In fact, the king counted them, and the twelve studs were all on her Majesty’s shoulder.

The king called the cardinal to him.

“What does this mean, cardinal?” asked the king in a severe tone.

“This means, sire,” replied the cardinal, “that I was desirous of presenting her Majesty with these two studs, and that, not venturing to offer them myself, I adopted this means of inducing her to accept them.”

“And I am the more grateful to your Eminence,” replied Anne of Austria, with a smile that proved she was not the dupe of this ingenious piece of gallantry, “since I am certain these two studs have cost you as dearly as all the others cost his Majesty.”

Then, after bowing to the king and the cardinal, the queen took her way to the chamber where she had dressed, and where she was to take off her ball costume.

The attention which we were obliged to give, at the beginning of this chapter, to the illustrious personages we have introduced in it diverted us for an instant from him to whom Anne of Austria owed the extraordinary triumph she had just obtained over the cardinal, and who, obscure, unknown, lost in the crowd gathered at one of the doors, was a witness of this scene, comprehensible only to four persons —the king, the queen, his Eminence, and himself.

The queen had just regained her chamber, and D’Artagnan was about to retire, when he felt a light touch on his shoulder. He turned round, and saw a young woman, who made him a sign to follow her. This young woman’s face was covered with a black velvet mask, but notwithstanding this precaution, which was, in fact, taken rather against others than against him, he at once recognized his usual guide, the gay and witty Madame Bonacieux.

The haste which the young woman was in to convey to her mistress the fine news of her messenger’s happy return prevented the two lovers from exchanging more than a few words. D’Artagnan, therefore, followed Madame Bonacieux, moved by a double sentiment, love and curiosity. At length, after a minute or two of turns and counterturns, Madame Bonacieux opened the door of a closet, which was entirely dark, and led the young man into it. There she made a fresh sign of silence, and opening a second door, concealed by a tapestry which as it was drawn aside let in a sudden flood of brilliant light, she disappeared.

D’Artagnan remained for a moment motionless, asking himself where he could be; but soon a ray of light penetrating from the chamber, the warm and perfumed air reaching even to him, the conversation of two or three ladies in language at once respectful and elegant, and the word “Majesty” many times repeated, clearly indicated to him that he was in a closet adjoining the queen’s chamber.

The young man stood in the shadow and waited.

Although D’Artagnan did not know the queen, he soon distinguished her voice from the others, at first by a slightly foreign accent, and next by that tone of domination naturally impressed upon all royal words. He heard her approach and withdraw from the open door, and twice or three times he even saw the shadow of a body intercept the light.

At length a hand and an arm, surpassingly beautiful in form and whiteness, suddenly glided through the tapestry. D’Artagnan understood that this was his reward. He cast himself on his knees, seized the hand, and touched it respectfully with his lips; then the hand was withdrawn, leaving in his an object which he perceived to be a ring. The door immediately closed, and D’Artagnan found himself again in complete darkness.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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