Raoul, indignant, turned round frowningly, flushed with anger and his lip curling with disdain. The Chevalier de Lorraine turned on his heel, but De Wardes remained and waited. "You will not break yourself of the habit," said Raoul to De Wardes, "of insulting the absent; yesterday it was M. d'Artagnan, to-day it is the Duke of Buckingham." "You know very well, monsieur," returned De Wardes, "that I sometimes insult those who are present." De Wardes was close to Raoul, their shoulders met, their faces approached, as if to mutually inflame each other by the fire of their looks and of their anger. It could be seen that the one was at the height of fury, the other at the end of his patience. Suddenly a voice was heard behind them full of grace and courtesy, saying, "I believe I heard my name pronounced." They turned round and saw D'Artagnan, who, with a smiling eye and a cheerful face, had just placed his hand on De Wardes's shoulder. Raoul stepped back to make room for the musketeer. De Wardes trembled from head to foot, turned pale, but did not move. D'Artagnan, still with the same smile, took the place which Raoul had abandoned to him. "Thank you, my dear Raoul," he said. "M. de Wardes, I wish to talk with you. Do not leave us, Raoul; every one can hear what I have to say to M. de Wardes." His smile immediately faded away, and his glace became cold and sharp as a sword. "I am at your orders, monsieur," said De Wardes. "For a very long time," resumed D'Artagnan, "I have sought an opportunity of conversing with you; to-day is the first time I have found it. The place is badly chosen, I admit, but you will perhaps have the goodness to accompany me to my apartments, which are on the staircase at the end of this gallery." "I follow you, monsieur," said De Wardes. "Are you alone here?" said D'Artagnan. "No; I have M. Manicamp and M. de Guiche, two of my friends." "That's well," said D'Artagnan; "but two persons are not sufficient; you will be able to find a few others, I trust." "Certainly," said the young man, who did not know what object D'Artagnan had in view. "As many as you please." "Are they friends?" "Yes, monsieur." "Real friends?" "No doubt of it." "Very well, get a good supply, then. Do you come, too, Raoul; bring M. de Guiche and the Duke of Buckingham." "What a disturbance," replied De Wardes, attempting to smile. The captain slightly signed to him with his hand, as though to recommend him to be patient, and then led the way to his apartments. (2) Chapter XX: Sword-Thrusts in the Water (concluded). D'Artagnan's apartment was not unoccupied; for the Comte de la Fere, seated in the recess of a window, awaited him. "Well," said he to D'Artagnan, as he saw him enter. "Well," said the latter, "M. de Wardes has done me the honor to pay me a visit, in company with some of his own friends, as well as of ours." In fact, behind the musketeer appeared De Wardes and Manicamp, followed by De Guiche and Buckingham, who looked surprised, not knowing what was expected of them. Raoul was accompanied by two or three gentlemen; and, as he entered, glanced round the room, and perceiving the count, he went and placed himself by his side. D'Artagnan received his visitors with all the courtesy he was capable of; he preserved his unmoved and unconcerned look. All the persons present were men of distinction, occupying posts of honor and credit at the court. After he had apologized to each of them for any inconvenience he might have put them to, he turned towards De Wardes, who, in spite of his customary self- command, could not prevent his face betraying some surprise mingled with not a little uneasiness. "Now, monsieur," said D'Artagnan, "since we are no longer within the precincts of the king's palace, and since we can speak out without failing in respect to propriety, I will inform you why I have taken the liberty to request you to visit me here, and why I have invited these gentlemen to be present at the same time. My friend, the Comte de la Fere, has acquainted me with the injurious reports you are spreading about myself. You have stated that you regard me as your mortal enemy, because I was, so you affirm, that of your father." "Perfectly true, monsieur, I have said so," replied De Wardes, whose pallid face became slightly tinged with color. "You accuse me, therefore, of a crime, or a fault, or of some mean and cowardly act. Have the goodness to state your charge against me in precise terms." "In the presence of witnesses?" "Most certainly in the presence of witnesses; and you see I have selected them as being experienced in affairs of honor." "You do not appreciate my delicacy, monsieur. I have accused you, it is true; but I have kept the nature of the accusation a perfect secret. I entered into no details; but have rested satisfied by expressing my hatred in the presence of those on whom a duty was almost imposed to acquaint you with it. You have not taken the discreetness I have shown into consideration, although you were interested in remaining silent. I can hardly recognize your habitual prudence in that, M. d'Artagnan." D'Artagnan, who was quietly biting the corner of his moustache, said, "I have already had the honor to beg you to state the particulars of the grievances you say you have against me." "Aloud?" "Certainly, aloud." "In that case, I will speak." "Speak, monsieur," said D'Artagnan, bowing; "we are all listening to you." "Well, monsieur, it is not a question of a personal injury towards myself, but one towards my father." "That you have already stated." "Yes; but there are certain subjects which are only approached with hesitation." "If that hesitation, in your case, really does exist, I entreat you to overcome it." "Even if it refer to a disgraceful action?" "Yes; in every and any case." Those who were present at this scene had, at first, looked at each other with a good deal of uneasiness. They were reassured, however, when they saw that D'Artagnan manifested no emotion whatever. De Wardes still maintained the same unbroken silence. "Speak, monsieur," said the musketeer; "you see you are keeping us waiting." "Listen, then: - My father loved a lady of noble birth, and this lady loved my father." D'Artagnan and Athos exchanged looks. De Wardes continued: "M. d'Artagnan found some letters which indicated a rendezvous, substituted himself, under disguise, for the person who was expected, and took advantage of the darkness." "That is perfectly true," said D'Artagnan. A slight murmur was heard from those present. "Yes, I was guilty of that dishonorable action. You should have added, monsieur, since you are so impartial, that, at the period when the circumstance which you have just related happened, I was not one-and-twenty years of age." A renewed murmur was heard, but this time of astonishment, and almost of doubt. "It was a most shameful deception, I admit," said D'Artagnan, "and I have not waited for M. de Wardes's reproaches to reproach myself for it, and very bitterly, too. Age has, however, made me more reasonable, and, above all, more upright; and this injury has been atoned for by a long and lasting regret. But I appeal to you, gentlemen; this affair took place in 1626, at a period, happily for yourselves, known to you by tradition only, at a period when love was not over-scrupulous, when consciences did not distill, as in the present day, poison and bitterness. We were young soldiers, always fighting, or being attacked, our swords always in our hands, or at least ready to be drawn from their sheaths. Death then always stared us in the face, war hardened us, and the cardinal pressed us sorely. I have repented of it, and more than that - I still repent it, M. de Wardes." "I can well understand that, monsieur, for the action itself needed repentance; but you were not the less the cause of that lady's disgrace. She, of whom you have been speaking, covered with shame, borne down by the affront you brought upon her, fled, quitted France, and no one ever knew what became of her." "Stay," said the Comte de la Fere, stretching his hand towards De Wardes, with a peculiar smile upon his face, "you are mistaken; she was seen; and there are persons even now present, who, having often heard her spoken of, will easily recognize her by the description I am about to give. She was about five-and-twenty years of age, slender in form, of a pale complexion, and fair-haired; she was married in England." "Married?" exclaimed De Wardes. "So, you were not aware she was married? You see we are far better informed than yourself. Do you happen to know she was usually styled 'My Lady,' without the addition of any name to that description?" "Yes, I know that." "Good Heavens!" murmured Buckingham. "Very well, monsieur. That woman, who came from England, returned to England after having thrice attempted M. d'Artagnan's life. That was but just, you will say, since M. d'Artagnan had insulted her. But that which was not just was, that, when in England, this woman, by her seductions, completely enslaved a young man in the service of Lord de Winter, by name Felton. You change color, my lord," said Athos, turning to the Duke of Buckingham, "and your eyes kindle with anger and sorrow. Let your Grace finish the recital, then, and tell M. de Wardes who this woman was who placed the knife in the hand of your father's murderer." A cry escaped from the lips of all present. The young duke passed his handkerchief across his forehead, which was covered with perspiration. A dead silence ensued among the spectators. "You see, M. de Wardes," said D'Artagnan, whom this recital had impressed more and more, as his own recollection revived as Athos spoke, "you see that my crime did not cause the destruction of any one's soul, and that the soul in question may fairly be considered to have been altogether lost before my regret. It is, however, an act of conscience on my part.
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