"You may, madame," said he, with emphasis. "My arm and my life belong to you, like my love."
"Then," said Milady, "since you are as generous as you are loving — "
"Well?" demanded d'Artagnan.
"Well," replied Milady, after a moment of silence, "from the present time, cease to talk of impossibilities."
"Do not overwhelm me with happiness," cried d'Artagnan, throwing himself on his knees, and covering with kisses the hands abandoned to him.
"Avenge me of that infamous de Wardes," said Milady, between her teeth, "and I shall soon know how to get rid of you — you double idiot, you animated sword blade!"
"Fall voluntarily into my arms, hypocritical and dangerous woman," said d'Artagnan, likewise to himself, "after having abused me with such effrontery, and afterward I will laugh at you with him whom you wish me to kill."
D'Artagnan lifted up his head.
"I am ready," said he.
"You have understood me, then, dear Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Milady.
"I could interpret one of your looks."
"Then you would employ for me your arm which has already acquired so much renown?"
"But on my part," said Milady, "how should I repay such a service? I know these lovers. They are men who do nothing for nothing."
"You know the only reply that I desire," said d'Artagnan, "the only one worthy of you and of me!"
And he drew nearer to her.
She scarcely resisted.
"Interested man!" cried she, smiling.
"Ah," cried d'Artagnan, really carried away by the passion this woman had the power to kindle in his heart, "ah, that is because my happiness appears so impossible to me; and I have such fear that it should fly away from me like a dream that I pant to make a reality of it."
"Well, merit this pretended happiness, then!"
"I am at your orders," said d'Artagnan.
"Quite certain?" said Milady, with a last doubt.
"Only name to me the base man that has brought tears into your beautiful eyes!"
"Who told you that I had been weeping?" said she.
"It appeared to me — "
"Such women as I never weep," said Milady.
"So much the better! Come, tell me his name!"
"Remember that his name is all my secret."
"Yet I must know his name."
"Yes, you must; see what confidence I have in you!"
"You overwhelm me with joy. What is his name?"
"You know him."
"It is surely not one of my friends?" replied d'Artagnan, affecting hesitation in order to make her believe him ignorant.
"If it were one of your friends you would hesitate, then?" cried Milady; and a threatening glance darted from her eyes.
"Not if it were my own brother!" cried d'Artagnan, as if carried away by his enthusiasm.
Our Gascon promised this without risk, for he knew all that was meant.
"I love your devotedness," said Milady.
"Alas, do you love nothing else in me?" asked d'Artagnan.
"I love you also, YOU!" said she, taking his hand.
The warm pressure made d'Artagnan tremble, as if by the touch that fever which consumed Milady attacked himself.
"You love me, you!" cried he. "Oh, if that were so, I should lose my reason!"
And he folded her in his arms. She made no effort to remove her lips from his kisses; only she did not respond to them. Her lips were cold; it appeared to d'Artagnan that he had embraced a statue.
He was not the less intoxicated with joy, electrified by love. He almost believed in the tenderness of Milady; he almost believed in the crime of de Wardes. If de Wardes had at that moment been under his hand, he would have killed him.
Milady seized the occasion.
"His name is — " said she, in her turn.
"De Wardes; I know it," cried d'Artagnan.
"And how do you know it?" asked Milady, seizing both his hands, and endeavoring to read with her eyes to the bottom of his heart.
D'Artagnan felt he had allowed himself to be carried away, and that he had committed an error.
"Tell me, tell me, tell me, I say," repeated Milady, "how do you know it?"
"How do I know it?" said d'Artagnan.
"I know it because yesterday Monsieur de Wardes, in a saloon where I was, showed a ring which he said he had received from you."
"Wretch!" cried Milady.
The epithet, as may be easily understood, resounded to the very bottom of d'Artagnan's heart.
"Well?" continued she.
"Well, I will avenge you of this wretch," replied d'Artagnan, giving himself the airs of Don Japhet of Armenia.
"Thanks, my brave friend!" cried Milady; "and when shall I be avenged?"
"Tomorrow — immediately — when you please!"