While d'Artagnan was examining Mme. Bonacieux, and was, as we have said, close to her, he saw on the ground a fine cambric handkerchief, which he picked up, as was his habit, and at the corner of which he recognized the same cipher he had seen on the handkerchief which had nearly caused him and Aramis to cut each other's throat.
From that time, d'Artagnan had been cautious with respect to handkerchiefs with arms on them, and he therefore placed in the pocket of Mme. Bonacieux the one he had just picked up.
At that moment Mme. Bonacieux recovered her senses. She opened her eyes, looked around her with terror, saw that the apartment was empty and that she was alone with her liberator. She extended her hands to him with a smile. Mme. Bonacieux had the sweetest smile in the world.
"Ah, monsieur!" said she, "you have saved me; permit me to thank you."
"Madame," said d'Artagnan, "I have only done what every gentleman would have done in my place; you owe me no thanks."
"Oh, yes, monsieur, oh, yes; and I hope to prove to you that you have not served an ingrate. But what could these men, whom I at first took for robbers, want with me, and why is Monsieur Bonacieux not here?"
"Madame, those men were more dangerous than any robbers could have been, for they are the agents of the cardinal; and as to your husband, Monsieur Bonacieux, he is not here because he was yesterday evening conducted to the Bastille."
"My husband in the Bastille!" cried Mme. Bonacieux. "Oh, my God! What has he done? Poor dear man, he is innocence itself!"
And something like a faint smile lighted the still-terrified features of the young woman.
"What has he done, madame?" said d'Artagnan. "I believe that his only crime is to have at the same time the good fortune and the misfortune to be your husband."
"But, monsieur, you know then — "
"I know that you have been abducted, madame."
"And by whom? Do you know him? Oh, if you know him, tell me!"
"By a man of from forty to forty-five years, with black hair, a dark complexion, and a scar on his left temple."
"That is he, that is he; but his name?"
"Ah, his name? I do not know that."
"And did my husband know I had been carried off?"
"He was informed of it by a letter, written to him by the abductor himself."
"And does he suspect," said Mme. Bonacieux, with some embarrassment, "the cause of this event?"
"He attributed it, I believe, to a political cause."
"I doubted from the first; and now I think entirely as he does. Then my dear Monsieur Bonacieux has not suspected me a single instant?"
"So far from it, madame, he was too proud of your prudence, and above all, of your love."
A second smile, almost imperceptible, stole over the rosy lips of the pretty young woman.
"But," continued d'Artagnan, "how did you escape?"
"I took advantage of a moment when they left me alone; and as I had known since morning the reason of my abduction, with the help of the sheets I let myself down from the window. Then, as I believed my husband would be at home, I hastened hither."
"To place yourself under his protection?"
"Oh, no, poor dear man! I knew very well that he was incapable of defending me; but as he could serve us in other ways, I wished to inform him."
"Oh, that is not my secret; I must not, therefore, tell you."
"Besides," said d'Artagnan, "pardon me, madame, if, guardsman as I am, I remind you of prudence — besides, I believe we are not here in a very proper place for imparting confidences. The men I have put to flight will return reinforced; if they find us here, we are lost. I have sent for three of my friends, but who knows whether they were at home?"
"Yes, yes! You are right," cried the affrighted Mme. Bonacieux; "let us fly! Let us save ourselves."
At these words she passed her arm under that of d'Artagnan, and urged him forward eagerly.
"But whither shall we fly — whither escape?"
"Let us first withdraw from this house; afterward we shall see."
The young woman and the young man, without taking the trouble to shut the door after them, descended the Rue des Fossoyeurs rapidly, turned into the Rue des Fosses-Monsieur-le-Prince, and did not stop till they came to the Place St. Sulpice.
"And now what are we to do, and where do you wish me to conduct you?" asked d'Artagnan.
"I am at quite a loss how to answer you, I admit," said Mme. Bonacieux. "My intention was to inform Monsieur Laporte, through my husband, in order that Monsieur Laporte might tell us precisely what had taken place at the Louvre in the last three days, and whether there is any danger in presenting myself there."
"But I," said d'Artagnan, "can go and inform Monsieur Laporte."
"No doubt you could, only there is one misfortune, and that is that Monsieur Bonacieux is known at the Louvre, and would be allowed to pass; whereas you are not known there, and the gate would be closed against you."
"Ah, bah!" said d'Artagnan; "you have at some wicket of the Louvre a CONCIERGE who is devoted to you, and who, thanks to a password, would — "
Mme. Bonacieux looked earnestly at the young man.
"And if I give you this password," said she, "would you forget it as soon as you used it?"
"By my honor, by the faith of a gentleman!" said d'Artagnan, with an accent so truthful that no one could mistake it.
"Then I believe you. You appear to be a brave young man; besides, your fortune may perhaps be the result of your devotedness."
"I will do, without a promise and voluntarily, all that I can do to serve the king and be agreeable to the queen. Dispose of me, then, as a friend."
"But I — where shall I go meanwhile?"
"Is there nobody from whose house Monsieur Laporte can come and fetch you?"
"No, I can trust nobody."
"Stop," said d'Artagnan; "we are near Athos's door. Yes, here it is."
"Who is this Athos?"
"One of my friends."
"But if he should be at home and see me?"
"He is not at home, and I will carry away the key, after having placed you in his apartment."
"But if he should return?"
"Oh, he won't return; and if he should, he will be told that I have brought a woman with me, and that woman is in his apartment."
"But that will compromise me sadly, you know."
"Of what consequence? Nobody knows you. Besides, we are in a situation to overlook ceremony."