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The Three Musketeers

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61. 
THE CARMELITE CONVENT AT BÉTHUNE


Great criminals bear about them a kind of predestination which makes them surmount all obstacles, which makes them escape all dangers, up to the moment which a wearied Providence has marked as the rock of their impious fortunes.

It was thus with Milady. She escaped the cruisers of both nations, and arrived at Boulogne without accident.

When landing at Portsmouth, Milady was an Englishwoman whom the persecutions of the French drove from La Rochelle; when landing at Boulogne, after a two days’ passage, she passed for a Frenchwoman whom the English persecuted at Portsmouth out of their hatred for France.

Milady had, likewise, the best of passports—her beauty, her noble appearance, and the liberality with which she distributed her pistoles. Freed from the usual formalities by the affable smile and gallant manners of an old governor of the port, who kissed her hand, she only remained long enough at Boulogne to put into the post a letter, conceived in the following terms:

“To his Eminence Monseigneur the Cardinal Richelieu, in his camp before La Rochelle.

“Monseigneur,

Let your Eminence be reassured. His Grace the Duke of Buckingham WILL NOT SET OUT for France.

“MILADY DE ——

“BOULOGNE, evening of the twenty-fifth.

“P.S.—According to the desire of your Eminence, I report to the convent of the Carmelites at Béthune, where I will await your orders.”

Accordingly, that same evening Milady commenced her journey. Night overtook her; she stopped, and slept at an inn. At five o’clock the next morning she again proceeded, and in three hours after entered Béthune. She inquired for the convent of the Carmelites, and went thither immediately.

The superior met her; Milady showed her the cardinal’s order. The abbess assigned her a chamber, and had breakfast served.

All the past was effaced from the eyes of this woman; and her looks, fixed on the future, beheld nothing but the high fortunes reserved for her by the cardinal, whom she had so successfully served without his name being in any way mixed up with the sanguinary affair. The ever-new passions which consumed her gave to her life the appearance of those clouds which float in the heavens, reflecting sometimes azure, sometimes fire, sometimes the opaque blackness of the tempest, and which leave no traces upon the earth behind them but devastation and death.

After breakfast, the abbess came to pay her a visit. There is very little amusement in the cloister, and the good superior was eager to make the acquaintance of her new boarder.

Milady wished to please the abbess. This was a very easy matter for a woman so really superior as she was. She tried to be agreeable, and she was charming, winning the good superior by her varied conversation and by the graces of her whole personality.

The abbess, who was the daughter of a noble house, took particular delight in stories of the court, which so seldom travel to the extremities of the kingdom, and which, above all, have so much difficulty in penetrating the walls of convents, at whose threshold the noise of the world dies away.

Milady, on the contrary, was quite conversant with all aristocratic intrigues, amid which she had constantly lived for five or six years. She made it her business, therefore, to amuse the good abbess with the worldly practices of the court of France, mixed with the eccentric pursuits of the king; she made for her the scandalous chronicle of the lords and ladies of the court, whom the abbess knew perfectly by name, touched lightly on the amours of the queen and the Duke of Buckingham, talking a great deal to induce her auditor to talk a little.

But the abbess contented herself with listening and smiling without replying a word. Milady, however, saw that this sort of narrative amused her very much, and kept at it; only she now let her conversation drift toward the cardinal.

But she was greatly embarrassed. She did not know whether the abbess was a royalist or a cardinalist; she therefore confined herself to a prudent middle course. But the abbess, on her part, maintained a reserve still more prudent, contenting herself with making a profound inclination of the head every time the fair traveler pronounced the name of his Eminence.

Milady began to think she should soon grow weary of a convent life; she resolved, then, to risk something in order that she might know how to act afterward. Desirous of seeing how far the discretion of the good abbess would go, she began to tell a story, obscure at first, but very circumstantial afterward, about the cardinal, relating the amours of the minister with Mme. d’Aiguillon, Marion de Lorme, and several other gay women.

The abbess listened more attentively, grew animated by degrees, and smiled.

“Good,” thought Milady; “she takes a pleasure in my conversation. If she is a cardinalist, she has no fanaticism, at least.”

She then went on to describe the persecutions exercised by the cardinal upon his enemies. The abbess only crossed herself, without approving or disapproving.

This confirmed Milady in her opinion that the abbess was rather royalist than cardinalist. Milady therefore continued, coloring her narrations more and more.

“I am very ignorant of these matters,” said the abbess, at length; “but however distant from the court we may be, however remote from the interests of the world we may be placed, we have very sad examples of what you have related. And one of our boarders has suffered much from the vengeance and persecution of the cardinal!”

“One of your boarders?” said Milady; “oh, my God! Poor woman! I pity her, then.”

“And you have reason, for she is much to be pitied. Imprisonment, menaces, ill treatment-she has suffered everything. But after all,” resumed the abbess, “Monsieur Cardinal has perhaps plausible motives for acting thus; and though she has the look of an angel, we must not always judge people by the appearance.”

“Good!” said Milady to herself; “who knows! I am about, perhaps, to discover something here; I am in the vein.”

She tried to give her countenance an appearance of perfect candor.

“Alas,” said Milady, “I know it is so. It is said that we must not trust to the face; but in what, then, shall we place confidence, if not in the most beautiful work of the Lord? As for me, I shall be deceived all my life perhaps, but I shall always have faith in a person whose countenance inspires me with sympathy.”

“You would, then, be tempted to believe,” said the abbess, “that this young person is innocent?”

“The cardinal pursues not only crimes,” said she: “there are certain virtues which he pursues more severely than certain offenses.”

“Permit me, madame, to express my surprise,” said the abbess.

“At what?” said Milady, with the utmost ingenuousness.

“At the language you use.”

“What do you find so astonishing in that language?” said Milady, smiling.

“You are the friend of the cardinal, for he sends you hither, and yet—”

“And yet I speak ill of him,” replied Milady, finishing the thought of the superior.

“At least you don’t speak well of him.”

“That is because I am not his friend,” said she, sighing, “but his victim!”

“But this letter in which he recommends you to me?”

“Is an order for me to confine myself to a sort of prison, from which he will release me by one of his satellites.”

“But why have you not fled?”

“Whither should I go? Do you believe there is a spot on the earth which the cardinal cannot reach if he takes the trouble to stretch forth his hand? If I were a man, that would barely be possible; but what can a woman do? This young boarder of yours, has she tried to fly?”

“No, that is true; but she—that is another thing; I believe she is detained in France by some love affair.”

“Ah,” said Milady, with a sigh, “if she loves she is not altogether wretched.”

“Then,” said the abbess, looking at Milady with increasing interest, “I behold another poor victim?”

“Alas, yes,” said Milady.

The abbess looked at her for an instant with uneasiness, as if a fresh thought suggested itself to her mind.

“You are not an enemy of our holy faith?” said she, hesitatingly.

“Who—I?” cried Milady; “I a Protestant? Oh, no! I call to witness the God who hears us, that on the contrary I am a fervent Catholic!”

“Then, madame,” said the abbess, smiling, “be reassured; the house in which you are shall not be a very hard prison, and we will do all in our power to make you cherish your captivity. You will find here, moreover, the young woman of whom I spoke, who is persecuted, no doubt, in consequence of some court intrigue. She is amiable and well-behaved.”

“What is her name?”

“She was sent to me by someone of high rank, under the name of Kitty. I have not tried to discover her other name.”

“Kitty!” cried Milady. “What? Are you sure?”

“That she is called so? Yes, madame. Do you know her?”

Milady smiled to herself at the idea which had occurred to her that this might be her old chambermaid. There was connected with the remembrance of this girl a remembrance of anger; and a desire of vengeance disordered the features of Milady, which, however, immediately recovered the calm and benevolent expression which this woman of a hundred faces had for a moment allowed them to lose.

“And when can I see this young lady, for whom I already feel so great a sympathy?” asked Milady.

“Why, this evening,” said the abbess; “today even. But you have been traveling these four days, as you told me yourself. This morning you rose at five o’clock; you must stand in need of repose. Go to bed and sleep; at dinnertime we will rouse you.”

Although Milady would very willingly have gone without sleep, sustained as she was by all the excitements which a new adventure awakened in her heart, ever thirsting for intrigues, she nevertheless accepted the offer of the superior. During the last fifteen days she had experienced so many and such various emotions that if her frame of iron was still capable of supporting fatigue, her mind required repose.

She therefore took leave of the abbess, and went to bed, softly rocked by the ideas of vengeance which the name of Kitty had naturally brought to her thoughts. She remembered that almost unlimited promise which the cardinal had given her if she succeeded in her enterprise. She had succeeded; d’Artagnan was then in her power!

One thing alone frightened her; that was the remembrance of her husband, the Comte de la Fère, whom she had believed dead, or at least expatriated, and whom she found again in Athos-the best friend of d’Artagnan.

But alas, if he was the friend of d’Artagnan, he must have lent him his assistance in all the proceedings by whose aid the queen had defeated the project of his Eminence; if he was the friend of d’Artagnan, he was the enemy of the cardinal; and she doubtless would succeed in involving him in the vengeance by which she hoped to destroy the young Musketeer.

All these hopes were so many sweet thoughts for Milady; so, rocked by them, she soon fell asleep.

She was awakened by a soft voice which sounded at the foot of her bed. She opened her eyes, and saw the abbess, accompanied by a young woman with light hair and delicate complexion, who fixed upon her a look full of benevolent curiosity.

The face of the young woman was entirely unknown to her. Each examined the other with great attention, while exchanging the customary compliments; both were very handsome, but of quite different styles of beauty. Milady, however, smiled in observing that she excelled the young woman by far in her high air and aristocratic bearing. It is true that the habit of a novice, which the young woman wore, was not very advantageous in a contest of this kind.

The abbess introduced them to each other. When this formality was ended, as her duties called her to chapel, she left the two young women alone.

The novice, seeing Milady in bed, was about to follow the example of the superior; but Milady stopped her.

“How, madame,” said she, “I have scarcely seen you, and you already wish to deprive me of your company, upon which I had counted a little, I must confess, for the time I have to pass here?”

“No, madame,” replied the novice, “only I thought I had chosen my time ill; you were asleep, you are fatigued.”

“Well,” said Milady, “what can those who sleep wish for—a happy awakening? This awakening you have given me; allow me, then, to enjoy it at my ease,” and taking her hand, she drew her toward the armchair by the bedside.

The novice sat down.

“How unfortunate I am!” said she; “I have been here six months without the shadow of recreation. You arrive, and your presence was likely to afford me delightful company; yet I expect, in all probability, to quit the convent at any moment.”

“How, you are going soon?” asked Milady.

“At least I hope so,” said the novice, with an expression of joy which she made no effort to disguise.

“I think I learned you had suffered persecutions from the cardinal,” continued Milady; “that would have been another motive for sympathy between us.”

“What I have heard, then, from our good mother is true; you have likewise been a victim of that wicked priest.”

“Hush!” said Milady; “let us not, even here, speak thus of him. All my misfortunes arise from my having said nearly what you have said before a woman whom I thought my friend, and who betrayed me. Are you also the victim of a treachery?”

“No,” said the novice, “but of my devotion—of a devotion to a woman I loved, for whom I would have laid down my life, for whom I would give it still.”

“And who has abandoned you—is that it?”

“I have been sufficiently unjust to believe so; but during the last two or three days I have obtained proof to the contrary, for which I thank God—for it would have cost me very dear to think she had forgotten me. But you, madame, you appear to be free,” continued the novice; “and if you were inclined to fly it only rests with yourself to do so.”

“Whither would you have me go, without friends, without money, in a part of France with which I am unacquainted, and where I have never been before?”

“Oh,” cried the novice, “as to friends, you would have them wherever you want, you appear so good and are so beautiful!”

“That does not prevent,” replied Milady, softening her smile so as to give it an angelic expression, “my being alone or being persecuted.”

“Hear me,” said the novice; “we must trust in heaven. There always comes a moment when the good you have done pleads your cause before God; and see, perhaps it is a happiness for you, humble and powerless as I am, that you have met with me, for if I leave this place, well-I have powerful friends, who, after having exerted themselves on my account, may also exert themselves for you.”

“Oh, when I said I was alone,” said Milady, hoping to make the novice talk by talking of herself, “it is not for want of friends in high places; but these friends themselves tremble before the cardinal. The queen herself does not dare to oppose the terrible minister. I have proof that her Majesty, notwithstanding her excellent heart, has more than once been obliged to abandon to the anger of his Eminence persons who had served her.”

“Trust me, madame; the queen may appear to have abandoned those persons, but we must not put faith in appearances. The more they are persecuted, the more she thinks of them; and often, when they least expect it, they have proof of a kind remembrance.”

“Alas!” said Milady, “I believe so; the queen is so good!”

“Oh, you know her, then, that lovely and noble queen, that you speak of her thus!” cried the novice, with enthusiasm.

“That is to say,” replied Milady, driven into her entrenchment, “that I have not the honor of knowing her personally; but I know a great number of her most intimate friends. I am acquainted with Monsieur de Putange; I met Monsieur Dujart in England; I know Monsieur de Tréville.”

“Monsieur de Tréville!” exclaimed the novice, “do you know Monsieur de Tréville?”

“Yes, perfectly well—intimately even.”

“The captain of the king’s Musketeers?”

“The captain of the king’s Musketeers.”

“Why, then, only see!” cried the novice; “we shall soon be well acquainted, almost friends. If you know Monsieur de Tréville, you must have visited him?”

“Often!” said Milady, who, having entered this track, and perceiving that falsehood succeeded, was determined to follow it to the end.

“With him, then, you must have seen some of his Musketeers?”

“All those he is in the habit of receiving!” replied Milady, for whom this conversation began to have a real interest.

“Name a few of those whom you know, and you will see if they are my friends.”

“Well!” said Milady, embarrassed, “I know Monsieur de Louvigny, Monsieur de Courtivron, Monsieur de Ferussac.”

The novice let her speak, then seeing that she paused, she said, “Don’t you know a gentleman named Athos?”

Milady became as pale as the sheets in which she was lying, and mistress as she was of herself, could not help uttering a cry, seizing the hand of the novice, and devouring her with looks.

“What is the matter? Good God!” asked the poor woman, “have I said anything that has wounded you?”

“No; but the name struck me, because I also have known that gentleman, and it appeared strange to me to meet with a person who appears to know him well.”

“Oh, yes, very well; not only him, but some of his friends, Messieurs Porthos and Aramis!”

“Indeed! you know them likewise? I know them,” cried Milady, who began to feel a chill penetrate her heart.

“Well, if you know them, you know that they are good and free companions. Why do you not apply to them, if you stand in need of help?”

“That is to say,” stammered Milady, “I am not really very intimate with any of them. I know them from having heard one of their friends, Monsieur d’Artagnan, say a great deal about them.”

“You know Monsieur d’Artagnan!” cried the novice, in her turn seizing the hands of Milady and devouring her with her eyes.

Then remarking the strange expression of Milady’s countenance, she said, “Pardon me, madame; you know him by what title?”

“Why,” replied Milady, embarrassed, “why, by the title of friend.”

“You deceive me, madame,” said the novice; “you have been his mistress!”

“It is you who have been his mistress, madame!” cried Milady, in her turn.

“I?” said the novice.

“Yes, you! I know you now. You are Madame Bonacieux!”

The young woman drew back, filled with surprise and terror.

“Oh, do not deny it! Answer!” continued Milady.

“Well, yes, madame,” said the novice, “Are we rivals?”

The countenance of Milady was illumined by so savage a joy that under any other circumstances Mme. Bonacieux would have fled in terror; but she was absorbed by jealousy.

“Speak, madame!” resumed Mme. Bonacieux, with an energy of which she might not have been believed capable. “Have you been, or are you, his mistress?”

“Oh, no!” cried Milady, with an accent that admitted no doubt of her truth. “Never, never!”

“I believe you,” said Mme. Bonacieux; “but why, then, did you cry out so?”

“Do you not understand?” said Milady, who had already overcome her agitation and recovered all her presence of mind.

“How can I understand? I know nothing.”

“Can you not understand that Monsieur d’Artagnan, being my friend, might take me into his confidence?”

“Truly?”

“Do you not perceive that I know all—your abduction from the little house at St. Germain, his despair, that of his friends, and their useless inquiries up to this moment? How could I help being astonished when, without having the least expectation of such a thing, I meet you face to face—you, of whom we have so often spoken together, you whom he loves with all his soul, you whom he had taught me to love before I had seen you! Ah, dear Constance, I have found you, then; I see you at last!”

And Milady stretched out her arms to Mme. Bonacieux, who, convinced by what she had just said, saw nothing in this woman whom an instant before she had believed her rival but a sincere and devoted friend.

“Oh, pardon me, pardon me!” cried she, sinking upon the shoulders of Milady. “Pardon me, I love him so much!”

These two women held each other for an instant in a close embrace. Certainly, if Milady’s strength had been equal to her hatred, Mme. Bonacieux would never have left that embrace alive. But not being able to stifle her, she smiled upon her.

“Oh, you beautiful, good little creature!” said Milady. “How delighted I am to have found you! Let me look at you!” and while saying these words, she absolutely devoured her by her looks. “Oh, yes it is you indeed! From what he has told me, I know you now. I recognize you perfectly.”

The poor young woman could not possibly suspect what frightful cruelty was behind the rampart of that pure brow, behind those brilliant eyes in which she read nothing but interest and compassion.

“Then you know what I have suffered,” said Mme. Bonacieux, “since he has told you what he has suffered; but to suffer for him is happiness.”

Milady replied mechanically, “Yes, that is happiness.” She was thinking of something else.

“And then,” continued Mme. Bonacieux, “my punishment is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, this evening, perhaps, I shall see him again; and then the past will no longer exist.”

“This evening?” asked Milady, roused from her reverie by these words. “What do you mean? Do you expect news from him?”

“I expect himself.”

“Himself? D’Artagnan here?”

“Himself!”

“But that’s impossible! He is at the siege of La Rochelle with the cardinal. He will not return till after the taking of the city.”

“Ah, you fancy so! But is there anything impossible for my d’Artagnan, the noble and loyal gentleman?”

“Oh, I cannot believe you!”

“Well, read, then!” said the unhappy young woman, in the excess of her pride and joy, presenting a letter to Milady.

“The writing of Madame de Chevreuse!” said Milady to herself. “Ah, I always thought there was some secret understanding in that quarter!” And she greedily read the following few lines:

My Dear Child, Hold yourself ready. OUR FRIEND will see you soon, and he will only see you to release you from that imprisonment in which your safety required you should be concealed. Prepare, then, for your departure, and never despair of us.

Our charming Gascon has just proved himself as brave and faithful as ever. Tell him that certain parties are grateful for the warning he has given.

“Yes, yes,” said Milady; “the letter is precise. Do you know what that warning was?”

“No, I only suspect he has warned the queen against some fresh machinations of the cardinal.”

“Yes, that’s it, no doubt!” said Milady, returning the letter to Mme. Bonacieux, and letting her head sink pensively upon her bosom.

At that moment they heard the gallop of a horse.

“Oh!” cried Mme. Bonacieux, darting to the window, “can it be he?”

Milady remained still in bed, petrified by surprise; so many unexpected things happened to her all at once that for the first time she was at a loss.

“He, he!” murmured she; “can it be he?” And she remained in bed with her eyes fixed.

“Alas, no!” said Mme. Bonacieux; “it is a man I don’t know, although he seems to be coming here. Yes, he checks his pace; he stops at the gate; he rings.”

Milady sprang out of bed.

“You are sure it is not he?” said she.

“Yes, yes, very sure!”

“Perhaps you did not see well.”

“Oh, if I were to see the plume of his hat, the end of his cloak, I should know HIM!”

Milady was dressing herself all the time.

“Yes, he has entered.”

“It is for you or me!”

“My God, how agitated you seem!”

“Yes, I admit it. I have not your confidence; I fear the cardinal.”

“Hush!” said Mme. Bonacieux; “somebody is coming.”

Immediately the door opened, and the superior entered.

“Did you come from Boulogne?” demanded she of Milady.

“Yes,” replied she, trying to recover her self-possession. “Who wants me?”

“A man who will not tell his name, but who comes from the cardinal.”

“And who wishes to speak with me?”

“Who wishes to speak to a lady recently come from Boulogne.”

“Then let him come in, if you please.”

“Oh, my God, my God!” cried Mme. Bonacieux. “Can it be bad news?”

“I fear it.”

“I will leave you with this stranger; but as soon as he is gone, if you will permit me, I will return.”

“PERMIT you? I BESEECH you.”

The superior and Mme. Bonacieux retired.

Milady remained alone, with her eyes fixed upon the door. An instant later, the jingling of spurs was heard upon the stairs, steps drew near, the door opened, and a man appeared.

Milady uttered a cry of joy; this man was the Comte de Rochefort—the demoniacal tool of his Eminence.


62. 
TWO VARIETIES OF DEMONS


Ah,” cried Milady and Rochefort together, “it is you!”

“Yes, it is I.”

“And you come?” asked Milady.

“From La Rochelle; and you?”

“From England.”

“Buckingham?”

“Dead or desperately wounded, as I left without having been able to hear anything of him. A fanatic has just assassinated him.”

“Ah,” said Rochefort, with a smile; “this is a fortunate chance—one that will delight his Eminence! Have you informed him of it?”

“I wrote to him from Boulogne. But what brings you here?”

“His Eminence was uneasy, and sent me to find you.”

“I only arrived yesterday.”

“And what have you been doing since yesterday?”

“I have not lost my time.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that.”

“Do you know whom I have encountered here?”

“No.”

“Guess.”

“How can I?”

“That young woman whom the queen took out of prison.”

“The mistress of that fellow d’Artagnan?”

“Yes; Madame Bonacieux, with whose retreat the cardinal was unacquainted.”

“Well, well,” said Rochefort, “here is a chance which may pair off with the other! Monsieur Cardinal is indeed a privileged man!”

“Imagine my astonishment,” continued Milady, “when I found myself face to face with this woman!”

“Does she know you?”

“No.”

“Then she looks upon you as a stranger?”

Milady smiled. “I am her best friend.”

“Upon my honor,” said Rochefort, “it takes you, my dear countess, to perform such miracles!”

“And it is well I can, Chevalier,” said Milady, “for do you know what is going on here?”

“No.”

“They will come for her tomorrow or the day after, with an order from the queen.”

“Indeed! And who?”

“D’Artagnan and his friends.”

“Indeed, they will go so far that we shall be obliged to send them to the Bastille.”

“Why is it not done already?”

“What would you? The cardinal has a weakness for these men which I cannot comprehend.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, tell him this, Rochefort. Tell him that our conversation at the inn of the Red Dovecot was overheard by these four men; tell him that after his departure one of them came up to me and took from me by violence the safe-conduct which he had given me; tell him they warned Lord de Winter of my journey to England; that this time they nearly foiled my mission as they foiled the affair of the studs; tell him that among these four men two only are to be feared—d’Artagnan and Athos; tell him that the third, Aramis, is the lover of Madame de Chevreuse—he may be left alone, we know his secret, and it may be useful; as to the fourth, Porthos, he is a fool, a simpleton, a blustering booby, not worth troubling himself about.”

“But these four men must be now at the siege of La Rochelle?”

“I thought so, too; but a letter which Madame Bonacieux has received from Madame the Constable, and which she has had the imprudence to show me, leads me to believe that these four men, on the contrary, are on the road hither to take her away.”

“The devil! What’s to be done?”

“What did the cardinal say about me?”

“I was to take your dispatches, written or verbal, and return by post; and when he shall know what you have done, he will advise what you have to do.”

“I must, then, remain here?”

“Here, or in the neighborhood.”

“You cannot take me with you?”

“No, the order is imperative. Near the camp you might be recognized; and your presence, you must be aware, would compromise the cardinal.”

“Then I must wait here, or in the neighborhood?”

“Only tell me beforehand where you will wait for intelligence from the cardinal; let me know always where to find you.”

“Observe, it is probable that I may not be able to remain here.”

“Why?”

“You forget that my enemies may arrive at any minute.”

“That’s true; but is this little woman, then, to escape his Eminence?”

“Bah!” said Milady, with a smile that belonged only to herself; “you forget that I am her best friend.”

“Ah, that’s true! I may then tell the cardinal, with respect to this little woman—”

“That he may be at ease.”

“Is that all?”

“He will know what that means.”

“He will guess, at least. Now, then, what had I better do?”

“Return instantly. It appears to me that the news you bear is worth the trouble of a little diligence.”

“My chaise broke down coming into Lilliers.”

“Capital!”

“What, CAPITAL?”

“Yes, I want your chaise.”

“And how shall I travel, then?”

“On horseback.”

“You talk very comfortably,—a hundred and eighty leagues!”

“What’s that?”

“One can do it! Afterward?”

“Afterward? Why, in passing through Lilliers you will send me your chaise, with an order to your servant to place himself at my disposal.”

“Well.”

“You have, no doubt, some order from the cardinal about you?”

“I have my FULL POWER.”

“Show it to the abbess, and tell her that someone will come and fetch me, either today or tomorrow, and that I am to follow the person who presents himself in your name.”

“Very well.”

“Don’t forget to treat me harshly in speaking of me to the abbess.”

“To what purpose?”

“I am a victim of the cardinal. It is necessary to inspire confidence in that poor little Madame Bonacieux.”

“That’s true. Now, will you make me a report of all that has happened?”

“Why, I have related the events to you. You have a good memory; repeat what I have told you. A paper may be lost.”

“You are right; only let me know where to find you that I may not run needlessly about the neighborhood.”

“That’s correct; wait!”

“Do you want a map?”

“Oh, I know this country marvelously!”

“You? When were you here?”

“I was brought up here.”

“Truly?”

“It is worth something, you see, to have been brought up somewhere.”

“You will wait for me, then?”

“Let me reflect a little! Ay, that will do—at Armentieres.”

“Where is that Armentieres?”

“A little town on the Lys; I shall only have to cross the river, and I shall be in a foreign country.”

“Capital! but it is understood you will only cross the river in case of danger.”

“That is well understood.”

“And in that case, how shall I know where you are?”

“You do not want your lackey?”

“Is he a sure man?”

“To the proof.”

“Give him to me. Nobody knows him. I will leave him at the place I quit, and he will conduct you to me.”

“And you say you will wait for me at Armentieres?”

“At Armentieres.”

“Write that name on a bit of paper, lest I should forget it. There is nothing compromising in the name of a town. Is it not so?”

“Eh, who knows? Never mind,” said Milady, writing the name on half a sheet of paper; “I will compromise myself.”

“Well,” said Rochefort, taking the paper from Milady, folding it, and placing it in the lining of his hat, “you may be easy. I will do as children do, for fear of losing the paper—repeat the name along the route. Now, is that all?”

“I believe so.”

“Let us see: Buckingham dead or grievously wounded; your conversation with the cardinal overheard by the four Musketeers; Lord de Winter warned of your arrival at Portsmouth; d’Artagnan and Athos to the Bastille; Aramis the lover of Madame de Chevreuse; Porthos an ass; Madame Bonacieux found again; to send you the chaise as soon as possible; to place my lackey at your disposal; to make you out a victim of the cardinal in order that the abbess may entertain no suspicion; Armentieres, on the banks of the Lys. Is that all, then?”

“In truth, my dear Chevalier, you are a miracle of memory. A PROPOS, add one thing—”

“What?”

“I saw some very pretty woods which almost touch the convent garden. Say that I am permitted to walk in those woods. Who knows? Perhaps I shall stand in need of a back door for retreat.”

“You think of everything.”

“And you forget one thing.”

“What?”

“To ask me if I want money.”

“That’s true. How much do you want?”

“All you have in gold.”

“I have five hundred pistoles, or thereabouts.”

“I have as much. With a thousand pistoles one may face everything. Empty your pockets.”

“There.”

“Right. And you go—”

“In an hour—time to eat a morsel, during which I shall send for a post horse.”

“Capital! Adieu, Chevalier.”

“Adieu, Countess.”

“Commend me to the cardinal.”

“Commend me to Satan.”

Milady and Rochefort exchanged a smile and separated. An hour afterward Rochefort set out at a grand gallop; five hours after that he passed through Arras.

Our readers already know how he was recognized by d’Artagnan, and how that recognition by inspiring fear in the four Musketeers had given fresh activity to their journey.


63. 
THE DROP OF WATER


Rochefort had scarcely departed when Mme. Bonacieux re-entered. She found Milady with a smiling countenance.

“Well,” said the young woman, “what you dreaded has happened. This evening, or tomorrow, the cardinal will send someone to take you away.”

“Who told you that, my dear?” asked Milady.

“I heard it from the mouth of the messenger himself.”

“Come and sit down close to me,” said Milady.

“Here I am.”

“Wait till I assure myself that nobody hears us.”

“Why all these precautions?”

“You shall know.”

Milady arose, went to the door, opened it, looked in the corridor, and then returned and seated herself close to Mme. Bonacieux.

“Then,” said she, “he has well played his part.”

“Who has?”

“He who just now presented himself to the abbess as a messenger from the cardinal.”

“It was, then, a part he was playing?”

“Yes, my child.”

“That man, then, was not—”

“That man,” said Milady, lowering her voice, “is my brother.”

“Your brother!” cried Mme. Bonacieux.

“No one must know this secret, my dear, but yourself. If you reveal it to anyone in the world, I shall be lost, and perhaps yourself likewise.”

“Oh, my God!”

“Listen. This is what has happened: My brother, who was coming to my assistance to take me away by force if it were necessary, met with the emissary of the cardinal, who was coming in search of me. He followed him. At a solitary and retired part of the road he drew his sword, and required the messenger to deliver up to him the papers of which he was the bearer. The messenger resisted; my brother killed him.”

“Oh!” said Mme. Bonacieux, shuddering.

“Remember, that was the only means. Then my brother determined to substitute cunning for force. He took the papers, and presented himself here as the emissary of the cardinal, and in an hour or two a carriage will come to take me away by the orders of his Eminence.”

“I understand. It is your brother who sends this carriage.”

“Exactly; but that is not all. That letter you have received, and which you believe to be from Madame de Chevreuse—”

“Well?”

“It is a forgery.”

“How can that be?”

“Yes, a forgery; it is a snare to prevent your making any resistance when they come to fetch you.”

“But it is d’Artagnan that will come.”

“Do not deceive yourself. D’Artagnan and his friends are detained at the siege of La Rochelle.”

“How do you know that?”

“My brother met some emissaries of the cardinal in the uniform of Musketeers. You would have been summoned to the gate; you would have believed yourself about to meet friends; you would have been abducted, and conducted back to Paris.”

“Oh, my God! My senses fail me amid such a chaos of iniquities. I feel, if this continues,” said Mme. Bonacieux, raising her hands to her forehead, “I shall go mad!”

“Stop—”

“What?”

“I hear a horse’s steps; it is my brother setting off again. I should like to offer him a last salute. Come!”

Milady opened the window, and made a sign to Mme. Bonacieux to join her. The young woman complied.

Rochefort passed at a gallop.

“Adieu, brother!” cried Milady.

The chevalier raised his head, saw the two young women, and without stopping, waved his hand in a friendly way to Milady.

“The good George!” said she, closing the window with an expression of countenance full of affection and melancholy. And she resumed her seat, as if plunged in reflections entirely personal.

“Dear lady,” said Mme. Bonacieux, “pardon me for interrupting you; but what do you advise me to do? Good heaven! You have more experience than I have. Speak; I will listen.”

“In the first place,” said Milady, “it is possible I may be deceived, and that d’Artagnan and his friends may really come to your assistance.”

“Oh, that would be too much!” cried Mme. Bonacieux, “so much happiness is not in store for me!”

“Then you comprehend it would be only a question of time, a sort of race, which should arrive first. If your friends are the more speedy, you are to be saved; if the satellites of the cardinal, you are lost.”

“Oh, yes, yes; lost beyond redemption! What, then, to do? What to do?”

“There would be a very simple means, very natural—”

“Tell me what!”

“To wait, concealed in the neighborhood, and assure yourself who are the men who come to ask for you.”

“But where can I wait?”

“Oh, there is no difficulty in that. I shall stop and conceal myself a few leagues hence until my brother can rejoin me. Well, I take you with me; we conceal ourselves, and wait together.”

“But I shall not be allowed to go; I am almost a prisoner.”

“As they believe that I go in consequence of an order from the cardinal, no one will believe you anxious to follow me.”

“Well?”

“Well! The carriage is at the door; you bid me adieu; you mount the step to embrace me a last time; my brother’s servant, who comes to fetch me, is told how to proceed; he makes a sign to the postillion, and we set off at a gallop.”

“But d’Artagnan! D’Artagnan! if he comes?”

“Shall we not know it?”

“How?”

“Nothing easier. We will send my brother’s servant back to Béthune, whom, as I told you, we can trust. He shall assume a disguise, and place himself in front of the convent. If the emissaries of the cardinal arrive, he will take no notice; if it is Monsieur d’Artagnan and his friends, he will bring them to us.”

“He knows them, then?”

“Doubtless. Has he not seen Monsieur d’Artagnan at my house?”

“Oh, yes, yes; you are right. Thus all may go well—all may be for the best; but we do not go far from this place?”

“Seven or eight leagues at the most. We will keep on the frontiers, for instance; and at the first alarm we can leave France.”

“And what can we do there?”

“Wait.”

“But if they come?”

“My brother’s carriage will be here first.”

“If I should happen to be any distance from you when the carriage comes for you—at dinner or supper, for instance?”

“Do one thing.”

“What is that?”

“Tell your good superior that in order that we may be as much together as possible, you ask her permission to share my repast.”

“Will she permit it?”

“What inconvenience can it be?”

“Oh, delightful! In this way we shall not be separated for an instant.”

“Well, go down to her, then, to make your request. I feel my head a little confused; I will take a turn in the garden.”

“Go; and where shall I find you?”

“Here, in an hour.”

“Here, in an hour. Oh, you are so kind, and I am so grateful!”

“How can I avoid interesting myself for one who is so beautiful and so amiable? Are you not the beloved of one of my best friends?”

“Dear d’Artagnan! Oh, how he will thank you!”

“I hope so. Now, then, all is agreed; let us go down.”

“You are going into the garden?”

“Yes.”

“Go along this corridor, down a little staircase, and you are in it.”

“Excellent; thank you!”

And the two women parted, exchanging charming smiles.

Milady had told the truth—her head was confused, for her ill-arranged plans clashed one another like chaos. She required to be alone that she might put her thoughts a little into order. She saw vaguely the future; but she stood in need of a little silence and quiet to give all her ideas, as yet confused, a distinct form and a regular plan.

What was most pressing was to get Mme. Bonacieux away, and convey her to a place of safety, and there, if matters required, make her a hostage. Milady began to have doubts of the issue of this terrible duel, in which her enemies showed as much perseverance as she did animosity.

Besides, she felt as we feel when a storm is coming on—that this issue was near, and could not fail to be terrible.

The principal thing for her, then, was, as we have said, to keep Mme. Bonacieux in her power. Mme. Bonacieux was the very life of d’Artagnan. This was more than his life, the life of the woman he loved; this was, in case of ill fortune, a means of temporizing and obtaining good conditions.

Now, this point was settled; Mme. Bonacieux, without any suspicion, accompanied her. Once concealed with her at Armentieres, it would be easy to make her believe that d’Artagnan had not come to Béthune. In fifteen days at most, Rochefort would be back; besides, during that fifteen days she would have time to think how she could best avenge herself on the four friends. She would not be weary, thank God! for she should enjoy the sweetest pastime such events could accord a woman of her character—perfecting a beautiful vengeance.

Revolving all this in her mind, she cast her eyes around her, and arranged the topography of the garden in her head. Milady was like a good general who contemplates at the same time victory and defeat, and who is quite prepared, according to the chances of the battle, to march forward or to beat a retreat.

At the end of an hour she heard a soft voice calling her; it was Mme. Bonacieux’s. The good abbess had naturally consented to her request; and as a commencement, they were to sup together.

On reaching the courtyard, they heard the noise of a carriage which stopped at the gate.

Milady listened.

“Do you hear anything?” said she.

“Yes, the rolling of a carriage.”

“It is the one my brother sends for us.”

“Oh, my God!”

“Come, come! courage!”

The bell of the convent gate was sounded; Milady was not mistaken.

“Go to your chamber,” said she to Mme. Bonacieux; “you have perhaps some jewels you would like to take.”

“I have his letters,” said she.

“Well, go and fetch them, and come to my apartment. We will snatch some supper; we shall perhaps travel part of the night, and must keep our strength up.”

“Great God!” said Mme. Bonacieux, placing her hand upon her bosom, “my heart beats so I cannot walk.”

“Courage, courage! remember that in a quarter of an hour you will be safe; and think that what you are about to do is for HIS sake.”

“Yes, yes, everything for him. You have restored my courage by a single word; go, I will rejoin you.”

Milady ran up to her apartment quickly; she there found Rochefort’s lackey, and gave him his instructions.

He was to wait at the gate; if by chance the Musketeers should appear, the carriage was to set off as fast as possible, pass around the convent, and go and wait for Milady at a little village which was situated at the other side of the wood. In this case Milady would cross the garden and gain the village on foot. As we have already said, Milady was admirably acquainted with this part of France.

If the Musketeers did not appear, things were to go on as had been agreed; Mme. Bonacieux was to get into the carriage as if to bid her adieu, and she was to take away Mme. Bonacieux.

Mme. Bonacieux came in; and to remove all suspicion, if she had any, Milady repeated to the lackey, before her, the latter part of her instructions.

Milady asked some questions about the carriage. It was a chaise drawn by three horses, driven by a postillion; Rochefort’s lackey would precede it, as courier.

Milady was wrong in fearing that Mme. Bonacieux would have any suspicion. The poor young woman was too pure to suppose that any female could be guilty of such perfidy; besides, the name of the Comtesse de Winter, which she had heard the abbess pronounce, was wholly unknown to her, and she was even ignorant that a woman had had so great and so fatal a share in the misfortune of her life.

“You see,” said she, when the lackey had gone out, “everything is ready. The abbess suspects nothing, and believes that I am taken by order of the cardinal. This man goes to give his last orders; take the least thing, drink a finger of wine, and let us be gone.”

“Yes,” said Mme. Bonacieux, mechanically, “yes, let us be gone.”

Milady made her a sign to sit down opposite, poured her a small glass of Spanish wine, and helped her to the wing of a chicken.

“See,” said she, “if everything does not second us! Here is night coming on; by daybreak we shall have reached our retreat, and nobody can guess where we are. Come, courage! take something.”

Mme. Bonacieux ate a few mouthfuls mechanically, and just touched the glass with her lips.

“Come, come!” said Milady, lifting hers to her mouth, “do as I do.”

But at the moment the glass touched her lips, her hand remained suspended; she heard something on the road which sounded like the rattling of a distant gallop. Then it grew nearer, and it seemed to her, almost at the same time, that she heard the neighing of horses.

This noise acted upon her joy like the storm which awakens the sleeper in the midst of a happy dream; she grew pale and ran to the window, while Mme. Bonacieux, rising all in a tremble, supported herself upon her chair to avoid falling. Nothing was yet to be seen, only they heard the galloping draw nearer.

“Oh, my God!” said Mme. Bonacieux, “what is that noise?”

“That of either our friends or our enemies,” said Milady, with her terrible coolness. “Stay where you are, I will tell you.”

Mme. Bonacieux remained standing, mute, motionless, and pale as a statue.

The noise became louder; the horses could not be more than a hundred and fifty paces distant. If they were not yet to be seen, it was because the road made an elbow. The noise became so distinct that the horses might be counted by the rattle of their hoofs.

Milady gazed with all the power of her attention; it was just light enough for her to see who was coming.

All at once, at the turning of the road she saw the glitter of laced hats and the waving of feathers; she counted two, then five, then eight horsemen. One of them preceded the rest by double the length of his horse.

Milady uttered a stifled groan. In the first horseman she recognized d’Artagnan.

“Oh, my God, my God,” cried Mme. Bonacieux, “what is it?”

“It is the uniform of the cardinal’s Guards. Not an instant to be lost! Fly, fly!”

“Yes, yes, let us fly!” repeated Mme. Bonacieux, but without being able to make a step, glued as she was to the spot by terror.

They heard the horsemen pass under the windows.

“Come, then, come, then!” cried Milady, trying to drag the young woman along by the arm. “Thanks to the garden, we yet can flee; I have the key, but make haste! in five minutes it will be too late!”

Mme. Bonacieux tried to walk, made two steps, and sank upon her knees. Milady tried to raise and carry her, but could not do it.

At this moment they heard the rolling of the carriage, which at the approach of the Musketeers set off at a gallop. Then three or four shots were fired.

“For the last time, will you come?” cried Milady.

“Oh, my God, my God! you see my strength fails me; you see plainly I cannot walk. Flee alone!”

“Flee alone, and leave you here? No, no, never!” cried Milady.

All at once she paused, a livid flash darted from her eyes; she ran to the table, emptied into Mme. Bonacieux’s glass the contents of a ring which she opened with singular quickness. It was a grain of a reddish color, which dissolved immediately.

Then, taking the glass with a firm hand, she said, “Drink. This wine will give you strength, drink!” And she put the glass to the lips of the young woman, who drank mechanically.

“This is not the way that I wished to avenge myself,” said Milady, replacing the glass upon the table, with an infernal smile, “but, my faith! we do what we can!” And she rushed out of the room.

Mme. Bonacieux saw her go without being able to follow her; she was like people who dream they are pursued, and who in vain try to walk.

A few moments passed; a great noise was heard at the gate. Every instant Mme. Bonacieux expected to see Milady, but she did not return. Several times, with terror, no doubt, the cold sweat burst from her burning brow.

At length she heard the grating of the hinges of the opening gates; the noise of boots and spurs resounded on the stairs. There was a great murmur of voices which continued to draw near, amid which she seemed to hear her own name pronounced.

All at once she uttered a loud cry of joy, and darted toward the door; she had recognized the voice of d’Artagnan.

“D’Artagnan! D’Artagnan!” cried she, “is it you? This way! this way!”

“Constance? Constance?” replied the young man, “where are you? where are you? My God!”

At the same moment the door of the cell yielded to a shock, rather than opened; several men rushed into the chamber. Mme. Bonacieux had sunk into an armchair, without the power of moving.

D’Artagnan threw down a yet-smoking pistol which he held in his hand, and fell on his knees before his mistress. Athos replaced his in his belt; Porthos and Aramis, who held their drawn swords in their hands, returned them to their scabbards.

“Oh, d’Artagnan, my beloved d’Artagnan! You have come, then, at last! You have not deceived me! It is indeed thee!”

“Yes, yes, Constance. Reunited!”

“Oh, it was in vain she told me you would not come! I hoped in silence. I was not willing to fly. Oh, I have done well! How happy I am!”

At this word SHE, Athos, who had seated himself quietly, started up.

“SHE! What she?” asked d’Artagnan.

“Why, my companion. She who out of friendship for me wished to take me from my persecutors. She who, mistaking you for the cardinal’s Guards, has just fled away.”

“Your companion!” cried d’Artagnan, becoming more pale than the white veil of his mistress. “Of what companion are you speaking, dear Constance?”

“Of her whose carriage was at the gate; of a woman who calls herself your friend; of a woman to whom you have told everything.”

“Her name, her name!” cried d’Artagnan. “My God, can you not remember her name?”

“Yes, it was pronounced in my hearing once. Stop—but—it is very strange—oh, my God, my head swims! I cannot see!”

“Help, help, my friends! her hands are icy cold,” cried d’Artagnan. “She is ill! Great God, she is losing her senses!”

While Porthos was calling for help with all the power of his strong voice, Aramis ran to the table to get a glass of water; but he stopped at seeing the horrible alteration that had taken place in the countenance of Athos, who, standing before the table, his hair rising from his head, his eyes fixed in stupor, was looking at one of the glasses, and appeared a prey to the most horrible doubt.

“Oh!” said Athos, “oh, no, it is impossible! God would not permit such a crime!”

“Water, water!” cried d’Artagnan. “Water!”

“Oh, poor woman, poor woman!” murmured Athos, in a broken voice.

Mme. Bonacieux opened her eyes under the kisses of d’Artagnan.

“She revives!” cried the young man. “Oh, my God, my God, I thank thee!”

“Madame!” said Athos, “madame, in the name of heaven, whose empty glass is this?”

“Mine, monsieur,” said the young woman, in a dying voice.

“But who poured the wine for you that was in this glass?”

“She.”

“But who is SHE?”

“Oh, I remember!” said Mme. Bonacieux, “the Comtesse de Winter.”

The four friends uttered one and the same cry, but that of Athos dominated all the rest.

At that moment the countenance of Mme. Bonacieux became livid; a fearful agony pervaded her frame, and she sank panting into the arms of Porthos and Aramis.

D’Artagnan seized the hands of Athos with an anguish difficult to be described.

“And what do you believe?’ His voice was stifled by sobs.

“I believe everything,” said Athos, biting his lips till the blood sprang to avoid sighing.

“D’Artagnan, d’Artagnan!” cried Mme. Bonacieux, “where art thou? Do not leave me! You see I am dying!”

D’Artagnan released the hands of Athos which he still held clasped in both his own, and hastened to her. Her beautiful face was distorted with agony; her glassy eyes had no longer their sight; a convulsive shuddering shook her whole body; the sweat rolled from her brow.

“In the name of heaven, run, call! Aramis! Porthos! Call for help!”

“Useless!” said Athos, “useless! For the poison which SHE pours there is no antidote.”

“Yes, yes! Help, help!” murmured Mme. Bonacieux; “help!”

Then, collecting all her strength, she took the head of the young man between her hands, looked at him for an instant as if her whole soul passed into that look, and with a sobbing cry pressed her lips to his.

“Constance, Constance!” cried d’Artagnan.

A sigh escaped from the mouth of Mme. Bonacieux, and dwelt for an instant on the lips of d’Artagnan. That sigh was the soul, so chaste and so loving, which reascended to heaven.

D’Artagnan pressed nothing but a corpse in his arms. The young man uttered a cry, and fell by the side of his mistress as pale and as icy as herself.

Porthos wept; Aramis pointed toward heaven; Athos made the sign of the cross.

At that moment a man appeared in the doorway, almost as pale as those in the chamber. He looked around him and saw Mme. Bonacieux dead, and d’Artagnan in a swoon. He appeared just at that moment of stupor which follows great catastrophes.

“I was not deceived,” said he; “here is Monsieur d’Artagnan; and you are his friends, Messieurs Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.”

The persons whose names were thus pronounced looked at the stranger with astonishment. It seemed to all three that they knew him.

“Gentlemen,” resumed the newcomer, “you are, as I am, in search of a woman who,” added he, with a terrible smile, “must have passed this way, for I see a corpse.”

The three friends remained mute—for although the voice as well as the countenance reminded them of someone they had seen, they could not remember under what circumstances.

“Gentlemen,” continued the stranger, “since you do not recognize a man who probably owes his life to you twice, I must name myself. I am Lord de Winter, brother-in-law of THAT WOMAN.”

The three friends uttered a cry of surprise.

Athos rose, and offering him his hand, “Be welcome, my Lord,” said he, “you are one of us.”

“I set out five hours after her from Portsmouth,” said Lord de Winter. “I arrived three hours after her at Boulogne. I missed her by twenty minutes at St. Omer. Finally, at Lilliers I lost all trace of her. I was going about at random, inquiring of everybody, when I saw you gallop past. I recognized Monsieur d’Artagnan. I called to you, but you did not answer me; I wished to follow you, but my horse was too much fatigued to go at the same pace with yours. And yet it appears, in spite of all your diligence, you have arrived too late.”

“You see!” said Athos, pointing to Mme. Bonacieux dead, and to d’Artagnan, whom Porthos and Aramis were trying to recall to life.

“Are they both dead?” asked Lord de Winter, sternly.

“No,” replied Athos, “fortunately Monsieur d’Artagnan has only fainted.”

“Ah, indeed, so much the better!” said Lord de Winter.

At that moment d’Artagnan opened his eyes. He tore himself from the arms of Porthos and Aramis, and threw himself like a madman on the corpse of his mistress.

Athos rose, walked toward his friend with a slow and solemn step, embraced him tenderly, and as he burst into violent sobs, he said to him with his noble and persuasive voice, “Friend, be a man! Women weep for the dead; men avenge them!”

“Oh, yes!” cried d’Artagnan, “yes! If it be to avenge her, I am ready to follow you.”

Athos profited by this moment of strength which the hope of vengeance restored to his unfortunate friend to make a sign to Porthos and Aramis to go and fetch the superior.

The two friends met her in the corridor, greatly troubled and much upset by such strange events; she called some of the nuns, who against all monastic custom found themselves in the presence of five men.

“Madame,” said Athos, passing his arm under that of d’Artagnan, “we abandon to your pious care the body of that unfortunate woman. She was an angel on earth before being an angel in heaven. Treat her as one of your sisters. We will return someday to pray over her grave.”

D’Artagnan concealed his face in the bosom of Athos, and sobbed aloud.

“Weep,” said Athos, “weep, heart full of love, youth, and life! Alas, would I could weep like you!”

And he drew away his friend, as affectionate as a father, as consoling as a priest, noble as a man who has suffered much.

All five, followed by their lackeys leading their horses, took their way to the town of Béthune, whose outskirts they perceived, and stopped before the first inn they came to.

“But,” said d’Artagnan, “shall we not pursue that woman?”

“Later,” said Athos. “I have measures to take.”

“She will escape us,” replied the young man; “she will escape us, and it will be your fault, Athos.”

“I will be accountable for her,” said Athos.

D’Artagnan had so much confidence in the word of his friend that he lowered his head, and entered the inn without reply.

Porthos and Aramis regarded each other, not understanding this assurance of Athos.

Lord de Winter believed he spoke in this manner to soothe the grief of d’Artagnan.

“Now, gentlemen,” said Athos, when he had ascertained there were five chambers free in the hôtel, “let everyone retire to his own apartment. d’Artagnan needs to be alone, to weep and to sleep. I take charge of everything; be easy.”

“It appears, however,” said Lord de Winter, “if there are any measures to take against the countess, it concerns me; she is my sister-in-law.”

“And me,” said Athos, “—she is my wife!”

D’Artagnan smiled—for he understood that Athos was sure of his vengeance when he revealed such a secret. Porthos and Aramis looked at each other, and grew pale. Lord de Winter thought Athos was mad.

“Now, retire to your chambers,” said Athos, “and leave me to act. You must perceive that in my quality of a husband this concerns me. Only, d’Artagnan, if you have not lost it, give me the paper which fell from that man’s hat, upon which is written the name of the village of—”

“Ah,” said d’Artagnan, “I comprehend! that name written in her hand.”

“You see, then,” said Athos, “there is a god in heaven still!”