Felton had fallen; but there was still another step to be taken. He must b_etained, or rather he must be left quite alone; and Milady but obscurel_erceived the means which could lead to this result.
Still more must be done. He must be made to speak, in order that he might b_poken to—for Milady very well knew that her greatest seduction was in he_oice, which so skillfully ran over the whole gamut of tones from human speec_o language celestial.
Yet in spite of all this seduction Milady might fail—for Felton wa_orewarned, and that against the least chance. From that moment she watche_ll his actions, all his words, from the simplest glance of his eyes to hi_estures—even to a breath that could be interpreted as a sigh. In short, sh_tudied everything, as a skillful comedian does to whom a new part has bee_ssigned in a line to which he is not accustomed.
Face to face with Lord de Winter her plan of conduct was more easy. She ha_aid that down the preceding evening. To remain silent and dignified in hi_resence; from time to time to irritate him by affected disdain, by _ontemptuous word; to provoke him to threats and violence which would produc_ 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 ove_ll the preparations for breakfast without addressing a word to him. At th_oment when he was about to retire, she was cheered with a ray of hope, fo_he thought he was about to speak; but his lips moved without any soun_eaving his mouth, and making a powerful effort to control himself, he sen_ack to his heart the words that were about to escape from his lips, and wen_ut. Toward midday, Lord de Winter entered.
It was a tolerably fine winter's day, and a ray of that pale English sun whic_ights 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 i_pened.
"Ah, ah!" said Lord de Winter, "after having played comedy, after havin_layed tragedy, we are now playing melancholy?"
The prisoner made no reply.
"Yes, yes," continued Lord de Winter, "I understand. You would like very wel_o be at liberty on that beach! You would like very well to be in a good shi_ancing 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 littl_mbuscades 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—mor_pen than will perhaps be agreeable to you, for in four days England will b_elieved 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 thi_an, as I myself pardon him."
"Yes, pray, accursed woman!" cried the baron; "your prayer is so much the mor_enerous from your being, I swear to you, in the power of a man who will neve_ardon you!" and he went out.
At the moment he went out a piercing glance darted through the opening of th_early closed door, and she perceived Felton, who drew quickly to one side t_revent 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; giv_e, then, strength to suffer."
The door opened gently; the beautiful supplicant pretended not to hear th_oise, and in a voice broken by tears, she continued:
"God of vengeance! God of goodness! wilt thou allow the frightful projects o_his man to be accomplished?"
Then only she pretended to hear the sound of Felton's steps, and rising quic_s 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; "d_ot 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, bu_ith a milder tone, "do you think I assume the right of preventing a creatur_rom prostrating herself before her Creator? God forbid! Besides, repentanc_ecomes the guilty; whatever crimes they may have committed, for me the guilt_re sacred at the feet of God!"
"Guilty? I?" said Milady, with a smile which might have disarmed the angel o_he last judgment. "Guilty? Oh, my God, thou knowest whether I am guilty! Sa_ 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 yo_ith my prayers."
"Oh, you are a just man!" cried Milady, throwing herself at his feet. "I ca_old out no longer, for I fear I shall be wanting in strength at the momen_hen 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 tha_s not the question. I only ask you one favor; and if you grant it me, I wil_less you in this world and in the next."
"Speak to the master, madame," said Felton; "happily I am neither charged wit_he power of pardoning nor punishing. It is upon one higher placed than I a_hat 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, yo_hink 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?"
"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 apar_rom that which Lord de Winter has said to me before you, he has confide_othing to me."
"Why, then," cried Milady, with an incredible tone of truthfulness, "you ar_ot his accomplice; you do not know that he destines me to a disgrace whic_ll the punishments of the world cannot equal in horror?"
"You are deceived, madame," said Felton, blushing; "Lord de Winter is no_apable of such a crime."
"Good," said Milady to herself; "without thinking what it is, he calls it _rime!" 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," replie_ilady. "I could not have thought that there was an Englishman in all Englan_ho would have required so long an explanation to make him understand of who_ was speaking."
"The hand of the Lord is stretched over him," said Felton; "he will not escap_he chastisement he deserves."
Felton only expressed, with regard to the duke, the feeling of execratio_hich all the English had declared toward him whom the Catholics themselve_alled the extortioner, the pillager, the debauchee, and whom the Puritan_tyled simply Satan.
"Oh, my God, my God!" cried Milady; "when I supplicate thee to pour upon thi_an the chastisement which is his due, thou knowest it is not my own vengeanc_ 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 jo_t having obtained so quickly such a great result. "Oh, know him? Yes, yes! t_y misfortune, to my eternal misfortune!" and Milady twisted her arms as if i_ paroxysm of grief.
Felton no doubt felt within himself that his strength was abandoning him, an_e made several steps toward the door; but the prisoner, whose eye never lef_im, sprang in pursuit of him and stopped him.
"Sir," cried she, "be kind, be clement, listen to my prayer! That knife, whic_he fatal prudence of the baron deprived me of, because he knows the use _ould make of it! Oh, hear me to the end! that knife, give it to me for _inute only, for mercy's, for pity's sake! I will embrace your knees! Yo_hall shut the door that you may be certain I contemplate no injury to you! M_od! to you—the only just, good, and compassionate being I have met with! T_ou—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 hi_ands from the hands of the prisoner, "to kill yourself?"
"I have told, sir," murmured Milady, lowering her voice, and allowing hersel_o sink overpowered to the ground; "I have told my secret! He knows all! M_od, 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 d_inter.
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 i_ould 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'_outh.
Felton gently repulsed Milady, and she sank into a chair.
Lord de Winter passed before the door without stopping, and they heard th_oise of his footsteps soon die away.
Felton, as pale as death, remained some instants with his ear bent an_istening; then, when the sound was quite extinct, he breathed like a ma_waking from a dream, and rushed out of the apartment.
"Ah!" said Milady, listening in her turn to the noise of Felton's steps, whic_ithdrew in a direction opposite to those of Lord de Winter; "at length yo_re mine!"
Then her brow darkened. "If he tells the baron," said she, "I am lost—for th_aron, who knows very well that I shall not kill myself, will place me befor_im with a knife in my hand, and he will discover that all this despair is bu_cted."
She placed herself before the glass, and regarded herself attentively; neve_ad 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 m_aptivity? Could you not spare me the increase of torture which your visit_ause me?"
"How, dear sister!" said Lord de Winter. "Did not you sentimentally inform m_ith that pretty mouth of yours, so cruel to me today, that you came t_ngland solely for the pleasure of seeing me at your ease, an enjoyment o_hich you told me you so sensibly felt the deprivation that you had riske_verything for it—seasickness, tempest, captivity? Well, here I am; b_atisfied. Besides, this time, my visit has a motive."
Milady trembled; she thought Felton had told all. Perhaps never in her lif_ad 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 dow_lose beside her. Then taking a paper out of his pocket, he unfolded i_lowly.
"Here," said he, "I want to show you the kind of passport which I have draw_p, and which will serve you henceforward as the rule of order in the life _onsent 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 preferenc_ou can point it out to me; and if it be not within a thousand leagues o_ondon, attention will be paid to your wishes. I will begin again, then:
"'Order to conduct to—the person named Charlotte Backson, branded by th_ustice of the kingdom of France, but liberated after chastisement. She is t_well in this place without ever going more than three leagues from it. I_ase of any attempt to escape, the penalty of death is to be applied. She wil_eceive five shillings per day for lodging and food'".
"That order does not concern me," replied Milady, coldly, "since it bear_nother 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 you_irst is still living. Tell me his name, and I will put it in the place of th_ame of Charlotte Backson. No? You will not? You are silent? Well, then yo_ust be registered as Charlotte Backson."
Milady remained silent; only this time it was no longer from affectation, bu_rom terror. She believed the order ready for execution. She thought that Lor_e Winter had hastened her departure; she thought she was condemned to set of_hat very evening. Everything in her mind was lost for an instant; when all a_nce she perceived that no signature was attached to the order. The joy sh_elt 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'_ll.' You are mistaken. Tomorrow this order will be sent to the Duke o_uckingham. The day after tomorrow it will return signed by his hand an_arked with his seal; and four-and-twenty hours afterward I will answer fo_ts being carried into execution. Adieu, madame. That is all I had to say t_ou."
"And I reply to you, sir, that this abuse of power, this exile under _ictitious name, are infamous!"
"Would you like better to be hanged in your true name, Milady? You know tha_he 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 th_ffair, I will risk the scandal of a public trial to make myself certain o_etting 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 ol_roverb that says, 'Traveling trains youth.' My faith! you are not wrong afte_ll, and life is sweet. That's the reason why I take such care you shall no_eprive me of mine. There only remains, then, the question of the fiv_hillings to be settled. You think me rather parsimonious, don't you? That'_ecause 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. Emplo_hem, if your check with regard to Felton has not disgusted you with attempt_f 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 t_ou 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 woul_uite suffice to complete the seduction of Felton.
A terrible idea, however, rushed into her mind. She thought that Lord d_inter would perhaps send Felton himself to get the order signed by the Duk_f Buckingham. In that case Felton would escape her—for in order to secur_uccess, the magic of a continuous seduction was necessary. Nevertheless, a_e 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, sh_laced herself at the table and ate.
Then, as she had done the evening before, she fell on her knees and repeate_er prayers aloud. As on the evening before, the soldier stopped his march t_isten to her.
Soon after she heard lighter steps than those of the sentinel, which came fro_he end of the corridor and stopped before her door.
"It is he," said she. And she began the same religious chant which had s_trongly excited Felton the evening before.
But although her voice—sweet, full, and sonorous—vibrated as harmoniously an_s affectingly as ever, the door remained shut. It appeared however to Milad_hat in one of the furtive glances she darted from time to time at the gratin_f the door she thought she saw the ardent eyes of the young man through th_arrow opening. But whether this was reality or vision, he had this tim_ufficient self-command not to enter.
However, a few instants after she had finished her religious song, Milad_hought she heard a profound sigh. Then the same steps she had heard approac_lowly withdrew, as if with regret.