"We will dine directly, my friend; only you must please to remember that this is Friday. Now, on such a day I can neither eat flesh nor see it eaten. If you can be satisfied with my dinner-it consists of cooked tetragones and fruits."
"What do you mean by tetragones?" asked d'Artagnan, uneasily.
"I mean spinach," replied Aramis; "but on your account I will add some eggs, and that is a serious infraction of the rule-for eggs are meat, since they engender chickens."
"This feast is not very succulent; but never mind, I will put up with it for the sake of remaining with you."
"I am grateful to you for the sacrifice," said Aramis; "but if your body be not greatly benefited by it, be assured your soul will."
"And so, Aramis, you are decidedly going into the Church? What will our two friends say? What will Monsieur de Treville say? They will treat you as a deserter, I warn you."
"I do not enter the Church; I re-enter it. I deserted the Church for the world, for you know that I forced myself when I became a Musketeer."
"I? I know nothing about it."
"You don't know I quit the seminary?"
"Not at all."
"This is my story, then. Besides, the Scriptures say, 'Confess yourselves to one another,' and I confess to you, d'Artagnan."
"And I give you absolution beforehand. You see I am a good sort of a man."
"Do not jest about holy things, my friend."
"Go on, then, I listen."
"I had been at the seminary from nine years old; in three days I should have been twenty. I was about to become an abbe, and all was arranged. One evening I went, according to custom, to a house which I frequented with much pleasure: when one is young, what can be expected? — one is weak. An officer who saw me, with a jealous eye, reading the LIVES OF THE SAINTS to the mistress of the house, entered suddenly and without being announced. That evening I had translated an episode of Judith, and had just communicated my verses to the lady, who gave me all sorts of compliments, and leaning on my shoulder, was reading them a second time with me. Her pose, which I must admit was rather free, wounded this officer. He said nothing; but when I went out he followed, and quickly came up with me. 'Monsieur the Abbe,' said he, 'do you like blows with a cane?' 'I cannot say, monsieur,' answered I; 'no one has ever dared to give me any.' 'Well, listen to me, then, Monsieur the Abbe! If you venture again into the house in which I have met you this evening, I will dare it myself.' I really think I must have been frightened. I became very pale; I felt my legs fail me; I sought for a reply, but could find none-I was silent. The officer waited for his reply, and seeing it so long coming, he burst into a laugh, turned upon his heel, and re-entered the house. I returned to the seminary.
"I am a gentleman born, and my blood is warm, as you may have remarked, my dear d'Artagnan. The insult was terrible, and although unknown to the rest of the world, I felt it live and fester at the bottom of my heart. I informed my superiors that I did not feel myself sufficiently prepared for ordination, and at my request the ceremony was postponed for a year. I sought out the best fencing master in Paris, I made an agreement with him to take a lesson every day, and every day for a year I took that lesson. Then, on the anniversary of the day on which I had been insulted, I hung my cassock on a peg, assumed the costume of a cavalier, and went to a ball given by a lady friend of mine and to which I knew my man was invited. It was in the Rue des France-Bourgeois, close to La Force. As I expected, my officer was there. I went up to him as he was singing a love ditty and looking tenderly at a lady, and interrupted him exactly in the middle of the second couplet. 'Monsieur,' said I, 'does it still displease you that I should frequent a certain house of La Rue Payenne? And would you still cane me if I took it into my head to disobey you? The officer looked at me with astonishment, and then said, 'What is your business with me, monsieur? I do not know you.' 'I am,' said I, 'the little abbe who reads LIVES OF THE SAINTS, and translates Judith into verse.' 'Ah, ah! I recollect now,' said the officer, in a jeering tone; 'well, what do you want with me?' 'I want you to spare time to take a walk with me.' 'Tomorrow morning, if you like, with the greatest pleasure.' 'No, not tomorrow morning, if you please, but immediately.' 'If you absolutely insist.' 'I do insist upon it.' 'Come, then. Ladies,' said the officer, 'do not disturb yourselves; allow me time just to kill this gentleman, and I will return and finish the last couplet.'
"We went out. I took him to the Rue Payenne, to exactly the same spot where, a year before, at the very same hour, he had paid me the compliment I have related to you. It was a superb moonlight night. We immediately drew, and at the first pass I laid him stark dead."
"The devil!" cried d'Artagnan.
"Now," continued Aramis, "as the ladies did not see the singer come back, and as he was found in the Rue Payenne with a great sword wound through his body, it was supposed that I had accommodated him thus; and the matter created some scandal which obliged me to renounce the cassock for a time. Athos, whose acquaintance I made about that period, and Porthos, who had in addition to my lessons taught me some effective tricks of fence, prevailed upon me to solicit the uniform of a Musketeer. The king entertained great regard for my father, who had fallen at the siege of Arras, and the uniform was granted. You may understand that the moment has come for me to re-enter the bosom of the Church."
"And why today, rather than yesterday or tomorrow? What has happened to you today, to raise all these melancholy ideas?"
"This wound, my dear d'Artagnan, has been a warning to me from heaven."
"This wound? Bah, it is now nearly healed, and I am sure it is not that which gives you the most pain."
"What, then?" said Aramis, blushing.
"You have one at heart, Aramis, one deeper and more painful — a wound made by a woman."
The eye of Aramis kindled in spite of himself.
"Ah," said he, dissembling his emotion under a feigned carelessness, "do not talk of such things, and suffer love pains? VANITAS VANITATUM! According to your idea, then, my brain is turned. And for whom-for some GRISETTE, some chambermaid with whom I have trifled in some garrison? Fie!"
"Pardon, my dear Aramis, but I thought you carried your eyes higher."
"Higher? And who am I, to nourish such ambition? A poor Musketeer, a beggar, an unknown-who hates slavery, and finds himself ill-placed in the world."
"Aramis, Aramis!" cried d'Artagnan, looking at his friend with an air of doubt.
"Dust I am, and to dust I return. Life is full of humiliations and sorrows," continued he, becoming still more melancholy; "all the ties which attach him to life break in the hand of man, particularly the golden ties. Oh, my dear d'Artagnan," resumed Aramis, giving to his voice a slight tone of bitterness, "trust me! Conceal your wounds when you have any; silence is the last joy of the unhappy. Beware of giving anyone the clue to your griefs; the curious suck our tears as flies suck the blood of a wounded hart."
"Alas, my dear Aramis," said d'Artagnan, in his turn heaving a profound sigh, "that is my story you are relating!"
"Yes; a woman whom I love, whom I adore, has just been torn from me by force. I do not know where she is or whither they have conducted her. She is perhaps a prisoner; she is perhaps dead!"
"Yes, but you have at least this consolation, that you can say to yourself she has not quit you voluntarily, that if you learn no news of her, it is because all communication with you is interdicted; while I — "
"Nothing," replied Aramis, "nothing."
"So you renounce the world, then, forever; that is a settled thing — a resolution registered!"
"Forever! You are my friend today; tomorrow you will be no more to me than a shadow, or rather, even, you will no longer exist. As for the world, it is a sepulcher and nothing else."
"The devil! All this is very sad which you tell me."