36 DREAM OF VENGEANCE
That evening Milady gave orders that when M. d'Artagnan came as usual, he should be immediately admitted; but he did not come.
The next day Kitty went to see the young man again, and related to him all that had passed on the preceding evening. d'Artagnan smiled; this jealous anger of Milady was his revenge.
That evening Milady was still more impatient than on the preceding evening. She renewed the order relative to the Gascon; but as before she expected him in vain.
The next morning, when Kitty presented herself at d'Artagnan's, she was no longer joyous and alert as on the two preceding days; but on the contrary sad as death.
D'Artagnan asked the poor girl what was the matter with her; but she, as her only reply, drew a letter from her pocket and gave it to him.
This letter was in Milady's handwriting; only this time it was addressed to M. d'Artagnan, and not to M. de Wardes.
He opened it and read as follows:
Dear M. d'Artagnan, It is wrong thus to neglect your friends, particularly at the moment you are about to leave them for so long a time. My brother-in-law and myself expected you yesterday and the day before, but in vain. Will it be the same this evening?
Your very grateful, Milady Clarik
"That's all very simple," said d'Artagnan; "I expected this letter. My credit rises by the fall of that of the Comte de Wardes."
"And will you go?" asked Kitty.
"Listen to me, my dear girl," said the Gascon, who sought for an excuse in his own eyes for breaking the promise he had made Athos; "you must understand it would be impolitic not to accept such a positive invitation. Milady, not seeing me come again, would not be able to understand what could cause the interruption of my visits, and might suspect something; who could say how far the vengeance of such a woman would go?"
"Oh, my God!" said Kitty, "you know how to represent things in such a way that you are always in the right. You are going now to pay your court to her again, and if this time you succeed in pleasing her in your own name and with your own face, it will be much worse than before."
Instinct made poor Kitty guess a part of what was to happen. d'Artagnan reassured her as well as he could, and promised to remain insensible to the seductions of Milady.
He desired Kitty to tell her mistress that he could not be more grateful for her kindnesses than he was, and that he would be obedient to her orders. He did not dare to write for fear of not being able — to such experienced eyes as those of Milady — to disguise his writing sufficiently.
As nine o'clock sounded, d'Artagnan was at the Place Royale. It was evident that the servants who waited in the antechamber were warned, for as soon as d'Artagnan appeared, before even he had asked if Milady were visible, one of them ran to announce him.
"Show him in," said Milady, in a quick tone, but so piercing that d'Artagnan heard her in the antechamber.
He was introduced.
"I am at home to nobody," said Milady; "observe, to nobody." The servant went out.
D'Artagnan cast an inquiring glance at Milady. She was pale, and looked fatigued, either from tears or want of sleep. The number of lights had been intentionally diminished, but the young woman could not conceal the traces of the fever which had devoured her for two days.
D'Artagnan approached her with his usual gallantry. She then made an extraordinary effort to receive him, but never did a more distressed countenance give the lie to a more amiable smile.
To the questions which d'Artagnan put concerning her health, she replied, "Bad, very bad."
"Then," replied he, "my visit is ill-timed; you, no doubt, stand in need of repose, and I will withdraw."
"No, no!" said Milady. "On the contrary, stay, Monsieur d'Artagnan; your agreeable company will divert me."
"Oh, oh!" thought d'Artagnan. "She has never been so kind before. On guard!"
Milady assumed the most agreeable air possible, and conversed with more than her usual brilliancy. At the same time the fever, which for an instant abandoned her, returned to give luster to her eyes, color to her cheeks, and vermillion to her lips. D'Artagnan was again in the presence of the Circe who had before surrounded him with her enchantments. His love, which he believed to be extinct but which was only asleep, awoke again in his heart. Milady smiled, and d'Artagnan felt that he could damn himself for that smile. There was a moment at which he felt something like remorse.
By degrees, Milady became more communicative. She asked d'Artagnan if he had a mistress.
"Alas!" said d'Artagnan, with the most sentimental air he could assume, "can you be cruel enough to put such a question to me — to me, who, from the moment I saw you, have only breathed and sighed through you and for you?"
Milady smiled with a strange smile.
"Then you love me?" said she.
"Have I any need to tell you so? Have you not perceived it?"
"It may be; but you know the more hearts are worth the capture, the more difficult they are to be won."
"Oh, difficulties do not affright me," said d'Artagnan. "I shrink before nothing but impossibilities."
"Nothing is impossible," replied Milady, "to true love."
"Nothing," replied Milady.
"The devil!" thought d'Artagnan. "The note is changed. Is she going to fall in love with me, by chance, this fair inconstant; and will she be disposed to give me myself another sapphire like that which she gave me for de Wardes?"
D'Artagnan rapidly drew his seat nearer to Milady's.
"Well, now," she said, "let us see what you would do to prove this love of which you speak."
"All that could be required of me. Order; I am ready."
"For everything," cried d'Artagnan, who knew beforehand that he had not much to risk in engaging himself thus.
"Well, now let us talk a little seriously," said Milady, in her turn drawing her armchair nearer to d'Artagnan's chair.
"I am all attention, madame," said he.
Milady remained thoughtful and undecided for a moment; then, as if appearing to have formed a resolution, she said, "I have an enemy."
"You, madame!" said d'Artagnan, affecting surprise; "is that possible, my God? — good and beautiful as you are!"
"A mortal enemy."
"An enemy who has insulted me so cruelly that between him and me it is war to the death. May I reckon on you as an auxiliary?"
D'Artagnan at once perceived the ground which the vindictive creature wished to reach.