"If I should happen to be any distance from you when the carriage comes for you — at dinner or supper, for instance?"
"Do one thing."
"What is that?"
"Tell your good superior that in order that we may be as much together as possible, you ask her permission to share my repast."
"Will she permit it?"
"What inconvenience can it be?"
"Oh, delightful! In this way we shall not be separated for an instant."
"Well, go down to her, then, to make your request. I feel my head a little confused; I will take a turn in the garden."
"Go and where shall I find you?"
"Here, in an hour."
"Here, in an hour. Oh, you are so kind, and I am so grateful!"
"How can I avoid interesting myself for one who is so beautiful and so amiable? Are you not the beloved of one of my best friends?"
"Dear d'Artagnan! Oh, how he will thank you!"
"I hope so. Now, then, all is agreed; let us go down."
"You are going into the garden?"
"Go along this corridor, down a little staircase, and you are in it."
"Excellent; thank you!"
And the two women parted, exchanging charming smiles.
Milady had told the truth — her head was confused, for her ill-arranged plans clashed one another like chaos. She required to be alone that she might put her thoughts a little into order. She saw vaguely the future; but she stood in need of a little silence and quiet to give all her ideas, as yet confused, a distinct form and a regular plan.
What was most pressing was to get Mme. Bonacieux away, and convey her to a place of safety, and there, if matters required, make her a hostage. Milady began to have doubts of the issue of this terrible duel, in which her enemies showed as much perseverance as she did animosity.
Besides, she felt as we feel when a storm is coming on — that this issue was near, and could not fail to be terrible.
The principal thing for her, then, was, as we have said, to keep Mme. Bonacieux in her power. Mme. Bonacieux was the very life of d'Artagnan. This was more than his life, the life of the woman he loved; this was, in case of ill fortune, a means of temporizing and obtaining good conditions.
Now, this point was settled; Mme. Bonacieux, without any suspicion, accompanied her. Once concealed with her at Armentieres, it would be easy to make her believe that d'Artagnan had not come to Bethune. In fifteen days at most, Rochefort would be back; besides, during that fifteen days she would have time to think how she could best avenge herself on the four friends. She would not be weary, thank God! for she should enjoy the sweetest pastime such events could accord a woman of her character — perfecting a beautiful vengeance.
Revolving all this in her mind, she cast her eyes around her, and arranged the topography of the garden in her head. Milady was like a good general who contemplates at the same time victory and defeat, and who is quite prepared, according to the chances of the battle, to march forward or to beat a retreat.
At the end of an hour she heard a soft voice calling her; it was Mme. Bonacieux's. The good abbess had naturally consented to her request; and as a commencement, they were to sup together.
On reaching the courtyard, they heard the noise of a carriage which stopped at the gate.
"Do you hear anything?" said she.
"Yes, the rolling of a carriage."
"It is the one my brother sends for us."
"Oh, my God!"
"Come, come! courage!"
The bell of the convent gate was sounded; Milady was not mistaken.
"Go to your chamber," said she to Mme. Bonacieux; "you have perhaps some jewels you would like to take."
"I have his letters," said she.
"Well, go and fetch them, and come to my apartment. We will snatch some supper; we shall perhaps travel part of the night, and must keep our strength up."
"Great God!" said Mme. Bonacieux, placing her hand upon her bosom, "my heart beats so I cannot walk."
"Courage, courage! remember that in a quarter of an hour you will be safe; and think that what you are about to do is for HIS sake."
"Yes, yes, everything for him. You have restored my courage by a single word; go, I will rejoin you."
Milady ran up to her apartment quickly; she there found Rochefort's lackey, and gave him his instructions.
He was to wait at the gate; if by chance the Musketeers should appear, the carriage was to set off as fast as possible, pass around the convent, and go and wait for Milady at a little village which was situated at the other side of the wood. In this case Milady would cross the garden and gain the village on foot. As we have already said, Milady was admirably acquainted with this part of France.
If the Musketeers did not appear, things were to go on as had been agreed; Mme. Bonacieux was to get into the carriage as if to bid her adieu, and she was to take away Mme. Bonacieux.
Mme. Bonacieux came in; and to remove all suspicion, if she had any, Milady repeated to the lackey, before her, the latter part of her instructions.
Milady asked some questions about the carriage. It was a chaise drawn by three horses, driven by a postillion; Rochefort's lackey would precede it, as courier.
Milady was wrong in fearing that Mme. Bonacieux would have any suspicion. The poor young woman was too pure to suppose that any female could be guilty of such perfidy; besides, the name of the Comtesse de Winter, which she had heard the abbess pronounce, was wholly unknown to her, and she was even ignorant that a woman had had so great and so fatal a share in the misfortune of her life.
"You see," said she, when the lackey had gone out, "everything is ready. The abbess suspects nothing, and believes that I am taken by order of the cardinal. This man goes to give his last orders; take the least thing, drink a finger of wine, and let us be gone."
"Yes," said Mme. Bonacieux, mechanically, "yes, let us be gone."
Milady made her a sign to sit down opposite, poured her a small glass of Spanish wine, and helped her to the wing of a chicken.
"See," said she, "if everything does not second us! Here is night coming on; by daybreak we shall have reached our retreat, and nobody can guess where we are. Come, courage! take something."
Mme. Bonacieux ate a few mouthfuls mechanically, and just touched the glass with her lips.
"Come, come!" said Milady, lifting hers to her mouth, "do as I do."
But at the moment the glass touched her lips, her hand remained suspended; she heard something on the road which sounded like the rattling of a distant gallop. Then it grew nearer, and it seemed to her, almost at the same time, that she heard the neighing of horses.
This noise acted upon her joy like the storm which awakens the sleeper in the midst of a happy dream; she grew pale and ran to the window, while Mme. Bonacieux, rising all in a tremble, supported herself upon her chair to avoid falling. Nothing was yet to be seen, only they heard the galloping draw nearer.
"Oh, my God!" said Mme. Bonacieux, "what is that noise?"
"That of either our friends or our enemies," said Milady, with her terrible coolness. "Stay where you are, I will tell you."
Mme. Bonacieux remained standing, mute, motionless, and pale as a statue.