“No, I do not hesitate; but I really pity poor Comte de Wardes, since you have ceased to love him. And it seems to me that a man must be so severely punished merely by the loss of your love that he needs no other chastisement.”

“Indeed!” said milady, with a look of some anxiety. “Explain yourself, for I really cannot tell what you mean.”

And she looked at D’Artagnan, who held her in his arms, while his eyes seemed gradually to turn into flames.

“Yes, I am a man of honour,” said D’Artagnan, determined to end the matter. “and since your love is mine, and I am sure I possess it— for I do possess it, do I not?”

“Absolutely and entirely. Go on.”

“Well, I feel as if transformed—a confession weighs on my mind.”

“Your confession,” said she, growing paler—“what is this confession of yours?”

“You invited De Wardes on Thursday last to meet you here, in this very room, did you not?”

“I? No, certainly not!” said milady, in a tone so firm and with a face so unconcerned that if D’Artagnan had not been so absolutely certain he would have doubted.

“Do not tell a lie, my angel!” exclaimed D’Artagnan, smiling; “it would do no good.”

“What do you mean? Speak! You frighten me to death!”

“Oh, reassure yourself; you are not guilty toward me, and I have already pardoned you.”

“What more? what more?”

“De Wardes cannot boast of anything.”

“How so? You yourself told me that my ring—”

“My love, I have your ring. The Duc de Wardes of last Thursday and the D’Artagnan of to-night are one and the same person.”

The imprudent young man expected to see surprise mixed with shame—a slight storm resolving itself into tears. But he was strangely mistaken, and his error was of brief duration.

Pale and terrible, milady started up, repulsed D’Artagnan with a violent blow on the chest, and leaped from the bed. It was then almost broad daylight.

D’Artagnan held her back by her nightdress, of fine India muslin, in order to implore her pardon, but by a powerful and determined effort she struggled to escape. Then the cambric gave way, leaving her neck bare, and on one of her beautiful, white, round shoulders D’Artagnan, with an indescribable shock, recognized the fleur-de-lis, that indelible stamp imprinted by the executioner’s debasing hand.

“Great God!” cried D’Artagnan, loosing his hold of her nightrobe; and he remained on the bed, mute, motionless, and frozen.

But milady felt herself denounced by his very terror. Doubtless he had seen all. The young man now knew her secret, her terrible secret, of which every one, except him, was ignorant.

She turned on him, no longer a furious woman, but like a wounded panther.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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