Athos leaped down from his horse, gave the bridle to Grimaud, and advanced toward the window, after having made a sign to the rest of the troop to go toward the door.

The little house was surrounded by a quickset hedge two or three feet high. Athos sprang over the hedge and went up to the window, which was without shutters, but had the half-curtains closely drawn.

He got upon the stone coping, in order to see over the top of the curtain.

By the light of the lamp he saw a woman wrapped in a dark mantle sitting on a stool near a dying fire. Her elbows rested on a mean table, and she leaned her head on her two hands, which were white as ivory.

Her face was not distinguishable, but an ominous smile passed over Athos’s lips. There was no mistaking. It was indeed she whom he sought.

At this moment a horse neighed. Milady raised her head, saw Athos’s pale face close to the window, and screamed.

Athos saw he was recognized, pushed the window with his knee and hand. It yielded; the panes broke.

And Athos, like the spectre of vengeance, sprang into the room.

Milady ran to the door and opened it; but paler and more threatening still than Athos, D’Artagnan stood on the threshold.

Milady drew back, uttering a cry. D’Artagnan, believing she might have means of flight, and fearing lest she should escape them, drew a pistol from his belt. But Athos raised his hand.

“Put back your weapon, D’Artagnan,” said he; “this woman must be judged and not assassinated. Wait but a moment longer, my friend, and you shall be satisfied. Come in, gentlemen.”

D’Artagnan obeyed, for Athos had the solemn voice and the mighty gesture of a judge sent by the Lord Himself. So behind D’Artagnan entered Porthos, Aramis, Lord Winter, and the man in the red cloak.

The four lackeys guarded the door and the window.

Milady had sunk into a chair, with her hands extended, as if to conjure away this terrible apparition. On perceiving her brother-in-law she uttered a terrible cry.

“What do you want?” screamed milady.

“We want,” said Athos, “Charlotte Backson, who first was called Comtesse de la Fère, and afterwards Lady Winter, Baroness of Sheffield.”

“I am she! I am she!” murmured she, at the height of terror. “What do you want of me?”

“We intend to judge you according to your crimes,” said Athos. “You shall be free to defend yourself. Justify yourself if you can.—Monsieur d’Artagnan, it is for you to accuse her first.”

D’Artagnan stepped forward.

“Before God and before men,” said he, “I accuse this woman of poisoning Constance Bonacieux, who died yesterday evening.”

He turned to Porthos and Aramis.

“We bear witness to this,” said the two musketeers, with one impulse.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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