9 D'ARTAGNAN SHOWS HIMSELF
As Athos and Porthos had foreseen, at the expiration of a half hour, d'Artagnan returned. He had again missed his man, who had disappeared as if by enchantment. D'Artagnan had run, sword in hand, through all the neighboring streets, but had found nobody resembling the man he sought for. Then he came back to the point where, perhaps, he ought to have begun, and that was to knock at the door against which the stranger had leaned; but this proved useless — for though he knocked ten or twelve times in succession, no one answered, and some of the neighbors, who put their noses out of their windows or were brought to their doors by the noise, had assured him that that house, all the openings of which were tightly closed, had not been inhabited for six months.
While d'Artagnan was running through the streets and knocking at doors, Aramis had joined his companions; so that on returning home d'Artagnan found the reunion complete.
"Well!" cried the three Musketeers all together, on seeing d'Artagnan enter with his brow covered with perspiration and his countenance upset with anger.
"Well!" cried he, throwing his sword upon the bed, "this man must be the devil in person; he has disappeared like a phantom, like a shade, like a specter."
"Do you believe in apparitions?" asked Athos of Porthos.
"I never believe in anything I have not seen, and as I never have seen apparitions, I don't believe in them."
"The Bible," said Aramis, "make our belief in them a law; the ghost of Samuel appeared to Saul, and it is an article of faith that I should be very sorry to see any doubt thrown upon, Porthos."
"At all events, man or devil, body or shadow, illusion or reality, this man is born for my damnation; for his flight has caused us to miss a glorious affair, gentlemen — an affair by which there were a hundred pistoles, and perhaps more, to be gained."
"How is that?" cried Porthos and Aramis in a breath.
As to Athos, faithful to his system of reticence, he contented himself with interrogating d'Artagnan by a look.
"Planchet," said d'Artagnan to his domestic, who just then insinuated his head through the half-open door in order to catch some fragments of the conversation, "go down to my landlord, Monsieur Bonacieux, and ask him to send me half a dozen bottles of Beaugency wine; I prefer that."
"Ah, ah! You have credit with your landlord, then?" asked Porthos.
"Yes," replied d'Artagnan, "from this very day; and mind, if the wine is bad, we will send him to find better."
"We must use, and not abuse," said Aramis, sententiously.
"I always said that d'Artagnan had the longest head of the four," said Athos, who, having uttered his opinion, to which d'Artagnan replied with a bow, immediately resumed his accustomed silence.
"But come, what is this about?" asked Porthos.
"Yes," said Aramis, "impart it to us, my dear friend, unless the honor of any lady be hazarded by this confidence; in that case you would do better to keep it to yourself."
"Be satisfied," replied d'Artagnan; "the honor of no one will have cause to complain of what I have to tell."
He then related to his friends, word for word, all that had passed between him and his host, and how the man who had abducted the wife of his worthy landlord was the same with whom he had had the difference at the hostelry of the Jolly Miller.
"Your affair is not bad," said Athos, after having tasted like a connoisseur and indicated by a nod of his head that he thought the wine good; "and one may draw fifty or sixty pistoles from this good man. Then there only remains to ascertain whether these fifty or sixty pistoles are worth the risk of four heads."
"But observe," cried d'Artagnan, "that there is a woman in the affair — a woman carried off, a woman who is doubtless threatened, tortured perhaps, and all because she is faithful to her mistress."
"Beware, d'Artagnan, beware," said Aramis. "You grow a little too warm, in my opinion, about the fate of Madame Bonacieux. Woman was created for our destruction, and it is from her we inherit all our miseries."
At this speech of Aramis, the brow of Athos became clouded and he bit his lips.
"It is not Madame Bonacieux about whom I am anxious," cried d'Artagnan, "but the queen, whom the king abandons, whom the cardinal persecutes, and who sees the heads of all her friends fall, one after the other."
"Why does she love what we hate most in the world, the Spaniards and the English?"
"Spain is her country," replied d'Artagnan; "and it is very natural that she should love the Spanish, who are the children of the same soil as herself. As to the second reproach, I have heard it said that she does not love the English, but an Englishman."
"Well, and by my faith," said Athos, "it must be acknowledged that this Englishman is worthy of being loved. I never saw a man with a nobler air than his."
"Without reckoning that he dresses as nobody else can," said Porthos. "I was at the Louvre on the day when he scattered his pearls; and, PARDIEU, I picked up two that I sold for ten pistoles each. Do you know him, Aramis?"
"As well as you do, gentlemen; for I was among those who seized him in the garden at Amiens, into which Monsieur Putange, the queen's equerry, introduced me. I was at school at the time, and the adventure appeared to me to be cruel for the king."
"Which would not prevent me," said d'Artagnan, "if I knew where the Duke of Buckingham was, from taking him by the hand and conducting him to the queen, were it only to enrage the cardinal, and if we could find means to play him a sharp turn, I vow that I would voluntarily risk my head in doing it."
"And did the mercer*," rejoined Athos, "tell you, d'Artagnan, that the queen thought that Buckingham had been brought over by a forged letter?"
"She is afraid so."
"Wait a minute, then," said Aramis.
"What for?" demanded Porthos.
"Go on, while I endeavor to recall circumstances."
"And now I am convinced," said d'Artagnan, "that this abduction of the queen's woman is connected with the events of which we are speaking, and perhaps with the presence of Buckingham in Paris."
"The Gascon is full of ideas," said Porthos, with admiration.
"I like to hear him talk," said Athos; "his dialect amuses me."
"Gentlemen," cried Aramis, "listen to this."
"Listen to Aramis," said his three friends.
"Yesterday I was at the house of a doctor of theology, whom I sometimes consult about my studies."
"He resides in a quiet quarter," continued Aramis; "his tastes and his profession require it. Now, at the moment when I left his house — "
Here Aramis paused.
"Well," cried his auditors; "at the moment you left his house?"