"Yes, yes! Help, help!" murmured Mme. Bonacieux; "help!"
Then, collecting all her strength, she took the head of the young man between her hands, looked at him for an instant as if her whole soul passed into that look, and with a sobbing cry pressed her lips to his.
"Constance, Constance!" cried d'Artagnan.
A sigh escaped from the mouth of Mme. Bonacieux, and dwelt for an instant on the lips of d'Artagnan. That sigh was the soul, so chaste and so loving, which reascended to heaven.
D'Artagnan pressed nothing but a corpse in his arms. The young man uttered a cry, and fell by the side of his mistress as pale and as icy as herself.
Porthos wept; Aramis pointed toward heaven; Athos made the sign of the cross.
At that moment a man appeared in the doorway, almost as pale as those in the chamber. He looked around him and saw Mme. Bonacieux dead, and d'Artagnan in a swoon. He appeared just at that moment of stupor which follows great catastrophes.
"I was not deceived," said he; "here is Monsieur d'Artagnan; and you are his friends, Messieurs Athos, Porthos, and Aramis."
The persons whose names were thus pronounced looked at the stranger with astonishment. It seemed to all three that they knew him.
"Gentlemen," resumed the newcomer, "you are, as I am, in search of a woman who," added he, with a terrible smile, "must have passed this way, for I see a corpse."
The three friends remained mute — for although the voice as well as the countenance reminded them of someone they had seen, they could not remember under what circumstances.
"Gentlemen," continued the stranger, "since you do not recognize a man who probably owes his life to you twice, I must name myself. I am Lord de Winter, brother-in-law of THAT WOMAN."
The three friends uttered a cry of surprise.
Athos rose, and offering him his hand, "Be welcome, my Lord," said he, "you are one of us."
"I set out five hours after her from Portsmouth," said Lord de Winter. "I arrived three hours after her at Boulogne. I missed her by twenty minutes at St. Omer. Finally, at Lilliers I lost all trace of her. I was going about at random, inquiring of everybody, when I saw you gallop past. I recognized Monsieur d'Artagnan. I called to you, but you did not answer me; I wished to follow you, but my horse was too much fatigued to go at the same pace with yours. And yet it appears, in spite of all your diligence, you have arrived too late."
"You see!" said Athos, pointing to Mme. Bonacieux dead, and to d'Artagnan, whom Porthos and Aramis were trying to recall to life.
"Are they both dead?" asked Lord de Winter, sternly.
"No," replied Athos, "fortunately Monsieur d'Artagnan has only fainted."
"Ah, indeed, so much the better!" said Lord de Winter.
At that moment d'Artagnan opened his eyes. He tore himself from the arms of Porthos and Aramis, and threw himself like a madman on the corpse of his mistress.
Athos rose, walked toward his friend with a slow and solemn step, embraced him tenderly, and as he burst into violent sobs, he said to him with his noble and persuasive voice, "Friend, be a man! Women weep for the dead; men avenge them!"
"Oh, yes!" cried d'Artagnan, "yes! If it be to avenge her, I am ready to follow you."
Athos profited by this moment of strength which the hope of vengeance restored to his unfortunate friend to make a sign to Porthos and Aramis to go and fetch the superior.
The two friends met her in the corridor, greatly troubled and much upset by such strange events; she called some of the nuns, who against all monastic custom found themselves in the presence of five men.
"Madame," said Athos, passing his arm under that of d'Artagnan, "we abandon to your pious care the body of that unfortunate woman. She was an angel on earth before being an angel in heaven. Treat her as one of your sisters. We will return someday to pray over her grave."
D'Artagnan concealed his face in the bosom of Athos, and sobbed aloud.
"Weep," said Athos, "weep, heart full of love, youth, and life! Alas, would I could weep like you!"
And he drew away his friend, as affectionate as a father, as consoling as a priest, noble as a man who has suffered much.
All five, followed by their lackeys leading their horses, took their way to the town of Bethune, whose outskirts they perceived, and stopped before the first inn they came to.
"But," said d'Artagnan, "shall we not pursue that woman?"
"Later," said Athos. "I have measures to take."
"She will escape us," replied the young man; "she will escape us, and it will be your fault, Athos."
"I will be accountable for her," said Athos.
D'Artagnan had so much confidence in the word of his friend that he lowered his head, and entered the inn without reply.
Porthos and Aramis regarded each other, not understanding this assurance of Athos.
Lord de Winter believed he spoke in this manner to soothe the grief of d'Artagnan.
"Now, gentlemen," said Athos, when he had ascertained there were five chambers free in the hotel, "let everyone retire to his own apartment. d'Artagnan needs to be alone, to weep and to sleep. I take charge of everything; be easy."
"It appears, however," said Lord de Winter, "if there are any measures to take against the countess, it concerns me; she is my sister-in-law."
"And me," said Athos, " — she is my wife!"
D'Artagnan smiled — for he understood that Athos was sure of his vengeance when he revealed such a secret. Porthos and Aramis looked at each other, and grew pale. Lord de Winter thought Athos was mad.
"Now, retire to your chambers," said Athos, "and leave me to act. You must perceive that in my quality of a husband this concerns me. Only, d'Artagnan, if you have not lost it, give me the paper which fell from that man's hat, upon which is written the name of the village of — "
"Ah," said d'Artagnan, "I comprehend! that name written in her hand."
"You see, then," said Athos, "there is a god in heaven still!"