"Yes," said Porthos, "that is a duchess of my acquaintance whom I have great trouble to meet on account of the jealousy of her husband, and who sent me word that she should come today to this poor church, buried in this vile quarter, solely for the sake of seeing me."
"Monsieur Porthos," said the procurator's wife, "will you have the kindness to offer me your arm for five minutes? I have something to say to you."
"Certainly, madame," said Porthos, winking to himself, as a gambler does who laughs at the dupe he is about to pluck.
At that moment d'Artagnan passed in pursuit of Milady; he cast a passing glance at Porthos, and beheld this triumphant look.
"Eh, eh!" said he, reasoning to himself according to the strangely easy morality of that gallant period, "there is one who will be equipped in good time!"
Porthos, yielding to the pressure of the arm of the procurator's wife, as a bark yields to the rudder, arrived at the cloister St. Magloire — a little-frequented passage, enclosed with a turnstile at each end. In the daytime nobody was seen there but mendicants devouring their crusts, and children at play.
"Ah, Monsieur Porthos," cried the procurator's wife, when she was assured that no one who was a stranger to the population of the locality could either see or hear her, "ah, Monsieur Porthos, you are a great conqueror, as it appears!"
"I, madame?" said Porthos, drawing himself up proudly; "how so?"
"The signs just now, and the holy water! But that must be a princess, at least — that lady with her Negro boy and her maid!"
"My God! Madame, you are deceived," said Porthos; "she is simply a duchess."
"And that running footman who waited at the door, and that carriage with a coachman in grand livery who sat waiting on his seat?"
Porthos had seen neither the footman nor the carriage, but with the eye of a jealous woman, Mme. Coquenard had seen everything.
Porthos regretted that he had not at once made the lady of the red cushion a princess.
"Ah, you are quite the pet of the ladies, Monsieur Porthos!" resumed the procurator's wife, with a sigh.
"Well," responded Porthos, "you may imagine, with the physique with which nature has endowed me, I am not in want of good luck."
"Good Lord, how quickly men forget!" cried the procurator's wife, raising her eyes toward heaven.
"Less quickly than the women, it seems to me," replied Porthos; "for I, madame, I may say I was your victim, when wounded, dying, I was abandoned by the surgeons. I, the offspring of a noble family, who placed reliance upon your friendship — I was near dying of my wounds at first, and of hunger afterward, in a beggarly inn at Chantilly, without you ever deigning once to reply to the burning letters I addressed to you."
"But, Monsieur Porthos," murmured the procurator's wife, who began to feel that, to judge by the conduct of the great ladies of the time, she was wrong.
"I, who had sacrificed for you the Baronne de — "
"I know it well."
"The Comtesse de — "
"Monsieur Porthos, be generous!"
"You are right, madame, and I will not finish."
"But it was my husband who would not hear of lending."
"Madame Coquenard," said Porthos, "remember the first letter you wrote me, and which I preserve engraved in my memory."
The procurator's wife uttered a groan.
"Besides," said she, "the sum you required me to borrow was rather large."
"Madame Coquenard, I gave you the preference. I had but to write to the Duchesse — but I won't repeat her name, for I am incapable of compromising a woman; but this I know, that I had but to write to her and she would have sent me fifteen hundred."
The procurator's wife shed a tear.
"Monsieur Porthos," said she, "I can assure you that you have severely punished me; and if in the time to come you should find yourself in a similar situation, you have but to apply to me."
"Fie, madame, fie!" said Porthos, as if disgusted. "Let us not talk about money, if you please; it is humiliating."
"Then you no longer love me!" said the procurator's wife, slowly and sadly.
Porthos maintained a majestic silence.
"And that is the only reply you make? Alas, I understand."
"Think of the offense you have committed toward me, madame! It remains HERE!" said Porthos, placing his hand on his heart, and pressing it strongly.
"I will repair it, indeed I will, my dear Porthos."
"Besides, what did I ask of you?" resumed Porthos, with a movement of the shoulders full of good fellowship. "A loan, nothing more! After all, I am not an unreasonable man. I know you are not rich, Madame Coquenard, and that your husband is obliged to bleed his poor clients to squeeze a few paltry crowns from them. Oh! If you were a duchess, a marchioness, or a countess, it would be quite a different thing; it would be unpardonable."
The procurator's wife was piqued.
"Please to know, Monsieur Porthos," said she, "that my strongbox, the strongbox of a procurator's wife though it may be, is better filled than those of your affected minxes."
"The doubles the offense," said Porthos, disengaging his arm from that of the procurator's wife; "for if you are rich, Madame Coquenard, then there is no excuse for your refusal."
"When I said rich," replied the procurator's wife, who saw that she had gone too far, "you must not take the word literally. I am not precisely rich, though I am pretty well off."
"Hold, madame," said Porthos, "let us say no more upon the subject, I beg of you. You have misunderstood me, all sympathy is extinct between us."
"Ingrate that you are!"
"Ah! I advise you to complain!" said Porthos.
"Begone, then, to your beautiful duchess; I will detain you no longer."
"And she is not to be despised, in my opinion."
"Now, Monsieur Porthos, once more, and this is the last! Do you love me still?"
"Ah, madame," said Porthos, in the most melancholy tone he could assume, "when we are about to enter upon a campaign — a campaign, in which my presentiments tell me I shall be killed — "
"Oh, don't talk of such things!" cried the procurator's wife, bursting into tears.
"Something whispers me so," continued Porthos, becoming more and more melancholy.
"Rather say that you have a new love."
"Not so; I speak frankly to you. No object affects me; and I even feel here, at the bottom of my heart, something which speaks for you. But in fifteen days, as you know, or as you do not know, this fatal campaign is to open. I shall be fearfully preoccupied with my outfit. Then I must make a journey to see my family, in the lower part of Brittany, to obtain the sum necessary for my departure."
Porthos observed a last struggle between love and avarice.
"And as," continued he, "the duchess whom you saw at the church has estates near to those of my family, we mean to make the journey together. Journeys, you know, appear much shorter when we travel two in company."
"Have you no friends in Paris, then, Monsieur Porthos?" said the procurator's wife.
"I thought I had," said Porthos, resuming his melancholy air; "but I have been taught my mistake."
"You have some!" cried the procurator's wife, in a transport that surprised even herself. "Come to our house tomorrow. You are the son of my aunt, consequently my cousin; you come from Noyon, in Picardy; you have several lawsuits and no attorney. Can you recollect all that?"