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.
"And why YOU?"
"Because I alone know—"
"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."
"If I had the least doubt of your love I would not make it, but you love me, my beautiful mistress, do you not?"
"Then if through excess of love I have rendered myself culpable toward you, you will pardon me?"
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.