"Well, what next?" said d'Artagnan, laughing in spite of himself.
"Grimaud himself, understand; and with the ten parts of Grimaud, which are not worth a ducatoon, I regained the diamond. Tell me, now, if persistence is not a virtue?"
"My faith! But this is droll," cried d'Artagnan, consoled, and holding his sides with laughter.
"You may guess, finding the luck turned, that I again staked the diamond."
"The devil!" said d'Artagnan, becoming angry again.
"I won back your harness, then your horse, then my harness, then my horse, and then I lost again. In brief, I regained your harness and then mine. That's where we are. That was a superb throw, so I left off there."
D'Artagnan breathed as if the whole hostelry had been removed from his breast.
"Then the diamond is safe?" said he, timidly.
"Intact, my dear friend; besides the harness of your Bucephalus and mine."
"But what is the use of harnesses without horses?"
"I have an idea about them."
"Athos, you make me shudder."
"Listen to me. You have not played for a long time, d'Artagnan."
"And I have no inclination to play."
"Swear to nothing. You have not played for a long time, I said; you ought, then, to have a good hand."
"Well, what then?"
"Well; the Englishman and his companion are still here. I remarked that he regretted the horse furniture very much. You appear to think much of your horse. In your place I would stake the furniture against the horse."
"But he will not wish for only one harness."
"Stake both, PARDIEU! I am not selfish, as you are."
"You would do so?" said d'Artagnan, undecided, so strongly did the confidence of Athos begin to prevail, in spite of himself.
"On my honor, in one single throw."
"But having lost the horses, I am particularly anxious to preserve the harnesses."
"Stake your diamond, then."
"This? That's another matter. Never, never!"
"The devil!" said Athos. "I would propose to you to stake Planchet, but as that has already been done, the Englishman would not, perhaps, be willing."
"Decidedly, my dear Athos," said d'Artagnan, "I should like better not to risk anything."
"That's a pity," said Athos, coolly. "The Englishman is overflowing with pistoles. Good Lord, try one throw! One throw is soon made!"
"And if I lose?"
"You will win."
"But if I lose?"
"Well, you will surrender the harnesses."
"Have with you for one throw!" said d'Artagnan.
Athos went in quest of the Englishman, whom he found in the stable, examining the harnesses with a greedy eye. The opportunity was good. He proposed the conditions—the two harnesses, either against one horse or a hundred pistoles. The Englishman calculated fast; the two harnesses were worth three hundred pistoles. He consented.
D'Artagnan threw the dice with a trembling hand, and turned up the number three; his paleness terrified Athos, who, however, consented himself with saying, "That's a sad throw, comrade; you will have the horses fully equipped, monsieur."
The Englishman, quite triumphant, did not even give himself the trouble to shake the dice. He threw them on the table without looking at them, so sure was he of victory; d'Artagnan turned aside to conceal his ill humor.
"Hold, hold, hold!" said Athos, wit his quiet tone; "that throw of the dice is extraordinary. I have not seen such a one four times in my life. Two aces!"
The Englishman looked, and was seized with astonishment. d'Artagnan looked, and was seized with pleasure.
"Yes," continued Athos, "four times only; once at the house of Monsieur Crequy; another time at my own house in the country, in my chateau at—when I had a chateau; a third time at Monsieur de Treville's where it surprised us all; and the fourth time at a cabaret, where it fell to my lot, and where I lost a hundred louis and a supper on it."
"Then Monsieur takes his horse back again," said the Englishman.
"Certainly," said d'Artagnan.
"Then there is no revenge?"
"Our conditions said, 'No revenge,' you will please to recollect."
"That is true; the horse shall be restored to your lackey, monsieur."
"A moment," said Athos; "with your permission, monsieur, I wish to speak a word with my friend."
Athos drew d'Artagnan aside.
"Well, Tempter, what more do you want with me?" said d'Artagnan. "You want me to throw again, do you not?"
"No, I would wish you to reflect."
"You mean to take your horse?"
"You are wrong, then. I would take the hundred pistoles. You know you have staked the harnesses against the horse or a hundred pistoles, at your choice."
"Well, then, I repeat, you are wrong. What is the use of one horse for us two? I could not ride behind. We should look like the two sons of Anmon, who had lost their brother. You cannot think of humiliating me by prancing along by my side on that magnificent charger. For my part, I should not hesitate a moment; I should take the hundred pistoles. We want money for our return to Paris."
"I am much attached to that horse, Athos."
"And there again you are wrong. A horse slips and injures a joint; a horse stumbles and breaks his knees to the bone; a horse eats out of a manger in which a glandered horse has eaten. There is a horse, while on the contrary, the hundred pistoles feed their master."
"But how shall we get back?"
"Upon our lackey's horses, PARDIEU. Anybody may see by our bearing that we are people of condition."
"Pretty figures we shall cut on ponies while Aramis and Porthos caracole on their steeds."
"Aramis! Porthos!" cried Athos, and laughed aloud.
"What is it?" asked d'Artagnan, who did not at all comprehend the hilarity of his friend.
"Nothing, nothing! Go on!"
"Your advice, then?"
"To take the hundred pistoles, d'Artagnan. With the hundred pistoles we can live well to the end of the month. We have undergone a great deal of fatigue, remember, and a little rest will do no harm."
"I rest? Oh, no, Athos. Once in Paris, I shall prosecute my search for that unfortunate woman!"
"Well, you may be assured that your horse will not be half so serviceable to you for that purpose as good golden louis. Take the hundred pistoles, my friend; take the hundred pistoles!"
D'Artagnan only required one reason to be satisfied. This last reason appeared convincing. Besides, he feared that by resisting longer he should appear selfish in the eyes of Athos. He acquiesced, therefore, and chose the hundred pistoles, which the Englishman paid down on the spot.
They then determined to depart. Peace with the landlord, in addition to Athos's old horse, cost six pistoles. D'Artagnan and Athos took the nags of Planchet and Grimaud, and the two lackeys started on foot, carrying the saddles on their heads.
However ill our two friends were mounted, they were soon far in advance of their servants, and arrived at Creveccoeur. From a distance they perceived Aramis, seated in a melancholy manner at his window, looking out, like Sister Anne, at the dust in the horizon.
"HOLA, Aramis! What the devil are you doing there?" cried the two friends.
"Ah, is that you, d'Artagnan, and you, Athos?" said the young man. "I was reflecting upon the rapidity with which the blessings of this world leave us. My English horse, which has just disappeared amid a cloud of dust, has furnished me with a living image of the fragility of the things of the earth. Life itself may be resolved into three words: ERAT, EST, FUIT."
"Which means—" said d'Artagnan, who began to suspect the truth.
"Which means that I have just been duped-sixty louis for a horse which by the manner of his gait can do at least five leagues an hour."
D'Artagnan and Athos laughed aloud.
"My dear d'Artagnan," said Aramis, "don't be too angry with me, I beg. Necessity has no law; besides, I am the person punished, as that rascally horsedealer has robbed me of fifty louis, at least. Ah, you fellows are good managers! You ride on our lackey's horses, and have your own gallant steeds led along carefully by hand, at short stages."
At the same instant a market cart, which some minutes before had appeared upon the Amiens road, pulled up at the inn, and Planchet and Grimaud came out of it with the saddles on their heads. The cart was returning empty to Paris, and the two lackeys had agreed, for their transport, to slake the wagoner's thirst along the route.
"What is this?" said Aramis, on seeing them arrive. "Nothing but saddles?"
"Now do you understand?" said Athos.
"My friends, that's exactly like me! I retained my harness by instinct. HOLA, Bazin! Bring my new saddle and carry it along with those of these gentlemen."
"And what have you done with your ecclesiastics?" asked d'Artagnan.
"My dear fellow, I invited them to a dinner the next day," replied Aramis. "They have some capital wine here—please to observe that in passing. I did my best to make them drunk. Then the curate forbade me to quit my uniform, and the Jesuit entreated me to get him made a Musketeer."
"Without a thesis?" cried d'Artagnan, "without a thesis? I demand the suppression of the thesis."
"Since then," continued Aramis, "I have lived very agreeably. I have begun a poem in verses of one syllable. That is rather difficult, but the merit in all things consists in the difficulty. The matter is gallant. I will read you the first canto. It has four hundred lines, and lasts a minute."
"My faith, my dear Aramis," said d'Artagnan, who detested verses almost as much as he did Latin, "add to the merit of the difficulty that of the brevity, and you are sure that your poem will at least have two merits."
"You will see," continued Aramis, "that it breathes irreproachable passion. And so, my friends, we return to Paris? Bravo! I am ready. We are going to rejoin that good fellow, Porthos. So much the better. You can't think how I have missed him, the great simpleton. To see him so self-satisfied reconciles me with myself. He would not sell his horse; not for a kingdom! I think I can see him now, mounted upon his superb animal and seated in his handsome saddle. I am sure he will look like the Great Mogul!"
They made a halt for an hour to refresh their horses. Aramis discharged his bill, placed Bazin in the cart with his comrades, and they set forward to join Porthos.
They found him up, less pale than when d'Artagnan left him after his first visit, and seated at a table on which, though he was alone, was spread enough for four persons. This dinner consisted of meats nicely dressed, choice wines, and superb fruit.
"Ah, PARDIEU!" said he, rising, "you come in the nick of time, gentlemen. I was just beginning the soup, and you will dine with me."
"Oh, oh!" said d'Artagnan, "Mousqueton has not caught these bottles with his lasso. Besides, here is a piquant FRICANDEAU and a fillet of beef."
"I am recruiting myself," said Porthos, "I am recruiting myself. Nothing weakens a man more than these devilish strains. Did you ever suffer from a strain, Athos?"
"Never! Though I remember, in our affair of the Rue Ferou, I received a sword wound which at the end of fifteen or eighteen days produced the same effect."
"But this dinner was not intended for you alone, Porthos?" said Aramis.
"No," said Porthos, "I expected some gentlemen of the neighborhood, who have just sent me word they could not come. You will take their places and I shall not lose by the exchange. HOLA, Mousqueton, seats, and order double the bottles!"
"Do you know what we are eating here?" said Athos, at the end of ten minutes.
"PARDIEU!" replied d'Artagnan, "for my part, I am eating veal garnished with shrimps and vegetables."
"And I some lamb chops," said Porthos.
"And I a plain chicken," said Aramis.
"You are all mistaken, gentlemen," answered Athos, gravely; "you are eating horse."
"Eating what?" said d'Artagnan.
"Horse!" said Aramis, with a grimace of disgust.
Porthos alone made no reply.
"Yes, horse. Are we not eating a horse, Porthos? And perhaps his saddle, therewith."
"No, gentlemen, I have kept the harness," said Porthos.
"My faith," said Aramis, "we are all alike. One would think we had tipped the wink."
"What could I do?" said Porthos. "This horse made my visitors ashamed of theirs, and I don't like to humiliate people."
"Then your duchess is still at the waters?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Still," replied Porthos. "And, my faith, the governor of the province—one of the gentlemen I expected today—seemed to have such a wish for him, that I gave him to him."
"Gave him?" cried d'Artagnan.
"My God, yes, GAVE, that is the word," said Porthos; "for the animal was worth at least a hundred and fifty louis, and the stingy fellow would only give me eighty."
"Without the saddle?" said Aramis.
"Yes, without the saddle."
"You will observe, gentlemen," said Athos, "that Porthos has made the best bargain of any of us."
And then commenced a roar of laughter in which they all joined, to the astonishment of poor Porthos; but when he was informed of the cause of their hilarity, he shared it vociferously according to his custom.
"There is one comfort, we are all in cash," said d'Artagnan.
"Well, for my part," said Athos, "I found Aramis's Spanish wine so good that I sent on a hamper of sixty bottles of it in the wagon with the lackeys. That has weakened my purse."
"And I," said Aramis, "imagined that I had given almost my last sou to the church of Montdidier and the Jesuits of Amiens, with whom I had made engagements which I ought to have kept. I have ordered Masses for myself, and for you, gentlemen, which will be said, gentlemen, for which I have not the least doubt you will be marvelously benefited."
"And I," said Porthos, "do you think my strain cost me nothing?—without reckoning Mousqueton's wound, for which I had to have the surgeon twice a day, and who charged me double on account of that foolish Mousqueton having allowed himself a ball in a part which people generally only show to an apothecary; so I advised him to try never to get wounded there any more."
"Ay, ay!" said Athos, exchanging a smile with d'Artagnan and Aramis, "it is very clear you acted nobly with regard to the poor lad; that is like a good master."
"In short," said Porthos, "when all my expenses are paid, I shall have, at most, thirty crowns left."
"And I about ten pistoles," said Aramis.
"Well, then it appears that we are the Croesuses of the society. How much have you left of your hundred pistoles, d'Artagnan?"
"Of my hundred pistoles? Why, in the first place I gave you fifty."
"You think so?"
"Ah, that is true. I recollect."
"Then I paid the host six."
"What a brute of a host! Why did you give him six pistoles?"
"You told me to give them to him."
"It is true; I am too good-natured. In brief, how much remains?"
"Twenty-five pistoles," said d'Artagnan.
"And I," said Athos, taking some small change from his pocket, "I—"
"My faith! So little that it is not worth reckoning with the general stock."
"Now, then, let us calculate how much we posses in all."
"And you, d'Artagnan?"
"That makes in all?" said Athos.
"Four hundred and seventy-five livres," said d'Artagnan, who reckoned like Archimedes.
"On our arrival in Paris, we shall still have four hundred, besides the harnesses," said Porthos.
"But our troop horses?" said Aramis.
"Well, of the four horses of our lackeys we will make two for the masters, for which we will draw lots. With the four hundred livres we will make the half of one for one of the unmounted, and then we will give the turnings out of our pockets to d'Artagnan, who has a steady hand, and will go and play in the first gaming house we come to. There!"
"Let us dine, then," said Porthos; "it is getting cold."
The friends, at ease with regard to the future, did honor to the repast, the remains of which were abandoned to Mousqueton, Bazin, Planchet, and Grimaud.
On arriving in Paris, d'Artagnan found a letter from M. de Treville, which informed him that, at his request, the king had promised that he should enter the company of the Musketeers.
As this was the height of d'Artagnan's worldly ambition—apart, be it well understood, from his desire of finding Mme. Bonacieux—he ran, full of joy, to seek his comrades, whom he had left only half an hour before, but whom he found very sad and deeply preoccupied. They were assembled in council at the residence of Athos, which always indicated an event of some gravity. M. de Treville had intimated to them his Majesty's fixed intention to open the campaign on the first of May, and they must immediately prepare their outfits.
The four philosophers looked at one another in a state of bewilderment. M. de Treville never jested in matters relating to discipline.
"And what do you reckon your outfit will cost?" said d'Artagnan.
"Oh, we can scarcely say. We have made our calculations with Spartan economy, and we each require fifteen hundred livres."
"Four times fifteen makes sixty—six thousand livres," said Athos.
"It seems to me," said d'Artagnan, "with a thousand livres each—I do not speak as a Spartan, but as a procurator—"
This word PROCURATOR roused Porthos. "Stop," said he, "I have an idea."
"Well, that's something, for I have not the shadow of one," said Athos coolly; "but as to d'Artagnan, gentlemen, the idea of belonging to OURS has driven him out of his senses. A thousand livres! For my part, I declare I want two thousand."
"Four times two makes eight," then said Aramis; "it is eight thousand that we want to complete our outfits, toward which, it is true, we have already the saddles."
"Besides," said Athos, waiting till d'Artagnan, who went to thank Monsieur de Treville, had shut the door, "besides, there is that beautiful ring which beams from the finger of our friend. What the devil! D'Artagnan is too good a comrade to leave his brothers in embarrassment while he wears the ransom of a king on his finger."
29 HUNTING FOR THE EQUIPMENTS
The most preoccupied of the four friends was certainly d'Artagnan, although he, in his quality of Guardsman, would be much more easily equipped than Messieurs the Musketeers, who were all of high rank; but our Gascon cadet was, as may have been observed, of a provident and almost avaricious character, and with that (explain the contradiction) so vain as almost to rival Porthos. To this preoccupation of his vanity, d'Artagnan at this moment joined an uneasiness much less selfish. Notwithstanding all his inquiries respecting Mme. Bonacieux, he could obtain no intelligence of her. M. de Treville had spoken of her to the queen. The queen was ignorant where the mercer's young wife was, but had promised to have her sought for; but this promise was very vague and did not at all reassure d'Artagnan.
Athos did not leave his chamber; he made up his mind not to take a single step to equip himself.
"We have still fifteen days before us," said he to his friends, "well, if at the end of a fortnight I have found nothing, or rather if nothing has come to find me, as I, too good a Catholic to kill myself with a pistol bullet, I will seek a good quarrel with four of his Eminence's Guards or with eight Englishmen, and I will fight until one of them has killed me, which, considering the number, cannot fail to happen. It will then be said of me that I died for the king; so that I shall have performed my duty without the expense of an outfit."
Porthos continued to walk about with his hands behind him, tossing his head and repeating, "I shall follow up on my idea."
Aramis, anxious and negligently dressed, said nothing.
It may be seen by these disastrous details that desolation reigned in the community.
The lackeys on their part, like the coursers of Hippolytus, shared the sadness of their masters. Mousqueton collected a store of crusts; Bazin, who had always been inclined to devotion, never quit the churches; Planchet watched the flight of flies; and Grimaud, whom the general distress could not induce to break the silence imposed by his master, heaved sighs enough to soften the stones.
The three friends—for, as we have said, Athos had sworn not to stir a foot to equip himself—went out early in the morning, and returned late at night. They wandered about the streets, looking at the pavement as if to see whether the passengers had not left a purse behind them. They might have been supposed to be following tracks, so observant were they wherever they went. When they met they looked desolately at one another, as much as to say, "Have you found anything?"
However, as Porthos had first found an idea, and had thought of it earnestly afterward, he was the first to act. He was a man of execution, this worthy Porthos. D'Artagnan perceived him one day walking toward the church of St. Leu, and followed him instinctively. He entered, after having twisted his mustache and elongated his imperial, which always announced on his part the most triumphant resolutions. As d'Artagnan took some precautions to conceal himself, Porthos believed he had not been seen. d'Artagnan entered behind him. Porthos went and leaned against the side of a pillar. D'Artagnan, still unperceived, supported himself against the other side.
There happened to be a sermon, which made the church very full of people. Porthos took advantage of this circumstance to ogle the women. Thanks to the cares of Mousqueton, the exterior was far from announcing the distress of the interior. His hat was a little napless, his feather was a little faded, his gold lace was a little tarnished, his laces were a trifle frayed; but in the obscurity of the church these things were not seen, and Porthos was still the handsome Porthos.
D'Artagnan observed, on the bench nearest to the pillar against which Porthos leaned, a sort of ripe beauty, rather yellow and rather dry, but erect and haughty under her black hood. The eyes of Porthos were furtively cast upon this lady, and then roved about at large over the nave.
On her side the lady, who from time to time blushed, darted with the rapidity of lightning a glance toward the inconstant Porthos; and then immediately the eyes of Porthos wandered anxiously. It was plain that this mode of proceeding piqued the lady in the black hood, for she bit her lips till they bled, scratched the end of her nose, and could not sit still in her seat.
Porthos, seeing this, retwisted his mustache, elongated his imperial a second time, and began to make signals to a beautiful lady who was near the choir, and who not only was a beautiful lady, but still further, no doubt, a great lady—for she had behind her a Negro boy who had brought the cushion on which she knelt, and a female servant who held the emblazoned bag in which was placed the book from which she read the Mass.
The lady with the black hood followed through all their wanderings the looks of Porthos, and perceived that they rested upon the lady with the velvet cushion, the little Negro, and the maid-servant.
During this time Porthos played close. It was almost imperceptible motions of his eyes, fingers placed upon the lips, little assassinating smiles, which really did assassinate the disdained beauty.
Then she cried, "Ahem!" under cover of the MEA CULPA, striking her breast so vigorously that everybody, even the lady with the red cushion, turned round toward her. Porthos paid no attention. Nevertheless, he understood it all, but was deaf.
The lady with the red cushion produced a great effect—for she was very handsome—upon the lady with the black hood, who saw in her a rival really to be dreaded; a great effect upon Porthos, who thought her much prettier than the lady with the black hood; a great effect upon d'Artagnan, who recognized in her the lady of Meung, of Calais, and of Dover, whom his persecutor, the man with the scar, had saluted by the name of Milady.
D'Artagnan, without losing sight of the lady of the red cushion, continued to watch the proceedings of Porthos, which amused him greatly. He guessed that the lady of the black hood was the procurator's wife of the Rue aux Ours, which was the more probable from the church of St. Leu being not far from that locality.
He guessed, likewise, by induction, that Porthos was taking his revenge for the defeat of Chantilly, when the procurator's wife had proved so refractory with respect to her purse.
Amid all this, d'Artagnan remarked also that not one countenance responded to the gallantries of Porthos. There were only chimeras and illusions; but for real love, for true jealousy, is there any reality except illusions and chimeras?
The sermon over, the procurator's wife advanced toward the holy font. Porthos went before her, and instead of a finger, dipped his whole hand in. The procurator's wife smiled, thinking that it was for her Porthos had put himself to this trouble; but she was cruelly and promptly undeceived. When she was only about three steps from him, he turned his head round, fixing his eyes steadfastly upon the lady with the red cushion, who had risen and was approaching, followed by her black boy and her woman.
When the lady of the red cushion came close to Porthos, Porthos drew his dripping hand from the font. The fair worshipper touched the great hand of Porthos with her delicate fingers, smiled, made the sign of the cross, and left the church.
This was too much for the procurator's wife; she doubted not there was an intrigue between this lady and Porthos. If she had been a great lady she would have fainted; but as she was only a procurator's wife, she contented herself saying to the Musketeer with concentrated fury, "Eh, Monsieur Porthos, you don't offer me any holy water?"
Porthos, at the sound of that voice, started like a man awakened from a sleep of a hundred years.
"Ma-madame!" cried he; "is that you? How is your husband, our dear Monsieur Coquenard? Is he still as stingy as ever? Where can my eyes have been not to have seen you during the two hours of the sermon?"
"I was within two paces of you, monsieur," replied the procurator's wife; "but you did not perceive me because you had no eyes but for the pretty lady to whom you just now gave the holy water."
Porthos pretended to be confused. "Ah," said he, "you have remarked—"
"I must have been blind not to have seen."
"Yes," said Porthos, "that is a duchess of my acquaintance whom I have great trouble to meet on account of the jealousy of her husband, and who sent me word that she should come today to this poor church, buried in this vile quarter, solely for the sake of seeing me."
"Monsieur Porthos," said the procurator's wife, "will you have the kindness to offer me your arm for five minutes? I have something to say to you."
"Certainly, madame," said Porthos, winking to himself, as a gambler does who laughs at the dupe he is about to pluck.
At that moment d'Artagnan passed in pursuit of Milady; he cast a passing glance at Porthos, and beheld this triumphant look.
"Eh, eh!" said he, reasoning to himself according to the strangely easy morality of that gallant period, "there is one who will be equipped in good time!"
Porthos, yielding to the pressure of the arm of the procurator's wife, as a bark yields to the rudder, arrived at the cloister St. Magloire—a little-frequented passage, enclosed with a turnstile at each end. In the daytime nobody was seen there but mendicants devouring their crusts, and children at play.
"Ah, Monsieur Porthos," cried the procurator's wife, when she was assured that no one who was a stranger to the population of the locality could either see or hear her, "ah, Monsieur Porthos, you are a great conqueror, as it appears!"
"I, madame?" said Porthos, drawing himself up proudly; "how so?"
"The signs just now, and the holy water! But that must be a princess, at least—that lady with her Negro boy and her maid!"
"My God! Madame, you are deceived," said Porthos; "she is simply a duchess."
"And that running footman who waited at the door, and that carriage with a coachman in grand livery who sat waiting on his seat?"
Porthos had seen neither the footman nor the carriage, but with the eye of a jealous woman, Mme. Coquenard had seen everything.
Porthos regretted that he had not at once made the lady of the red cushion a princess.
"Ah, you are quite the pet of the ladies, Monsieur Porthos!" resumed the procurator's wife, with a sigh.
"Well," responded Porthos, "you may imagine, with the physique with which nature has endowed me, I am not in want of good luck."
"Good Lord, how quickly men forget!" cried the procurator's wife, raising her eyes toward heaven.
"Less quickly than the women, it seems to me," replied Porthos; "for I, madame, I may say I was your victim, when wounded, dying, I was abandoned by the surgeons. I, the offspring of a noble family, who placed reliance upon your friendship—I was near dying of my wounds at first, and of hunger afterward, in a beggarly inn at Chantilly, without you ever deigning once to reply to the burning letters I addressed to you."
"But, Monsieur Porthos," murmured the procurator's wife, who began to feel that, to judge by the conduct of the great ladies of the time, she was wrong.
"I, who had sacrificed for you the Baronne de—"
"I know it well."
"The Comtesse de—"
"Monsieur Porthos, be generous!"
"You are right, madame, and I will not finish."
"But it was my husband who would not hear of lending."
"Madame Coquenard," said Porthos, "remember the first letter you wrote me, and which I preserve engraved in my memory."
The procurator's wife uttered a groan.
"Besides," said she, "the sum you required me to borrow was rather large."
"Madame Coquenard, I gave you the preference. I had but to write to the Duchesse—but I won't repeat her name, for I am incapable of compromising a woman; but this I know, that I had but to write to her and she would have sent me fifteen hundred."
The procurator's wife shed a tear.
"Monsieur Porthos," said she, "I can assure you that you have severely punished me; and if in the time to come you should find yourself in a similar situation, you have but to apply to me."
"Fie, madame, fie!" said Porthos, as if disgusted. "Let us not talk about money, if you please; it is humiliating."
"Then you no longer love me!" said the procurator's wife, slowly and sadly.
Porthos maintained a majestic silence.
"And that is the only reply you make? Alas, I understand."
"Think of the offense you have committed toward me, madame! It remains HERE!" said Porthos, placing his hand on his heart, and pressing it strongly.
"I will repair it, indeed I will, my dear Porthos."
"Besides, what did I ask of you?" resumed Porthos, with a movement of the shoulders full of good fellowship. "A loan, nothing more! After all, I am not an unreasonable man. I know you are not rich, Madame Coquenard, and that your husband is obliged to bleed his poor clients to squeeze a few paltry crowns from them. Oh! If you were a duchess, a marchioness, or a countess, it would be quite a different thing; it would be unpardonable."
The procurator's wife was piqued.
"Please to know, Monsieur Porthos," said she, "that my strongbox, the strongbox of a procurator's wife though it may be, is better filled than those of your affected minxes."
"The doubles the offense," said Porthos, disengaging his arm from that of the procurator's wife; "for if you are rich, Madame Coquenard, then there is no excuse for your refusal."
"When I said rich," replied the procurator's wife, who saw that she had gone too far, "you must not take the word literally. I am not precisely rich, though I am pretty well off."
"Hold, madame," said Porthos, "let us say no more upon the subject, I beg of you. You have misunderstood me, all sympathy is extinct between us."
"Ingrate that you are!"
"Ah! I advise you to complain!" said Porthos.
"Begone, then, to your beautiful duchess; I will detain you no longer."
"And she is not to be despised, in my opinion."
"Now, Monsieur Porthos, once more, and this is the last! Do you love me still?"
"Ah, madame," said Porthos, in the most melancholy tone he could assume, "when we are about to enter upon a campaign—a campaign, in which my presentiments tell me I shall be killed—"
"Oh, don't talk of such things!" cried the procurator's wife, bursting into tears.
"Something whispers me so," continued Porthos, becoming more and more melancholy.
"Rather say that you have a new love."
"Not so; I speak frankly to you. No object affects me; and I even feel here, at the bottom of my heart, something which speaks for you. But in fifteen days, as you know, or as you do not know, this fatal campaign is to open. I shall be fearfully preoccupied with my outfit. Then I must make a journey to see my family, in the lower part of Brittany, to obtain the sum necessary for my departure."
Porthos observed a last struggle between love and avarice.
"And as," continued he, "the duchess whom you saw at the church has estates near to those of my family, we mean to make the journey together. Journeys, you know, appear much shorter when we travel two in company."
"Have you no friends in Paris, then, Monsieur Porthos?" said the procurator's wife.
"I thought I had," said Porthos, resuming his melancholy air; "but I have been taught my mistake."
"You have some!" cried the procurator's wife, in a transport that surprised even herself. "Come to our house tomorrow. You are the son of my aunt, consequently my cousin; you come from Noyon, in Picardy; you have several lawsuits and no attorney. Can you recollect all that?"
"Come at dinnertime."
"And be upon your guard before my husband, who is rather shrewd, notwithstanding his seventy-six years."
"Seventy-six years! PESTE! That's a fine age!" replied Porthos.
"A great age, you mean, Monsieur Porthos. Yes, the poor man may be expected to leave me a widow, any hour," continued she, throwing a significant glance at Porthos. "Fortunately, by our marriage contract, the survivor takes everything."
"You are a woman of precaution, I see, my dear Madame Coquenard," said Porthos, squeezing the hand of the procurator's wife tenderly.
"We are then reconciled, dear Monsieur Porthos?" said she, simpering.
"For life," replied Porthos, in the same manner.
"Till we meet again, then, dear traitor!"
"Till we meet again, my forgetful charmer!"
"Tomorrow, my angel!"
"Tomorrow, flame of my life!"
30 D'ARTAGNAN AND THE ENGLISHMAN
D'Artagnan followed Milady without being perceived by her. He saw her get into her carriage, and heard her order the coachman to drive to St. Germain.
It was useless to try to keep pace on foot with a carriage drawn by two powerful horses. D'Artagnan therefore returned to the Rue Ferou.
In the Rue de Seine he met Planchet, who had stopped before the house of a pastry cook, and was contemplating with ecstasy a cake of the most appetizing appearance.
He ordered him to go and saddle two horses in M. de Treville's stables—one for himself, d'Artagnan, and one for Planchet—and bring them to Athens's place. Once for all, Treville had placed his stable at d'Artagnan's service.
Planchet proceeded toward the Rue du Colombier, and d'Artagnan toward the Rue Ferou. Athos was at home, emptying sadly a bottle of the famous Spanish wine he had brought back with him from his journey into Picardy. He made a sign for Grimaud to bring a glass for d'Artagnan, and Grimaud obeyed as usual.
D'Artagnan related to Athos all that had passed at the church between Porthos and the procurator's wife, and how their comrade was probably by that time in a fair way to be equipped.
"As for me," replied Athos to this recital, "I am quite at my ease; it will not be women that will defray the expense of my outfit."
"Handsome, well-bred, noble lord as you are, my dear Athos, neither princesses nor queens would be secure from your amorous solicitations."
"How young this d'Artagnan is!" said Athos, shrugging his shoulders; and he made a sign to Grimaud to bring another bottle.
At that moment Planchet put his head modestly in at the half-open door, and told his master that the horses were ready.
"What horses?" asked Athos.
"Two horses that Monsieur de Treville lends me at my pleasure, and with which I am now going to take a ride to St. Germain."
"Well, and what are you going to do at St. Germain?" then demanded Athos.
Then d'Artagnan described the meeting which he had at the church, and how he had found that lady who, with the seigneur in the black cloak and with the scar near his temple, filled his mind constantly.
"That is to say, you are in love with this lady as you were with Madame Bonacieux," said Athos, shrugging his shoulders contemptuously, as if he pitied human weakness.
"I? not at all!" said d'Artagnan. "I am only curious to unravel the mystery to which she is attached. I do not know why, but I imagine that this woman, wholly unknown to me as she is, and wholly unknown to her as I am, has an influence over my life."
"Well, perhaps you are right," said Athos. "I do not know a woman that is worth the trouble of being sought for when she is once lost. Madame Bonacieux is lost; so much the worse for her if she is found."
"No, Athos, no, you are mistaken," said d'Artagnan; "I love my poor Constance more than ever, and if I knew the place in which she is, were it at the end of the world, I would go to free her from the hands of her enemies; but I am ignorant. All my researches have been useless. What is to be said? I must divert my attention!"
"Amuse yourself with Milady, my dear d'Artagnan; I wish you may with all my heart, if that will amuse you."
"Hear me, Athos," said d'Artagnan. "Instead of shutting yourself up here as if you were under arrest, get on horseback and come and take a ride with me to St. Germain."
"My dear fellow," said Athos, "I ride horses when I have any; when I have none, I go afoot."
"Well," said d'Artagnan, smiling at the misanthropy of Athos, which from any other person would have offended him, "I ride what I can get; I am not so proud as you. So AU REVOIR, dear Athos."
"AU REVOIR," said the Musketeer, making a sign to Grimaud to uncork the bottle he had just brought.
D'Artagnan and Planchet mounted, and took the road to St. Germain.
All along the road, what Athos had said respecting Mme. Bonacieux recurred to the mind of the young man. Although d'Artagnan was not of a very sentimental character, the mercer's pretty wife had made a real impression upon his heart. As he said, he was ready to go to the end of the world to seek her; but the world, being round, has many ends, so that he did not know which way to turn. Meantime, he was going to try to find out Milady. Milady had spoken to the man in the black cloak; therefore she knew him. Now, in the opinion of d'Artagnan, it was certainly the man in the black cloak who had carried off Mme. Bonacieux the second time, as he had carried her off the first. d'Artagnan then only half-lied, which is lying but little, when he said that by going in search of Milady he at the same time went in search of Constance.
Thinking of all this, and from time to time giving a touch of the spur to his horse, d'Artagnan completed his short journey, and arrived at St. Germain. He had just passed by the pavilion in which ten years later Louis XIV was born. He rode up a very quiet street, looking to the right and the left to see if he could catch any vestige of his beautiful Englishwoman, when from the ground floor of a pretty house, which, according to the fashion of the time, had no window toward the street, he saw a face peep out with which he thought he was acquainted. This person walked along the terrace, which was ornamented with flowers. Planchet recognized him first.
"Eh, monsieur!" said he, addressing d'Artagnan, "don't you remember that face which is blinking yonder?"
"No," said d'Artagnan, "and yet I am certain it is not the first time I have seen that visage."
"PARBLEU, I believe it is not," said Planchet. "Why, it is poor Lubin, the lackey of the Comte de Wardes—he whom you took such good care of a month ago at Calais, on the road to the governor's country house!"
"So it is!" said d'Artagnan; "I know him now. Do you think he would recollect you?"
"My faith, monsieur, he was in such trouble that I doubt if he can have retained a very clear recollection of me."
"Well, go and talk with the boy," said d'Artagnan, "and make out if you can from his conversation whether his master is dead."
Planchet dismounted and went straight up to Lubin, who did not at all remember him, and the two lackeys began to chat with the best understanding possible; while d'Artagnan turned the two horses into a lane, went round the house, and came back to watch the conference from behind a hedge of filberts.
At the end of an instant's observation he heard the noise of a vehicle, and saw Milady's carriage stop opposite to him. He could not be mistaken; Milady was in it. D'Artagnan leaned upon the neck of his horse, in order that he might see without being seen.
Milady put her charming blond head out at the window, and gave her orders to her maid.
The latter—a pretty girl of about twenty or twenty-two years, active and lively, the true SOUBRETTE of a great lady—jumped from the step upon which, according to the custom of the time, she was seated, and took her way toward the terrace upon which d'Artagnan had perceived Lubin.
D'Artagnan followed the soubrette with his eyes, and saw her go toward the terrace; but it happened that someone in the house called Lubin, so that Planchet remained alone, looking in all directions for the road where d'Artagnan had disappeared.
The maid approached Planchet, whom she took for Lubin, and holding out a little billet to him said, "For your master."
"For my master?" replied Planchet, astonished.
"Yes, and important. Take it quickly."
Thereupon she ran toward the carriage, which had turned round toward the way it came, jumped upon the step, and the carriage drove off.
Planchet turned and returned the billet. Then, accustomed to passive obedience, he jumped down from the terrace, ran toward the lane, and at the end of twenty paces met d'Artagnan, who, having seen all, was coming to him.
"For you, monsieur," said Planchet, presenting the billet to the young man.
"For me?" said d'Artagnan; "are you sure of that?"
"PARDIEU, monsieur, I can't be more sure. The SOUBRETTE said, 'For your master.' I have no other master but you; so—a pretty little lass, my faith, is that SOUBRETTE!"
D'Artagnan opened the letter, and read these words:
"A person who takes more interest in you than she is willing to confess wishes to know on what day it will suit you to walk in the forest? Tomorrow, at the Hotel Field of the Cloth of Gold, a lackey in black and red will wait for your reply."
"Oh!" said d'Artagnan, "this is rather warm; it appears that Milady and I are anxious about the health of the same person. Well, Planchet, how is the good Monsieur de Wardes? He is not dead, then?"
"No, monsieur, he is as well as a man can be with four sword wounds in his body; for you, without question, inflicted four upon the dear gentleman, and he is still very weak, having lost almost all his blood. As I said, monsieur, Lubin did not know me, and told me our adventure from one end to the other."
"Well done, Planchet! you are the king of lackeys. Now jump onto your horse, and let us overtake the carriage."
This did not take long. At the end of five minutes they perceived the carriage drawn up by the roadside; a cavalier, richly dressed, was close to the door.
The conversation between Milady and the cavalier was so animated that d'Artagnan stopped on the other side of the carriage without anyone but the pretty SOUBRETTE perceiving his presence.
The conversation took place in English—a language which d'Artagnan could not understand; but by the accent the young man plainly saw that the beautiful Englishwoman was in a great rage. She terminated it by an action which left no doubt as to the nature of this conversation; this was a blow with her fan, applied with such force that the little feminine weapon flew into a thousand pieces.
The cavalier laughed aloud, which appeared to exasperate Milady still more.
D'Artagnan thought this was the moment to interfere. He approached the other door, and taking off his hat respectfully, said, "Madame, will you permit me to offer you my services? It appears to me that this cavalier has made you very angry. Speak one word, madame, and I take upon myself to punish him for his want of courtesy."
At the first word Milady turned, looking at the young man with astonishment; and when he had finished, she said in very good French, "Monsieur, I should with great confidence place myself under your protection if the person with whom I quarrel were not my brother."
"Ah, excuse me, then," said d'Artagnan. "You must be aware that I was ignorant of that, madame."
"What is that stupid fellow troubling himself about?" cried the cavalier whom Milady had designated as her brother, stooping down to the height of the coach window. "Why does not he go about his business?"
"Stupid fellow yourself!" said d'Artagnan, stooping in his turn on the neck of his horse, and answering on his side through the carriage window. "I do not go on because it pleases me to stop here."
The cavalier addressed some words in English to his sister.
"I speak to you in French," said d'Artagnan; "be kind enough, then, to reply to me in the same language. You are Madame's brother, I learn—be it so; but fortunately you are not mine."
It might be thought that Milady, timid as women are in general, would have interposed in this commencement of mutual provocations in order to prevent the quarrel from going too far; but on the contrary, she threw herself back in her carriage, and called out coolly to the coachman, "Go on—home!"
The pretty SOUBRETTE cast an anxious glance at d'Artagnan, whose good looks seemed to have made an impression on her.
The carriage went on, and left the two men facing each other; no material obstacle separated them.
The cavalier made a movement as if to follow the carriage; but d'Artagnan, whose anger, already excited, was much increased by recognizing in him the Englishman of Amiens who had won his horse and had been very near winning his diamond of Athos, caught at his bridle and stopped him.
"Well, monsieur," said he, "you appear to be more stupid than I am, for you forget there is a little quarrel to arrange between us two."
"Ah," said the Englishman, "is it you, my master? It seems you must always be playing some game or other."
"Yes; and that reminds me that I have a revenge to take. We will see, my dear monsieur, if you can handle a sword as skillfully as you can a dice box."
"You see plainly that I have no sword," said the Englishman. "Do you wish to play the braggart with an unarmed man?"
"I hope you have a sword at home; but at all events, I have two, and if you like, I will throw with you for one of them."
"Needless," said the Englishman; "I am well furnished with such playthings."
"Very well, my worthy gentleman," replied d'Artagnan, "pick out the longest, and come and show it to me this evening."
"Where, if you please?"
"Behind the Luxembourg; that's a charming spot for such amusements as the one I propose to you."
"That will do; I will be there."
"A PROPOS, you have probably one or two friends?"
"I have three, who would be honored by joining in the sport with me."
"Three? Marvelous! That falls out oddly! Three is just my number!"
"Now, then, who are you?" asked the Englishman.
"I am Monsieur d'Artagnan, a Gascon gentleman, serving in the king's Musketeers. And you?"
"I am Lord de Winter, Baron Sheffield."
"Well, then, I am your servant, Monsieur Baron," said d'Artagnan, "though you have names rather difficult to recollect." And touching his horse with the spur, he cantered back to Paris. As he was accustomed to do in all cases of any consequence, d'Artagnan went straight to the residence of Athos.
He found Athos reclining upon a large sofa, where he was waiting, as he said, for his outfit to come and find him. He related to Athos all that had passed, except the letter to M. de Wardes.
Athos was delighted to find he was going to fight an Englishman. We might say that was his dream.
They immediately sent their lackeys for Porthos and Aramis, and on their arrival made them acquainted with the situation.
Porthos drew his sword from the scabbard, and made passes at the wall, springing back from time to time, and making contortions like a dancer.
Aramis, who was constantly at work at his poem, shut himself up in Athos's closet, and begged not to be disturbed before the moment of drawing swords.
Athos, by signs, desired Grimaud to bring another bottle of wine.
D'Artagnan employed himself in arranging a little plan, of which we shall hereafter see the execution, and which promised him some agreeable adventure, as might be seen by the smiles which from time to time passed over his countenance, whose thoughtfulness they animated.
31 ENGLISH AND FRENCH
The hour having come, they went with their four lackeys to a spot behind the Luxembourg given up to the feeding of goats. Athos threw a piece of money to the goatkeeper to withdraw. The lackeys were ordered to act as sentinels.
A silent party soon drew near to the same enclosure, entered, and joined the Musketeers. Then, according to foreign custom, the presentations took place.
The Englishmen were all men of rank; consequently the odd names of their adversaries were for them not only a matter of surprise, but of annoyance.
"But after all," said Lord de Winter, when the three friends had been named, "we do not know who you are. We cannot fight with such names; they are names of shepherds."
"Therefore your lordship may suppose they are only assumed names," said Athos.
"Which only gives us a greater desire to know the real ones," replied the Englishman.
"You played very willingly with us without knowing our names," said Athos, "by the same token that you won our horses."
"That is true, but we then only risked our pistoles; this time we risk our blood. One plays with anybody; but one fights only with equals."
"And that is but just," said Athos, and he took aside the one of the four Englishmen with whom he was to fight, and communicated his name in a low voice.
Porthos and Aramis did the same.
"Does that satisfy you?" said Athos to his adversary. "Do you find me of sufficient rank to do me the honor of crossing swords with me?"
"Yes, monsieur," said the Englishman, bowing.
"Well! now shall I tell you something?" added Athos, coolly.
"What?" replied the Englishman.
"Why, that is that you would have acted much more wisely if you had not required me to make myself known."
"Because I am believed to be dead, and have reasons for wishing nobody to know I am living; so that I shall be obliged to kill you to prevent my secret from roaming over the fields."
The Englishman looked at Athos, believing that he jested, but Athos did not jest the least in the world.
"Gentlemen," said Athos, addressing at the same time his companions and their adversaries, "are we ready?"
"Yes!" answered the Englishmen and the Frenchmen, as with one voice.
"On guard, then!" cried Athos.
Immediately eight swords glittered in the rays of the setting sun, and the combat began with an animosity very natural between men twice enemies.
Athos fenced with as much calmness and method as if he had been practicing in a fencing school.
Porthos, abated, no doubt, of his too-great confidence by his adventure of Chantilly, played with skill and prudence. Aramis, who had the third canto of his poem to finish, behaved like a man in haste.
Athos killed his adversary first. He hit him but once, but as he had foretold, that hit was a mortal one; the sword pierced his heart.
Second, Porthos stretched his upon the grass with a wound through his thigh, As the Englishman, without making any further resistance, then surrendered his sword, Porthos took him up in his arms and bore him to his carriage.
Aramis pushed his so vigorously that after going back fifty paces, the man ended by fairly taking to his heels, and disappeared amid the hooting of the lackeys.
As to d'Artagnan, he fought purely and simply on the defensive; and when he saw his adversary pretty well fatigued, with a vigorous side thrust sent his sword flying. The baron, finding himself disarmed, took two or three steps back, but in this movement his foot slipped and he fell backward.
D'Artagnan was over him at a bound, and said to the Englishman, pointing his sword to his throat, "I could kill you, my Lord, you are completely in my hands; but I spare your life for the sake of your sister."
D'Artagnan was at the height of joy; he had realized the plan he had imagined beforehand, whose picturing had produced the smiles we noted upon his face.
The Englishman, delighted at having to do with a gentleman of such a kind disposition, pressed d'Artagnan in his arms, and paid a thousand compliments to the three Musketeers, and as Porthos's adversary was already installed in the carriage, and as Aramis's had taken to his heels, they had nothing to think about but the dead.
As Porthos and Aramis were undressing him, in the hope of finding his wound not mortal, a large purse dropped from his clothes. D'Artagnan picked it up and offered it to Lord de Winter.
"What the devil would you have me do with that?" said the Englishman.
"You can restore it to his family," said d'Artagnan.
"His family will care much about such a trifle as that! His family will inherit fifteen thousand louis a year from him. Keep the purse for your lackeys."
D'Artagnan put the purse into his pocket.
"And now, my young friend, for you will permit me, I hope, to give you that name," said Lord de Winter, "on this very evening, if agreeable to you, I will present you to my sister, Milady Clarik, for I am desirous that she should take you into her good graces; and as she is not in bad odor at court, she may perhaps on some future day speak a word that will not prove useless to you."
D'Artagnan blushed with pleasure, and bowed a sign of assent.
At this time Athos came up to d'Artagnan.
"What do you mean to do with that purse?" whispered he.
"Why, I meant to pass it over to you, my dear Athos."
"Me! why to me?"
"Why, you killed him! They are the spoils of victory."
"I, the heir of an enemy!" said Athos; "for whom, then, do you take me?"
"It is the custom in war," said d'Artagnan, "why should it not be the custom in a duel?"
"Even on the field of battle, I have never done that."
Porthos shrugged his shoulders; Aramis by a movement of his lips endorsed Athos.
"Then," said d'Artagnan, "let us give the money to the lackeys, as Lord de Winter desired us to do."
"Yes," said Athos; "let us give the money to the lackeys—not to our lackeys, but to the lackeys of the Englishmen."
Athos took the purse, and threw it into the hand of the coachman. "For you and your comrades."
This greatness of spirit in a man who was quite destitute struck even Porthos; and this French generosity, repeated by Lord de Winter and his friend, was highly applauded, except by MM. Grimaud, Bazin, Mousqueton and Planchet.
Lord de Winter, on quitting d'Artagnan, gave him his sister's address. She lived in the Place Royale—then the fashionable quarter—at Number 6, and he undertook to call and take d'Artagnan with him in order to introduce him. d'Artagnan appointed eight o'clock at Athos's residence.
This introduction to Milady Clarik occupied the head of our Gascon greatly. He remembered in what a strange manner this woman had hitherto been mixed up in his destiny. According to his conviction, she was some creature of the cardinal, and yet he felt himself invincibly drawn toward her by one of those sentiments for which we cannot account. His only fear was that Milady would recognize in him the man of Meung and of Dover. Then she knew that he was one of the friends of M. de Treville, and consequently, that he belonged body and soul to the king; which would make him lose a part of his advantage, since when known to Milady as he knew her, he played only an equal game with her. As to the commencement of an intrigue between her and M. de Wardes, our presumptuous hero gave but little heed to that, although the marquis was young, handsome, rich, and high in the cardinal's favor. It is not for nothing we are but twenty years old, above all if we were born at Tarbes.
D'Artagnan began by making his most splendid toilet, then returned to Athos's, and according to custom, related everything to him. Athos listened to his projects, then shook his head, and recommended prudence to him with a shade of bitterness.
"What!" said he, "you have just lost one woman, whom you call good, charming, perfect; and here you are, running headlong after another."
D'Artagnan felt the truth of this reproach.
"I loved Madame Bonacieux with my heart, while I only love Milady with my head," said he. "In getting introduced to her, my principal object is to ascertain what part she plays at court."
"The part she plays, PARDIEU! It is not difficult to divine that, after all you have told me. She is some emissary of the cardinal; a woman who will draw you into a snare in which you will leave your head."
"The devil! my dear Athos, you view things on the dark side, methinks."
"My dear fellow, I mistrust women. Can it be otherwise? I bought my experience dearly—particularly fair women. Milady is fair, you say?"
"She has the most beautiful light hair imaginable!"
"Ah, my poor d'Artagnan!" said Athos.
"Listen to me! I want to be enlightened on a subject; then, when I shall have learned what I desire to know, I will withdraw."
"Be enlightened!" said Athos, phlegmatically.
Lord de Winter arrived at the appointed time; but Athos, being warned of his coming, went into the other chamber. He therefore found d'Artagnan alone, and as it was nearly eight o'clock he took the young man with him.
An elegant carriage waited below, and as it was drawn by two excellent horses, they were soon at the Place Royale.
Milady Clarik received d'Artagnan ceremoniously. Her hotel was remarkably sumptuous, and while the most part of the English had quit, or were about to quit, France on account of the war, Milady had just been laying out much money upon her residence; which proved that the general measure which drove the English from France did not affect her.
"You see," said Lord de Winter, presenting d'Artagnan to his sister, "a young gentleman who has held my life in his hands, and who has not abused his advantage, although we have been twice enemies, although it was I who insulted him, and although I am an Englishman. Thank him, then, madame, if you have any affection for me."
Milady frowned slightly; a scarcely visible cloud passed over her brow, and so peculiar a smile appeared upon her lips that the young man, who saw and observed this triple shade, almost shuddered at it.
The brother did not perceive this; he had turned round to play with Milady's favorite monkey, which had pulled him by the doublet.
"You are welcome, monsieur," said Milady, in a voice whose singular sweetness contrasted with the symptoms of ill-humor which d'Artagnan had just remarked; "you have today acquired eternal rights to my gratitude."
The Englishman then turned round and described the combat without omitting a single detail. Milady listened with the greatest attention, and yet it was easily to be perceived, whatever effort she made to conceal her impressions, that this recital was not agreeable to her. The blood rose to her head, and her little foot worked with impatience beneath her robe.
Lord de Winter perceived nothing of this. When he had finished, he went to a table upon which was a salver with Spanish wine and glasses. He filled two glasses, and by a sign invited d'Artagnan to drink.
D'Artagnan knew it was considered disobliging by an Englishman to refuse to pledge him. He therefore drew near to the table and took the second glass. He did not, however, lose sight of Milady, and in a mirror he perceived the change that came over her face. Now that she believed herself to be no longer observed, a sentiment resembling ferocity animated her countenance. She bit her handkerchief with her beautiful teeth.
That pretty little SOUBRETTE whom d'Artagnan had already observed then came in. She spoke some words to Lord de Winter in English, who thereupon requested d'Artagnan's permission to retire, excusing himself on account of the urgency of the business that had called him away, and charging his sister to obtain his pardon.
D'Artagnan exchanged a shake of the hand with Lord de Winter, and then returned to Milady. Her countenance, with surprising mobility, had recovered its gracious expression; but some little red spots on her handkerchief indicated that she had bitten her lips till the blood came. Those lips were magnificent; they might be said to be of coral.
The conversation took a cheerful turn. Milady appeared to have entirely recovered. She told d'Artagnan that Lord de Winter was her brother-in-law, and not her brother. She had married a younger brother of the family, who had left her a widow with one child. This child was the only heir to Lord de Winter, if Lord de Winter did not marry. All this showed d'Artagnan that there was a veil which concealed something; but he could not yet see under this veil.
In addition to this, after a half hour's conversation d'Artagnan was convinced that Milady was his compatriot; she spoke French with an elegance and a purity that left no doubt on that head.
D'Artagnan was profuse in gallant speeches and protestations of devotion. To all the simple things which escaped our Gascon, Milady replied with a smile of kindness. The hour came for him to retire. D'Artagnan took leave of Milady, and left the saloon the happiest of men.
On the staircase he met the pretty SOUBRETTE, who brushed gently against him as she passed, and then, blushing to the eyes, asked his pardon for having touched him in a voice so sweet that the pardon was granted instantly.
D'Artagnan came again on the morrow, and was still better received than on the evening before. Lord de Winter was not at home; and it was Milady who this time did all the honors of the evening. She appeared to take a great interest in him, asked him whence he came, who were his friends, and whether he had not sometimes thought of attaching himself to the cardinal.
D'Artagnan, who, as we have said, was exceedingly prudent for a young man of twenty, then remembered his suspicions regarding Milady. He launched into a eulogy of his Eminence, and said that he should not have failed to enter into the Guards of the cardinal instead of the king's Guards if he had happened to know M. de Cavois instead of M. de Treville.
Milady changed the conversation without any appearance of affectation, and asked d'Artagnan in the most careless manner possible if he had ever been in England.
D'Artagnan replied that he had been sent thither by M. de Treville to treat for a supply of horses, and that he had brought back four as specimens.
Milady in the course of the conversation twice or thrice bit her lips; she had to deal with a Gascon who played close.
At the same hour as on the preceding evening, d'Artagnan retired. In the corridor he again met the pretty Kitty; that was the name of the SOUBRETTE. She looked at him with an expression of kindness which it was impossible to mistake; but d'Artagnan was so preoccupied by the mistress that he noticed absolutely nothing but her.
D'Artagnan came again on the morrow and the day after that, and each day Milady gave him a more gracious reception.
Every evening, either in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, he met the pretty SOUBRETTE. But, as we have said, d'Artagnan paid no attention to this persistence of poor Kitty.
32 A PROCURATOR'S DINNER
However brilliant had been the part played by Porthos in the duel, it had not made him forget the dinner of the procurator's wife.
On the morrow he received the last touches of Mousqueton's brush for an hour, and took his way toward the Rue aux Ours with the steps of a man who was doubly in favor with fortune.
His heart beat, but not like d'Artagnan's with a young and impatient love. No; a more material interest stirred his blood. He was about at last to pass that mysterious threshold, to climb those unknown stairs by which, one by one, the old crowns of M. Coquenard had ascended. He was about to see in reality a certain coffer of which he had twenty times beheld the image in his dreams—a coffer long and deep, locked, bolted, fastened in the wall; a coffer of which he had so often heard, and which the hands—a little wrinkled, it is true, but still not without elegance—of the procurator's wife were about to open to his admiring looks.
And then he—a wanderer on the earth, a man without fortune, a man without family, a soldier accustomed to inns, cabarets, taverns, and restaurants, a lover of wine forced to depend upon chance treats—was about to partake of family meals, to enjoy the pleasures of a comfortable establishment, and to give himself up to those little attentions which "the harder one is, the more they please," as old soldiers say.
To come in the capacity of a cousin, and seat himself every day at a good table; to smooth the yellow, wrinkled brow of the old procurator; to pluck the clerks a little by teaching them BASSETTE, PASSE-DIX, and LANSQUENET, in their utmost nicety, and winning from them, by way of fee for the lesson he would give them in an hour, their savings of a month—all this was enormously delightful to Porthos.
The Musketeer could not forget the evil reports which then prevailed, and which indeed have survived them, of the procurators of the period—meanness, stinginess, fasts; but as, after all, excepting some few acts of economy which Porthos had always found very unseasonable, the procurator's wife had been tolerably liberal—that is, be it understood, for a procurator's wife—he hoped to see a household of a highly comfortable kind.
And yet, at the very door the Musketeer began to entertain some doubts. The approach was not such as to prepossess people—an ill-smelling, dark passage, a staircase half-lighted by bars through which stole a glimmer from a neighboring yard; on the first floor a low door studded with enormous nails, like the principal gate of the Grand Chatelet.
Porthos knocked with his hand. A tall, pale clerk, his face shaded by a forest of virgin hair, opened the door, and bowed with the air of a man forced at once to respect in another lofty stature, which indicated strength, the military dress, which indicated rank, and a ruddy countenance, which indicated familiarity with good living.
A shorter clerk came behind the first, a taller clerk behind the second, a stripling of a dozen years rising behind the third. In all, three clerks and a half, which, for the time, argued a very extensive clientage.
Although the Musketeer was not expected before one o'clock, the procurator's wife had been on the watch ever since midday, reckoning that the heart, or perhaps the stomach, of her lover would bring him before his time.
Mme. Coquenard therefore entered the office from the house at the same moment her guest entered from the stairs, and the appearance of the worthy lady relieved him from an awkward embarrassment. The clerks surveyed him with great curiosity, and he, not knowing well what to say to this ascending and descending scale, remained tongue-tied.
"It is my cousin!" cried the procurator's wife. "Come in, come in, Monsieur Porthos!"
The name of Porthos produced its effect upon the clerks, who began to laugh; but Porthos turned sharply round, and every countenance quickly recovered its gravity.
They reached the office of the procurator after having passed through the antechamber in which the clerks were, and the study in which they ought to have been. This last apartment was a sort of dark room, littered with papers. On quitting the study they left the kitchen on the right, and entered the reception room.
All these rooms, which communicated with one another, did not inspire Porthos favorably. Words might be heard at a distance through all these open doors. Then, while passing, he had cast a rapid, investigating glance into the kitchen; and he was obliged to confess to himself, to the shame of the procurator's wife and his own regret, that he did not see that fire, that animation, that bustle, which when a good repast is on foot prevails generally in that sanctuary of good living.
The procurator had without doubt been warned of his visit, as he expressed no surprise at the sight of Porthos, who advanced toward him with a sufficiently easy air, and saluted him courteously.
"We are cousins, it appears, Monsieur Porthos?" said the procurator, rising, yet supporting his weight upon the arms of his cane chair.
The old man, wrapped in a large black doublet, in which the whole of his slender body was concealed, was brisk and dry. His little gray eyes shone like carbuncles, and appeared, with his grinning mouth, to be the only part of his face in which life survived. Unfortunately the legs began to refuse their service to this bony machine. During the last five or six months that this weakness had been felt, the worthy procurator had nearly become the slave of his wife.
The cousin was received with resignation, that was all. M. Coquenard, firm upon his legs, would have declined all relationship with M. Porthos.
"Yes, monsieur, we are cousins," said Porthos, without being disconcerted, as he had never reckoned upon being received enthusiastically by the husband.
"By the female side, I believe?" said the procurator, maliciously.
Porthos did not feel the ridicule of this, and took it for a piece of simplicity, at which he laughed in his large mustache. Mme. Coquenard, who knew that a simple-minded procurator was a very rare variety in the species, smiled a little, and colored a great deal.
M. Coquenard had, since the arrival of Porthos, frequently cast his eyes with great uneasiness upon a large chest placed in front of his oak desk. Porthos comprehended that this chest, although it did not correspond in shape with that which he had seen in his dreams, must be the blessed coffer, and he congratulated himself that the reality was several feet higher than the dream.
M. Coquenard did not carry his genealogical investigations any further; but withdrawing his anxious look from the chest and fixing it upon Porthos, he contented himself with saying, "Monsieur our cousin will do us the favor of dining with us once before his departure for the campaign, will he not, Madame Coquenard?"
This time Porthos received the blow right in his stomach, and felt it. It appeared likewise that Mme. Coquenard was not less affected by it on her part, for she added, "My cousin will not return if he finds that we do not treat him kindly; but otherwise he has so little time to pass in Paris, and consequently to spare to us, that we must entreat him to give us every instant he can call his own previous to his departure."
"Oh, my legs, my poor legs! where are you?" murmured Coquenard, and he tried to smile.
This succor, which came to Porthos at the moment in which he was attacked in his gastronomic hopes, inspired much gratitude in the Musketeer toward the procurator's wife.
The hour of dinner soon arrived. They passed into the eating room—a large dark room situated opposite the kitchen.
The clerks, who, as it appeared, had smelled unusual perfumes in the house, were of military punctuality, and held their stools in hand quite ready to sit down. Their jaws moved preliminarily with fearful threatenings.
"Indeed!" thought Porthos, casting a glance at the three hungry clerks—for the errand boy, as might be expected, was not admitted to the honors of the magisterial table, "in my cousin's place, I would not keep such gourmands! They look like shipwrecked sailors who have not eaten for six weeks."
M. Coquenard entered, pushed along upon his armchair with casters by Mme. Coquenard, whom Porthos assisted in rolling her husband up to the table. He had scarcely entered when he began to agitate his nose and his jaws after the example of his clerks.
"Oh, oh!" said he; "here is a soup which is rather inviting."
"What the devil can they smell so extraordinary in this soup?" said Porthos, at the sight of a pale liquid, abundant but entirely free from meat, on the surface of which a few crusts swam about as rare as the islands of an archipelago.
Mme. Coquenard smiled, and upon a sign from her everyone eagerly took his seat.
M. Coquenard was served first, then Porthos. Afterward Mme. Coquenard filled her own plate, and distributed the crusts without soup to the impatient clerks. At this moment the door of the dining room unclosed with a creak, and Porthos perceived through the half-open flap the little clerk who, not being allowed to take part in the feast, ate his dry bread in the passage with the double odor of the dining room and kitchen.
After the soup the maid brought a boiled fowl—a piece of magnificence which caused the eyes of the diners to dilate in such a manner that they seemed ready to burst.
"One may see that you love your family, Madame Coquenard," said the procurator, with a smile that was almost tragic. "You are certainly treating your cousin very handsomely!"
The poor fowl was thin, and covered with one of those thick, bristly skins through which the teeth cannot penetrate with all their efforts. The fowl must have been sought for a long time on the perch, to which it had retired to die of old age.
"The devil!" thought Porthos, "this is poor work. I respect old age, but I don't much like it boiled or roasted."
And he looked round to see if anybody partook of his opinion; but on the contrary, he saw nothing but eager eyes which were devouring, in anticipation, that sublime fowl which was the object of his contempt.
Mme. Coquenard drew the dish toward her, skillfully detached the two great black feet, which she placed upon her husband's plate, cut off the neck, which with the head she put on one side for herself, raised the wing for Porthos, and then returned the bird otherwise intact to the servant who had brought it in, who disappeared with it before the Musketeer had time to examine the variations which disappointment produces upon faces, according to the characters and temperaments of those who experience it.
In the place of the fowl a dish of haricot beans made its appearance—an enormous dish in which some bones of mutton that at first sight one might have believed to have some meat on them pretended to show themselves.
But the clerks were not the dupes of this deceit, and their lugubrious looks settled down into resigned countenances.
Mme. Coquenard distributed this dish to the young men with the moderation of a good housewife.
The time for wine came. M. Coquenard poured from a very small stone bottle the third of a glass for each of the young men, served himself in about the same proportion, and passed the bottle to Porthos and Mme. Coquenard.
The young men filled up their third of a glass with water; then, when they had drunk half the glass, they filled it up again, and continued to do so. This brought them, by the end of the repast, to swallowing a drink which from the color of the ruby had passed to that of a pale topaz.
Porthos ate his wing of the fowl timidly, and shuddered when he felt the knee of the procurator's wife under the table, as it came in search of his. He also drank half a glass of this sparingly served wine, and found it to be nothing but that horrible Montreuil—the terror of all expert palates.
M. Coquenard saw him swallowing this wine undiluted, and sighed deeply.
"Will you eat any of these beans, Cousin Porthos?" said Mme. Coquenard, in that tone which says, "Take my advice, don't touch them."
"Devil take me if I taste one of them!" murmured Porthos to himself, and then said aloud, "Thank you, my cousin, I am no longer hungry."
There was silence. Porthos could hardly keep his countenance.
The procurator repeated several times, "Ah, Madame Coquenard! Accept my compliments; your dinner has been a real feast. Lord, how I have eaten!"
M. Coquenard had eaten his soup, the black feet of the fowl, and the only mutton bone on which there was the least appearance of meat.
Porthos fancied they were mystifying him, and began to curl his mustache and knit his eyebrows; but the knee of Mme. Coquenard gently advised him to be patient.
This silence and this interruption in serving, which were unintelligible to Porthos, had, on the contrary, a terrible meaning for the clerks. Upon a look from the procurator, accompanied by a smile from Mme. Coquenard, they arose slowly from the table, folded their napkins more slowly still, bowed, and retired.
"Go, young men! go and promote digestion by working," said the procurator, gravely.
The clerks gone, Mme. Coquenard rose and took from a buffet a piece of cheese, some preserved quinces, and a cake which she had herself made of almonds and honey.
M. Coquenard knit his eyebrows because there were too many good things. Porthos bit his lips because he saw not the wherewithal to dine. He looked to see if the dish of beans was still there; the dish of beans had disappeared.
"A positive feast!" cried M. Coquenard, turning about in his chair, "a real feast, EPULCE EPULORUM. Lucullus dines with Lucullus."
Porthos looked at the bottle, which was near him, and hoped that with wine, bread, and cheese, he might make a dinner; but wine was wanting, the bottle was empty. M. and Mme. Coquenard did not seem to observe it.
"This is fine!" said Porthos to himself; "I am prettily caught!"
He passed his tongue over a spoonful of preserves, and stuck his teeth into the sticky pastry of Mme. Coquenard.
"Now," said he, "the sacrifice is consummated! Ah! if I had not the hope of peeping with Madame Coquenard into her husband's chest!"
M. Coquenard, after the luxuries of such a repast, which he called an excess, felt the want of a siesta. Porthos began to hope that the thing would take place at the present sitting, and in that same locality; but the procurator would listen to nothing, he would be taken to his room, and was not satisfied till he was close to his chest, upon the edge of which, for still greater precaution, he placed his feet.
The procurator's wife took Porthos into an adjoining room, and they began to lay the basis of a reconciliation.
"You can come and dine three times a week," said Mme. Coquenard.
"Thanks, madame!" said Porthos, "but I don't like to abuse your kindness; besides, I must think of my outfit!"
"That's true," said the procurator's wife, groaning, "that unfortunate outfit!"
"Alas, yes," said Porthos, "it is so."
"But of what, then, does the equipment of your company consist, Monsieur Porthos?"
"Oh, of many things!" said Porthos. "The Musketeers are, as you know, picked soldiers, and they require many things useless to the Guardsmen or the Swiss."
"But yet, detail them to me."
"Why, they may amount to—", said Porthos, who preferred discussing the total to taking them one by one.
The procurator's wife waited tremblingly.
"To how much?" said she. "I hope it does not exceed—" She stopped; speech failed her.
"Oh, no," said Porthos, "it does not exceed two thousand five hundred livres! I even think that with economy I could manage it with two thousand livres."
"Good God!" cried she, "two thousand livres! Why, that is a fortune!"
Porthos made a most significant grimace; Mme. Coquenard understood it.
"I wished to know the detail," said she, "because, having many relatives in business, I was almost sure of obtaining things at a hundred per cent less than you would pay yourself."
"Ah, ah!" said Porthos, "that is what you meant to say!"
"Yes, dear Monsieur Porthos. Thus, for instance, don't you in the first place want a horse?"
"Yes, a horse."
"Well, then! I can just suit you."
"Ah!" said Porthos, brightening, "that's well as regards my horse; but I must have the appointments complete, as they include objects which a Musketeer alone can purchase, and which will not amount, besides, to more than three hundred livres."
"Three hundred livres? Then put down three hundred livres," said the procurator's wife, with a sigh.
Porthos smiled. It may be remembered that he had the saddle which came from Buckingham. These three hundred livres he reckoned upon putting snugly into his pocket.
"Then," continued he, "there is a horse for my lackey, and my valise. As to my arms, it is useless to trouble you about them; I have them."
"A horse for your lackey?" resumed the procurator's wife, hesitatingly; "but that is doing things in lordly style, my friend."
"Ah, madame!" said Porthos, haughtily; "do you take me for a beggar?"
"No; I only thought that a pretty mule makes sometimes as good an appearance as a horse, and it seemed to me that by getting a pretty mule for Mousqueton—"
"Well, agreed for a pretty mule," said Porthos; "you are right, I have seen very great Spanish nobles whose whole suite were mounted on mules. But then you understand, Madame Coquenard, a mule with feathers and bells."
"Be satisfied," said the procurator's wife.
"There remains the valise," added Porthos.
"Oh, don't let that disturb you," cried Mme. Coquenard. "My husband has five or six valises; you shall choose the best. There is one in particular which he prefers in his journeys, large enough to hold all the world."
"Your valise is then empty?" asked Porthos, with simplicity.
"Certainly it is empty," replied the procurator's wife, in real innocence.
"Ah, but the valise I want," cried Porthos, "is a well-filled one, my dear."
Madame uttered fresh sighs. Moliere had not written his scene in "L'Avare" then. Mme. Coquenard was in the dilemma of Harpagan.
Finally, the rest of the equipment was successively debated in the same manner; and the result of the sitting was that the procurator's wife should give eight hundred livres in money, and should furnish the horse and the mule which should have the honor of carrying Porthos and Mousqueton to glory.
These conditions being agreed to, Porthos took leave of Mme. Coquenard. The latter wished to detain him by darting certain tender glances; but Porthos urged the commands of duty, and the procurator's wife was obliged to give place to the king.
The Musketeer returned home hungry and in bad humor.
33 SOUBRETTE AND MISTRESS
Meantime, as we have said, despite the cries of his conscience and the wise counsels of Athos, d'Artagnan became hourly more in love with Milady. Thus he never failed to pay his diurnal court to her; and the self-satisfied Gascon was convinced that sooner or later she could not fail to respond.
One day, when he arrived with his head in the air, and as light at heart as a man who awaits a shower of gold, he found the SOUBRETTE under the gateway of the hotel; but this time the pretty Kitty was not contented with touching him as he passed, she took him gently by the hand.
"Good!" thought d'Artagnan, "She is charged with some message for me from her mistress; she is about to appoint some rendezvous of which she had not courage to speak." And he looked down at the pretty girl with the most triumphant air imaginable.
"I wish to say three words to you, Monsieur Chevalier," stammered the SOUBRETTE.
"Speak, my child, speak," said d'Artagnan; "I listen."
"Here? Impossible! That which I have to say is too long, and above all, too secret."
"Well, what is to be done?"
"If Monsieur Chevalier would follow me?" said Kitty, timidly.
"Where you please, my dear child."
And Kitty, who had not let go the hand of d'Artagnan, led him up a little dark, winding staircase, and after ascending about fifteen steps, opened a door.
"Come in here, Monsieur Chevalier," said she; "here we shall be alone, and can talk."
"And whose room is this, my dear child?"
"It is mine, Monsieur Chevalier; it communicates with my mistress's by that door. But you need not fear. She will not hear what we say; she never goes to bed before midnight."
D'Artagnan cast a glance around him. The little apartment was charming for its taste and neatness; but in spite of himself, his eyes were directed to that door which Kitty said led to Milady's chamber.
Kitty guessed what was passing in the mind of the young man, and heaved a deep sigh.
"You love my mistress, then, very dearly, Monsieur Chevalier?" said she.
"Oh, more than I can say, Kitty! I am mad for her!"
Kitty breathed a second sigh.
"Alas, monsieur," said she, "that is too bad."
"What the devil do you see so bad in it?" said d'Artagnan.
"Because, monsieur," replied Kitty, "my mistress loves you not at all."
"HEIN!" said d'Artagnan, "can she have charged you to tell me so?"
"Oh, no, monsieur; but out of the regard I have for you, I have taken the resolution to tell you so."
"Much obliged, my dear Kitty; but for the intention only—for the information, you must agree, is not likely to be at all agreeable."
"That is to say, you don't believe what I have told you; is it not so?"
"We have always some difficulty in believing such things, my pretty dear, were it only from self-love."
"Then you don't believe me?"
"I confess that unless you deign to give me some proof of what you advance—"
"What do you think of this?"
Kitty drew a little note from her bosom.
"For me?" said d'Artagnan, seizing the letter.
"No; for another."
"His name; his name!" cried d'Artagnan.
"Read the address."
"Monsieur El Comte de Wardes."
The remembrance of the scene at St. Germain presented itself to the mind of the presumptuous Gascon. As quick as thought, he tore open the letter, in spite of the cry which Kitty uttered on seeing what he was going to do, or rather, what he was doing.
"Oh, good Lord, Monsieur Chevalier," said she, "what are you doing?"
"I?" said d'Artagnan; "nothing," and he read,
"You have not answered my first note. Are you indisposed, or have you forgotten the glances you favored me with at the ball of Mme. de Guise? You have an opportunity now, Count; do not allow it to escape."
d'Artagnan became very pale; he was wounded in his SELF-love: he thought that it was in his LOVE.
"Poor dear Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Kitty, in a voice full of compassion, and pressing anew the young man's hand.
"You pity me, little one?" said d'Artagnan.
"Oh, yes, and with all my heart; for I know what it is to be in love."
"You know what it is to be in love?" said d'Artagnan, looking at her for the first time with much attention.
"Well, then, instead of pitying me, you would do much better to assist me in avenging myself on your mistress."
"And what sort of revenge would you take?"
"I would triumph over her, and supplant my rival."
"I will never help you in that, Monsieur Chevalier," said Kitty, warmly.
"And why not?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"For two reasons."
"The first is that my mistress will never love you."
"How do you know that?"
"You have cut her to the heart."
"I? In what can I have offended her—I who ever since I have known her have lived at her feet like a slave? Speak, I beg you!"
"I will never confess that but to the man—who should read to the bottom of my soul!"
D'Artagnan looked at Kitty for the second time. The young girl had freshness and beauty which many duchesses would have purchased with their coronets.
"Kitty," said he, "I will read to the bottom of your soul when-ever you like; don't let that disturb you." And he gave her a kiss at which the poor girl became as red as a cherry.
"Oh, no," said Kitty, "it is not me you love! It is my mistress you love; you told me so just now."
"And does that hinder you from letting me know the second reason?"
"The second reason, Monsieur the Chevalier," replied Kitty, emboldened by the kiss in the first place, and still further by the expression of the eyes of the young man, "is that in love, everyone for herself!"
Then only d'Artagnan remembered the languishing glances of Kitty, her constantly meeting him in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, those touches of the hand every time she met him, and her deep sighs; but absorbed by his desire to please the great lady, he had disdained the soubrette. He whose game is the eagle takes no heed of the sparrow.
But this time our Gascon saw at a glance all the advantage to be derived from the love which Kitty had just confessed so innocently, or so boldly: the interception of letters addressed to the Comte de Wardes, news on the spot, entrance at all hours into Kitty's chamber, which was contiguous to her mistress's. The perfidious deceiver was, as may plainly be perceived, already sacrificing, in intention, the poor girl in order to obtain Milady, willy-nilly.
"Well," said he to the young girl, "are you willing, my dear Kitty, that I should give you a proof of that love which you doubt?"
"What love?" asked the young girl.
"Of that which I am ready to feel toward you."
"And what is that proof?"
"Are you willing that I should this evening pass with you the time I generally spend with your mistress?"
"Oh, yes," said Kitty, clapping her hands, "very willing."
"Well, then, come here, my dear," said d'Artagnan, establishing himself in an easy chair; "come, and let me tell you that you are the prettiest SOUBRETTE I ever saw!"
And he did tell her so much, and so well, that the poor girl, who asked nothing better than to believe him, did believe him. Nevertheless, to d'Artagnan's great astonishment, the pretty Kitty defended herself resolutely.
Time passes quickly when it is passed in attacks and defenses. Midnight sounded, and almost at the same time the bell was rung in Milady's chamber.
"Good God," cried Kitty, "there is my mistress calling me! Go; go directly!"
D'Artagnan rose, took his hat, as if it had been his intention to obey, then, opening quickly the door of a large closet instead of that leading to the staircase, he buried himself amid the robes and dressing gowns of Milady.
"What are you doing?" cried Kitty.
D'Artagnan, who had secured the key, shut himself up in the closet without reply.
"Well," cried Milady, in a sharp voice. "Are you asleep, that you don't answer when I ring?"
And d'Artagnan heard the door of communication opened violently.
"Here am I, Milady, here am I!" cried Kitty, springing forward to meet her mistress.
Both went into the bedroom, and as the door of communication remained open, d'Artagnan could hear Milady for some time scolding her maid. She was at length appeased, and the conversation turned upon him while Kitty was assisting her mistress.
"Well," said Milady, "I have not seen our Gascon this evening."
"What, Milady! has he not come?" said Kitty. "Can he be inconstant before being happy?"
"Oh, no; he must have been prevented by Monsieur de Treville or Monsieur Dessessart. I understand my game, Kitty; I have this one safe."
"What will you do with him, madame?"
"What will I do with him? Be easy, Kitty, there is something between that man and me that he is quite ignorant of: he nearly made me lose my credit with his Eminence. Oh, I will be revenged!"
"I believed that Madame loved him."
"I love him? I detest him! An idiot, who held the life of Lord de Winter in his hands and did not kill him, by which I missed three hundred thousand livres' income."
"That's true," said Kitty; "your son was the only heir of his uncle, and until his majority you would have had the enjoyment of his fortune."
D'Artagnan shuddered to the marrow at hearing this suave creature reproach him, with that sharp voice which she took such pains to conceal in conversation, for not having killed a man whom he had seen load her with kindnesses.
"For all this," continued Milady, "I should long ago have revenged myself on him if, and I don't know why, the cardinal had not requested me to conciliate him."
"Oh, yes; but Madame has not conciliated that little woman he was so fond of."
"What, the mercer's wife of the Rue des Fossoyeurs? Has he not already forgotten she ever existed? Fine vengeance that, on my faith!"
A cold sweat broke from d'Artagnan's brow. Why, this woman was a monster! He resumed his listening, but unfortunately the toilet was finished.
"That will do," said Milady; "go into your own room, and tomorrow endeavor again to get me an answer to the letter I gave you."
"For Monsieur de Wardes?" said Kitty.
"To be sure; for Monsieur de Wardes."
"Now, there is one," said Kitty, "who appears to me quite a different sort of a man from that poor Monsieur d'Artagnan."
"Go to bed, mademoiselle," said Milady; "I don't like comments."
D'Artagnan heard the door close; then the noise of two bolts by which Milady fastened herself in. On her side, but as softly as possible, Kitty turned the key of the lock, and then d'Artagnan opened the closet door.
"Oh, good Lord!" said Kitty, in a low voice, "what is the matter with you? How pale you are!"
"The abominable creature," murmured d'Artagnan.
"Silence, silence, begone!" said Kitty. "There is nothing but a wainscot between my chamber and Milady's; every word that is uttered in one can be heard in the other."
"That's exactly the reason I won't go," said d'Artagnan.
"What!" said Kitty, blushing.
"Or, at least, I will go—later."
He drew Kitty to him. She had the less motive to resist, resistance would make so much noise. Therefore Kitty surrendered.
It was a movement of vengeance upon Milady. D'Artagnan believed it right to say that vengeance is the pleasure of the gods. With a little more heart, he might have been contented with this new conquest; but the principal features of his character were ambition and pride. It must, however, be confessed in his justification that the first use he made of his influence over Kitty was to try and find out what had become of Mme. Bonacieux; but the poor girl swore upon the crucifix to d'Artagnan that she was entirely ignorant on that head, her mistress never admitting her into half her secrets—only she believed she could say she was not dead.
As to the cause which was near making Milady lose her credit with the cardinal, Kitty knew nothing about it; but this time d'Artagnan was better informed than she was. As he had seen Milady on board a vessel at the moment he was leaving England, he suspected that it was, almost without a doubt, on account of the diamond studs.