And dropping his cloak and raising his hat, he advanced toward milady.

“Do you know me, madame?” said he.

Milady took one step forward, and then grew pale, as though she saw a serpent.

“Come,” said Athos. “Good! I see you know me.”

“The Comte de la Fère!” murmured milady, drawing back till the wall prevented her going any farther.

“You believed me to be dead, did you not, as I believed you to be? And the name of Athos as well concealed the Comte de la Fère as the name of Lady Clarick concealed Anne de Beuil! Were you not so called when your honoured brother married us? Our position is truly strange,” pursued Athos, laughing. “We have lived up to the present time only because we believed each other to be dead, and because a remembrance is less oppressive than a living creature, though sometimes a remembrance is a devouring thing!”

“But,” said milady, in a hollow, faint voice, “what brings you back to me? and what do you want with me?”

“I wish to tell you that, though I have remained invisible to your eyes, I have not lost sight of you. I can tell you of your actions day by day from the time you entered the cardinal’s service until this evening.”

A smile of incredulity passed over milady’s pale lips.

“You must be Satan!” cried she.

“Perhaps,” said Athos. “But, at least, listen to what I say. Assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, or have him assassinated; it makes no difference to me. I don’t know him; besides, he is an Englishman. But do not touch with the tip of your finger a single hair of D’Artagnan, who is a faithful friend, whom I love and defend, or I swear to you by my father’s life the crime which you shall have committed shall be your last.”

Athos was seized with a kind of vertigo. The sight of this creature, who had nothing womanly about her, recalled devouring remembrances. His desire for her death returned, burning, and pervaded him like a raging fever. He put his hand to his belt, drew out a pistol, and cocked it.

Milady, pale as a corpse, struggled to cry out; but her frozen tongue could utter only a hoarse sound, which had nothing human in it, and seemed a wild beast’s rattle. Clinging to the dark tapestry, she appeared, with her hair in disorder, like the frightful image of terror.

Athos slowly raised his pistol, stretched out his arm, so that the weapon almost touched milady’s forehead; and then, in a voice the more terrible from having the supreme calmness of an inflexible resolution,

“Madame,” said he, “you will this instant deliver to me the paper the cardinal signed; or, on my soul, I will blow your brains out.”

With another man, milady might have preserved some doubt; but she knew Athos, yet she remained motionless.

“You have one second to decide,” said he.

Milady saw by the contraction of his countenance that he was about to pull the trigger; she put her hand quickly into her bosom, pulled out a paper, and held it toward Athos.

“Take it,” said she, “and be damned!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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