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Chapter 37 MILADY'S SECRET

  • D'Artagnan left the hotel instead of going up at once to Kitty's chamber, a_he endeavored to persuade him to do—and that for two reasons: the first, because by this means he should escape reproaches, recriminations, an_rayers; the second, because he was not sorry to have an opportunity o_eading his own thoughts and endeavoring, if possible, to fathom those of thi_oman.
  • What was most clear in the matter was that d'Artagnan loved Milady like _adman, and that she did not love him at all. In an instant d'Artagna_erceived that the best way in which he could act would be to go home an_rite Milady a long letter, in which he would confess to her that he and d_ardes were, up to the present moment absolutely the same, and tha_onsequently he could not undertake, without committing suicide, to kill th_omte de Wardes. But he also was spurred on by a ferocious desire o_engeance. He wished to subdue this woman in his own name; and as thi_engeance appeared to him to have a certain sweetness in it, he could not mak_p his mind to renounce it.
  • He walked six or seven times round the Place Royale, turning at every te_teps to look at the light in Milady's apartment, which was to be seen throug_he blinds. It was evident that this time the young woman was not in suc_aste to retire to her apartment as she had been the first.
  • At length the light disappeared. With this light was extinguished the las_rresolution in the heart of d'Artagnan. He recalled to his mind the detail_f the first night, and with a beating heart and a brain on fire he re-entere_he hotel and flew toward Kitty's chamber.
  • The poor girl, pale as death and trembling in all her limbs, wished to dela_er lover; but Milady, with her ear on the watch, had heard the nois_'Artagnan had made, and opening the door, said, "Come in."
  • All this was of such incredible immodesty, of such monstrous effrontery, tha_'Artagnan could scarcely believe what he saw or what he heard. He imagine_imself to be drawn into one of those fantastic intrigues one meets in dreams.
  • He, however, darted not the less quickly toward Milady, yielding to tha_agnetic attraction which the loadstone exercises over iron.
  • As the door closed after them Kitty rushed toward it. Jealousy, fury, offende_ride, all the passions in short that dispute the heart of an outraged woma_n love, urged her to make a revelation; but she reflected that she would b_otally lost if she confessed having assisted in such a machination, and abov_ll, that d'Artagnan would also be lost to her forever. This last thought o_ove counseled her to make this last sacrifice.
  • D'Artagnan, on his part, had gained the summit of all his wishes. It was n_onger a rival who was beloved; it was himself who was apparently beloved. _ecret voice whispered to him, at the bottom of his heart, that he was but a_nstrument of vengeance, that he was only caressed till he had given death; but pride, but self-love, but madness silenced this voice and stifled it_urmurs. And then our Gascon, with that large quantity of conceit which w_now he possessed, compared himself with de Wardes, and asked himself why, after all, he should not be beloved for himself?
  • He was absorbed entirely by the sensations of the moment. Milady was no longe_or him that woman of fatal intentions who had for a moment terrified him; sh_as an ardent, passionate mistress, abandoning herself to love which she als_eemed to feel. Two hours thus glided away. When the transports of the tw_overs were calmer, Milady, who had not the same motives for forgetfulnes_hat d'Artagnan had, was the first to return to reality, and asked the youn_an if the means which were on the morrow to bring on the encounter betwee_im and de Wardes were already arranged in his mind.
  • But d'Artagnan, whose ideas had taken quite another course, forgot himsel_ike a fool, and answered gallantly that it was too late to think about duel_nd sword thrusts.
  • This coldness toward the only interests that occupied her mind terrifie_ilady, whose questions became more pressing.
  • Then d'Artagnan, who had never seriously thought of this impossible duel, endeavored to turn the conversation; but he could not succeed. Milady kept hi_ithin the limits she had traced beforehand with her irresistible spirit an_er iron will.
  • D'Artagnan fancied himself very cunning when advising Milady to renounce, b_ardoning de Wardes, the furious projects she had formed.
  • But at the first word the young woman started, and exclaimed in a sharp, bantering tone, which sounded strangely in the darkness, "Are you afraid, dea_onsieur d'Artagnan?"
  • "You cannot think so, dear love!" replied d'Artagnan; "but now, suppose thi_oor Comte de Wardes were less guilty than you think him?"
  • "At all events," said Milady, seriously, "he has deceived me, and from th_oment he deceived me, he merited death."
  • "He shall die, then, since you condemn him!" said d'Artagnan, in so firm _one that it appeared to Milady an undoubted proof of devotion. This reassure_er.
  • We cannot say how long the night seemed to Milady, but d'Artagnan believed i_o be hardly two hours before the daylight peeped through the window blinds, and invaded the chamber with its paleness. Seeing d'Artagnan about to leav_er, Milady recalled his promise to avenge her on the Comte de Wardes.
  • "I am quite ready," said d'Artagnan; "but in the first place I should like t_e certain of one thing."
  • "And what is that?" asked Milady.
  • "That is, whether you really love me?"
  • "I have given you proof of that, it seems to me."
  • "And I am yours, body and soul!"
  • "Thanks, my brave lover; but as you are satisfied of my love, you must, i_our turn, satisfy me of yours. Is it not so?"
  • "Certainly; but if you love me as much as you say," replied d'Artagnan, "d_ou not entertain a little fear on my account?"
  • "What have I to fear?"
  • "Why, that I may be dangerously wounded—killed even."
  • "Impossible!" cried Milady, "you are such a valiant man, and such an exper_wordsman."
  • "You would not, then, prefer a method," resumed d'Artagnan, "which woul_qually avenge you while rendering the combat useless?"
  • Milady looked at her lover in silence. The pale light of the first rays of da_ave to her clear eyes a strangely frightful expression.
  • "Really," said she, "I believe you now begin to hesitate."
  • "No, I do not hesitate; but I really pity this poor Comte de Wardes, since yo_ave ceased to love him. I think that a man must be so severely punished b_he loss of your love that he stands in need of no other chastisement."
  • "Who told you that I loved him?" asked Milady, sharply.
  • "At least, I am now at liberty to believe, without too much fatuity, that yo_ove another," said the young man, in a caressing tone, "and I repeat that _m really interested for the count."
  • "You?" asked Milady.
  • "Yes, I."
  • "And why YOU?"
  • "Because I alone know—"
  • "What?"
  • "That he is far from being, or rather having been, so guilty toward you as h_ppears."
  • "Indeed!" said Milady, in an anxious tone; "explain yourself, for I reall_annot tell what you mean."
  • And she looked at d'Artagnan, who embraced her tenderly, with eyes whic_eemed to burn themselves away.
  • "Yes; I am a man of honor," said d'Artagnan, determined to come to an end,
  • "and since your love is mine, and I am satisfied I possess it—for I do posses_t, do I not?"
  • "Entirely; go on."
  • "Well, I feel as if transformed—a confession weighs on my mind."
  • "A confession!"
  • "If I had the least doubt of your love I would not make it, but you love me, my beautiful mistress, do you not?"
  • "Without doubt."
  • "Then if through excess of love I have rendered myself culpable toward you, you will pardon me?"
  • "Perhaps."
  • D'Artagnan tried with his sweetest smile to touch his lips to Milady's, bu_he evaded him.
  • "This confession," said she, growing paler, "what is this confession?"
  • "You gave de Wardes a meeting on Thursday last in this very room, did yo_ot?"
  • "No, no! It is not true," said Milady, in a tone of voice so firm, and with _ountenance so unchanged, that if d'Artagnan had not been in such perfec_ossession of the fact, he would have doubted.
  • "Do not lie, my angel," said d'Artagnan, smiling; "that would be useless."
  • "What do you mean? Speak! you kill me."
  • "Be satisfied; you are not guilty toward me, and I have already pardoned you."
  • "What next? what next?"
  • "De Wardes cannot boast of anything."
  • "How is that? You told me yourself that that ring—"
  • "That ring I have! The Comte de Wardes of Thursday and the d'Artagnan of toda_re the same person."
  • The imprudent young man expected a surprise, mixed with shame—a slight stor_hich would resolve itself into tears; but he was strangely deceived, and hi_rror was not of long duration.
  • Pale and trembling, Milady repulsed d'Artagnan's attempted embrace by _iolent blow on the chest, as she sprang out of bed.
  • It was almost broad daylight.
  • D'Artagnan detained her by her night dress of fine India linen, to implore he_ardon; but she, with a strong movement, tried to escape. Then the cambric wa_orn from her beautiful shoulders; and on one of those lovely shoulders, roun_nd white, d'Artagnan recognized, with inexpressible astonishment, the FLEUR- DE-LIS—that indelible mark which the hand of the infamous executioner ha_mprinted.
  • "Great God!" cried d'Artagnan, loosing his hold of her dress, and remainin_ute, motionless, and frozen.
  • But Milady felt herself denounced even by his terror. He had doubtless see_ll. The young man now knew her secret, her terrible secret—the secret sh_oncealed even from her maid with such care, the secret of which all the worl_as ignorant, except himself.
  • She turned upon him, no longer like a furious woman, but like a wounde_anther.
  • "Ah, wretch!" cried she, "you have basely betrayed me, and still more, yo_ave my secret! You shall die."
  • And she flew to a little inlaid casket which stood upon the dressing table, opened it with a feverish and trembling band, drew from it a small poniard, with a golden haft and a sharp thin blade, and then threw herself with a boun_pon d'Artagnan.
  • Although the young man was brave, as we know, he was terrified at that wil_ountenance, those terribly dilated pupils, those pale cheeks, and thos_leeding lips. He recoiled to the other side of the room as he would have don_rom a serpent which was crawling toward him, and his sword coming in contac_ith his nervous hand, he drew it almost unconsciously from the scabbard. Bu_ithout taking any heed of the sword, Milady endeavored to get near enough t_im to stab him, and did not stop till she felt the sharp point at her throat.
  • She then tried to seize the sword with her hands; but d'Artagnan kept it fre_rom her grasp, and presenting the point, sometimes at her eyes, sometimes a_er breast, compelled her to glide behind the bedstead, while he aimed a_aking his retreat by the door which led to Kitty's apartment.
  • Milady during this time continued to strike at him with horrible fury, screaming in a formidable way.
  • As all this, however, bore some resemblance to a duel, d'Artagnan began t_ecover himself little by little.
  • "Well, beautiful lady, very well," said he; "but, PARDIEU, if you don't cal_ourself, I will design a second FLEUR-DE-LIS upon one of those prett_heeks!"
  • "Scoundrel, infamous scoundrel!" howled Milady.
  • But d'Artagnan, still keeping on the defensive, drew near to Kitty's door. A_he noise they made, she in overturning the furniture in her efforts to get a_im, he in screening himself behind the furniture to keep out of her reach, Kitty opened the door. D'Artagnan, who had unceasingly maneuvered to gain thi_oint, was not at more than three paces from it. With one spring he flew fro_he chamber of Milady into that of the maid, and quick as lightning, h_lammed to the door, and placed all his weight against it, while Kitty pushe_he bolts.
  • Then Milady attempted to tear down the doorcase, with a strength apparentl_bove that of a woman; but finding she could not accomplish this, she in he_ury stabbed at the door with her poniard, the point of which repeatedl_littered through the wood. Every blow was accompanied with terribl_mprecations.
  • "Quick, Kitty, quick!" said d'Artagnan, in a low voice, as soon as the bolt_ere fast, "let me get out of the hotel; for if we leave her time to tur_ound, she will have me killed by the servants."
  • "But you can't go out so," said Kitty; "you are naked."
  • "That's true," said d'Artagnan, then first thinking of the costume he foun_imself in, "that's true. But dress me as well as you are able, only mak_aste; think, my dear girl, it's life and death!"
  • Kitty was but too well aware of that. In a turn of the hand she muffled him u_n a flowered robe, a large hood, and a cloak. She gave him some slippers, i_hich he placed his naked feet, and then conducted him down the stairs. It wa_ime. Milady had already rung her bell, and roused the whole hotel. The porte_as drawing the cord at the moment Milady cried from her window, "Don't open!"
  • The young man fled while she was still threatening him with an impoten_esture. The moment she lost sight of him, Milady tumbled fainting into he_hamber.