The Three Musketeers
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The young woman, however, still came forward, counting the windows and the houses. This was not indeed a long or difficult operation. There were but three hotels in that part of the street, and but two windows looking upon the thoroughfare; of which one was that of a pavilion, parallel to the pavilion of Aramis, and the other that of Aramis himself.
“By Jove!” said d’Artagnan to himself, as he suddenly remembered the theologian’s niece—“by Jove! it would be droll if this wandering dove is looking for my friend’s house. But, upon my soul, it seems very like it. Ah, my dear Aramis! I will be satisfied about it once and for all.”
Making himself as small as possible, d’Artagnan concealed himself in the most obscure part of the street, near a stone bench placed at the back of a niche.
The young woman continued to advance; for, besides the lightness of her step which had betrayed her, a slight, small cough had also denoted a gentle voice. D’Artagnan concluded that this cough was a signal.
Nevertheless, whether this cough had been answered by some corresponding signal which had ended the uncertainties of her nocturnal search, or whether, without any such external aid, she perceived herself to have found her journey’s end, the lady advanced resolutely, and knocked three times, at equal intervals, and with a bent finger, on the shutter of Aramis’s window.
“It is really at Aramis’s house,” muttered d’Artagnan.
“Ah, Mr. Hypocrite I catch you studying theology!”
Scarcely had the three taps been given, before the inner casement opened, and a light appeared.
“Ah, ah!” said the listener, “not at the door, but the window! Ah! ah! the visit was expected. Come, the shutter will be opened presently, and the lady will get in by escalade. Good!”
But, to his great astonishment, the shutter continued closed; and, what was more, the light, which had flashed for an instant, disappeared, and all became dark again.
D’Artagnan thought that this could not last, and continued to watch with all his eyes and ears. He was right; in a few seconds, two knocks were heard from the inside; and when the young woman of the street answered by one knock, the shutter opened.
It may be judged if d’Artagnan did not look and listen eagerly.
Unfortunately, the light had been removed into some other room; but the eyes of the young man were accustomed to the darkness. Besides, it is said that the eyes of Gascons, like those of cats, have the faculty of seeing in the night.
D’Artagnan was able, therefore, to see the young woman take from her pocket something white, which she unfolded quickly, and which took the form of a pocket handkerchief, and she then drew the attention of the person she addressed to the corner of the object she unfolded.
This reminded d’Artagnan of the handkerchief he had found at the feet of Madame Bonancieux, which, also, had recalled to his recollection the one that he had drawn from under the foot of Aramis.
What the deuce, then, could this handkerchief mean?
Situated as he was, d’Artagnan could not see the countenance of Aramis—we say Aramis, because the young man had no doubt that it was his friend who was conversing from the inside with the lady on the outside.His curiosity, therefore, overcame his prudence; and, profiting by the earnest attention which the sight of the handkerchief excited in the two persons whom we have described, he left his place of concealment, and, quickly as lightning, yet with cautious step, placed himself near a corner of the wall, from which his eye could completely overlook the inside of Aramis’s apartment.
On reaching this spot, he was scarcely able to restrain an exclamation of surprise. It was not Aramis who was conferring with the midnight visitor, but a woman. D’Artagnan could just discern enough to recognise the general aspect of her vesture, but not to distinguish her features. At that moment the woman in the room drew a handkerchief from her own pocket, and exchanged it for the one which had been shown to her. A few words were then pronounced by the two women, the shutter was closed, and the woman in the street returned, and, lowering the hood of her cloak passed within four paces of d’Artagnan. But her precaution had been taken too late; he had already recognised Madame Bonancieux.
Madame Bonancieux! The suspicion had already crossed his mind when he saw her take the handkerchief from her pocket; but what probability was there that Madame Bonancieux, who had sent for M. de la Porte, in order that he might conduct her to the Louvre, should be coursing through the streets of Paris at half-past eleven at night, at the hazard of being carried off a second time? It must unquestionably be on some important affair; and what affair is of importance to a woman of twenty-five but love?
But was it on her own account, or that of some other person, that she exposed herself to this risk? This was the inward doubt of the young man, whom the demon of jealousy was now tormenting, as though he had been an acknowledged lover. To satisfy himself as to where Madame Bonancieux was going, there was, in fact, one very simple way, which was to follow her. So simple, indeed, did this course appear, that d’Artagnan adopted it naturally, and as it were by instinct.
But, at the sight of the young man who moved from the wall, like a statue escaping from its alcove, and at the sound of his steps behind her, Madame Bonancieux uttered a faint scream, and fled.
D’Artagnan ran after her. It was no great difficulty for him to catch a woman encumbered by a large cloak. He overtook her, in fact, before she had gone a third of the length of the street. The poor woman was exhausted, not by fatigue, but terror; and when d’Artagnan put his hand upon her shoulder, she sunk upon one knee, exclaiming in a suffocated voice—
“I will die before you learn anything.”
D’Artagnan raised her up, by placing his arm round her waist, but, perceiving by her weight that she was upon the point of fainting, he hastened to encourage her by protestations of devotion. These protestations were of no avail against Madame Bonancieux, for they may easily be made with the most mischievous intentions in the world; but the voice was everything. The young woman thought that she recognised that voice. She opened her eyes, threw one glance upon the man who had so frightened her, and, seeing that it was d’Artagnan, gave utterance to a cry of joy.
“Oh! it is you, it is you,” said she. “God be thanked!”
“Yes, it is I,” said d’Artagnan, “whom God has sent to guard you.”
“And was it with this intent that you followed me,” asked the young woman, with a smile full of coquetry; for all her fears had vanished, and her love of badinage had resumed its ascendancy, on the instant that she recognised a friend in him whom she had dreaded as a foe.
“No,” replied d’Artagnan. “No, I confess that it is chance which put me on your track. I saw a woman knocking at the window of one of my friends.”
“Of one of your friends!” interrupted Madame Bonancieux.
“Yes, certainly! Aramis is one of my intimates.”
“Aramis! who is he?”
“Come, now, do you pretend to tell me that you do not know Aramis?”
“It is the first time that I ever heard his name.”
“Then it is the first time that you have visited this house?”
“And you did not know that a young man occupied it?”
“By no means.”
“Then it was not him that you came to look for?”
“Most assuredly not! Besides, you must have plainly seen that the person whom I talked to was a woman.”
“That is true; but then this woman is one of Aramis’s friends!”
“I know nothing about that.”
“Why, she lodges at his house.”
“That is not my affair.”
“But who is she?”
“Oh! that is not my secret.”
“My dear Madame Bonancieux, you are very charming, but you are at the same time the most mysterious creature.”
“Is that to my loss?”
“No; on the contrary, it lends you enchantment!”
“As that is the case, give me your arm.”
“With great pleasure; what now?”
“Now take care of me.”
“Where I am going.”
“But where may that be?”
“You will see, since you will leave me at the door.”
“May I wait for you there?”
“That would be useless.”
“Then you will return alone?”
“But the person who will accompany you afterwards—will it be a man or a woman?”
“I do not know yet.”
“But I will find out.”
“And how so?”
“I will wait to see you come out.”
“In that case, adieu!”
“I do not want you!”
“But you claimed my protection.”
“I claimed the assistance of a gentleman, and not the vigilance of a spy.”
“You are severe.”
“How would you call those who follow people who don’t want them?”
“The term is too mild!”
“Come, madame, I see that one must obey you.”
“Why deprive yourself of the merit of doing so at once?”
“Is there none in my repentance?”
“But do you sincerely repent?”
“I don’t know that myself. But I do know that I promise to do just what you wish, if you will let me accompany you where you are going.”
“And you will leave me afterwards?”
“Without awaiting my exit?”
“On your word of honour?”
“On the word of a gentleman!”
“Then take my arm, and let us get on.”
D’Artagnan offered his arm, which Madame Bonancieux, half laughing and half trembling, accepted, and they reached the top of the Rue de la Harpe; but the young woman appeared to hesitate there, as she had hesitated before at the Rue Vaugirard. Nevertheless, by certain marks, she appeared to recognise a door, which she approached.
“Now, sir,” said she, “it is here that my business calls me. I return you a thousand thanks for your good company, which has saved me from all the dangers to which I should have been exposed alone; but the time is now come for you to keep your word. You must leave me here.”
“And will you be exposed to no danger in returning?”
“I shall only have to fear robbers.”
“Is that nothing?”
“What could they take from me? I have not a farthing in my possession!”
“You forget that beautiful embroidered handkerchief, with the arms on it.”
“That which I found at your feet, and replaced in your pocket.”
“Silence! Silence! you imprudent man! Would you ruin me?”
“You see now that there is still some danger, since one word makes you tremble, and you confess that if this word was heard you would be ruined. Come now, madame,” continued d’Artagnan, seizing her hand, “be more generous; put some confidence in me; have you not read in my eyes that my heart is full of sympathy and devotion?”
“Yes,” said Madame Bonancieux; “and do but ask me for my own secrets, and I will trust you with them all; but those of others are a different matter.”
“Very well!” replied d’Artagnan, “then I will find them out. Since these secrets have an influence on your life, it is necessary that they should become mine also.”
“Have a care!” exclaimed the young woman, in a tone of seriousness which made d’Artagnan shudder involuntarily. “Oh! do not interfere in anything that concerns me; do not seek to aid me in any of my undertakings;—avoid them, I beseech you, in the name of the interest that you feel for me, and in the name of that service which you rendered to me, and which I never shall forget whilst my life lasts! Let me advise you rather to think of me no more; let my existence be obliterated from your mind; let me be to you as though you had never chanced to see me.”
“Would you like Aramis to do the same, madame?” asked d’Artagnan, full of jealousy.
“This makes the second or third time that you have mentioned that name, sir, although I have already told you that I do not know the owner of it.”
“You do not know the man at whose window-shutters you went to knock? Come, madame, you must think me credulous indeed!”
“Confess that it is to keep me talking here, that you have invented this tale, and this person.”
“I invent nothing, madame—nothing. I am telling the exact truth!”
“And you say that one of your friends lives in that house?”
“I say it, and I repeat it for the third time—that house is inhabited by a friend of mine, and that friend is Aramis.”
“All this will be explained by and by,” murmured the young woman; “and now, sir, be silent.”
“If you could see into my heart,” said d’Artagnan, “you would discover so much curiosity, that you would have pity on me: and so much love, that you would directly satisfy my curiosity. You ought not to distrust those who love you!”
“You come quickly to love, sir,” said the young woman, shaking her head.
“It is because love has come quickly on me, and for the first time; and I am not yet twenty years of age.”
The young woman stole a glance at him.
“Listen,” continued d’Artagnan; “I am already on the track: three months ago I was near fighting a duel with Aramis on account of a handkerchief like that which you showed the lady who was at his house; it was on account of a handkerchief marked in the same manner, I am positive.”
“Sir,” said the young woman, “you really bore me, I declare, with these questions.”
“But you, madame, prudent as you are, suppose you were arrested with this handkerchief upon you, and the handkerchief was seized, would you not be compromised?”
“How so? Are not the initials my own—C. B.—Constance Bonancieux?”
“Or, Camille de Bois Tracy.”
“Silence, sir! Again I say, silence! Oh, since the dangers which I run do not deter you, think of those you may run yourself.”
“Yes, you. There is the danger of imprisonment and death in knowing me.”
“Then I will never leave you!”
“Sir,” said the young woman, in a tone of supplication, clasping her hands as she spoke; “in the name of heaven, by the honour of a soldier, by the courtesy of a gentleman, I implore you to leave me. See! it is now striking twelve, the very hour at which I am expected.”
“Madame,” said the young man, bowing, “I can refuse nothing solicited in those terms. Be reassured; I leave you.”
“But you will not follow—will not watch me?”
“No, I shall return home immediately.”
“Ah! I was convinced that you were an honourable man!” exclaimed Madame Bonancieux, offering one of her hands to him, as she placed the other on the knocker of a small door, which was well-nigh concealed in a recess.
D’Artagnan seized the hand which was offered to him, and kissed it eagerly.
“Alas!” exclaimed d’Artagnan, with that unpolished simplicity which women sometimes prefer to the delicacies of politeness, because it illuminates the depths of thought, and proves that feeling is more powerful than reason, “I wish I had never seen you!”
“Well!” said Madame Bonancieux, in a tone almost affectionate, and pressing the hand which held hers, “well! I will not say the same as you do; that which is lost today may not be lost for ever. Who knows whether, when I am freed from my present embarrassments, I may not satisfy your curiosity?”
“And do you make the same promise regarding my love?” asked the overjoyed d’Artagnan.
“Oh! I dare give no promises in that respect. It must depend upon the sentiments with which you may inspire me.”
“But, at present, madame?”
“At present, sir, I have not got beyond gratitude.”
“Alas! you are too charming; and only take advantage of my love.”
“No, I take advantage of your generosity, that’s all. But, believe me, with some people, nothing can be wholly lost.”
“You make me the happiest of men. Oh! do not forget this evening, and this promise?”
“Be assured, I will remember everything at the right time and place. But now go; go, in heaven’s name! I was expected at midnight, and am behind my time.”
“By five minutes.”
“But, under certain circumstances, five minutes are five ages.”
“Yes! when one loves.”
“Well, who has told you that this is not a love-affair?”
“It is a man who expects you!” cried d’Artagnan; “a man!”
“There, now, the discussion is about to be renewed,” cried Madame Bonancieux, with a half smile, which was not altogether exempt from impatience.
“No! I am going. I trust you; I wish to have all the merit of my devotion, even if I am a fool for it! Adieu! madame, adieu.”
Then, as though he felt himself too weak to relinquish the fair hand he held but by a shock, he hastily ran off, whilst Madame Bonancieux rapped three times at the door, slowly and regularly, as she had before done at the window-shutter.
At the corner of the street he turned, but the door had been opened and closed again, and the mercer’s pretty wife had disappeared.
D’Artagnan proceeded on his way. He had promised Madame Bonancieux not to watch her; and, had his life depended on a knowledge of the place that she was going to, or the person who went with her, he would still have gone home, as he had promised to do. In five minutes he was in the Rue des Fossoyeurs.
“Poor Athos,” said he, “he will not understand this. He will have fallen asleep waiting for me, or he will have returned home, and will have learned that there has been a woman there. A woman at his house! After all,” continued d’Artagnan, “there certainly was one at Aramis’s. All this is very strange, and I shall be extremely curious to know how it will end.”
“Badly, sir, badly,” replied a voice, which the young man recognised as that of Planchet, for in soliloquising aloud, in the manner of persons who are deeply occupied, he had entered the passage, at the bottom of which was his own staircase.
“How, badly! what are you saying, you fool?” said d’Artagnan, “and what has happened?”
“All sorts of misfortunes.”
“In the first place, M. Athos is arrested.”
“Arrested! Athos arrested! and what for?”
“He was found in your lodgings, and they mistook him for you.”
“And by whom has he been arrested?”
“By the guard which was brought by the men in black whom you put to flight.”
“Why did he not give his name? Why not say that he was not concerned in this affair?”
“He was very careful not to do that, sir. On the contrary, he came near me and said—‘Thy master wants his liberty just now, and I do not need mine; since he knows all, and I know nothing. They will believe him to be in custody, and that will give him time; in three days I will declare who I am, and they will be obliged to let me go.’”
“Brave Athos! noble heart!” muttered d’Artagnan. “I recognise him well in that! And what did the officers do?”
“Four of them took him either to the Bastile or to Fort l’Eveque; and two remained with the men in black, rummaging everywhere, and carrying away all your papers. The other two mounted guard at the door whilst all this was doing; and at last they went away, leaving the house empty and the door open.”
“And Porthos and Aramis?”
“I could not find them; they have not been.”
“But they may come at any moment, for you left word that I was waiting for them.”
“Well, then, do not stir from here. If they should come, tell them what has happened, and that they must wait for me at the Pineapple Tavern. There might be some danger here; the house may be watched. I will run to M. de Treville’s, to tell him all this, and then will rejoin them there.”
“Very well, sir,” said Planchet.
“But you will remain? you will not be afraid,” said d’Artagnan, turning back a step to encourage his lackey.
“Be easy, sir,” said Planchet; “you do not know me yet. I am brave when I please to set about it; the great thing is to get me in the right mind. Besides, I come from Picardy.”
“Then it is all settled,” said d’Artagnan; “you will rather die than desert your post.”
“Yes, sir; and I will stick at nothing to prove my attachment to you.”
“Good,” said d’Artagnan to himself; “it is plain that the method I have followed with this lad is decidedly a proper one. I will adopt it henceforth on every occasion.”
And as fast as his legs, which were already somewhat fatigued, could carry him, he ran towards the Rue de Colombier.
M. de Treville was not at home. His company was on guard at the Louvre; and he was at the Louvre with it.
It was necessary, however, to see M. de Treville. It was important that he should be informed of these events. D’Artagnan determined, therefore, to obtain an entrance at the Louvre. His uniform, as one of M. de Essarts’s guards, ought to be a passport for admission.
He therefore went down the Rue des Petits-Augustins, and along the Quai to reach the Pont-Neuf. He had half a mind to cross the ferry; but on reaching the side of the river he mechanically put his hand into his pocket, and found that he had not enough to pay the ferryman.
When he reached the top of the Rue Gu?n?gaud, he saw two persons, whose appearance struck him, coming out of the Rue Dauphine. They were a man and a woman. The woman resembled in figure Madame Bonancieux; and the man had such a look of Aramis that he might be mistaken for him. Besides, the woman had on the black mantle which d’Artagnan still seemed to see delineated on the shutter in the Rue Vaugirard, and on the door in the Rue de la Harpe. Moreover, the man wore the uniform of the musketeers.
The hood of the woman was lowered, and the man held his handkerchief before his face. This double precaution showed that they were both anxious to escape recognition.
They went over the bridge, and this was also d’Artagnan’s road, as he was going to the Louvre; he therefore followed them.
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