D'Artagnan, who had his eyes fixed upon this man, became very pale, and let his glass fall.
"What is the matter, monsieur?" said Planchet. "Oh, come, gentlemen, my master is ill!"
The three friends hastened toward d'Artagnan, who, instead of being ill, ran toward his horse. They stopped him at the door.
"Well, where the devil are you going now?" cried Athos.
"It is he!" cried d'Artagnan, pale with anger, and with the sweat on his brow, "it is he! let me overtake him!"
"He? What he?" asked Athos.
"He, that man!"
"That cursed man, my evil genius, whom I have always met with when threatened by some misfortune, he who accompanied that horrible woman when I met her for the first time, he whom I was seeking when I offended our Athos, he whom I saw on the very morning Madame Bonacieux was abducted. I have seen him; that is he! I recognized him when the wind blew upon his cloak."
"The devil!" said Athos, musingly.
"To saddle, gentlemen! to saddle! Let us pursue him, and we shall overtake him!"
"My dear friend," said Aramis, "remember that he goes in an opposite direction from that in which we are going, that he has a fresh horse, and ours are fatigued, so that we shall disable our own horses without even a chance of overtaking him. Let the man go, d'Artagnan; let us save the woman."
"Monsieur, monsieur!" cried a hostler, running out and looking after the stranger, "monsieur, here is a paper which dropped out of your hat! Eh, monsieur, eh!"
"Friend," said d'Artagnan, "a half-pistole for that paper!"
"My faith, monsieur, with great pleasure! Here it is!"
The hostler, enchanted with the good day's work he had done, returned to the yard. D'Artagnan unfolded the paper.
"Well?" eagerly demanded all his three friends.
"Nothing but one word!" said d'Artagnan.
"Yes," said Aramis, "but that one word is the name of some town or village."
"Armentieres," read Porthos; "Armentieres? I don't know such a place."
"And that name of a town or village is written in her hand!" cried Athos.
"Come on, come on!" said d'Artagnan; "let us keep that paper carefully, perhaps I have not thrown away my half-pistole. To horse, my friends, to horse!"
And the four friends flew at a gallop along the road to Bethune.