eBooks Cube
 
37. MILADY'S SECRET

D'Artagnan left the hotel instead of going up at once to
Kitty's chamber, as she endeavored to persuade him to do--and
that for two reasons: the first, because by this means he
should escape reproaches, recriminations, and prayers; the
second, because be was not sorry to have an opportunity of
reading his own thoughts and endeavoring, if possible, to
fathom those of this woman.

What was most clear in the matter was that d'Artagnan loved
Milady like a madman, and that she did not love him at all.
In an instant d'Artagnan perceived that the best way in
which he could act would be to go home and write Milady a
long letter, in which he would confess to her that he and de
Wardes were, up to the present moment absolutely the same,
and that consequently he could not undertake, without
committing suicide, to kill the Comte de Wardes. But he
also was spurred on by a ferocious desire of vengeance. He
wished to subdue this woman in his own name; and as this
vengeance appeared to him to have a certain sweetness in it,
he could not make up his mind to renounce it.

He walked six or seven times round the Place Royale, turning
at every ten steps to look at the light in Milady's
apartment, which was to be seen through the blinds. It was
evident that this time the young woman was not in such haste
to retire to her apartment as she had been the first.

At length the light disappeared. With this light was
extinguished the last irresolution in the heart of
d'Artagnan. He recalled to his mind the details of the
first night, and with a beating heart and a brain on fire he
re-entered the hotel and flew toward Kitty's chamber.

The poor girl, pale as death and trembling in all her limbs,
wished to delay her lover; but Milady, with her ear on the
watch, had heard the noise d'Artagnan had made, and opening
the door, said, "Come in."

All this was of such incredible immodesty, of such monstrous
effrontery, that d'Artagnan could scarcely believe what he
saw or what he heard. He imagined himself to be drawn into
one of those fantastic intrigues one meets in dreams. He,
however, darted not the less quickly toward Milady, yielding
to that magnetic attraction which the loadstone exercises
over iron.

As the door closed after them Kitty rushed toward it.
Jealousy, fury, offended pride, all the passions in short
that dispute the heart of an outraged woman in love, urged
her to make a revelation; but she reflected that she would
be totally lost if she confessed having assisted in such a
machination, and above all, that d'Artagnan would also be
lost to her forever. This last thought of love counseled
her to make this last sacrifice.

D'Artagnan, on his part, had gained the summit of all his
wishes. It was no longer a rival who was beloved; it was
himself who was apparently beloved. A secret voice
whispered to him, at the bottom of his heart, that he was
but an instrument of vengeance, that he was only caressed
till he had given death; but pride, but self-love, but
madness silenced this voice and stifled its murmurs. And
then our Gascon, with that large quantity of conceit which
we know 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 longer for him that woman of fatal intentions
who had for a moment terrified him; she was an ardent,
passionate mistress, abandoning herself to love which she
also seemed to feel. Two hours thus glided away. When the
transports of the two lovers were calmer, Milady, who had
not the same motives for forgetfulness that d'Artagnan had,
was the first to return to reality, and asked the young man
if the means which were on the morrow to bring on the
encounter between him and de Wardes were already arranged in
his mind.

But d'Artagnan, whose ideas had taken quite another course,
forgot himself like a fool, and answered gallantly that it
was too late to think about duels and sword thrusts.

This coldness toward the only interests that occupied her
mind terrified Milady, 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 him within the limits she
had traced beforehand with her irresistible spirit and her
iron will.

D'Artagnan fancied himself very cunning when advising Milady
to renounce, by pardoning 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, dear Monsieur d'Artagnan?"

"You cannot think so, dear love!" replied d'Artagnan; "but
now, suppose this poor Comte de Wardes were less guilty than
you think him?"

"At all events," said Milady, seriously, "he has deceived
me, and from the moment he deceived me, he merited death."

"He shall die, then, since you condemn him!" said
d'Artagnan, in so firm a tone that it appeared to Milady an
undoubted proof of devotion. This reassured her.

We cannot say how long the night seemed to Milady, but
d'Artagnan believed it to be hardly two hours before the
daylight peeped through the window blinds, and invaded the
chamber with its paleness. Seeing d'Artagnan about to leave
her, 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 to be 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, in your turn, satisfy me of yours. Is it
not so?"

"Certainly; but if you love me as much as you say," replied
d'Artagnan, "do you 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 expert swordsman."

"You would not, then, prefer a method," resumed d'Artagnan,
"which would equally avenge you while rendering the combat
useless?"

Milady looked at her lover in silence. The pale light of
the first rays of day gave 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 you have ceased to love him. I think that a
man must be so severely punished by the 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 you love another," said the young man, in a
caressing tone, "and I repeat that I am 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 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."

"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, 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 be; "but, PARDIEU,
if you don't calm yourself, I will design a second
FLEUR-DE-LIS upon one of those pretty checks!"

"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.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
Nabou.com: the big site