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The Three Musketeers

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37. 
MILADY’S SECRET


D’Artagnan left the hôtel 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 hôtel 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.

“Yes, I.”

“And why YOU?”

“Because I alone know—”

“What?”

“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.”

“A confession!”

“If I had the least doubt of your love I would not make it, but you love me, my beautiful mistress, do you not?”

“Without doubt.”

“Then if through excess of love I have rendered myself culpable toward you, you will pardon me?”

“Perhaps.”

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 hand, 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 hôtel; 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 hôtel. 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 INCOMMDING 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—”

“Silence!”

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?”

“Very.”

“Blue and clear eyes, of a strange brilliancy, with black eyelids and eyebrows?”

“Yes.”

“Tall, well-made? She has lost a tooth, next to the eyetooth on the left?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

Grimaud entered.

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.”

Athos smiled.

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Exactly so.”

“And yesterday evening he came again.”

“Yesterday evening?”

“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 he 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.”

“Reflect, Athos!”

“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.”

No signature.

“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.”

D’Artagnan blushed.

“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 Tréville 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 hôtel, 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 Tréville’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?”

“Nearly so.”

“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 hôtel 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 Férou 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’s mount.

The two Musketeers met at the gate. Athos and d’Artagnan watched their approach from the window.

“The devil!” cried Aramis, “you have a magnificent horse there, Porthos.”

“Yes,” replied Porthos, “it is the one that ought to have been sent to me at first. A bad joke of the husband’s substituted the other; but the husband has been punished since, and I have obtained full satisfaction.”

Planchet and Grimaud appeared in their turn, leading their masters’ steeds. D’Artagnan and Athos put themselves into saddle with their companions, and all four set forward; Athos upon a horse he owed to a woman, Aramis on a horse he owed to his mistress, Porthos on a horse he owed to his procurator’s wife, and d’Artagnan on a horse he owed to his good fortune—the best mistress possible.

The lackeys followed.

As Porthos had foreseen, the cavalcade produced a good effect; and if Mme. Coquenard had met Porthos and seen what a superb appearance he made upon his handsome Spanish genet, she would not have regretted the bleeding she had inflicted upon the strongbox of her husband.

Near the Louvre the four friends met with M. de Tréville, who was returning from St. Germain; he stopped them to offer his compliments upon their appointments, which in an instant drew round them a hundred gapers.

D’Artagnan profited by the circumstance to speak to M. de Tréville of the letter with the great red seal and the cardinal’s arms. It is well understood that he did not breathe a word about the other.

M. de Tréville approved of the resolution he had adopted, and assured him that if on the morrow he did not appear, he himself would undertake to find him, let him be where he might.

At this moment the clock of La Samaritaine struck six; the four friends pleaded an engagement, and took leave of M. de Tréville.

A short gallop brought them to the road of Chaillot; the day began to decline, carriages were passing and repassing. D’Artagnan, keeping at some distance from his friends, darted a scrutinizing glance into every carriage that appeared, but saw no face with which he was acquainted.

At length, after waiting a quarter of an hour and just as twilight was beginning to thicken, a carriage appeared, coming at a quick pace on the road of Sevres. A presentiment instantly told d’Artagnan that this carriage contained the person who had appointed the rendezvous; the young man was himself astonished to find his heart beat so violently. Almost instantly a female head was put out at the window, with two fingers placed upon her mouth, either to enjoin silence or to send him a kiss. D’Artagnan uttered a slight cry of joy; this woman, or rather this apparition—for the carriage passed with the rapidity of a vision—was Mme. Bonacieux.

By an involuntary movement and in spite of the injunction given, d’Artagnan put his horse into a gallop, and in a few strides overtook the carriage; but the window was hermetically closed, the vision had disappeared.

D’Artagnan then remembered the injunction: “If you value your own life or that of those who love you, remain motionless, and as if you had seen nothing.”

He stopped, therefore, trembling not for himself but for the poor woman who had evidently exposed herself to great danger by appointing this rendezvous.

The carriage pursued its way, still going at a great pace, till it dashed into Paris, and disappeared.

D’Artagnan remained fixed to the spot, astounded and not knowing what to think. If it was Mme. Bonacieux and if she was returning to Paris, why this fugitive rendezvous, why this simple exchange of a glance, why this lost kiss? If, on the other side, it was not she—which was still quite possible—for the little light that remained rendered a mistake easy—might it not be the commencement of some plot against him through the allurement of this woman, for whom his love was known?

His three companions joined him. All had plainly seen a woman’s head appear at the window, but none of them, except Athos, knew Mme. Bonacieux. The opinion of Athos was that it was indeed she; but less preoccupied by that pretty face than d’Artagnan, he had fancied he saw a second head, a man’s head, inside the carriage.

“If that be the case,” said d’Artagnan, “they are doubtless transporting her from one prison to another. But what can they intend to do with the poor creature, and how shall I ever meet her again?”

“Friend,” said Athos, gravely, “remember that it is the dead alone with whom we are not likely to meet again on this earth. You know something of that, as well as I do, I think. Now, if your mistress is not dead, if it is she we have just seen, you will meet with her again some day or other. And perhaps, my God!” added he, with that misanthropic tone which was peculiar to him, “perhaps sooner than you wish.”

Half past seven had sounded. The carriage had been twenty minutes behind the time appointed. D’Artagnan’s friends reminded him that he had a visit to pay, but at the same time bade him observe that there was yet time to retract.

But d’Artagnan was at the same time impetuous and curious. He had made up his mind that he would go to the Palais-Cardinal, and that he would learn what his Eminence had to say to him. Nothing could turn him from his purpose.

They reached the Rue St. Honoré, and in the Place du Palais-Cardinal they found the twelve invited Musketeers, walking about in expectation of their comrades. There only they explained to them the matter in hand.

D’Artagnan was well known among the honorable corps of the king’s Musketeers, in which it was known he would one day take his place; he was considered beforehand as a comrade. It resulted from these antecedents that everyone entered heartily into the purpose for which they met; besides, it would not be unlikely that they would have an opportunity of playing either the cardinal or his people an ill turn, and for such expeditions these worthy gentlemen were always ready.

Athos divided them into three groups, assumed the command of one, gave the second to Aramis, and the third to Porthos; and then each group went and took their watch near an entrance.

D’Artagnan, on his part, entered boldly at the principal gate.

Although he felt himself ably supported, the young man was not without a little uneasiness as he ascended the great staircase, step by step. His conduct toward Milady bore a strong resemblance to treachery, and he was very suspicious of the political relations which existed between that woman and the cardinal. Still further, de Wardes, whom he had treated so ill, was one of the tools of his Eminence; and d’Artagnan knew that while his Eminence was terrible to his enemies, he was strongly attached to his friends.

“If de Wardes has related all our affair to the cardinal, which is not to be doubted, and if he has recognized me, as is probable, I may consider myself almost as a condemned man,” said d’Artagnan, shaking his head. “But why has he waited till now? That’s all plain enough. Milady has laid her complaints against me with that hypocritical grief which renders her so interesting, and this last offense has made the cup overflow.”

“Fortunately,” added he, “my good friends are down yonder, and they will not allow me to be carried away without a struggle. Nevertheless, Monsieur de Tréville’s company of Musketeers alone cannot maintain a war against the cardinal, who disposes of the forces of all France, and before whom the queen is without power and the king without will. D’Artagnan, my friend, you are brave, you are prudent, you have excellent qualities; but the women will ruin you!”

He came to this melancholy conclusion as he entered the antechamber. He placed his letter in the hands of the usher on duty, who led him into the waiting room and passed on into the interior of the palace.

In this waiting room were five or six of the cardinals Guards, who recognized d’Artagnan, and knowing that it was he who had wounded Jussac, they looked upon him with a smile of singular meaning.

This smile appeared to d’Artagnan to be of bad augury. Only, as our Gascon was not easily intimidated—or rather, thanks to a great pride natural to the men of his country, he did not allow one easily to see what was passing in his mind when that which was passing at all resembled fear—he placed himself haughtily in front of Messieurs the Guards, and waited with his hand on his hip, in an attitude by no means deficient in majesty.

The usher returned and made a sign to d’Artagnan to follow him. It appeared to the young man that the Guards, on seeing him depart, chuckled among themselves.

He traversed a corridor, crossed a grand saloon, entered a library, and found himself in the presence of a man seated at a desk and writing.

The usher introduced him, and retired without speaking a word. D’Artagnan remained standing and examined this man.

D’Artagnan at first believed that he had to do with some judge examining his papers; but he perceived that the man at the desk wrote, or rather corrected, lines of unequal length, scanning the words on his fingers. He saw then that he was with a poet. At the end of an instant the poet closed his manuscript, upon the cover of which was written “Mirame, a Tragedy in Five Acts,” and raised his head.

D’Artagnan recognized the cardinal.