18 LOVER AND HUSBAND
"Ah, Madame," said d'Artagnan, entering by the door which the young woman opened for him, "allow me to tell you that you have a bad sort of a husband."
"You have, then, overheard our conversation?" asked Mme. Bonacieux, eagerly, and looking at d'Artagnan with disquiet.
"But how, my God?"
"By a mode of proceeding known to myself, and by which I likewise overheard the more animated conversation which he had with the cardinal's police."
"And what did you understand by what we said?"
"A thousand things. In the first place, that, unfortunately, your husband is a simpleton and a fool; in the next place, you are in trouble, of which I am very glad, as it gives me a opportunity of placing myself at your service, and God knows I am ready to throw myself into the fire for you; finally, that the queen wants a brave, intelligent, devoted man to make a journey to London for her. I have at least two of the three qualities you stand in need of, and here I am."
Mme. Bonacieux made no reply; but her heart beat with joy and secret hope shone in her eyes.
"And what guarantee will you give me," asked she, "if I consent to confide this message to you?"
"My love for you. Speak! Command! What is to be done?"
"My God, my God!" murmured the young woman, "ought I to confide such a secret to you, monsieur? You are almost a boy."
"I see that you require someone to answer for me?"
"I admit that would reassure me greatly."
"Do you know Athos?"
"No. Who are these gentleman?"
"Three of the king's Musketeers. Do you know Monsieur de Treville, their captain?"
"Oh, yes, him! I know him; not personally, but from having heard the queen speak of him more than once as a brave and loyal gentleman."
"You do not fear lest he should betray you to the cardinal?"
"Oh, no, certainly not!"
"Well, reveal your secret to him, and ask him whether, however important, however valuable, however terrible it may be, you may not confide it to me."
"But this secret is not mine, and I cannot reveal it in this manner."
"You were about to confide it to Monsieur Bonacieux," said d'Artagnan, with chagrin.
"As one confides a letter to the hollow of a tree, to the wing of a pigeon, to the collar of a dog."
"And yet, me — you see plainly that I love you."
"You say so."
"I am an honorable man."
"You say so."
"I am a gallant fellow."
"I believe it."
"I am brave."
"Oh, I am sure of that!"
"Then, put me to the proof."
Mme. Bonacieux looked at the young man, restrained for a minute by a last hesitation; but there was such an ardor in his eyes, such persuasion in his voice, that she felt herself constrained to confide in him. Besides, she found herself in circumstances where everything must be risked for the sake of everything. The queen might be as much injured by too much reticence as by too much confidence; and — let us admit it — the involuntary sentiment which she felt for her young protector decided her to speak.
"Listen," said she; "I yield to your protestations, I yield to your assurances. But I swear to you, before God who hears us, that if you betray me, and my enemies pardon me, I will kill myself, while accusing you of my death."
"And I — I swear to you before God, madame," said d'Artagnan, "that if I am taken while accomplishing the orders you give me, I will die sooner than do anything that may compromise anyone."
Then the young woman confided in him the terrible secret of which chance had already communicated to him a part in front of the Samaritaine. This was their mutual declaration of love.
D'Artagnan was radiant with joy and pride. This secret which he possessed, this woman whom he loved! Confidence and love made him a giant.
"I go," said he; "I go at once."
"How, you will go!" said Mme. Bonacieux; "and your regiment, your captain?"
"By my soul, you had made me forget all that, dear Constance! Yes, you are right; a furlough is needful."
"Still another obstacle," murmured Mme. Bonacieux, sorrowfully.
"As to that," cried d'Artagnan, after a moment of reflection, "I shall surmount it, be assured."
"I will go this very evening to Treville, whom I will request to ask this favor for me of his brother-in-law, Monsieur Dessessart."
"But another thing."
"What?" asked d'Artagnan, seeing that Mme. Bonacieux hesitated to continue.
"You have, perhaps, no money?"
"PERHAPS is too much," said d'Artagnan, smiling.
"Then," replied Mme. Bonacieux, opening a cupboard and taking from it the very bag which a half hour before her husband had caressed so affectionately, "take this bag."
"The cardinal's?" cried d'Artagnan, breaking into a loud laugh, he having heard, as may be remembered, thanks to the broken boards, every syllable of the conversation between the mercer and his wife.
"The cardinal's," replied Mme. Bonacieux. "You see it makes a very respectable appearance."
"PARDIEU," cried d'Artagnan, "it will be a double amusing affair to save the queen with the cardinal's money!"
"You are an amiable and charming young man," said Mme. Bonacieux. "Be assured you will not find her Majesty ungrateful."
"Oh, I am already grandly recompensed!" cried d'Artagnan. "I love you; you permit me to tell you that I do — that is already more happiness than I dared to hope."
"Silence!" said Mme. Bonacieux, starting.
"Someone is talking in the street."
"It is the voice of — "
"Of my husband! Yes, I recognize it!"
D'Artagnan ran to the door and pushed the bolt.