"No, that is true; but she — that is another thing; I believe she is detained in France by some love affair."
"Ah," said Milady, with a sigh, "if she loves she is not altogether wretched."
"Then," said the abbess, looking at Milady with increasing interest, "I behold another poor victim?"
"Alas, yes," said Milady.
The abbess looked at her for an instant with uneasiness, as if a fresh thought suggested itself to her mind.
"You are not an enemy of our holy faith?" said she, hesitatingly.
"Who — I?" cried Milady; "I a Protestant? Oh, no! I call to witness the God who hears us, that on the contrary I am a fervent Catholic!"
"Then, madame," said the abbess, smiling, "be reassured; the house in which you are shall not be a very hard prison, and we will do all in our power to make you cherish your captivity. You will find here, moreover, the young woman of whom I spoke, who is persecuted, no doubt, in consequence of some court intrigue. She is amiable and well-behaved."
"What is her name?"
"She was sent to me by someone of high rank, under the name of Kitty. I have not tried to discover her other name."
"Kitty!" cried Milady. "What? Are you sure?"
"That she is called so? Yes, madame. Do you know her?"
Milady smiled to herself at the idea which had occurred to her that this might be her old chambermaid. There was connected with the remembrance of this girl a remembrance of anger; and a desire of vengeance disordered the features of Milady, which, however, immediately recovered the calm and benevolent expression which this woman of a hundred faces had for a moment allowed them to lose.
"And when can I see this young lady, for whom I already feel so great a sympathy?" asked Milady.
"Why, this evening," said the abbess; "today even. But you have been traveling these four days, as you told me yourself. This morning you rose at five o'clock; you must stand in need of repose. Go to bed and sleep; at dinnertime we will rouse you."
Although Milady would very willingly have gone without sleep, sustained as she was by all the excitements which a new adventure awakened in her heart, ever thirsting for intrigues, she nevertheless accepted the offer of the superior. During the last fifteen days she had experienced so many and such various emotions that if her frame of iron was still capable of supporting fatigue, her mind required repose.
She therefore took leave of the abbess, and went to bed, softly rocked by the ideas of vengeance which the name of Kitty had naturally brought to her thoughts. She remembered that almost unlimited promise which the cardinal had given her if she succeeded in her enterprise. She had succeeded; d'Artagnan was then in her power!
One thing alone frightened her; that was the remembrance of her husband, the Comte de la Fere, whom she had believed dead, or at least expatriated, and whom she found again in Athos-the best friend of d'Artagnan.
But alas, if he was the friend of d'Artagnan, he must have lent him his assistance in all the proceedings by whose aid the queen had defeated the project of his Eminence; if he was the friend of d'Artagnan, he was the enemy of the cardinal; and she doubtless would succeed in involving him in the vengeance by which she hoped to destroy the young Musketeer.
All these hopes were so many sweet thoughts for Milady; so, rocked by them, she soon fell asleep.
She was awakened by a soft voice which sounded at the foot of her bed. She opened her eyes, and saw the abbess, accompanied by a young woman with light hair and delicate complexion, who fixed upon her a look full of benevolent curiosity.
The face of the young woman was entirely unknown to her. Each examined the other with great attention, while exchanging the customary compliments; both were very handsome, but of quite different styles of beauty. Milady, however, smiled in observing that she excelled the young woman by far in her high air and aristocratic bearing. It is true that the habit of a novice, which the young woman wore, was not very advantageous in a contest of this kind.
The abbess introduced them to each other. When this formality was ended, as her duties called her to chapel, she left the two young women alone.
The novice, seeing Milady in bed, was about to follow the example of the superior; but Milady stopped her.
"How, madame," said she, "I have scarcely seen you, and you already wish to deprive me of your company, upon which I had counted a little, I must confess, for the time I have to pass here?"
"No, madame," replied the novice, "only I thought I had chosen my time ill; you were asleep, you are fatigued."
"Well," said Milady, "what can those who sleep wish for — a happy awakening? This awakening you have given me; allow me, then, to enjoy it at my ease," and taking her hand, she drew her toward the armchair by the bedside.
The novice sat down.
"How unfortunate I am!" said she; "I have been here six months without the shadow of recreation. You arrive, and your presence was likely to afford me delightful company; yet I expect, in all probability, to quit the convent at any moment."
"How, you are going soon?" asked Milady.
"At least I hope so," said the novice, with an expression of joy which she made no effort to disguise.
"I think I learned you had suffered persecutions from the cardinal," continued Milady; "that would have been another motive for sympathy between us."
"What I have heard, then, from our good mother is true; you have likewise been a victim of that wicked priest."
"Hush!" said Milady; "let us not, even here, speak thus of him. All my misfortunes arise from my having said nearly what you have said before a woman whom I thought my friend, and who betrayed me. Are you also the victim of a treachery?"
"No," said the novice, "but of my devotion — of a devotion to a woman I loved, for whom I would have laid down my life, for whom I would give it still."
"And who has abandoned you — is that it?"
"I have been sufficiently unjust to believe so; but during the last two or three days I have obtained proof to the contrary, for which I thank God — for it would have cost me very dear to think she had forgotten me. But you, madame, you appear to be free," continued the novice; "and if you were inclined to fly it only rests with yourself to do so."
"Whither would you have me go, without friends, without money, in a part of France with which I am unacquainted, and where I have never been before?"
"Oh," cried the novice, "as to friends, you would have them wherever you want, you appear so good and are so beautiful!"
"That does not prevent," replied Milady, softening her smile so as to give it an angelic expression, "my being alone or being persecuted."
"Hear me," said the novice; "we must trust in heaven. There always comes a moment when the good you have done pleads your cause before God; and see, perhaps it is a happiness for you, humble and powerless as I am, that you have met with me, for if I leave this place, well-I have powerful friends, who, after having exerted themselves on my account, may also exert themselves for you."
"Oh, when I said I was alone," said Milady, hoping to make the novice talk by talking of herself, "it is not for want of friends in high places; but these friends themselves tremble before the cardinal. The queen herself does not dare to oppose the terrible minister. I have proof that her Majesty, notwithstanding her excellent heart, has more than once been obliged to abandon to the anger of his Eminence persons who had served her."
"Trust me, madame; the queen may appear to have abandoned those persons, but we must not put faith in appearances. The more they are persecuted, the more she thinks of them; and often, when they least expect it, they have proof of a kind remembrance."
"Alas!" said Milady, "I believe so; the queen is so good!"