The most preoccupied of the four friends was certainly d'Artagnan, althoug_e, in his quality of Guardsman, would be much more easily equipped tha_essieurs the Musketeers, who were all of high rank; but our Gascon cadet was, as may have been observed, of a provident and almost avaricious character, an_ith that (explain the contradiction) so vain as almost to rival Porthos. T_his preoccupation of his vanity, d'Artagnan at this moment joined a_neasiness much less selfish. Notwithstanding all his inquiries respectin_me. Bonacieux, he could obtain no intelligence of her. M. de Treville ha_poken of her to the queen. The queen was ignorant where the mercer's youn_ife was, but had promised to have her sought for; but this promise was ver_ague and did not at all reassure d'Artagnan.
Athos did not leave his chamber; he made up his mind not to take a single ste_o equip himself.
"We have still fifteen days before us," said he to his friends, "well, if a_he end of a fortnight I have found nothing, or rather if nothing has come t_ind me, as I, too good a Catholic to kill myself with a pistol bullet, I wil_eek a good quarrel with four of his Eminence's Guards or with eigh_nglishmen, and I will fight until one of them has killed me, which, considering the number, cannot fail to happen. It will then be said of me tha_ died for the king; so that I shall have performed my duty without th_xpense of an outfit."
Porthos continued to walk about with his hands behind him, tossing his hea_nd repeating, "I shall follow up on my idea."
Aramis, anxious and negligently dressed, said nothing.
It may be seen by these disastrous details that desolation reigned in th_ommunity.
The lackeys on their part, like the coursers of Hippolytus, shared the sadnes_f their masters. Mousqueton collected a store of crusts; Bazin, who ha_lways been inclined to devotion, never quit the churches; Planchet watche_he flight of flies; and Grimaud, whom the general distress could not induc_o break the silence imposed by his master, heaved sighs enough to soften th_tones.
The three friends—for, as we have said, Athos had sworn not to stir a foot t_quip himself—went out early in the morning, and returned late at night. The_andered about the streets, looking at the pavement as if to see whether th_assengers had not left a purse behind them. They might have been supposed t_e following tracks, so observant were they wherever they went. When they me_hey looked desolately at one another, as much as to say, "Have you foun_nything?"
However, as Porthos had first found an idea, and had thought of it earnestl_fterward, he was the first to act. He was a man of execution, this worth_orthos. D'Artagnan perceived him one day walking toward the church of St.
Leu, and followed him instinctively. He entered, after having twisted hi_ustache and elongated his imperial, which always announced on his part th_ost triumphant resolutions. As d'Artagnan took some precautions to concea_imself, Porthos believed he had not been seen. d'Artagnan entered behind him.
Porthos went and leaned against the side of a pillar. D'Artagnan, stil_nperceived, supported himself against the other side.
There happened to be a sermon, which made the church very full of people.
Porthos took advantage of this circumstance to ogle the women. Thanks to th_ares of Mousqueton, the exterior was far from announcing the distress of th_nterior. His hat was a little napless, his feather was a little faded, hi_old lace was a little tarnished, his laces were a trifle frayed; but in th_bscurity of the church these things were not seen, and Porthos was still th_andsome Porthos.
D'Artagnan observed, on the bench nearest to the pillar against which Portho_eaned, a sort of ripe beauty, rather yellow and rather dry, but erect an_aughty under her black hood. The eyes of Porthos were furtively cast upo_his lady, and then roved about at large over the nave.
On her side the lady, who from time to time blushed, darted with the rapidit_f lightning a glance toward the inconstant Porthos; and then immediately th_yes of Porthos wandered anxiously. It was plain that this mode of proceedin_iqued the lady in the black hood, for she bit her lips till they bled, scratched the end of her nose, and could not sit still in her seat.
Porthos, seeing this, retwisted his mustache, elongated his imperial a secon_ime, and began to make signals to a beautiful lady who was near the choir, and who not only was a beautiful lady, but still further, no doubt, a grea_ady—for she had behind her a Negro boy who had brought the cushion on whic_he knelt, and a female servant who held the emblazoned bag in which wa_laced the book from which she read the Mass.
The lady with the black hood followed through all their wanderings the look_f Porthos, and perceived that they rested upon the lady with the velve_ushion, the little Negro, and the maid-servant.
During this time Porthos played close. It was almost imperceptible motions o_is eyes, fingers placed upon the lips, little assassinating smiles, whic_eally did assassinate the disdained beauty.
Then she cried, "Ahem!" under cover of the MEA CULPA, striking her breast s_igorously that everybody, even the lady with the red cushion, turned roun_oward her. Porthos paid no attention. Nevertheless, he understood it all, bu_as deaf.
The lady with the red cushion produced a great effect—for she was ver_andsome—upon the lady with he black hood, who saw in her a rival really to b_readed; a great effect upon Porthos, who thought her much prettier than th_ady with the black hood; a great effect upon d'Artagnan, who recognized i_er the lady of Meung, of Calais, and of Dover, whom his persecutor, the ma_ith the scar, had saluted by the name of Milady.
D'Artagnan, without losing sight of the lady of the red cushion, continued t_atch the proceedings of Porthos, which amused him greatly. He guessed tha_he lady of the black hood was the procurator's wife of the Rue aux Ours, which was the more probable from the church of St. Leu being not far from tha_ocality.
He guessed, likewise, by induction, that Porthos was taking his revenge fo_he defeat of Chantilly, when the procurator's wife had proved so refractor_ith respect to her purse.
Amid all this, d'Artagnan remarked also that not one countenance responded t_he gallantries of Porthos. There were only chimeras and illusions; but fo_eal love, for true jealousy, is there any reality except illusions an_himeras?
The sermon over, the procurator's wife advanced toward the holy font. Portho_ent before her, and instead of a finger, dipped his whole hand in. Th_rocurator's wife smiled, thinking that it was for her Porthos had put himsel_o this trouble; but she was cruelly and promptly undeceived. When she wa_nly about three steps from him, he turned his head round, fixing his eye_teadfastly upon the lady with the red cushion, who had risen and wa_pproaching, followed by her black boy and her woman.
When the lady of the red cushion came close to Porthos, Porthos drew hi_ripping hand from the font. The fair worshipper touched the great hand o_orthos with her delicate fingers, smiled, made the sign of the cross, an_eft the church.
This was too much for the procurator's wife; she doubted not there was a_ntrigue between this lady and Porthos. If she had been a great lady she woul_ave fainted; but as she was only a procurator's wife, she contented hersel_aying to the Musketeer with concentrated fury, "Eh, Monsieur Porthos, yo_on't offer me any holy water?"
Porthos, at the sound of that voice, started like a man awakened from a slee_f a hundred years.
"Ma-madame!" cried he; "is that you? How is your husband, our dear Monsieu_oquenard? Is he still as stingy as ever? Where can my eyes have been not t_ave seen you during the two hours of the sermon?"
"I was within two paces of you, monsieur," replied the procurator's wife; "bu_ou did not perceive me because you had no eyes but for the pretty lady t_hom you just now gave the holy water."
Porthos pretended to be confused. "Ah," said he, "you have remarked—"
"I must have been blind not to have seen."
"Yes," said Porthos, "that is a duchess of my acquaintance whom I have grea_rouble to meet on account of the jealousy of her husband, and who sent m_ord that she should come today to this poor church, buried in this vil_uarter, solely for the sake of seeing me."
"Monsieur Porthos," said the procurator's wife, "will you have the kindness t_ffer me your arm for five minutes? I have something to say to you."
"Certainly, madame," said Porthos, winking to himself, as a gambler does wh_aughs at the dupe he is about to pluck.
At that moment d'Artagnan passed in pursuit of Milady; he cast a passin_lance at Porthos, and beheld this triumphant look.
"Eh, eh!" said he, reasoning to himself according to the strangely eas_orality of that gallant period, "there is one who will be equipped in goo_ime!"
Porthos, yielding to the pressure of the arm of the procurator's wife, as _ark yields to the rudder, arrived at the cloister St. Magloire—a little- frequented passage, enclosed with a turnstile at each end. In the daytim_obody was seen there but mendicants devouring their crusts, and children a_lay.
"Ah, Monsieur Porthos," cried the procurator's wife, when she was assured tha_o one who was a stranger to the population of the locality could either se_r hear her, "ah, Monsieur Porthos, you are a great conqueror, as it appears!"
"I, madame?" said Porthos, drawing himself up proudly; "how so?"
"The signs just now, and the holy water! But that must be a princess, a_east—that lady with her Negro boy and her maid!"
"My God! Madame, you are deceived," said Porthos; "she is simply a duchess."
"And that running footman who waited at the door, and that carriage with _oachman in grand livery who sat waiting on his seat?"
Porthos had seen neither the footman nor the carriage, but with the eye of _ealous woman, Mme. Coquenard had seen everything.
Porthos regretted that he had not at once made the lady of the red cushion _rincess.
"Ah, you are quite the pet of the ladies, Monsieur Porthos!" resumed th_rocurator's wife, with a sigh.
"Well," responded Porthos, "you may imagine, with the physique with whic_ature has endowed me, I am not in want of good luck."
"Good Lord, how quickly men forget!" cried the procurator's wife, raising he_yes toward heaven.
"Less quickly than the women, it seems to me," replied Porthos; "for I, madame, I may say I was your victim, when wounded, dying, I was abandoned b_he surgeons. I, the offspring of a noble family, who placed reliance upo_our friendship—I was near dying of my wounds at first, and of hunge_fterward, in a beggarly inn at Chantilly, without you ever deigning once t_eply to the burning letters I addressed to you."
"But, Monsieur Porthos," murmured the procurator's wife, who began to fee_hat, to judge by the conduct of the great ladies of the time, she was wrong.
"I, who had sacrificed for you the Baronne de—"
"I know it well."
"The Comtesse de—"
"Monsieur Porthos, be generous!"
"You are right, madame, and I will not finish."
"But it was my husband who would not hear of lending."
"Madame Coquenard," said Porthos, "remember the first letter you wrote me, an_hich I preserve engraved in my memory."
The procurator's wife uttered a groan.
"Besides," said she, "the sum you required me to borrow was rather large."
"Madame Coquenard, I gave you the preference. I had but to write to th_uchesse—but I won't repeat her name, for I am incapable of compromising _oman; but this I know, that I had but to write to her and she would have sen_e fifteen hundred."
The procurator's wife shed a tear.
"Monsieur Porthos," said she, "I can assure you that you have severel_unished me; and if in the time to come you should find yourself in a simila_ituation, you have but to apply to me."
"Fie, madame, fie!" said Porthos, as if disgusted. "Let us not talk abou_oney, if you please; it is humiliating."
"Then you no longer love me!" said the procurator's wife, slowly and sadly.
Porthos maintained a majestic silence.
"And that is the only reply you make? Alas, I understand."
"Think of the offense you have committed toward me, madame! It remains HERE!"
said Porthos, placing his hand on his heart, and pressing it strongly.
"I will repair it, indeed I will, my dear Porthos."
"Besides, what did I ask of you?" resumed Porthos, with a movement of th_houlders full of good fellowship. "A loan, nothing more! After all, I am no_n unreasonable man. I know you are not rich, Madame Coquenard, and that you_usband is obliged to bleed his poor clients to squeeze a few paltry crown_rom them. Oh! If you were a duchess, a marchioness, or a countess, it woul_e quite a different thing; it would be unpardonable."
The procurator's wife was piqued.
"Please to know, Monsieur Porthos," said she, "that my strongbox, th_trongbox of a procurator's wife though it may be, is better filled than thos_f your affected minxes."
"The doubles the offense," said Porthos, disengaging his arm from that of th_rocurator's wife; "for if you are rich, Madame Coquenard, then there is n_xcuse for your refusal."
"When I said rich," replied the procurator's wife, who saw that she had gon_oo far, "you must not take the word literally. I am not precisely rich, though I am pretty well off."
"Hold, madame," said Porthos, "let us say no more upon the subject, I beg o_ou. You have misunderstood me, all sympathy is extinct between us."
"Ingrate that you are!"
"Ah! I advise you to complain!" said Porthos.
"Begone, then, to your beautiful duchess; I will detain you no longer."
"And she is not to be despised, in my opinion."
"Now, Monsieur Porthos, once more, and this is the last! Do you love m_till?"
"Ah, madame," said Porthos, in the most melancholy tone he could assume, "whe_e are about to enter upon a campaign—a campaign, in which my presentiment_ell me I shall be killed—"
"Oh, don't talk of such things!" cried the procurator's wife, bursting int_ears.
"Something whispers me so," continued Porthos, becoming more and mor_elancholy.
"Rather say that you have a new love."
"Not so; I speak frankly to you. No object affects me; and I even feel here, at the bottom of my heart, something which speaks for you. But in fiftee_ays, as you know, or as you do not know, this fatal campaign is to open. _hall be fearfully preoccupied with my outfit. Then I must make a journey t_ee my family, in the lower part of Brittany, to obtain the sum necessary fo_y departure."
Porthos observed a last struggle between love and avarice.
"And as," continued he, "the duchess whom you saw at the church has estate_ear to those of my family, we mean to make the journey together. Journeys, you know, appear much shorter when we travel two in company."
"Have you no friends in Paris, then, Monsieur Porthos?" said the procurator'_ife.
"I thought I had," said Porthos, resuming his melancholy air; "but I have bee_aught my mistake."
"You have some!" cried the procurator's wife, in a transport that surprise_ven herself. "Come to our house tomorrow. You are the son of my aunt, consequently my cousin; you come from Noyon, in Picardy; you have severa_awsuits and no attorney. Can you recollect all that?"
"Come at dinnertime."
"And be upon your guard before my husband, who is rather shrewd, notwithstanding his seventy-six years."
"Seventy-six years! PESTE! That's a fine age!" replied Porthos.
"A great age, you mean, Monsieur Porthos. Yes, the poor man may be expected t_eave me a widow, any hour," continued she, throwing a significant glance a_orthos. "Fortunately, by our marriage contract, the survivor take_verything."
"You are a woman of precaution, I see, my dear Madame Coquenard," sai_orthos, squeezing the hand of the procurator's wife tenderly.
"We are then reconciled, dear Monsieur Porthos?" said she, simpering.