“You are welcome, sir,” said milady, in a voice the singular sweetness of which contrasted with the symptoms of ill-humour which D’Artagnan had just remarked; “you have to-day acquired eternal rights to my gratitude.”

The pretty little maid whom D’Artagnan had already observed then came in. She spoke some words in English to Lord Winter, who immediately requested D’Artagnan’s permission to retire, excusing himself on account of the urgency of the business that called him away, and charging his sister to obtain his pardon.

D’Artagnan shook hands with Lord Winter, and then returned to milady. Her countenance, with surprising mobility, had recovered its gracious expression.

The conversation took a cheerful turn. She told D’Artagnan that Lord Winter was only her brother-in law, and not her brother. She had married a younger brother of the family, who had left her a widow with one child. This child was Lord Winter’s sole heir, if Lord Winter did not marry. All this showed D’Artagnan that there was a veil hiding something, but he could not yet see under this veil.

Moreover, after half an hour’s conversation D’Artagnan was convinced that milady was his compatriot. She spoke French with a purity and an elegance that left no doubt on that head.

He was profuse in gallant speeches and protestations of devotion. To all the nonsense which escaped our Gascon, milady replied with a smile of kindness. The hour for retiring arrived. D’Artagnan took leave of milady, and left the parlour the happiest of men.

On the stairs he met the pretty maid, who brushed gently against him as she passed, and then, blushing to the eyes, asked his pardon for having touched him in so sweet a voice that the pardon was granted instantly.

D’Artagnan came again on the morrow, and was even better received than on the day before. Lord Winter was not at home, and milady this time did all the honours of the evening. She appeared to take a great interest in him, and asked him where he was from, who were his friends, and whether he had not at some times thought of attaching himself to the cardinal.

D’Artagnan, who, as we have said, was exceedingly prudent for a young man of twenty, then remembered his suspicions regarding milady. He launched into a eulogy of his Eminence, and said that he should not have failed to enlist in the cardinal’s guards interest of the king’s if he had only known M. de Cavois instead of M. de Tréville.

Milady changed the conversation without any appearance of affecation, and asked D’Artagnan, in the most careless manner possible, if he had never been in England.

D’Artagnan replied that he had been sent there by M. de Tréville to bargain for some new horses.

At the same hour as on the preceding evening D’Artagnan retired. In the corridor he again met the pretty Kitty; that was the maid’s name. She looked at him with an expression of good-will which it was impossible to mistake. But D’Artagnan was so preoccupied by her mistress that he noticed absolutely nothing which did not come from her.

D’Artagnan came again on the morrow and the day after that, and each day milady gave him a more gracious welcome.

Every evening, either in the antechamber, the corridor, or on the stairs, he met the pretty maid. But, as we have said, D’Artagnan paid no attention to poor Kitty’s persistence.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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