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Chapter 51

Chapter LI:
Bragelonne Continues His Inquiries.

The captain, sitting buried in his leathern armchair, his spurs fixed in
the floor, his sword between his legs, was reading a 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 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 - 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 you have returned? I do not understand that at all."

Raoul was already pale enough; and he now began to turn his hat round and
round in his hand.

"What the deuce is the matter that you look as you do, and what makes you
so dumb?" said the captain. "Do people nowadays assume that sort of airs
in England? I have been in England, and came here again as lively as a
chaffinch. Will you not say something?"

"I have too much to say."

"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 the reason very well, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"I?"

"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, an absolute noodle. I have neither
head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In two words, I am the most
wretched of living beings."

"Oh, oh! why that?" inquired D'Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and thawing
the asperity 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?"

"Every one."

"Ah! if every one says so, there must be some truth in it. I begin to
believe there is fire when I see smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps, but
it is so."

"Therefore you _do_ believe me?" 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 will 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 vowed my father!"

"The deuce take it, you are really ill - from curiosity."

"No, it is not from curiosity, it is from love."

"Good. Another big 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 really 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 completely lost my senses 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 go far. Even if I were unfortunate enough to know something, and
foolish enough to communicate it to you - You are my friend, you say?"

"Indeed, yes."

"Very good. I should quarrel with you. You would never forgive me for
having destroyed your illusion, as people say in love affairs."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity
and despair, in death itself."

"There, there now."

"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 would kill him. And a fine affair that would be. So much the
better. What should I care? Kill any one you please, my boy, if it
gives you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with a toothache, who
keeps on saying, "Oh! what torture I am suffering. I could bite a piece
of iron in half.' 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 now assume a different tone: instead of killing, you will
get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine, indeed! How much I
should regret you! Of course I should go about all day, saying, 'Ah!
what a fine stupid fellow that Bragelonne was! as great a stupid as I
ever met with. I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to
hold and use 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 hardly know who can have taught you logic, but deuce take
me if your father has not been regularly robbed of his 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 about
your business a quarter of an hour ago, for you would make a man who was
out of his senses with delight as dull as possible, and would be the
death of one who was out of spirits. How now, young man! do you wish me
to disgust you with the girl you are attached to, and to teach you to
execrate the whole sex who constitute 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
about the carpenter, and the painter, and the staircase, and a hundred
other similar tales of the same kind?"

"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 certain flooring."

"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."

"La Valliere?"

"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 positively will learn all the scandal
of the affair, 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 are right," and he made a step or two, as if he were going to
leave.

"Where are you going?"

"To look for some one who will tell me the truth."

"Who is that?"

"A woman."

"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."

"You allude to Montalais, I suppose - her friend; a woman who, on that
account, will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter.
Do not talk to Montalais, my good fellow."

"You have some reasons 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."

"I cannot."

"So much the worse. Why, you see, Raoul, if I had an idea, - but I have
not got one."

"Promise me 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."

"What for?"

"To write and 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 exclaimed, "Oh, monsieur! monsieur! I beg your
pardon, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Oh! I forgive you, mademoiselle," said D'Artagnan; "I know that, at my
age, those who are looking for me generally need me for something or
another."

"I was looking for M. de Bragelonne," replied Montalais.

"How very fortunate that is; he was looking for you, too. Raoul, will
you accompany Mademoiselle de Montalais?"

"Oh! certainly."

"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, if you can."

"Ah!" she said, in the same tone of voice, "it is not I who am going to
speak to him."

"Who, then?"

"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,
Monsieur 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
thoroughly uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good augury for him.

Alexandre Dumas pere