"I mean to say, young man, that he who sleeps over a mine the match of which is already lighted, may consider himself in safety in comparison with you."
"The devil!" said d'Artagnan, whom the positive tone of M. de Treville began to disquiet, "the devil! What must I do?"
"Above all things be always on your guard. The cardinal has a tenacious memory and a long arm; you may depend upon it, he will repay you by some ill turn."
"But of what sort?"
"Eh! How can I tell? Has he not all the tricks of a demon at his command? The least that can be expected is that you will be arrested."
"What! Will they dare to arrest a man in his Majesty's service?"
"PARDIEU! They did not scruple much in the case of Athos. At all events, young man, rely upon one who has been thirty years at court. Do not lull yourself in security, or you will be lost; but, on the contrary — and it is I who say it — see enemies in all directions. If anyone seeks a quarrel with you, shun it, were it with a child of ten years old. If you are attacked by day or by night, fight, but retreat, without shame; if you cross a bridge, feel every plank of it with your foot, lest one should give way beneath you; if you pass before a house which is being built, look up, for fear a stone should fall upon your head; if you stay out late, be always followed by your lackey, and let your lackey be armed — if, by the by, you can be sure of your lackey. Mistrust everybody, your friend, your brother, your mistress — your mistress above all."
"My mistress above all," repeated he, mechanically; "and why her rather than another?"
"Because a mistress is one of the cardinal's favorite means; he has not one that is more expeditious. A woman will sell you for ten pistoles, witness Delilah. You are acquainted with the Scriptures?"
D'Artagnan thought of the appointment Mme. Bonacieux had made with him for that very evening; but we are bound to say, to the credit of our hero, that the bad opinion entertained by M. de Treville of women in general, did not inspire him with the least suspicion of his pretty hostess.
"But, A PROPOS," resumed M. de Treville, "what has become of your three companions?"
"I was about to ask you if you had heard any news of them?"
"Well, I left them on my road — Porthos at Chantilly, with a duel on his hands; Aramis at Crevecoeur, with a ball in his shoulder; and Athos at Amiens, detained by an accusation of coining."
"See there, now!" said M. de Treville; "and how the devil did you escape?"
"By a miracle, monsieur, I must acknowledge, with a sword thrust in my breast, and by nailing the Comte de Wardes on the byroad to Calais, like a butterfly on a tapestry."
"There again! De Wardes, one of the cardinal's men, a cousin of Rochefort! Stop, my friend, I have an idea."
"In your place, I would do one thing."
"While his Eminence was seeking for me in Paris, I would take, without sound of drum or trumpet, the road to Picardy, and would go and make some inquiries concerning my three companions. What the devil! They merit richly that piece of attention on your part."
"The advice is good, monsieur, and tomorrow I will set out."
"Tomorrow! Any why not this evening?"
"This evening, monsieur, I am detained in Paris by indispensable business."
"Ah, young man, young man, some flirtation or other. Take care, I repeat to you, take care. It is woman who has ruined us, still ruins us, and will ruin us, as long as the world stands. Take my advice and set out this evening."
"You have given your word, then?"
"Ah, that's quite another thing; but promise me, if you should not be killed tonight, that you will go tomorrow."
"I promise it."
"Do you need money?"
"I have still fifty pistoles. That, I think, is as much as I shall want."
"But your companions?"
"I don't think they can be in need of any. We left Paris, each with seventy-five pistoles in his pocket."
"Shall I see you again before your departure?"
"I think not, monsieur, unless something new should happen."
"Well, a pleasant journey."
D'Artagnan left M. de Treville, touched more than ever by his paternal solicitude for his Musketeers.
He called successively at the abodes of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Neither of them had returned. Their lackeys likewise were absent, and nothing had been heard of either the one or the other. He would have inquired after them of their mistresses, but he was neither acquainted with Porthos's nor Aramis's, and as to Athos, he had none.
As he passed the Hotel des Gardes, he took a glance in to the stables. Three of the four horses had already arrived. Planchet, all astonishment, was busy grooming them, and had already finished two.
"Ah, monsieur," said Planchet, on perceiving d'Artagnan, "how glad I am to see you."
"Why so, Planchet?" asked the young man.
"Do you place confidence in our landlord — Monsieur Bonacieux?"
"I? Not the least in the world."
"Oh, you do quite right, monsieur."
"But why this question?"
"Because, while you were talking with him, I watched you without listening to you; and, monsieur, his countenance changed color two or three times!"
"Preoccupied as Monsieur was with the letter he had received, he did not observe that; but I, whom the strange fashion in which that letter came into the house had placed on my guard — I did not lose a movement of his features."
"And you found it?"
"Still more; as soon as Monsieur had left and disappeared round the corner of the street, Monsieur Bonacieux took his hat, shut his door, and set off at a quick pace in an opposite direction."
"It seems you are right, Planchet; all this appears to be a little mysterious; and be assured that we will not pay him our rent until the matter shall be categorically explained to us."
"Monsieur jests, but Monsieur will see."
"What would you have, Planchet? What must come is written."
"Monsieur does not then renounce his excursion for this evening?"
"Quite the contrary, Planchet; the more ill will I have toward Monsieur Bonacieux, the more punctual I shall be in keeping the appointment made by that letter which makes you so uneasy."
"Then that is Monsieur's determination?"
"Undeniably, my friend. At nine o'clock, then, be ready here at the hotel, I will come and take you."
Planchet seeing there was no longer any hope of making his master renounce his project, heaved a profound sigh and set to work to groom the third horse.
As to d'Artagnan, being at bottom a prudent youth, instead of returning home, went and dined with the Gascon priest, who, at the time of the distress of the four friends, had given them a breakfast of chocolate.