"Yes," said Athos, "it reminds me of a family jewel."
"It is beautiful, is it not?" said d'Artagnan.
"Yes," said Athos, "magnificent. I did not think two sapphires of such a fine water existed. Have you traded it for your diamond?"
"No. It is a gift from my beautiful Englishwoman, or rather Frenchwoman — for I am convinced she was born in France, though I have not questioned her."
"That ring comes from Milady?" cried Athos, with a voice in which it was easy to detect strong emotion.
"Her very self; she gave it me last night. Here it is," replied d'Artagnan, taking it from his finger.
Athos examined it and became very pale. He tried it on his left hand; it fit his finger as if made for it.
A shade of anger and vengeance passed across the usually calm brow of this gentleman.
"It is impossible it can be she," said be. "How could this ring come into the hands of Milady Clarik? And yet it is difficult to suppose such a resemblance should exist between two jewels."
"Do you know this ring?" said d'Artagnan.
"I thought I did," replied Athos; "but no doubt I was mistaken." And he returned d'Artagnan the ring without, however, ceasing to look at it.
"Pray, d'Artagnan," said Athos, after a minute, "either take off that ring or turn the mounting inside; it recalls such cruel recollections that I shall have no head to converse with you. Don't ask me for counsel; don't tell me you are perplexed what to do. But stop! let me look at that sapphire again; the one I mentioned to you had one of its faces scratched by accident."
D'Artagnan took off the ring, giving it again to Athos.
Athos started. "Look," said he, "is it not strange?" and he pointed out to d'Artagnan the scratch he had remembered.
"But from whom did this ring come to you, Athos?"
"From my mother, who inherited it from her mother. As I told you, it is an old family jewel."
"And you — sold it?" asked d'Artagnan, hesitatingly.
"No," replied Athos, with a singular smile. "I gave it away in a night of love, as it has been given to you."
D'Artagnan became pensive in his turn; it appeared as if there were abysses in Milady's soul whose depths were dark and unknown. He took back the ring, but put it in his pocket and not on his finger.
"d'Artagnan," said Athos, taking his hand, "you know I love you; if I had a son I could not love him better. Take my advice, renounce this woman. I do not know her, but a sort of intuition tells me she is a lost creature, and that there is something fatal about her."
"You are right," said d'Artagnan; "I will have done with her. I own that this woman terrifies me."
"Shall you have the courage?" said Athos.
"I shall," replied d'Artagnan, "and instantly."
"In truth, my young friend, you will act rightly," said the gentleman, pressing the Gascon's hand with an affection almost paternal; "and God grant that this woman, who has scarcely entered into your life, may not leave a terrible trace in it!" And Athos bowed to d'Artagnan like a man who wishes it understood that he would not be sorry to be left alone with his thoughts.
On reaching home d'Artagnan found Kitty waiting for him. A month of fever could not have changed her more than this one night of sleeplessness and sorrow.
She was sent by her mistress to the false de Wardes. Her mistress was mad with love, intoxicated with joy. She wished to know when her lover would meet her a second night; and poor Kitty, pale and trembling, awaited d'Artagnan's reply. The counsels of his friend, joined to the cries of his own heart, made him determine, now his pride was saved and his vengeance satisfied, not to see Milady again. As a reply, he wrote the following letter:
Do not depend upon me, madame, for the next meeting. Since my convalescence I have so many affairs of this kind on my hands that I am forced to regulate them a little. When your turn comes, I shall have the honor to inform you of it. I kiss your hands.
Comte de Wardes
Not a word about the sapphire. Was the Gascon determined to keep it as a weapon against Milady, or else, let us be frank, did he not reserve the sapphire as a last resource for his outfit? It would be wrong to judge the actions of one period from the point of view of another. That which would now be considered as disgraceful to a gentleman was at that time quite a simple and natural affair, and the younger sons of the best families were frequently supported by their mistresses. D'Artagnan gave the open letter to Kitty, who at first was unable to comprehend it, but who became almost wild with joy on reading it a second time. She could scarcely believe in her happiness; and d'Artagnan was forced to renew with the living voice the assurances which he had written. And whatever might be — considering the violent character of Milady — the danger which the poor girl incurred in giving this billet to her mistress, she ran back to the Place Royale as fast as her legs could carry her.
The heart of the best woman is pitiless toward the sorrows of a rival.
Milady opened the letter with eagerness equal to Kitty's in bringing it; but at the first words she read she became livid. She crushed the paper in her hand, and turning with flashing eyes upon Kitty, she cried, "What is this letter?"
"The answer to Madame's," replied Kitty, all in a tremble.
"Impossible!" cried Milady. "It is impossible a gentleman could have written such a letter to a woman." Then all at once, starting, she cried, "My God! can he have — " and she stopped. She ground her teeth; she was of the color of ashes. She tried to go toward the window for air, but she could only stretch forth her arms; her legs failed her, and she sank into an armchair. Kitty, fearing she was ill, hastened toward her and was beginning to open her dress; but Milady started up, pushing her away. "What do you want with me?" said she, "and why do you place your hand on me?"
"I thought that Madame was ill, and I wished to bring her help," responded the maid, frightened at the terrible expression which had come over her mistress's face.
"I faint? I? I? Do you take me for half a woman? When I am insulted I do not faint; I avenge myself!"
And she made a sign for Kitty to leave the room.