The young woman looked at him furtively.
"Listen; I am already upon the scent," resumed d'Artagnan. "About three months ago I was near having a duel with Aramis concerning a handkerchief resembling the one you showed to the woman in his house — for a handkerchief marked in the same manner, I am sure."
"Monsieur," said the young woman, "you weary me very much, I assure you, with your questions."
"But you, madame, prudent as you are, think, if you were to be arrested with that handkerchief, and that handkerchief were to be seized, would you not be compromised?"
"In what way? The initials are only mine — C. B., Constance Bonacieux."
"Or Camille de Bois-Tracy."
"Silence, monsieur! Once again, silence! Ah, since the dangers I incur on my own account cannot stop you, think of those you may yourself run!"
"Yes; there is peril of imprisonment, risk of life in knowing me."
"Then I will not leave you."
"Monsieur!" said the young woman, supplicating him and clasping her hands together, "monsieur, in the name of heaven, by the honor of a soldier, by the courtesy of a gentleman, depart! There, there midnight sounds! That is the hour when I am expected."
"Madame," said the young man, bowing; "I can refuse nothing asked of me thus. Be content; I will depart."
"But you will not follow me; you will not watch me?"
"I will return home instantly."
"Ah, I was quite sure you were a good and brave young man," said Mme. Bonacieux, holding out her hand to him, and placing the other upon the knocker of a little door almost hidden in the wall.
D'Artagnan seized the hand held out to him, and kissed it ardently.
"Ah! I wish I had never seen you!" cried d'Artagnan, with that ingenuous roughness which women often prefer to the affectations of politeness, because it betrays the depths of the thought and proves that feeling prevails over reason.
"Well!" resumed Mme. Bonacieux, in a voice almost caressing, and pressing the hand of d'Artagnan, who had not relinquished hers, "well: I will not say as much as you do; what is lost for today may not be lost forever. Who knows, when I shall be at liberty, that I may not satisfy your curiosity?"
"And will you make the same promise to my love?" cried d'Artagnan, beside himself with joy.
"Oh, as to that, I do not engage myself. That depends upon the sentiments with which you may inspire me."
"Then today, madame — "
"Oh, today, I am no further than gratitude."
"Ah! You are too charming," said d'Artagnan, sorrowfully; "and you abuse my love."
"No, I use your generosity, that's all. But be of good cheer; with certain people, everything comes round."
"Oh, you render me the happiest of men! Do not forget this evening — do not forget that promise."
"Be satisfied. In the proper time and place I will remember everything. Now then, go, go, in the name of heaven! I was expected at sharp midnight, and I am late."
"By five minutes."
"Yes; but in certain circumstances five minutes are five ages."
"When one loves."
"Well! And who told you I had no affair with a lover?"
"It is a man, then, who expects you?" cried d'Artagnan. "A man!"
"The discussion is going to begin again!" said Mme. Bonacieux, with a half-smile which was not exempt from a tinge of impatience.
"No, no; I go, I depart! I believe in you, and I would have all the merit of my devotion, even if that devotion were stupidity. Adieu, madame, adieu!"
And as if he only felt strength to detach himself by a violent effort from the hand he held, he sprang away, running, while Mme. Bonacieux knocked, as at the shutter, three light and regular taps. When he had gained the angle of the street, he turned. The door had been opened, and shut again; the mercer's pretty wife had disappeared.
D'Artagnan pursued his way. He had given his word not to watch Mme. Bonacieux, and if his life had depended upon the spot to which she was going or upon the person who should accompany her, d'Artagnan would have returned home, since he had so promised. Five minutes later he was in the Rue des Fossoyeurs.
"Poor Athos!" said he; "he will never guess what all this means. He will have fallen asleep waiting for me, or else he will have returned home, where he will have learned that a woman had been there. A woman with Athos! After all," continued d'Artagnan, "there was certainly one with Aramis. All this is very strange; and I am curious to know how it will end."
"Badly, monsieur, badly!" replied a voice which the young man recognized as that of Planchet; for, soliloquizing aloud, as very preoccupied people do, he had entered the alley, at the end of which were the stairs which led to his chamber.
"How badly? What do you mean by that, you idiot?" asked d'Artagnan. "What has happened?"
"All sorts of misfortunes."
"In the first place, Monsieur Athos is arrested."
"Arrested! Athos arrested! What for?"
"He was found in your lodging; they took him for you."
"And by whom was he arrested?"
"By Guards brought by the men in black whom you put to flight."
"Why did he not tell them his name? Why did he not tell them he knew nothing about this affair?"
"He took care not to do so, monsieur; on the contrary, he came up to me and said, 'It is your master that needs his liberty at this moment and not I, since he knows everything and I know nothing. They will believe he is arrested, and that will give him time; in three days I will tell them who I am, and they cannot fail to let me go.'"
"Bravo, Athos! Noble heart!" murmured d'Artagnan. "I know him well there! And what did the officers do?"
"Four conveyed him away, I don't know where — to the Bastille or Fort l'Eveque. Two remained with the men in black, who rummaged every place and took all the papers. The last two mounted guard at the door during this examination; then, when all was over, they went away, leaving the house empty and exposed."
"And Porthos and Aramis?"
"I could not find them; they did not come."
"But they may come any moment, for you left word that I awaited them?"