The captain was sitting buried in his leathern arm-chair, his spur fixed in the floor, his sword between his legs, and was occupied in reading a great number of letters, as he twisted his mustache. D’Artagnan uttered a welcome full of pleasure when he perceived his friend’s son. “Raoul, my boy,” he said, “by what lucky accident does it happen that the King has recalled you?”
These words did not sound over-agreeably in the young man’s ears, who as he seated himself replied, “Upon my word, I cannot tell you; all that I know is that I have come back.”
“Hum!” said d’Artagnan, folding up his letters and directing a look full of meaning at him. “What do you say, my boy?- that the King has not recalled you, and that you have returned? I do not at all understand that.”
Raoul was already pale enough, and he began to turn his hat round and round in his hand with an air of constraint.
“What the deuce is the matter, that you look as you do, and what makes you so dumb?” said the captain. “Do people catch that fashion in England? I have been in England, and came back again as lively as a chaffinch. Will you not say something?”
“I have too much to say.”
“Ah! ah! how is your father?”
“Forgive me, my dear friend; I was going to ask you that.”
D’Artagnan increased the sharpness of his penetrating gaze, which no secret was capable of resisting. “You are unhappy about something,” he said.
“I am, indeed; and you know very well what, M. d’Artagnan.”
“Of course. Nay, do not pretend to be astonished.”
“I am not pretending to be astonished, my friend.”
“Dear captain, I know very well that in all trials of finesse, as well as in all trials of strength, I shall be beaten by you. You can see that at the present moment I am an idiot, a fool. I have neither head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In a few words, I am the most wretched of living beings.”
“Oh! oh! why that?” inquired d’Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and softening the ruggedness of his smile.
“Because Mademoiselle de la Valliere is deceiving me.”
“She is deceiving you?” said d’Artagnan, not a muscle of whose face had moved. “Those are big words. Who makes use of them?”
“Ah! if every one says so, there must be some truth in it. I begin to believe there is fire when I see the smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps, but so it is.”
“Therefore you do believe?” exclaimed Bragelonne, quickly.
“I never mix myself up in affairs of that kind; you know that very well.”
“What! not for a friend, for a son?”
“Exactly. If you were a stranger, I should tell you- I should tell you nothing at all. How is Porthos, do you know?”
“Monsieur,” cried Raoul, pressing d’Artagnan’s hand, “I entreat you, in the name of the friendship you have vowed to my father!”
“The deuce take it, you are really ill- from curiosity.”
“No, it is not from curiosity; it is from love.”
“Good! Another grand word! If you were really in love, my dear Raoul, you would be very different.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that if you were so deeply in love that I could believe I was addressing myself to your heart- But it is impossible.”
“I tell you I love Louise to distraction.”
D’Artagnan could read to the very bottom of the young man’s heart.
“Impossible, I tell you,” he said. “You are like all young men,- you are not in love, you are out of your senses.”
“Well, suppose it were only that?”
“No sensible man ever succeeded in making much of a brain when the head was turned. I have lost my bearings in the same way a hundred times in my life. You would listen to me, but you would not hear me; you would hear, but you would not understand me; you would understand, but you would not obey me.”
“Oh, try, try!”
“I say more. Even if I were unfortunate enough to know something, and foolish enough to communicate it to you- You are my friend, you say?”
“Very good. I should quarrel with you. You would never forgive me for having destroyed your illusion, as people say of love-affairs.”
“M. d’Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity, in despair, in death.”
“I never complain, as you know; but as Heaven and my father would never forgive me for blowing out my brains, I will go and get the first person I meet to give me the information which you withhold; I will tell him he lies, and-”
“And you will kill him? A fine affair that would be! So much the better. What should I care for it? Kill my boy, kill, if it can give you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with the toothache, who keeps on saying, ‘Oh, what torture I am suffering! I could bite iron.’ My answer always is, ‘Bite, my friend, bite; the tooth will remain all the same.’”
“I shall not kill any one, Monsieur,” said Raoul, gloomily.
“Yes, yes; you fellows of to-day put on those airs. Instead of killing, you will get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine indeed! How much I should regret you! I should say all day long: ‘Ah! what a high-flown simpleton that Bragelonne was,- doubly an ingrate! I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to hold his sword properly, and the silly fellow has got himself spitted like a lark.’ Go, then, Raoul, go and get yourself disposed of, if you like. I don’t know who taught you logic; but, God damn me,- as the English say,- whoever it was, Monsieur, has stolen your father’s money.”
Raoul buried his face in his hands, murmuring, “No, no; I have not a single friend in the world!”
“Oh, bah!” said d’Artagnan.
“I meet with nothing but raillery or indifference.”
“Idle fancies, Monsieur! I do not laugh at you, although I am a Gascon. And as for being indifferent, if I were so I should have sent you to all the devils a quarter of an hour ago; for you would sadden a man who was wild with joy, and would kill one who was sad. How now, young man! Do you wish me to disgust you with the girl to whom you are attached, and to teach you to execrate women, who are the honor and happiness of human life?”
“Oh, tell me, Monsieur, and I will bless you!”
“Do you think, my dear fellow, that I can have crammed into my brain all that business about the carpenter and the painter and the staircase and the portrait, and a hundred other tales to sleep over?”
“A carpenter! what do you mean?”
“Upon my word, I don’t know. Some one told me there was a carpenter who made an opening through a floor.”
“In La Valliere’s room?”
“Oh, I don’t know where!”
“In the King’s apartment, perhaps?”
“Of course! If it were in the King’s apartment, I should tell you, I suppose.”
“In whose room, then?”
“I have told you for the last hour that I know nothing of the whole affair.”
“But the painter, then,- the portrait?”
“It seems that the King wished to have the portrait of one of the ladies belonging to the court.”
“Why, you seem to have only that name in your mouth! Who spoke to you of La Valliere?”
“If it be not her portrait, then, why do you suppose it would concern me?”
“I do not suppose it will concern you. But you ask me all sorts of questions, and I answer you; you wish to know the current scandal, and I tell you. Make the best you can of it!”
Raoul struck his forehead with his hand, in utter despair. “It will kill me! he said.
“So you have said already.”
“Yes, you’re right”; and he made a step or two as if he were going to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“To find some one who will tell me the truth.”
“Who is that?”
“Mademoiselle de la Valliere herself, I suppose you mean?” said d’Artagnan, with a smile. “Ah, a famous idea that! You wish to be consoled by some one, and you will be so at once. She will tell you nothing ill of herself, of course. So be off!”
“You are mistaken, Monsieur,” replied Raoul; “the woman I mean will tell me all the evil she possibly can.”
“Montalais, I’ll wager.”
“Ah! her friend, a woman who in that capacity will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter. Do not talk to Montalais, my good Raoul.”
“You have some reason for wishing me not to talk with Montalais?”
“Well, I admit it. And, in point of fact, why should I play with you as a cat does with a poor mouse? You distress me,- you do indeed. And if I wish you not to speak to Montalais just now, it is because you will be betraying your secret, and people will take advantage of it. Wait, if you can!”
“So much the worse. Why, you see, Raoul, if I had an idea- but I have not got one.”
“Promise that you will pity me, my friend,- that is all I need,- and leave me to get out of the affair by myself.”
“Oh, yes, indeed, in order that you may get deeper into the mire! A capital idea, truly! Go and sit down at that table and take a pen in your hand.”
“To write to ask Montalais to give you an interview.”
“Ah!” said Raoul, snatching eagerly at the pen which the captain held out to him.
Suddenly the door opened; and one of the musketeers, approaching d’Artagnan, said, “Captain, Mademoiselle de Montalais is here, and wishes to speak to you.”
“To me?” murmured d’Artagnan. “Ask her to come in. I shall soon see,” he said to himself, “whether she wishes to speak to me or not.”
The cunning captain was quite right in his suspicions; for as soon as Montalais entered, she saw Raoul and exclaimed, “Monsieur! Monsieur!- I beg your pardon, M. d’Artagnan.”
“Oh, I forgive you, Mademoiselle,” said d’Artagnan; “I know that at my age those who look for me have great need of me.”
“I was looking for M. de Bragelonne,” replied Montalais.
“How fortunate! and I was looking for you!”
“Raoul, won’t you accompany Mademoiselle Montalais?”
“Go along, then,” he said, as he gently pushed Raoul out of the cabinet; and then taking hold of Montalais’s hand, he said in a low voice, “Be kind towards him; spare him, and spare her too.”
“Ah!” she said in the same tone of voice, “it is not I who will speak to him.”
“It is Madame who has sent for him.”
“Very good,” cried d’Artagnan; “it is Madame, is it? In an hour’s time, then, the poor fellow will be cured.”
“Or else dead,” said Montalais, in a voice full of compassion. “Adieu, M. d’Artagnan!” she said; and she ran to join Raoul, who was waiting for her at a little distance from the door, very much puzzled and uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good to him.