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49. FATALITY

Meantime Milady, drunk with passion, roaring on the deck like a
lioness that has been embarked, had been tempted to throw herself
into the sea that she might regain the coast, for she could not
get rid of the thought that she had been insulted by d'Artagnan,
threatened by Athos, and that she had quit France without being
revenged on them. This idea soon became so insupportable to her
that at the risk of whatever terrible consequences might result
to herself from it, she implored the captain to put her on shore;
but the captain, eager to escape from his false position--placed
between French and English cruisers, like the bat between the
mice and the birds--was in great haste to regain England, and
positively refused to obey what he took for a woman's caprice,
promising his passenger, who had been particularly recommended to
him by the cardinal, to land her, if the sea and the French
permitted him, at one of the ports of Brittany, either at Lorient
or Brest. But the wind was contrary, the sea bad; they tacked
and kept offshore. Nine days after leaving the Charente, pale
with fatigue and vexation, Milady saw only the blue coasts of
Finisterre appear.

She calculated that to cross this corner of France and return to
the cardinal it would take her at least three days. Add another
day for landing, and that would make four. Add these four to the
nine others, that would be thirteen days lost--thirteen days,
during which so many important events might pass in London. She
reflected likewise that the cardinal would be furious at her
return, and consequently would be more disposed to listen to the
complaints brought against her than to the accusations she
brought against others.

She allowed the vessel to pass Lorient and Brest without
repeating her request to the captain, who, on his part, took care
not to remind her of it. Milady therefore continued her voyage,
and on the very day that Planchet embarked at Portsmouth for
France, the messenger of his Eminence entered the port in
triumph.

All the city was agitated by an extraordinary movement. Four
large vessels, recently built, had just been launched. At the
end of the jetty, his clothes richly laced with gold, glittering,
as was customary with him, with diamonds and precious stones, his
hat ornamented with a white feather which drooped upon his
shoulder, Buckingham was seen surrounded by a staff almost as
brilliant as himself.

It was one of those rare and beautiful days in winter when
England remembers that there is a sun. The star of day, pale but
nevertheless still splendid, was setting in the horizon,
glorifying at once the heavens and the sea with bands of fire,
and casting upon the towers and the old houses of the city a last
ray of gold which made the windows sparkle like the reflection of
a conflagration. Breathing that sea breeze, so much more
invigorating and balsamic as the land is approached,
contemplating all the power of those preparations she was
commissioned to destroy, all the power of that army which she was
to combat alone--she, a woman with a few bags of gold--Milady
compared herself mentally to Judith, the terrible Jewess, when
she penetrated the camp of the Assyrians and beheld the enormous
mass of chariots, horses, men, and arms, which a gesture of her
hand was to dissipate like a cloud of smoke.

They entered the roadstead; but as they drew near in order to
cast anchor, a little cutter, looking like a coastguard
formidably armed, approached the merchant vessel and dropped into
the sea a boat which directed its course to the ladder. This
boat contained an officer, a mate, and eight rowers. The officer
alone went on board, where he was received with all the deference
inspired by the uniform.

The officer conversed a few instants with the captain, gave him
several papers, of which he was the bearer, to read, and upon the
order of the merchant captain the whole crew of the vessel, both
passengers and sailors, were called upon deck.

When this species of summons was made the officer inquired aloud
the point of the brig's departure, its route, its landings; and
to all these questions the captain replied without difficulty and
without hesitation. Then the officer began to pass in review all
the people, one after the other, and stopping when he came to
Milady, surveyed her very closely, but without addressing a
single word to her.

He then returned to the captain, said a few words to him, and as
if from that moment the vessel was under his command, he ordered
a maneuver which the crew executed immediately. Then the vessel
resumed its course, still escorted by the little cutter, which
sailed side by side with it, menacing it with the mouths of its
six cannon. The boat followed in the wake of the ship, a speck
near the enormous mass.

During the examination of Milady by the officer, as may well be
imagined, Milady on her part was not less scrutinizing in her
glances. But however great was the power of this woman with eyes
of flame in reading the hearts of those whose secrets she wished
to divine, she met this time with a countenance of such
impassivity that no discovery followed her investigation. The
officer who had stopped in front of her and studied her with so
much care might have been twenty-five or twenty-six years of age.
He was of pale complexion, with clear blue eyes, rather deeply
set; his mouth, fine and well cut, remained motionless in its
correct lines; his chin, strongly marked, denoted that strength
of will which in the ordinary Britannic type denotes mostly
nothing but obstinacy; a brow a little receding, as is proper for
poets, enthusiasts, and soldiers, was scarcely shaded by short
thin hair which, like the beard which covered the lower part of
his face, was of a beautiful deep chestnut color.

When they entered the port, it was already night. The fog
increased the darkness, and formed round the sternlights and
lanterns of the jetty a circle like that which surrounds the moon
when the weather threatens to become rainy. The air they
breathed was heavy, damp, and cold.

Milady, that woman so courageous and firm, shivered in spite of
herself.

The officer desired to have Milady's packages pointed out to him,
and ordered them to be placed in the boat. When this operation
was complete, he invited her to descend by offering her his hand.

Milady looked at this man, and hesitated. "Who are you, sir,"
asked she, "who has the kindness to trouble yourself so
particularly on my account?"

"You may perceive, madame, by my uniform, that I am an officer in
the English navy," replied the young man.

"But is it the custom for the officers in the English navy to
place themselves at the service of their female compatriots when
they land in a port of Great Britain, and carry their gallantry
so far as to conduct them ashore?"

"Yes, madame, it is the custom, not from gallantry but prudence,
that in time of war foreigners should be conducted to particular
hotels, in order that they may remain under the eye of the
government until full information can be obtained about them."

These words were pronounced with the most exact politeness and
the most perfect calmness. Nevertheless, they had not the power
of convincing Milady.

"But I am not a foreigner, sir," said she, with an accent as pure
as ever was heard between Portsmouth and Manchester; "my name is
Lady Clarik, and this measure--"

"This measure is general, madame; and you will seek in vain to
evade it."

"I will follow you, then, sir."

Accepting the hand of the officer, she began the descent of the
ladder, at the foot of which the boat waited. The officer
followed her. A large cloak was spread at the stern; the officer
requested her to sit down upon this cloak, and placed himself
beside her.

"Row!" said he to the sailors.

The eight oars fell at once into the sea, making but a single
sound, giving but a single stroke, and the boat seemed to fly
over the surface of the water.

In five minutes they gained the land.

The officer leaped to the pier, and offered his hand to Milady.
A carriage was in waiting.

"Is this carriage for us?" asked Milady.

"Yes, madame," replied the officer.

"The hotel, then, is far away?"

"At the other end of the town."

"Very well," said Milady; and she resolutely entered the
carriage.

The officer saw that the baggage was fastened carefully behind
the carriage; and this operation ended, he took his place beside
Milady, and shut the door.

Immediately, without any order being given or his place of
destination indicated, the coachman set off at a rapid pace, and
plunged into the streets of the city.

So strange a reception naturally gave Milady ample matter for
reflection; so seeing that the young officer did not seem at all
disposed for conversation, she reclined in her corner of the
carriage, and one after the other passed in review all the
surmises which presented themselves to her mind.

At the end of a quarter of an hour, however, surprised at the
length of the journey, she leaned forward toward the door to see
whither she was being conducted. Houses were no longer to be
seen; trees appeared in the darkness like great black phantoms
chasing one another. Milady shuddered.

"But we are no longer in the city, sir," said she.

The young officer preserved silence.

"I beg you to understand, sir, I will go no farther unless you
tell me whither you are taking me."

This threat brought no reply.

"Oh, this is too much," cried Milady. "Help! help!"

No voice replied to hers; the carriage continued to roll on with
rapidity; the officer seemed a statue.

Milady looked at the officer with one of those terrible
expressions peculiar to her countenance, and which so rarely
failed of their effect; anger made her eyes flash in the
darkness.

The young man remained immovable.

Milady tried to open the door in order to throw herself out.

"Take care, madame," said the young man, coolly, "you will kill
yourself in jumping."

Milady reseated herself, foaming. The officer leaned forward,
looked at her in his turn, and appeared surprised to see that
face, just before so beautiful, distorted with passion and almost
hideous. The artful creature at once comprehended that she was
injuring herself by allowing him thus to read her soul; she
collected her features, and in a complaining voice said: "In the
name of heaven, sir, tell me if it is to you, if it is to your
government, if it is to an enemy I am to attribute the violence
that is done me?"

"No violence will be offered to you, madame, and what happens to
you is the result of a very simple measure which we are obliged
to adopt with all who land in England."

"Then you don't know me, sir?"

"It is the first time I have had the honor of seeing you."

"And on your honor, you have no cause of hatred against me?"

"None, I swear to you."

There was so much serenity, coolness, mildness even, in the voice
of the young man, that Milady felt reassured.

At length after a journey of nearly an hour, the carriage stopped
before an iron gate, which closed an avenue leading to a castle
severe in form, massive, and isolated. Then, as the wheels
rolled over a fine gravel, Milady could hear a vast roaring,
which she at once recognized as the noise of the sea dashing
against some steep cliff.

The carriage passed under two arched gateways, and at length
stopped in a court large, dark, and square. Almost immediately
the door of the carriage was opened, the young man sprang lightly
out and presented his hand to Milady, who leaned upon it, and in
her turn alighted with tolerable calmness.

"Still, then, I am a prisoner," said Milady, looking around her,
and bringing back her eyes with a most gracious smile to the
young officer; "but I feel assured it will not be for long,"
added she. "My own conscience and your politeness, sir, are the
guarantees of that."

However flattering this compliment, the officer made no reply;
but drawing from his belt a little silver whistle, such as
boatswains use in ships of war, he whistled three times, with
three different modulations. Immediately several men appeared,
who unharnessed the smoking horses, and put the carriage into a
coach house.

Then the officer, with the same calm politeness, invited his
prisoner to enter the house. She, with a still-smiling
countenance, took his arm, and passed with him under a low arched
door, which by a vaulted passage, lighted only at the farther
end, led to a stone staircase around an angle of stone. They
then came to a massive door, which after the introduction into
the lock of a key which the young man carried with him, turned
heavily upon its hinges, and disclosed the chamber destined for
Milady.

With a single glance the prisoner took in the apartment in its
minutest details. It was a chamber whose furniture was at once
appropriate for a prisoner or a free man; and yet bars at the
windows and outside bolts at the door decided the question in
favor of the prison.

In an instant all the strength of mind of this creature, though
drawn from the most vigorous sources, abandoned her; she sank
into a large easy chair, with her arms crossed, her head lowered,
and expecting every instant to see a judge enter to interrogate
her.

But no one entered except two or three marines, who brought her
trunks and packages, deposited them in a corner, and retired
without speaking.

The officer superintended all these details with the same
calmness Milady had constantly seen in him, never pronouncing a
word himself, and making himself obeyed by a gesture of his hand
or a sound of his whistle.

It might have been said that between this man and his inferiors
spoken language did not exist, or had become useless.

At length Milady could hold out no longer; she broke the silence.
"In the name of heaven, sir," cried she, "what means all that is
passing? Put an end to my doubts; I have courage enough for any
danger I can foresee, for every misfortune which I understand.
Where am I, and why am I here? If I am free, why these bars and
these doors? If I am a prisoner, what crime have I committed?"

"You are here in the apartment destined for you, madame. I
received orders to go and take charge of you on the sea, and to
conduct you to this castle. This order I believe I have
accomplished with all the exactness of a soldier, but also with
the courtesy of a gentleman. There terminates, at least to the
present moment, the duty I had to fulfill toward you; the rest
concerns another person."

"And who is that other person?" asked Milady, warmly. "Can you
not tell me his name?"

At the moment a great jingling of spurs was heard on the stairs.
Some voices passed and faded away, and the sound of a single
footstep approached the door.

"That person is here, madame," said the officer, leaving the
entrance open, and drawing himself up in an attitude of respect.

At the same time the door opened; a man appeared on the
threshold. He was without a hat, carried a sword, and flourished
a handkerchief in his hand.

Milady thought she recognized this shadow in the gloom; she
supported herself with one hand upon the arm of the chair, and
advanced her head as if to meet a certainty.

The stranger advanced slowly, and as he advanced, after entering
into the circle of light projected by the lamp, Milady
involuntarily drew back.

Then when she had no longer any doubt, she cried, in a state of
stupor, "What, my brother, is it you?"

"Yes, fair lady!" replied Lord de Winter, making a bow, half
courteous, half ironical; "it is I, myself."

"But this castle, then?"

"Is mine."

"This chamber?"

"Is yours."

"I am, then, your prisoner?"

"Nearly so."

"But this is a frightful abuse of power!"

"No high-sounding words! Let us sit down and chat quietly, as
brother and sister ought to do."

Then, turning toward the door, and seeing that the young officer
was waiting for his last orders, he said. "All is well, I thank
you; now leave us alone, Mr. Felton."





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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