The Comtesse de Winter

As they rode along the duke learned from D’Artagnan, not all that had passed, but all that D’Artagnan himself knew. By adding what he got from the young man to his own recollections, he was enabled to form a pretty exact idea of a condition of things the seriousness of which the queen’s letter, short and vague as it was, conveyed to him quite clearly.

The horses went like the wind, and they were soon at the gates of London.

On entering the court of his palace Buckingham sprang from his horse, and without caring what would become of him, threw the bridle on his neck and sprang toward the staircase.

The duke walked so fast that D’Artagnan had some trouble in keeping up with him. He passed through several apartments furnished with an elegance of which the greatest nobles of France had not even an idea, and arrived at length in a bedchamber which was at once a miracle of taste and of splendour. In the alcove of this chamber was a door, made in the tapestry, which the duke opened with a small gold key suspended from his neck by a chain of the same metal.

They then found themselves in a small chapel hung with a tapestry of Persian silk and embossed with gold, and brilliantly lit with a vast number of wax candles. Over a kind of altar, and beneath a canopy of blue velvet, surmounted by white and red plumes, was a life-size portrait of Anne of Austria, such a perfect likeness that D’Artagnan uttered a cry of surprise on beholding it. You might believe that the queen was about to speak.

On the altar, and beneath the portrait, was the casket containing the diamond studs.

The duke approached the altar, fell on his knees, as a priest might have done before a crucifix, then opened the casket.

“Here,” said he, drawing from the casket a large bow of blue ribbon all sparkling with diamonds—“here,” said he, “are the precious studs which I have taken an oath should be buried with me. The queen gave them to me; the queen takes them from me. Her will, like that of God, be done in all things.”

Then he began to kiss, one after the other, those studs with which he was about to part. All at once he uttered a terrible cry.

“What is the matter?” exclaimed D’Artagnan anxiously; “what has happened to you, milord?”

“All is lost! all is lost!” cried Buckingham, turning as pale as death; “two of the studs are missing—there are but ten of them left!”

“Can you have lost them, milord, or do you think they have been stolen?”

“They have been stolen,” replied the duke, “and it is the cardinal who has dealt me this blow. See! the ribbons which held them have been cut with scissors.”

“If milord suspects they have been stolen, perhaps the person who stole them still has them.”

“Let me reflect,” said the duke. “The only time I wore these studs was at a ball given by the king a week ago at Windsor. The Comtesse de Winter, with whom I had had a quarrel, became reconciled to me at that ball. That reconciliation was a jealous woman’s vengeance. I have never seen her since. The woman is an agent of the cardinal’s.”

“Why, then, he has agents throughout the whole world!” cried D’Artagnan.

“Yes, yes,” said Buckingham, gnashing his teeth with rage; “he is a terrible antagonist! But when is the ball to take place?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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