuis, in which there is but one tavern—the Shield of France. Don't condemn it from appearances; you will find a horse in the stables quite as good as this."
"The same password?"
"A good journey, gentlemen! Do you want anything?"
D'Artagnan shook his head, and set off at full speed. At Eccuis, the same scene was repeated. He found as provident a host and a fresh horse. He left his address as he had done before, and set off again at the same pace for Pontoise. At Pontoise he changed his horse for the last time, and at nine o'clock galloped into the yard of Treville's hotel. He had made nearly sixty leagues in little more than twelve hours.
M. de Treville received him as if he had seen him that same morning; only, when pressing his hand a little more warmly than usual, he informed him that the company of Dessessart was on duty at the Louvre, and that he might repair at once to his post.
22 THE BALLET OF LA MERLAISON
On the morrow, nothing was talked of in Paris but the ball which the aldermen of the city were to give to the king and queen, and in which their Majesties were to dance the famous La Merlaison—the favorite ballet of the king.
Eight days had been occupied in preparations at the Hotel de Ville for this important evening. The city carpenters had erected scaffolds upon which the invited ladies were to be placed; the city grocer had ornamented the chambers with two hundred FLAMBEAUX of white wax, a piece of luxury unheard of at that period; and twenty violins were ordered, and the price for them fixed at double the usual rate, upon condition, said the report, that they should be played all night.
At ten o'clock in the morning the Sieur de la Coste, ensign in the king's Guards, followed by two officers and several archers of that body, came to the city registrar, named Clement, and demanded of him all the keys of the rooms and offices of the hotel. These keys were given up to him instantly. Each of them had ticket attached to it, by which it might be recognized; and from that moment the Sieur de la Coste was charged with the care of all the doors and all the avenues.
At eleven o'clock came in his turn Duhallier, captain of the Guards, bringing with him fifty archers, who were distributed immediately through the Hotel de Ville, at the doors assigned them.
At three o'clock came two companies of the Guards, one French, the other Swiss. The company of French guards was composed of half of M. Duhallier's men and half of M. Dessessart's men.
At six in the evening the guests began to come. As fast as they entered, they were placed in the grand saloon, on the platforms prepared for them.
At nine o'clock Madame la Premiere Presidente arrived. As next to the queen, she was the most considerable personage of the fete, she was received by the city officials, and placed in a box opposite to that which the queen was to occupy.
At ten o'clock, the king's collation, consisting of preserves and other delicacies, was prepared in the little room on the side of the church of St. Jean, in front of the silver buffet of the city, which was guarded by four archers.
At midnight great cries and loud acclamations were heard. It was the king, who was passing through the streets which led from the Louvre to the Hotel de Ville, and which were all illuminated with colored lanterns.
Immediately the aldermen, clothed in their cloth robes and preceded by six sergeants, each holding a FLAMBEAU in his hand, went to attend upon the king, whom they met on the steps, where the provost of the merchants made him the speech of welcome—a compliment to which his Majesty replied with an apology for coming so late, laying the blame upon the cardinal, who had detained him till eleven o'clock, talking of affairs of state.
His Majesty, in full dress, was accompanied by his royal Highness, M. le Comte de Soissons, by the Grand Prior, by the Duc de Longueville, by the Duc d'Euboeuf, by the Comte d'Harcourt, by the Comte de la Roche-Guyon, by M. de Liancourt, by M. de Baradas, by the Comte de Cramail, and by the Chevalier de Souveray. Everybody noticed that the king looked dull and preoccupied.
A private room had been prepared for the king and another for Monsieur. In each of these closets were placed masquerade dresses. The same had been done for the queen and Madame the President. The nobles and ladies of their Majesties' suites were to dress, two by two, in chambers prepared for the purpose. Before entering his closet the king desired to be informed the moment the cardinal arrived.
Half an hour after the entrance of the king, fresh acclamations were heard; these announced the arrival of the queen. The aldermen did as they had done before, and preceded by their sergeants, advanced to receive their illustrious guest. The queen entered the great hall; and it was remarked that, like the king, she looked dull and even weary.
At the moment she entered, the curtain of a small gallery which to that time had been closed, was drawn, and the pale face of the cardinal appeared, he being dressed as a Spanish cavalier. His eyes were fixed upon those of the queen, and a smile of terrible joy passed over his lips; the queen did not wear her diamond studs.
The queen remained for a short time to receive the compliments of the city dignitaries and to reply to the salutations of the ladies. All at once the king appeared with the cardinal at one of the doors of the hall. The cardinal was speaking to him in a low voice, and the king was very pale.
The king made his way through the crowd without a mask, and the ribbons of his doublet scarcely tied. He went straight to the queen, and in an altered voice said, "Why, madame, have you not thought proper to wear your diamond studs, when you know it would give me so much gratification?"
The queen cast a glance around her, and saw the cardinal behind, with a diabolical smile on his countenance.
"Sire," replied the queen, with a faltering voice, "because, in the midst of such a crowd as this, I feared some accident might happen to them."
"And you were wrong, madame. If I made you that present it was that you might adorn yourself therewith. I tell you that you were wrong."
The voice of the king was tremulous with anger. Everybody looked and listened with astonishment, comprehending nothing of what passed.
"Sire," said the queen, "I can send for them to the Louvre, where they are, and thus your Majesty's wishes will be complied with."
"Do so, madame, do so, and that at once; for within an hour the ballet will commence."
The queen bent in token of submission, and followed the ladies who were to conduct her to her room. On his part the king returned to his apartment.
There was a moment of trouble and confusion in the assembly. Everybody had remarked that something had passed between the king and queen; but both of them had spoken so low that everybody, out of respect, withdrew several steps, so that nobody had heard anything. The violins began to sound with all their might, but nobody listened to them.
The king came out first from his room. He was in a most elegant hunting costume; and Monsieur and the other nobles were dressed like him. This was the costume that best became the king. So dressed, he really appeared the first gentleman of his kingdom.
The cardinal drew near to the king, and placed in his hand a small casket. The king opened it, and found in it two diamond studs.
"What does this mean?" demanded he of the cardinal.
"Nothing," replied the latter; "only, if the queen has the studs, which I very much doubt, count them, sire, and if you only find ten, ask her Majesty who can have stolen from her the two studs that are here."
The king looked at the cardinal as if to interrogate him; but he had not time to address any question to him—a cry of admiration burst from every mouth. If the king appeared to be the first gentleman of his kingdom, the queen was without doubt the most beautiful woman in France.
It is true that the habit of a huntress became her admirably. She wore a beaver hat with blue feathers, a surtout of gray-pearl velvet, fastened with diamond clasps, and a petticoat of blue satin, embroidered with silver. On her left shoulder sparkled the diamond studs, on a bow of the same color as the plumes and the petticoat.
The king trembled with joy and the cardinal with vexation; although, distant as they were from the queen, they could not count the studs. The queen had them. The only question was, had she ten or twelve?
At that moment the violins sounded the signal for the ballet. The king advanced toward Madame the President, with whom he was to dance, and his Highness Monsieur with the queen. They took their places, and the ballet began.
The king danced facing the queen, and every time he passed by her, he devoured with his eyes those studs of which he could not ascertain the number. A cold sweat covered the brow of the cardinal.
The ballet lasted an hour, and had sixteen ENTREES. The ballet ended amid the applause of the whole assemblage, and everyone reconducted his lady to her place; but the king took advantage of the privilege he had of leaving his lady, to advance eagerly toward the queen.
"I thank you, madame," said he, "for the deference you have shown to my wishes, but I think you want two of the studs, and I bring them back to you."
With these words he held out to the queen the two studs the cardinal had given him.
"How, sire?" cried the young queen, affecting surprise, "you are giving me, then, two more: I shall have fourteen."
In fact the king counted them, and the twelve studs were all on her Majesty's shoulder.
The king called the cardinal.
"What does this mean, Monsieur Cardinal?" asked the king in a severe tone.
"This means, sire," replied the cardinal, "that I was desirous of presenting her Majesty with these two studs, and that not daring to offer them myself, I adopted this means of inducing her to accept them."
"And I am the more grateful to your Eminence," replied Anne of Austria, with a smile that proved she was not the dupe of this ingenious gallantry, "from being certain that these two studs alone have cost you as much as all the others cost his Majesty."
Then saluting the king and the cardinal, the queen resumed her way to the chamber in which she had dressed, and where she was to take off her costume.
The attention which we have been obliged to give, during the commencement of the chapter, to the illustrious personages we have introduced into it, has diverted us for an instant from him to whom Anne of Austria owed the extraordinary triumph she had obtained over the cardinal; and who, confounded, unknown, lost in the crowd gathered at one of the doors, looked on at this scene, comprehensible only to four persons—the king, the queen, his Eminence, and himself.
The queen had just regained her chamber, and d'Artagnan was about to retire, when he felt his shoulder lightly touched. He turned and saw a young woman, who made him a sign to follow her. The face of this young woman was covered with a black velvet mask; but notwithstanding this precaution, which was in fact taken rather against others than against him, he at once recognized his usual guide, the light and intelligent Mme. Bonacieux.
On the evening before, they had scarcely seen each other for a moment at the apartment of the Swiss guard, Germain, whither d'Artagnan had sent for her. The haste which the young woman was in to convey to the queen the excellent news of the happy return of her messenger prevented the two lovers from exchanging more than a few words. D'Artagnan therefore followed Mme. Bonacieux moved by a double sentiment—love and curiosity. All the way, and in proportion as the corridors became more deserted, d'Artagnan wished to stop the young woman, seize her and gaze upon her, were it only for a minute; but quick as a bird she glided between his hands, and when he wished to speak to her, her finger placed upon her mouth, with a little imperative gesture full of grace, reminded him that he was under the command of a power which he must blindly obey, and which forbade him even to make the slightest complaint. At length, after winding about for a minute or two, Mme. Bonacieux opened the door of a closet, which was entirely dark, and led d'Artagnan into it. There she made a fresh sign of silence, and opened a second door concealed by tapestry. The opening of this door disclosed a brilliant light, and she disappeared.
D'Artagnan remained for a moment motionless, asking himself where he could be; but soon a ray of light which penetrated through the chamber, together with the warm and perfumed air which reached him from the same aperture, the conversation of two of three ladies in language at once respectful and refined, and the word "Majesty" several times repeated, indicated clearly that he was in a closet attached to the queen's apartment. The young man waited in comparative darkness and listened.
The queen appeared cheerful and happy, which seemed to astonish the persons who surrounded her and who were accustomed to see her almost always sad and full of care. The queen attributed this joyous feeling to the beauty of the fete, to the pleasure she had experienced in the ballet; and as it is not permissible to contradict a queen, whether she smile or weep, everybody expatiated on the gallantry of the aldermen of the city of Paris.
Although d'Artagnan did not at all know the queen, he soon distinguished her voice from the others, at first by a slightly foreign accent, and next by that tone of domination naturally impressed upon all royal words. He heard her approach and withdraw from the partially open door; and twice or three times he even saw the shadow of a person intercept the light.
At length a hand and an arm, surpassingly beautiful in their form and whiteness, glided through the tapestry. D'Artagnan at once comprehended that this was his recompense. He cast himself on his knees, seized the hand, and touched it respectfully with his lips. Then the hand was withdrawn, leaving in his an object which he perceived to be a ring. The door immediately closed, and d'Artagnan found himself again in complete obscurity.
D'Artagnan placed the ring on his finger, and again waited; it was evident that all was not yet over. After the reward of his devotion, that of his love was to come. Besides, although the ballet was danced, the evening had scarcely begun. Supper was to be served at three, and the clock of St. Jean had struck three quarters past two.
The sound of voices diminished by degrees in the adjoining chamber. The company was then heard departing; then the door of the closet in which d'Artagnan was, was opened, and Mme. Bonacieux entered.
"You at last?" cried d'Artagnan.
"Silence!" said the young woman, placing her hand upon his lips; "silence, and go the same way you came!"
"But where and when shall I see you again?" cried d'Artagnan.
"A note which you will find at home will tell you. Begone, begone!"
At these words she opened the door of the corridor, and pushed d'Artagnan out of the room. D'Artagnan obeyed like a child, without the least resistance or objection, which proved that he was really in love.
23 THE RENDEZVOUS
D'Artagnan ran home immediately, and although it was three o'clock in the morning and he had some of the worst quarters of Paris to traverse, he met with no misadventure. Everyone knows that drunkards and lovers have a protecting deity.
He found the door of his passage open, sprang up the stairs and knocked softly in a manner agreed upon between him and his lackey. Planchet*, whom he had sent home two hours before from the Hotel de Ville, telling him to sit up for him, opened the door for him.
*The reader may ask, "How came Planchet here?" when he was left "stiff as a rush" in London. In the intervening time Buckingham perhaps sent him to Paris, as he did the horses.
"Has anyone brought a letter for me?" asked d'Artagnan, eagerly.
"No one has BROUGHT a letter, monsieur," replied Planchet; "but one has come of itself."
"What do you mean, blockhead?"
"I mean to say that when I came in, although I had the key of your apartment in my pocket, and that key had never quit me, I found a letter on the green table cover in your bedroom."
"And where is that letter?"
"I left it where I found it, monsieur. It is not natural for letters to enter people's houses in this manner. If the window had been open or even ajar, I should think nothing of it; but, no—all was hermetically sealed. Beware, monsieur; there is certainly some magic underneath."
Meanwhile, the young man had darted in to his chamber, and opened the letter. It was from Mme. Bonacieux, and was expressed in these terms:
"There are many thanks to be offered to you, and to be transmitted to you. Be this evening about ten o'clock at St. Cloud, in front of the pavilion which stands at the corner of the house of M. d'Estrees.—C.B."
While reading this letter, d'Artagnan felt his heart dilated and compressed by that delicious spasm which tortures and caresses the hearts of lovers.
It was the first billet he had received; it was the first rendezvous that had been granted him. His heart, swelled by the intoxication of joy, felt ready to dissolve away at the very gate of that terrestrial paradise called Love!
"Well, monsieur," said Planchet, who had observed his master grow red and pale successively, "did I not guess truly? Is it not some bad affair?"
"You are mistaken, Planchet," replied d'Artagnan; "and as a proof, there is a crown to drink my health."
"I am much obliged to Monsieur for the crown he had given me, and I promise him to follow his instructions exactly; but it is not the less true that letters which come in this way into shut-up houses—"
"Fall from heaven, my friend, fall from heaven."
"Then Monsieur is satisfied?" asked Planchet.
"My dear Planchet, I am the happiest of men!"
"And I may profit by Monsieur's happiness, and go to bed?"
"May the blessings of heaven fall upon Monsieur! But it is not the less true that that letter—"
And Planchet retired, shaking his head with an air of doubt, which the liberality of d'Artagnan had not entirely effaced.
Left alone, d'Artagnan read and reread his billet. Then he kissed and rekissed twenty times the lines traced by the hand of his beautiful mistress. At length he went to bed, fell asleep, and had golden dreams.
At seven o'clock in the morning he arose and called Planchet, who at the second summons opened the door, his countenance not yet quite freed from the anxiety of the preceding night.
"Planchet," said d'Artagnan, "I am going out for all day, perhaps. You are, therefore, your own master till seven o'clock in the evening; but at seven o'clock you must hold yourself in readiness with two horses."
"There!" said Planchet. "We are going again, it appears, to have our hides pierced in all sorts of ways."
"You will take your musketoon and your pistols."
"There, now! Didn't I say so?" cried Planchet. "I was sure of it—the cursed letter!"
"Don't be afraid, you idiot; there is nothing in hand but a party of pleasure."
"Ah, like the charming journey the other day, when it rained bullets and produced a crop of steel traps!"
"Well, if you are really afraid, Monsieur Planchet," resumed d'Artagnan, "I will go without you. I prefer traveling alone to having a companion who entertains the least fear."
"Monsieur does me wrong," said Planchet; "I thought he had seen me at work."
"Yes, but I thought perhaps you had worn out all your courage the first time."
"Monsieur shall see that upon occasion I have some left; only I beg Monsieur not to be too prodigal of it if he wishes it to last long."
"Do you believe you have still a certain amount of it to expend this evening?"
"I hope so, monsieur."
"Well, then, I count on you."
"At the appointed hour I shall be ready; only I believed that Monsieur had but one horse in the Guard stables."
"Perhaps there is but one at this moment; but by this evening there will be four."
"It appears that our journey was a remounting journey, then?"
"Exactly so," said d'Artagnan; and nodding to Planchet, he went out.
M. Bonacieux was at his door. D'Artagnan's intention was to go out without speaking to the worthy mercer; but the latter made so polite and friendly a salutation that his tenant felt obliged, not only to stop, but to enter into conversation with him.
Besides, how is it possible to avoid a little condescension toward a husband whose pretty wife has appointed a meeting with you that same evening at St. Cloud, opposite D'Estrees's pavilion? D'Artagnan approached him with the most amiable air he could assume.
The conversation naturally fell upon the incarceration of the poor man. M. Bonacieux, who was ignorant that d'Artagnan had overheard his conversation with the stranger of Meung, related to his young tenant the persecutions of that monster, M. de Laffemas, whom he never ceased to designate, during his account, by the title of the "cardinal's executioner," and expatiated at great length upon the Bastille, the bolts, the wickets, the dungeons, the gratings, the instruments of torture.
D'Artagnan listened to him with exemplary complaisance, and when he had finished said, "And Madame Bonacieux, do you know who carried her off?—For I do not forget that I owe to that unpleasant circumstance the good fortune of having made your acquaintance."
"Ah!" said Bonacieux, "they took good care not to tell me that; and my wife, on her part, has sworn to me by all that's sacred that she does not know. But you," continued M. Bonacieux, in a tine of perfect good fellowship, "what has become of you all these days? I have not seen you nor your friends, and I don't think you could gather all that dust that I saw Planchet brush off your boots yesterday from the pavement of Paris."
"You are right, my dear Monsieur Bonacieux, my friends and I have been on a little journey."
"Far from here?"
"Oh, Lord, no! About forty leagues only. We went to take Monsieur Athos to the waters of Forges, where my friends still remain."
"And you have returned, have you not?" replied M. Bonacieux, giving to his countenance a most sly air. "A handsome young fellow like you does not obtain long leaves of absence from his mistress; and we were impatiently waited for at Paris, were we not?"
"My faith!" said the young man, laughing, "I confess it, and so much more the readily, my dear Bonacieux, as I see there is no concealing anything from you. Yes, I was expected, and very impatiently, I acknowledge."
A slight shade passed over the brow of Bonacieux, but so slight that d'Artagnan did not perceive it.
"And we are going to be recompensed for our diligence?" continued the mercer, with a trifling alteration in his voice—so trifling, indeed, that d'Artagnan did not perceive it any more than he had the momentary shade which, an instant before, had darkened the countenance of the worthy man.
"Ah, may you be a true prophet!" said d'Artagnan, laughing.
"No; what I say," replied Bonacieux, "is only that I may know whether I am delaying you."
"Why that question, my dear host?" asked d'Artagnan. "Do you intend to sit up for me?"
"No; but since my arrest and the robbery that was committed in my house, I am alarmed every time I hear a door open, particularly in the night. What the deuce can you expect? I am no swordsman."
"Well, don't be alarmed if I return at one, two or three o'clock in the morning; indeed, do not be alarmed if I do not come at all."
This time Bonacieux became so pale that d'Artagnan could not help perceiving it, and asked him what was the matter.
"Nothing," replied Bonacieux, "nothing. Since my misfortunes I have been subject to faintnesses, which seize me all at once, and I have just felt a cold shiver. Pay no attention to it; you have nothing to occupy yourself with but being happy."
"Then I have full occupation, for I am so."
"Not yet; wait a little! This evening, you said."
"Well, this evening will come, thank God! And perhaps you look for it with as much impatience as I do; perhaps this evening Madame Bonacieux will visit the conjugal domicile."
"Madame Bonacieux is not at liberty this evening," replied the husband, seriously; "she is detained at the Louvre this evening by her duties."
"So much the worse for you, my dear host, so much the worse! When I am happy, I wish all the world to be so; but it appears that is not possible."
The young man departed, laughing at the joke, which he thought he alone could comprehend.
"Amuse yourself well!" replied Bonacieux, in a sepulchral tone.
But d'Artagnan was too far off to hear him; and if he had heard him in the disposition of mind he then enjoyed, he certainly would not have remarked it.
He took his way toward the hotel of M. de Treville; his visit of the day before, it is to be remembered, had been very short and very little explicative.
He found Treville in a joyful mood. He had thought the king and queen charming at the ball. It is true the cardinal had been particularly ill-tempered. He had retired at one o'clock under the pretense of being indisposed. As to their Majesties, they did not return to the Louvre till six o'clock in the morning.
"Now," said Treville, lowering his voice, and looking into every corner of the apartment to see if they were alone, "now let us talk about yourself, my young friend; for it is evident that your happy return has something to do with the joy of the king, the triumph of the queen, and the humiliation of his Eminence. You must look out for yourself."
"What have I to fear," replied d'Artagnan, "as long as I shall have the luck to enjoy the favor of their Majesties?"
"Everything, believe me. The cardinal is not the man to forget a mystification until he has settled account with the mystifier; and the mystifier appears to me to have the air of being a certain young Gascon of my acquaintance."
"Do you believe that the cardinal is as well posted as yourself, and knows that I have been to London?"
"The devil! You have been to London! Was it from London you brought that beautiful diamond that glitters on your finger? Beware, my dear d'Artagnan! A present from an enemy is not a good thing. Are there not some Latin verses upon that subject? Stop!"
"Yes, doubtless," replied d'Artagnan, who had never been able to cram the first rudiments of that language into his head, and who had by his ignorance driven his master to despair, "yes, doubtless there is one."
"There certainly is one," said M. de Treville, who had a tincture of literature, "and Monsieur de Benserade was quoting it to me the other day. Stop a minute—ah, this is it: 'Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes,' which means, 'Beware of the enemy who makes you presents."
"This diamond does not come from an enemy, monsieur," replied d'Artagnan, "it comes from the queen."
"From the queen! Oh, oh!" said M. de Treville. "Why, it is indeed a true royal jewel, which is worth a thousand pistoles if it is worth a denier. By whom did the queen send you this jewel?"
"She gave it to me herself."
"In the room adjoining the chamber in which she changed her toilet."
"Giving me her hand to kiss."
"You have kissed the queen's hand?" said M. de Treville, looking earnestly at d'Artagnan.
"Her Majesty did me the honor to grant me that favor."
"And that in the presence of witnesses! Imprudent, thrice imprudent!"
"No, monsieur, be satisfied; nobody saw her," replied d'Artagnan, and he related to M. de Treville how the affair came to pass.
"Oh, the women, the women!" cried the old soldier. "I know them by their romantic imagination. Everything that savors of mystery charms them. So you have seen the arm, that was all. You would meet the queen, and she would not know who you are?"
"No; but thanks to this diamond," replied the young man.
"Listen," said M. de Treville; "shall I give you counsel, good counsel, the counsel of a friend?"
"You will do me honor, monsieur," said d'Artagnan.
"Well, then, off to the nearest goldsmith's, and sell that diamond for the highest price you can get from him. However much of a Jew he may be, he will give you at least eight hundred pistoles. Pistoles have no name, young man, and that ring has a terrible one, which may betray him who wears it."
"Sell this ring, a ring which comes from my sovereign? Never!" said d'Artagnan.
"Then, at least turn the gem inside, you silly fellow; for everybody must be aware that a cadet from Gascony does not find such stones in his mother's jewel case."
"You think, then, I have something to dread?" asked d'Artagnan.
"I mean to say, young man, that he who sleeps over a mine the match of which is already lighted, may consider himself in safety in comparison with you."
"The devil!" said d'Artagnan, whom the positive tone of M. de Treville began to disquiet, "the devil! What must I do?"
"Above all things be always on your guard. The cardinal has a tenacious memory and a long arm; you may depend upon it, he will repay you by some ill turn."
"But of what sort?"
"Eh! How can I tell? Has he not all the tricks of a demon at his command? The least that can be expected is that you will be arrested."
"What! Will they dare to arrest a man in his Majesty's service?"
"PARDIEU! They did not scruple much in the case of Athos. At all events, young man, rely upon one who has been thirty years at court. Do not lull yourself in security, or you will be lost; but, on the contrary—and it is I who say it—see enemies in all directions. If anyone seeks a quarrel with you, shun it, were it with a child of ten years old. If you are attacked by day or by night, fight, but retreat, without shame; if you cross a bridge, feel every plank of it with your foot, lest one should give way beneath you; if you pass before a house which is being built, look up, for fear a stone should fall upon your head; if you stay out late, be always followed by your lackey, and let your lackey be armed—if, by the by, you can be sure of your lackey. Mistrust everybody, your friend, your brother, your mistress—your mistress above all."
"My mistress above all," repeated he, mechanically; "and why her rather than another?"
"Because a mistress is one of the cardinal's favorite means; he has not one that is more expeditious. A woman will sell you for ten pistoles, witness Delilah. You are acquainted with the Scriptures?"
D'Artagnan thought of the appointment Mme. Bonacieux had made with him for that very evening; but we are bound to say, to the credit of our hero, that the bad opinion entertained by M. de Treville of women in general, did not inspire him with the least suspicion of his pretty hostess.
"But, A PROPOS," resumed M. de Treville, "what has become of your three companions?"
"I was about to ask you if you had heard any news of them?"
"Well, I left them on my road—Porthos at Chantilly, with a duel on his hands; Aramis at Crevecoeur, with a ball in his shoulder; and Athos at Amiens, detained by an accusation of coining."
"See there, now!" said M. de Treville; "and how the devil did you escape?"
"By a miracle, monsieur, I must acknowledge, with a sword thrust in my breast, and by nailing the Comte de Wardes on the byroad to Calais, like a butterfly on a tapestry."
"There again! De Wardes, one of the cardinal's men, a cousin of Rochefort! Stop, my friend, I have an idea."
"In your place, I would do one thing."
"While his Eminence was seeking for me in Paris, I would take, without sound of drum or trumpet, the road to Picardy, and would go and make some inquiries concerning my three companions. What the devil! They merit richly that piece of attention on your part."
"The advice is good, monsieur, and tomorrow I will set out."
"Tomorrow! Any why not this evening?"
"This evening, monsieur, I am detained in Paris by indispensable business."
"Ah, young man, young man, some flirtation or other. Take care, I repeat to you, take care. It is woman who has ruined us, still ruins us, and will ruin us, as long as the world stands. Take my advice and set out this evening."
"You have given your word, then?"
"Ah, that's quite another thing; but promise me, if you should not be killed tonight, that you will go tomorrow."
"I promise it."
"Do you need money?"
"I have still fifty pistoles. That, I think, is as much as I shall want."
"But your companions?"
"I don't think they can be in need of any. We left Paris, each with seventy-five pistoles in his pocket."
"Shall I see you again before your departure?"
"I think not, monsieur, unless something new should happen."
"Well, a pleasant journey."
D'Artagnan left M. de Treville, touched more than ever by his paternal solicitude for his Musketeers.
He called successively at the abodes of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Neither of them had returned. Their lackeys likewise were absent, and nothing had been heard of either the one or the other. He would have inquired after them of their mistresses, but he was neither acquainted with Porthos's nor Aramis's, and as to Athos, he had none.
As he passed the Hotel des Gardes, he took a glance in to the stables. Three of the four horses had already arrived. Planchet, all astonishment, was busy grooming them, and had already finished two.
"Ah, monsieur," said Planchet, on perceiving d'Artagnan, "how glad I am to see you."
"Why so, Planchet?" asked the young man.
"Do you place confidence in our landlord—Monsieur Bonacieux?"
"I? Not the least in the world."
"Oh, you do quite right, monsieur."
"But why this question?"
"Because, while you were talking with him, I watched you without listening to you; and, monsieur, his countenance changed color two or three times!"
"Preoccupied as Monsieur was with the letter he had received, he did not observe that; but I, whom the strange fashion in which that letter came into the house had placed on my guard—I did not lose a movement of his features."
"And you found it?"
"Still more; as soon as Monsieur had left and disappeared round the corner of the street, Monsieur Bonacieux took his hat, shut his door, and set off at a quick pace in an opposite direction."
"It seems you are right, Planchet; all this appears to be a little mysterious; and be assured that we will not pay him our rent until the matter shall be categorically explained to us."
"Monsieur jests, but Monsieur will see."
"What would you have, Planchet? What must come is written."
"Monsieur does not then renounce his excursion for this evening?"
"Quite the contrary, Planchet; the more ill will I have toward Monsieur Bonacieux, the more punctual I shall be in keeping the appointment made by that letter which makes you so uneasy."
"Then that is Monsieur's determination?"
"Undeniably, my friend. At nine o'clock, then, be ready here at the hotel, I will come and take you."
Planchet seeing there was no longer any hope of making his master renounce his project, heaved a profound sigh and set to work to groom the third horse.
As to d'Artagnan, being at bottom a prudent youth, instead of returning home, went and dined with the Gascon priest, who, at the time of the distress of the four friends, had given them a breakfast of chocolate.
24 THE PAVILION
At nine o'clock d'Artagnan was at the Hotel des Gardes; he found Planchet all ready. The fourth horse had arrived.
Planchet was armed with his musketoon and a pistol. D'Artagnan had his sword and placed two pistols in his belt; then both mounted and departed quietly. It was quite dark, and no one saw them go out. Planchet took place behind his master, and kept at a distance of ten paces from him.
D'Artagnan crossed the quays, went out by the gate of La Conference and followed the road, much more beautiful then than it is now, which leads to St. Cloud.
As long as he was in the city, Planchet kept at the respectful distance he had imposed upon himself; but as soon as the road began to be more lonely and dark, he drew softly nearer, so that when they entered the Bois de Boulogne he found himself riding quite naturally side by side with his master. In fact, we must not dissemble that the oscillation of the tall trees and the reflection of the moon in the dark underwood gave him serious uneasiness. D'Artagnan could not help perceiving that something more than usual was passing in the mind of his lackey and said, "Well, Monsieur Planchet, what is the matter with us now?"
"Don't you think, monsieur, that woods are like churches?"
"How so, Planchet?"
"Because we dare not speak aloud in one or the other."
"But why did you not dare to speak aloud, Planchet—because you are afraid?"
"Afraid of being heard? Yes, monsieur."
"Afraid of being heard! Why, there is nothing improper in our conversation, my dear Planchet, and no one could find fault with it."
"Ah, monsieur!" replied Planchet, recurring to his besetting idea, "that Monsieur Bonacieux has something vicious in his eyebrows, and something very unpleasant in the play of his lips."
"What the devil makes you think of Bonacieux?"
"Monsieur, we think of what we can, and not of what we will."
"Because you are a coward, Planchet."
"Monsieur, we must not confound prudence with cowardice; prudence is a virtue."
"And you are very virtuous, are you not, Planchet?"
"Monsieur, is not that the barrel of a musket which glitters yonder? Had we not better lower our heads?"
"In truth," murmured d'Artagnan, to whom M. de Treville's recommendation recurred, "this animal will end by making me afraid." And he put his horse into a trot.
Planchet followed the movements of his master as if he had been his shadow, and was soon trotting by his side.
"Are we going to continue this pace all night?" asked Planchet.
"No; you are at your journey's end."
"How, monsieur! And you?"
"I am going a few steps farther."
"And Monsieur leaves me here alone?"
"You are afraid, Planchet?"
"No; I only beg leave to observe to Monsieur that the night will be very cold, that chills bring on rheumatism, and that a lackey who has the rheumatism makes but a poor servant, particularly to a master as active as Monsieur."
"Well, if you are cold, Planchet, you can go into one of those cabarets that you see yonder, and be in waiting for me at the door by six o'clock in the morning."
"Monsieur, I have eaten and drunk respectfully the crown you gave me this morning, so that I have not a sou left in case I should be cold."
"Here's half a pistole. Tomorrow morning."
D'Artagnan sprang from his horse, threw the bridle to Planchet, and departed at a quick pace, folding his cloak around him.
"Good Lord, how cold I am!" cried Planchet, as soon as he had lost sight of his master; and in such haste was he to warm himself that he went straight to a house set out with all the attributes of a suburban tavern, and knocked at the door.
In the meantime d'Artagnan, who had plunged into a bypath, continued his route and reached St. Cloud; but instead of following the main street he turned behind the chateau, reached a sort of retired lane, and found himself soon in front of the pavilion named. It was situated in a very private spot. A high wall, at the angle of which was the pavilion, ran along one side of this lane, and on the other was a little garden connected with a poor cottage which was protected by a hedge from passers-by.
He gained the place appointed, and as no signal had been given him by which to announce his presence, he waited.
Not the least noise was to be heard; it might be imagined that he was a hundred miles from the capital. D'Artagnan leaned against the hedge, after having cast a glance behind it. Beyond that hedge, that garden, and that cottage, a dark mist enveloped with its folds that immensity where Paris slept—a vast void from which glittered a few luminous points, the funeral stars of that hell!
But for d'Artagnan all aspects were clothed happily, all ideas wore a smile, all shades were diaphanous. The appointed hour was about to strike. In fact, at the end of a few minutes the belfry of St. Cloud let fall slowly ten strokes from its sonorous jaws. There was something melancholy in this brazen voice pouring out its lamentations in the middle of the night; but each of those strokes, which made up the expected hour, vibrated harmoniously to the heart of the young man.
His eyes were fixed upon the little pavilion situated at the angle of the wall, of which all the windows were closed with shutters, except one on the first story. Through this window shone a mild light which silvered the foliage of two or three linden trees which formed a group outside the park. There could be no doubt that behind this little window, which threw forth such friendly beams, the pretty Mme. Bonacieux expected him.
Wrapped in this sweet idea, d'Artagnan waited half an hour without the least impatience, his eyes fixed upon that charming little abode of which he could perceive a part of the ceiling with its gilded moldings, attesting the elegance of the rest of the apartment.
The belfry of St. Cloud sounded half past ten.
This time, without knowing why, d'Artagnan felt a cold shiver run through his veins. Perhaps the cold began to affect him, and he took a perfectly physical sensation for a moral impression.
Then the idea seized him that he had read incorrectly, and that the appointment was for eleven o'clock. He drew near to the window, and placing himself so that a ray of light should fall upon the letter as he held it, he drew it from his pocket and read it again; but he had not been mistaken, the appointment was for ten o'clock. He went and resumed his post, beginning to be rather uneasy at this silence and this solitude.
Eleven o'clock sounded.
D'Artagnan began now really to fear that something had happened to Mme. Bonacieux. He clapped his hands three times—the ordinary signal of lovers; but nobody replied to him, not even an echo.
He then thought, with a touch of vexation, that perhaps the young woman had fallen asleep while waiting for him. He approached the wall, and tried to climb it; but the wall had been recently pointed, and d'Artagnan could get no hold.
At that moment he thought of the trees, upon whose leaves the light still shone; and as one of them drooped over the road, he thought that from its branches he might get a glimpse of the interior of the pavilion.
The tree was easy to climb. Besides, d'Artagnan was but twenty years old, and consequently had not yet forgotten his schoolboy habits. In an instant he was among the branches, and his keen eyes plunged through the transparent panes into the interior of the pavilion.
It was a strange thing, and one which made d'Artagnan tremble from the sole of his foot to the roots of his hair, to find that this soft light, this calm lamp, enlightened a scene of fearful disorder. One of the windows was broken, the door of the chamber had been beaten in and hung, split in two, on its hinges. A table, which had been covered with an elegant supper, was overturned. The decanters broken in pieces, and the fruits crushed, strewed the floor. Everything in the apartment gave evidence of a violent and desperate struggle. D'Artagnan even fancied he could recognize amid this strange disorder, fragments of garments, and some bloody spots staining the cloth and the curtains. He hastened to descend into the street, with a frightful beating at his heart; he wished to see if he could find other traces of violence.
The little soft light shone on in the calmness of the night. d'Artagnan then perceived a thing that he had not before remarked—for nothing had led him to the examination—that the ground, trampled here and hoofmarked there, presented confused traces of men and horses. Besides, the wheels of a carriage, which appeared to have come from Paris, had made a deep impression in the soft earth, which did not extend beyond the pavilion, but turned again toward Paris.
At length d'Artagnan, in pursuing his researches, found near the wall a woman's torn glove. This glove, wherever it had not touched the muddy ground, was of irreproachable odor. It was one of those perfumed gloves that lovers like to snatch from a pretty hand.
As d'Artagnan pursued his investigations, a more abundant and more icy sweat rolled in large drops from his forehead; his heart was oppressed by a horrible anguish; his respiration was broken and short. And yet he said, to reassure himself, that this pavilion perhaps had nothing in common with Mme. Bonacieux; that the young woman had made an appointment with him before the pavilion, and not in the pavilion; that she might have been detained in Paris by her duties, or perhaps by the jealousy of her husband.
But all these reasons were combated, destroyed, overthrown, by that feeling of intimate pain which, on certain occasions, takes possession of our being, and cries to us so as to be understood unmistakably that some great misfortune is hanging over us.
Then d'Artagnan became almost wild. He ran along the high road, took the path he had before taken, and reaching the ferry, interrogated the boatman.
About seven o'clock in the evening, the boatman had taken over a young woman, wrapped in a black mantle, who appeared to be very anxious not to be recognized; but entirely on account of her precautions, the boatman had paid more attention to her and discovered that she was young and pretty.
There were then, as now, a crowd of young and pretty women who came to St. Cloud, and who had reasons for not being seen, and yet d'Artagnan did not for an instant doubt that it was Mme. Bonacieux whom the boatman had noticed.
D'Artagnan took advantage of the lamp which burned in the cabin of the ferryman to read the billet of Mme. Bonacieux once again, and satisfy himself that he had not been mistaken, that the appointment was at St. Cloud and not elsewhere, before the D'Estrees's pavilion and not in another street. Everything conspired to prove to d'Artagnan that his presentiments had not deceived him, and that a great misfortune had happened.
He again ran back to the chateau. It appeared to him that something might have happened at the pavilion in his absence, and that fresh information awaited him. The lane was still deserted, and the same calm soft light shone through the window.
D'Artagnan then thought of that cottage, silent and obscure, which had no doubt seen all, and could tell its tale. The gate of the enclosure was shut; but he leaped over the hedge, and in spite of the barking of a chained-up dog, went up to the cabin.
No one answered to his first knocking. A silence of death reigned in the cabin as in the pavilion; but as the cabin was his last resource, he knocked again.
It soon appeared to him that he heard a slight noise within—a timid noise which seemed to tremble lest it should be heard.
Then d'Artagnan ceased knocking, and prayed with an accent so full of anxiety and promises, terror and cajolery, that his voice was of a nature to reassure the most fearful. At length an old, worm-eaten shutter was opened, or rather pushed ajar, but closed again as soon as the light from a miserable lamp which burned in the corner had shone upon the baldric, sword belt, and pistol pommels of d'Artagnan. Nevertheless, rapid as the movement had been, d'Artagnan had had time to get a glimpse of the head of an old man.
"In the name of heaven!" cried he, "listen to me; I have been waiting for someone who has not come. I am dying with anxiety. Has anything particular happened in the neighborhood? Speak!"
The window was again opened slowly, and the same face appeared, only it was now still more pale than before.
D'Artagnan related his story simply, with the omission of names. He told how he had a rendezvous with a young woman before that pavilion, and how, not seeing her come, he had climbed the linden tree, and by the light of the lamp had seen the disorder of the chamber.
The old man listened attentively, making a sign only that it was all so; and then, when d'Artagnan had ended, he shook his head with an air that announced nothing good.
"What do you mean?" cried d'Artagnan. "In the name of heaven, explain yourself!"
"Oh! Monsieur," said the old man, "ask me nothing; for if I dared tell you what I have seen, certainly no good would befall me."
"You have, then, seen something?" replied d'Artagnan. "In that case, in the name of heaven," continued he, throwing him a pistole, "tell me what you have seen, and I will pledge you the word of a gentleman that not one of your words shall escape from my heart."
The old man read so much truth and so much grief in the face of the young man that he made him a sign to listen, and repeated in a low voice: "It was scarcely nine o'clock when I heard a noise in the street, and was wondering what it could be, when on coming to my door, I found that somebody was endeavoring to open it. As I am very poor and am not afraid of being robbed, I went and opened the gate and saw three men at a few paces from it. In the shadow was a carriage with two horses, and some saddlehorses. These horses evidently belonged to the three men, who were dressed as cavaliers. 'Ah, my worthy gentlemen,' cried I, 'what do you want?' 'You must have a ladder?' said he who appeared to be the leader of the party. 'Yes, monsieur, the one with which I gather my fruit.' 'Lend it to us, and go into your house again; there is a crown for the annoyance we have caused you. Only remember this—if you speak a word of what you may see or what you may hear (for you will look and you will listen, I am quite sure, however we may threaten you), you are lost.' At these words he threw me a crown, which I picked up, and he took the ladder. After shutting the gate behind them, I pretended to return to the house, but I immediately went out a back door, and stealing along in the shade of the hedge, I gained yonder clump of elder, from which I could hear and see everything. The three men brought the carriage up quietly, and took out of it a little man, stout, short, elderly, and commonly dressed in clothes of a dark color, who ascended the ladder very carefully, looked suspiciously in at the window of the pavilion, came down as quietly as he had gone up, and whispered, 'It is she!' Immediately, he who had spoken to me approached the door of the pavilion, opened it with a key he had in his hand, closed the door and disappeared, while at the same time the other two men ascended the ladder. The little old man remained at the coach door; the coachman took care of his horses, the lackey held the saddlehorses. All at once great cries resounded in the pavilion, and a woman came to the window, and opened it, as if to throw herself out of it; but as soon as she perceived the other two men, she fell back and they went into the chamber. Then I saw no more; but I heard the noise of breaking furniture. The woman screamed, and cried for help; but her cries were soon stifled. Two of the men appeared, bearing the woman in their arms, and carried her to the carriage, into which the little old man got after her. The leader closed the window, came out an instant after by the door, and satisfied himself that the woman was in the carriage. His two companions were already on horseback. He sprang into his saddle; the lackey took his place by the coachman; the carriage went off at a quick pace, escorted by the three horsemen, and all was over. From that moment I have neither seen nor heard anything."
D'Artagnan, entirely overcome by this terrible story, remained motionless and mute, while all the demons of anger and jealousy were howling in his heart.
"But, my good gentleman," resumed the old man, upon whom this mute despair certainly produced a greater effect than cries and tears would have done, "do not take on so; they did not kill her, and that's a comfort."
"Can you guess," said d'Artagnan, "who was the man who headed this infernal expedition?"
"I don't know him."
"But as you spoke to him you must have seen him."
"Oh, it's a description you want?"
"A tall, dark man, with black mustaches, dark eyes, and the air of a gentleman."
"That's the man!" cried d'Artagnan, "again he, forever he! He is my demon, apparently. And the other?"
"The short one."
"Oh, he was not a gentleman, I'll answer for it; besides, he did not wear a sword, and the others treated him with small consideration."
"Some lackey," murmured d'Artagnan. "Poor woman, poor woman, what have they done with you?"
"You have promised to be secret, my good monsieur?" said the old man.
"And I renew my promise. Be easy, I am a gentleman. A gentleman has but his word, and I have given you mine."
With a heavy heart, d'Artagnan again bent his way toward the ferry. Sometimes he hoped it could not be Mme. Bonacieux, and that he should find her next day at the Louvre; sometimes he feared she had had an intrigue with another, who, in a jealous fit, had surprised her and carried her off. His mind was torn by doubt, grief, and despair.
"Oh, if I had my three friends here," cried he, "I should have, at least, some hopes of finding her; but who knows what has become of them?"
It was past midnight; the next thing was to find Planchet. d'Artagnan went successively into all the cabarets in which there was a light, but could not find Planchet in any of them.
At the sixth he began to reflect that the search was rather dubious. D'Artagnan had appointed six o'clock in the morning for his lackey, and wherever he might be, he was right.
Besides, it came into the young man's mind that by remaining in the environs of the spot on which this sad event had passed, he would, perhaps, have some light thrown upon the mysterious affair. At the sixth cabaret, then, as we said, d'Artagnan stopped, asked for a bottle of wine of the best quality, and placing himself in the darkest corner of the room, determined thus to wait till daylight; but this time again his hopes were disappointed, and although he listened with all his ears, he heard nothing, amid the oaths, coarse jokes, and abuse which passed between the laborers, servants, and carters who comprised the honorable society of which he formed a part, which could put him upon the least track of her who had been stolen from him. He was compelled, then, after having swallowed the contents of his bottle, to pass the time as well as to evade suspicion, to fall into the easiest position in his corner and to sleep, whether well or ill. D'Artagnan, be it remembered, was only twenty years old, and at that age sleep has its imprescriptible rights which it imperiously insists upon, even with the saddest hearts.
Toward six o'clock d'Artagnan awoke with that uncomfortable feeling which generally accompanies the break of day after a bad night. He was not long in making his toilet. He examined himself to see if advantage had been taken of his sleep, and having found his diamond ring on his finger, his purse in his pocket, and his pistols in his belt, he rose, paid for his bottle, and went out to try if he could have any better luck in his search after his lackey than he had had the night before. The first thing he perceived through the damp gray mist was honest Planchet, who, with the two horses in hand, awaited him at the door of a little blind cabaret, before which d'Artagnan had passed without even a suspicion of its existence.
Instead of returning directly home, d'Artagnan alighted at the door of M. de Treville, and ran quickly up the stairs. This time he had decided to relate all that had passed. M. de Treville would doubtless give him good advice as to the whole affair. Besides, as M. de Treville saw the queen almost daily, he might be able to draw from her Majesty some intelligence of the poor young woman, whom they were doubtless making pay very dearly for her devotedness to her mistress.
M. de Treville listened to the young man's account with a seriousness which proved that he saw something else in this adventure besides a love affair. When d'Artagnan had finished, he said, "Hum! All this savors of his Eminence, a league off."
"But what is to be done?" said d'Artagnan.
"Nothing, absolutely nothing, at present, but quitting Paris, as I told you, as soon as possible. I will see the queen; I will relate to her the details of the disappearance of this poor woman, of which she is no doubt ignorant. These details will guide her on her part, and on your return, I shall perhaps have some good news to tell you. Rely on me."
D'Artagnan knew that, although a Gascon, M. de Treville was not in the habit of making promises, and that when by chance he did promise, he more than kept his word. He bowed to him, then, full of gratitude for the past and for the future; and the worthy captain, who on his side felt a lively interest in this young man, so brave and so resolute, pressed his hand kindly, wishing him a pleasant journey.
Determined to put the advice of M. de Treville in practice instantly, d'Artagnan directed his course toward the Rue des Fossoyeurs, in order to superintend the packing of his valise. On approaching the house, he perceived M. Bonacieux in morning costume, standing at his threshold. All that the prudent Planchet had said to him the preceding evening about the sinister character of the old man recurred to the mind of d'Artagnan, who looked at him with more attention than he had done before. In fact, in addition to that yellow, sickly paleness which indicates the insinuation of the bile in the blood, and which might, besides, be accidental, d'Artagnan remarked something perfidiously significant in the play of the wrinkled features of his countenance. A rogue does not laugh in the same way that an honest man does; a hypocrite does not shed the tears of a man of good faith. All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face.
It appeared, then, to d'Artagnan that M. Bonacieux wore a mask, and likewise that that mask was most disagreeable to look upon. In consequence of this feeling of repugnance, he was about to pass without speaking to him, but, as he had done the day before, M. Bonacieux accosted him.
"Well, young man," said he, "we appear to pass rather gay nights! Seven o'clock in the morning! PESTE! You seem to reverse ordinary customs, and come home at the hour when other people are going out."
"No one can reproach you for anything of the kind, Monsieur Bonacieux," said the young man; "you are a model for regular people. It is true that when a man possesses a young and pretty wife, he has no need to seek happiness elsewhere. Happiness comes to meet him, does it not, Monsieur Bonacieux?"
Bonacieux became as pale as death, and grinned a ghastly smile.
"Ah, ah!" said Bonacieux, "you are a jocular companion! But where the devil were you gladding last night, my young master? It does not appear to be very clean in the crossroads."
D'Artagnan glanced down at his boots, all covered with mud; but that same glance fell upon the shoes and stockings of the mercer, and it might have been said they had been dipped in the same mud heap. Both were stained with splashes of mud of the same appearance.
Then a sudden idea crossed the mind of d'Artagnan. That little stout man, short and elderly, that sort of lackey, dressed in dark clothes, treated without ceremony by the men wearing swords who composed the escort, was Bonacieux himself. The husband had presided at the abduction of his wife.
A terrible inclination seized d'Artagnan to grasp the mercer by the throat and strangle him; but, as we have said, he was a very prudent youth, and he restrained himself. However, the revolution which appeared upon his countenance was so visible that Bonacieux was terrified at it, and he endeavored to draw back a step or two; but as he was standing before the half of the door which was shut, the obstacle compelled him to keep his place.
"Ah, but you are joking, my worthy man!" said d'Artagnan. "It appears to me that if my boots need a sponge, your stockings and shoes stand in equal need of a brush. May you not have been philandering a little also, Monsieur Bonacieux? Oh, the devil! That's unpardonable in a man of your age, and who besides, has such a pretty wife as yours."
"Oh, Lord! no," said Bonacieux, "but yesterday I went to St. Mande to make some inquiries after a servant, as I cannot possibly do without one; and the roads were so bad that I brought back all this mud, which I have not yet had time to remove."
The place named by Bonacieux as that which had been the object of his journey was a fresh proof in support of the suspicions d'Artagnan had conceived. Bonacieux had named Mande because Mande was in an exactly opposite direction from St. Cloud. This probability afforded him his first consolation. If Bonacieux knew where his wife was, one might, by extreme means, force the mercer to open his teeth and let his secret escape. The question, then, was how to change this probability into a certainty.
"Pardon, my dear Monsieur Bonacieux, if I don't stand upon ceremony," said d'Artagnan, "but nothing makes one so thirsty as want of sleep. I am parched with thirst. Allow me to take a glass of water in your apartment; you know that is never refused among neighbors."
Without waiting for the permission of his host, d'Artagnan went quickly into the house, and cast a rapid glance at the bed. It had not been used. Bonacieux had not been abed. He had only been back an hour or two; he had accompanied his wife to the place of her confinement, or else at least to the first relay.
"Thanks, Monsieur Bonacieux," said d'Artagnan, emptying his glass, "that is all I wanted of you. I will now go up into my apartment. I will make Planchet brush my boots; and when he has done, I will, if you like, send him to you to brush your shoes."
He left the mercer quite astonished at his singular farewell, and asking himself if he had not been a little inconsiderate.
At the top of the stairs he found Planchet in a great fright.
"Ah, monsieur!" cried Planchet, as soon as he perceived his master, "here is more trouble. I thought you would never come in."
"What's the matter now, Planchet?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Oh! I give you a hundred, I give you a thousand times to guess, monsieur, the visit I received in your absence."
"About half an hour ago, while you were at Monsieur de Treville's."
"Who has been here? Come, speak."
"Monsieur de Cavois."
"Monsieur de Cavois?"
"The captain of the cardinal's Guards?"
"Did he come to arrest me?"
"I have no doubt that he did, monsieur, for all his wheedling manner."
"Was he so sweet, then?"
"Indeed, he was all honey, monsieur."
"He came, he said, on the part of his Eminence, who wished you well, and to beg you to follow him to the Palais-Royal." [*]
*It was called the Palais-Cardinal before Richelieu gave it to the King.
"What did you answer him?"
"That the thing was impossible, seeing that you were not at home, as he could see."
"Well, what did he say then?"
"That you must not fail to call upon him in the course of the day; and then he added in a low voice, 'Tell your master that his Eminence is very well disposed toward him, and that his fortune perhaps depends upon this interview.'"
"The snare is rather MALADROIT for the cardinal," replied the young man, smiling.
"Oh, I saw the snare, and I answered you would be quite in despair on your return.
"'Where has he gone?' asked Monsieur de Cavois.
"'To Troyes, in Champagne,' I answered.
"'And when did he set out?'
"Planchet, my friend," interrupted d'Artagnan, "you are really a precious fellow."
"You will understand, monsieur, I thought there would be still time, if you wish, to see Monsieur de Cavois to contradict me by saying you were not yet gone. The falsehood would then lie at my door, and as I am not a gentleman, I may be allowed to lie."
"Be of good heart, Planchet, you shall preserve your reputation as a veracious man. In a quarter of an hour we set off."
"That's the advice I was about to give Monsieur; and where are we going, may I ask, without being too curious?"
"PARDIEU! In the opposite direction to that which you said I was gone. Besides, are you not as anxious to learn news of Grimaud, Mousqueton, and Bazin as I am to know what has become of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis?"
"Yes, monsieur," said Planchet, "and I will go as soon as you please. Indeed, I think provincial air will suit us much better just now than the air of Paris. So then—"
"So then, pack up our luggage, Planchet, and let us be off. On my part, I will go out with my hands in my pockets, that nothing may be suspected. You may join me at the Hotel des Gardes. By the way, Planchet, I think you are right with respect to our host, and that he is decidedly a frightfully low wretch."
"Ah, monsieur, you may take my word when I tell you anything. I am a physiognomist, I assure you."
D'Artagnan went out first, as had been agreed upon. Then, in order that he might have nothing to reproach himself with, he directed his steps, for the last time, toward the residences of his three friends. No news had been received of them; only a letter, all perfumed and of an elegant writing in small characters, had come for Aramis. D'Artagnan took charge of it. Ten minutes afterward Planchet joined him at the stables of the Hotel des Gardes. D'Artagnan, in order that there might be no time lost, had saddled his horse himself.
"That's well," said he to Planchet, when the latter added the portmanteau to the equipment. "Now saddle the other three horses."
"Do you think, then, monsieur, that we shall travel faster with two horses apiece?" said Planchet, with his shrewd air.
"No, Monsieur Jester," replied d'Artagnan; "but with our four horses we may bring back our three friends, if we should have the good fortune to find them living."
"Which is a great chance," replied Planchet, "but we must not despair of the mercy of God."
"Amen!" said d'Artagnan, getting into his saddle.
As they went from the Hotel des Gardes, they separated, leaving the street at opposite ends, one having to quit Paris by the Barriere de la Villette and the other by the Barriere Montmartre, to meet again beyond St. Denis—a strategic maneuver which, having been executed with equal punctuality, was crowned with the most fortunate results. D'Artagnan and Planchet entered Pierrefitte together.
Planchet was more courageous, it must be admitted, by day than by night. His natural prudence, however, never forsook him for a single instant. He had forgotten not one of the incidents of the first journey, and he looked upon everybody he met on the road as an enemy. It followed that his hat was forever in his hand, which procured him some severe reprimands from d'Artagnan, who feared that his excess of politeness would lead people to think he was the lackey of a man of no consequence.
Nevertheless, whether the passengers were really touched by the urbanity of Planchet or whether this time nobody was posted on the young man's road, our two travelers arrived at Chantilly without any accident, and alighted at the tavern of Great St. Martin, the same at which they had stopped on their first journey.
The host, on seeing a young man followed by a lackey with two extra horses, advanced respectfully to the door. Now, as they had already traveled eleven leagues, d'Artagnan thought it time to stop, whether Porthos were or were not in the inn. Perhaps it would not be prudent to ask at once what had become of the Musketeer. The result of these reflections was that d'Artagnan, without asking information of any kind, alighted, commended the horses to the care of his lackey, entered a small room destined to receive those who wished to be alone, and desired the host to bring him a bottle of his best wine and as good a breakfast as possible—a desire which further corroborated the high opinion the innkeeper had formed of the traveler at first sight.
D'Artagnan was therefore served with miraculous celerity. The regiment of the Guards was recruited among the first gentlemen of the kingdom; and d'Artagnan, followed by a lackey, and traveling with four magnificent horses, despite the simplicity of his uniform, could not fail to make a sensation. The host desired himself to serve him; which d'Artagnan perceiving, ordered two glasses to be brought, and commenced the following conversation.
"My faith, my good host," said d'Artagnan, filling the two glasses, "I asked for a bottle of your best wine, and if you have deceived me, you will be punished in what you have sinned; for seeing that I hate drinking my myself, you shall drink with me. Take your glass, then, and let us drink. But what shall we drink to, so as to avoid wounding any susceptibility? Let us drink to the prosperity of your establishment."
"Your Lordship does me much honor," said the host, "and I thank you sincerely for your kind wish."
"But don't mistake," said d'Artagnan, "there is more selfishness in my toast than perhaps you may think—for it is only in prosperous establishments that one is well received. In hotels that do not flourish, everything is in confusion, and the traveler is a victim to the embarrassments of his host. Now, I travel a great deal, particularly on this road, and I wish to see all innkeepers making a fortune."
"It seems to me," said the host, "that this is not the first time I have had the honor of seeing Monsieur."
"Bah, I have passed perhaps ten times through Chantilly, and out of the ten times I have stopped three or four times at your house at least. Why I was here only ten or twelve days ago. I was conducting some friends, Musketeers, one of whom, by the by, had a dispute with a stranger—a man who sought a quarrel with him, for I don't know what."
"Exactly so," said the host; "I remember it perfectly. It is not Monsieur Porthos that your Lordship means?"
"Yes, that is my companion's name. My God, my dear host, tell me if anything has happened to him?"
"Your Lordship must have observed that he could not continue his journey."
"Why, to be sure, he promised to rejoin us, and we have seen nothing of him."
"He has done us the honor to remain here."
"What, he had done you the honor to remain here?"
"Yes, monsieur, in this house; and we are even a little uneasy—"
"On what account?"
"Of certain expenses he has contracted."
"Well, but whatever expenses he may have incurred, I am sure he is in a condition to pay them."
"Ah, monsieur, you infuse genuine balm into my blood. We have made considerable advances; and this very morning the surgeon declared that if Monsieur Porthos did not pay him, he should look to me, as it was I who had sent for him."
"Porthos is wounded, then?"
"I cannot tell you, monsieur."
"What! You cannot tell me? Surely you ought to be able to tell me better than any other person."
"Yes; but in our situation we must not say all we know—particularly as we have been warned that our ears should answer for our tongues."
"Well, can I see Porthos?"
"Certainly, monsieur. Take the stairs on your right; go up the first flight and knock at Number One. Only warn him that it is you."
"Why should I do that?"
"Because, monsieur, some mischief might happen to you."
"Of what kind, in the name of wonder?"
"Monsieur Porthos may imagine you belong to the house, and in a fit of passion might run his sword through you or blow out your brains."
"What have you done to him, then?"
"We have asked him for money."
"The devil! Ah, I can understand that. It is a demand that Porthos takes very ill when he is not in funds; but I know he must be so at present."
"We thought so, too, monsieur. As our house is carried on very regularly, and we make out our bills every week, at the end of eight days we presented our account; but it appeared we had chosen an unlucky moment, for at the first word on the subject, he sent us to all the devils. It is true he had been playing the day before."
"Playing the day before! And with whom?"
"Lord, who can say, monsieur? With some gentleman who was traveling this way, to whom he proposed a game of LANSQUENET."
"That's it, then, and the foolish fellow lost all he had?"
"Even to his horse, monsieur; for when the gentleman was about to set out, we perceived that his lackey was saddling Monsieur Porthos's horse, as well as his master's. When we observed this to him, he told us all to trouble ourselves about our own business, as this horse belonged to him. We also informed Monsieur Porthos of what was going on; but he told us we were scoundrels to doubt a gentleman's word, and that as he had said the horse was his, it must be so."
"That's Porthos all over," murmured d'Artagnan.
"Then," continued the host, "I replied that as from the moment we seemed not likely to come to a good understanding with respect to payment, I hoped that he would have at least the kindness to grant the favor of his custom to my brother host of the Golden Eagle; but Monsieur Porthos replied that, my house being the best, he should remain where he was. This reply was too flattering to allow me to insist on his departure. I confined myself then to begging him to give up his chamber, which is the handsomest in the hotel, and to be satisfied with a pretty little room on the third floor; but to this Monsieur Porthos replied that as he every moment expected his mistress, who was one of the greatest ladies in the court, I might easily comprehend that the chamber he did me the honor to occupy in my house was itself very mean for the visit of such a personage. Nevertheless, while acknowledging the truth of what he said, I thought proper to insist; but without even giving himself the trouble to enter into any discussion with me, he took one of his pistols, laid it on his table, day and night, and said that at the first word that should be spoken to him about removing, either within the house or out of it, he would blow out the brains of the person who should be so imprudent as to meddle with a matter which only concerned himself. Since that time, monsieur, nobody entered his chamber but his servant."
"What! Mousqueton is here, then?"
"Oh, yes, monsieur. Five days after your departure, he came back, and in a very bad condition, too. It appears that he had met with disagreeableness, likewise, on his journey. Unfortunately, he is more nimble than his master; so that for the sake of his master, he puts us all under his feet, and as he thinks we might refuse what he asked for, he takes all he wants without asking at all."
"The fact is," said d'Artagnan, "I have always observed a great degree of intelligence and devotedness in Mousqueton."
"That is possible, monsieur; but suppose I should happen to be brought in contact, even four times a year, with such intelligence and devotedness—why, I should be a ruined man!"
"No, for Porthos will pay you."
"Hum!" said the host, in a doubtful tone.
"The favorite of a great lady will not be allowed to be inconvenienced for such a paltry sum as he owes you."
"If I durst say what I believe on that head—"
"What you believe?"
"I ought rather to say, what I know."
"What you know?"
"And even what I am sure of."
"And of what are you so sure?"
"I would say that I know this great lady."
"And how do you know her?"
"Oh, monsieur, if I could believe I might trust in your discretion."
"Speak! By the word of a gentleman, you shall have no cause to repent of your confidence."
"Well, monsieur, you understand that uneasiness makes us do many things."
"What have you done?"
"Oh, nothing which was not right in the character of a creditor."
"Monsieur Porthos gave us a note for his duchess, ordering us to put it in the post. This was before his servant came. As he could not leave his chamber, it was necessary to charge us with this commission."
"Instead of putting the letter in the post, which is never safe, I took advantage of the journey of one of my lads to Paris, and ordered him to convey the letter to this duchess himself. This was fulfilling the intentions of Monsieur Porthos, who had desired us to be so careful of this letter, was it not?"
"Well, monsieur, do you know who this great lady is?"
"No; I have heard Porthos speak of her, that's all."
"Do you know who this pretended duchess is?
"I repeat to you, I don't know her."
"Why, she is the old wife of a procurator* of the Chatelet, monsieur, named Madame Coquenard, who, although she is at least fifty, still gives herself jealous airs. It struck me as very odd that a princess should live in the Rue aux Ours."
"But how do you know all this?"
"Because she flew into a great passion on receiving the letter, saying that Monsieur Porthos was a weathercock, and that she was sure it was for some woman he had received this wound."
"Has he been wounded, then?"
"Oh, good Lord! What have I said?"
"You said that Porthos had received a sword cut."
"Yes, but he has forbidden me so strictly to say so."
"And why so."
"Zounds, monsieur! Because he had boasted that he would perforate the stranger with whom you left him in dispute; whereas the stranger, on the contrary, in spite of all his rodomontades quickly threw him on his back. As Monsieur Porthos is a very boastful man, he insists that nobody shall know he has received this wound except the duchess, whom he endeavored to interest by an account of his adventure."
"It is a wound that confines him to his bed?"
"Ah, and a master stroke, too, I assure you. Your friend's soul must stick tight to his body."
"Were you there, then?"
"Monsieur, I followed them from curiosity, so that I saw the combat without the combatants seeing me."
"And what took place?"
"Oh! The affair was not long, I assure you. They placed themselves on guard; the stranger made a feint and a lunge, and that so rapidly that when Monsieur Porthos came to the PARADE, he had already three inches of steel in his breast. He immediately fell backward. The stranger placed the point of his sword at his throat; and Monsieur Porthos, finding himself at the mercy of his adversary, acknowledged himself conquered. Upon which the stranger asked his name, and learning that it was Porthos, and not d'Artagnan, he assisted him to rise, brought him back to the hotel, mounted his horse, and disappeared."
"So it was with Monsieur d'Artagnan this stranger meant to quarrel?"
"It appears so."
"And do you know what has become of him?"
"No, I never saw him until that moment, and have not seen him since."
"Very well; I know all that I wish to know. Porthos's chamber is, you say, on the first story, Number One?"
"Yes, monsieur, the handsomest in the inn—a chamber that I could have let ten times over."
"Bah! Be satisfied," said d'Artagnan, laughing, "Porthos will pay you with the money of the Duchess Coquenard."
"Oh, monsieur, procurator's wife or duchess, if she will but loosen her pursestrings, it will be all the same; but she positively answered that she was tired of the exigencies and infidelities of Monsieur Porthos, and that she would not send him a denier."
"And did you convey this answer to your guest?"
"We took good care not to do that; he would have found in what fashion we had executed his commission."
"So that he still expects his money?"
"Oh, Lord, yes, monsieur! Yesterday he wrote again; but it was his servant who this time put the letter in the post."
"Do you say the procurator's wife is old and ugly?"
"Fifty at least, monsieur, and not at all handsome, according to Pathaud's account."
"In that case, you may be quite at ease; she will soon be softened. Besides, Porthos cannot owe you much."
"How, not much! Twenty good pistoles, already, without reckoning the doctor. He denies himself nothing; it may easily be seen he has been accustomed to live well."
"Never mind; if his mistress abandons him, he will find friends, I will answer for it. So, my dear host, be not uneasy, and continue to take all the care of him that his situation requires."
"Monsieur has promised me not to open his mouth about the procurator's wife, and not to say a word of the wound?"
"That's agreed; you have my word."
"Oh, he would kill me!"
"Don't be afraid; he is not so much of a devil as he appears."
Saying these words, d'Artagnan went upstairs, leaving his host a little better satisfied with respect to two things in which he appeared to be very much interested—his debt and his life.
At the top of the stairs, upon the most conspicuous door of the corridor, was traced in black ink a gigantic number "1." d'Artagnan knocked, and upon the bidding to come in which came from inside, he entered the chamber.