As Athos had foreseen, it was not long before the cardinal came down. H_pened the door of the room in which the Musketeers were, and found Portho_laying an earnest game of dice with Aramis. He cast a rapid glance around th_oom, and perceived that one of his men was missing.
"What has become of Monseigneur Athos?" asked he.
"Monseigneur," replied Porthos, "he has gone as a scout, on account of som_ords of our host, which made him believe the road was not safe."
"And you, what have you done, Monsieur Porthos?"
"I have won five pistoles of Aramis."
"Well; now will you return with me?"
"We are at your Eminence's orders."
"To horse, then, gentlemen; for it is getting late."
The attendant was at the door, holding the cardinal's horse by the bridle. A_ short distance a group of two men and three horses appeared in the shade.
These were the two men who were to conduct Milady to the fort of the Point, and superintend her embarkation.
The attendant confirmed to the cardinal what the two Musketeers had alread_aid with respect to Athos. The cardinal made an approving gesture, an_etraced his route with the same precautions he had used incoming.
Let us leave him to follow the road to the camp protected by his esquire an_he two Musketeers, and return to Athos.
For a hundred paces he maintained the speed at which he started; but when ou_f sight he turned his horse to the right, made a circuit, and came bac_ithin twenty paces of a high hedge to watch the passage of the little troop.
Having recognized the laced hats of his companions and the golden fringe o_he cardinal's cloak, he waited till the horsemen had turned the angle of th_oad, and having lost sight of them, he returned at a gallop to the inn, whic_as opened to him without hesitation.
The host recognized him.
"My officer," said Athos, "has forgotten to give a piece of very importan_nformation to the lady, and has sent me back to repair his forgetfulness."
"Go up," said the host; "she is still in her chamber."
Athos availed himself of the permission, ascended the stairs with his lightes_tep, gained the landing, and through the open door perceived Milady puttin_n her hat.
He entered the chamber and closed the door behind him. At the noise he made i_ushing the bolt, Milady turned round.
Athos was standing before the door, enveloped in his cloak, with his ha_ulled down over his eyes. On seeing this figure, mute and immovable as _tatue, Milady was frightened.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" cried she.
"Humph," murmured Athos, "it is certainly she!"
And letting fall his cloak and raising his hat, he advanced toward Milady.
"Do you know me, madame?" said he.
Milady made one step forward, and then drew back as if she had seen a serpent.
"So far, well," said Athos, "I perceive you know me."
"The Comte de la Fere!" murmured Milady, becoming exceedingly pale, an_rawing back till the wall prevented her from going any farther.
"Yes, Milady," replied Athos; "the Comte de la Fere in person, who come_xpressly from the other world to have the pleasure of paying you a visit. Si_own, madame, and let us talk, as the cardinal said."
Milady, under the influence of inexpressible terror, sat down without utterin_ word.
"You certainly are a demon sent upon the earth!" said Athos. "Your power i_reat, I know; but you also know that with the help of God men have ofte_onquered the most terrible demons. You have once before thrown yourself in m_ath. I thought I had crushed you, madame; but either I was deceived or hel_as resuscitated you!"
Milady at these words, which recalled frightful remembrances, hung down he_ead with a suppressed groan.
"Yes, hell has resuscitated you," continued Athos. "Hell has made you rich, hell has given you another name, hell has almost made you another face; but i_as neither effaced the stains from your soul nor the brand from your body."
Milady arose as if moved by a powerful spring, and her eyes flashed lightning.
Athos remained sitting.
"You believed me to be dead, did you not, as I believed you to be? And th_ame of Athos as well concealed the Comte de la Fere, as the name Milad_larik concealed Anne de Breuil. Was it not so you were called when you_onored brother married us? Our position is truly a strange one," continue_thos, laughing. "We have only lived up to the present time because w_elieved each other dead, and because a remembrance is less oppressive than _iving creature, though a remembrance is sometimes devouring."
"But," said Milady, in a hollow, faint voice, "what brings you back to me, an_hat do you want with me?"
"I wish to tell you that though remaining invisible to your eyes, I have no_ost sight of you."
"You know what I have done?"
"I can relate to you, day by day, your actions from your entrance to th_ervice of the cardinal to this evening."
A smile of incredulity passed over the pale lips of Milady.
"Listen! It was you who cut off the two diamond studs from the shoulder of th_uke of Buckingham; it was you had the Madame Bonacieux carried off; it wa_ou who, in love with de Wardes and thinking to pass the night with him, opened the door to Monsieur d'Artagnan; it was you who, believing that d_ardes had deceived you, wished to have him killed by his rival; it was yo_ho, when this rival had discovered your infamous secret, wished to have hi_illed in his turn by two assassins, whom you sent in pursuit of him; it wa_ou who, finding the balls had missed their mark, sent poisoned wine with _orged letter, to make your victim believe that the wine came from hi_riends. In short, it was you who have but now in this chamber, seated in thi_hair I now fill, made an engagement with Cardinal Richelieu to cause the Duk_f Buckingham to be assassinated, in exchange for the promise he has made yo_o allow you to assassinate d'Artagnan."
Milady was livid.
"You must be Satan!" cried she.
"Perhaps," said Athos; "But at all events listen well to this. Assassinate th_uke of Buckingham, or cause him to be assassinated—I care very little abou_hat! I don't know him. Besides, he is an Englishman. But do not touch wit_he tip of your finger a single hair of d'Artagnan, who is a faithful frien_hom I love and defend, or I swear to you by the head of my father the crim_hich you shall have endeavored to commit, or shall have committed, shall b_he last."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan has cruelly insulted me," said Milady, in a hollow tone;
"Monsieur d'Artagnan shall die!"
"Indeed! Is it possible to insult you, madame?" said Athos, laughing; "he ha_nsulted you, and he shall die!"
"He shall die!" replied Milady; "she first, and he afterward."
Athos was seized with a kind of vertigo. The sight of this creature, who ha_othing of the woman about her, recalled awful remembrances. He thought ho_ne day, in a less dangerous situation than the one in which he was no_laced, he had already endeavored to sacrifice her to his honor. His desir_or blood returned, burning his brain and pervading his frame like a ragin_ever; he arose in his turn, reached his hand to his belt, drew forth _istol, and cocked it.
Milady, pale as a corpse, endeavored to cry out; but her swollen tongue coul_tter no more than a hoarse sound which had nothing human in it and resemble_he rattle of a wild beast. Motionless against the dark tapestry, with he_air in disorder, she appeared like a horrid image of terror.
Athos slowly raised his pistol, stretched out his arm so that the weapo_lmost touched Milady's forehead, and then, in a voice the more terrible fro_aving the supreme calmness of a fixed resolution, "Madame," said he, "yo_ill this instant deliver to me the paper the cardinal signed; or upon m_oul, I will blow your brains out."
With another man, Milady might have preserved some doubt; but she knew Athos.
Nevertheless, she remained motionless.
"You have one second to decide," said he.
Milady saw by the contraction of his countenance that the trigger was about t_e pulled; she reached her hand quickly to her bosom, drew out a paper, an_eld it toward Athos.
"Take it," said she, "and be accursed!"
Athos took the paper, returned the pistol to his belt, approached the lamp t_e assured that it was the paper, unfolded it, and read:
Dec. 3, 1627
It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this ha_one what he has done.
"And now," said Athos, resuming his cloak and putting on his hat, "now that _ave drawn your teeth, viper, bite if you can."
And he left the chamber without once looking behind him.
At the door he found the two men and the spare horse which they held.
"Gentlemen," said he, "Monseigneur's order is, you know, to conduct tha_oman, without losing time, to the fort of the Point, and never to leave he_ill she is on board."
As these words agreed wholly with the order they had received, they bowe_heir heads in sign of assent.
With regard to Athos, he leaped lightly into the saddle and set out at ful_allop; only instead of following the road, he went across the fields, urgin_is horse to the utmost and stopping occasionally to listen.
In one of those halts he heard the steps of several horses on the road. He ha_o doubt it was the cardinal and his escort. He immediately made a new poin_n advance, rubbed his horse down with some heath and leaves of trees, an_laced himself across the road, about two hundred paces from the camp.
"Who goes there?" cried he, as soon as he perceived the horsemen.
"That is our brave Musketeer, I think," said the cardinal.
"Yes, monseigneur," said Porthos, "it is he."
"Monsieur Athos," said Richelieu, "receive my thanks for the good guard yo_ave kept. Gentlemen, we are arrived; take the gate on the left. The watchwor_s, 'King and Re.'"
Saying these words, the cardinal saluted the three friends with an inclinatio_f his head, and took the right hand, followed by his attendant—for that nigh_e himself slept in the camp.
"Well!" said Porthos and Aramis together, as soon as the cardinal was out o_earing, "well, he signed the paper she required!"
"I know it," said Athos, coolly, "since here it is."
And the three friends did not exchange another word till they reached thei_uarters, except to give the watchword to the sentinels. Only they sen_ousqueton to tell Planchet that his master was requested, the instant that h_eft the trenches, to come to the quarters of the Musketeers.
Milady, as Athos had foreseen, on finding the two men that awaited her, mad_o difficulty in following them. She had had for an instant an inclination t_e reconducted to the cardinal, and relate everything to him; but a revelatio_n her part would bring about a revelation on the part of Athos. She might sa_hat Athos had hanged her; but then Athos would tell that she was branded. Sh_hought it was best to preserve silence, to discreetly set off to accomplis_er difficult mission with her usual skill; and then, all things bein_ccomplished to the satisfaction of the cardinal, to come to him and claim he_engeance.
In consequence, after having traveled all night, at seven o'clock she was a_he fort of the Point; at eight o'clock she had embarked; and at nine, th_essel, which with letters of marque from the cardinal was supposed to b_ailing for Bayonne, raised anchor, and steered its course toward England.