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54. CAPTIVITY: THE THIRD DAY

Felton had fallen; but there was still another step to be taken.
He must be retained, or rather he must be left quite alone; and
Milady but obscurely perceived the means which could lead to this
result.

Still more must be done. He must be made to speak, in order that
he might be spoken to--for Milady very well knew that her
greatest seduction was in her voice, which so skillfully ran over
the whole gamut of tones from human speech to language celestial.

Yet in spite of all this seduction Milady might fail--for Felton
was forewarned, and that against the least chance. From that
moment she watched all his actions, all his words, from the
simplest glance of his eyes to his gestures--even to a breath
that could be interpreted as a sigh. In short, she studied
everything, as a skillful comedian does to whom a new part has
been assigned in a line to which he is not accustomed.

Face to face with Lord de Winter her plan of conduct was more
easy. She had laid that down the preceding evening. To remain
silent and dignified in his presence; from time to time to
irritate him by affected disdain, by a contemptuous word; to
provoke him to threats and violence which would produce a
contrast with her own resignation--such was her plan. Felton
would see all; perhaps he would say nothing, but he would see.

In the morning, Felton came as usual; but Milady allowed him to
preside over all the preparations for breakfast without
addressing a word to him. At the moment when he was about to
retire, she was cheered with a ray of hope, for she thought he
was about to speak; but his lips moved without any sound leaving
his mouth, and making a powerful effort to control himself, he
sent back to his heart the words that were about to escape from
his lips, and went out. Toward midday, Lord de Winter entered.

It was a tolerably fine winter's day, and a ray of that pale
English sun which lights but does not warm came through the bars
of her prison.

Milady was looking out at the window, and pretended not to hear
the door as it opened.

"Ah, ah!" said Lord de Winter, "after having played comedy, after
having played tragedy, we are now playing melancholy?"

The prisoner made no reply.

"Yes, yes," continued Lord de Winter, "I understand. You would
like very well to be at liberty on that beach! You would like
very well to be in a good ship dancing upon the waves of that
emerald-green sea; you would like very well, either on land or on
the ocean, to lay for me one of those nice little ambuscades you
are so skillful in planning. Patience, patience! In four days'
time the shore will be beneath your feet, the sea will be open to
you--more open than will perhaps be agreeable to you, for in four
days England will be relieved of you."

Milady folded her hands, and raising her fine eyes toward heaven,
"Lord, Lord," said she, with an angelic meekness of gesture and
tone, "pardon this man, as I myself pardon him."

"Yes, pray, accursed woman!" cried the baron; "your prayer is so
much the more generous from your being, I swear to you, in the
power of a man who will never pardon you!" and he went out.

At the moment he went out a piercing glance darted through the
opening of the nearly closed door, and she perceived Felton, who
drew quickly to one side to prevent being seen by her.

Then she threw herself upon her knees, and began to pray.

"My God, my God!" said she, "thou knowest in what holy cause I
suffer; give me, then, strength to suffer."

The door opened gently; the beautiful supplicant pretended not to
hear the noise, and in a voice broken by tears, she continued:

"God of vengeance! God of goodness! wilt thou allow the
frightful projects of this man to be accomplished?"

Then only she pretended to hear the sound of Felton's steps, and
rising quick as thought, she blushed, as if ashamed of being
surprised on her knees.

"I do not like to disturb those who pray, madame," said Felton,
seriously; "do not disturb yourself on my account, I beseech
you."

"How do you know I was praying, sir?" said Milady, in a voice
broken by sobs. "You were deceived, sir; I was not praying."

"Do you think, then, madame," replied Felton, in the same serious
voice, but with a milder tone, "do you think I assume the right
of preventing a creature from prostrating herself before her
Creator? God forbid! Besides, repentance becomes the guilty;
whatever crimes they may have committed, for me the guilty are
sacred at the feet of God!"

"Guilty? I?" said Milady, with a smile which might have disarmed
the angel of the last judgment. "Guilty? Oh, my God, thou
knowest whether I am guilty! Say I am condemned, sir, if you
please; but you know that God, who loves martyrs, sometimes
permits the innocent to be condemned."

"Were you condemned, were you innocent, were you a martyr,"
replied Felton, "the greater would be the necessity for prayer;
and I myself would aid you with my prayers."

"Oh, you are a just man!" cried Milady, throwing herself at his
feet. "I can hold out no longer, for I fear I shall be wanting
in strength at the moment when I shall be forced to undergo the
struggle, and confess my faith. Listen, then, to the
supplication of a despairing woman. You are abused, sir; but
that is not the question. I only ask you one favor; and if you
grant it me, I will bless you in this world and in the next."

"Speak to the master, madame," said Felton; "happily I am neither
charged with the power of pardoning nor punishing. It is upon
one higher placed than I am that God has laid this
responsibility."

"To you--no, to you alone! Listen to me, rather than add to my
destruction, rather than add to my ignominy!"

"If you have merited this shame, madame, if you have incurred
this ignominy, you must submit to it as an offering to God."

"What do you say? Oh, you do not understand me! When I speak of
ignominy, you think I speak of some chastisement, of imprisonment
or death. Would to heaven! Of what consequence to me is
imprisonment or death?"

"It is I who no longer understand you, madame," said Felton.

"Or, rather, who pretend not to understand me, sir!" replied the
prisoner, with a smile of incredulity.

"No, madame, on the honor of a soldier, on the faith of a
Christian."

"What, you are ignorant of Lord de Winter's designs upon me?"

"I am."

"Impossible; you are his confidant!"

"I never lie, madame."

"Oh, he conceals them too little for you not to divine them."

"I seek to divine nothing, madame; I wait till I am confided in,
and apart from that which Lord de Winter has said to me before
you, he has confided nothing to me."

"Why, then," cried Milady, with an incredible tone of
truthfulness, "you are not his accomplice; you do not know that
he destines me to a disgrace which all the punishments of the
world cannot equal in horror?"

"You are deceived, madame," said Felton, blushing; "Lord de
Winter is not capable of such a crime."

"Good," said Milady to herself; "without thinking what it is, he
calls it a crime!" Then aloud, "The friend of THAT WRETCH is
capable of everything."

"Whom do you call 'that wretch'?" asked Felton.

"Are there, then, in England two men to whom such an epithet can
be applied?"

"You mean George Villiers?" asked Felton, whose looks became
excited.

"Whom Pagans and unbelieving Gentiles call Duke of Buckingham,"
replied Milady. "I could not have thought that there was an
Englishman in all England who would have required so long an
explanation to make him understand of whom I was speaking."

"The hand of the Lord is stretched over him," said Felton; "he
will not escape the chastisement he deserves."

Felton only expressed, with regard to the duke, the feeling of
execration which all the English had declared toward him whom the
Catholics themselves called the extortioner, the pillager, the
debauchee, and whom the Puritans styled simply Satan.

"Oh, my God, my God!" cried Milady; "when I supplicate thee to
pour upon this man the chastisement which is his due, thou
knowest it is not my own vengeance I pursue, but the deliverance
of a whole nation that I implore!"

"Do you know him, then?" asked Felton.

"At length he interrogates me!" said Milady to herself, at the
height of joy at having obtained so quickly such a great result.
"Oh, know him? Yes, yes! to my misfortune, to my eternal
misfortune!" and Milady twisted her arms as if in a paroxysm of
grief.

Felton no doubt felt within himself that his strength was
abandoning him, and he made several steps toward the door; but
the prisoner, whose eye never left him, sprang in pursuit of him
and stopped him.

"Sir," cried she, "be kind, be clement, listen to my prayer!
That knife, which the fatal prudence of the baron deprived me of,
because he knows the use I would make of it! Oh, hear me to the
end! that knife, give it to me for a minute only, for mercy's,
for pity's sake! I will embrace your knees! You shall shut the
door that you may be certain I contemplate no injury to you! My
God! to you--the only just, good, and compassionate being I have
met with! To you--my preserver, perhaps! One minute that knife,
one minute, a single minute, and I will restore it to you through
the grating of the door. Only one minute, Mr. Felton, and you
will have saved my honor!"

"To kill yourself?" cried Felton, with terror, forgetting to
withdraw his hands from the hands of the prisoner, "to kill
yourself?"

"I have told, sir," murmured Milady, lowering her voice, and
allowing herself to sink overpowered to the ground; "I have told
my secret! He knows all! My God, I am lost!"

Felton remained standing, motionless and undecided.

"He still doubts," thought Milady; "I have not been earnest
enough."

Someone was heard in the corridor; Milady recognized the step of
Lord de Winter.

Felton recognized it also, and made a step toward the door.

Milady sprang toward him. "Oh, not a word," said she in a
concentrated voice, "not a word of all that I have said to you to
this man, or I am lost, and it would be you--you--"

Then as the steps drew near, she became silent for fear of being
heard, applying, with a gesture of infinite terror, her beautiful
hand to Felton's mouth.

Felton gently repulsed Milady, and she sank into a chair.

Lord de Winter passed before the door without stopping, and they
heard the noise of his footsteps soon die away.

Felton, as pale as death, remained some instants with his ear
bent and listening; then, when the sound was quite extinct, he
breathed like a man awaking from a dream, and rushed out of the
apartment.

"Ah!" said Milady, listening in her turn to the noise of Felton's
steps, which withdrew in a direction opposite to those of Lord de
Winter; "at length you are mine!"

Then her brow darkened. "If he tells the baron," said she, "I am
lost--for the baron, who knows very well that I shall not kill
myself, will place me before him with a knife in my hand, and he
will discover that all this despair is but acted."

She placed herself before the glass, and regarded herself
attentively; never had she appeared more beautiful.

"Oh, yes," said she, smiling, "but we won't tell him!"

In the evening Lord de Winter accompanied the supper.

"Sir," said Milady, "is your presence an indispensable accessory
of my captivity? Could you not spare me the increase of torture
which your visits cause me?"

"How, dear sister!" said Lord de Winter. "Did not you
sentimentally inform me with that pretty mouth of yours, so cruel
to me today, that you came to England solely for the pleasure of
seeing me at your ease, an enjoyment of which you told me you so
sensibly felt the deprivation that you had risked everything for
it--seasickness, tempest, captivity? Well, here I am; be
satisfied. Besides, this time, my visit has a motive."

Milady trembled; she thought Felton had told all. Perhaps never
in her life had this woman, who had experienced so many opposite
and powerful emotions, felt her heart beat so violently.

She was seated. Lord de Winter took a chair, drew it toward her,
and sat down close beside her. Then taking a paper out of his
pocket, he unfolded it slowly.

"Here," said he, "I want to show you the kind of passport which I
have drawn up, and which will serve you henceforward as the rule
of order in the life I consent to leave you."

Then turning his eyes from Milady to the paper, he read: "'Order
to conduct--' The name is blank," interrupted Lord de Winter.
"If you have any preference you can point it out to me; and if it
be not within a thousand leagues of London, attention will be
paid to your wishes. I will begin again, then:

"'Order to conduct to--the person named Charlotte Backson,
branded by the justice of the kingdom of France, but liberated
after chastisement. She is to dwell in this place without ever
going more than three leagues from it. In case of any attempt to
escape, the penalty of death is to be applied. She will receive
five shillings per day for lodging and food'".

"That order does not concern me," replied Milady, coldly, "since
it bears another name than mine."

"A name? Have you a name, then?"

"I bear that of your brother."

"Ay, but you are mistaken. My brother is only your second
husband; and your first is still living. Tell me his name, and I
will put it in the place of the name of Charlotte Backson. No?
You will not? You are silent? Well, then you must be registered
as Charlotte Backson."

Milady remained silent; only this time it was no longer from
affectation, but from terror. She believed the order ready for
execution. She thought that Lord de Winter had hastened her
departure; she thought she was condemned to set off that very
evening. Everything in her mind was lost for an instant; when
all at once she perceived that no signature was attached to the
order. The joy she felt at this discovery was so great she could
not conceal it.

"Yes, yes," said Lord de Winter, who perceived what was passing
in her mind; "yes, you look for the signature, and you say to
yourself: 'All is not lost, for that order is not signed. It is
only shown to me to terrify me, that's all.' You are mistaken.
Tomorrow this order will be sent to the Duke of Buckingham. The
day after tomorrow it will return signed by his hand and marked
with his seal; and four-and-twenty hours afterward I will answer
for its being carried into execution. Adieu, madame. That is
all I had to say to you."

"And I reply to you, sir, that this abuse of power, this exile
under a fictitious name, are infamous!"

"Would you like better to be hanged in your true name, Milady?
You know that the English laws are inexorable on the abuse of
marriage. Speak freely. Although my name, or rather that of my
brother, would be mixed up with the affair, I will risk the
scandal of a public trial to make myself certain of getting rid
of you."

Milady made no reply, but became as pale as a corpse.

"Oh, I see you prefer peregrination. That's well madame; and
there is an old proverb that says, 'Traveling trains youth.' My
faith! you are not wrong after all, and life is sweet. That's
the reason why I take such care you shall not deprive me of mine.
There only remains, then, the question of the five shillings to
be settled. You think me rather parsimonious, don't you? That's
because I don't care to leave you the means of corrupting your
jailers. Besides, you will always have your charms left to
seduce them with. Employ them, if your check with regard to
Felton has not disgusted you with attempts of that kind."

"Felton has not told him," said Milady to herself. "Nothing is
lost, then."

"And now, madame, till I see you again! Tomorrow I will come and
announce to you the departure of my messenger."

Lord de Winter rose, saluted her ironically, and went out.

Milady breathed again. She had still four days before her. Four
days would quite suffice to complete the seduction of Felton.

A terrible idea, however, rushed into her mind. She thought that
Lord de Winter would perhaps send Felton himself to get the order
signed by the Duke of Buckingham. In that case Felton would
escape her--for in order to secure success, the magic of a
continuous seduction was necessary. Nevertheless, as we have
said, one circumstance reassured her. Felton had not spoken.

As she would not appear to be agitated by the threats of Lord de
Winter, she placed herself at the table and ate.

Then, as she had done the evening before, she fell on her knees
and repeated her prayers aloud. As on the evening before, the
soldier stopped his march to listen to her.

Soon after she heard lighter steps than those of the sentinel,
which came from the end of the corridor and stopped before her
door.

"It is he," said she. And she began the same religious chant
which had so strongly excited Felton the evening before.

But although her voice--sweet, full, and sonorous--vibrated as
harmoniously and as affectingly as ever, the door remained shut.
It appeared however to Milady that in one of the furtive glances
she darted from time to time at the grating of the door she
thought she saw the ardent eyes of the young man through the
narrow opening. But whether this was reality or vision, he had
this time sufficient self-command not to enter.

However, a few instants after she had finished her religious
song, Milady thought she heard a profound sigh. Then the same
steps she had heard approach slowly withdrew, as if with regret.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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