"Ah, Madame," said d'Artagnan, entering by the door which the young woma_pened for him, "allow me to tell you that you have a bad sort of a husband."
"You have, then, overheard our conversation?" asked Mme. Bonacieux, eagerly, and looking at d'Artagnan with disquiet.
"But how, my God?"
"By a mode of proceeding known to myself, and by which I likewise overhear_he more animated conversation which he had with the cardinal's police."
"And what did you understand by what we said?"
"A thousand things. In the first place, that, unfortunately, your husband is _impleton and a fool; in the next place, you are in trouble, of which I a_ery glad, as it gives me a opportunity of placing myself at your service, an_od knows I am ready to throw myself into the fire for you; finally, that th_ueen wants a brave, intelligent, devoted man to make a journey to London fo_er. I have at least two of the three qualities you stand in need of, and her_ am."
Mme. Bonacieux made no reply; but her heart beat with joy and secret hop_hone in her eyes.
"And what guarantee will you give me," asked she, "if I consent to confid_his message to you?"
"My love for you. Speak! Command! What is to be done?"
"My God, my God!" murmured the young woman, "ought I to confide such a secre_o you, monsieur? You are almost a boy."
"I see that you require someone to answer for me?"
"I admit that would reassure me greatly."
"Do you know Athos?"
"No. Who are these gentleman?"
"Three of the king's Musketeers. Do you know Monsieur de Treville, thei_aptain?"
"Oh, yes, him! I know him; not personally, but from having heard the quee_peak of him more than once as a brave and loyal gentleman."
"You do not fear lest he should betray you to the cardinal?"
"Oh, no, certainly not!"
"Well, reveal your secret to him, and ask him whether, however important, however valuable, however terrible it may be, you may not confide it to me."
"But this secret is not mine, and I cannot reveal it in this manner."
"You were about to confide it to Monsieur Bonacieux," said d'Artagnan, wit_hagrin.
"As one confides a letter to the hollow of a tree, to the wing of a pigeon, t_he collar of a dog."
"And yet, me—you see plainly that I love you."
"You say so."
"I am an honorable man."
"You say so."
"I am a gallant fellow."
"I believe it."
"I am brave."
"Oh, I am sure of that!"
"Then, put me to the proof."
Mme. Bonacieux looked at the young man, restrained for a minute by a las_esitation; but there was such an ardor in his eyes, such persuasion in hi_oice, that she felt herself constrained to confide in him. Besides, she foun_erself in circumstances where everything must be risked for the sake o_verything. The queen might be as much injured by too much reticence as by to_uch confidence; and—let us admit it—the involuntary sentiment which she fel_or her young protector decided her to speak.
"Listen," said she; "I yield to your protestations, I yield to you_ssurances. But I swear to you, before God who hears us, that if you betra_e, and my enemies pardon me, I will kill myself, while accusing you of m_eath."
"And I—I swear to you before God, madame," said d'Artagnan, "that if I a_aken while accomplishing the orders you give me, I will die sooner than d_nything that may compromise anyone."
Then the young woman confided in him the terrible secret of which chance ha_lready communicated to him a part in front of the Samaritaine. This was thei_utual declaration of love.
D'Artagnan was radiant with joy and pride. This secret which he possessed, this woman whom he loved! Confidence and love made him a giant.
"I go," said he; "I go at once."
"How, you will go!" said Mme. Bonacieux; "and your regiment, your captain?"
"By my soul, you had made me forget all that, dear Constance! Yes, you ar_ight; a furlough is needful."
"Still another obstacle," murmured Mme. Bonacieux, sorrowfully.
"As to that," cried d'Artagnan, after a moment of reflection, "I shal_urmount it, be assured."
"I will go this very evening to Treville, whom I will request to ask thi_avor for me of his brother-in-law, Monsieur Dessessart."
"But another thing."
"What?" asked d'Artagnan, seeing that Mme. Bonacieux hesitated to continue.
"You have, perhaps, no money?"
"PERHAPS is too much," said d'Artagnan, smiling.
"Then," replied Mme. Bonacieux, opening a cupboard and taking from it the ver_ag which a half hour before her husband had caressed so affectionately, "tak_his bag."
"The cardinal's?" cried d'Artagnan, breaking into a loud laugh, he havin_eard, as may be remembered, thanks to the broken boards, every syllable o_he conversation between the mercer and his wife.
"The cardinal's," replied Mme. Bonacieux. "You see it makes a very respectabl_ppearance."
"PARDIEU," cried d'Artagnan, "it will be a double amusing affair to save th_ueen with the cardinal's money!"
"You are an amiable and charming young man," said Mme. Bonacieux. "Be assure_ou will not find her Majesty ungrateful."
"Oh, I am already grandly recompensed!" cried d'Artagnan. "I love you; yo_ermit me to tell you that I do—that is already more happiness than I dared t_ope."
"Silence!" said Mme. Bonacieux, starting.
"Someone is talking in the street."
"It is the voice of—"
"Of my husband! Yes, I recognize it!"
D'Artagnan ran to the door and pushed the bolt.
"He shall not come in before I am gone," said he; "and when I am gone, you ca_pen to him."
"But I ought to be gone, too. And the disappearance of his money; how am I t_ustify it if I am here?"
"You are right; we must go out."
"Go out? How? He will see us if we go out."
"Then you must come up into my room."
"Ah," said Mme. Bonacieux, "you speak that in a tone that frightens me!"
Mme. Bonacieux pronounced these words with tears in her eyes. d'Artagnan sa_hose tears, and much disturbed, softened, he threw himself at her feet.
"With me you will be as safe as in a temple; I give you my word of _entleman."
"Let us go," said she, "I place full confidence in you, my friend!"
D'Artagnan drew back the bolt with precaution, and both, light as shadows, glided through the interior door into the passage, ascended the stairs a_uietly as possible, and entered d'Artagnan's chambers.
Once there, for greater security, the young man barricaded the door. They bot_pproached the window, and through a slit in the shutter they saw Bonacieu_alking with a man in a cloak.
At sight of this man, d'Artagnan started, and half drawing his sword, spran_oward the door.
It was the man of Meung.
"What are you going to do?" cried Mme. Bonacieux; "you will ruin us all!"
"But I have sworn to kill that man!" said d'Artagnan.
"Your life is devoted from this moment, and does not belong to you. In th_ame of the queen I forbid you to throw yourself into any peril which i_oreign to that of your journey."
"And do you command nothing in your own name?"
"In my name," said Mme. Bonacieux, with great emotion, "in my name I beg you!
But listen; they appear to be speaking of me."
D'Artagnan drew near the window, and lent his ear.
M. Bonacieux had opened his door, and seeing the apartment, had returned t_he man in the cloak, whom he had left alone for an instant.
"She is gone," said he; "she must have returned to the Louvre."
"You are sure," replied the stranger, "that she did not suspect the intention_ith which you went out?"
"No," replied Bonacieux, with a self-sufficient air, "she is too superficial _oman."
"Is the young Guardsman at home?"
"I do not think he is; as you see, his shutter is closed, and you can see n_ight shine through the chinks of the shutters."
"All the same, it is well to be certain."
"By knocking at his door. Go."
"I will ask his servant."
Bonacieux re-entered the house, passed through the same door that had afforde_ passage for the two fugitives, went up to d'Artagnan's door, and knocked.
No one answered. Porthos, in order to make a greater display, had that evenin_orrowed Planchet. As to d'Artagnan, he took care not to give the least sig_f existence.
The moment the hand of Bonacieux sounded on the door, the two young peopl_elt their hearts bound within them.
"There is nobody within," said Bonacieux.
"Never mind. Let us return to your apartment. We shall be safer there than i_he doorway."
"Ah, my God!" whispered Mme. Bonacieux, "we shall hear no more."
"On the contrary," said d'Artagnan, "we shall hear better."
D'Artagnan raised the three or four boards which made his chamber another ea_f Dionysius, spread a carpet on the floor, went upon his knees, and made _ign to Mme. Bonacieux to stoop as he did toward the opening.
"You are sure there is nobody there?" said the stranger.
"I will answer for it," said Bonacieux.
"And you think that your wife—"
"Has returned to the Louvre."
"Without speaking to anyone but yourself?"
"I am sure of it."
"That is an important point, do you understand?"
"Then the news I brought you is of value?"
"The greatest, my dear Bonacieux; I don't conceal this from you."
"Then the cardinal will be pleased with me?"
"I have no doubt of it."
"The great cardinal!"
"Are you sure, in her conversation with you, that your wife mentioned n_ames?"
"I think not."
"She did not name Madame de Chevreuse, the Duke of Buckingham, or Madame d_ernet?"
"No; she only told me she wished to send me to London to serve the interest_f an illustrious personage."
"The traitor!" murmured Mme. Bonacieux.
"Silence!" said d'Artagnan, taking her hand, which, without thinking of it, she abandoned to him.
"Never mind," continued the man in the cloak; "you were a fool not to hav_retended to accept the mission. You would then be in present possession o_he letter. The state, which is now threatened, would be safe, and you—"
"Well you—the cardinal would have given you letters of nobility."
"Did he tell you so?"
"Yes, I know that he meant to afford you that agreeable surprise."
"Be satisfied," replied Bonacieux; "my wife adores me, and there is yet time."
"The ninny!" murmured Mme. Bonacieux.
"Silence!" said d'Artagnan, pressing her hand more closely.
"How is there still time?" asked the man in the cloak.
"I go to the Louvre; I ask for Mme. Bonacieux; I say that I have reflected; _enew the affair; I obtain the letter, and I run directly to the cardinal."
"Well, go quickly! I will return soon to learn the result of your trip."
The stranger went out.
"Infamous!" said Mme. Bonacieux, addressing this epithet to her husband.
"Silence!" said d'Artagnan, pressing her hand still more warmly.
A terrible howling interrupted these reflections of d'Artagnan and Mme.
Bonacieux. It was her husband, who had discovered the disappearance of th_oneybag, and was crying "Thieves!"
"Oh, my God!" cried Mme. Bonacieux, "he will rouse the whole quarter."
Bonacieux called a long time; but as such cries, on account of thei_requency, brought nobody in the Rue des Fossoyeurs, and as lately th_ercer's house had a bad name, finding that nobody came, he went ou_ontinuing to call, his voice being heard fainter and fainter as he went i_he direction of the Rue du Bac.
"Now he is gone, it is your turn to get out," said Mme. Bonacieux. "Courage, my friend, but above all, prudence, and think what you owe to the queen."
"To her and to you!" cried d'Artagnan. "Be satisfied, beautiful Constance. _hall become worthy of her gratitude; but shall I likewise return worthy o_our love?"
The young woman only replied by the beautiful glow which mounted to he_heeks. A few seconds afterward d'Artagnan also went out enveloped in a larg_loak, which ill-concealed the sheath of a long sword.
Mme. Bonacieux followed him with her eyes, with that long, fond look wit_hich he had turned the angle of the street, she fell on her knees, an_lasping her hands, "Oh, my God," cried she, "protect the queen, protect me!"