D'Artagnan followed the soubrette with his eyes, and saw her go toward the terrace; but it happened that someone in the house called Lubin, so that Planchet remained alone, looking in all directions for the road where d'Artagnan had disappeared.
The maid approached Planchet, whom she took for Lubin, and holding out a little billet to him said, "For your master."
"For my master?" replied Planchet, astonished.
"Yes, and important. Take it quickly."
Thereupon she ran toward the carriage, which had turned round toward the way it came, jumped upon the step, and the carriage drove off.
Planchet turned and returned the billet. Then, accustomed to passive obedience, he jumped down from the terrace, ran toward the lane, and at the end of twenty paces met d'Artagnan, who, having seen all, was coming to him.
"For you, monsieur," said Planchet, presenting the billet to the young man.
"For me?" said d'Artagnan; "are you sure of that?"
"PARDIEU, monsieur, I can't be more sure. The SOUBRETTE said, 'For your master.' I have no other master but you; so — a pretty little lass, my faith, is that SOUBRETTE!"
D'Artagnan opened the letter, and read these words:
"A person who takes more interest in you than she is willing to confess wishes to know on what day it will suit you to walk in the forest? Tomorrow, at the Hotel Field of the Cloth of Gold, a lackey in black and red will wait for your reply."
"Oh!" said d'Artagnan, "this is rather warm; it appears that Milady and I are anxious about the health of the same person. Well, Planchet, how is the good Monsieur de Wardes? He is not dead, then?"
"No, monsieur, he is as well as a man can be with four sword wounds in his body; for you, without question, inflicted four upon the dear gentleman, and he is still very weak, having lost almost all his blood. As I said, monsieur, Lubin did not know me, and told me our adventure from one end to the other."
"Well done, Planchet! you are the king of lackeys. Now jump onto your horse, and let us overtake the carriage."
This did not take long. At the end of five minutes they perceived the carriage drawn up by the roadside; a cavalier, richly dressed, was close to the door.
The conversation between Milady and the cavalier was so animated that d'Artagnan stopped on the other side of the carriage without anyone but the pretty SOUBRETTE perceiving his presence.
The conversation took place in English — a language which d'Artagnan could not understand; but by the accent the young man plainly saw that the beautiful Englishwoman was in a great rage. She terminated it by an action which left no doubt as to the nature of this conversation; this was a blow with her fan, applied with such force that the little feminine weapon flew into a thousand pieces.
The cavalier laughed aloud, which appeared to exasperate Milady still more.
D'Artagnan thought this was the moment to interfere. He approached the other door, and taking off his hat respectfully, said, "Madame, will you permit me to offer you my services? It appears to me that this cavalier has made you very angry. Speak one word, madame, and I take upon myself to punish him for his want of courtesy."
At the first word Milady turned, looking at the young man with astonishment; and when he had finished, she said in very good French, "Monsieur, I should with great confidence place myself under your protection if the person with whom I quarrel were not my brother."
"Ah, excuse me, then," said d'Artagnan. "You must be aware that I was ignorant of that, madame."
"What is that stupid fellow troubling himself about?" cried the cavalier whom Milady had designated as her brother, stooping down to the height of the coach window. "Why does not he go about his business?"
"Stupid fellow yourself!" said d'Artagnan, stooping in his turn on the neck of his horse, and answering on his side through the carriage window. "I do not go on because it pleases me to stop here."
The cavalier addressed some words in English to his sister.
"I speak to you in French," said d'Artagnan; "be kind enough, then, to reply to me in the same language. You are Madame's brother, I learn — be it so; but fortunately you are not mine."
It might be thought that Milady, timid as women are in general, would have interposed in this commencement of mutual provocations in order to prevent the quarrel from going too far; but on the contrary, she threw herself back in her carriage, and called out coolly to the coachman, "Go on — home!"
The pretty SOUBRETTE cast an anxious glance at d'Artagnan, whose good looks seemed to have made an impression on her.
The carriage went on, and left the two men facing each other; no material obstacle separated them.
The cavalier made a movement as if to follow the carriage; but d'Artagnan, whose anger, already excited, was much increased by recognizing in him the Englishman of Amiens who had won his horse and had been very near winning his diamond of Athos, caught at his bridle and stopped him.
"Well, monsieur," said he, "you appear to be more stupid than I am, for you forget there is a little quarrel to arrange between us two."
"Ah," said the Englishman, "is it you, my master? It seems you must always be playing some game or other."
"Yes; and that reminds me that I have a revenge to take. We will see, my dear monsieur, if you can handle a sword as skillfully as you can a dice box."
"You see plainly that I have no sword," said the Englishman. "Do you wish to play the braggart with an unarmed man?"
"I hope you have a sword at home; but at all events, I have two, and if you like, I will throw with you for one of them."
"Needless," said the Englishman; "I am well furnished with such playthings."
"Very well, my worthy gentleman," replied d'Artagnan, "pick out the longest, and come and show it to me this evening."
"Where, if you please?"
"Behind the Luxembourg; that's a charming spot for such amusements as the one I propose to you."
"That will do; I will be there."
"A PROPOS, you have probably one or two friends?"
"I have three, who would be honored by joining in the sport with me."
"Three? Marvelous! That falls out oddly! Three is just my number!"
"Now, then, who are you?" asked the Englishman.
"I am Monsieur d'Artagnan, a Gascon gentleman, serving in the king's Musketeers. And you?"
"I am Lord de Winter, Baron Sheffield."
"Well, then, I am your servant, Monsieur Baron," said d'Artagnan, "though you have names rather difficult to recollect." And touching his horse with the spur, he cantered back to Paris. As he was accustomed to do in all cases of any consequence, d'Artagnan went straight to the residence of Athos.
He found Athos reclining upon a large sofa, where he was waiting, as he said, for his outfit to come and find him. He related to Athos all that had passed, except the letter to M. de Wardes.
Athos was delighted to find he was going to fight an Englishman. We might say that was his dream.
They immediately sent their lackeys for Porthos and Aramis, and on their arrival made them acquainted with the situation.
Porthos drew his sword from the scabbard, and made passes at the wall, springing back from time to time, and making contortions like a dancer.
Aramis, who was constantly at work at his poem, shut himself up in Athos's closet, and begged not to be disturbed before the moment of drawing swords.
Athos, by signs, desired Grimaud to bring another bottle of wine.
D'Artagnan employed himself in arranging a little plan, of which we shall hereafter see the execution, and which promised him some agreeable adventure, as might be seen by the smiles which from time to time passed over his countenance, whose thoughtfulness they animated.