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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter LXI. Wounds within Wounds.


Mademoiselle de la Valliere—for it was indeed she—advanced a few steps towards him. “Yes—Louise,” she murmured.

But this interval, short as it had been, was quite sufficient for Raoul to recover himself. “You, mademoiselle?” he said; and then added, in an indefinable tone, “You here!”

“Yes, Raoul,” the young girl replied, “I have been waiting for you.”

“I beg your pardon. When I came into the room I was not aware—”

“I know—but I entreated Olivain not to tell you—” She hesitated; and as Raoul did not attempt to interrupt her, a moment’s silence ensued, during which the sound of their throbbing hearts might have been heard, not in unison with each other, but the one beating as violently as the other. It was for Louise to speak, and she made an effort to do so.

“I wished to speak to you,” she said. “It was absolutely necessary that I should see you—myself—alone. I have not hesitated to adopt a step which must remain secret; for no one, except yourself, could understand my motive, Monsieur de Bragelonne.”

“In fact, mademoiselle,” Raoul stammered out, almost breathless from emotion, “as far as I am concerned, and despite the good opinion you have of me, I confess—”

“Will you do me the great kindness to sit down and listen to me?” said Louise, interrupting him with her soft, sweet voice.

Bragelonne looked at her for a moment; then mournfully shaking his head, he sat, or rather fell down on a chair. “Speak,” he said.

She cast a glance all round her. This look was a timid entreaty, and implored secrecy far more effectually than her expressed words had done a few minutes before. Raoul rouse, and went to the door, which he opened. “Olivain,” he said, “I am not within for any one.” And then, turning towards Louise, he added, “Is not that what you wished?”

Nothing could have produced a greater effect upon Louise than these few words, which seemed to signify, “You see that I still understand you.” She passed a handkerchief across her eyes, in order to remove a rebellious tear which she could not restrain; and then, having collected herself for a moment, she said, “Raoul, do not turn your kind, frank look away from me. You are not one of those men who despise a woman for having given her heart to another, even though her affection might render him unhappy, or might wound his pride.” Raoul did not reply.

“Alas!” continued La Valliere, “it is only too true, my cause is a bad one, and I cannot tell in what way to begin. It will be better for me, I think, to relate to you, very simply, everything that has befallen me. As I shall speak but the pure and simple truth, I shall always find my path clear before me in spite of the obscurity and obstacles I have to brave in order to solace my heart, which is full to overflowing, and wishes to pour itself out at your feet.”

Raoul continued to preserve the same unbroken silence. La Valliere looked at him with an air that seemed to say, “Encourage me; for pity’s sake, but a single word!” But Raoul did not open his lips; and the young girl was obliged to continue:

“Just now,” she said, “M. de Saint-Aignan came to me by the king’s directions.” She cast down her eyes as she said this; while Raoul, on his side, turned his away, in order to avoid looking at her. “M. de Saint-Aignan came to me from the king,” she repeated, “and told me that you knew all;” and she attempted to look Raoul in the face, after inflicting this further wound upon him, in addition to the many others he had already received; but it was impossible to meet Raoul’s eyes.

“He told me you were incensed with me—and justly so, I admit.”

This time Raoul looked at the young girl, and a smile full of disdain passed across his lips.

“Oh!” she continued, “I entreat you, do not say that you have had any other feeling against me than that of anger merely. Raoul, wait until I have told you all—wait until I have said to you all that I had to say—all that I came to say.”

Raoul, by the strength of his iron will, forced his features to assume a calmer expression, and the disdainful smile upon his lip passed away.

“In the first place,” said La Valliere, “in the first place, with my hands raised in entreaty towards you, with my forehead bowed to the ground before you, I entreat you, as the most generous, as the noblest of men, to pardon, to forgive me. If I have left you in ignorance of what was passing in my own bosom, never, at least, would I have consented to deceive you. Oh! I entreat you, Raoul—I implore you on my knees—answer me one word, even though you wrong me in doing so. Better, far better, an injurious word from your lips, than suspicion resting in your heart.”

“I admire your subtlety of expression, mademoiselle,” said Raoul, making an effort to remain calm. “To leave another in ignorance that you are deceiving him, is loyal; but to deceive him—it seems that would be very wrong, and that you would not do it.”

“Monsieur, for a long time I thought that I loved you better than anything else; and so long as I believed in my affection for you, I told you that loved you. I could have sworn it on the altar; but a day came when I was undeceived.”

“Well, on that day, mademoiselle, knowing that I still continued to love you, true loyalty of conduct should have forced you to inform me you had ceased to love me.”

“But on that day, Raoul—on that day, when I read in the depths of my own heart, when I confessed to myself that you no longer filled my mind entirely, when I saw another future before me than that of being your friend, your life-long companion, your wife—on that day, Raoul, you were not, alas! any more beside me.”

“But you knew where I was, mademoiselle; you could have written to me.”

“Raoul, I did not dare to do so. Raoul, I have been weak and cowardly. I knew you so thoroughly—I knew how devotedly you loved me, that I trembled at the bare idea of the grief I was about to cause you; and that is so true, Raoul, that this very moment I am now speaking to you, bending thus before you, my heart crushed in my bosom, my voice full of sighs, my eyes full of tears, it is so perfectly true, that I have no other defense than my frankness, I have no other sorrow greater than that which I read in your eyes.”

Raoul attempted to smile.

“No!” said the young girl, with a profound conviction, “no, no; you will not do me so foul a wrong as to disguise your feelings before me now! You loved me; you were sure of your affection for me; you did not deceive yourself; you do not lie to your own heart—whilst I—I—” And pale as death, her arms thrown despairingly above her head, she fell upon her knees.

“Whilst you,” said Raoul, “you told me you loved me, and yet you loved another.”

“Alas, yes!” cried the poor girl; “alas, yes! I do love another; and that other—oh! for Heaven’s sake let me say it, Raoul, for it is my only excuse—that other I love better than my own life, better than my own soul even. Forgive my fault, or punish my treason, Raoul. I came here in no way to defend myself, but merely to say to you: ‘You know what it is to love!’—in such a case am I! I love to that degree, that I would give my life, my very soul, to the man I love. If he should ever cease to love me, I shall die of grief and despair, unless Heaven come to my assistance, unless Heaven does show pity upon me. Raoul, I came here to submit myself to your will, whatever it might be—to die, if it were your wish I should die. Kill me, then, Raoul! if in your heart you believe I deserve death.”

“Take care, mademoiselle,” said Raoul: “the woman who invites death is one who has nothing but her heart’s blood to offer to her deceived and betrayed lover.”

“You are right,” she said.

Raoul uttered a deep sigh, as he exclaimed, “And you love without being able to forget?”

“I love without a wish to forget; without a wish ever to love any one else,” replied La Valliere.

“Very well,” said Raoul. “You have said to me, in fact, all you had to say; all I could possibly wish to know. And now, mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness, for it is I who have almost been an obstacle in your life; I, too, who have been wrong, for, in deceiving myself, I helped to deceive you.”

“Oh!” said La Valliere, “I do not ask you so much as that, Raoul.”

“I only am to blame, mademoiselle,” continued Raoul, “better informed than yourself of the difficulties of this life, I should have enlightened you. I ought not to have relied upon uncertainty; I ought to have extracted an answer from your heart, whilst I hardly even sought an acknowledgement from your lips. Once more, mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness.”

“Impossible, impossible!” she cried, “you are mocking me.”

“How, impossible?”

“Yes, it is impossible to be so good, and kind, ah! perfect to such a degree as that.”

“Take care!” said Raoul, with a bitter smile, “for presently you may say perhaps I did not love you.”

“Oh! you love me like an affectionate brother; let me hope that, Raoul.”

“As a brother! undeceive yourself, Louise. I love you as a lover—as a husband, with the deepest, the truest, the fondest affection.”

“Raoul, Raoul!”

“As a brother! Oh, Louise! I love you so deeply, that I would have shed my blood for you, drop by drop; I would, oh! how willingly, have suffered myself to be torn to pieces for your sake, have sacrificed my very future for you. I love you so deeply, Louise, that my heart feels dead and crushed within me,—my faith in human nature all is gone,—my eyes have lost their light; I loved you so deeply, that I now no longer see, think of, care for, anything, either in this world or the next.”

“Raoul—dear Raoul! spare me, I implore you!” cried La Valliere. “Oh! if I had but known—”

“It is too late, Louise; you love, you are happy in your affection; I read your happiness through your tears—behind the tears which the loyalty of your nature makes you shed; I feel the sighs your affection breathes forth. Louise, Louise, you have made me the most abjectly wretched man living; leave me, I entreat you. Adieu! adieu!”

“Forgive me! oh, forgive me, Raoul, for what I have done.”

“Have I not done much, much more? Have I not told you that I love you still?” She buried her face in her hands.

“And to tell you that—do you hear me, Louise?—to tell you that, at such a moment as this, to tell you that, as I have told you, is to pronounce my own sentence of death. Adieu!” La Valliere held out her hands to him in vain.

“We ought not to see each other again in this world,” he said, and as she was on the point of crying out in bitter agony at this remark, he placed his hand on her mouth to stifle the exclamation. She pressed her lips upon it, and fell fainting to the ground. “Olivain,” said Raoul, “take this young lady and bear her to the carriage which is waiting for her at the door.” As Olivain lifted her up, Raoul made a movement as if to dart towards La Valliere, in order to give her a first and last kiss, but, stopping abruptly, he said, “No! she is not mine. I am no thief—as is the king of France.” And he returned to his room, whilst the lackey carried La Valliere, still fainting, to the carriage.






Chapter LXII. What Raoul Had Guessed.


As soon as Raoul had quitted Athos and D’Artagnan, as the two exclamations that had followed his departure escaped their lips, they found themselves face to face alone. Athos immediately resumed the earnest air that he had assumed at D’Artagnan’s arrival.

“Well,” he said, “what have you come to announce to me, my friend?”

“I?” inquired D’Artagnan.

“Yes; I do not see you in this way without some reason for it,” said Athos, smiling.

“The deuce!” said D’Artagnan.

“I will place you at your ease. The king is furious, I suppose?”

“Well, I must say he is not altogether pleased.”

“And you have come to arrest me, then?”

“My dear friend, you have hit the very mark.”

“Oh, I expected it. I am quite ready to go with you.”

“Deuce take it!” said D’Artagnan, “what a hurry you are in.”

“I am afraid of delaying you,” said Athos, smiling.

“I have plenty of time. Are you not curious, besides, to know how things went on between the king and me?”

“If you will be good enough to tell me, I will listen with the greatest of pleasure,” said Athos, pointing out to D’Artagnan a large chair, into which the latter threw himself, assuming the easiest possible attitude.

“Well, I will do so willingly enough,” continued D’Artagnan, “for the conversation is rather curious, I must say. In the first place the king sent for me.”

“As soon as I had left?”

“You were just going down the last steps of the staircase, as the musketeers told me. I arrived. My dear Athos, he was not red in the face merely, he was positively purple. I was not aware, of course, of what had passed; only, on the ground, lying on the floor, I saw a sword broken in two.”

“‘Captain d’Artagnan,’ cried the king, as soon as he saw me.

“‘Sire,’ I replied.

“‘M. de la Fere has just left me; he is an insolent man.’

“‘An insolent man!’ I exclaimed, in such a tone that the king stopped suddenly short.

“‘Captain d’Artagnan,’ resumed the king, with his teeth clenched, ‘you will be good enough to listen to and hear me.’

“‘That is my duty, sire.’

“‘I have, out of consideration for M. de la Fere, wished to spare him—he is a man of whom I still retain some kind recollections—the discredit of being arrested in my palace. You will therefore take a carriage.’ At this I made a slight movement.

“‘If you object to arrest him yourself,’ continued the king, ‘send me my captain of the guards.’

“‘Sire,’ I replied, ‘there is no necessity for the captain of the guards, since I am on duty.’

“‘I should not like to annoy you,’ said the king, kindly, ‘for you have always served me well, Monsieur D’Artagnan.’

“‘You do not “annoy” me, sire,’ I replied; ‘I am on duty, that is all.’

“‘But,’ said the king, in astonishment, ‘I believe the comte is your friend?’

“‘If he were my father, sire, it would not make me less on duty than I am.’

“The king looked at me; he saw how unmoved my face was, and seemed satisfied. ‘You will arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, then?’ he inquired.

“‘Most certainly, sire, if you give me the order to do so.’

“‘Very well; I order you to do so.’

“I bowed, and replied, ‘Where is the comte, sire?’

“‘You will look for him.’

“‘And am I to arrest him, wherever he may be?’

“‘Yes; but try that he may be at his own house. If he should have started for his own estate, leave Paris at once, and arrest him on his way thither.’

“I bowed; but as I did not move, he said, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’

“‘For the order to arrest the comte, signed by yourself.’

“The king seemed annoyed; for, in point of fact, it was the exercise of a fresh act of authority, a repetition of the arbitrary act, if, indeed, it is to be considered as such. He took hold of his pen slowly, and evidently in no very good temper; and then he wrote, ‘Order for M. le Chevalier d’Artagnan, captain of my musketeers, to arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, wherever he is to be found.’ He then turned towards me; but I was looking on without moving a muscle of my face. In all probability he thought he perceived something like bravado in my tranquil manner, for he signed hurriedly, and then handing me the order, he said, ‘Go, monsieur!’ I obeyed; and here I am.”

Athos pressed his friend’s hand. “Well, let us set off,” he said.

“Oh! surely,” said D’Artagnan, “you must have some trifling matters to arrange before you leave your apartments in this manner.”

“I?—not at all.”

“Why not?”

“Why, you know, D’Artagnan, that I have always been a very simple traveler on this earth, ready to go to the end of the world by the order of my sovereign; ready to quit it at the summons of my Maker. What does a man who is thus prepared require in such a case?—a portmanteau, or a shroud. I am ready at this moment, as I have always been, my dear friend, and can accompany you at once.”

“But, Bragelonne—”

“I have brought him up in the same principles I laid down for my own guidance; and you observed that, as soon as he perceived you, he guessed, that very moment, the motive of your visit. We have thrown him off his guard for a moment; but do not be uneasy, he is sufficiently prepared for my disgrace not to be too much alarmed at it. So, let us go.”

“Very well, let us go,” said D’Artagnan, quietly.

“As I broke my sword in the king’s presence, and threw the pieces at his feet, I presume that will dispense with the necessity of delivering it over to you.”

“You are quite right; and besides that, what the deuce do you suppose I could do with your sword?”

“Am I to walk behind, or before you?” inquired Athos, laughing.

“You will walk arm in arm with me,” replied D’Artagnan, as he took the comte’s arm to descend the staircase; and in this manner they arrived at the landing. Grimaud, whom they had met in the ante-room, looked at them as they went out together in this manner, with some little uneasiness; his experience of affairs was quite sufficient to give him good reason to suspect that there was something wrong.

“Ah! is that you, Grimaud?” said Athos, kindly. “We are going—”

“To take a turn in my carriage,” interrupted D’Artagnan, with a friendly nod of the head.

Grimaud thanked D’Artagnan by a grimace, which was evidently intended for a smile, and accompanied both the friends to the door. Athos entered first into the carriage; D’Artagnan followed him without saying a word to the coachman. The departure had taken place so quietly, that it excited no disturbance or attention even in the neighborhood. When the carriage had reached the quays, “You are taking me to the Bastile, I perceive,” said Athos.

“I?” said D’Artagnan, “I take you wherever you may choose to go; nowhere else, I can assure you.”

“What do you mean?” said the comte, surprised.

“Why, surely, my dear friend,” said D’Artagnan, “you quite understand that I undertook the mission with no other object in view than that of carrying it out exactly as you liked. You surely did not expect that I was going to get you thrown into prison like that, brutally, and without any reflection. If I had anticipated that, I should have let the captain of the guards undertake it.”

“And so—?” said Athos.

“And so, I repeat again, we will go wherever you may choose.”

“My dear friend,” said Athos, embracing D’Artagnan, “how like you that is!”

“Well, it seems simple enough to me. The coachman will take you to the barrier of the Cours-la-Reine; you will find a horse there which I have ordered to be kept ready for you; with that horse you will be able to do three posts without stopping; and I, on my side, will take care not to return to the king, to tell him that you have gone away, until the very moment it will be impossible to overtake you. In the meantime you will have reached Le Havre, and from Le Havre across to England, where you will find the charming residence of which M. Monk made me a present, without speaking of the hospitality which King Charles will not fail to show you. Well, what do you think of this project?”

Athos shook his head, and then said, smiling as he did so, “No, no, take me to the Bastile.”

“You are an obstinate fellow, my dear Athos,” returned D’Artagnan, “reflect for a few moments.”

“On what subject?”

“That you are no longer twenty years of age. Believe me, I speak according to my own knowledge and experience. A prison is certain death for men who are at our time of life. No, no; I will never allow you to languish in prison in such a way. Why, the very thought of it makes my head turn giddy.”

“Dear D’Artagnan,” Athos replied, “Heaven most fortunately made my body as strong, powerful, and enduring as my mind; and, rely upon it, I shall retain my strength up to the very last moment.”

“But this is not strength of mind or character; it is sheer madness.”

“No, D’Artagnan, it is the highest order of reasoning. Do not suppose that I should in the slightest degree in the world discuss the question with you, whether you would not be ruined in endeavoring to save me. I should have done precisely as you propose if flight had been part of my plan of action; I should, therefore, have accepted from you what, without any doubt, you would have accepted from me. No! I know you too well even to breathe a word upon the subject.”

“Ah! if you would only let me do it,” said D’Artagnan, “what a dance we would give his most gracious majesty!”

“Still he is the king; do not forget that, my dear friend.”

“Oh! that is all the same to me; and king though he be, I would plainly tell him, ‘Sire, imprison, exile, kill every one in France and Europe; order me to arrest and poniard even whom you like—even were it Monsieur, your own brother; but do not touch one of the four musketeers, or if so, mordioux!’”

“My dear friend,” replied Athos, with perfect calmness, “I should like to persuade you of one thing; namely, that I wish to be arrested; that I desire above all things that my arrest should take place.”

D’Artagnan made a slight movement of his shoulders.

“Nay, I wish it, I repeat, more than anything; if you were to let me escape, it would be only to return of my own accord, and constitute myself a prisoner. I wish to prove to this young man, who is dazzled by the power and splendor of his crown, that he can be regarded as the first and chiefest among men only on the one condition of his proving himself to be the most generous and the wisest. He may punish me, imprison, torture me, it matters not. He abuses his opportunities, and I wish him to learn the bitterness of remorse, while Heaven teaches him what chastisement is.”

“Well, well,” replied D’Artagnan, “I know only too well that, when you have once said, ‘no,’ you mean ‘no.’ I do not insist any longer; you wish to go to the Bastile?”

“I do wish to go there.”

“Let us go, then! To the Bastile!” cried D’Artagnan to the coachman. And throwing himself back in the carriage, he gnawed the ends of his mustache with a fury which, for Athos, who knew him well, signified a resolution either already taken or in course of formation. A profound silence ensued in the carriage, which continued to roll on, but neither faster nor slower than before. Athos took the musketeer by the hand.

“You are not angry with me, D’Artagnan?” he said.

“I!—oh, no! certainly not; of course not. What you do for heroism, I should have done from obstinacy.”

“But you are quite of opinion, are you not, that Heaven will avenge me, D’Artagnan?”

“And I know one or two on earth who will not fail to lend a helping hand,” said the captain.






Chapter LXIII. Three Guests Astonished to Find Themselves at Supper Together.


The carriage arrived at the outside of the gate of the Bastile. A soldier on guard stopped it, but D’Artagnan had only to utter a single word to procure admittance, and the carriage passed on without further difficulty. Whilst they were proceeding along the covered way which led to the courtyard of the governor’s residence, D’Artagnan, whose lynx eyes saw everything, even through the walls, suddenly cried out, “What is that out yonder?”

“Well,” said Athos, quietly; “what is it?”

“Look yonder, Athos.”

“In the courtyard?”

“Yes, yes; make haste!”

“Well, a carriage; very likely conveying a prisoner like myself.”

“That would be too droll.”

“I do not understand you.”

“Make haste and look again, and look at the man who is just getting out of that carriage.”

At that very moment a second sentinel stopped D’Artagnan, and while the formalities were being gone through, Athos could see at a hundred paces from him the man whom his friend had pointed out to him. He was, in fact, getting out of the carriage at the door of the governor’s house. “Well,” inquired D’Artagnan, “do you see him?”

“Yes; he is a man in a gray suit.”

“What do you say of him?”

“I cannot very well tell; he is, as I have just now told you, a man in a gray suit, who is getting out of a carriage; that is all.”

“Athos, I will wager anything that it is he.”

“He, who?”

“Aramis.”

“Aramis arrested? Impossible!”

“I do not say he is arrested, since we see him alone in his carriage.”

“Well, then, what is he doing here?”

“Oh! he knows Baisemeaux, the governor,” replied the musketeer, slyly; “so we have arrived just in time.”

“What for?”

“In order to see what we can see.”

“I regret this meeting exceedingly. When Aramis sees me, he will be very much annoyed, in the first place, at seeing me, and in the next at being seen.”

“Very well reasoned.”

“Unfortunately, there is no remedy for it; whenever any one meets another in the Bastile, even if he wished to draw back to avoid him, it would be impossible.”

“Athos, I have an idea; the question is, to spare Aramis the annoyance you were speaking of, is it not?”

“What is to be done?”

“I will tell you; or in order to explain myself in the best possible way, let me relate the affair in my own manner; I will not recommend you to tell a falsehood, for that would be impossible for you to do; but I will tell falsehoods enough for both; it is easy to do that when one is born to the nature and habits of a Gascon.”

Athos smiled. The carriage stopped where the one we have just now pointed out had stopped; namely, at the door of the governor’s house. “It is understood, then?” said D’Artagnan, in a low voice to his friend. Athos consented by a gesture. They ascended the staircase. There will be no occasion for surprise at the facility with which they had entered into the Bastile, if it be remembered that, before passing the first gate, in fact, the most difficult of all, D’Artagnan had announced that he had brought a prisoner of state. At the third gate, on the contrary, that is to say, when he had once fairly entered the prison, he merely said to the sentinel, “To M. Baisemeaux;” and they both passed on. In a few minutes they were in the governor’s dining-room, and the first face which attracted D’Artagnan’s observation was that of Aramis, who was seated side by side with Baisemeaux, awaiting the announcement of a meal whose odor impregnated the whole apartment. If D’Artagnan pretended surprise, Aramis did not pretend at all; he started when he saw his two friends, and his emotion was very apparent. Athos and D’Artagnan, however, complimented him as usual, and Baisemeaux, amazed, completely stupefied by the presence of his three guests, began to perform a few evolutions around them.

“By what lucky accident—”

“We were just going to ask you,” retorted D’Artagnan.

“Are we going to give ourselves up as prisoners?” cried Aramis, with an affection of hilarity.

“Ah! ah!” said D’Artagnan; “it is true the walls smell deucedly like a prison. Monsieur de Baisemeaux, you know you invited me to sup with you the other day.”

“I?” cried Baisemeaux.

“Yes, of course you did, although you now seem so struck with amazement. Don’t you remember it?”

Baisemeaux turned pale and then red, looked at Aramis, who looked at him, and finished by stammering out, “Certainly—I am delighted—but, upon my honor—I have not the slightest—Ah! I have such a wretched memory.”

“Well! I am wrong, I see,” said D’Artagnan, as if he were offended.

“Wrong, what for?”

“Wrong to remember anything about it, it seems.”

Baisemeaux hurried towards him. “Do not stand on ceremony, my dear captain,” he said; “I have the worst memory in the world. I no sooner leave off thinking of my pigeons and their pigeon-house, than I am no better than the rawest recruit.”

“At all events, you remember it now,” said D’Artagnan, boldly.

“Yes, yes,” replied the governor, hesitating; “I think I do remember.”

“It was when you came to the palace to see me; you told me some story or other about your accounts with M. de Louviere and M. de Tremblay.”

“Oh, yes! perfectly.”

“And about M. d’Herblay’s kindness towards you.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Aramis, looking at the unhappy governor full in the face, “and yet you just now said you had no memory, Monsieur de Baisemeaux.”

Baisemeaux interrupted the musketeer in the middle of his revelations. “Yes, yes; you’re quite right; how could I have forgotten; I remember it now as well as possible; I beg you a thousand pardons. But now, once for all, my dear M. d’Artagnan, be sure that at this present time, as at any other, whether invited or not, you are perfectly at home here, you and M. d’Herblay, your friend,” he said, turning towards Aramis; “and this gentleman, too,” he added, bowing to Athos.

“Well, I thought it would be sure to turn out so,” replied D’Artagnan, “and that is the reason I came. Having nothing to do this evening at the Palais Royal, I wished to judge for myself what your ordinary style of living was like; and as I was coming along, I met the Comte de la Fere.”

Athos bowed. “The comte, who had just left his majesty, handed me an order which required immediate attention. We were close by here; I wished to call in, even if it were for no other object than that of shaking hands with you and of presenting the comte to you, of whom you spoke so highly that evening at the palace when—”

“Certainly, certainly—M. le Comte de la Fere?”

“Precisely.”

“The comte is welcome, I am sure.”

“And he will sup with you two, I suppose, whilst I, unfortunate dog that I am, must run off on a matter of duty. Oh! what happy beings you are, compared to myself,” he added, sighing as loud as Porthos might have done.

“And so you are going away, then?” said Aramis and Baisemeaux together, with the same expression of delighted surprise, the tone of which was immediately noticed by D’Artagnan.

“I leave you in my place,” he said, “a noble and excellent guest.” And he touched Athos gently on the shoulder, who, astonished also, could not help exhibiting his surprise a little; which was noticed by Aramis only, for M. de Baisemeaux was not quite equal to the three friends in point of intelligence.

“What, are you going to leave us?” resumed the governor.

“I shall only be about an hour, or an hour and a half. I will return in time for dessert.”

“Oh! we will wait for you,” said Baisemeaux.

“No, no; that would be really disobliging me.”

“You will be sure to return, though?” said Athos, with an expression of doubt.

“Most certainly,” he said, pressing his friend’s hand confidently; and he added, in a low voice, “Wait for me, Athos; be cheerful and lively as possible, and above all, don’t allude even to business affairs, for Heaven’s sake.”

And with a renewed pressure of the hand, he seemed to warn the comte of the necessity of keeping perfectly discreet and impenetrable. Baisemeaux led D’Artagnan to the gate. Aramis, with many friendly protestations of delight, sat down by Athos, determined to make him speak; but Athos possessed every virtue and quality to the very highest degree. If necessity had required it, he would have been the finest orator in the world, but on other occasions he would rather have died than have opened his lips.

Ten minutes after D’Artagnan’s departure, the three gentlemen sat down to table, which was covered with the most substantial display of gastronomic luxury. Large joints, exquisite dishes, preserves, the greatest variety of wines, appeared successively upon the table, which was served at the king’s expense, and of which expense M. Colbert would have found no difficulty in saving two thirds, without any one in the Bastile being the worse for it. Baisemeaux was the only one who ate and drank with gastronomic resolution. Aramis allowed nothing to pass by him, but merely touched everything he took; Athos, after the soup and three hors d’oeuvres, ate nothing more. The style of conversation was such as might have been anticipated between three men so opposite in temper and ideas. Aramis was incessantly asking himself by what extraordinary chance Athos was there at Baisemeaux’s when D’Artagnan was no longer there, and why D’Artagnan did not remain when Athos was there. Athos sounded all the depths of the mind of Aramis, who lived in the midst of subterfuge, evasion, and intrigue; he studied his man well and thoroughly, and felt convinced that he was engaged upon some important project. And then he too began to think of his own personal affair, and to lose himself in conjectures as to D’Artagnan’s reason for having left the Bastile so abruptly, and for leaving behind him a prisoner so badly introduced and so badly looked after by the prison authorities. But we shall not pause to examine into the thoughts and feelings of these personages, but will leave them to themselves, surrounded by the remains of poultry, game, and fish, which Baisemeaux’s generous knife and fork had so mutilated. We are going to follow D’Artagnan instead, who, getting into the carriage which had brought him, said to the coachman, “Return to the palace, as fast as the horses can gallop.”