“Yes,” replied d’Artagnan; “yes, good Grimaud,- now with the son he loved so much!”
Grimaud left the chamber and led the way to the hall where, according to the custom of the province, the body was laid out previously to its being buried forever. D’Artagnan was struck at seeing two open coffins in the hall. In reply to the mute invitation of Grimaud, he approached and saw in one of them Athos, still handsome in death, and in the other Raoul, with his eyes closed, his cheeks pearly as those of the Pallas of Virgil, with a smile on his violet lips. He shuddered at seeing the father and son, those two departed souls, represented on earth by two silent, melancholy bodies, incapable of touching each other, however close they might be. “Raoul here?” murmured he; “oh, Grimaud, why did you not tell me this?”
Grimaud shook his head and made no reply; but taking d’Artagnan by the hand, he led him to the coffin and showed him under the thin winding-sheet the black wounds by which life had escaped. The captain turned away his eyes, and judging it useless to question Grimaud, who would not answer, he recollected that M. de Beaufort’s secretary had written more than he, d’Artagnan, had had the courage to read. Taking up the recital of the affair which had cost Raoul his life, he found these words, which terminated the last paragraph of the letter:-
“Monsieur the Duke has ordered that the body of Monsieur the Viscount should be embalmed, after the manner practised by the Arabs when they wish their bodies to be carried to their native land; and Monsieur the Duke has appointed relays, so that a confidential servant who had brought up the young man might take back his remains to M. le Comte de la Fere.”
“And so,” thought d’Artagnan, “I shall follow thy funeral, my dear boy,- already old; I, who am of no value on earth,- and I shall scatter the dust upon that brow which I kissed but two months since. God has willed it to be so,- thou hast willed it to be so thyself; I have no longer the right even to weep. Thou hast chosen death; it hath seemed to thee preferable to life.”
At length arrived the moment when the cold remains of these two gentlemen were to be returned to the earth. There was such an affluence of military and other people that up to the place of sepulcher, which was a chapel in the plain, the road from the city was filled with horsemen and pedestrians in mourning habits. Athos had chosen for his resting-place the little enclosure of a chapel erected by himself near the boundary of his estates. He had had the stones, cut in 1550, brought from an old Gothic manor-house in Berry, which had sheltered his early youth. The chapel, thus rebuilt, thus transported, was pleasantly placed under the foliage of poplars and sycamores. Services were held in it every Sunday by the curd of the neighboring village, to whom Athos paid an allowance of two hundred livres for this purpose; and all the vassals of his domain, to the number of about forty,- the laborers and the farmers, with their families,- came hither to hear Mass, without need of going to the city.
Behind the chapel extended, surrounded by two high hedges of nut-trees, elders, whitethorns, and a deep ditch, the little enclosure,- uncultivated, it is true, but gay in its wildness; because the mosses there were high; because the wild heliotropes and wall-flowers there mixed their perfumes; because beneath the tall chestnuts issued a large spring, a prisoner in a cistern of marble; and upon the thyme all around alighted thousands of bees from the neighboring plains, while chaffinches and redthroats sang cheerfully among the flowers of the hedge. It was to this place the two coffins were brought, attended by a silent and respectful crowd. The office of the dead being celebrated, the last adieux paid to the noble departed, the assembly dispersed, talking, along the roads, of the virtues and mild death of the father, of the hopes the son had given, and of his melancholy end upon the coast of Africa.
Gradually all noises were extinguished, as were the lamps illumining the humble nave. The minister bowed for a last time to the altar and the still fresh graves; then, followed by his assistant, who rang a hoarse bell, he slowly took the road back to the presbytery. D’Artagnan, left alone, perceived that night was coming on. He had forgotten the hour while thinking of the dead. He arose from the oaken bench on which he was seated in the chapel, and wished, as the priest had done, to go and bid a last adieu to the double grave which contained his two lost friends.
A woman was praying, kneeling on the moist earth. D’Artagnan stopped at the door of the chapel to avoid disturbing this woman, and also to endeavor to see who was the pious friend who performed this sacred duty with so much zeal and perseverance. The unknown concealed her face in her hands, which were white as alabaster. From the noble simplicity of her costume, she seemed to be a woman of distinction. Outside the enclosure were several horses mounted by servants, and a travelling-carriage waiting for this lady. D’Artagnan in vain sought to make out what caused her delay. She continued praying; she frequently passed her handkerchief over her face,- by which d’Artagnan perceived that she was weeping. He saw her strike her breast with the pitiless compunction of a Christian woman. He heard her several times cry, as if from a wounded heart, “Pardon! pardon!” and as she appeared to abandon herself entirely to her grief, as she threw herself down, almost fainting, amid complaints and prayers, d’Artagnan, touched by this love for his so much regretted friends, made a few steps towards the grave, in order to interrupt the melancholy colloquy of the penitent with the dead. But as soon as his step sounded on the gravel, the unknown raised her head, revealing to d’Artagnan a face bathed with tears, but a well-known face; it was Mademoiselle de la Valliere. “M. d’Artagnan!” murmured she.
“You!” replied the captain in a stern voice, “you here! Oh, Madame, I should better have liked to see you decked with flowers in the mansion of the Comte de la Fere. You would have wept less- they too- I too!”
“Monsieur!” she said, sobbing.
“For it is you,” added this pitiless friend of the dead,- “it is you who have laid these two men in the grave.”
“Oh, spare me!”
“God forbid, Madame, that I should offend a woman, or that I should make her weep in vain! but I must say that the place of the murderer is not upon the grave of her victims.” She wished to reply. “What I now tell you,” added he, coldly, “I told the King.”
She clasped her hands. “I know,” said she, “I have caused the death of the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”
“Ah! you know it?”
“The news arrived at court yesterday. I have travelled during the night forty leagues to come and ask pardon of the count, whom I supposed to be still living, and to supplicate God upon the tomb of Raoul that he would send me all the misfortunes I have merited, except a single one. Now, Monsieur, I know that the death of the son has killed the father. I have two crimes to reproach myself with; I have two punishments to look for from God.”
“I will repeat to you, Mademoiselle,” said d’Artagnan, “what M. de Bragelonne said of you at Antibes, when he already meditated death: ‘If pride and coquetry have misled her, I pardon her while despising her. If love has produced her error, I pardon her, swearing that no one could have loved her as I have done.’”
“You know,” interrupted Louise, “that for my love I was about to sacrifice myself; you know whether I suffered when you met me, lost, dying, abandoned. Well! never have I suffered so much as now; because then I hoped, I desired,- now I have nothing to wish for; because this death drags away all my joy into the tomb; because I can no longer dare to love without remorse, and I feel that he whom I love- oh! that is the law- will repay me with the tortures I have made others undergo.”
D’Artagnan made no reply; he was too well convinced that she was not mistaken.
“Well, then,” added she, “dear M. d’Artagnan, do not overwhelm me today, I again implore you. I am like the branch torn from the trunk, I no longer hold to anything in this world, and a current drags me on, I know not whither. I love madly, I love to the point of coming to tell it, impious as I am, over the ashes of the dead; and I do not blush for it,- I have no remorse on account of it. This love is a religion. Only, as hereafter you will see me, alone, forgotten, disdained; as you will see me punished with that with which I am destined to be punished, spare me in my ephemeral happiness, leave it to me for a few days, for a few minutes. Now, even at the moment I am speaking to you perhaps it no longer exists. My God! This double murder is perhaps already expiated!”
While she was speaking thus, the sound of voices and the tread of horses drew the attention of the captain. M. de Saint-Aignan came to seek La Valliere. The King, he said, was a prey to jealousy and uneasinesss. De Saint-Aignan did not see d’Artagnan, half-concealed by the trunk of a chestnut-tree which shaded the two graves. Louise thanked De Saint-Aignan, and dismissed him with a gesture. He rejoined the party outside the enclosure.
“You see, Madame,” said the captain, bitterly, to the young woman,- “You see that your happiness still lasts.”
The young woman raised her head with a solemn air. “A day will come,” said she, “when you will repent of having judged me so harshly. On that day, it will be I who will pray God to forgive you for having been unjust towards me. Besides, I shall suffer so much that you will be the first to pity my sufferings. Do not reproach me with that happiness, M. d’Artagnan; it costs me dear, and I have not paid all my debt.” Saying these words, she again knelt down, softly and affectionately. “Pardon me, the last time, my affianced Raoul!” said she. “I have broken our chain; we are both destined to die of grief. It is thou who departest the first; fear nothing, I shall follow thee. See, only, that I have not been base, and that I have come to bid thee this last adieu. The Lord is my witness, Raoul, that if with my life I could have redeemed thine, I would have given that life without hesitation: I could not give my love. Once more, pardon!”
She gathered a branch and stuck it into the ground; then, wiping the tears from her eyes, she bowed to d’Artagnan and disappeared.
The captain watched the departure of the horses, horsemen, and carriage; then crossing his arms upon his swelling chest, “When will it be my turn to depart?” said he, in an agitated voice. “What is there left for man after youth, after love, after glory, after friendship, after strength, after riches? That rock, under which sleeps Porthos, who possessed all I have named; this moss, under which repose Athos and Raoul, who possessed still much more!”
He hesitated a moment with a dull eye; then, drawing himself up, “Forward! still forward!” said he. “When it shall be time, God will tell me, as he has told others.”
He touched the earth, moistened with the evening dew, with the tips of his fingers, made a sign as if he had been at the benitier of a church, and retook alone- ever alone- the road to Paris.
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