"No, for Porthos will pay you."
"Hum!" said the host, in a doubtful tone.
"The favorite of a great lady will not be allowed to be inconvenienced for such a paltry sum as he owes you."
"If I durst say what I believe on that head — "
"What you believe?"
"I ought rather to say, what I know."
"What you know?"
"And even what I am sure of."
"And of what are you so sure?"
"I would say that I know this great lady."
"And how do you know her?"
"Oh, monsieur, if I could believe I might trust in your discretion."
"Speak! By the word of a gentleman, you shall have no cause to repent of your confidence."
"Well, monsieur, you understand that uneasiness makes us do many things."
"What have you done?"
"Oh, nothing which was not right in the character of a creditor."
"Monsieur Porthos gave us a note for his duchess, ordering us to put it in the post. This was before his servant came. As he could not leave his chamber, it was necessary to charge us with this commission."
"Instead of putting the letter in the post, which is never safe, I took advantage of the journey of one of my lads to Paris, and ordered him to convey the letter to this duchess himself. This was fulfilling the intentions of Monsieur Porthos, who had desired us to be so careful of this letter, was it not?"
"Well, monsieur, do you know who this great lady is?"
"No; I have heard Porthos speak of her, that's all."
"Do you know who this pretended duchess is?
"I repeat to you, I don't know her."
"Why, she is the old wife of a procurator* of the Chatelet, monsieur, named Madame Coquenard, who, although she is at least fifty, still gives herself jealous airs. It struck me as very odd that a princess should live in the Rue aux Ours."
"But how do you know all this?"
"Because she flew into a great passion on receiving the letter, saying that Monsieur Porthos was a weathercock, and that she was sure it was for some woman he had received this wound."
"Has he been wounded, then?"
"Oh, good Lord! What have I said?"
"You said that Porthos had received a sword cut."
"Yes, but he has forbidden me so strictly to say so."
"And why so."
"Zounds, monsieur! Because he had boasted that he would perforate the stranger with whom you left him in dispute; whereas the stranger, on the contrary, in spite of all his rodomontades quickly threw him on his back. As Monsieur Porthos is a very boastful man, he insists that nobody shall know he has received this wound except the duchess, whom he endeavored to interest by an account of his adventure."
"It is a wound that confines him to his bed?"
"Ah, and a master stroke, too, I assure you. Your friend's soul must stick tight to his body."
"Were you there, then?"
"Monsieur, I followed them from curiosity, so that I saw the combat without the combatants seeing me."
"And what took place?"
"Oh! The affair was not long, I assure you. They placed themselves on guard; the stranger made a feint and a lunge, and that so rapidly that when Monsieur Porthos came to the PARADE, he had already three inches of steel in his breast. He immediately fell backward. The stranger placed the point of his sword at his throat; and Monsieur Porthos, finding himself at the mercy of his adversary, acknowledged himself conquered. Upon which the stranger asked his name, and learning that it was Porthos, and not d'Artagnan, he assisted him to rise, brought him back to the hotel, mounted his horse, and disappeared."
"So it was with Monsieur d'Artagnan this stranger meant to quarrel?"
"It appears so."
"And do you know what has become of him?"
"No, I never saw him until that moment, and have not seen him since."
"Very well; I know all that I wish to know. Porthos's chamber is, you say, on the first story, Number One?"
"Yes, monsieur, the handsomest in the inn — a chamber that I could have let ten times over."
"Bah! Be satisfied," said d'Artagnan, laughing, "Porthos will pay you with the money of the Duchess Coquenard."
"Oh, monsieur, procurator's wife or duchess, if she will but loosen her pursestrings, it will be all the same; but she positively answered that she was tired of the exigencies and infidelities of Monsieur Porthos, and that she would not send him a denier."
"And did you convey this answer to your guest?"
"We took good care not to do that; he would have found in what fashion we had executed his commission."
"So that he still expects his money?"
"Oh, Lord, yes, monsieur! Yesterday he wrote again; but it was his servant who this time put the letter in the post."
"Do you say the procurator's wife is old and ugly?"
"Fifty at least, monsieur, and not at all handsome, according to Pathaud's account."
"In that case, you may be quite at ease; she will soon be softened. Besides, Porthos cannot owe you much."
"How, not much! Twenty good pistoles, already, without reckoning the doctor. He denies himself nothing; it may easily be seen he has been accustomed to live well."
"Never mind; if his mistress abandons him, he will find friends, I will answer for it. So, my dear host, be not uneasy, and continue to take all the care of him that his situation requires."