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A CONJUGAL SCENE
As Athos had foreseen, it was not long before the cardinal
came down. He opened the door of the room in which the
Musketeers were, and found Porthos playing an earnest game
of dice with Aramis. He cast a rapid glance around the
room, 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 some words 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. At 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 already said with respect to Athos. The
cardinal made an approving gesture, and retraced 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 and the two Musketeers, and return to Athos.
For a hundred paces he maintained the speed at which he
started; but when out of sight he turned his horse to the
right, made a circuit, and came back within 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 of the cardinal's cloak, he waited till the
horsemen had turned the angle of the road, and having lost
sight of them, he returned at a gallop to the inn, which was
opened to him without hesitation.
The host recognized him.
"My officer," said Athos, "has forgotten to give a piece of
very important information 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 lightest step, gained the landing, and through the
open door perceived Milady putting on her hat.
He entered the chamber and closed the door behind him. At
the noise he made in pushing the bolt, Milady turned round.
Athos was standing before the door, enveloped in his cloak,
with his hat pulled down over his eyes. On seeing this
figure, mute and immovable as a statue, 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, and drawing back till the wall prevented
her from going any farther.
"Yes, Milady," replied Athos; "the Comte de la Fere in
person, who comes expressly from the other world to have the
pleasure of paying you a visit. Sit down, madame, and let
us talk, as the cardinal said."
Milady, under the influence of inexpressible terror, sat
down without uttering a word.
"You certainly are a demon sent upon the earth!" said Athos.
"Your power is great, I know; but you also know that with
the help of God men have often conquered the most terrible
demons. You have once before thrown yourself in my path. I
thought I had crushed you, madame; but either I was deceived
or hell has resuscitated you!"
Milady at these words, which recalled frightful
remembrances, hung down her head 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 it has 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 the name of Athos as well concealed the Comte de
la Fere, as the name Milady Clarik concealed Anne de Breuil.
Was it not so you were called when your honored brother
married us? Our position is truly a strange one," continued
Athos, laughing. "We have only lived up to the present time
because we believed each other dead, and because a
remembrance is less oppressive than a living creature,
though a remembrance is sometimes devouring."
"But," said Milady, in a hollow, faint voice, "what brings
you back to me, and what do you want with me?"
"I wish to tell you that though remaining invisible to your
eyes, I have not lost sight of you."
"You know what I have done?"
"I can relate to you, day by day, your actions from your
entrance to the service 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 the Duke of Buckingham; it was you had the
Madame Bonacieux carried off; it was you 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 de Wardes had deceived you, wished to have him killed
by his rival; it was you who, when this rival had discovered
your infamous secret, wished to have him killed in his turn
by two assassins, whom you sent in pursuit of him; it was
you who, finding the balls had missed their mark, sent
poisoned wine with a forged letter, to make your victim
believe that the wine came from his friends. In short, it
was you who have but now in this chamber, seated in this
chair I now fill, made an engagement with Cardinal Richelieu
to cause the Duke of Buckingham to be assassinated, in
exchange for the promise he has made you to allow you to
Milady was livid.
"You must be Satan!" cried she.
"Perhaps," said Athos; "But at all events listen well to
this. Assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, or cause him to
be assassinated--I care very little about that! I don't
know him. Besides, he is an Englishman. But do not touch
with the tip of your finger a single hair of d'Artagnan, who
is a faithful friend whom I love and defend, or I swear to
you by the head of my father the crime which you shall have
endeavored to commit, or shall have committed, shall be the 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 has insulted 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 had nothing of the woman about her, recalled
awful remembrances. He thought how one day, in a less
dangerous situation than the one in which he was now placed,
he had already endeavored to sacrifice her to his honor.
His desire for blood returned, burning his brain and
pervading his frame like a raging fever; he arose in his
turn, reached his hand to his belt, drew forth a pistol, and
Milady, pale as a corpse, endeavored to cry out; but her
swollen tongue could utter no more than a hoarse sound which
had nothing human in it and resembled the rattle of a wild
beast. Motionless against the dark tapestry, with her hair
in disorder, she appeared like a horrid image of terror.
Athos slowly raised his pistol, stretched out his arm so
that the weapon almost touched Milady's forehead, and then,
in a voice the more terrible from having the supreme
calmness of a fixed resolution, "Madame," said he, "you will
this instant deliver to me the paper the cardinal signed; or
upon my soul, 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 to be pulled; she reached her hand quickly
to her bosom, drew out a paper, and held it toward Athos.
"Take it," said she, "and be accursed!"
Athos took the paper, returned the pistol to his belt,
approached the lamp to be 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 has done what he has done.
"And now," said Athos, resuming his cloak and putting on his
hat, "now that I have 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 that woman, without losing time, to the fort of the
Point, and never to leave her till she is on board."
As these words agreed wholly with the order they had
received, they bowed their heads in sign of assent.
With regard to Athos, he leaped lightly into the saddle and
set out at full gallop; only instead of following the road,
he went across the fields, urging his 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 had no doubt it was the cardinal and his
escort. He immediately made a new point in advance, rubbed
his horse down with some heath and leaves of trees, and
placed 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 you have kept. Gentlemen, we are arrived; take
the gate on the left. The watchword is, 'King and Re.'"
Saying these words, the cardinal saluted the three friends
with an inclination of his head, and took the right hand,
followed by his attendant--for that night he himself slept
in the camp.
"Well!" said Porthos and Aramis together, as soon as the
cardinal was out of hearing, "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 their quarters, except to give the watchword to
the sentinels. Only they sent Mousqueton to tell Planchet
that his master was requested, the instant that he left the
trenches, to come to the quarters of the Musketeers.
Milady, as Athos had foreseen, on finding the two men that
awaited her, made no difficulty in following them. She had
had for an instant an inclination to be reconducted to the
cardinal, and relate everything to him; but a revelation on
her part would bring about a revelation on the part of
Athos. She might say that Athos had hanged her; but then
Athos would tell that she was branded. She thought it was
best to preserve silence, to discreetly set off to
accomplish her difficult mission with her usual skill; and
then, all things being accomplished to the satisfaction of
the cardinal, to come to him and claim her vengeance.
In consequence, after having traveled all night, at seven
o'clock she was at the fort of the Point; at eight o'clock
she had embarked; and at nine, the vessel, which with
letters of marque from the cardinal was supposed to be
sailing for Bayonne, raised anchor, and steered its course