"Because I alone know — "
"That he is far from being, or rather having been, so guilty toward you as he appears."
"Indeed!" said Milady, in an anxious tone; "explain yourself, for I really cannot tell what you mean."
And she looked at d'Artagnan, who embraced her tenderly, with eyes which seemed 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 possess it, 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, but she 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 you not?"
"No, no! It is not true," said Milady, in a tone of voice so firm, and with a countenance so unchanged, that if d'Artagnan had not been in such perfect possession 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 today are the same person."
The imprudent young man expected a surprise, mixed with shame — a slight storm which would resolve itself into tears; but he was strangely deceived, and his error was not of long duration.
Pale and trembling, Milady repulsed d'Artagnan's attempted embrace by a violent 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 her pardon; but she, with a strong movement, tried to escape. Then the cambric was torn from her beautiful shoulders; and on one of those lovely shoulders, round and white, d'Artagnan recognized, with inexpressible astonishment, the FLEUR-DE-LIS — that indelible mark which the hand of the infamous executioner had imprinted.
"Great God!" cried d'Artagnan, loosing his hold of her dress, and remaining mute, motionless, and frozen.
But Milady felt herself denounced even by his terror. He had doubtless seen all. The young man now knew her secret, her terrible secret — the secret she concealed even from her maid with such care, the secret of which all the world was ignorant, except himself.
She turned upon him, no longer like a furious woman, but like a wounded panther.
"Ah, wretch!" cried she, "you have basely betrayed me, and still more, you have 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 bound upon d'Artagnan.
Although the young man was brave, as we know, he was terrified at that wild countenance, those terribly dilated pupils, those pale cheeks, and those bleeding lips. He recoiled to the other side of the room as he would have done from a serpent which was crawling toward him, and his sword coming in contact with his nervous hand, he drew it almost unconsciously from the scabbard. But without taking any heed of the sword, Milady endeavored to get near enough to him 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 free from her grasp, and presenting the point, sometimes at her eyes, sometimes at her breast, compelled her to glide behind the bedstead, while he aimed at making 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 to recover himself little by little.
"Well, beautiful lady, very well," said he; "but, PARDIEU, if you don't calm yourself, I will design a second FLEUR-DE-LIS upon one of those pretty cheeks!"
"Scoundrel, infamous scoundrel!" howled Milady.
But d'Artagnan, still keeping on the defensive, drew near to Kitty's door. At the noise they made, she in overturning the furniture in her efforts to get at him, 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 this point, was not at more than three paces from it. With one spring he flew from the chamber of Milady into that of the maid, and quick as lightning, he slammed to the door, and placed all his weight against it, while Kitty pushed the bolts.
Then Milady attempted to tear down the doorcase, with a strength apparently above that of a woman; but finding she could not accomplish this, she in her fury stabbed at the door with her poniard, the point of which repeatedly glittered through the wood. Every blow was accompanied with terrible imprecations.
"Quick, Kitty, quick!" said d'Artagnan, in a low voice, as soon as the bolts were fast, "let me get out of the hotel; for if we leave her time to turn round, 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 found himself in, "that's true. But dress me as well as you are able, only make haste; 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 up in a flowered robe, a large hood, and a cloak. She gave him some slippers, in which he placed his naked feet, and then conducted him down the stairs. It was time. Milady had already rung her bell, and roused the whole hotel. The porter was 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 impotent gesture. The moment she lost sight of him, Milady tumbled fainting into her chamber.