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The Three Musketeers

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10. 
A MOUSETRAP IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY


The invention of the mousetrap does not date from our days; as soon as societies, in forming, had invented any kind of police, that police invented mousetraps.

As perhaps our readers are not familiar with the slang of the Rue de Jerusalem, and as it is fifteen years since we applied this word for the first time to this thing, allow us to explain to them what is a mousetrap.

When in a house, of whatever kind it may be, an individual suspected of any crime is arrested, the arrest is held secret. Four or five men are placed in ambuscade in the first room. The door is opened to all who knock. It is closed after them, and they are arrested; so that at the end of two or three days they have in their power almost all the habitués of the establishment. And that is a mousetrap.

The apartment of M. Bonacieux, then, became a mousetrap; and whoever appeared there was taken and interrogated by the cardinal’s people. It must be observed that as a separate passage led to the first floor, in which d’Artagnan lodged, those who called on him were exempted from this detention.

Besides, nobody came thither but the three Musketeers; they had all been engaged in earnest search and inquiries, but had discovered nothing. Athos had even gone so far as to question M. de Tréville—a thing which, considering the habitual reticence of the worthy Musketeer, had very much astonished his captain. But M. de Tréville knew nothing, except that the last time he had seen the cardinal, the king, and the queen, the cardinal looked very thoughtful, the king uneasy, and the redness of the queen’s eyes donated that she had been sleepless or tearful. But this last circumstance was not striking, as the queen since her marriage had slept badly and wept much.

M. de Tréville requested Athos, whatever might happen, to be observant of his duty to the king, but particularly to the queen, begging him to convey his desires to his comrades.

As to d’Artagnan, he did not budge from his apartment. He converted his chamber into an observatory. From his windows he saw all the visitors who were caught. Then, having removed a plank from his floor, and nothing remaining but a simple ceiling between him and the room beneath, in which the interrogatories were made, he heard all that passed between the inquisitors and the accused.

The interrogatories, preceded by a minute search operated upon the persons arrested, were almost always framed thus: “Has Madame Bonacieux sent anything to you for her husband, or any other person? Has Monsieur Bonacieux sent anything to you for his wife, or for any other person? Has either of them confided anything to you by word of mouth?”

“If they knew anything, they would not question people in this manner,” said d’Artagnan to himself. “Now, what is it they want to know? Why, they want to know if the Duke of Buckingham is in Paris, and if he has had, or is likely to have, an interview with the queen.”

D’Artagnan held onto this idea, which, from what he had heard, was not wanting in probability.

In the meantime, the mousetrap continued in operation, and likewise d’Artagnan’s vigilance.

On the evening of the day after the arrest of poor Bonacieux, as Athos had just left d’Artagnan to report at M. de Tréville’s, as nine o’clock had just struck, and as Planchet, who had not yet made the bed, was beginning his task, a knocking was heard at the street door. The door was instantly opened and shut; someone was taken in the mousetrap.

D’Artagnan flew to his hole, laid himself down on the floor at full length, and listened.

Cries were soon heard, and then moans, which someone appeared to be endeavoring to stifle. There were no questions.

“The devil!” said d’Artagnan to himself. “It seems like a woman! They search her; she resists; they use force—the scoundrels!”

In spite of his prudence, d’Artagnan restrained himself with great difficulty from taking a part in the scene that was going on below.

“But I tell you that I am the mistress of the house, gentlemen! I tell you I am Madame Bonacieux; I tell you I belong to the queen!” cried the unfortunate woman.

“Madame Bonacieux!” murmured d’Artagnan. “Can I be so lucky as to find what everybody is seeking for?”

The voice became more and more indistinct; a tumultuous movement shook the partition. The victim resisted as much as a woman could resist four men.

“Pardon, gentlemen—par—” murmured the voice, which could now only be heard in inarticulate sounds.

“They are binding her; they are going to drag her away,” cried d’Artagnan to himself, springing up from the floor. “My sword! Good, it is by my side! Planchet!”

“Monsieur.”

“Run and seek Athos, Porthos and Aramis. One of the three will certainly be at home, perhaps all three. Tell them to take arms, to come here, and to run! Ah, I remember, Athos is at Monsieur de Tréville’s.”

“But where are you going, monsieur, where are you going?”

“I am going down by the window, in order to be there the sooner,” cried d’Artagnan. “You put back the boards, sweep the floor, go out at the door, and run as I told you.”

“Oh, monsieur! Monsieur! You will kill yourself,” cried Planchet.

“Hold your tongue, stupid fellow,” said d’Artagnan; and laying hold of the casement, he let himself gently down from the first story, which fortunately was not very elevated, without doing himself the slightest injury.

He then went straight to the door and knocked, murmuring, “I will go myself and be caught in the mousetrap, but woe be to the cats that shall pounce upon such a mouse!”

The knocker had scarcely sounded under the hand of the young man before the tumult ceased, steps approached, the door was opened, and d’Artagnan, sword in hand, rushed into the rooms of M. Bonacieux, the door of which, doubtless acted upon by a spring, closed after him.

Then those who dwelt in Bonacieux’s unfortunate house, together with the nearest neighbors, heard loud cries, stamping of feet, clashing of swords, and breaking of furniture. A moment after, those who, surprised by this tumult, had gone to their windows to learn the cause of it, saw the door open, and four men, clothed in black, not come out of it, but fly, like so many frightened crows, leaving on the ground and on the corners of the furniture, feathers from their wings; that is to say, patches of their clothes and fragments of their cloaks.

D’Artagnan was conqueror—without much effort, it must be confessed, for only one of the officers was armed, and even he defended himself for form’s sake. It is true that the three others had endeavored to knock the young man down with chairs, stools, and crockery; but two or three scratches made by the Gascon’s blade terrified them. Ten minutes sufficed for their defeat, and d’Artagnan remained master of the field of battle.

The neighbors who had opened their windows, with the coolness peculiar to the inhabitants of Paris in these times of perpetual riots and disturbances, closed them again as soon as they saw the four men in black flee—their instinct telling them that for the time all was over. Besides, it began to grow late, and then, as today, people went to bed early in the quarter of the Luxembourg.

On being left alone with Mme. Bonacieux, d’Artagnan turned toward her; the poor woman reclined where she had been left, half-fainting upon an armchair. D’Artagnan examined her with a rapid glance.

She was a charming woman of twenty-five or twenty-six years, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a nose slightly turned up, admirable teeth, and a complexion marbled with rose and opal. There, however, ended the signs which might have confounded her with a lady of rank. The hands were white, but without delicacy; the feet did not bespeak the woman of quality. Happily, d’Artagnan was not yet acquainted with such niceties.

While d’Artagnan was examining Mme. Bonacieux, and was, as we have said, close to her, he saw on the ground a fine cambric handkerchief, which he picked up, as was his habit, and at the corner of which he recognized the same cipher he had seen on the handkerchief which had nearly caused him and Aramis to cut each other’s throat.

From that time, d’Artagnan had been cautious with respect to handkerchiefs with arms on them, and he therefore placed in the pocket of Mme. Bonacieux the one he had just picked up.

At that moment Mme. Bonacieux recovered her senses. She opened her eyes, looked around her with terror, saw that the apartment was empty and that she was alone with her liberator. She extended her hands to him with a smile. Mme. Bonacieux had the sweetest smile in the world.

“Ah, monsieur!” said she, “you have saved me; permit me to thank you.”

“Madame,” said d’Artagnan, “I have only done what every gentleman would have done in my place; you owe me no thanks.”

“Oh, yes, monsieur, oh, yes; and I hope to prove to you that you have not served an ingrate. But what could these men, whom I at first took for robbers, want with me, and why is Monsieur Bonacieux not here?”

“Madame, those men were more dangerous than any robbers could have been, for they are the agents of the cardinal; and as to your husband, Monsieur Bonacieux, he is not here because he was yesterday evening conducted to the Bastille.”

“My husband in the Bastille!” cried Mme. Bonacieux. “Oh, my God! What has he done? Poor dear man, he is innocence itself!”

And something like a faint smile lighted the still-terrified features of the young woman.

“What has he done, madame?” said d’Artagnan. “I believe that his only crime is to have at the same time the good fortune and the misfortune to be your husband.”

“But, monsieur, you know then—”

“I know that you have been abducted, madame.”

“And by whom? Do you know him? Oh, if you know him, tell me!”

“By a man of from forty to forty-five years, with black hair, a dark complexion, and a scar on his left temple.”

“That is he, that is he; but his name?”

“Ah, his name? I do not know that.”

“And did my husband know I had been carried off?”

“He was informed of it by a letter, written to him by the abductor himself.”

“And does he suspect,” said Mme. Bonacieux, with some embarrassment, “the cause of this event?”

“He attributed it, I believe, to a political cause.”

“I doubted from the first; and now I think entirely as he does. Then my dear Monsieur Bonacieux has not suspected me a single instant?”

“So far from it, madame, he was too proud of your prudence, and above all, of your love.”

A second smile, almost imperceptible, stole over the rosy lips of the pretty young woman.

“But,” continued d’Artagnan, “how did you escape?”

“I took advantage of a moment when they left me alone; and as I had known since morning the reason of my abduction, with the help of the sheets I let myself down from the window. Then, as I believed my husband would be at home, I hastened hither.”

“To place yourself under his protection?”

“Oh, no, poor dear man! I knew very well that he was incapable of defending me; but as he could serve us in other ways, I wished to inform him.”

“Of what?”

“Oh, that is not my secret; I must not, therefore, tell you.”

“Besides,” said d’Artagnan, “pardon me, madame, if, guardsman as I am, I remind you of prudence—besides, I believe we are not here in a very proper place for imparting confidences. The men I have put to flight will return reinforced; if they find us here, we are lost. I have sent for three of my friends, but who knows whether they were at home?”

“Yes, yes! You are right,” cried the affrighted Mme. Bonacieux; “let us fly! Let us save ourselves.”

At these words she passed her arm under that of d’Artagnan, and urged him forward eagerly.

“But whither shall we fly—whither escape?”

“Let us first withdraw from this house; afterward we shall see.”

The young woman and the young man, without taking the trouble to shut the door after them, descended the Rue des Fossoyeurs rapidly, turned into the Rue des Fossés-Monsieur-le-Prince, and did not stop till they came to the Place St. Sulpice.

“And now what are we to do, and where do you wish me to conduct you?” asked d’Artagnan.

“I am at quite a loss how to answer you, I admit,” said Mme. Bonacieux. “My intention was to inform Monsieur Laporte, through my husband, in order that Monsieur Laporte might tell us precisely what had taken place at the Louvre in the last three days, and whether there is any danger in presenting myself there.”

“But I,” said d’Artagnan, “can go and inform Monsieur Laporte.”

“No doubt you could, only there is one misfortune, and that is that Monsieur Bonacieux is known at the Louvre, and would be allowed to pass; whereas you are not known there, and the gate would be closed against you.”

“Ah, bah!” said d’Artagnan; “you have at some wicket of the Louvre a concierge who is devoted to you, and who, thanks to a password, would—”

Mme. Bonacieux looked earnestly at the young man.

“And if I give you this password,” said she, “would you forget it as soon as you used it?”

“By my honor, by the faith of a gentleman!” said d’Artagnan, with an accent so truthful that no one could mistake it.

“Then I believe you. You appear to be a brave young man; besides, your fortune may perhaps be the result of your devotedness.”

“I will do, without a promise and voluntarily, all that I can do to serve the king and be agreeable to the queen. Dispose of me, then, as a friend.”

“But I—where shall I go meanwhile?”

“Is there nobody from whose house Monsieur Laporte can come and fetch you?”

“No, I can trust nobody.”

“Stop,” said d’Artagnan; “we are near Athos’s door. Yes, here it is.”

“Who is this Athos?”

“One of my friends.”

“But if he should be at home and see me?”

“He is not at home, and I will carry away the key, after having placed you in his apartment.”

“But if he should return?”

“Oh, he won’t return; and if he should, he will be told that I have brought a woman with me, and that woman is in his apartment.”

“But that will compromise me sadly, you know.”

“Of what consequence? Nobody knows you. Besides, we are in a situation to overlook ceremony.”

“Come, then, let us go to your friend’s house. Where does he live?”

“Rue Férou, two steps from here.”

“Let us go!”

Both resumed their way. As d’Artagnan had foreseen, Athos was not within. He took the key, which was customarily given him as one of the family, ascended the stairs, and introduced Mme. Bonacieux into the little apartment of which we have given a description.

“You are at home,” said he. “Remain here, fasten the door inside, and open it to nobody unless you hear three taps like this;” and he tapped thrice—two taps close together and pretty hard, the other after an interval, and lighter.

“That is well,” said Mme. Bonacieux. “Now, in my turn, let me give you my instructions.”

“I am all attention.”

“Present yourself at the wicket of the Louvre, on the side of the Rue de l’Echelle, and ask for Germain.”

“Well, and then?”

“He will ask you what you want, and you will answer by these two words, ‘Tours’ and ‘Bruxelles.’ He will at once put himself at your orders.”

“And what shall I command him?”

“To go and fetch Monsieur Laporte, the queen’s valet de chambre.”

“And when he shall have informed him, and Monsieur Laporte is come?”

“You will send him to me.”

“That is well; but where and how shall I see you again?”

“Do you wish to see me again?”

“Certainly.”

“Well, let that care be mine, and be at ease.”

“I depend upon your word.”

“You may.”

D’Artagnan bowed to Mme. Bonacieux, darting at her the most loving glance that he could possibly concentrate upon her charming little person; and while he descended the stairs, he heard the door closed and double-locked. In two bounds he was at the Louvre; as he entered the wicket of L’Echelle, ten o’clock struck. All the events we have described had taken place within a half hour.

Everything fell out as Mme. Bonacieux prophesied. On hearing the password, Germain bowed. In a few minutes, Laporte was at the lodge; in two words d’Artagnan informed him where Mme. Bonacieux was. Laporte assured himself, by having it twice repeated, of the accurate address, and set off at a run. Hardly, however, had he taken ten steps before he returned.

“Young man,” said he to d’Artagnan, “a suggestion.”

“What?”

“You may get into trouble by what has taken place.”

“You believe so?”

“Yes. Have you any friend whose clock is too slow?”

“Well?”

“Go and call upon him, in order that he may give evidence of your having been with him at half past nine. In a court of justice that is called an alibi.”

D’Artagnan found his advice prudent. He took to his heels, and was soon at M. de Tréville’s; but instead of going into the saloon with the rest of the crowd, he asked to be introduced to M. de Tréville’s office. As d’Artagnan so constantly frequented the hôtel, no difficulty was made in complying with his request, and a servant went to inform M. de Tréville that his young compatriot, having something important to communicate, solicited a private audience. Five minutes after, M. de Tréville was asking d’Artagnan what he could do to serve him, and what caused his visit at so late an hour.

“Pardon me, monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, who had profited by the moment he had been left alone to put back M. de Tréville’s clock three-quarters of an hour, “but I thought, as it was yet only twenty-five minutes past nine, it was not too late to wait upon you.”

“Twenty-five minutes past nine!” cried M. de Tréville, looking at the clock; “why, that’s impossible!”

“Look, rather, monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, “the clock shows it.”

“That’s true,” said M. de Tréville; “I believed it later. But what can I do for you?”

Then d’Artagnan told M. de Tréville a long history about the queen. He expressed to him the fears he entertained with respect to her Majesty; he related to him what he had heard of the projects of the cardinal with regard to Buckingham, and all with a tranquillity and candor of which M. de Tréville was the more the dupe, from having himself, as we have said, observed something fresh between the cardinal, the king, and the queen.

As ten o’clock was striking, d’Artagnan left M. de Tréville, who thanked him for his information, recommended him to have the service of the king and queen always at heart, and returned to the saloon; but at the foot of the stairs, d’Artagnan remembered he had forgotten his cane. He consequently sprang up again, re-entered the office, with a turn of his finger set the clock right again, that it might not be perceived the next day that it had been put wrong, and certain from that time that he had a witness to prove his alibi, he ran downstairs and soon found himself in the street.


11. 
IN WHICH THE PLOT THICKENS


His visit to M. de Tréville being paid, the pensive d’Artagnan took the longest way homeward.

On what was d’Artagnan thinking, that he strayed thus from his path, gazing at the stars of heaven, and sometimes sighing, sometimes smiling?

He was thinking of Mme. Bonacieux. For an apprentice Musketeer the young woman was almost an ideal of love. Pretty, mysterious, initiated in almost all the secrets of the court, which reflected such a charming gravity over her pleasing features, it might be surmised that she was not wholly unmoved; and this is an irresistible charm to novices in love. Moreover, d’Artagnan had delivered her from the hands of the demons who wished to search and ill treat her; and this important service had established between them one of those sentiments of gratitude which so easily assume a more tender character.

D’Artagnan already fancied himself, so rapid is the flight of our dreams upon the wings of imagination, accosted by a messenger from the young woman, who brought him some billet appointing a meeting, a gold chain, or a diamond. We have observed that young cavaliers received presents from their king without shame. Let us add that in these times of lax morality they had no more delicacy with respect to the mistresses; and that the latter almost always left them valuable and durable remembrances, as if they essayed to conquer the fragility of their sentiments by the solidity of their gifts.

Without a blush, men made their way in the world by the means of women blushing. Such as were only beautiful gave their beauty, whence, without doubt, comes the proverb, “The most beautiful girl in the world can only give what she has.” Such as were rich gave in addition a part of their money; and a vast number of heroes of that gallant period may be cited who would neither have won their spurs in the first place, nor their battles afterward, without the purse, more or less furnished, which their mistress fastened to the saddle bow.

D’Artagnan owned nothing. Provincial diffidence, that slight varnish, the ephemeral flower, that down of the peach, had evaporated to the winds through the little orthodox counsels which the three Musketeers gave their friend. D’Artagnan, following the strange custom of the times, considered himself at Paris as on a campaign, neither more nor less than if he had been in Flanders—Spain yonder, woman here. In each there was an enemy to contend with, and contributions to be levied.

But, we must say, at the present moment d’Artagnan was ruled by a feeling much more noble and disinterested. The mercer had said that he was rich; the young man might easily guess that with so weak a man as M. Bonacieux; and interest was almost foreign to this commencement of love, which had been the consequence of it. We say almost, for the idea that a young, handsome, kind, and witty woman is at the same time rich takes nothing from the beginning of love, but on the contrary strengthens it.

There are in affluence a crowd of aristocratic cares and caprices which are highly becoming to beauty. A fine and white stocking, a silken robe, a lace kerchief, a pretty slipper on the foot, a tasty ribbon on the head do not make an ugly woman pretty, but they make a pretty woman beautiful, without reckoning the hands, which gain by all this; the hands, among women particularly, to be beautiful must be idle.

Then d’Artagnan, as the reader, from whom we have not concealed the state of his fortune, very well knows—d’Artagnan was not a millionaire; he hoped to become one someday, but the time which in his own mind he fixed upon for this happy change was still far distant. In the meanwhile, how disheartening to see the woman one loves long for those thousands of nothings which constitute a woman’s happiness, and be unable to give her those thousands of nothings. At least, when the woman is rich and the lover is not, that which he cannot offer she offers to herself; and although it is generally with her husband’s money that she procures herself this indulgence, the gratitude for it seldom reverts to him.

Then d’Artagnan, disposed to become the most tender of lovers, was at the same time a very devoted friend. In the midst of his amorous projects for the mercer’s wife, he did not forget his friends. The pretty Mme. Bonacieux was just the woman to walk with in the Plain St. Denis or in the fair of St. Germain, in company with Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, to whom d’Artagnan had often remarked this. Then one could enjoy charming little dinners, where one touches on one side the hand of a friend, and on the other the foot of a mistress. Besides, on pressing occasions, in extreme difficulties, d’Artagnan would become the preserver of his friends.

And M. Bonacieux, whom d’Artagnan had pushed into the hands of the officers, denying him aloud although he had promised in a whisper to save him? We are compelled to admit to our readers that d’Artagnan thought nothing about him in any way; or that if he did think of him, it was only to say to himself that he was very well where he was, wherever it might be. Love is the most selfish of all the passions.

Let our readers reassure themselves. If d’Artagnan forgets his host, or appears to forget him, under the pretense of not knowing where he has been carried, we will not forget him, and we know where he is. But for the moment, let us do as did the amorous Gascon; we will see after the worthy mercer later.

D’Artagnan, reflecting on his future amours, addressing himself to the beautiful night, and smiling at the stars, ascended the Rue Cherish-Midi, or Chase-Midi, as it was then called. As he found himself in the quarter in which Aramis lived, he took it into his head to pay his friend a visit in order to explain the motives which had led him to send Planchet with a request that he would come instantly to the mousetrap. Now, if Aramis had been at home when Planchet came to his abode, he had doubtless hastened to the Rue des Fossoyeurs, and finding nobody there but his other two companions perhaps, they would not be able to conceive what all this meant. This mystery required an explanation; at least, so d’Artagnan declared to himself.

He likewise thought this was an opportunity for talking about pretty little Mme. Bonacieux, of whom his head, if not his heart, was already full. We must never look for discretion in first love. First love is accompanied by such excessive joy that unless the joy be allowed to overflow, it will stifle you.

Paris for two hours past had been dark, and seemed a desert. Eleven o’clock sounded from all the clocks of the Faubourg St. Germain. It was delightful weather. D’Artagnan was passing along a lane on the spot where the Rue d’Assas is now situated, breathing the balmy emanations which were borne upon the wind from the Rue de Vaugirard, and which arose from the gardens refreshed by the dews of evening and the breeze of night. From a distance resounded, deadened, however, by good shutters, the songs of the tipplers, enjoying themselves in the cabarets scattered along the plain. Arrived at the end of the lane, d’Artagnan turned to the left. The house in which Aramis dwelt was situated between the Rue Cassette and the Rue Servandoni.

D’Artagnan had just passed the Rue Cassette, and already perceived the door of his friend’s house, shaded by a mass of sycamores and clematis which formed a vast arch opposite the front of it, when he perceived something like a shadow issuing from the Rue Servandoni. This something was enveloped in a cloak, and d’Artagnan at first believed it was a man; but by the smallness of the form, the hesitation of the walk, and the indecision of the step, he soon discovered that it was a woman. Further, this woman, as if not certain of the house she was seeking, lifted up her eyes to look around her, stopped, went backward, and then returned again. D’Artagnan was perplexed.

“Shall I go and offer her my services?” thought he. “By her step she must be young; perhaps she is pretty. Oh, yes! But a woman who wanders in the streets at this hour only ventures out to meet her lover. If I should disturb a rendezvous, that would not be the best means of commencing an acquaintance.”

Meantime the young woman continued to advance, counting the houses and windows. This was neither long nor difficult. There were but three hôtels in this part of the street; and only two windows looking toward the road, one of which was in a pavilion parallel to that which Aramis occupied, the other belonging to Aramis himself.

“Pardieu!” said d’Artagnan to himself, to whose mind the niece of the theologian reverted, “pardieu, it would be droll if this belated dove should be in search of our friend’s house. But on my soul, it looks so. Ah, my dear Aramis, this time I shall find you out.” And d’Artagnan, making himself as small as he could, concealed himself in the darkest side of the street near a stone bench placed at the back of a niche.

The young woman continued to advance; and in addition to the lightness of her step, which had betrayed her, she emitted a little cough which denoted a sweet voice. D’Artagnan believed this cough to be a signal.

Nevertheless, whether the cough had been answered by a similar signal which had fixed the irresolution of the nocturnal seeker, or whether without this aid she saw that she had arrived at the end of her journey, she resolutely drew near to Aramis’s shutter, and tapped, at three equal intervals, with her bent finger.

“This is all very fine, dear Aramis,” murmured d’Artagnan. “Ah, Monsieur Hypocrite, I understand how you study theology.”

The three blows were scarcely struck, when the inside blind was opened and a light appeared through the panes of the outside shutter.

“Ah, ah!” said the listener, “not through doors, but through windows! Ah, this visit was expected. We shall see the windows open, and the lady enter by escalade. Very pretty!”

But to the great astonishment of d’Artagnan, the shutter remained closed. Still more, the light which had shone for an instant disappeared, and all was again in obscurity.

D’Artagnan thought this could not last long, and continued to look with all his eyes and listen with all his ears.

He was right; at the end of some seconds two sharp taps were heard inside. The young woman in the street replied by a single tap, and the shutter was opened a little way.

It may be judged whether d’Artagnan looked or listened with avidity. Unfortunately the light had been removed into another chamber; but the eyes of the young man were accustomed to the night. Besides, the eyes of the Gascons have, as it is asserted, like those of cats, the faculty of seeing in the dark.

D’Artagnan then saw that the young woman took from her pocket a white object, which she unfolded quickly, and which took the form of a handkerchief. She made her interlocutor observe the corner of this unfolded object.

This immediately recalled to d’Artagnan’s mind the handkerchief which he had found at the feet of Mme. Bonacieux, which had reminded him of that which he had dragged from under the feet of Aramis.

“What the devil could that handkerchief signify?”

Placed where he was, d’Artagnan could not perceive the face of Aramis. We say Aramis, because the young man entertained no doubt that it was his friend who held this dialogue from the interior with the lady of the exterior. Curiosity prevailed over prudence; and profiting by the preoccupation into which the sight of the handkerchief appeared to have plunged the two personages now on the scene, he stole from his hiding place, and quick as lightning, but stepping with utmost caution, he ran and placed himself close to the angle of the wall, from which his eye could pierce the interior of Aramis’s room.

Upon gaining this advantage d’Artagnan was near uttering a cry of surprise; it was not Aramis who was conversing with the nocturnal visitor, it was a woman! D’Artagnan, however, could only see enough to recognize the form of her vestments, not enough to distinguish her features.

At the same instant the woman inside drew a second handkerchief from her pocket, and exchanged it for that which had just been shown to her. Then some words were spoken by the two women. At length the shutter closed. The woman who was outside the window turned round, and passed within four steps of d’Artagnan, pulling down the hood of her mantle; but the precaution was too late, d’Artagnan had already recognized Mme. Bonacieux.

Mme. Bonacieux! The suspicion that it was she had crossed the mind of d’Artagnan when she drew the handkerchief from her pocket; but what probability was there that Mme. Bonacieux, who had sent for M. Laporte in order to be reconducted to the Louvre, should be running about the streets of Paris at half past eleven at night, at the risk of being abducted a second time?

This must be, then, an affair of importance; and what is the most important affair to a woman of twenty-five! Love.

But was it on her own account, or on account of another, that she exposed herself to such hazards? This was a question the young man asked himself, whom the demon of jealousy already gnawed, being in heart neither more nor less than an accepted lover.

There was a very simple means of satisfying himself whither Mme. Bonacieux was going; that was to follow her. This method was so simple that d’Artagnan employed it quite naturally and instinctively.

But at the sight of the young man, who detached himself from the wall like a statue walking from its niche, and at the noise of the steps which she heard resound behind her, Mme. Bonacieux uttered a little cry and fled.

D’Artagnan ran after her. It was not difficult for him to overtake a woman embarrassed with her cloak. He came up with her before she had traversed a third of the street. The unfortunate woman was exhausted, not by fatigue, but by terror, and when d’Artagnan placed his hand upon her shoulder, she sank upon one knee, crying in a choking voice, “Kill me, if you please, you shall know nothing!”

D’Artagnan raised her by passing his arm round her waist; but as he felt by her weight she was on the point of fainting, he made haste to reassure her by protestations of devotedness. These protestations were nothing for Mme. Bonacieux, for such protestations may be made with the worst intentions in the world; but the voice was all. Mme. Bonacieux thought she recognized the sound of that voice; she reopened her eyes, cast a quick glance upon the man who had terrified her so, and at once perceiving it was d’Artagnan, she uttered a cry of joy, “Oh, it is you, it is you! Thank God, thank God!”

“Yes, it is I,” said d’Artagnan, “it is I, whom God has sent to watch over you.”

“Was it with that intention you followed me?” asked the young woman, with a coquettish smile, whose somewhat bantering character resumed its influence, and with whom all fear had disappeared from the moment in which she recognized a friend in one she had taken for an enemy.

“No,” said d’Artagnan; “no, I confess it. It was chance that threw me in your way; I saw a woman knocking at the window of one of my friends.”

“One of your friends?” interrupted Mme. Bonacieux.

“Without doubt; Aramis is one of my best friends.”

“Aramis! Who is he?”

“Come, come, you won’t tell me you don’t know Aramis?”

“This is the first time I ever heard his name pronounced.”

“It is the first time, then, that you ever went to that house?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“And you did not know that it was inhabited by a young man?”

“No.”

“By a Musketeer?”

“No, indeed!”

“It was not he, then, you came to seek?”

“Not the least in the world. Besides, you must have seen that the person to whom I spoke was a woman.”

“That is true; but this woman is a friend of Aramis—”

“I know nothing of that.”

“—since she lodges with him.”

“That does not concern me.”

“But who is she?”

“Oh, that is not my secret.”

“My dear Madame Bonacieux, you are charming; but at the same time you are one of the most mysterious women.”

“Do I lose by that?”

“No; you are, on the contrary, adorable.”

“Give me your arm, then.”

“Most willingly. And now?”

“Now escort me.”

“Where?”

“Where I am going.”

“But where are you going?”

“You will see, because you will leave me at the door.”

“Shall I wait for you?”

“That will be useless.”

“You will return alone, then?”

“Perhaps yes, perhaps no.”

“But will the person who shall accompany you afterward be a man or a woman?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“But I will know it!”

“How so?”

“I will wait until you come out.”

“In that case, adieu.”

“Why so?”

“I do not want you.”

“But you have claimed—”

“The aid of a gentleman, not the watchfulness of a spy.”

“The word is rather hard.”

“How are they called who follow others in spite of them?”

“They are indiscreet.”

“The word is too mild.”

“Well, madame, I perceive I must do as you wish.”

“Why did you deprive yourself of the merit of doing so at once?”

“Is there no merit in repentance?”

“And do you really repent?”

“I know nothing about it myself. But what I know is that I promise to do all you wish if you allow me to accompany you where you are going.”

“And you will leave me then?”

“Yes.”

“Without waiting for my coming out again?”

“Yes.”

“Word of honor?”

“By the faith of a gentleman. Take my arm, and let us go.”

D’Artagnan offered his arm to Mme. Bonacieux, who willingly took it, half laughing, half trembling, and both gained the top of Rue de la Harpe. Arriving there, the young woman seemed to hesitate, as she had before done in the Rue Vaugirard. She seemed, however, by certain signs, to recognize a door, and approaching that door, “And now, monsieur,” said she, “it is here I have business; a thousand thanks for your honorable company, which has saved me from all the dangers to which, alone, I was exposed. But the moment is come to keep your word; I have reached my destination.”

“And you will have nothing to fear on your return?”

“I shall have nothing to fear but robbers.”

“And that is nothing?”

“What could they take from me? I have not a penny about me.”

“You forget that beautiful handkerchief with the coat of arms.”

“Which?”

“That which I found at your feet, and replaced in your pocket.”

“Hold your tongue, imprudent man! Do you wish to destroy me?”

“You see very plainly that there is still danger for you, since a single word makes you tremble; and you confess that if that word were heard you would be ruined. Come, come, madame!” cried d’Artagnan, seizing her hands, and surveying her with an ardent glance, “come, be more generous. Confide in me. Have you not read in my eyes that there is nothing but devotion and sympathy in my heart?”

“Yes,” replied Mme. Bonacieux; “therefore, ask my own secrets, and I will reveal them to you; but those of others—that is quite another thing.”

“Very well,” said d’Artagnan, “I shall discover them; as these secrets may have an influence over your life, these secrets must become mine.”

“Beware of what you do!” cried the young woman, in a manner so serious as to make d’Artagnan start in spite of himself. “Oh, meddle in nothing which concerns me. Do not seek to assist me in that which I am accomplishing. This I ask of you in the name of the interest with which I inspire you, in the name of the service you have rendered me and which I never shall forget while I have life. Rather, place faith in what I tell you. Have no more concern about me; I exist no longer for you, any more than if you had never seen me.”

“Must Aramis do as much as I, madame?” said d’Artagnan, deeply piqued.

“This is the second or third time, monsieur, that you have repeated that name, and yet I have told you that I do not know him.”

“You do not know the man at whose shutter you have just knocked? Indeed, madame, you believe me too credulous!”

“Confess that it is for the sake of making me talk that you invent this story and create this personage.”

“I invent nothing, madame; I create nothing. I only speak that exact truth.”

“And you say that one of your friends lives in that house?”

“I say so, and I repeat it for the third time; that house is one inhabited by my friend, and that friend is Aramis.”

“All this will be cleared up at a later period,” murmured the young woman; “no, monsieur, be silent.”

“If you could see my heart,” said d’Artagnan, “you would there read so much curiosity that you would pity me and so much love that you would instantly satisfy my curiosity. We have nothing to fear from those who love us.”

“You speak very suddenly of love, monsieur,” said the young woman, shaking her head.

“That is because love has come suddenly upon me, and for the first time; and because I am only twenty.”

The young woman looked at him furtively.

“Listen; I am already upon the scent,” resumed d’Artagnan. “About three months ago I was near having a duel with Aramis concerning a handkerchief resembling the one you showed to the woman in his house—for a handkerchief marked in the same manner, I am sure.”

“Monsieur,” said the young woman, “you weary me very much, I assure you, with your questions.”

“But you, madame, prudent as you are, think, if you were to be arrested with that handkerchief, and that handkerchief were to be seized, would you not be compromised?”

“In what way? The initials are only mine—C. B., Constance Bonacieux.”

“Or Camille de Bois-Tracy.”

“Silence, monsieur! Once again, silence! Ah, since the dangers I incur on my own account cannot stop you, think of those you may yourself run!”

“Me?”

“Yes; there is peril of imprisonment, risk of life in knowing me.”

“Then I will not leave you.”

“Monsieur!” said the young woman, supplicating him and clasping her hands together, “monsieur, in the name of heaven, by the honor of a soldier, by the courtesy of a gentleman, depart! There, there midnight sounds! That is the hour when I am expected.”

“Madame,” said the young man, bowing; “I can refuse nothing asked of me thus. Be content; I will depart.”

“But you will not follow me; you will not watch me?”

“I will return home instantly.”

“Ah, I was quite sure you were a good and brave young man,” said Mme. Bonacieux, holding out her hand to him, and placing the other upon the knocker of a little door almost hidden in the wall.

D’Artagnan seized the hand held out to him, and kissed it ardently.

“Ah! I wish I had never seen you!” cried d’Artagnan, with that ingenuous roughness which women often prefer to the affectations of politeness, because it betrays the depths of the thought and proves that feeling prevails over reason.

“Well!” resumed Mme. Bonacieux, in a voice almost caressing, and pressing the hand of d’Artagnan, who had not relinquished hers, “well: I will not say as much as you do; what is lost for today may not be lost forever. Who knows, when I shall be at liberty, that I may not satisfy your curiosity?”

“And will you make the same promise to my love?” cried d’Artagnan, beside himself with joy.

“Oh, as to that, I do not engage myself. That depends upon the sentiments with which you may inspire me.”

“Then today, madame—”

“Oh, today, I am no further than gratitude.”

“Ah! You are too charming,” said d’Artagnan, sorrowfully; “and you abuse my love.”

“No, I use your generosity, that’s all. But be of good cheer; with certain people, everything comes round.”

“Oh, you render me the happiest of men! Do not forget this evening—do not forget that promise.”

“Be satisfied. In the proper time and place I will remember everything. Now then, go, go, in the name of heaven! I was expected at sharp midnight, and I am late.”

“By five minutes.”

“Yes; but in certain circumstances five minutes are five ages.”

“When one loves.”

“Well! And who told you I had no affair with a lover?”

“It is a man, then, who expects you?” cried d’Artagnan. “A man!”

“The discussion is going to begin again!” said Mme. Bonacieux, with a half-smile which was not exempt from a tinge of impatience.

“No, no; I go, I depart! I believe in you, and I would have all the merit of my devotion, even if that devotion were stupidity. Adieu, madame, adieu!”

And as if he only felt strength to detach himself by a violent effort from the hand he held, he sprang away, running, while Mme. Bonacieux knocked, as at the shutter, three light and regular taps. When he had gained the angle of the street, he turned. The door had been opened, and shut again; the mercer’s pretty wife had disappeared.

D’Artagnan pursued his way. He had given his word not to watch Mme. Bonacieux, and if his life had depended upon the spot to which she was going or upon the person who should accompany her, d’Artagnan would have returned home, since he had so promised. Five minutes later he was in the Rue des Fossoyeurs.

“Poor Athos!” said he; “he will never guess what all this means. He will have fallen asleep waiting for me, or else he will have returned home, where he will have learned that a woman had been there. A woman with Athos! After all,” continued d’Artagnan, “there was certainly one with Aramis. All this is very strange; and I am curious to know how it will end.”

“Badly, monsieur, badly!” replied a voice which the young man recognized as that of Planchet; for, soliloquizing aloud, as very preoccupied people do, he had entered the alley, at the end of which were the stairs which led to his chamber.

“How, badly? What do you mean by that, you idiot?” asked d’Artagnan. “What has happened?”

“All sorts of misfortunes.”

“What?”

“In the first place, Monsieur Athos is arrested.”

“Arrested! Athos arrested! What for?”

“He was found in your lodging; they took him for you.”

“And by whom was he arrested?”

“By Guards brought by the men in black whom you put to flight.”

“Why did he not tell them his name? Why did he not tell them he knew nothing about this affair?”

“He took care not to do so, monsieur; on the contrary, he came up to me and said, ‘It is your master that needs his liberty at this moment and not I, since he knows everything and I know nothing. They will believe he is arrested, and that will give him time; in three days I will tell them who I am, and they cannot fail to let me go.’”

“Bravo, Athos! Noble heart!” murmured d’Artagnan. “I know him well there! And what did the officers do?”

“Four conveyed him away, I don’t know where—to the Bastille or Fort l’Evêque. Two remained with the men in black, who rummaged every place and took all the papers. The last two mounted guard at the door during this examination; then, when all was over, they went away, leaving the house empty and exposed.”

“And Porthos and Aramis?”

“I could not find them; they did not come.”

“But they may come any moment, for you left word that I awaited them?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Well, don’t budge, then; if they come, tell them what has happened. Let them wait for me at the Pomme-de-Pin. Here it would be dangerous; the house may be watched. I will run to Monsieur de Tréville to tell them all this, and will meet them there.”

“Very well, monsieur,” said Planchet.

“But you will remain; you are not afraid?” said d’Artagnan, coming back to recommend courage to his lackey.

“Be easy, monsieur,” said Planchet; “you do not know me yet. I am brave when I set about it. It is all in beginning. Besides, I am a Picard.”

“Then it is understood,” said d’Artagnan; “you would rather be killed than desert your post?”

“Yes, monsieur; and there is nothing I would not do to prove to Monsieur that I am attached to him.”

“Good!” said d’Artagnan to himself. “It appears that the method I have adopted with this boy is decidedly the best. I shall use it again upon occasion.”

And with all the swiftness of his legs, already a little fatigued, however, with the perambulations of the day, d’Artagnan directed his course toward M. de Tréville’s.

M. de Tréville was not at his hôtel. His company was on guard at the Louvre; he was at the Louvre with his company.

It was necessary to reach M. de Tréville; it was important that he should be informed of what was passing. D’Artagnan resolved to try and enter the Louvre. His costume of Guardsman in the company of M. Dessessart ought to be his passport.

He therefore went down the Rue des Petits Augustins, and came up to the quay, in order to take the New Bridge. He had at first an idea of crossing by the ferry; but on gaining the riverside, he had mechanically put his hand into his pocket, and perceived that he had not wherewithal to pay his passage.

As he gained the top of the Rue Guénegaud, he saw two persons coming out of the Rue Dauphine whose appearance very much struck him. Of the two persons who composed this group, one was a man and the other a woman. The woman had the outline of Mme. Bonacieux; the man resembled Aramis so much as to be mistaken for him.

Besides, the woman wore that black mantle which d’Artagnan could still see outlined on the shutter of the Rue de Vaugirard and on the door of the Rue de la Harpe; still further, the man wore the uniform of a Musketeer.

The woman’s hood was pulled down, and the man held a handkerchief to his face. Both, as this double precaution indicated, had an interest in not being recognized.

They took the bridge. That was d’Artagnan’s road, as he was going to the Louvre. D’Artagnan followed them.

He had not gone twenty steps before he became convinced that the woman was really Mme. Bonacieux and that the man was Aramis.

He felt at that instant all the suspicions of jealousy agitating his heart. He felt himself doubly betrayed, by his friend and by her whom he already loved like a mistress. Mme. Bonacieux had declared to him, by all the gods, that she did not know Aramis; and a quarter of an hour after having made this assertion, he found her hanging on the arm of Aramis.

D’Artagnan did not reflect that he had only known the mercer’s pretty wife for three hours; that she owed him nothing but a little gratitude for having delivered her from the men in black, who wished to carry her off, and that she had promised him nothing. He considered himself an outraged, betrayed, and ridiculed lover. Blood and anger mounted to his face; he was resolved to unravel the mystery.

The young man and young woman perceived they were watched, and redoubled their speed. D’Artagnan determined upon his course. He passed them, then returned so as to meet them exactly before the Samaritaine, which was illuminated by a lamp which threw its light over all that part of the bridge.

D’Artagnan stopped before them, and they stopped before him.

“What do you want, monsieur?” demanded the Musketeer, recoiling a step, and with a foreign accent, which proved to d’Artagnan that he was deceived in one of his conjectures.

“It is not Aramis!” cried he.

“No, monsieur, it is not Aramis; and by your exclamation I perceive you have mistaken me for another, and pardon you.”

“You pardon me?” cried d’Artagnan.

“Yes,” replied the stranger. “Allow me, then, to pass on, since it is not with me you have anything to do.”

“You are right, monsieur, it is not with you that I have anything to do; it is with Madame.”

“With Madame! You do not know her,” replied the stranger.

“You are deceived, monsieur; I know her very well.”

“Ah,” said Mme. Bonacieux; in a tone of reproach, “ah, monsieur, I had your promise as a soldier and your word as a gentleman. I hoped to be able to rely upon that.”

“And I, madame!” said d’Artagnan, embarrassed; “you promised me—”

“Take my arm, madame,” said the stranger, “and let us continue our way.”

D’Artagnan, however, stupefied, cast down, annihilated by all that happened, stood, with crossed arms, before the Musketeer and Mme. Bonacieux.

The Musketeer advanced two steps, and pushed d’Artagnan aside with his hand. D’Artagnan made a spring backward and drew his sword. At the same time, and with the rapidity of lightning, the stranger drew his.

“In the name of heaven, my Lord!” cried Mme. Bonacieux, throwing herself between the combatants and seizing the swords with her hands.

“My Lord!” cried d’Artagnan, enlightened by a sudden idea, “my Lord! Pardon me, monsieur, but you are not—”

“My Lord the Duke of Buckingham,” said Mme. Bonacieux, in an undertone; “and now you may ruin us all.”

“My Lord, Madame, I ask a hundred pardons! But I love her, my Lord, and was jealous. You know what it is to love, my Lord. Pardon me, and then tell me how I can risk my life to serve your Grace?”

“You are a brave young man,” said Buckingham, holding out his hand to d’Artagnan, who pressed it respectfully. “You offer me your services; with the same frankness I accept them. Follow us at a distance of twenty paces, as far as the Louvre, and if anyone watches us, slay him!”

D’Artagnan placed his naked sword under his arm, allowed the duke and Mme. Bonacieux to take twenty steps ahead, and then followed them, ready to execute the instructions of the noble and elegant minister of Charles I.

Fortunately, he had no opportunity to give the duke this proof of his devotion, and the young woman and the handsome Musketeer entered the Louvre by the wicket of the Echelle without any interference.

As for d’Artagnan, he immediately repaired to the cabaret of the Pomme-de-Pin, where he found Porthos and Aramis awaiting him. Without giving them any explanation of the alarm and inconvenience he had caused them, he told them that he had terminated the affair alone in which he had for a moment believed he should need their assistance.

Meanwhile, carried away as we are by our narrative, we must leave our three friends to themselves, and follow the Duke of Buckingham and his guide through the labyrinths of the Louvre.


12. 
GEORGE VILLIERS, DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM


Mme. Bonacieux and the duke entered the Louvre without difficulty. Mme. Bonacieux was known to belong to the queen; the duke wore the uniform of the Musketeers of M. de Tréville, who, as we have said, were that evening on guard. Besides, Germain was in the interests of the queen; and if anything should happen, Mme. Bonacieux would be accused of having introduced her lover into the Louvre, that was all. She took the risk upon herself. Her reputation would be lost, it is true; but of what value in the world was the reputation of the little wife of a mercer?

Once within the interior of the court, the duke and the young woman followed the wall for the space of about twenty-five steps. This space passed, Mme. Bonacieux pushed a little servants’ door, open by day but generally closed at night. The door yielded. Both entered, and found themselves in darkness; but Mme. Bonacieux was acquainted with all the turnings and windings of this part of the Louvre, appropriated for the people of the household. She closed the door after her, took the duke by the hand, and after a few experimental steps, grasped a balustrade, put her foot upon the bottom step, and began to ascend the staircase. The duke counted two stories. She then turned to the right, followed the course of a long corridor, descended a flight, went a few steps farther, introduced a key into a lock, opened a door, and pushed the duke into an apartment lighted only by a lamp, saying, “Remain here, my Lord Duke; someone will come.” She then went out by the same door, which she locked, so that the duke found himself literally a prisoner.

Nevertheless, isolated as he was, we must say that the Duke of Buckingham did not experience an instant of fear. One of the salient points of his character was the search for adventures and a love of romance. Brave, rash, and enterprising, this was not the first time he had risked his life in such attempts. He had learned that the pretended message from Anne of Austria, upon the faith of which he had come to Paris, was a snare; but instead of regaining England, he had, abusing the position in which he had been placed, declared to the queen that he would not depart without seeing her. The queen had at first positively refused; but at length became afraid that the duke, if exasperated, would commit some folly. She had already decided upon seeing him and urging his immediate departure, when, on the very evening of coming to this decision, Mme. Bonacieux, who was charged with going to fetch the duke and conducting him to the Louvre, was abducted. For two days no one knew what had become of her, and everything remained in suspense; but once free, and placed in communication with Laporte, matters resumed their course, and she accomplished the perilous enterprise which, but for her arrest, would have been executed three days earlier.

Buckingham, left alone, walked toward a mirror. His Musketeer’s uniform became him marvelously.

At thirty-five, which was then his age, he passed, with just title, for the handsomest gentleman and the most elegant cavalier of France or England.

The favorite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a kingdom which he disordered at his fancy and calmed again at his caprice, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had lived one of those fabulous existences which survive, in the course of centuries, to astonish posterity.

Sure of himself, convinced of his own power, certain that the laws which rule other men could not reach him, he went straight to the object he aimed at, even were this object were so elevated and so dazzling that it would have been madness for any other even to have contemplated it. It was thus he had succeeded in approaching several times the beautiful and proud Anne of Austria, and in making himself loved by dazzling her.

George Villiers placed himself before the glass, as we have said, restored the undulations to his beautiful hair, which the weight of his hat had disordered, twisted his mustache, and, his heart swelling with joy, happy and proud at being near the moment he had so long sighed for, he smiled upon himself with pride and hope.

At this moment a door concealed in the tapestry opened, and a woman appeared. Buckingham saw this apparition in the glass; he uttered a cry. It was the queen!

Anne of Austria was then twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age; that is to say, she was in the full splendor of her beauty.

Her carriage was that of a queen or a goddess; her eyes, which cast the brilliancy of emeralds, were perfectly beautiful, and yet were at the same time full of sweetness and majesty.

Her mouth was small and rosy; and although her underlip, like that of all princes of the House of Austria, protruded slightly beyond the other, it was eminently lovely in its smile, but as profoundly disdainful in its contempt.

Her skin was admired for its velvety softness; her hands and arms were of surpassing beauty, all the poets of the time singing them as incomparable.

Lastly, her hair, which, from being light in her youth, had become chestnut, and which she wore curled very plainly, and with much powder, admirably set off her face, in which the most rigid critic could only have desired a little less rouge, and the most fastidious sculptor a little more fineness in the nose.

Buckingham remained for a moment dazzled. Never had Anne of Austria appeared to him so beautiful, amid balls, fêtes, or carousals, as she appeared to him at this moment, dressed in a simple robe of white satin, and accompanied by Donna Estafania—the only one of her Spanish women who had not been driven from her by the jealousy of the king or by the persecutions of Richelieu.

Anne of Austria took two steps forward. Buckingham threw himself at her feet, and before the queen could prevent him, kissed the hem of her robe.

“Duke, you already know that it is not I who caused you to be written to.”

“Yes, yes, madame! Yes, your Majesty!” cried the duke. “I know that I must have been mad, senseless, to believe that snow would become animated or marble warm; but what then! They who love believe easily in love. Besides, I have lost nothing by this journey because I see you.”

“Yes,” replied Anne, “but you know why and how I see you; because, insensible to all my sufferings, you persist in remaining in a city where, by remaining, you run the risk of your life, and make me run the risk of my honor. I see you to tell you that everything separates us—the depths of the sea, the enmity of kingdoms, the sanctity of vows. It is sacrilege to struggle against so many things, my Lord. In short, I see you to tell you that we must never see each other again.”

“Speak on, madame, speak on, Queen,” said Buckingham; “the sweetness of your voice covers the harshness of your words. You talk of sacrilege! Why, the sacrilege is the separation of two hearts formed by God for each other.”

“My Lord,” cried the queen, “you forget that I have never said that I love you.”

“But you have never told me that you did not love me; and truly, to speak such words to me would be, on the part of your Majesty, too great an ingratitude. For tell me, where can you find a love like mine—a love which neither time, nor absence, nor despair can extinguish, a love which contents itself with a lost ribbon, a stray look, or a chance word? It is now three years, madame, since I saw you for the first time, and during those three years I have loved you thus. Shall I tell you each ornament of your toilet? Mark! I see you now. You were seated upon cushions in the Spanish fashion; you wore a robe of green satin embroidered with gold and silver, hanging sleeves knotted upon your beautiful arms—those lovely arms—with large diamonds. You wore a close ruff, a small cap upon your head of the same color as your robe, and in that cap a heron’s feather. Hold! Hold! I shut my eyes, and I can see you as you then were; I open them again, and I see what you are now—a hundred times more beautiful!”

“What folly,” murmured Anne of Austria, who had not the courage to find fault with the duke for having so well preserved her portrait in his heart, “what folly to feed a useless passion with such remembrances!”

“And upon what then must I live? I have nothing but memory. It is my happiness, my treasure, my hope. Every time I see you is a fresh diamond which I enclose in the casket of my heart. This is the fourth which you have let fall and I have picked up; for in three years, madame, I have only seen you four times—the first, which I have described to you; the second, at the mansion of Madame de Chevreuse; the third, in the gardens of Amiens.”

“Duke,” said the queen, blushing, “never speak of that evening.”

“Oh, let us speak of it; on the contrary, let us speak of it! That is the most happy and brilliant evening of my life! You remember what a beautiful night it was? How soft and perfumed was the air; how lovely the blue heavens and star-enameled sky! Ah, then, madame, I was able for one instant to be alone with you. Then you were about to tell me all—the isolation of your life, the griefs of your heart. You leaned upon my arm—upon this, madame! I felt, in bending my head toward you, your beautiful hair touch my cheek; and every time that it touched me I trembled from head to foot. Oh, Queen! Queen! You do not know what felicity from heaven, what joys from paradise, are comprised in a moment like that. Take my wealth, my fortune, my glory, all the days I have to live, for such an instant, for a night like that. For that night, madame, that night you loved me, I will swear it.”

“My Lord, yes; it is possible that the influence of the place, the charm of the beautiful evening, the fascination of your look—the thousand circumstances, in short, which sometimes unite to destroy a woman—were grouped around me on that fatal evening; but, my Lord, you saw the queen come to the aid of the woman who faltered. At the first word you dared to utter, at the first freedom to which I had to reply, I called for help.”

“Yes, yes, that is true. And any other love but mine would have sunk beneath this ordeal; but my love came out from it more ardent and more eternal. You believed that you would fly from me by returning to Paris; you believed that I would not dare to quit the treasure over which my master had charged me to watch. What to me were all the treasures in the world, or all the kings of the earth! Eight days after, I was back again, madame. That time you had nothing to say to me; I had risked my life and favor to see you but for a second. I did not even touch your hand, and you pardoned me on seeing me so submissive and so repentant.”

“Yes, but calumny seized upon all those follies in which I took no part, as you well know, my Lord. The king, excited by the cardinal, made a terrible clamor. Madame de Vernet was driven from me, Putange was exiled, Madame de Chevreuse fell into disgrace, and when you wished to come back as ambassador to France, the king himself—remember, my lord—the king himself opposed it.”

“Yes, and France is about to pay for her king’s refusal with a war. I am not allowed to see you, madame, but you shall every day hear of me. What object, think you, have this expedition to Ré and this league with the Protestants of La Rochelle which I am projecting? The pleasure of seeing you. I have no hope of penetrating, sword in hand, to Paris, I know that well. But this war may bring round a peace; this peace will require a negotiator; that negotiator will be me. They will not dare to refuse me then; and I will return to Paris, and will see you again, and will be happy for an instant. Thousands of men, it is true, will have to pay for my happiness with their lives; but what is that to me, provided I see you again! All this is perhaps folly—perhaps insanity; but tell me what woman has a lover more truly in love; what queen a servant more ardent?”

“My Lord, my Lord, you invoke in your defense things which accuse you more strongly. All these proofs of love which you would give me are almost crimes.”

“Because you do not love me, madame! If you loved me, you would view all this otherwise. If you loved me, oh, if you loved me, that would be too great happiness, and I should run mad. Ah, Madame de Chevreuse was less cruel than you. Holland loved her, and she responded to his love.”

“Madame de Chevreuse was not queen,” murmured Anne of Austria, overcome, in spite of herself, by the expression of so profound a passion.

“You would love me, then, if you were not queen! Madame, say that you would love me then! I can believe that it is the dignity of your rank alone which makes you cruel to me; I can believe that, had you been Madame de Chevreuse, poor Buckingham might have hoped. Thanks for those sweet words! Oh, my beautiful sovereign, a hundred times, thanks!”

“Oh, my Lord! You have ill understood, wrongly interpreted; I did not mean to say—”

“Silence, silence!” cried the duke. “If I am happy in an error, do not have the cruelty to lift me from it. You have told me yourself, madame, that I have been drawn into a snare; I, perhaps, may leave my life in it—for, although it may be strange, I have for some time had a presentiment that I should shortly die.” And the duke smiled, with a smile at once sad and charming.

“Oh, my God!” cried Anne of Austria, with an accent of terror which proved how much greater an interest she took in the duke than she ventured to tell.

“I do not tell you this, madame, to terrify you; no, it is even ridiculous for me to name it to you, and, believe me, I take no heed of such dreams. But the words you have just spoken, the hope you have almost given me, will have richly paid all—were it my life.”

“Oh, but I,” said Anne, “I also, duke, have had presentiments; I also have had dreams. I dreamed that I saw you lying bleeding, wounded.”

“In the left side, was it not, and with a knife?” interrupted Buckingham.

“Yes, it was so, my Lord, it was so—in the left side, and with a knife. Who can possibly have told you I had had that dream? I have imparted it to no one but my God, and that in my prayers.”

“I ask for no more. You love me, madame; it is enough.”

“I love you, I?”

“Yes, yes. Would God send the same dreams to you as to me if you did not love me? Should we have the same presentiments if our existences did not touch at the heart? You love me, my beautiful queen, and you will weep for me?”

“Oh, my God, my God!” cried Anne of Austria, “this is more than I can bear. In the name of heaven, Duke, leave me, go! I do not know whether I love you or love you not; but what I know is that I will not be perjured. Take pity on me, then, and go! Oh, if you are struck in France, if you die in France, if I could imagine that your love for me was the cause of your death, I could not console myself; I should run mad. Depart then, depart, I implore you!”

“Oh, how beautiful you are thus! Oh, how I love you!” said Buckingham.

“Go, go, I implore you, and return hereafter! Come back as ambassador, come back as minister, come back surrounded with guards who will defend you, with servants who will watch over you, and then I shall no longer fear for your days, and I shall be happy in seeing you.”

“Oh, is this true what you say?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, then, some pledge of your indulgence, some object which came from you, and may remind me that I have not been dreaming; something you have worn, and that I may wear in my turn—a ring, a necklace, a chain.”

“Will you depart—will you depart, if I give you that you demand?”

“Yes.”

“This very instant?”

“Yes.”

“You will leave France, you will return to England?”

“I will, I swear to you.”

“Wait, then, wait.”

Anne of Austria re-entered her apartment, and came out again almost immediately, holding a rosewood casket in her hand, with her cipher encrusted with gold.

“Here, my Lord, here,” said she, “keep this in memory of me.”

Buckingham took the casket, and fell a second time on his knees.

“You have promised me to go,” said the queen.

“And I keep my word. Your hand, madame, your hand, and I depart!”

Anne of Austria stretched forth her hand, closing her eyes, and leaning with the other upon Estafania, for she felt that her strength was about to fail her.

Buckingham pressed his lips passionately to that beautiful hand, and then rising, said, “Within six months, if I am not dead, I shall have seen you again, madame—even if I have to overturn the world.” And faithful to the promise he had made, he rushed out of the apartment.

In the corridor he met Mme. Bonacieux, who waited for him, and who, with the same precautions and the same good luck, conducted him out of the Louvre.