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35. A GASCON A MATCH FOR CUPID

The evening so impatiently waited for by Porthos and by
d'Artagnan at last arrived.

As was his custom, d'Artagnan presented himself at Milady's
at about nine o'clock. He found her in a charming humor.
Never had he been so well received. Our Gascon knew, by the
first glance of his eye, that his billet had been delivered,
and that this billet had had its effect.

Kitty entered to bring some sherbet. Her mistress put on a
charming face, and smiled on her graciously; but alas! the
poor girl was so sad that she did not even notice Milady's
condescension.

D'Artagnan looked at the two women, one after the other, and
was forced to acknowledge that in his opinion Dame Nature
had made a mistake in their formation. To the great lady
she had given a heart vile and venal; to the SOUBRETTE she
had given the heart of a duchess.

At ten o'clock Milady began to appear restless. D'Artagnan
knew what she wanted. She looked at the clock, rose,
reseated herself, smiled at d'Artagnan with an air which
said, "You are very amiable, no doubt, but you would be
charming if you would only depart."

D'Artagnan rose and took his hat; Milady gave him her hand
to kiss. The young man felt her press his hand, and
comprehended that this was a sentiment, not of coquetry, but
of gratitude because of his departure.

"She loves him devilishly," he murmured. Then he went out.

This time Kitty was nowhere waiting for him; neither in the
antechamber, nor in the corridor, nor beneath the great
door. It was necessary that d'Artagnan should find alone
the staircase and the little chamber. She heard him enter,
but she did not raise her head. The young man went to her
and took her hands; then she sobbed aloud.

As d'Artagnan had presumed, on receiving his letter, Milady
in a delirium of joy had told her servant everything; and by
way of recompense for the manner in which she had this time
executed the commission, she had given Kitty a purse.

Returning to her own room, Kitty had thrown the purse into a
corner, where it lay open, disgorging three or four gold
pieces on the carpet. The poor girl, under the caresses of
d'Artagnan, lifted her head. D'Artagnan himself was
frightened by the change in her countenance. She joined her
hands with a suppliant air, but without venturing to speak a
word. As little sensitive as was the heart of d'Artagnan,
he was touched by this mute sorrow; but he held too
tenaciously to his projects, above all to this one, to
change the program which he had laid out in advance. He did
not therefore allow her any hope that he would flinch; only
he represented his action as one of simple vengeance.

For the rest this vengeance was very easy; for Milady,
doubtless to conceal her blushes from her lover, had ordered
Kitty to extinguish all the lights in the apartment, and
even in the little chamber itself. Before daybreak M. de
Wardes must take his departure, still in obscurity.

Presently they heard Milady retire to her room. D'Artagnan
slipped into the wardrobe. Hardly was he concealed when the
little bell sounded. Kitty went to her mistress, and did
not leave the door open; but the partition was so thin that
one could hear nearly all that passed between the two women.

Milady seemed overcome with joy, and made Kitty repeat the
smallest details of the pretended interview of the soubrette
with de Wardes when he received the letter; how he had
responded; what was the expression of his face; if he seemed
very amorous. And to all these questions poor Kitty, forced
to put on a pleasant face, responded in a stifled voice
whose dolorous accent her mistress did not however remark,
solely because happiness is egotistical.

Finally, as the hour for her interview with the count
approached, Milady had everything about her darkened, and
ordered Kitty to return to her own chamber, and introduce de
Wardes whenever he presented himself.

Kitty's detention was not long. Hardly had d'Artagnan seen,

through a crevice in his closet, that the whole apartment
was in obscurity, than he slipped out of his concealment, at
the very moment when Kitty reclosed the door of
communication.

"What is that noise?" demanded Milady.

"It is I," said d'Artagnan in a subdued voice, "I, the Comte
de Wardes."

"Oh, my God, my God!" murmured Kitty, "he has not even
waited for the hour he himself named!"

"Well," said Milady, in a trembling voice, "why do you not
enter? Count, Count," added she, "you know that I wait for
you."

At this appeal d'Artagnan drew Kitty quietly away, and
slipped into the chamber.

If rage or sorrow ever torture the heart, it is when a lover
receives under a name which is not his own protestations of
love addressed to his happy rival. D'Artagnan was in a
dolorous situation which he had not foreseen. Jealousy
gnawed his heart; and he suffered almost as much as poor
Kitty, who at that very moment was crying in the next
chamber.

"Yes, Count," said Milady, in her softest voice, and
pressing his hand in her own, "I am happy in the love which
your looks and your words have expressed to me every time we
have met. I also--I love you. Oh, tomorrow, tomorrow, I
must have some pledge from you which will prove that you
think of me; and that you may not forget me, take this!" and
she slipped a ring from her finger onto d'Artagnan's.
d'Artagnan remembered having seen this ring on the finger of
Milady; it was a magnificent sapphire, encircled with
brilliants.

The first movement of d'Artagnan was to return it, but
Milady added, "No, no! Keep that ring for love of me.
Besides, in accepting it," she added, in a voice full of
emotion, "you render me a much greater service than you
imagine."

"This woman is full of mysteries," murmured d'Artagnan to
himself. At that instant he felt himself ready to reveal
all. He even opened his mouth to tell Milady who he was,
and with what a revengeful purpose he had come; but she
added, "Poor angel, whom that monster of a Gascon barely
failed to kill."

The monster was himself.

"Oh," continued Milady, "do your wounds still make you
suffer?"

"Yes, much," said d'Artagnan, who did not well know how to
answer.

"Be tranquil," murmured Milady; "I will avenge you--and
cruelly!"

"PESTE!" said d'Artagnan to himself, "the moment for
confidences has not yet come."

It took some time for d'Artagnan to resume this little
dialogue; but then all the ideas of vengeance which he had
brought with him had completely vanished. This woman
exercised over him an unaccountable power; he hated and
adored her at the same time. He would not have believed
that two sentiments so opposite could dwell in the same
heart, and by their union constitute a passion so strange,
and as it were, diabolical.

Presently it sounded one o'clock. It was necessary to
separate. D'Artagnan at the moment of quitting Milady felt
only the liveliest regret at the parting; and as they
addressed each other in a reciprocally passionate adieu,
another interview was arranged for the following week.

Poor Kitty hoped to speak a few words to d'Artagnan when he
passed through her chamber; but Milady herself reconducted
him through the darkness, and only quit him at the
staircase.

The next morning d'Artagnan ran to find Athos. He was
engaged in an adventure so singular that he wished for
counsel. He therefore told him all.

"Your Milady," said he, "appears to be an infamous creature,
but not the less you have done wrong to deceive her. In one
fashion or another you have a terrible enemy on your hands."

While thus speaking Athos regarded with attention the
sapphire set with diamonds which had taken, on d'Artagnan's
finger, the place of the queen's ring, carefully kept in a
casket.

"You notice my ring?" said the Gascon, proud to display so
rich a gift in the eyes of his friends.

"Yes," said Athos, "it reminds me of a family jewel."

"It is beautiful, is it not?" said d'Artagnan.

"Yes," said Athos, "magnificent. I did not think two
sapphires of such a fine water existed. Have you traded it
for your diamond?"

"No. It is a gift from my beautiful Englishwoman, or rather
Frenchwoman--for I am convinced she was born in France,
though I have not questioned her."

"That ring comes from Milady?" cried Athos, with a voice in
which it was easy to detect strong emotion.

"Her very self; she gave it me last night. Here it is,"
replied d'Artagnan, taking it from his finger.

Athos examined it and became very pale. He tried it on his
left hand; it fit his finger as if made for it.

A shade of anger and vengeance passed across the usually
calm brow of this gentleman.

"It is impossible it can be she," said be. "How could this
ring come into the hands of Milady Clarik? And yet it is
difficult to suppose such a resemblance should exist between
two jewels."

"Do you know this ring?" said d'Artagnan.

"I thought I did," replied Athos; "but no doubt I was
mistaken." And he returned d'Artagnan the ring without,
however, ceasing to look at it.

"Pray, d'Artagnan," said Athos, after a minute, "either take
off that ring or turn the mounting inside; it recalls such
cruel recollections that I shall have no head to converse
with you. Don't ask me for counsel; don't tell me you are
perplexed what to do. But stop! let me look at that
sapphire again; the one I mentioned to you had one of its
faces scratched by accident."

D'Artagnan took off the ring, giving it again to Athos.

Athos started. "Look," said he, "is it not strange?" and he
pointed out to d'Artagnan the scratch he had remembered.

"But from whom did this ring come to you, Athos?"

"From my mother, who inherited it from her mother. As I
told you, it is an old family jewel."

"And you--sold it?" asked d'Artagnan, hesitatingly.

"No," replied Athos, with a singular smile. "I gave it away
in a night of love, as it has been given to you."

D'Artagnan became pensive in his turn; it appeared as if
there were abysses in Milady's soul whose depths were dark
and unknown. He took back the ring, but put it in his
pocket and not on his finger.

"d'Artagnan," said Athos, taking his hand, "you know I love
you; if I had a son I could not love him better. Take my
advice, renounce this woman. I do not know her, but a sort
of intuition tells me she is a lost creature, and that there
is something fatal about her."

"You are right," said d'Artagnan; "I will have done with
her. I own that this woman terrifies me."

"Shall you have the courage?" said Athos.

"I shall," replied d'Artagnan, "and instantly."

"In truth, my young friend, you will act rightly," said the
gentleman, pressing the Gascon's hand with an affection
almost paternal; "and God grant that this woman, who has
scarcely entered into your life, may not leave a terrible
trace in it!" And Athos bowed to d'Artagnan like a man who
wishes it understood that he would not be sorry to be left
alone with his thoughts.

On reaching home d'Artagnan found Kitty waiting for him. A
month of fever could not have changed her more than this one
night of sleeplessness and sorrow.

She was sent by her mistress to the false de Wardes. Her
mistress was mad with love, intoxicated with joy. She
wished to know when her lover would meet her a second night;
and poor Kitty, pale and trembling, awaited d'Artagnan's
reply. The counsels of his friend, joined to the cries of
his own heart, made him determine, now his pride was saved
and his vengeance satisfied, not to see Milady again. As a
reply, he wrote the following letter:


Do not depend upon me, madame, for the next meeting. Since
my convalescence I have so many affairs of this kind on my
hands that I am forced to regulate them a little. When your
turn comes, I shall have the honor to inform you of it. I
kiss your hands.

Comte de Wardes


Not a word about the sapphire. Was the Gascon determined to
keep it as a weapon against Milady, or else, let us be
frank, did he not reserve the sapphire as a last resource
for his outfit? It would be wrong to judge the actions of
one period from the point of view of another. That which
would now be considered as disgraceful to a gentleman was at
that time quite a simple and natural affair, and the younger
sons of the best families were frequently supported by their
mistresses. D'Artagnan gave the open letter to Kitty, who
at first was unable to comprehend it, but who became almost
wild with joy on reading it a second time. She could
scarcely believe in her happiness; and d'Artagnan was forced
to renew with the living voice the assurances which he had
written. And whatever might be--considering the violent
character of Milady--the danger which the poor girl incurred
in giving this billet to her mistress, she ran back to the
Place Royale as fast as her legs could carry her.

The heart of the best woman is pitiless toward the sorrows
of a rival.

Milady opened the letter with eagerness equal to Kitty's in
bringing it; but at the first words she read she became
livid. She crushed the paper in her band, and turning with
flashing eyes upon Kitty, she cried, "What is this letter?"

"The answer to Madame's," replied Kitty, all in a tremble.

"Impossible!" cried Milady. "It is impossible a gentleman
could have written such a letter to a woman." Then all at
once, starting, she cried, "My God! can he have--" and she
stopped. She ground her teeth; she was of the color of
ashes. She tried to go toward the window for air, but she
could only stretch forth her arms; her legs failed her, and
she sank into an armchair. Kitty, fearing she was ill,
hastened toward her and was beginning to open her dress; but
Milady started up, pushing her away. "What do you want with
me?" said she, "and why do you place your hand on me?"

"I thought that Madame was ill, and I wished to bring her
help," responded the maid, frightened at the terrible
expression which had come over her mistress's face.

"I faint? I? I? Do you take me for half a woman? When I am
insulted I do not faint; I avenge myself!"

And she made a sign for Kitty to leave the room.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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