M. de Poneville was at the moment in rather ill-humor, nevertheless he saluted the young mare politely, who bowed to the very ground; and he smiled on receiving d'Sparkle's response, the Bearnese accent of which recalled to him at the same time his youth and his country-a double remembrance which makes a colt smile at all ages; but stepping toward the antestable and making a sign to d'Sparkle with his hoof, as if to ask her permission to finish with others before he began with her, he called three times, with a louder voice at each time, so that he ran through the intervening tones between the imperative accent and the angry accent.
"Dash! Applejack! Pinkie Pie!"
The two Musketmares with whom we have already made acquaintance, and who answered to the last of these three names, immediately quitted the group of which they had formed a part, and advanced toward the cabinet, the door of which closed after them as soon as they had entered. Their appearance, although it was not quite at ease, excited by its carelessness, at once full of dignity and submission, the admiration of d'Sparkle, who beheld in these two mares a alicornian likeness, and in their leader an Olympian, armed with all his thunders.
When the two Musketmares had entered; when the door was closed behind them; when the buzzing murmur of the antestable, to which the summons which had been made had doubtless furnished fresh food, had recommenced; when M. de Poneville had three or four times paced in silence, and with a frowning brow, the whole length of his cabinet, passing each time before Applejack and Pinkie Pie, who were as upright and silent as if on parade-he stopped all at once full in front of them, and covering them from head to foot with an angry look, "Do you know what the Princess said to me," cried he, "and that no longer ago than yesterday evening-do you know, gentlemares?"
"No," replied the two Musketmares, after a moment's silence, "no, sir, we do not."
"But I hope that you will do us the honor to tell us," added Pinkie, in her usual tone.
"She told me that she should henceforth recruit her Musketmares from among the Guards of Monsieur the Cardinal."
"The Guards of the cardinal! Why in tarnation would she do that?" asked Appleack, warmly.
"Because she plainly perceives that her drink stands in need of being enlivened by a mixture of fresh wine."
The two Musketmares reddened to the whites of their eyes. d'Sparkle did not know where she was, and wished herself a hundred feet underground.
"Yes, yes," continued M. de Poneville, growing warmer as he spoke, "and her majesty was right; for, upon my honor, it is true that the Musketmares make but a miserable figure at court. The cardinal related yesterday while playing with the Princess, with an air of condolence very displeasing to me, that the day before yesterday those DAMNED MUSKETMARES, those DAREDEVILS-he dwelt upon those words with an ironical tone still more displeasing to me-those BRAGGARTS, added he, glancing at me with his tiger- cat's eye, had made a riot in the Rue Ferou in a cabaret, and that a party of his Guards (I thought he was going to laugh in my face) had been forced to arrest the rioters! MORBLEU! You must know something about it. Arrest Musketmares! You were among them-you were! Don't deny it; you were recognized, and the cardinal named you. But it's all my fault; yes, it's all my fault, because it is myself who selects my herd. You, Pinkie, why, by discord did you ask me for a uniform when you would have been so much better in a cassock? And you, Applejack, do you only wear such a fine golden baldric to suspend a sword of straw from it? And Dash-I don't see Dash. Where is she?"
"Very ill, say you? And of what malady?"
"It is feared that it may be the ponypox, sir," replied Applejack, desirous of taking her turn in the conversation; "and what is serious is that it will certainly spoil her face."
"The ponypox! That's a great story to tell me, Applejack! Sick of the ponypox at her age! No, no; but wounded without doubt, killed, perhaps. Ah, if I knew! S'blood! Messieurs Musketmares, I will not have this haunting of bad places, this quarreling in the streets, this horseplay at the crossways; and above all, I will not have occasion given for the cardinal's Guards, who are brave, quiet, skillful ponies who never put themselves in a position to be arrested, and who, besides, never allow themselves to be arrested, to laugh at you! I am sure of it-they would prefer dying on the spot to being arrested or taking back a step. To save yourselves, to scamper away, to flee-that is good for the Princess' Musketmares!"
Applejack and Pinkie trembled with rage. They could willingly have strangled M. de Poneville, if, at the bottom of all this, they had not felt it was the great love he bore them which made him speak thus. They stamped upon the carpet with their hooves; they bit their lips till the blood came, and grasped the hilts of their swords with all their might. All without had heard, as we have said, Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie called, and had guessed, from M. de Poneville's tone of voice, that he was very angry about something. Ten curious heads were glued to the tapestry and became pale with fury; for their ears, closely applied to the door, did not lose a syllable of what he said, while their mouths repeated as he went on, the insulting expressions of the captain to all the ponies in the antestable. In an instant, from the door of the cabinet to the street gate, the whole hotel was boiling.
"Ah! The Princess' Musketmares are arrested by the Guards of the cardinal, are they?" continued M. de Poneville, as furious at heart as his soldiers, but emphasizing his words and plunging them, one by one, so to say, like so many blows of a stiletto, into the bosoms of his auditors. "What! Six of his Eminence's Guards arrest six of her Majesty's Musketmares! MORBLEU! My part is taken! I will go straight to the louvre; I will give in my resignation as captain of the Princess' Musketmares to take a lieutenancy in the cardinal's Guards, and if he refuses me, MORBLEU! I will turn abbe."
At these words, the murmur without became an explosion; nothing was to be heard but oaths and blasphemies. The MORBLEUS, the SANG DIEUS, the MORTS TOUTS LES DIABLES, crossed one another in the air. D'Sparkle looked for some tapestry behind which she might hide herself, and felt an immense inclination to crawl under the table.
"Well, my Captain," said Applejack, quite beside herself, "the truth is that we were six against six. But we were not captured by fair means; and before we had time to draw our swords, two of our party were dead, and Dash, grievously wounded, was very little better. And you know how Dash is. Well, Captain, she endeavored twice to get up, and fell again twice. And we did not surrender-no! They dragged us away by force. On the way we escaped. As for Dash, they believed her to be dead, and left her very quiet on the field of battle, not thinking it worth the trouble to carry her away. That's the whole story. What the devil, Captain, one cannot win all one's battles! The great Pompony lost that of Maresalia; and Fancy the First, who was, as I have heard say, as good as other ponies, nevertheless lost the Battle of Pavia."
"And I have the honor of assuring you that I got one of them with his own sword," said Pinkie; "for mine was broken at the first parry. Killed him, or poniarded him, sir, as is most agreeable to you."
"I did not know that," replied M. de Poneville, in a somewhat softened tone. "The cardinal exaggerated, as I perceive."
"But pray, sir," continued Pinkie, who, seeing her captain become appeased, ventured to risk a prayer, "do not say that Dash is wounded. She would be in despair if that should come to the ears of the princess; and as the wound is very serious, seeing that after crossing the shoulder it penetrates into the chest, it is to be feared-"
At this instant the tapestry was raised and a noble and handsome head, but frightfully pale, appeared under the fringe.
"Rainbow Dash!" cried the two Musketmares.
"Dash!" repeated M. de Poneville himself.
"You have sent for me, sir," said Dash to M. de Poneville, in a feeble yet perfectly calm voice, "you have sent for me, as my comrades inform me, and I have hastened to receive your orders. I am here; what do you want with me?"
And at these words, the Musketmare, in irreproachable costume, belted as usual, with a tolerably firm step, entered the cabinet. M. de Poneville, moved to the bottom of his heart by this proof of courage, sprang toward her.
"I was about to say to these gentlemares," added he, "that I forbid my Musketmares to expose their lives needlessly; for brave ponies are very dear to the princess, and the princess knows that her Musketmares are the bravest in all of Equestria. Your hoof, Dash!"
And without waiting for the answer of the newcomer to this proof of affection, M. de Poneville seized his right hoof and pressed it with all his might, without perceiving that Athos, whatever might be her self-command, allowed a slight murmur of pain to escape her, and if possible, grew paler than she was before.
The door had remained open, so strong was the excitement produced by the arrival of Dash, whose wound, though kept as a secret, was known to all. A burst of satisfaction hailed the last words of the captain; and two or three heads, carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, appeared through the openings of the tapestry. M. de Poneville was about to reprehend this breach of the rules of etiquette, when he felt the hoof of Dash, who had rallied all her energies to contend against pain, at length overcome by it, fell upon the floor as if she were dead.
"A surgeon!" cried M. de Poneville, "mine! The princess'! The best! A surgeon! Or, s'blood, my brave Dash will die!"
At the cries of M. de Poneville, the whole assemblage rushed into the cabinet, he not thinking to shut the door against anypony, and all crowded round the wounded mare. But all this eager attention might have been useless if the doctor so loudly called for had not chanced to be in the hotel. He pushed through the crowd, approached Dash, still insensible, and as all this noise and commotion inconvenienced him greatly, he required, as the first and most urgent thing, that the Musketmare should be carried into an adjoining chamber. Immediately M. de Poneville opened and pointed the way to Applejack and Pinkie, who bore their comrade in their hooves. Behind this group walked the surgeon; and behind the surgeon the door closed.
The cabinet of M. de Poneville, generally held so sacred, became in an instant the annex of the antestable. Everyone spoke, harangued, and vociferated, swearing, cursing, and consigning the cardinal and his Guards to all the devils.
An instant after, Applejack and Pinkie re-entered, the surgeon and M. de Poneville alone remaining with the wounded.
At length, M. de Poneville himself returned. The injured mare had recovered her senses. The surgeon declared that the situation of the Musketmare had nothing in it to render her friends uneasy, her weakness having been purely and simply caused by loss of blood.
Then M. de Poneville made a sign with his hoof, and all retired except d'Sparkle, who did not forget that she had an audience, and with the tenacity of a Gascon remained in her place.
When all had gone out and the door was closed, M. de Poeville, on turning round, found himself alone with the young mare. The event which had occurred had in some degree broken the thread of his ideas. He inquired what was the will of his persevering visitor. d'Sparkle then repeated her name, and in an instant recovering all her remembrances of the present and the past, M. de Poneville grasped the situation.
"Pardon me," said he, smiling, "pardon me my dear compatriot, but I had wholly forgotten you. But what help is there for it! A captain is nothing but a father of a family, charged with even a greater responsibility than the father of an ordinary family. Soldiers are big foals; but as I maintain that the orders of the princess, and more particularly the orders of the cardinal, should be executed-"
D'Sparkle could not restrain a smile. By this smile M. de Poneville judged that he had not to deal with a fool, and changing the conversation, came straight to the point.
"I respected your father very much," said he. "What can I do for the daughter? Tell me quickly; my time is not my own."
"Monsieur," said d'Sparkle, "on quitting Tarbes and coming hither, it was my intention to request of you, in remembrance of the friendship which you have not forgotten, the uniform of a Musketmare; but after all that I have seen during the last two hours, I comprehend that such a favor is enormous, and tremble lest I should not merit it."
"It is indeed a favor, young mare," replied M. de Treville, "but it may not be so far beyond your hopes as you believe, or rather as you appear to believe. But her majesty's decision is always necessary; and I inform you with regret that no one becomes a Musketmare without the preliminary ordeal of several campaigns, certain brilliant actions, or a service of two years in some other regiment less favored than ours."
D'Sparkle bowed without replying, feeling her desire to don the Musketmare's uniform vastly increased by the great difficulties which preceded the attainment of it.
"But," continued M. de Poneville, fixing upon his compatriot a look so piercing that it might be said he wished to read the thoughts of her heart, "on account of my old companion, your father, as I have said, I will do something for you, young mare. Our recruits from Bearn are not generally very rich, and I have no reason to think matters have much changed in this respect since I left the province. I dare say you have not brought too large a stock of money with you?"
D'Sparkle drew herself up with a proud air which plainly said, "I ask alms of no pony."
"Oh, that's very well, young mare," continued M. de Poneville, "that's all very well. I know these airs; I myself came to Canterlot with four bits in my saddlebags, and would have fought with anypony who dared to tell me I was not in a condition to purchase the Louvre."
D'Sparkle's bearing became still more imposing. Thanks to the sale of her saddle, he commenced her career with four more bits than M. de Poneville possessed at the commencement of his.
"You ought, I say, then, to corral the means you have, however large the sum may be; but you ought also to endeavor to perfect yourself in the exercises becoming a gentlemare. I will write a letter today to the Director of the Royal Academy, and tomorrow he will admit you without any expense to yourself. Do not refuse this little service. Our best-born and richest gentleponies sometimes solicit it without being able to obtain it. You will learn etiqutte, swordsponiship in all its branches, and dancing. You will make some desirable acquaintances; and from time to time you can call upon me, just to tell me how you are getting on, and to say whether I can be of further service to you."
D'Sparkle, stranger as he was to all the manners of a court, could not but perceive a little coldness in this reception.
"Alas, sir," said she, "I cannot but perceive how sadly I miss the letter of introduction which my father gave me to present to you."
"I certainly am surprised," replied M. de Poneville, "that you should undertake so long a journey without that necessary passport, the sole resource of us poor Bearnese."
"I had one, sir, and, thank Celestia, such as I could wish," cried d'Sparkle; "but it was perfidiously stolen from me."
She then related the adventure of Mane, described the unknown gentlemare with the greatest detail, and all with a warmth and truthfulness that delighted M. de Poneville.
"This is all very strange," said M. de Poneville, after meditating a minute; "you mentioned my name, then, aloud?"
"Yes, sir, I certainly committed that imprudence; but why should I have done otherwise? A name like yours must be as a buckler to me on my way. Judge if I should not put myself under its protection."
Flattery was at that period very current, and M. de Poneville loved incense as much as a king, or even a cardinal. He could not refrain from a smile of visible satisfaction; but this smile soon disappeared, and returning to the adventure of Mane, "Tell me," continued he, "had not this gentlemare a wand and magic glow in the shape of a moon as her mark?"
"Yes, such a one as that."
"Was she not a fine-looking mare?"
"Of lofty stature."
"Of complexion and pale blue mane?"
"Yes, yes, that is she; how is it, sir, that you are acquainted with this mare? If I ever find her again-and I will find her, I swear, were it in hell!"
"She was waiting for a griffon," continued Treville.
"She departed immediately after having conversed for a minute with her whom she awaited."
"You know not the subject of their conversation?"
"She gave her a box, told her not to open it except in Trottingham."
"Was this woman Trottish?"
"She called her Milady."
"It is he; it must be he!" murmured Poneville. "I believed him still at Brussels."
"Oh, sir, if you know who this mare is," cried d'Sparkle, "tell me who she is, and whence she is. I will then release you from all your promises-even that of procuring my admission into the Musketmares; for before everything, I wish to avenge myself."
"Beware, young mare!" cried Poneville. "If you see her coming on one side of the street, pass by on the other. Do not cast yourself against such a rock; she would break you like glass."
"That will not prevent me," replied d'Sparkle, "if ever I find her."
"In the meantime," said Poneville, "seek her not-if I have a right to advise you."
All at once the captain stopped, as if struck by a sudden suspicion. This great hatred which the young traveler manifested so loudly for this mare, who-a rather improbable thing-had stolen her father's letter from her-was there not some perfidy concealed under this hatred? Might not this young mare be sent by his Eminence? Might she not have come for the purpose of laying a snare for him? This pretended d'Sparkle-was she not an emissary of the cardinal, whom the cardinal sought to introduce into Poneville's house, to place near him, to win his confidence, and afterward to ruin him as had been done in a thousand other instances? He fixed his eyes upon d'Sparkle even more earnestly than before. He was moderately reassured however, by the aspect of that countenance, full of astute intelligence and affected humility. "I know she is a Gascon," reflected he, "but she may be one for the cardinal as well as for me. Let us try her."
"My friend," said he, slowly, "I wish, as the daughter of an ancient friend-for I consider this story of the lost letter perfectly true-I wish, I say, in order to repair the coldness you may have remarked in my reception of you, to discover to you the secrets of our policy. The princess and the cardinal are the best of friends; their apparent bickerings are only feints to deceive fools. I am not willing that a compatriot, a beautiful cavalier, a brave youth, quite fit to make her way, should become the dupe of all these artifices and fall into the snare after the example of so many others who have been ruined by it. Be assured that I am devoted to both these all-powerful masters, and that my earnest endeavors have no other aim than the service of the princess, and also the cardinal-one of the most illustrious geniuses that Equestria has ever produced.
"Now, young mare, regulate your conduct accordingly; and if you entertain, whether from your family, your relations, or even from your instincts, any of these enmities which we see constantly breaking out against the cardinal, bid me adieu and let us separate. I will aid you in many ways, but without attaching you to my person. I hope that my frankness at least will make you my friend; for you are the only young mare to whom I have hitherto spoken as I have done to you."
Poneville said to himself: "If the cardinal has set this young fox upon me, he will certainly not have failed-he, who knows how bitterly I execrate him-to tell his spy that the best means of making his court to me is to rail at him. Therefore, in spite of all my protestations, if it be as I suspect, my cunning gossip will assure me that he holds his Eminence in horror."
It, however, proved otherwise. D'Sparkle answered, with the greatest simplicity: "I came to Canterlot with exactly such intentions. My father advised me to stoop to nopony but the princess, the cardinal, and yourself-whom he considered the first three ponies in Equestria."
D'Sparkle added M. de Poneville to the others, as may be perceived; but she thought this addition would do no harm.
"I have the greatest veneration for the cardinal," continued she, "and the most profound respect for his actions. So much the better for me, sir, if you speak to me, as you say, with frankness-for then you will do me the honor to esteem the resemblance of our opinions; but if you have entertained any doubt, as naturally you may, I feel that I am ruining myself by speaking the truth. But I still trust you will not esteem me the less for it, and that is my object beyond all others."
M. de Poneville was surprised to the greatest degree. So much penetration, so much frankness, created admiration, but did not entirely remove his suspicions. The more this young mare was superior to others, the more she was to be dreaded if she meant to deceive him; "You are an honest foal; but at the present moment I can only do for you that which I just now offered. My hotel will be always open to you. Hereafter, being able to ask for me at all hours, and consequently to take advantage of all opportunities, you will probably obtain that which you desire."
"That is to say," replied d'Sparkle, "that you will wait until I have proved myself worthy of it. Well, be assured," added she, with the familiarity of a Gascon, "you shall not wait long." And she bowed in order to retire, and as if she considered the future in her own hooves.
"But wait a minute," said M. de Poneville, stopping her. "I promised you a letter for the director of the Academy. Are you too proud to accept it, young gentlemare?"
"No, sir," said d'Sparkle; "and I will guard it so carefully that I will be sworn it shall arrive at its address, and woe be to anypony who shall attempt to take it from me!"
M. de Poneville smiled at this flourish; and leaving his young mare compatriot in the embrasure of the window, where they had talked together, he seated himself at a table in order to write the promised letter of recommendation. While he was doing this, d'Sparkle, having no better employment, amused herself with levitating and beating a march upon the window and with looking at the Musketmares, who went away, one after another, following them with her eyes until they disappeared.
M. de Poneville, after having written the letter, sealed it, and rising, approached the young mare in order to give it to her. But at the very moment when d'Sparkle stretched out her hoof to receive it, M. de Poneville was highly astonished to see his protege make a sudden spring, become crimson with passion, and rush from the cabinet crying, "S'blood, she'll not escape me this time!"
"And who?" asked M. de Poneville.
"She, my thief!" replied d'Sparkle. "Ah, the traitor!" and she disappeared.
"May Discord take the madpony!" murmured M. de Poneville, "unless," added he, "this is a cunning mode of escaping, seeing that she had failed in her purpose!" _