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The Three Musketeers

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31. 
ENGLISH AND FRENCH


The hour having come, they went with their four lackeys to a spot behind the Luxembourg given up to the feeding of goats. Athos threw a piece of money to the goatkeeper to withdraw. The lackeys were ordered to act as sentinels.

A silent party soon drew near to the same enclosure, entered, and joined the Musketeers. Then, according to foreign custom, the presentations took place.

The Englishmen were all men of rank; consequently the odd names of their adversaries were for them not only a matter of surprise, but of annoyance.

“But after all,” said Lord de Winter, when the three friends had been named, “we do not know who you are. We cannot fight with such names; they are names of shepherds.”

“Therefore your lordship may suppose they are only assumed names,” said Athos.

“Which only gives us a greater desire to know the real ones,” replied the Englishman.

“You played very willingly with us without knowing our names,” said Athos, “by the same token that you won our horses.”

“That is true, but we then only risked our pistoles; this time we risk our blood. One plays with anybody; but one fights only with equals.”

“And that is but just,” said Athos, and he took aside the one of the four Englishmen with whom he was to fight, and communicated his name in a low voice.

Porthos and Aramis did the same.

“Does that satisfy you?” said Athos to his adversary. “Do you find me of sufficient rank to do me the honor of crossing swords with me?”

“Yes, monsieur,” said the Englishman, bowing.

“Well! now shall I tell you something?” added Athos, coolly.

“What?” replied the Englishman.

“Why, that is that you would have acted much more wisely if you had not required me to make myself known.”

“Why so?”

“Because I am believed to be dead, and have reasons for wishing nobody to know I am living; so that I shall be obliged to kill you to prevent my secret from roaming over the fields.”

The Englishman looked at Athos, believing that he jested, but Athos did not jest the least in the world.

“Gentlemen,” said Athos, addressing at the same time his companions and their adversaries, “are we ready?”

“Yes!” answered the Englishmen and the Frenchmen, as with one voice.

“On guard, then!” cried Athos.

Immediately eight swords glittered in the rays of the setting sun, and the combat began with an animosity very natural between men twice enemies.

Athos fenced with as much calmness and method as if he had been practicing in a fencing school.

Porthos, abated, no doubt, of his too-great confidence by his adventure of Chantilly, played with skill and prudence. Aramis, who had the third canto of his poem to finish, behaved like a man in haste.

Athos killed his adversary first. He hit him but once, but as he had foretold, that hit was a mortal one; the sword pierced his heart.

Second, Porthos stretched his upon the grass with a wound through his thigh, As the Englishman, without making any further resistance, then surrendered his sword, Porthos took him up in his arms and bore him to his carriage.

Aramis pushed his so vigorously that after going back fifty paces, the man ended by fairly taking to his heels, and disappeared amid the hooting of the lackeys.

As to d’Artagnan, he fought purely and simply on the defensive; and when he saw his adversary pretty well fatigued, with a vigorous side thrust sent his sword flying. The baron, finding himself disarmed, took two or three steps back, but in this movement his foot slipped and he fell backward.

D’Artagnan was over him at a bound, and said to the Englishman, pointing his sword to his throat, “I could kill you, my Lord, you are completely in my hands; but I spare your life for the sake of your sister.”

D’Artagnan was at the height of joy; he had realized the plan he had imagined beforehand, whose picturing had produced the smiles we noted upon his face.

The Englishman, delighted at having to do with a gentleman of such a kind disposition, pressed d’Artagnan in his arms, and paid a thousand compliments to the three Musketeers, and as Porthos’s adversary was already installed in the carriage, and as Aramis’s had taken to his heels, they had nothing to think about but the dead.

As Porthos and Aramis were undressing him, in the hope of finding his wound not mortal, a large purse dropped from his clothes. D’Artagnan picked it up and offered it to Lord de Winter.

“What the devil would you have me do with that?” said the Englishman.

“You can restore it to his family,” said d’Artagnan.

“His family will care much about such a trifle as that! His family will inherit fifteen thousand louis a year from him. Keep the purse for your lackeys.”

D’Artagnan put the purse into his pocket.

“And now, my young friend, for you will permit me, I hope, to give you that name,” said Lord de Winter, “on this very evening, if agreeable to you, I will present you to my sister, Milady Clarik, for I am desirous that she should take you into her good graces; and as she is not in bad odor at court, she may perhaps on some future day speak a word that will not prove useless to you.”

D’Artagnan blushed with pleasure, and bowed a sign of assent.

At this time Athos came up to d’Artagnan.

“What do you mean to do with that purse?” whispered he.

“Why, I meant to pass it over to you, my dear Athos.”

“Me! why to me?”

“Why, you killed him! They are the spoils of victory.”

“I, the heir of an enemy!” said Athos; “for whom, then, do you take me?”

“It is the custom in war,” said d’Artagnan, “why should it not be the custom in a duel?”

“Even on the field of battle, I have never done that.”

Porthos shrugged his shoulders; Aramis by a movement of his lips endorsed Athos.

“Then,” said d’Artagnan, “let us give the money to the lackeys, as Lord de Winter desired us to do.”

“Yes,” said Athos; “let us give the money to the lackeys—not to our lackeys, but to the lackeys of the Englishmen.”

Athos took the purse, and threw it into the hand of the coachman. “For you and your comrades.”

This greatness of spirit in a man who was quite destitute struck even Porthos; and this French generosity, repeated by Lord de Winter and his friend, was highly applauded, except by MM Grimaud, Bazin, Mousqueton and Planchet.

Lord de Winter, on quitting d’Artagnan, gave him his sister’s address. She lived in the Place Royale—then the fashionable quarter—at Number 6, and he undertook to call and take d’Artagnan with him in order to introduce him. D’Artagnan appointed eight o’clock at Athos’s residence.

This introduction to Milady Clarik occupied the head of our Gascon greatly. He remembered in what a strange manner this woman had hitherto been mixed up in his destiny. According to his conviction, she was some creature of the cardinal, and yet he felt himself invincibly drawn toward her by one of those sentiments for which we cannot account. His only fear was that Milady would recognize in him the man of Meung and of Dover. Then she knew that he was one of the friends of M. de Tréville, and consequently, that he belonged body and soul to the king; which would make him lose a part of his advantage, since when known to Milady as he knew her, he played only an equal game with her. As to the commencement of an intrigue between her and M. de Wardes, our presumptuous hero gave but little heed to that, although the marquis was young, handsome, rich, and high in the cardinal’s favor. It is not for nothing we are but twenty years old, above all if we were born at Tarbes.

D’Artagnan began by making his most splendid toilet, then returned to Athos’s, and according to custom, related everything to him. Athos listened to his projects, then shook his head, and recommended prudence to him with a shade of bitterness.

“What!” said he, “you have just lost one woman, whom you call good, charming, perfect; and here you are, running headlong after another.”

D’Artagnan felt the truth of this reproach.

“I loved Madame Bonacieux with my heart, while I only love Milady with my head,” said he. “In getting introduced to her, my principal object is to ascertain what part she plays at court.”

“The part she plays, PARDIEU! It is not difficult to divine that, after all you have told me. She is some emissary of the cardinal; a woman who will draw you into a snare in which you will leave your head.”

“The devil! my dear Athos, you view things on the dark side, methinks.”

“My dear fellow, I mistrust women. Can it be otherwise? I bought my experience dearly—particularly fair women. Milady is fair, you say?”

“She has the most beautiful light hair imaginable!”

“Ah, my poor d’Artagnan!” said Athos.

“Listen to me! I want to be enlightened on a subject; then, when I shall have learned what I desire to know, I will withdraw.”

“Be enlightened!” said Athos, phlegmatically.

Lord de Winter arrived at the appointed time; but Athos, being warned of his coming, went into the other chamber. He therefore found d’Artagnan alone, and as it was nearly eight o’clock he took the young man with him.

An elegant carriage waited below, and as it was drawn by two excellent horses, they were soon at the Place Royale.

Milady Clarik received d’Artagnan ceremoniously. Her hôtel was remarkably sumptuous, and while the most part of the English had quit, or were about to quit, France on account of the war, Milady had just been laying out much money upon her residence; which proved that the general measure which drove the English from France did not affect her.

“You see,” said Lord de Winter, presenting d’Artagnan to his sister, “a young gentleman who has held my life in his hands, and who has not abused his advantage, although we have been twice enemies, although it was I who insulted him, and although I am an Englishman. Thank him, then, madame, if you have any affection for me.”

Milady frowned slightly; a scarcely visible cloud passed over her brow, and so peculiar a smile appeared upon her lips that the young man, who saw and observed this triple shade, almost shuddered at it.

The brother did not perceive this; he had turned round to play with Milady’s favorite monkey, which had pulled him by the doublet.

“You are welcome, monsieur,” said Milady, in a voice whose singular sweetness contrasted with the symptoms of ill-humor which d’Artagnan had just remarked; “you have today acquired eternal rights to my gratitude.”

The Englishman then turned round and described the combat without omitting a single detail. Milady listened with the greatest attention, and yet it was easily to be perceived, whatever effort she made to conceal her impressions, that this recital was not agreeable to her. The blood rose to her head, and her little foot worked with impatience beneath her robe.

Lord de Winter perceived nothing of this. When he had finished, he went to a table upon which was a salver with Spanish wine and glasses. He filled two glasses, and by a sign invited d’Artagnan to drink.

D’Artagnan knew it was considered disobliging by an Englishman to refuse to pledge him. He therefore drew near to the table and took the second glass. He did not, however, lose sight of Milady, and in a mirror he perceived the change that came over her face. Now that she believed herself to be no longer observed, a sentiment resembling ferocity animated her countenance. She bit her handkerchief with her beautiful teeth.

That pretty little SOUBRETTE whom d’Artagnan had already observed then came in. She spoke some words to Lord de Winter in English, who thereupon requested d’Artagnan’s permission to retire, excusing himself on account of the urgency of the business that had called him away, and charging his sister to obtain his pardon.

D’Artagnan exchanged a shake of the hand with Lord de Winter, and then returned to Milady. Her countenance, with surprising mobility, had recovered its gracious expression; but some little red spots on her handkerchief indicated that she had bitten her lips till the blood came. Those lips were magnificent; they might be said to be of coral.

The conversation took a cheerful turn. Milady appeared to have entirely recovered. She told d’Artagnan that Lord de Winter was her brother-in-law, and not her brother. She had married a younger brother of the family, who had left her a widow with one child. This child was the only heir to Lord de Winter, if Lord de Winter did not marry. All this showed d’Artagnan that there was a veil which concealed something; but he could not yet see under this veil.

In addition to this, after a half hour’s conversation d’Artagnan was convinced that Milady was his compatriot; she spoke French with an elegance and a purity that left no doubt on that head.

D’Artagnan was profuse in gallant speeches and protestations of devotion. To all the simple things which escaped our Gascon, Milady replied with a smile of kindness. The hour came for him to retire. D’Artagnan took leave of Milady, and left the saloon the happiest of men.

On the staircase he met the pretty SOUBRETTE, who brushed gently against him as she passed, and then, blushing to the eyes, asked his pardon for having touched him in a voice so sweet that the pardon was granted instantly.

D’Artagnan came again on the morrow, and was still better received than on the evening before. Lord de Winter was not at home; and it was Milady who this time did all the honors of the evening. She appeared to take a great interest in him, asked him whence he came, who were his friends, and whether he had not sometimes thought of attaching himself to the cardinal.

D’Artagnan, who, as we have said, was exceedingly prudent for a young man of twenty, then remembered his suspicions regarding Milady. He launched into a eulogy of his Eminence, and said that he should not have failed to enter into the Guards of the cardinal instead of the king’s Guards if he had happened to know M. de Cavois instead of M. de Tréville.

Milady changed the conversation without any appearance of affectation, and asked d’Artagnan in the most careless manner possible if he had ever been in England.

D’Artagnan replied that he had been sent thither by M. de Tréville to treat for a supply of horses, and that he had brought back four as specimens.

Milady in the course of the conversation twice or thrice bit her lips; she had to deal with a Gascon who played close.

At the same hour as on the preceding evening, d’Artagnan retired. In the corridor he again met the pretty Kitty; that was the name of the SOUBRETTE. She looked at him with an expression of kindness which it was impossible to mistake; but d’Artagnan was so preoccupied by the mistress that he noticed absolutely nothing but her.

D’Artagnan came again on the morrow and the day after that, and each day Milady gave him a more gracious reception.

Every evening, either in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, he met the pretty SOUBRETTE. But, as we have said, d’Artagnan paid no attention to this persistence of poor Kitty.


32. 
A PROCURATOR’S DINNER


However brilliant had been the part played by Porthos in the duel, it had not made him forget the dinner of the procurator’s wife.

On the morrow he received the last touches of Mousqueton’s brush for an hour, and took his way toward the Rue aux Ours with the steps of a man who was doubly in favor with fortune.

His heart beat, but not like d’Artagnan’s with a young and impatient love. No; a more material interest stirred his blood. He was about at last to pass that mysterious threshold, to climb those unknown stairs by which, one by one, the old crowns of M. Coquenard had ascended. He was about to see in reality a certain coffer of which he had twenty times beheld the image in his dreams—a coffer long and deep, locked, bolted, fastened in the wall; a coffer of which he had so often heard, and which the hands—a little wrinkled, it is true, but still not without elegance—of the procurator’s wife were about to open to his admiring looks.

And then he—a wanderer on the earth, a man without fortune, a man without family, a soldier accustomed to inns, cabarets, taverns, and restaurants, a lover of wine forced to depend upon chance treats—was about to partake of family meals, to enjoy the pleasures of a comfortable establishment, and to give himself up to those little attentions which “the harder one is, the more they please,” as old soldiers say.

To come in the capacity of a cousin, and seat himself every day at a good table; to smooth the yellow, wrinkled brow of the old procurator; to pluck the clerks a little by teaching them BASSETTE, PASSE-DIX, and lansquenet, in their utmost nicety, and winning from them, by way of fee for the lesson he would give them in an hour, their savings of a month—all this was enormously delightful to Porthos.

The Musketeer could not forget the evil reports which then prevailed, and which indeed have survived them, of the procurators of the period—meanness, stinginess, fasts; but as, after all, excepting some few acts of economy which Porthos had always found very unseasonable, the procurator’s wife had been tolerably liberal—that is, be it understood, for a procurator’s wife—he hoped to see a household of a highly comfortable kind.

And yet, at the very door the Musketeer began to entertain some doubts. The approach was not such as to prepossess people—an ill-smelling, dark passage, a staircase half-lighted by bars through which stole a glimmer from a neighboring yard; on the first floor a low door studded with enormous nails, like the principal gate of the Grand Châtelet.

Porthos knocked with his hand. A tall, pale clerk, his face shaded by a forest of virgin hair, opened the door, and bowed with the air of a man forced at once to respect in another lofty stature, which indicated strength, the military dress, which indicated rank, and a ruddy countenance, which indicated familiarity with good living.

A shorter clerk came behind the first, a taller clerk behind the second, a stripling of a dozen years rising behind the third. In all, three clerks and a half, which, for the time, argued a very extensive clientage.

Although the Musketeer was not expected before one o’clock, the procurator’s wife had been on the watch ever since midday, reckoning that the heart, or perhaps the stomach, of her lover would bring him before his time.

Mme. Coquenard therefore entered the office from the house at the same moment her guest entered from the stairs, and the appearance of the worthy lady relieved him from an awkward embarrassment. The clerks surveyed him with great curiosity, and he, not knowing well what to say to this ascending and descending scale, remained tongue-tied.

“It is my cousin!” cried the procurator’s wife. “Come in, come in, Monsieur Porthos!”

The name of Porthos produced its effect upon the clerks, who began to laugh; but Porthos turned sharply round, and every countenance quickly recovered its gravity.

They reached the office of the procurator after having passed through the antechamber in which the clerks were, and the study in which they ought to have been. This last apartment was a sort of dark room, littered with papers. On quitting the study they left the kitchen on the right, and entered the reception room.

All these rooms, which communicated with one another, did not inspire Porthos favorably. Words might be heard at a distance through all these open doors. Then, while passing, he had cast a rapid, investigating glance into the kitchen; and he was obliged to confess to himself, to the shame of the procurator’s wife and his own regret, that he did not see that fire, that animation, that bustle, which when a good repast is on foot prevails generally in that sanctuary of good living.

The procurator had without doubt been warned of his visit, as he expressed no surprise at the sight of Porthos, who advanced toward him with a sufficiently easy air, and saluted him courteously.

“We are cousins, it appears, Monsieur Porthos?” said the procurator, rising, yet supporting his weight upon the arms of his cane chair.

The old man, wrapped in a large black doublet, in which the whole of his slender body was concealed, was brisk and dry. His little gray eyes shone like carbuncles, and appeared, with his grinning mouth, to be the only part of his face in which life survived. Unfortunately the legs began to refuse their service to this bony machine. During the last five or six months that this weakness had been felt, the worthy procurator had nearly become the slave of his wife.

The cousin was received with resignation, that was all. M. Coquenard, firm upon his legs, would have declined all relationship with M. Porthos.

“Yes, monsieur, we are cousins,” said Porthos, without being disconcerted, as he had never reckoned upon being received enthusiastically by the husband.

“By the female side, I believe?” said the procurator, maliciously.

Porthos did not feel the ridicule of this, and took it for a piece of simplicity, at which he laughed in his large mustache. Mme. Coquenard, who knew that a simple-minded procurator was a very rare variety in the species, smiled a little, and colored a great deal.

M Coquenard had, since the arrival of Porthos, frequently cast his eyes with great uneasiness upon a large chest placed in front of his oak desk. Porthos comprehended that this chest, although it did not correspond in shape with that which he had seen in his dreams, must be the blessed coffer, and he congratulated himself that the reality was several feet higher than the dream.

M Coquenard did not carry his genealogical investigations any further; but withdrawing his anxious look from the chest and fixing it upon Porthos, he contented himself with saying, “Monsieur our cousin will do us the favor of dining with us once before his departure for the campaign, will he not, Madame Coquenard?”

This time Porthos received the blow right in his stomach, and felt it. It appeared likewise that Mme. Coquenard was not less affected by it on her part, for she added, “My cousin will not return if he finds that we do not treat him kindly; but otherwise he has so little time to pass in Paris, and consequently to spare to us, that we must entreat him to give us every instant he can call his own previous to his departure.”

“Oh, my legs, my poor legs! where are you?” murmured Coquenard, and he tried to smile.

This succor, which came to Porthos at the moment in which he was attacked in his gastronomic hopes, inspired much gratitude in the Musketeer toward the procurator’s wife.

The hour of dinner soon arrived. They passed into the eating room—a large dark room situated opposite the kitchen.

The clerks, who, as it appeared, had smelled unusual perfumes in the house, were of military punctuality, and held their stools in hand quite ready to sit down. Their jaws moved preliminarily with fearful threatenings.

“Indeed!” thought Porthos, casting a glance at the three hungry clerks—for the errand boy, as might be expected, was not admitted to the honors of the magisterial table, “in my cousin’s place, I would not keep such gourmands! They look like shipwrecked sailors who have not eaten for six weeks.”

M Coquenard entered, pushed along upon his armchair with casters by Mme. Coquenard, whom Porthos assisted in rolling her husband up to the table. He had scarcely entered when he began to agitate his nose and his jaws after the example of his clerks.

“Oh, oh!” said he; “here is a soup which is rather inviting.”

“What the devil can they smell so extraordinary in this soup?” said Porthos, at the sight of a pale liquid, abundant but entirely free from meat, on the surface of which a few crusts swam about as rare as the islands of an archipelago.

Mme. Coquenard smiled, and upon a sign from her everyone eagerly took his seat.

M Coquenard was served first, then Porthos. Afterward Mme. Coquenard filled her own plate, and distributed the crusts without soup to the impatient clerks. At this moment the door of the dining room unclosed with a creak, and Porthos perceived through the half-open flap the little clerk who, not being allowed to take part in the feast, ate his dry bread in the passage with the double odor of the dining room and kitchen.

After the soup the maid brought a boiled fowl—a piece of magnificence which caused the eyes of the diners to dilate in such a manner that they seemed ready to burst.

“One may see that you love your family, Madame Coquenard,” said the procurator, with a smile that was almost tragic. “You are certainly treating your cousin very handsomely!”

The poor fowl was thin, and covered with one of those thick, bristly skins through which the teeth cannot penetrate with all their efforts. The fowl must have been sought for a long time on the perch, to which it had retired to die of old age.

“The devil!” thought Porthos, “this is poor work. I respect old age, but I don’t much like it boiled or roasted.”

And he looked round to see if anybody partook of his opinion; but on the contrary, he saw nothing but eager eyes which were devouring, in anticipation, that sublime fowl which was the object of his contempt.

Mme. Coquenard drew the dish toward her, skillfully detached the two great black feet, which she placed upon her husband’s plate, cut off the neck, which with the head she put on one side for herself, raised the wing for Porthos, and then returned the bird otherwise intact to the servant who had brought it in, who disappeared with it before the Musketeer had time to examine the variations which disappointment produces upon faces, according to the characters and temperaments of those who experience it.

In the place of the fowl a dish of haricot beans made its appearance—an enormous dish in which some bones of mutton that at first sight one might have believed to have some meat on them pretended to show themselves.

But the clerks were not the dupes of this deceit, and their lugubrious looks settled down into resigned countenances.

Mme. Coquenard distributed this dish to the young men with the moderation of a good housewife.

The time for wine came. M. Coquenard poured from a very small stone bottle the third of a glass for each of the young men, served himself in about the same proportion, and passed the bottle to Porthos and Mme. Coquenard.

The young men filled up their third of a glass with water; then, when they had drunk half the glass, they filled it up again, and continued to do so. This brought them, by the end of the repast, to swallowing a drink which from the color of the ruby had passed to that of a pale topaz.

Porthos ate his wing of the fowl timidly, and shuddered when he felt the knee of the procurator’s wife under the table, as it came in search of his. He also drank half a glass of this sparingly served wine, and found it to be nothing but that horrible Montreuil—the terror of all expert palates.

M Coquenard saw him swallowing this wine undiluted, and sighed deeply.

“Will you eat any of these beans, Cousin Porthos?” said Mme. Coquenard, in that tone which says, “Take my advice, don’t touch them.”

“Devil take me if I taste one of them!” murmured Porthos to himself, and then said aloud, “Thank you, my cousin, I am no longer hungry.”

There was silence. Porthos could hardly keep his countenance.

The procurator repeated several times, “Ah, Madame Coquenard! Accept my compliments; your dinner has been a real feast. Lord, how I have eaten!”

M Coquenard had eaten his soup, the black feet of the fowl, and the only mutton bone on which there was the least appearance of meat.

Porthos fancied they were mystifying him, and began to curl his mustache and knit his eyebrows; but the knee of Mme. Coquenard gently advised him to be patient.

This silence and this interruption in serving, which were unintelligible to Porthos, had, on the contrary, a terrible meaning for the clerks. Upon a look from the procurator, accompanied by a smile from Mme. Coquenard, they arose slowly from the table, folded their napkins more slowly still, bowed, and retired.

“Go, young men! go and promote digestion by working,” said the procurator, gravely.

The clerks gone, Mme. Coquenard rose and took from a buffet a piece of cheese, some preserved quinces, and a cake which she had herself made of almonds and honey.

M Coquenard knit his eyebrows because there were too many good things. Porthos bit his lips because he saw not the wherewithal to dine. He looked to see if the dish of beans was still there; the dish of beans had disappeared.

“A positive feast!” cried M. Coquenard, turning about in his chair, “a real feast, EPULCE EPULORUM. Lucullus dines with Lucullus.”

Porthos looked at the bottle, which was near him, and hoped that with wine, bread, and cheese, he might make a dinner; but wine was wanting, the bottle was empty. M. and Mme. Coquenard did not seem to observe it.

“This is fine!” said Porthos to himself; “I am prettily caught!”

He passed his tongue over a spoonful of preserves, and stuck his teeth into the sticky pastry of Mme. Coquenard.

“Now,” said he, “the sacrifice is consummated! Ah! if I had not the hope of peeping with Madame Coquenard into her husband’s chest!”

M Coquenard, after the luxuries of such a repast, which he called an excess, felt the want of a siesta. Porthos began to hope that the thing would take place at the present sitting, and in that same locality; but the procurator would listen to nothing, he would be taken to his room, and was not satisfied till he was close to his chest, upon the edge of which, for still greater precaution, he placed his feet.

The procurator’s wife took Porthos into an adjoining room, and they began to lay the basis of a reconciliation.

“You can come and dine three times a week,” said Mme. Coquenard.

“Thanks, madame!” said Porthos, “but I don’t like to abuse your kindness; besides, I must think of my outfit!”

“That’s true,” said the procurator’s wife, groaning, “that unfortunate outfit!”

“Alas, yes,” said Porthos, “it is so.”

“But of what, then, does the equipment of your company consist, Monsieur Porthos?”

“Oh, of many things!” said Porthos. “The Musketeers are, as you know, picked soldiers, and they require many things useless to the Guardsmen or the Swiss.”

“But yet, detail them to me.”

“Why, they may amount to—“, said Porthos, who preferred discussing the total to taking them one by one.

The procurator’s wife waited tremblingly.

“To how much?” said she. “I hope it does not exceed—” She stopped; speech failed her.

“Oh, no,” said Porthos, “it does not exceed two thousand five hundred livres! I even think that with economy I could manage it with two thousand livres.”

“Good God!” cried she, “two thousand livres! Why, that is a fortune!”

Porthos made a most significant grimace; Mme. Coquenard understood it.

“I wished to know the detail,” said she, “because, having many relatives in business, I was almost sure of obtaining things at a hundred per cent less than you would pay yourself.”

“Ah, ah!” said Porthos, “that is what you meant to say!”

“Yes, dear Monsieur Porthos. Thus, for instance, don’t you in the first place want a horse?”

“Yes, a horse.”

“Well, then! I can just suit you.”

“Ah!” said Porthos, brightening, “that’s well as regards my horse; but I must have the appointments complete, as they include objects which a Musketeer alone can purchase, and which will not amount, besides, to more than three hundred livres.”

“Three hundred livres? Then put down three hundred livres,” said the procurator’s wife, with a sigh.

Porthos smiled. It may be remembered that he had the saddle which came from Buckingham. These three hundred livres he reckoned upon putting snugly into his pocket.

“Then,” continued he, “there is a horse for my lackey, and my valise. As to my arms, it is useless to trouble you about them; I have them.”

“A horse for your lackey?” resumed the procurator’s wife, hesitatingly; “but that is doing things in lordly style, my friend.”

“Ah, madame!” said Porthos, haughtily; “do you take me for a beggar?”

“No; I only thought that a pretty mule makes sometimes as good an appearance as a horse, and it seemed to me that by getting a pretty mule for Mousqueton—”

“Well, agreed for a pretty mule,” said Porthos; “you are right, I have seen very great Spanish nobles whose whole suite were mounted on mules. But then you understand, Madame Coquenard, a mule with feathers and bells.”

“Be satisfied,” said the procurator’s wife.

“There remains the valise,” added Porthos.

“Oh, don’t let that disturb you,” cried Mme. Coquenard. “My husband has five or six valises; you shall choose the best. There is one in particular which he prefers in his journeys, large enough to hold all the world.”

“Your valise is then empty?” asked Porthos, with simplicity.

“Certainly it is empty,” replied the procurator’s wife, in real innocence.

“Ah, but the valise I want,” cried Porthos, “is a well-filled one, my dear.”

Madame uttered fresh sighs. Moliere had not written his scene in “L’Avare” then. Mme. Coquenard was in the dilemma of Harpagan.

Finally, the rest of the equipment was successively debated in the same manner; and the result of the sitting was that the procurator’s wife should give eight hundred livres in money, and should furnish the horse and the mule which should have the honor of carrying Porthos and Mousqueton to glory.

These conditions being agreed to, Porthos took leave of Mme. Coquenard. The latter wished to detain him by darting certain tender glances; but Porthos urged the commands of duty, and the procurator’s wife was obliged to give place to the king.

The Musketeer returned home hungry and in bad humor.


33. 
SOUBRETTE AND MISTRESS


Meantime, as we have said, despite the cries of his conscience and the wise counsels of Athos, d’Artagnan became hourly more in love with Milady. Thus he never failed to pay his diurnal court to her; and the self-satisfied Gascon was convinced that sooner or later she could not fail to respond.

One day, when he arrived with his head in the air, and as light at heart as a man who awaits a shower of gold, he found the SOUBRETTE under the gateway of the hôtel; but this time the pretty Kitty was not contented with touching him as he passed, she took him gently by the hand.

“Good!” thought d’Artagnan, “She is charged with some message for me from her mistress; she is about to appoint some rendezvous of which she had not courage to speak.” And he looked down at the pretty girl with the most triumphant air imaginable.

“I wish to say three words to you, Monsieur Chevalier,” stammered the SOUBRETTE.

“Speak, my child, speak,” said d’Artagnan; “I listen.”

“Here? Impossible! That which I have to say is too long, and above all, too secret.”

“Well, what is to be done?”

“If Monsieur Chevalier would follow me?” said Kitty, timidly.

“Where you please, my dear child.”

“Come, then.”

And Kitty, who had not let go the hand of d’Artagnan, led him up a little dark, winding staircase, and after ascending about fifteen steps, opened a door.

“Come in here, Monsieur Chevalier,” said she; “here we shall be alone, and can talk.”

“And whose room is this, my dear child?”

“It is mine, Monsieur Chevalier; it communicates with my mistress’s by that door. But you need not fear. She will not hear what we say; she never goes to bed before midnight.”

D’Artagnan cast a glance around him. The little apartment was charming for its taste and neatness; but in spite of himself, his eyes were directed to that door which Kitty said led to Milady’s chamber.

Kitty guessed what was passing in the mind of the young man, and heaved a deep sigh.

“You love my mistress, then, very dearly, Monsieur Chevalier?” said she.

“Oh, more than I can say, Kitty! I am mad for her!”

Kitty breathed a second sigh.

“Alas, monsieur,” said she, “that is too bad.”

“What the devil do you see so bad in it?” said d’Artagnan.

“Because, monsieur,” replied Kitty, “my mistress loves you not at all.”

“HEIN!” said d’Artagnan, “can she have charged you to tell me so?”

“Oh, no, monsieur; but out of the regard I have for you, I have taken the resolution to tell you so.”

“Much obliged, my dear Kitty; but for the intention only—for the information, you must agree, is not likely to be at all agreeable.”

“That is to say, you don’t believe what I have told you; is it not so?”

“We have always some difficulty in believing such things, my pretty dear, were it only from self-love.”

“Then you don’t believe me?”

“I confess that unless you deign to give me some proof of what you advance—”

“What do you think of this?”

Kitty drew a little note from her bosom.

“For me?” said d’Artagnan, seizing the letter.

“No; for another.”

“For another?”

“Yes.”

“His name; his name!” cried d’Artagnan.

“Read the address.”

“Monsieur El Comte de Wardes.”

The remembrance of the scene at St. Germain presented itself to the mind of the presumptuous Gascon. As quick as thought, he tore open the letter, in spite of the cry which Kitty uttered on seeing what he was going to do, or rather, what he was doing.

“Oh, good Lord, Monsieur Chevalier,” said she, “what are you doing?”

“I?” said d’Artagnan; “nothing,” and he read,

“You have not answered my first note. Are you indisposed, or have you forgotten the glances you favored me with at the ball of Mme. de Guise? You have an opportunity now, Count; do not allow it to escape.”

d’Artagnan became very pale; he was wounded in his SELF-love: he thought that it was in his LOVE.

“Poor dear Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said Kitty, in a voice full of compassion, and pressing anew the young man’s hand.

“You pity me, little one?” said d’Artagnan.

“Oh, yes, and with all my heart; for I know what it is to be in love.”

“You know what it is to be in love?” said d’Artagnan, looking at her for the first time with much attention.

“Alas, yes.”

“Well, then, instead of pitying me, you would do much better to assist me in avenging myself on your mistress.”

“And what sort of revenge would you take?”

“I would triumph over her, and supplant my rival.”

“I will never help you in that, Monsieur Chevalier,” said Kitty, warmly.

“And why not?” demanded d’Artagnan.

“For two reasons.”

“What ones?”

“The first is that my mistress will never love you.”

“How do you know that?”

“You have cut her to the heart.”

“I? In what can I have offended her—I who ever since I have known her have lived at her feet like a slave? Speak, I beg you!”

“I will never confess that but to the man—who should read to the bottom of my soul!”

D’Artagnan looked at Kitty for the second time. The young girl had freshness and beauty which many duchesses would have purchased with their coronets.

“Kitty,” said he, “I will read to the bottom of your soul when-ever you like; don’t let that disturb you.” And he gave her a kiss at which the poor girl became as red as a cherry.

“Oh, no,” said Kitty, “it is not me you love! It is my mistress you love; you told me so just now.”

“And does that hinder you from letting me know the second reason?”

“The second reason, Monsieur the Chevalier,” replied Kitty, emboldened by the kiss in the first place, and still further by the expression of the eyes of the young man, “is that in love, everyone for herself!”

Then only d’Artagnan remembered the languishing glances of Kitty, her constantly meeting him in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, those touches of the hand every time she met him, and her deep sighs; but absorbed by his desire to please the great lady, he had disdained the soubrette. He whose game is the eagle takes no heed of the sparrow.

But this time our Gascon saw at a glance all the advantage to be derived from the love which Kitty had just confessed so innocently, or so boldly: the interception of letters addressed to the Comte de Wardes, news on the spot, entrance at all hours into Kitty’s chamber, which was contiguous to her mistress’s. The perfidious deceiver was, as may plainly be perceived, already sacrificing, in intention, the poor girl in order to obtain Milady, willy-nilly.

“Well,” said he to the young girl, “are you willing, my dear Kitty, that I should give you a proof of that love which you doubt?”

“What love?” asked the young girl.

“Of that which I am ready to feel toward you.”

“And what is that proof?”

“Are you willing that I should this evening pass with you the time I generally spend with your mistress?”

“Oh, yes,” said Kitty, clapping her hands, “very willing.”

“Well, then, come here, my dear,” said d’Artagnan, establishing himself in an easy chair; “come, and let me tell you that you are the prettiest SOUBRETTE I ever saw!”

And he did tell her so much, and so well, that the poor girl, who asked nothing better than to believe him, did believe him. Nevertheless, to d’Artagnan’s great astonishment, the pretty Kitty defended herself resolutely.

Time passes quickly when it is passed in attacks and defenses. Midnight sounded, and almost at the same time the bell was rung in Milady’s chamber.

“Good God,” cried Kitty, “there is my mistress calling me! Go; go directly!”

D’Artagnan rose, took his hat, as if it had been his intention to obey, then, opening quickly the door of a large closet instead of that leading to the staircase, he buried himself amid the robes and dressing gowns of Milady.

“What are you doing?” cried Kitty.

D’Artagnan, who had secured the key, shut himself up in the closet without reply.

“Well,” cried Milady, in a sharp voice. “Are you asleep, that you don’t answer when I ring?”

And d’Artagnan heard the door of communication opened violently.

“Here am I, Milady, here am I!” cried Kitty, springing forward to meet her mistress.

Both went into the bedroom, and as the door of communication remained open, d’Artagnan could hear Milady for some time scolding her maid. She was at length appeased, and the conversation turned upon him while Kitty was assisting her mistress.

“Well,” said Milady, “I have not seen our Gascon this evening.”

“What, Milady! has he not come?” said Kitty. “Can he be inconstant before being happy?”

“Oh, no; he must have been prevented by Monsieur de Tréville or Monsieur Dessessart. I understand my game, Kitty; I have this one safe.”

“What will you do with him, madame?”

“What will I do with him? Be easy, Kitty, there is something between that man and me that he is quite ignorant of: he nearly made me lose my credit with his Eminence. Oh, I will be revenged!”

“I believed that Madame loved him.”

“I love him? I detest him! An idiot, who held the life of Lord de Winter in his hands and did not kill him, by which I missed three hundred thousand livres’ income.”

“That’s true,” said Kitty; “your son was the only heir of his uncle, and until his majority you would have had the enjoyment of his fortune.”

D’Artagnan shuddered to the marrow at hearing this suave creature reproach him, with that sharp voice which she took such pains to conceal in conversation, for not having killed a man whom he had seen load her with kindnesses.

“For all this,” continued Milady, “I should long ago have revenged myself on him if, and I don’t know why, the cardinal had not requested me to conciliate him.”

“Oh, yes; but Madame has not conciliated that little woman he was so fond of.”

“What, the mercer’s wife of the Rue des Fossoyeurs? Has he not already forgotten she ever existed? Fine vengeance that, on my faith!”

A cold sweat broke from d’Artagnan’s brow. Why, this woman was a monster! He resumed his listening, but unfortunately the toilet was finished.

“That will do,” said Milady; “go into your own room, and tomorrow endeavor again to get me an answer to the letter I gave you.”

“For Monsieur de Wardes?” said Kitty.

“To be sure; for Monsieur de Wardes.”

“Now, there is one,” said Kitty, “who appears to me quite a different sort of a man from that poor Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“Go to bed, mademoiselle,” said Milady; “I don’t like comments.”

D’Artagnan heard the door close; then the noise of two bolts by which Milady fastened herself in. On her side, but as softly as possible, Kitty turned the key of the lock, and then d’Artagnan opened the closet door.

“Oh, good Lord!” said Kitty, in a low voice, “what is the matter with you? How pale you are!”

“The abominable creature,” murmured d’Artagnan.

“Silence, silence, begone!” said Kitty. “There is nothing but a wainscot between my chamber and Milady’s; every word that is uttered in one can be heard in the other.”

“That’s exactly the reason I won’t go,” said d’Artagnan.

“What!” said Kitty, blushing.

“Or, at least, I will go—later.”

He drew Kitty to him. She had the less motive to resist, resistance would make so much noise. Therefore Kitty surrendered.

It was a movement of vengeance upon Milady. D’Artagnan believed it right to say that vengeance is the pleasure of the gods. With a little more heart, he might have been contented with this new conquest; but the principal features of his character were ambition and pride. It must, however, be confessed in his justification that the first use he made of his influence over Kitty was to try and find out what had become of Mme. Bonacieux; but the poor girl swore upon the crucifix to d’Artagnan that she was entirely ignorant on that head, her mistress never admitting her into half her secrets—only she believed she could say she was not dead.

As to the cause which was near making Milady lose her credit with the cardinal, Kitty knew nothing about it; but this time d’Artagnan was better informed than she was. As he had seen Milady on board a vessel at the moment he was leaving England, he suspected that it was, almost without a doubt, on account of the diamond studs.

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.