"Oh, no," said Kitty, "it is not me you love! It is my mistress you love; you told me so just now."
"And does that hinder you from letting me know the second reason?"
"The second reason, Monsieur the Chevalier," replied Kitty, emboldened by the kiss in the first place, and still further by the expression of the eyes of the young man, "is that in love, everyone for herself!"
Then only d'Artagnan remembered the languishing glances of Kitty, her constantly meeting him in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, those touches of the hand every time she met him, and her deep sighs; but absorbed by his desire to please the great lady, he had disdained the soubrette. He whose game is the eagle takes no heed of the sparrow.
But this time our Gascon saw at a glance all the advantage to be derived from the love which Kitty had just confessed so innocently, or so boldly: the interception of letters addressed to the Comte de Wardes, news on the spot, entrance at all hours into Kitty's chamber, which was contiguous to her mistress's. The perfidious deceiver was, as may plainly be perceived, already sacrificing, in intention, the poor girl in order to obtain Milady, willy-nilly.
"Well," said he to the young girl, "are you willing, my dear Kitty, that I should give you a proof of that love which you doubt?"
"What love?" asked the young girl.
"Of that which I am ready to feel toward you."
"And what is that proof?"
"Are you willing that I should this evening pass with you the time I generally spend with your mistress?"
"Oh, yes," said Kitty, clapping her hands, "very willing."
"Well, then, come here, my dear," said d'Artagnan, establishing himself in an easy chair; "come, and let me tell you that you are the prettiest SOUBRETTE I ever saw!"
And he did tell her so much, and so well, that the poor girl, who asked nothing better than to believe him, did believe him. Nevertheless, to d'Artagnan's great astonishment, the pretty Kitty defended herself resolutely.
Time passes quickly when it is passed in attacks and defenses. Midnight sounded, and almost at the same time the bell was rung in Milady's chamber.
"Good God," cried Kitty, "there is my mistress calling me! Go; go directly!"
D'Artagnan rose, took his hat, as if it had been his intention to obey, then, opening quickly the door of a large closet instead of that leading to the staircase, he buried himself amid the robes and dressing gowns of Milady.
"What are you doing?" cried Kitty.
D'Artagnan, who had secured the key, shut himself up in the closet without reply.
"Well," cried Milady, in a sharp voice. "Are you asleep, that you don't answer when I ring?"
And d'Artagnan heard the door of communication opened violently.
"Here am I, Milady, here am I!" cried Kitty, springing forward to meet her mistress.
Both went into the bedroom, and as the door of communication remained open, d'Artagnan could hear Milady for some time scolding her maid. She was at length appeased, and the conversation turned upon him while Kitty was assisting her mistress.
"Well," said Milady, "I have not seen our Gascon this evening."
"What, Milady! has he not come?" said Kitty. "Can he be inconstant before being happy?"
"Oh, no; he must have been prevented by Monsieur de Treville or Monsieur Dessessart. I understand my game, Kitty; I have this one safe."
"What will you do with him, madame?"
"What will I do with him? Be easy, Kitty, there is something between that man and me that he is quite ignorant of: he nearly made me lose my credit with his Eminence. Oh, I will be revenged!"
"I believed that Madame loved him."
"I love him? I detest him! An idiot, who held the life of Lord de Winter in his hands and did not kill him, by which I missed three hundred thousand livres' income."
"That's true," said Kitty; "your son was the only heir of his uncle, and until his majority you would have had the enjoyment of his fortune."
D'Artagnan shuddered to the marrow at hearing this suave creature reproach him, with that sharp voice which she took such pains to conceal in conversation, for not having killed a man whom he had seen load her with kindnesses.
"For all this," continued Milady, "I should long ago have revenged myself on him if, and I don't know why, the cardinal had not requested me to conciliate him."
"Oh, yes; but Madame has not conciliated that little woman he was so fond of."
"What, the mercer's wife of the Rue des Fossoyeurs? Has he not already forgotten she ever existed? Fine vengeance that, on my faith!"
A cold sweat broke from d'Artagnan's brow. Why, this woman was a monster! He resumed his listening, but unfortunately the toilet was finished.
"That will do," said Milady; "go into your own room, and tomorrow endeavor again to get me an answer to the letter I gave you."
"For Monsieur de Wardes?" said Kitty.
"To be sure; for Monsieur de Wardes."
"Now, there is one," said Kitty, "who appears to me quite a different sort of a man from that poor Monsieur d'Artagnan."
"Go to bed, mademoiselle," said Milady; "I don't like comments."
D'Artagnan heard the door close; then the noise of two bolts by which Milady fastened herself in. On her side, but as softly as possible, Kitty turned the key of the lock, and then d'Artagnan opened the closet door.
"Oh, good Lord!" said Kitty, in a low voice, "what is the matter with you? How pale you are!"
"The abominable creature," murmured d'Artagnan.
"Silence, silence, begone!" said Kitty. "There is nothing but a wainscot between my chamber and Milady's; every word that is uttered in one can be heard in the other."
"That's exactly the reason I won't go," said d'Artagnan.
"What!" said Kitty, blushing.
"Or, at least, I will go — later."
He drew Kitty to him. She had the less motive to resist, resistance would make so much noise. Therefore Kitty surrendered.
It was a movement of vengeance upon Milady. D'Artagnan believed it right to say that vengeance is the pleasure of the gods. With a little more heart, he might have been contented with this new conquest; but the principal features of his character were ambition and pride. It must, however, be confessed in his justification that the first use he made of his influence over Kitty was to try and find out what had become of Mme. Bonacieux; but the poor girl swore upon the crucifix to d'Artagnan that she was entirely ignorant on that head, her mistress never admitting her into half her secrets — only she believed she could say she was not dead.