28 THE RETURN
D'Artagnan was astounded by the terrible confidence of Athos; yet many things appeared very obscure to him in this half revelation. In the first place it had been made by a man quite drunk to one who was half drunk; and yet, in spite of the incertainty which the vapor of three or four bottles of Burgundy carries with it to the brain, d'Artagnan, when awaking on the following morning, had all the words of Athos as present to his memory as if they then fell from his mouth — they had been so impressed upon his mind. All this doubt only gave rise to a more lively desire of arriving at a certainty, and he went into his friend's chamber with a fixed determination of renewing the conversation of the preceding evening; but he found Athos quite himself again — that is to say, the most shrewd and impenetrable of men. Besides which, the Musketeer, after having exchanged a hearty shake of the hand with him, broached the matter first.
"I was pretty drunk yesterday, d'Artagnan," said he, "I can tell that by my tongue, which was swollen and hot this morning, and by my pulse, which was very tremulous. I wager that I uttered a thousand extravagances."
While saying this he looked at his friend with an earnestness that embarrassed him.
"No," replied d'Artagnan, "if I recollect well what you said, it was nothing out of the common way."
"Ah, you surprise me. I thought I had told you a most lamentable story." And he looked at the young man as if he would read the bottom of his heart.
"My faith," said d'Artagnan, "it appears that I was more drunk than you, since I remember nothing of the kind."
Athos did not trust this reply, and he resumed; "you cannot have failed to remark, my dear friend, that everyone has his particular kind of drunkenness, sad or gay. My drunkenness is always sad, and when I am thoroughly drunk my mania is to relate all the lugubrious stories which my foolish nurse inculcated into my brain. That is my failing — a capital failing, I admit; but with that exception, I am a good drinker."
Athos spoke this in so natural a manner that d'Artagnan was shaken in his conviction.
"It is that, then," replied the young man, anxious to find out the truth, "it is that, then, I remember as we remember a dream. We were speaking of hanging."
"Ah, you see how it is," said Athos, becoming still paler, but yet attempting to laugh; "I was sure it was so — the hanging of people is my nightmare."
"Yes, yes," replied d'Artagnan. "I remember now; yes, it was about — stop a minute — yes, it was about a woman."
"That's it," replied Athos, becoming almost livid; "that is my grand story of the fair lady, and when I relate that, I must be very drunk."
"Yes, that was it," said d'Artagnan, "the story of a tall, fair lady, with blue eyes."
"Yes, who was hanged."
"By her husband, who was a nobleman of your acquaintance," continued d'Artagnan, looking intently at Athos.
"Well, you see how a man may compromise himself when he does not know what he says," replied Athos, shrugging his shoulders as if he thought himself an object of pity. "I certainly never will get drunk again, d'Artagnan; it is too bad a habit."
D'Artagnan remained silent; and then changing the conversation all at once, Athos said:
"By the by, I thank you for the horse you have brought me."
"Is it to your mind?" asked d'Artagnan.
"Yes; but it is not a horse for hard work."
"You are mistaken; I rode him nearly ten leagues in less than an hour and a half, and he appeared no more distressed than if he had only made the tour of the Place St. Sulpice."
"Ah, you begin to awaken my regret."
"Yes; I have parted with him."
"Why, here is the simple fact. This morning I awoke at six o'clock. You were still fast asleep, and I did not know what to do with myself; I was still stupid from our yesterday's debauch. As I came into the public room, I saw one of our Englishman bargaining with a dealer for a horse, his own having died yesterday from bleeding. I drew near, and found he was bidding a hundred pistoles for a chestnut nag. 'PARDIEU,' said I, 'my good gentleman, I have a horse to sell, too.' 'Ay, and a very fine one! I saw him yesterday; your friend's lackey was leading him.' 'Do you think he is worth a hundred pistoles?' 'Yes! Will you sell him to me for that sum?' 'No; but I will play for him.' 'What?' 'At dice.' No sooner said than done, and I lost the horse. Ah, ah! But please to observe I won back the equipage," cried Athos.
D'Artagnan looked much disconcerted.
"This vexes you?" said Athos.
"Well, I must confess it does," replied d'Artagnan. "That horse was to have identified us in the day of battle. It was a pledge, a remembrance. Athos, you have done wrong."
"But, my dear friend, put yourself in my place," replied the Musketeer. "I was hipped to death; and still further, upon my honor, I don't like English horses. If it is only to be recognized, why the saddle will suffice for that; it is quite remarkable enough. As to the horse, we can easily find some excuse for its disappearance. Why the devil! A horse is mortal; suppose mine had had the glanders or the farcy?"
D'Artagnan did not smile.
"It vexes me greatly," continued Athos, "that you attach so much importance to these animals, for I am not yet at the end of my story."
"What else have you done."
"After having lost my own horse, nine against ten — see how near — I formed an idea of staking yours."
"Yes; but you stopped at the idea, I hope?"
"No; for I put it in execution that very minute."
"And the consequence?" said d'Artagnan, in great anxiety.
"I threw, and I lost."
"What, my horse?"
"Your horse, seven against eight; a point short — you know the proverb."
"Athos, you are not in your right senses, I swear."
"My dear lad, that was yesterday, when I was telling you silly stories, it was proper to tell me that, and not this morning. I lost him then, with all his appointments and furniture."
"Really, this is frightful."
"Stop a minute; you don't know all yet. I should make an excellent gambler if I were not too hot-headed; but I was hot-headed, just as if I had been drinking. Well, I was not hot-headed then — "
"Well, but what else could you play for? You had nothing left?"
"Oh, yes, my friend; there was still that diamond left which sparkles on your finger, and which I had observed yesterday."
"This diamond!" said d'Artagnan, placing his hand eagerly on his ring.
"And as I am a connoisseur in such things, having had a few of my own once, I estimated it at a thousand pistoles."
"I hope," said d'Artagnan, half dead with fright, "you made no mention of my diamond?"
"On the contrary, my dear friend, this diamond became our only resource; with it I might regain our horses and their harnesses, and even money to pay our expenses on the road."