But what was clearest in all this was that the true hatred, the profound hatred, the inveterate hatred of Milady, was increased by his not having killed her brother-in-law.
D'Artagnan came the next day to Milady's, and finding her in a very ill-humor, had no doubt that it was lack of an answer from M. de Wardes that provoked her thus. Kitty came in, but Milady was very cross with her. The poor girl ventured a glance at d'Artagnan which said, "See how I suffer on your account!"
Toward the end of the evening, however, the beautiful lioness became milder; she smilingly listened to the soft speeches of d'Artagnan, and even gave him her hand to kiss.
D'Artagnan departed, scarcely knowing what to think, but as he was a youth who did not easily lose his head, while continuing to pay his court to Milady, he had framed a little plan in his mind.
He found Kitty at the gate, and, as on the preceding evening, went up to her chamber. Kitty had been accused of negligence and severely scolded. Milady could not at all comprehend the silence of the Comte de Wardes, and she ordered Kitty to come at nine o'clock in the morning to take a third letter.
D'Artagnan made Kitty promise to bring him that letter on the following morning. The poor girl promised all her lover desired; she was mad.
Things passed as on the night before. D'Artagnan concealed himself in his closet; Milady called, undressed, sent away Kitty, and shut the door. As the night before, d'Artagnan did not return home till five o'clock in the morning.
At eleven o'clock Kitty came to him. She held in her hand a fresh billet from Milady. This time the poor girl did not even argue with d'Artagnan; she gave it to him at once. She belonged body and soul to her handsome soldier.
D'Artagnan opened the letter and read as follows:
This is the third time I have written to you to tell you that I love you. Beware that I do not write to you a fourth time to tell you that I detest you.
If you repent of the manner in which you have acted toward me, the young girl who brings you this will tell you how a man of spirit may obtain his pardon.
d'Artagnan colored and grew pale several times in reading this billet.
"Oh, you love her still," said Kitty, who had not taken her eyes off the young man's countenance for an instant.
"No, Kitty, you are mistaken. I do not love her, but I will avenge myself for her contempt."
"Oh, yes, I know what sort of vengeance! You told me that!"
"What matters it to you, Kitty? You know it is you alone whom I love."
"How can I know that?"
"By the scorn I will throw upon her."
D'Artagnan took a pen and wrote:
Madame, Until the present moment I could not believe that it was to me your first two letters were addressed, so unworthy did I feel myself of such an honor; besides, I was so seriously indisposed that I could not in any case have replied to them.
But now I am forced to believe in the excess of your kindness, since not only your letter but your servant assures me that I have the good fortune to be beloved by you.
She has no occasion to teach me the way in which a man of spirit may obtain his pardon. I will come and ask mine at eleven o'clock this evening.
To delay it a single day would be in my eyes now to commit a fresh offense.
From him whom you have rendered the happiest of men, Comte de Wardes
This note was in the first place a forgery; it was likewise an indelicacy. It was even, according to our present manners, something like an infamous action; but at that period people did not manage affairs as they do today. Besides, d'Artagnan from her own admission knew Milady culpable of treachery in matters more important, and could entertain no respect for her. And yet, notwithstanding this want of respect, he felt an uncontrollable passion for this woman boiling in his veins—passion drunk with contempt; but passion or thirst, as the reader pleases.
D'Artagnan's plan was very simple. By Kitty's chamber he could gain that of her mistress. He would take advantage of the first moment of surprise, shame, and terror, to triumph over her. He might fail, but something must be left to chance. In eight days the campaign would open, and he would be compelled to leave Paris; d'Artagnan had no time for a prolonged love siege.
"There," said the young man, handing Kitty the letter sealed; "give that to Milady. It is the count's reply."
Poor Kitty became as pale as death; she suspected what the letter contained.
"Listen, my dear girl," said d'Artagnan; "you cannot but perceive that all this must end, some way or other. Milady may discover that you gave the first billet to my lackey instead of to the count's; that it is I who have opened the others which ought to have been opened by de Wardes. Milady will then turn you out of doors, and you know she is not the woman to limit her vengeance."
"Alas!" said Kitty, "for whom have I exposed myself to all that?"
"For me, I well know, my sweet girl," said d'Artagnan. "But I am grateful, I swear to you."
"But what does this note contain?"
"Milady will tell you."
"Ah, you do not love me!" cried Kitty, "and I am very wretched."
To this reproach there is always one response which deludes women. D'Artagnan replied in such a manner that Kitty remained in her great delusion. Although she cried freely before deciding to transmit the letter to her mistress, she did at last so decide, which was all d'Artagnan wished. Finally he promised that he would leave her mistress's presence at an early hour that evening, and that when he left the mistress he would ascend with the maid. This promise completed poor Kitty's consolation.
34 IN WHICH THE EQUIPMENT OF ARAMIS AND PORTHOS IS TREATED OF
Since the four friends had been each in search of his equipments, there had been no fixed meeting between them. They dined apart from one another, wherever they might happen to be, or rather where they could. Duty likewise on its part took a portion of that precious time which was gliding away so rapidly—only they had agreed to meet once a week, about one o'clock, at the residence of Athos, seeing that he, in agreement with the vow he had formed, did not pass over the threshold of his door.
This day of reunion was the same day as that on which Kitty came to find d'Artagnan. Soon as Kitty left him, d'Artagnan directed his steps toward the Rue Ferou.
He found Athos and Aramis philosophizing. Aramis had some slight inclination to resume the cassock. Athos, according to his system, neither encouraged nor dissuaded him. Athos believed that everyone should be left to his own free will. He never gave advice but when it was asked, and even then he required to be asked twice.
"People, in general," he said, "only ask advice not to follow it; or if they do follow it, it is for the sake of having someone to blame for having given it."
Porthos arrived a minute after d'Artagnan. The four friends were reunited.
The four countenances expressed four different feelings: that of Porthos, tranquillity; that of d'Artagnan, hope; that of Aramis, uneasiness; that of Athos, carelessness.
At the end of a moment's conversation, in which Porthos hinted that a lady of elevated rank had condescended to relieve him from his embarrassment, Mousqueton entered. He came to request his master to return to his lodgings, where his presence was urgent, as he piteously said.
"Is it my equipment?"
"Yes and no," replied Mousqueton.
"Well, but can't you speak?"
Porthos rose, saluted his friends, and followed Mousqueton. An instant after, Bazin made his appearance at the door.
"What do you want with me, my friend?" said Aramis, with that mildness of language which was observable in him every time that his ideas were directed toward the Church.
"A man wishes to see Monsieur at home," replied Bazin.
"A man! What man?"
"Give him alms, Bazin, and bid him pray for a poor sinner."
"This mendicant insists upon speaking to you, and pretends that you will be very glad to see him."
"Has he sent no particular message for me?"
"Yes. If Monsieur Aramis hesitates to come," he said, "tell him I am from Tours."
"From Tours!" cried Aramis. "A thousand pardons, gentlemen; but no doubt this man brings me the news I expected." And rising also, he went off at a quick pace. There remained Athos and d'Artagnan.
"I believe these fellows have managed their business. What do you think, d'Artagnan?" said Athos.
"I know that Porthos was in a fair way," replied d'Artagnan; "and as to Aramis to tell you the truth, I have never been seriously uneasy on his account. But you, my dear Athos—you, who so generously distributed the Englishman's pistoles, which were our legitimate property—what do you mean to do?"
"I am satisfied with having killed that fellow, my boy, seeing that it is blessed bread to kill an Englishman; but if I had pocketed his pistoles, they would have weighed me down like a remorse.
"Go to, my dear Athos; you have truly inconceivable ideas."
"Let it pass. What do you think of Monsieur de Treville telling me, when he did me the honor to call upon me yesterday, that you associated with the suspected English, whom the cardinal protects?"
"That is to say, I visit an Englishwoman—the one I named."
"Oh, ay! the fair woman on whose account I gave you advice, which naturally you took care not to adopt."
"I gave you my reasons."
"Yes; you look there for your outfit, I think you said."
"Not at all. I have acquired certain knowledge that that woman was concerned in the abduction of Madame Bonacieux."
"Yes, I understand now: to find one woman, you court another. It is the longest road, but certainly the most amusing."
D'Artagnan was on the point of telling Athos all; but one consideration restrained him. Athos was a gentleman, punctilious in points of honor; and there were in the plan which our lover had devised for Milady, he was sure, certain things that would not obtain the assent of this Puritan. He was therefore silent; and as Athos was the least inquisitive of any man on earth, d'Artagnan's confidence stopped there. We will therefore leave the two friends, who had nothing important to say to each other, and follow Aramis.
Upon being informed that the person who wanted to speak to him came from Tours, we have seen with what rapidity the young man followed, or rather went before, Bazin; he ran without stopping from the Rue Ferou to the Rue de Vaugirard. On entering he found a man of short stature and intelligent eyes, but covered with rags.
"You have asked for me?" said the Musketeer.
"I wish to speak with Monsieur Aramis. Is that your name, monsieur?"
"My very own. You have brought me something?"
"Yes, if you show me a certain embroidered handkerchief."
"Here it is," said Aramis, taking a small key from his breast and opening a little ebony box inlaid with mother of pearl, "here it is. Look."
"That is right," replied the mendicant; "dismiss your lackey."
In fact, Bazin, curious to know what the mendicant could want with his master, kept pace with him as well as he could, and arrived almost at the same time he did; but his quickness was not of much use to him. At the hint from the mendicant his master made him a sign to retire, and he was obliged to obey.
Bazin gone, the mendicant cast a rapid glance around him in order to be sure that nobody could either see or hear him, and opening his ragged vest, badly held together by a leather strap, he began to rip the upper part of his doublet, from which he drew a letter.
Aramis uttered a cry of joy at the sight of the seal, kissed the superscription with an almost religious respect, and opened the epistle, which contained what follows:
"My Friend, it is the will of fate that we should be still for some time separated; but the delightful days of youth are not lost beyond return. Perform your duty in camp; I will do mine elsewhere. Accept that which the bearer brings you; make the campaign like a handsome true gentleman, and think of me, who kisses tenderly your black eyes.
"Adieu; or rather, AU REVOIR."
The mendicant continued to rip his garments; and drew from amid his rags a hundred and fifty Spanish double pistoles, which he laid down on the table; then he opened the door, bowed, and went out before the young man, stupefied by his letter, had ventured to address a word to him.
Aramis then reperused the letter, and perceived a postscript:
P.S. You may behave politely to the bearer, who is a count and a grandee of Spain!
"Golden dreams!" cried Aramis. "Oh, beautiful life! Yes, we are young; yes, we shall yet have happy days! My love, my blood, my life! all, all, all, are thine, my adored mistress!"
And he kissed the letter with passion, without even vouchsafing a look at the gold which sparkled on the table.
Bazin scratched at the door, and as Aramis had no longer any reason to exclude him, he bade him come in.
Bazin was stupefied at the sight of the gold, and forgot that he came to announce d'Artagnan, who, curious to know who the mendicant could be, came to Aramis on leaving Athos.
Now, as d'Artagnan used no ceremony with Aramis, seeing that Bazin forgot to announce him, he announced himself.
"The devil! my dear Aramis," said d'Artagnan, "if these are the prunes that are sent to you from Tours, I beg you will make my compliments to the gardener who gathers them."
"You are mistaken, friend d'Artagnan," said Aramis, always on his guard; "this is from my publisher, who has just sent me the price of that poem in one-syllable verse which I began yonder."
"Ah, indeed," said d'Artagnan. "Well, your publisher is very generous, my dear Aramis, that's all I can say."
"How, monsieur?" cried Bazin, "a poem sell so dear as that! It is incredible! Oh, monsieur, you can write as much as you like; you may become equal to Monsieur de Voiture and Monsieur de Benserade. I like that. A poet is as good as an abbe. Ah! Monsieur Aramis, become a poet, I beg of you."
"Bazin, my friend," said Aramis, "I believe you meddle with my conversation."
Bazin perceived he was wrong; he bowed and went out.
"Ah!" said d'Artagnan with a smile, "you sell your productions at their weight in gold. You are very fortunate, my friend; but take care or you will lose that letter which is peeping from your doublet, and which also comes, no doubt, from your publisher."
Aramis blushed to the eyes, crammed in the letter, and re-buttoned his doublet.
"My dear d'Artagnan," said he, "if you please, we will join our friends; as I am rich, we will today begin to dine together again, expecting that you will be rich in your turn."
"My faith!" said d'Artagnan, with great pleasure. "It is long since we have had a good dinner; and I, for my part, have a somewhat hazardous expedition for this evening, and shall not be sorry, I confess, to fortify myself with a few glasses of good old Burgundy."
"Agreed, as to the old Burgundy; I have no objection to that," said Aramis, from whom the letter and the gold had removed, as by magic, his ideas of conversion.
And having put three or four double pistoles into his pocket to answer the needs of the moment, he placed the others in the ebony box, inlaid with mother of pearl, in which was the famous handkerchief which served him as a talisman.
The two friends repaired to Athos's, and he, faithful to his vow of not going out, took upon him to order dinner to be brought to them. As he was perfectly acquainted with the details of gastronomy, d'Artagnan and Aramis made no objection to abandoning this important care to him.
They went to find Porthos, and at the corner of the Rue Bac met Mousqueton, who, with a most pitiable air, was driving before him a mule and a horse.
D'Artagnan uttered a cry of surprise, which was not quite free from joy.
"Ah, my yellow horse," cried he. "Aramis, look at that horse!"
"Oh, the frightful brute!" said Aramis.
"Ah, my dear," replied d'Artagnan, "upon that very horse I came to Paris."
"What, does Monsieur know this horse?" said Mousqueton.
"It is of an original color," said Aramis; "I never saw one with such a hide in my life."
"I can well believe it," replied d'Artagnan, "and that was why I got three crowns for him. It must have been for his hide, for, CERTES, the carcass is not worth eighteen livres. But how did this horse come into your bands, Mousqueton?"
"Pray," said the lackey, "say nothing about it, monsieur; it is a frightful trick of the husband of our duchess!"
"How is that, Mousqueton?"
"Why, we are looked upon with a rather favorable eye by a lady of quality, the Duchesse de—but, your pardon; my master has commanded me to be discreet. She had forced us to accept a little souvenir, a magnificent Spanish GENET and an Andalusian mule, which were beautiful to look upon. The husband heard of the affair; on their way he confiscated the two magnificent beasts which were being sent to us, and substituted these horrible animals."
"Which you are taking back to him?" said d'Artagnan.
"Exactly!" replied Mousqueton. "You may well believe that we will not accept such steeds as these in exchange for those which had been promised to us."
"No, PARDIEU; though I should like to have seen Porthos on my yellow horse. That would give me an idea of how I looked when I arrived in Paris. But don't let us hinder you, Mousqueton; go and perform your master's orders. Is he at home?"
"Yes, monsieur," said Mousqueton, "but in a very ill humor. Get up!"
He continued his way toward the Quai des Grands Augustins, while the two friends went to ring at the bell of the unfortunate Porthos. He, having seen them crossing the yard, took care not to answer, and they rang in vain.
Meanwhile Mousqueton continued on his way, and crossing the Pont Neuf, still driving the two sorry animals before him, he reached the Rue aux Ours. Arrived there, he fastened, according to the orders of his master, both horse and mule to the knocker of the procurator's door; then, without taking any thought for their future, he returned to Porthos, and told him that his commission was completed.
In a short time the two unfortunate beasts, who had not eaten anything since the morning, made such a noise in raising and letting fall the knocker that the procurator ordered his errand boy to go and inquire in the neighborhood to whom this horse and mule belonged.
Mme. Coquenard recognized her present, and could not at first comprehend this restitution; but the visit of Porthos soon enlightened her. The anger which fired the eyes of the Musketeer, in spite of his efforts to suppress it, terrified his sensitive inamorata. In fact, Mousqueton had not concealed from his master that he had met d'Artagnan and Aramis, and that d'Artagnan in the yellow horse had recognized the Bearnese pony upon which he had come to Paris, and which he had sold for three crowns.
Porthos went away after having appointed a meeting with the procurator's wife in the cloister of St. Magloire. The procurator, seeing he was going, invited him to dinner—an invitation which the Musketeer refused with a majestic air.
Mme. Coquenard repaired trembling to the cloister of St. Magloire, for she guessed the reproaches that awaited her there; but she was fascinated by the lofty airs of Porthos.
All that which a man wounded in his self-love could let fall in the shape of imprecations and reproaches upon the head of a woman Porthos let fall upon the bowed head of the procurator's wife.
"Alas," said she, "I did all for the best! One of our clients is a horsedealer; he owes money to the office, and is backward in his pay. I took the mule and the horse for what he owed us; he assured me that they were two noble steeds."
"Well, madame," said Porthos, "if he owed you more than five crowns, your horsedealer is a thief."
"There is no harm in trying to buy things cheap, Monsieur Porthos," said the procurator's wife, seeking to excuse herself.
"No, madame; but they who so assiduously try to buy things cheap ought to permit others to seek more generous friends." And Porthos, turning on his heel, made a step to retire.
"Monsieur Porthos! Monsieur Porthos!" cried the procurator's wife. "I have been wrong; I see it. I ought not to have driven a bargain when it was to equip a cavalier like you."
Porthos, without reply, retreated a second step. The procurator's wife fancied she saw him in a brilliant cloud, all surrounded by duchesses and marchionesses, who cast bags of money at his feet.
"Stop, in the name of heaven, Monsieur Porthos!" cried she. "Stop, and let us talk."
"Talking with you brings me misfortune," said Porthos.
"But, tell me, what do you ask?"
"Nothing; for that amounts to the same thing as if I asked you for something."
The procurator's wife hung upon the arm of Porthos, and in the violence of her grief she cried out, "Monsieur Porthos, I am ignorant of all such matters! How should I know what a horse is? How should I know what horse furniture is?"
"You should have left it to me, then, madame, who know what they are; but you wished to be frugal, and consequently to lend at usury."
"It was wrong, Monsieur Porthos; but I will repair that wrong, upon my word of honor."
"How so?" asked the Musketeer.
"Listen. This evening M. Coquenard is going to the house of the Due de Chaulnes, who has sent for him. It is for a consultation, which will last three hours at least. Come! We shall be alone, and can make up our accounts."
"In good time. Now you talk, my dear."
"You pardon me?"
"We shall see," said Porthos, majestically; and the two separated saying, "Till this evening."
"The devil!" thought Porthos, as he walked away, "it appears I am getting nearer to Monsieur Coquenard's strongbox at last."
35 A GASCON A MATCH FOR CUPID
The evening so impatiently waited for by Porthos and by d'Artagnan at last arrived.
As was his custom, d'Artagnan presented himself at Milady's at about nine o'clock. He found her in a charming humor. Never had he been so well received. Our Gascon knew, by the first glance of his eye, that his billet had been delivered, and that this billet had had its effect.
Kitty entered to bring some sherbet. Her mistress put on a charming face, and smiled on her graciously; but alas! the poor girl was so sad that she did not even notice Milady's condescension.
D'Artagnan looked at the two women, one after the other, and was forced to acknowledge that in his opinion Dame Nature had made a mistake in their formation. To the great lady she had given a heart vile and venal; to the SOUBRETTE she had given the heart of a duchess.
At ten o'clock Milady began to appear restless. D'Artagnan knew what she wanted. She looked at the clock, rose, reseated herself, smiled at d'Artagnan with an air which said, "You are very amiable, no doubt, but you would be charming if you would only depart."
D'Artagnan rose and took his hat; Milady gave him her hand to kiss. The young man felt her press his hand, and comprehended that this was a sentiment, not of coquetry, but of gratitude because of his departure.
"She loves him devilishly," he murmured. Then he went out.
This time Kitty was nowhere waiting for him; neither in the antechamber, nor in the corridor, nor beneath the great door. It was necessary that d'Artagnan should find alone the staircase and the little chamber. She heard him enter, but she did not raise her head. The young man went to her and took her hands; then she sobbed aloud.
As d'Artagnan had presumed, on receiving his letter, Milady in a delirium of joy had told her servant everything; and by way of recompense for the manner in which she had this time executed the commission, she had given Kitty a purse.
Returning to her own room, Kitty had thrown the purse into a corner, where it lay open, disgorging three or four gold pieces on the carpet. The poor girl, under the caresses of d'Artagnan, lifted her head. D'Artagnan himself was frightened by the change in her countenance. She joined her hands with a suppliant air, but without venturing to speak a word. As little sensitive as was the heart of d'Artagnan, he was touched by this mute sorrow; but he held too tenaciously to his projects, above all to this one, to change the program which he had laid out in advance. He did not therefore allow her any hope that he would flinch; only he represented his action as one of simple vengeance.
For the rest this vengeance was very easy; for Milady, doubtless to conceal her blushes from her lover, had ordered Kitty to extinguish all the lights in the apartment, and even in the little chamber itself. Before daybreak M. de Wardes must take his departure, still in obscurity.
Presently they heard Milady retire to her room. D'Artagnan slipped into the wardrobe. Hardly was he concealed when the little bell sounded. Kitty went to her mistress, and did not leave the door open; but the partition was so thin that one could hear nearly all that passed between the two women.
Milady seemed overcome with joy, and made Kitty repeat the smallest details of the pretended interview of the soubrette with de Wardes when he received the letter; how he had responded; what was the expression of his face; if he seemed very amorous. And to all these questions poor Kitty, forced to put on a pleasant face, responded in a stifled voice whose dolorous accent her mistress did not however remark, solely because happiness is egotistical.
Finally, as the hour for her interview with the count approached, Milady had everything about her darkened, and ordered Kitty to return to her own chamber, and introduce de Wardes whenever he presented himself.
Kitty's detention was not long. Hardly had d'Artagnan seen, through a crevice in his closet, that the whole apartment was in obscurity, than he slipped out of his concealment, at the very moment when Kitty reclosed the door of communication.
"What is that noise?" demanded Milady.
"It is I," said d'Artagnan in a subdued voice, "I, the Comte de Wardes."
"Oh, my God, my God!" murmured Kitty, "he has not even waited for the hour he himself named!"
"Well," said Milady, in a trembling voice, "why do you not enter? Count, Count," added she, "you know that I wait for you."
At this appeal d'Artagnan drew Kitty quietly away, and slipped into the chamber.
If rage or sorrow ever torture the heart, it is when a lover receives under a name which is not his own protestations of love addressed to his happy rival. D'Artagnan was in a dolorous situation which he had not foreseen. Jealousy gnawed his heart; and he suffered almost as much as poor Kitty, who at that very moment was crying in the next chamber.
"Yes, Count," said Milady, in her softest voice, and pressing his hand in her own, "I am happy in the love which your looks and your words have expressed to me every time we have met. I also—I love you. Oh, tomorrow, tomorrow, I must have some pledge from you which will prove that you think of me; and that you may not forget me, take this!" and she slipped a ring from her finger onto d'Artagnan's. d'Artagnan remembered having seen this ring on the finger of Milady; it was a magnificent sapphire, encircled with brilliants.
The first movement of d'Artagnan was to return it, but Milady added, "No, no! Keep that ring for love of me. Besides, in accepting it," she added, in a voice full of emotion, "you render me a much greater service than you imagine."
"This woman is full of mysteries," murmured d'Artagnan to himself. At that instant he felt himself ready to reveal all. He even opened his mouth to tell Milady who he was, and with what a revengeful purpose he had come; but she added, "Poor angel, whom that monster of a Gascon barely failed to kill."
The monster was himself.
"Oh," continued Milady, "do your wounds still make you suffer?"
"Yes, much," said d'Artagnan, who did not well know how to answer.
"Be tranquil," murmured Milady; "I will avenge you—and cruelly!"
"PESTE!" said d'Artagnan to himself, "the moment for confidences has not yet come."
It took some time for d'Artagnan to resume this little dialogue; but then all the ideas of vengeance which he had brought with him had completely vanished. This woman exercised over him an unaccountable power; he hated and adored her at the same time. He would not have believed that two sentiments so opposite could dwell in the same heart, and by their union constitute a passion so strange, and as it were, diabolical.
Presently it sounded one o'clock. It was necessary to separate. D'Artagnan at the moment of quitting Milady felt only the liveliest regret at the parting; and as they addressed each other in a reciprocally passionate adieu, another interview was arranged for the following week.
Poor Kitty hoped to speak a few words to d'Artagnan when he passed through her chamber; but Milady herself reconducted him through the darkness, and only quit him at the staircase.
The next morning d'Artagnan ran to find Athos. He was engaged in an adventure so singular that he wished for counsel. He therefore told him all.
"Your Milady," said he, "appears to be an infamous creature, but not the less you have done wrong to deceive her. In one fashion or another you have a terrible enemy on your hands."
While thus speaking Athos regarded with attention the sapphire set with diamonds which had taken, on d'Artagnan's finger, the place of the queen's ring, carefully kept in a casket.
"You notice my ring?" said the Gascon, proud to display so rich a gift in the eyes of his friends.
"Yes," said Athos, "it reminds me of a family jewel."
"It is beautiful, is it not?" said d'Artagnan.
"Yes," said Athos, "magnificent. I did not think two sapphires of such a fine water existed. Have you traded it for your diamond?"
"No. It is a gift from my beautiful Englishwoman, or rather Frenchwoman—for I am convinced she was born in France, though I have not questioned her."
"That ring comes from Milady?" cried Athos, with a voice in which it was easy to detect strong emotion.
"Her very self; she gave it me last night. Here it is," replied d'Artagnan, taking it from his finger.
Athos examined it and became very pale. He tried it on his left hand; it fit his finger as if made for it.
A shade of anger and vengeance passed across the usually calm brow of this gentleman.
"It is impossible it can be she," said be. "How could this ring come into the hands of Milady Clarik? And yet it is difficult to suppose such a resemblance should exist between two jewels."
"Do you know this ring?" said d'Artagnan.
"I thought I did," replied Athos; "but no doubt I was mistaken." And he returned d'Artagnan the ring without, however, ceasing to look at it.
"Pray, d'Artagnan," said Athos, after a minute, "either take off that ring or turn the mounting inside; it recalls such cruel recollections that I shall have no head to converse with you. Don't ask me for counsel; don't tell me you are perplexed what to do. But stop! let me look at that sapphire again; the one I mentioned to you had one of its faces scratched by accident."
D'Artagnan took off the ring, giving it again to Athos.
Athos started. "Look," said he, "is it not strange?" and he pointed out to d'Artagnan the scratch he had remembered.
"But from whom did this ring come to you, Athos?"
"From my mother, who inherited it from her mother. As I told you, it is an old family jewel."
"And you—sold it?" asked d'Artagnan, hesitatingly.
"No," replied Athos, with a singular smile. "I gave it away in a night of love, as it has been given to you."
D'Artagnan became pensive in his turn; it appeared as if there were abysses in Milady's soul whose depths were dark and unknown. He took back the ring, but put it in his pocket and not on his finger.
"d'Artagnan," said Athos, taking his hand, "you know I love you; if I had a son I could not love him better. Take my advice, renounce this woman. I do not know her, but a sort of intuition tells me she is a lost creature, and that there is something fatal about her."
"You are right," said d'Artagnan; "I will have done with her. I own that this woman terrifies me."
"Shall you have the courage?" said Athos.
"I shall," replied d'Artagnan, "and instantly."
"In truth, my young friend, you will act rightly," said the gentleman, pressing the Gascon's hand with an affection almost paternal; "and God grant that this woman, who has scarcely entered into your life, may not leave a terrible trace in it!" And Athos bowed to d'Artagnan like a man who wishes it understood that he would not be sorry to be left alone with his thoughts.
On reaching home d'Artagnan found Kitty waiting for him. A month of fever could not have changed her more than this one night of sleeplessness and sorrow.
She was sent by her mistress to the false de Wardes. Her mistress was mad with love, intoxicated with joy. She wished to know when her lover would meet her a second night; and poor Kitty, pale and trembling, awaited d'Artagnan's reply. The counsels of his friend, joined to the cries of his own heart, made him determine, now his pride was saved and his vengeance satisfied, not to see Milady again. As a reply, he wrote the following letter:
Do not depend upon me, madame, for the next meeting. Since my convalescence I have so many affairs of this kind on my hands that I am forced to regulate them a little. When your turn comes, I shall have the honor to inform you of it. I kiss your hands.
Comte de Wardes
Not a word about the sapphire. Was the Gascon determined to keep it as a weapon against Milady, or else, let us be frank, did he not reserve the sapphire as a last resource for his outfit? It would be wrong to judge the actions of one period from the point of view of another. That which would now be considered as disgraceful to a gentleman was at that time quite a simple and natural affair, and the younger sons of the best families were frequently supported by their mistresses. D'Artagnan gave the open letter to Kitty, who at first was unable to comprehend it, but who became almost wild with joy on reading it a second time. She could scarcely believe in her happiness; and d'Artagnan was forced to renew with the living voice the assurances which he had written. And whatever might be—considering the violent character of Milady—the danger which the poor girl incurred in giving this billet to her mistress, she ran back to the Place Royale as fast as her legs could carry her.
The heart of the best woman is pitiless toward the sorrows of a rival.
Milady opened the letter with eagerness equal to Kitty's in bringing it; but at the first words she read she became livid. She crushed the paper in her hand, and turning with flashing eyes upon Kitty, she cried, "What is this letter?"
"The answer to Madame's," replied Kitty, all in a tremble.
"Impossible!" cried Milady. "It is impossible a gentleman could have written such a letter to a woman." Then all at once, starting, she cried, "My God! can he have—" and she stopped. She ground her teeth; she was of the color of ashes. She tried to go toward the window for air, but she could only stretch forth her arms; her legs failed her, and she sank into an armchair. Kitty, fearing she was ill, hastened toward her and was beginning to open her dress; but Milady started up, pushing her away. "What do you want with me?" said she, "and why do you place your hand on me?"
"I thought that Madame was ill, and I wished to bring her help," responded the maid, frightened at the terrible expression which had come over her mistress's face.
"I faint? I? I? Do you take me for half a woman? When I am insulted I do not faint; I avenge myself!"
And she made a sign for Kitty to leave the room.
36 DREAM OF VENGEANCE
That evening Milady gave orders that when M. d'Artagnan came as usual, he should be immediately admitted; but he did not come.
The next day Kitty went to see the young man again, and related to him all that had passed on the preceding evening. d'Artagnan smiled; this jealous anger of Milady was his revenge.
That evening Milady was still more impatient than on the preceding evening. She renewed the order relative to the Gascon; but as before she expected him in vain.
The next morning, when Kitty presented herself at d'Artagnan's, she was no longer joyous and alert as on the two preceding days; but on the contrary sad as death.
D'Artagnan asked the poor girl what was the matter with her; but she, as her only reply, drew a letter from her pocket and gave it to him.
This letter was in Milady's handwriting; only this time it was addressed to M. d'Artagnan, and not to M. de Wardes.
He opened it and read as follows:
Dear M. d'Artagnan, It is wrong thus to neglect your friends, particularly at the moment you are about to leave them for so long a time. My brother-in-law and myself expected you yesterday and the day before, but in vain. Will it be the same this evening?
Your very grateful, Milady Clarik
"That's all very simple," said d'Artagnan; "I expected this letter. My credit rises by the fall of that of the Comte de Wardes."
"And will you go?" asked Kitty.
"Listen to me, my dear girl," said the Gascon, who sought for an excuse in his own eyes for breaking the promise he had made Athos; "you must understand it would be impolitic not to accept such a positive invitation. Milady, not seeing me come again, would not be able to understand what could cause the interruption of my visits, and might suspect something; who could say how far the vengeance of such a woman would go?"
"Oh, my God!" said Kitty, "you know how to represent things in such a way that you are always in the right. You are going now to pay your court to her again, and if this time you succeed in pleasing her in your own name and with your own face, it will be much worse than before."
Instinct made poor Kitty guess a part of what was to happen. d'Artagnan reassured her as well as he could, and promised to remain insensible to the seductions of Milady.
He desired Kitty to tell her mistress that he could not be more grateful for her kindnesses than he was, and that he would be obedient to her orders. He did not dare to write for fear of not being able—to such experienced eyes as those of Milady—to disguise his writing sufficiently.
As nine o'clock sounded, d'Artagnan was at the Place Royale. It was evident that the servants who waited in the antechamber were warned, for as soon as d'Artagnan appeared, before even he had asked if Milady were visible, one of them ran to announce him.
"Show him in," said Milady, in a quick tone, but so piercing that d'Artagnan heard her in the antechamber.
He was introduced.
"I am at home to nobody," said Milady; "observe, to nobody." The servant went out.
D'Artagnan cast an inquiring glance at Milady. She was pale, and looked fatigued, either from tears or want of sleep. The number of lights had been intentionally diminished, but the young woman could not conceal the traces of the fever which had devoured her for two days.
D'Artagnan approached her with his usual gallantry. She then made an extraordinary effort to receive him, but never did a more distressed countenance give the lie to a more amiable smile.
To the questions which d'Artagnan put concerning her health, she replied, "Bad, very bad."
"Then," replied he, "my visit is ill-timed; you, no doubt, stand in need of repose, and I will withdraw."
"No, no!" said Milady. "On the contrary, stay, Monsieur d'Artagnan; your agreeable company will divert me."
"Oh, oh!" thought d'Artagnan. "She has never been so kind before. On guard!"
Milady assumed the most agreeable air possible, and conversed with more than her usual brilliancy. At the same time the fever, which for an instant abandoned her, returned to give luster to her eyes, color to her cheeks, and vermillion to her lips. D'Artagnan was again in the presence of the Circe who had before surrounded him with her enchantments. His love, which he believed to be extinct but which was only asleep, awoke again in his heart. Milady smiled, and d'Artagnan felt that he could damn himself for that smile. There was a moment at which he felt something like remorse.
By degrees, Milady became more communicative. She asked d'Artagnan if he had a mistress.
"Alas!" said d'Artagnan, with the most sentimental air he could assume, "can you be cruel enough to put such a question to me—to me, who, from the moment I saw you, have only breathed and sighed through you and for you?"
Milady smiled with a strange smile.
"Then you love me?" said she.
"Have I any need to tell you so? Have you not perceived it?"
"It may be; but you know the more hearts are worth the capture, the more difficult they are to be won."
"Oh, difficulties do not affright me," said d'Artagnan. "I shrink before nothing but impossibilities."
"Nothing is impossible," replied Milady, "to true love."
"Nothing," replied Milady.
"The devil!" thought d'Artagnan. "The note is changed. Is she going to fall in love with me, by chance, this fair inconstant; and will she be disposed to give me myself another sapphire like that which she gave me for de Wardes?"
D'Artagnan rapidly drew his seat nearer to Milady's.
"Well, now," she said, "let us see what you would do to prove this love of which you speak."
"All that could be required of me. Order; I am ready."
"For everything," cried d'Artagnan, who knew beforehand that he had not much to risk in engaging himself thus.
"Well, now let us talk a little seriously," said Milady, in her turn drawing her armchair nearer to d'Artagnan's chair.
"I am all attention, madame," said he.
Milady remained thoughtful and undecided for a moment; then, as if appearing to have formed a resolution, she said, "I have an enemy."
"You, madame!" said d'Artagnan, affecting surprise; "is that possible, my God?—good and beautiful as you are!"
"A mortal enemy."
"An enemy who has insulted me so cruelly that between him and me it is war to the death. May I reckon on you as an auxiliary?"
D'Artagnan at once perceived the ground which the vindictive creature wished to reach.
"You may, madame," said he, with emphasis. "My arm and my life belong to you, like my love."
"Then," said Milady, "since you are as generous as you are loving—"
"Well?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Well," replied Milady, after a moment of silence, "from the present time, cease to talk of impossibilities."
"Do not overwhelm me with happiness," cried d'Artagnan, throwing himself on his knees, and covering with kisses the hands abandoned to him.
"Avenge me of that infamous de Wardes," said Milady, between her teeth, "and I shall soon know how to get rid of you—you double idiot, you animated sword blade!"
"Fall voluntarily into my arms, hypocritical and dangerous woman," said d'Artagnan, likewise to himself, "after having abused me with such effrontery, and afterward I will laugh at you with him whom you wish me to kill."
D'Artagnan lifted up his head.
"I am ready," said he.
"You have understood me, then, dear Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Milady.
"I could interpret one of your looks."
"Then you would employ for me your arm which has already acquired so much renown?"
"But on my part," said Milady, "how should I repay such a service? I know these lovers. They are men who do nothing for nothing."
"You know the only reply that I desire," said d'Artagnan, "the only one worthy of you and of me!"
And he drew nearer to her.
She scarcely resisted.
"Interested man!" cried she, smiling.
"Ah," cried d'Artagnan, really carried away by the passion this woman had the power to kindle in his heart, "ah, that is because my happiness appears so impossible to me; and I have such fear that it should fly away from me like a dream that I pant to make a reality of it."
"Well, merit this pretended happiness, then!"
"I am at your orders," said d'Artagnan.
"Quite certain?" said Milady, with a last doubt.
"Only name to me the base man that has brought tears into your beautiful eyes!"
"Who told you that I had been weeping?" said she.
"It appeared to me—"
"Such women as I never weep," said Milady.
"So much the better! Come, tell me his name!"
"Remember that his name is all my secret."
"Yet I must know his name."
"Yes, you must; see what confidence I have in you!"
"You overwhelm me with joy. What is his name?"
"You know him."
"It is surely not one of my friends?" replied d'Artagnan, affecting hesitation in order to make her believe him ignorant.
"If it were one of your friends you would hesitate, then?" cried Milady; and a threatening glance darted from her eyes.
"Not if it were my own brother!" cried d'Artagnan, as if carried away by his enthusiasm.
Our Gascon promised this without risk, for he knew all that was meant.
"I love your devotedness," said Milady.
"Alas, do you love nothing else in me?" asked d'Artagnan.
"I love you also, YOU!" said she, taking his hand.
The warm pressure made d'Artagnan tremble, as if by the touch that fever which consumed Milady attacked himself.
"You love me, you!" cried he. "Oh, if that were so, I should lose my reason!"
And he folded her in his arms. She made no effort to remove her lips from his kisses; only she did not respond to them. Her lips were cold; it appeared to d'Artagnan that he had embraced a statue.
He was not the less intoxicated with joy, electrified by love. He almost believed in the tenderness of Milady; he almost believed in the crime of de Wardes. If de Wardes had at that moment been under his hand, he would have killed him.
Milady seized the occasion.
"His name is—" said she, in her turn.
"De Wardes; I know it," cried d'Artagnan.
"And how do you know it?" asked Milady, seizing both his hands, and endeavoring to read with her eyes to the bottom of his heart.
D'Artagnan felt he had allowed himself to be carried away, and that he had committed an error.
"Tell me, tell me, tell me, I say," repeated Milady, "how do you know it?"
"How do I know it?" said d'Artagnan.
"I know it because yesterday Monsieur de Wardes, in a saloon where I was, showed a ring which he said he had received from you."
"Wretch!" cried Milady.
The epithet, as may be easily understood, resounded to the very bottom of d'Artagnan's heart.
"Well?" continued she.
"Well, I will avenge you of this wretch," replied d'Artagnan, giving himself the airs of Don Japhet of Armenia.
"Thanks, my brave friend!" cried Milady; "and when shall I be avenged?"
"Tomorrow—immediately—when you please!"
Milady was about to cry out, "Immediately," but she reflected that such precipitation would not be very gracious toward d'Artagnan.
Besides, she had a thousand precautions to take, a thousand counsels to give to her defender, in order that he might avoid explanations with the count before witnesses. All this was answered by an expression of d'Artagnan's. "Tomorrow," said he, "you will be avenged, or I shall be dead."
"No," said she, "you will avenge me; but you will not be dead. He is a coward."
"With women, perhaps; but not with men. I know something of him."
"But it seems you had not much reason to complain of your fortune in your contest with him."
"Fortune is a courtesan; favorable yesterday, she may turn her back tomorrow."
"Which means that you now hesitate?"
"No, I do not hesitate; God forbid! But would it be just to allow me to go to a possible death without having given me at least something more than hope?"
Milady answered by a glance which said, "Is that all?—speak, then." And then accompanying the glance with explanatory words, "That is but too just," said she, tenderly.
"Oh, you are an angel!" exclaimed the young man.
"Then all is agreed?" said she.
"Except that which I ask of you, dear love."
"But when I assure you that you may rely on my tenderness?"
"I cannot wait till tomorrow."
"Silence! I hear my brother. It will be useless for him to find you here."
She rang the bell and Kitty appeared.
"Go out this way," said she, opening a small private door, "and come back at eleven o'clock; we will then terminate this conversation. Kitty will conduct you to my chamber."
The poor girl almost fainted at hearing these words.
"Well, mademoiselle, what are you thinking about, standing there like a statue? Do as I bid you: show the chevalier out; and this evening at eleven o'clock—you have heard what I said."
"It appears that these appointments are all made for eleven o'clock," thought d'Artagnan; "that's a settled custom."
Milady held out her hand to him, which he kissed tenderly.
"But," said he, as he retired as quickly as possible from the reproaches of Kitty, "I must not play the fool. This woman is certainly a great liar. I must take care."
37 MILADY'S SECRET
D'Artagnan left the hotel instead of going up at once to Kitty's chamber, as she endeavored to persuade him to do—and that for two reasons: the first, because by this means he should escape reproaches, recriminations, and prayers; the second, because he was not sorry to have an opportunity of reading his own thoughts and endeavoring, if possible, to fathom those of this woman.
What was most clear in the matter was that d'Artagnan loved Milady like a madman, and that she did not love him at all. In an instant d'Artagnan perceived that the best way in which he could act would be to go home and write Milady a long letter, in which he would confess to her that he and de Wardes were, up to the present moment absolutely the same, and that consequently he could not undertake, without committing suicide, to kill the Comte de Wardes. But he also was spurred on by a ferocious desire of vengeance. He wished to subdue this woman in his own name; and as this vengeance appeared to him to have a certain sweetness in it, he could not make up his mind to renounce it.
He walked six or seven times round the Place Royale, turning at every ten steps to look at the light in Milady's apartment, which was to be seen through the blinds. It was evident that this time the young woman was not in such haste to retire to her apartment as she had been the first.
At length the light disappeared. With this light was extinguished the last irresolution in the heart of d'Artagnan. He recalled to his mind the details of the first night, and with a beating heart and a brain on fire he re-entered the hotel and flew toward Kitty's chamber.
The poor girl, pale as death and trembling in all her limbs, wished to delay her lover; but Milady, with her ear on the watch, had heard the noise d'Artagnan had made, and opening the door, said, "Come in."
All this was of such incredible immodesty, of such monstrous effrontery, that d'Artagnan could scarcely believe what he saw or what he heard. He imagined himself to be drawn into one of those fantastic intrigues one meets in dreams. He, however, darted not the less quickly toward Milady, yielding to that magnetic attraction which the loadstone exercises over iron.
As the door closed after them Kitty rushed toward it. Jealousy, fury, offended pride, all the passions in short that dispute the heart of an outraged woman in love, urged her to make a revelation; but she reflected that she would be totally lost if she confessed having assisted in such a machination, and above all, that d'Artagnan would also be lost to her forever. This last thought of love counseled her to make this last sacrifice.
D'Artagnan, on his part, had gained the summit of all his wishes. It was no longer a rival who was beloved; it was himself who was apparently beloved. A secret voice whispered to him, at the bottom of his heart, that he was but an instrument of vengeance, that he was only caressed till he had given death; but pride, but self-love, but madness silenced this voice and stifled its murmurs. And then our Gascon, with that large quantity of conceit which we know he possessed, compared himself with de Wardes, and asked himself why, after all, he should not be beloved for himself?
He was absorbed entirely by the sensations of the moment. Milady was no longer for him that woman of fatal intentions who had for a moment terrified him; she was an ardent, passionate mistress, abandoning herself to love which she also seemed to feel. Two hours thus glided away. When the transports of the two lovers were calmer, Milady, who had not the same motives for forgetfulness that d'Artagnan had, was the first to return to reality, and asked the young man if the means which were on the morrow to bring on the encounter between him and de Wardes were already arranged in his mind.
But d'Artagnan, whose ideas had taken quite another course, forgot himself like a fool, and answered gallantly that it was too late to think about duels and sword thrusts.
This coldness toward the only interests that occupied her mind terrified Milady, whose questions became more pressing.
Then d'Artagnan, who had never seriously thought of this impossible duel, endeavored to turn the conversation; but he could not succeed. Milady kept him within the limits she had traced beforehand with her irresistible spirit and her iron will.
D'Artagnan fancied himself very cunning when advising Milady to renounce, by pardoning de Wardes, the furious projects she had formed.
But at the first word the young woman started, and exclaimed in a sharp, bantering tone, which sounded strangely in the darkness, "Are you afraid, dear Monsieur d'Artagnan?"
"You cannot think so, dear love!" replied d'Artagnan; "but now, suppose this poor Comte de Wardes were less guilty than you think him?"
"At all events," said Milady, seriously, "he has deceived me, and from the moment he deceived me, he merited death."
"He shall die, then, since you condemn him!" said d'Artagnan, in so firm a tone that it appeared to Milady an undoubted proof of devotion. This reassured her.
We cannot say how long the night seemed to Milady, but d'Artagnan believed it to be hardly two hours before the daylight peeped through the window blinds, and invaded the chamber with its paleness. Seeing d'Artagnan about to leave her, Milady recalled his promise to avenge her on the Comte de Wardes.
"I am quite ready," said d'Artagnan; "but in the first place I should like to be certain of one thing."
"And what is that?" asked Milady.
"That is, whether you really love me?"
"I have given you proof of that, it seems to me."
"And I am yours, body and soul!"
"Thanks, my brave lover; but as you are satisfied of my love, you must, in your turn, satisfy me of yours. Is it not so?"
"Certainly; but if you love me as much as you say," replied d'Artagnan, "do you not entertain a little fear on my account?"
"What have I to fear?"
"Why, that I may be dangerously wounded—killed even."
"Impossible!" cried Milady, "you are such a valiant man, and such an expert swordsman."
"You would not, then, prefer a method," resumed d'Artagnan, "which would equally avenge you while rendering the combat useless?"
Milady looked at her lover in silence. The pale light of the first rays of day gave to her clear eyes a strangely frightful expression.
"Really," said she, "I believe you now begin to hesitate."
"No, I do not hesitate; but I really pity this poor Comte de Wardes, since you have ceased to love him. I think that a man must be so severely punished by the loss of your love that he stands in need of no other chastisement."
"Who told you that I loved him?" asked Milady, sharply.
"At least, I am now at liberty to believe, without too much fatuity, that you love another," said the young man, in a caressing tone, "and I repeat that I am really interested for the count."
"You?" asked Milady.
"And why YOU?"
"Because I alone know—"
"That he is far from being, or rather having been, so guilty toward you as he appears."
"Indeed!" said Milady, in an anxious tone; "explain yourself, for I really cannot tell what you mean."
And she looked at d'Artagnan, who embraced her tenderly, with eyes which seemed to burn themselves away.
"Yes; I am a man of honor," said d'Artagnan, determined to come to an end, "and since your love is mine, and I am satisfied I possess it—for I do possess it, do I not?"
"Entirely; go on."
"Well, I feel as if transformed—a confession weighs on my mind."
"If I had the least doubt of your love I would not make it, but you love me, my beautiful mistress, do you not?"
"Then if through excess of love I have rendered myself culpable toward you, you will pardon me?"
D'Artagnan tried with his sweetest smile to touch his lips to Milady's, but she evaded him.
"This confession," said she, growing paler, "what is this confession?"
"You gave de Wardes a meeting on Thursday last in this very room, did you not?"
"No, no! It is not true," said Milady, in a tone of voice so firm, and with a countenance so unchanged, that if d'Artagnan had not been in such perfect possession of the fact, he would have doubted.
"Do not lie, my angel," said d'Artagnan, smiling; "that would be useless."
"What do you mean? Speak! you kill me."
"Be satisfied; you are not guilty toward me, and I have already pardoned you."
"What next? what next?"
"De Wardes cannot boast of anything."
"How is that? You told me yourself that that ring—"
"That ring I have! The Comte de Wardes of Thursday and the d'Artagnan of today are the same person."
The imprudent young man expected a surprise, mixed with shame—a slight storm which would resolve itself into tears; but he was strangely deceived, and his error was not of long duration.
Pale and trembling, Milady repulsed d'Artagnan's attempted embrace by a violent blow on the chest, as she sprang out of bed.
It was almost broad daylight.
D'Artagnan detained her by her night dress of fine India linen, to implore her pardon; but she, with a strong movement, tried to escape. Then the cambric was torn from her beautiful shoulders; and on one of those lovely shoulders, round and white, d'Artagnan recognized, with inexpressible astonishment, the FLEUR-DE-LIS—that indelible mark which the hand of the infamous executioner had imprinted.
"Great God!" cried d'Artagnan, loosing his hold of her dress, and remaining mute, motionless, and frozen.
But Milady felt herself denounced even by his terror. He had doubtless seen all. The young man now knew her secret, her terrible secret—the secret she concealed even from her maid with such care, the secret of which all the world was ignorant, except himself.
She turned upon him, no longer like a furious woman, but like a wounded panther.
"Ah, wretch!" cried she, "you have basely betrayed me, and still more, you have my secret! You shall die."
And she flew to a little inlaid casket which stood upon the dressing table, opened it with a feverish and trembling band, drew from it a small poniard, with a golden haft and a sharp thin blade, and then threw herself with a bound upon d'Artagnan.
Although the young man was brave, as we know, he was terrified at that wild countenance, those terribly dilated pupils, those pale cheeks, and those bleeding lips. He recoiled to the other side of the room as he would have done from a serpent which was crawling toward him, and his sword coming in contact with his nervous hand, he drew it almost unconsciously from the scabbard. But without taking any heed of the sword, Milady endeavored to get near enough to him to stab him, and did not stop till she felt the sharp point at her throat.
She then tried to seize the sword with her hands; but d'Artagnan kept it free from her grasp, and presenting the point, sometimes at her eyes, sometimes at her breast, compelled her to glide behind the bedstead, while he aimed at making his retreat by the door which led to Kitty's apartment.
Milady during this time continued to strike at him with horrible fury, screaming in a formidable way.
As all this, however, bore some resemblance to a duel, d'Artagnan began to recover himself little by little.
"Well, beautiful lady, very well," said he; "but, PARDIEU, if you don't calm yourself, I will design a second FLEUR-DE-LIS upon one of those pretty cheeks!"
"Scoundrel, infamous scoundrel!" howled Milady.
But d'Artagnan, still keeping on the defensive, drew near to Kitty's door. At the noise they made, she in overturning the furniture in her efforts to get at him, he in screening himself behind the furniture to keep out of her reach, Kitty opened the door. D'Artagnan, who had unceasingly maneuvered to gain this point, was not at more than three paces from it. With one spring he flew from the chamber of Milady into that of the maid, and quick as lightning, he slammed to the door, and placed all his weight against it, while Kitty pushed the bolts.
Then Milady attempted to tear down the doorcase, with a strength apparently above that of a woman; but finding she could not accomplish this, she in her fury stabbed at the door with her poniard, the point of which repeatedly glittered through the wood. Every blow was accompanied with terrible imprecations.
"Quick, Kitty, quick!" said d'Artagnan, in a low voice, as soon as the bolts were fast, "let me get out of the hotel; for if we leave her time to turn round, she will have me killed by the servants."
"But you can't go out so," said Kitty; "you are naked."
"That's true," said d'Artagnan, then first thinking of the costume he found himself in, "that's true. But dress me as well as you are able, only make haste; think, my dear girl, it's life and death!"
Kitty was but too well aware of that. In a turn of the hand she muffled him up in a flowered robe, a large hood, and a cloak. She gave him some slippers, in which he placed his naked feet, and then conducted him down the stairs. It was time. Milady had already rung her bell, and roused the whole hotel. The porter was drawing the cord at the moment Milady cried from her window, "Don't open!"
The young man fled while she was still threatening him with an impotent gesture. The moment she lost sight of him, Milady tumbled fainting into her chamber.
38 HOW, WITHOUT INCOMMODING HIMSELF, ATHOS PROCURES HIS EQUIPMENT
D'Artagnan was so completely bewildered that without taking any heed of what might become of Kitty he ran at full speed across half Paris, and did not stop till he came to Athos's door. The confusion of his mind, the terror which spurred him on, the cries of some of the patrol who started in pursuit of him, and the hooting of the people who, notwithstanding the early hour, were going to their work, only made him precipitate his course.
He crossed the court, ran up the two flights to Athos's apartment, and knocked at the door enough to break it down.
Grimaud came, rubbing his half-open eyes, to answer this noisy summons, and d'Artagnan sprang with such violence into the room as nearly to overturn the astonished lackey.
In spite of his habitual silence, the poor lad this time found his speech.
"Holloa, there!" cried he; "what do you want, you strumpet? What's your business here, you hussy?"
D'Artagnan threw off his hood, and disengaged his hands from the folds of the cloak. At sight of the mustaches and the naked sword, the poor devil perceived he had to deal with a man. He then concluded it must be an assassin.
"Help! murder! help!" cried he.
"Hold your tongue, you stupid fellow!" said the young man; "I am d'Artagnan; don't you know me? Where is your master?"
"You, Monsieur d'Artagnan!" cried Grimaud, "impossible."
"Grimaud," said Athos, coming out of his apartment in a dressing gown, "Grimaud, I thought I heard you permitting yourself to speak?"
"Ah, monsieur, it is—"
Grimaud contented himself with pointing d'Artagnan out to his master with his finger.
Athos recognized his comrade, and phlegmatic as he was, he burst into a laugh which was quite excused by the strange masquerade before his eyes—petticoats falling over his shoes, sleeves tucked up, and mustaches stiff with agitation.
"Don't laugh, my friend!" cried d'Artagnan; "for heaven's sake, don't laugh, for upon my soul, it's no laughing matter!"
And he pronounced these words with such a solemn air and with such a real appearance of terror, that Athos eagerly seized his hand, crying, "Are you wounded, my friend? How pale you are!"
"No, but I have just met with a terrible adventure! Are you alone, Athos?"
"PARBLEU! whom do you expect to find with me at this hour?"
"Well, well!" and d'Artagnan rushed into Athos's chamber.
"Come, speak!" said the latter, closing the door and bolting it, that they might not be disturbed. "Is the king dead? Have you killed the cardinal? You are quite upset! Come, come, tell me; I am dying with curiosity and uneasiness!"
"Athos," said d'Artagnan, getting rid of his female garments, and appearing in his shirt, "prepare yourself to hear an incredible, an unheard-of story."
"Well, but put on this dressing gown first," said the Musketeer to his friend.
D'Artagnan donned the robe as quickly as he could, mistaking one sleeve for the other, so greatly was he still agitated.
"Well?" said Athos.
"Well," replied d'Artagnan, bending his mouth to Athos's ear, and lowering his voice, "Milady is marked with a FLEUR-DE-LIS upon her shoulder!"
"Ah!" cried the Musketeer, as if he had received a ball in his heart.
"Let us see," said d'Artagnan. "Are you SURE that the OTHER is dead?"
"THE OTHER?" said Athos, in so stifled a voice that d'Artagnan scarcely heard him.
"Yes, she of whom you told me one day at Amiens."
Athos uttered a groan, and let his head sink on his hands.
"This is a woman of twenty-six or twenty-eight years."
"Fair," said Athos, "is she not?"
"Blue and clear eyes, of a strange brilliancy, with black eyelids and eyebrows?"
"Tall, well-made? She has lost a tooth, next to the eyetooth on the left?"
"The FLEUR-DE-LIS is small, rosy in color, and looks as if efforts had been made to efface it by the application of poultices?"
"But you say she is English?"
"She is called Milady, but she may be French. Lord de Winter is only her brother-in-law."
"I will see her, d'Artagnan!"
"Beware, Athos, beware. You tried to kill her; she is a woman to return you the like, and not to fail."
"She will not dare to say anything; that would be to denounce herself."
"She is capable of anything or everything. Did you ever see her furious?"
"No," said Athos.
"A tigress, a panther! Ah, my dear Athos, I am greatly afraid I have drawn a terrible vengeance on both of us!"
D'Artagnan then related all—the mad passion of Milady and her menaces of death.
"You are right; and upon my soul, I would give my life for a hair," said Athos. "Fortunately, the day after tomorrow we leave Paris. We are going according to all probability to La Rochelle, and once gone—"
"She will follow you to the end of the world, Athos, if she recognizes you. Let her, then, exhaust her vengeance on me alone!"
"My dear friend, of what consequence is it if she kills me?" said Athos. "Do you, perchance, think I set any great store by life?"
"There is something horribly mysterious under all this, Athos; this woman is one of the cardinal's spies, I am sure of that."
"In that case, take care! If the cardinal does not hold you in high admiration for the affair of London, he entertains a great hatred for you; but as, considering everything, he cannot accuse you openly, and as hatred must be satisfied, particularly when it's a cardinal's hatred, take care of yourself. If you go out, do not go out alone; when you eat, use every precaution. Mistrust everything, in short, even your own shadow."
"Fortunately," said d'Artagnan, "all this will be only necessary till after tomorrow evening, for when once with the army, we shall have, I hope, only men to dread."
"In the meantime," said Athos, "I renounce my plan of seclusion, and wherever you go, I will go with you. You must return to the Rue des Fossoyeurs; I will accompany you."
"But however near it may be," replied d'Artagnan, "I cannot go thither in this guise."
"That's true," said Athos, and he rang the bell.
Athos made him a sign to go to d'Artagnan's residence, and bring back some clothes. Grimaud replied by another sign that he understood perfectly, and set off.
"All this will not advance your outfit," said Athos; "for if I am not mistaken, you have left the best of your apparel with Milady, and she will certainly not have the politeness to return it to you. Fortunately, you have the sapphire."
"The jewel is yours, my dear Athos! Did you not tell me it was a family jewel?"
"Yes, my grandfather gave two thousand crowns for it, as he once told me. It formed part of the nuptial present he made his wife, and it is magnificent. My mother gave it to me, and I, fool as I was, instead of keeping the ring as a holy relic, gave it to this wretch."
"Then, my friend, take back this ring, to which I see you attach much value."
"I take back the ring, after it has passed through the hands of that infamous creature? Never; that ring is defiled, d'Artagnan."
"Sell it, then."
"Sell a jewel which came from my mother! I vow I should consider it a profanation."
"Pledge it, then; you can borrow at least a thousand crowns on it. With that sum you can extricate yourself from your present difficulties; and when you are full of money again, you can redeem it, and take it back cleansed from its ancient stains, as it will have passed through the hands of usurers."
"You are a capital companion, d'Artagnan," said be; "your never-failing cheerfulness raises poor souls in affliction. Well, let us pledge the ring, but upon one condition."
"That there shall be five hundred crowns for you, and five hundred crowns for me."
"Don't dream it, Athos. I don't need the quarter of such a sum—I who am still only in the Guards—and by selling my saddles, I shall procure it. What do I want? A horse for Planchet, that's all. Besides, you forget that I have a ring likewise."
"To which you attach more value, it seems, than I do to mine; at least, I have thought so."
"Yes, for in any extreme circumstance it might not only extricate us from some great embarrassment, but even a great danger. It is not only a valuable diamond, but it is an enchanted talisman."
"I don't at all understand you, but I believe all you say to be true. Let us return to my ring, or rather to yours. You shall take half the sum that will be advanced upon it, or I will throw it into the Seine; and I doubt, as was the case with Polycrates, whether any fish will be sufficiently complaisant to bring it back to us."
"Well, I will take it, then," said d'Artagnan.
At this moment Grimaud returned, accompanied by Planchet; the latter, anxious about his master and curious to know what had happened to him, had taken advantage of the opportunity and brought the garments himself.
d'Artagnan dressed himself, and Athos did the same. When the two were ready to go out, the latter made Grimaud the sign of a man taking aim, and the lackey immediately took down his musketoon, and prepared to follow his master.
They arrived without accident at the Rue des Fossoyeurs. Bonacieux was standing at the door, and looked at d'Artagnan hatefully.
"Make haste, dear lodger," said he; "there is a very pretty girl waiting for you upstairs; and you know women don't like to be kept waiting."
"That's Kitty!" said d'Artagnan to himself, and darted into the passage.
Sure enough! Upon the landing leading to the chamber, and crouching against the door, he found the poor girl, all in a tremble. As soon as she perceived him, she cried, "You have promised your protection; you have promised to save me from her anger. Remember, it is you who have ruined me!"
"Yes, yes, to be sure, Kitty," said d'Artagnan; "be at ease, my girl. But what happened after my departure?"
"How can I tell!" said Kitty. "The lackeys were brought by the cries she made. She was mad with passion. There exist no imprecations she did not pour out against you. Then I thought she would remember it was through my chamber you had penetrated hers, and that then she would suppose I was your accomplice; so I took what little money I had and the best of my things, and I got away.
"Poor dear girl! But what can I do with you? I am going away the day after tomorrow."
"Do what you please, Monsieur Chevalier. Help me out of Paris; help me out of France!"
"I cannot take you, however, to the siege of La Rochelle," aid d'Artagnan.
"No; but you can place me in one of the provinces with some lady of your acquaintance—in your own country, for instance."
"My dear little love! In my country the ladies do without chambermaids. But stop! I can manage your business for you. Planchet, go and find Aramis. Request him to come here directly. We have something very important to say to him."
"I understand," said Athos; "but why not Porthos? I should have thought that his duchess—"
"Oh, Porthos's duchess is dressed by her husband's clerks," said d'Artagnan, laughing. "Besides, Kitty would not like to live in the Rue aux Ours. Isn't it so, Kitty?"
"I do not care where I live," said Kitty, "provided I am well concealed, and nobody knows where I am."
"Meanwhile, Kitty, when we are about to separate, and you are no longer jealous of me—"
"Monsieur Chevalier, far off or near," said Kitty, "I shall always love you."
"Where the devil will constancy niche itself next?" murmured Athos.
"And I, also," said d'Artagnan, "I also. I shall always love you; be sure of that. But now answer me. I attach great importance to the question I am about to put to you. Did you never hear talk of a young woman who was carried off one night?"
"There, now! Oh, Monsieur Chevalier, do you love that woman still?"
"No, no; it is one of my friends who loves her—Monsieur Athos, this gentleman here."
"I?" cried Athos, with an accent like that of a man who perceives he is about to tread upon an adder.
"You, to be sure!" said d'Artagnan, pressing Athos's hand. "You know the interest we both take in this poor little Madame Bonacieux. Besides, Kitty will tell nothing; will you, Kitty? You understand, my dear girl," continued d'Artagnan, "she is the wife of that frightful baboon you saw at the door as you came in."
"Oh, my God! You remind me of my fright! If he should have known me again!"
"How? know you again? Did you ever see that man before?"
"He came twice to Milady's."
"That's it. About what time?"
"Why, about fifteen or eighteen days ago."
"And yesterday evening he came again."
"Yes, just before you came."
"My dear Athos, we are enveloped in a network of spies. And do you believe he knew you again, Kitty?"
"I pulled down my hood as soon as I saw him, but perhaps it was too late."
"Go down, Athos—he mistrusts you less than me—and see if he be still at his door."
Athos went down and returned immediately.
"He has gone," said he, "and the house door is shut."
"He has gone to make his report, and to say that all the pigeons are at this moment in the dovecot."
"Well, then, let us all fly," said Athos, "and leave nobody here but Planchet to bring us news."
"A minute. Aramis, whom we have sent for!"
"That's true," said Athos; "we must wait for Aramis."
At that moment Aramis entered.
The matter was all explained to him, and the friends gave him to understand that among all his high connections he must find a place for Kitty.
Aramis reflected for a minute, and then said, coloring, "Will it be really rendering you a service, d'Artagnan?"
"I shall be grateful to you all my life."
"Very well. Madame de Bois-Tracy asked me, for one of her friends who resides in the provinces, I believe, for a trustworthy maid. If you can, my dear d'Artagnan, answer for Mademoiselle-"
"Oh, monsieur, be assured that I shall be entirely devoted to the person who will give me the means of quitting Paris."
"Then," said Aramis, "this falls out very well."
He placed himself at the table and wrote a little note which he sealed with a ring, and gave the billet to Kitty.
"And now, my dear girl," said d'Artagnan, "you know that it is not good for any of us to be here. Therefore let us separate. We shall meet again in better days."
"And whenever we find each other, in whatever place it may be," said Kitty, "you will find me loving you as I love you today."
"Dicers' oaths!" said Athos, while d'Artagnan went to conduct Kitty downstairs.
An instant afterward the three young men separated, agreeing to meet again at four o'clock with Athos, and leaving Planchet to guard the house.
Aramis returned home, and Athos and d'Artagnan busied themselves about pledging the sapphire.
As the Gascon had foreseen, they easily obtained three hundred pistoles on the ring. Still further, the Jew told them that if they would sell it to him, as it would make a magnificent pendant for earrings, he would give five hundred pistoles for it.
Athos and d'Artagnan, with the activity of two soldiers and the knowledge of two connoisseurs, hardly required three hours to purchase the entire equipment of the Musketeer. Besides, Athos was very easy, and a noble to his fingers' ends. When a thing suited him he paid the price demanded, without thinking to ask for any abatement. D'Artagnan would have remonstrated at this; but Athos put his hand upon his shoulder, with a smile, and d'Artagnan understood that it was all very well for such a little Gascon gentleman as himself to drive a bargain, but not for a man who had the bearing of a prince. The Musketeer met with a superb Andalusian horse, black as jet, nostrils of fire, legs clean and elegant, rising six years. He examined him, and found him sound and without blemish. They asked a thousand livres for him.
He might perhaps have been bought for less; but while d'Artagnan was discussing the price with the dealer, Athos was counting out the money on the table.
Grimaud had a stout, short Picard cob, which cost three hundred livres.
But when the saddle and arms for Grimaud were purchased, Athos had not a sou left of his hundred and fifty pistoles. d'Artagnan offered his friend a part of his share which he should return when convenient.
But Athos only replied to this proposal by shrugging his shoulders.
"How much did the Jew say he would give for the sapphire if be purchased it?" said Athos.
"Five hundred pistoles."
"That is to say, two hundred more—a hundred pistoles for you and a hundred pistoles for me. Well, now, that would be a real fortune to us, my friend; let us go back to the Jew's again."
"What! will you—"
"This ring would certainly only recall very bitter remembrances; then we shall never be masters of three hundred pistoles to redeem it, so that we really should lose two hundred pistoles by the bargain. Go and tell him the ring is his, d'Artagnan, and bring back the two hundred pistoles with you."
"Ready money is needful for the present time, and we must learn how to make sacrifices. Go, d'Artagnan, go; Grimaud will accompany you with his musketoon."
A half hour afterward, d'Artagnan returned with the two thousand livres, and without having met with any accident.
It was thus Athos found at home resources which he did not expect.
39 A VISION
At four o'clock the four friends were all assembled with Athos. Their anxiety about their outfits had all disappeared, and each countenance only preserved the expression of its own secret disquiet—for behind all present happiness is concealed a fear for the future.
Suddenly Planchet entered, bringing two letters for d'Artagnan.
The one was a little billet, genteelly folded, with a pretty seal in green wax on which was impressed a dove bearing a green branch.
The other was a large square epistle, resplendent with the terrible arms of his Eminence the cardinal duke.
At the sight of the little letter the heart of d'Artagnan bounded, for he believed he recognized the handwriting, and although he had seen that writing but once, the memory of it remained at the bottom of his heart.
He therefore seized the little epistle, and opened it eagerly.
"Be," said the letter, "on Thursday next, at from six to seven o'clock in the evening, on the road to Chaillot, and look carefully into the carriages that pass; but if you have any consideration for your own life or that of those who love you, do not speak a single word, do not make a movement which may lead anyone to believe you have recognized her who exposes herself to everything for the sake of seeing you but for an instant."
"That's a snare," said Athos; "don't go, d'Artagnan."
"And yet," replied d'Artagnan, "I think I recognize the writing."
"It may be counterfeit," said Athos. "Between six and seven o'clock the road of Chaillot is quite deserted; you might as well go and ride in the forest of Bondy."
"But suppose we all go," said d'Artagnan; "what the devil! They won't devour us all four, four lackeys, horses, arms, and all!"
"And besides, it will be a chance for displaying our new equipments," said Porthos.
"But if it is a woman who writes," said Aramis, "and that woman desires not to be seen, remember, you compromise her, d'Artagnan; which is not the part of a gentleman."
"We will remain in the background," said Porthos, "and he will advance alone."
"Yes; but a pistol shot is easily fired from a carriage which goes at a gallop."
"Bah!" said d'Artagnan, "they will miss me; if they fire we will ride after the carriage, and exterminate those who may be in it. They must be enemies."
"He is right," said Porthos; "battle. Besides, we must try our own arms."
"Bah, let us enjoy that pleasure," said Aramis, with his mild and careless manner.
"As you please," said Athos.
"Gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, "it is half past four, and we have scarcely time to be on the road of Chaillot by six."
"Besides, if we go out too late, nobody will see us," said Porthos, "and that will be a pity. Let us get ready, gentlemen."
"But this second letter," said Athos, "you forget that; it appears to me, however, that the seal denotes that it deserves to be opened. For my part, I declare, d'Artagnan, I think it of much more consequence than the little piece of waste paper you have so cunningly slipped into your bosom."
"Well," said he, "let us see, gentlemen, what are his Eminence's commands," and d'Artagnan unsealed the letter and read,
"M. d'Artagnan, of the king's Guards, company Dessessart, is expected at the Palais-Cardinal this evening, at eight o'clock.
"La Houdiniere, CAPTAIN OF THE GUARDS"
"The devil!" said Athos; "here's a rendezvous much more serious than the other."
"I will go to the second after attending the first," said d'Artagnan. "One is for seven o'clock, and the other for eight; there will be time for both."
"Hum! I would not go at all," said Aramis. "A gallant knight cannot decline a rendezvous with a lady; but a prudent gentleman may excuse himself from not waiting on his Eminence, particularly when he has reason to believe he is not invited to make his compliments."
"I am of Aramis's opinion," said Porthos.
"Gentlemen," replied d'Artagnan, "I have already received by Monsieur de Cavois a similar invitation from his Eminence. I neglected it, and on the morrow a serious misfortune happened to me—Constance disappeared. Whatever may ensue, I will go."
"If you are determined," said Athos, "do so."
"But the Bastille?" said Aramis.
"Bah! you will get me out if they put me there," said d'Artagnan.
"To be sure we will," replied Aramis and Porthos, with admirable promptness and decision, as if that were the simplest thing in the world, "to be sure we will get you out; but meantime, as we are to set off the day after tomorrow, you would do much better not to risk this Bastille."
"Let us do better than that," said Athos; "do not let us leave him during the whole evening. Let each of us wait at a gate of the palace with three Musketeers behind him; if we see a close carriage, at all suspicious in appearance, come out, let us fall upon it. It is a long time since we have had a skirmish with the Guards of Monsieur the Cardinal; Monsieur de Treville must think us dead."
"To a certainty, Athos," said Aramis, "you were meant to be a general of the army! What do you think of the plan, gentlemen?"
"Admirable!" replied the young men in chorus.
"Well," said Porthos, "I will run to the hotel, and engage our comrades to hold themselves in readiness by eight o'clock; the rendezvous, the Place du Palais-Cardinal. Meantime, you see that the lackeys saddle the horses."
"I have no horse," said d'Artagnan; "but that is of no consequence, I can take one of Monsieur de Treville's."
"That is not worth while," said Aramis, "you can have one of mine."
"One of yours! how many have you, then?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Three," replied Aramis, smiling.
"Certes," cried Athos, "you are the best-mounted poet of France or Navarre."
"Well, my dear Aramis, you don't want three horses? I cannot comprehend what induced you to buy three!"
"Therefore I only purchased two," said Aramis.
"The third, then, fell from the clouds, I suppose?"
"No, the third was brought to me this very morning by a groom out of livery, who would not tell me in whose service he was, and who said he had received orders from his master."
"Or his mistress," interrupted d'Artagnan.
"That makes no difference," said Aramis, coloring; "and who affirmed, as I said, that he had received orders from his master or mistress to place the horse in my stable, without informing me whence it came."
"It is only to poets that such things happen," said Athos, gravely.
"Well, in that case, we can manage famously," said d'Artagnan; "which of the two horses will you ride—that which you bought or the one that was given to you?"
"That which was given to me, assuredly. You cannot for a moment imagine, d'Artagnan, that I would commit such an offense toward—"
"The unknown giver," interrupted d'Artagnan.
"Or the mysterious benefactress," said Athos.
"The one you bought will then become useless to you?"
"And you selected it yourself?"
"With the greatest care. The safety of the horseman, you know, depends almost always upon the goodness of his horse."
"Well, transfer it to me at the price it cost you?"
"I was going to make you the offer, my dear d'Artagnan, giving you all the time necessary for repaying me such a trifle."
"How much did it cost you?"
"Eight hundred livres."
"Here are forty double pistoles, my dear friend," said d'Artagnan, taking the sum from his pocket; "I know that is the coin in which you were paid for your poems."
"You are rich, then?" said Aramis.
"Rich? Richest, my dear fellow!"
And d'Artagnan chinked the remainder of his pistoles in his pocket.
"Send your saddle, then, to the hotel of the Musketeers, and your horse can be brought back with ours."
"Very well; but it is already five o'clock, so make haste."
A quarter of an hour afterward Porthos appeared at the end of the Rue Ferou on a very handsome genet. Mousqueton followed him upon an Auvergne horse, small but very handsome. Porthos was resplendent with joy and pride.
At the same time, Aramis made his appearance at the other end of the street upon a superb English charger. Bazin followed him upon a roan, holding by the halter a vigorous Mecklenburg horse; this was d'Artagnan mount.