Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 59 WHAT TOOK PLACE AT PORTSMOUTH

  • Felton took leave of Milady as a brother about to go for a mere walk take_eave of his sister, kissing her hand.
  • His whole body appeared in its ordinary state of calmness, only an unusua_ire beamed from his eyes, like the effects of a fever; his brow was more pal_han it generally was; his teeth were clenched, and his speech had a short dr_ccent which indicated that something dark was at work within him.
  • As long as he remained in the boat which conveyed him to land, he kept hi_ace toward Milady, who, standing on the deck, followed him with her eyes.
  • Both were free from the fear of pursuit; nobody ever came into Milady'_partment before nine o'clock, and it would require three hours to go from th_astle to London.
  • Felton jumped onshore, climbed the little ascent which led to the top of th_liff, saluted Milady a last time, and took his course toward the city.
  • At the end of a hundred paces, the ground began to decline, and he could onl_ee the mast of the sloop.
  • He immediately ran in the direction of Portsmouth, which he saw at nearly hal_ league before him, standing out in the haze of the morning, with its house_nd towers.
  • Beyond Portsmouth the sea was covered with vessels whose masts, like a fores_f poplars despoiled by the winter, bent with each breath of the wind.
  • Felton, in his rapid walk, reviewed in his mind all the accusations agains_he favorite of James I and Charles I, furnished by two years of prematur_editation and a long sojourn among the Puritans.
  • When he compared the public crimes of this minister—startling crimes, Europea_rimes, if so we may say—with the private and unknown crimes with which Milad_ad charged him, Felton found that the more culpable of the two men whic_ormed the character of Buckingham was the one of whom the public knew not th_ife. This was because his love, so strange, so new, and so ardent, made hi_iew the infamous and imaginary accusations of Milady de Winter as, through _agnifying glass, one views as frightful monsters atoms in realit_mperceptible by the side of an ant.
  • The rapidity of his walk heated his blood still more; the idea that he lef_ehind him, exposed to a frightful vengeance, the woman he loved, or rathe_hom he adored as a saint, the emotion he had experienced, present fatigue—al_ogether exalted his mind above human feeling.
  • He entered Portsmouth about eight o'clock in the morning. The whole populatio_as on foot; drums were beating in the streets and in the port; the troop_bout to embark were marching toward the sea.
  • Felton arrived at the palace of the Admiralty, covered with dust, an_treaming with perspiration. His countenance, usually so pale, was purple wit_eat and passion. The sentinel wanted to repulse him; but Felton called to th_fficer of the post, and drawing from his pocket the letter of which he wa_he bearer, he said, "A pressing message from Lord de Winter."
  • At the name of Lord de Winter, who was known to be one of his Grace's mos_ntimate friends, the officer of the post gave orders to let Felton pass, who, besides, wore the uniform of a naval officer.
  • Felton darted into the palace.
  • At the moment he entered the vestibule, another man was entering likewise, dusty, out of breath, leaving at the gate a post horse, which, on reaching th_alace, tumbled on his foreknees.
  • Felton and he addressed Patrick, the duke's confidential lackey, at the sam_oment. Felton named Lord de Winter; the unknown would not name anybody, an_retended that it was to the duke alone he would make himself known. Each wa_nxious to gain admission before the other.
  • Patrick, who knew Lord de Winter was in affairs of the service, and i_elations of friendship with the duke, gave the preference to the one who cam_n his name. The other was forced to wait, and it was easily to be seen how h_ursed the delay.
  • The valet led Felton through a large hall in which waited the deputies from L_ochelle, headed by the Prince de Soubise, and introduced him into a close_here Buckingham, just out of the bath, was finishing his toilet, upon which, as at all times, he bestowed extraordinary attention.
  • "Lieutenant Felton, from Lord de Winter," said Patrick.
  • "From Lord de Winter!" repeated Buckingham; "let him come in."
  • Felton entered. At that moment Buckingham was throwing upon a couch a ric_oilet robe, worked with gold, in order to put on a blue velvet double_mbroidered with pearls.
  • "Why didn't the baron come himself?" demanded Buckingham. "I expected him thi_orning."
  • "He desired me to tell your Grace," replied Felton, "that he very muc_egretted not having that honor, but that he was prevented by the guard he i_bliged to keep at the castle."
  • "Yes, I know that," said Buckingham; "he has a prisoner."
  • "It is of that prisoner that I wish to speak to your Grace," replied Felton.
  • "Well, then, speak!"
  • "That which I have to say of her can only be heard by yourself, my Lord!"
  • "Leave us, Patrick," said Buckingham; "but remain within sound of the bell. _hall call you presently."
  • Patrick went out.
  • "We are alone, sir," said Buckingham; "speak!"
  • "My Lord," said Felton, "the Baron de Winter wrote to you the other day t_equest you to sign an order of embarkation relative to a young woman name_harlotte Backson."
  • "Yes, sir; and I answered him, to bring or send me that order and I would sig_t."
  • "Here it is, my Lord."
  • "Give it to me," said the duke.
  • And taking it from Felton, he cast a rapid glance over the paper, an_erceiving that it was the one that had been mentioned to him, he placed it o_he table, took a pen, and prepared to sign it.
  • "Pardon, my Lord," said Felton, stopping the duke; "but does your Grace kno_hat the name of Charlotte Backson is not the true name of this young woman?"
  • "Yes, sir, I know it," replied the duke, dipping the quill in the ink.
  • "Then your Grace knows her real name?" asked Felton, in a sharp tone.
  • "I know it"; and the duke put the quill to the paper. Felton grew pale.
  • "And knowing that real name, my Lord," replied Felton, "will you sign it al_he same?"
  • "Doubtless," said Buckingham, "and rather twice than once."
  • "I cannot believe," continued Felton, in a voice that became more sharp an_ough, "that your Grace knows that it is to Milady de Winter this relates."
  • "I know it perfectly, although I am astonished that you know it."
  • "And will your Grace sign that order without remorse?"
  • Buckingham looked at the young man haughtily.
  • "Do you know, sir, that you are asking me very strange questions, and that _m very foolish to answer them?"
  • "Reply to them, my Lord," said Felton; "the circumstances are more seriou_han you perhaps believe."
  • Buckingham reflected that the young man, coming from Lord de Winter, undoubtedly spoke in his name, and softened.
  • "Without remorse," said he. "The baron knows, as well as myself, that Milad_e Winter is a very guilty woman, and it is treating her very favorably t_ommute her punishment to transportation." The duke put his pen to the paper.
  • "You will not sign that order, my Lord!" said Felton, making a step toward th_uke.
  • "I will not sign this order! And why not?"
  • "Because you will look into yourself, and you will do justice to the lady."
  • "I should do her justice by sending her to Tyburn," said Buckingham. "Thi_ady is infamous."
  • "My Lord, Milady de Winter is an angel; you know that she is, and I demand he_iberty of you."
  • "Bah! Are you mad, to talk to me thus?" said Buckingham.
  • "My Lord, excuse me! I speak as I can; I restrain myself. But, my Lord, thin_f what you're about to do, and beware of going too far!"
  • "What do you say? God pardon me!" cried Buckingham, "I really think h_hreatens me!"
  • "No, my Lord, I still plead. And I say to you: one drop of water suffices t_ake the full vase overflow; one slight fault may draw down punishment upo_he head spared, despite many crimes."
  • "Mr. Felton," said Buckingham, "you will withdraw, and place yourself at onc_nder arrest."
  • "You will hear me to the end, my Lord. You have seduced this young girl; yo_ave outraged, defiled her. Repair your crimes toward her; let her go free, and I will exact nothing else from you."
  • "You will exact!" said Buckingham, looking at Felton with astonishment, an_welling upon each syllable of the three words as he pronounced them.
  • "My Lord," continued Felton, becoming more excited as he spoke, "my Lord, beware! All England is tired of your iniquities; my Lord, you have abused th_oyal power, which you have almost usurped; my Lord, you are held in horror b_od and men. God will punish you hereafter, but I will punish you here!"
  • "Ah, this is too much!" cried Buckingham, making a step toward the door.
  • Felton barred his passage.
  • "I ask it humbly of you, my Lord," said he; "sign the order for the liberatio_f Milady de Winter. Remember that she is a woman whom you have dishonored."
  • "Withdraw, sir," said Buckingham, "or I will call my attendant, and have yo_laced in irons."
  • "You shall not call," said Felton, throwing himself between the duke and th_ell placed on a stand encrusted with silver. "Beware, my Lord, you are in th_ands of God!"
  • "In the hands of the devil, you mean!" cried Buckingham, raising his voice s_s to attract the notice of his people, without absolutely shouting.
  • "Sign, my Lord; sign the liberation of Milady de Winter," said Felton, holdin_ut a paper to the duke.
  • "By force? You are joking! Holloa, Patrick!"
  • "Sign, my Lord!"
  • "Never."
  • "Never?"
  • "Help!" shouted the duke; and at the same time he sprang toward his sword.
  • But Felton did not give him time to draw it. He held the knife with whic_ilady had stabbed herself, open in his bosom; at one bound he was upon th_uke.
  • At that moment Patrick entered the room, crying, "A letter from France, m_ord."
  • "From France!" cried Buckingham, forgetting everything in thinking from who_hat letter came.
  • Felton took advantage of this moment, and plunged the knife into his side u_o the handle.
  • "Ah, traitor," cried Buckingham, "you have killed me!"
  • "Murder!" screamed Patrick.
  • Felton cast his eyes round for means of escape, and seeing the door free, h_ushed into the next chamber, in which, as we have said, the deputies from L_ochelle were waiting, crossed it as quickly as possible, and rushed towar_he staircase; but upon the first step he met Lord de Winter, who, seeing hi_ale, confused, livid, and stained with blood both on his hands and face, seized him by the throat, crying, "I knew it! I guessed it! But too late by _inute, unfortunate, unfortunate that I am!"
  • Felton made no resistance. Lord de Winter placed him in the hands of th_uards, who led him, while awaiting further orders, to a little terrac_ommanding the sea; and then the baron hastened to the duke's chamber.
  • At the cry uttered by the duke and the scream of Patrick, the man whom Felto_ad met in the antechamber rushed into the chamber.
  • He found the duke reclining upon a sofa, with his hand pressed upon the wound.
  • "Laporte," said the duke, in a dying voice, "Laporte, do you come from her?"
  • "Yes, monseigneur," replied the faithful cloak bearer of Anne of Austria, "bu_oo late, perhaps."
  • "Silence, Laporte, you may be overheard. Patrick, let no one enter. Oh, _annot tell what she says to me! My God, I am dying!"
  • And the duke swooned.
  • Meanwhile, Lord de Winter, the deputies, the leaders of the expedition, th_fficers of Buckingham's household, had all made their way into the chamber.
  • Cries of despair resounded on all sides. The news, which filled the palac_ith tears and groans, soon became known, and spread itself throughout th_ity.
  • The report of a cannon announced that something new and unexpected had take_lace.
  • Lord de Winter tore his hair.
  • "Too late by a minute!" cried he, "too late by a minute! Oh, my God, my God!
  • what a misfortune!"
  • He had been informed at seven o'clock in the morning that a rope ladde_loated from one of the windows of the castle; he had hastened to Milady'_hamber, had found it empty, the window open, and the bars filed, ha_emembered the verbal caution d'Artagnan had transmitted to him by hi_essenger, had trembled for the duke, and running to the stable without takin_ime to have a horse saddled, had jumped upon the first he found, had gallope_ff like the wind, had alighted below in the courtyard, had ascended th_tairs precipitately, and on the top step, as we have said, had encountere_elton.
  • The duke, however, was not dead. He recovered a little, reopened his eyes, an_ope revived in all hearts.
  • "Gentlemen," said he, "leave me alone with Patrick and Laporte—ah, is tha_ou, de Winter? You sent me a strange madman this morning! See the state i_hich he has put me."
  • "Oh, my Lord!" cried the baron, "I shall never console myself."
  • "And you would be quite wrong, my dear de Winter," said Buckingham, holdin_ut his hand to him. "I do not know the man who deserves being regrette_uring the whole life of another man; but leave us, I pray you."
  • The baron went out sobbing.
  • There only remained in the closet of the wounded duke Laporte and Patrick. _hysician was sought for, but none was yet found.
  • "You will live, my Lord, you will live!" repeated the faithful servant of Ann_f Austria, on his knees before the duke's sofa.
  • "What has she written to me?" said Buckingham, feebly, streaming with blood, and suppressing his agony to speak of her he loved, "what has she written t_e? Read me her letter."
  • "Oh, my Lord!" said Laporte.
  • "Obey, Laporte, do you not see I have no time to lose?"
  • Laporte broke the seal, and placed the paper before the eyes of the duke; bu_uckingham in vain tried to make out the writing.
  • "Read!" said he, "read! I cannot see. Read, then! For soon, perhaps, I shal_ot hear, and I shall die without knowing what she has written to me."
  • Laporte made no further objection, and read:
  • "My Lord, By that which, since I have known you, have suffered by you and fo_ou, I conjure you, if you have any care for my repose, to countermand thos_reat armaments which you are preparing against France, to put an end to a wa_f which it is publicly said religion is the ostensible cause, and of which, it is generally whispered, your love for me is the concealed cause. This wa_ay not only bring great catastrophes upon England and France, but misfortun_pon you, my Lord, for which I should never console myself.
  • "Be careful of your life, which is menaced, and which will be dear to me fro_he moment I am not obliged to see an enemy in you.
  • "Your affectionate
  • "ANNE"
  • Buckingham collected all his remaining strength to listen to the reading o_he letter; then, when it was ended, as if he had met with a bitte_isappointment, he asked, "Have you nothing else to say to me by the livin_oice, Laporte?"
  • "The queen charged me to tell you to watch over yourself, for she had advic_hat your assassination would be attempted."
  • "And is that all—is that all?" replied Buckingham, impatiently.
  • "She likewise charged me to tell you that she still loved you."
  • "Ah," said Buckingham, "God be praised! My death, then, will not be to her a_he death of a stranger!"
  • Laporte burst into tears.
  • "Patrick," said the duke, "bring me the casket in which the diamond studs wer_ept."
  • Patrick brought the object desired, which Laporte recognized as havin_elonged to the queen.
  • "Now the scent bag of white satin, on which her cipher is embroidered i_earls."
  • Patrick again obeyed.
  • "Here, Laporte," said Buckingham, "these are the only tokens I ever receive_rom her—this silver casket and these two letters. You will restore them t_er Majesty; and as a last memorial"—he looked round for some valuabl_bject—"you will add—"
  • He still sought; but his eyes, darkened by death, encountered only the knif_hich had fallen from the hand of Felton, still smoking with the blood sprea_ver its blade.
  • "And you will add to them this knife," said the duke, pressing the hand o_aporte. He had just strength enough to place the scent bag at the bottom o_he silver casket, and to let the knife fall into it, making a sign to Laport_hat he was no longer able to speak; than, in a last convulsion, which thi_ime he had not the power to combat, he slipped from the sofa to the floor.
  • Patrick uttered a loud cry.
  • Buckingham tried to smile a last time; but death checked his thought, whic_emained engraved on his brow like a last kiss of love.
  • At this moment the duke's surgeon arrived, quite terrified; he was already o_oard the admiral's ship, where they had been obliged to seek him.
  • He approached the duke, took his hand, held it for an instant in his own, an_etting it fall, "All is useless," said he, "he is dead."
  • "Dead, dead!" cried Patrick.
  • At this cry all the crowd re-entered the apartment, and throughout the palac_nd town there was nothing but consternation and tumult.
  • As soon as Lord de Winter saw Buckingham was dead, he ran to Felton, whom th_oldiers still guarded on the terrace of the palace.
  • "Wretch!" said he to the young man, who since the death of Buckingham ha_egained that coolness and self-possession which never after abandoned him,
  • "wretch! what have you done?"
  • "I have avenged myself!" said he.
  • "Avenged yourself," said the baron. "Rather say that you have served as a_nstrument to that accursed woman; but I swear to you that this crime shall b_er last."
  • "I don't know what you mean," replied Felton, quietly, "and I am ignorant o_hom you are speaking, my Lord. I killed the Duke of Buckingham because h_wice refused you yourself to appoint me captain; I have punished him for hi_njustice, that is all."
  • De Winter, stupefied, looked on while the soldiers bound Felton, and could no_ell what to think of such insensibility.
  • One thing alone, however, threw a shade over the pallid brow of Felton. A_very noise he heard, the simple Puritan fancied he recognized the step an_oice of Milady coming to throw herself into his arms, to accuse herself, an_ie with him.
  • All at once he started. His eyes became fixed upon a point of the sea, commanded by the terrace where he was. With the eagle glance of a sailor h_ad recognized there, where another would have seen only a gull hovering ove_he waves, the sail of a sloop which was directed toward the cost of France.
  • He grew deadly pale, placed his hand upon his heart, which was breaking, an_t once perceived all the treachery.
  • "One last favor, my Lord!" said he to the baron.
  • "What?" asked his Lordship.
  • "What o'clock is it?"
  • The baron drew out his watch. "It wants ten minutes to nine," said he.
  • Milady had hastened her departure by an hour and a half. As soon as she hear_he cannon which announced the fatal event, she had ordered the anchor to b_eighed. The vessel was making way under a blue sky, at great distance fro_he coast.
  • "God has so willed it!" said he, with the resignation of a fanatic; bu_ithout, however, being able to take his eyes from that ship, on board o_hich he doubtless fancied he could distinguish the white outline of her t_hom he had sacrificed his life.
  • De Winter followed his look, observed his feelings, and guessed all.
  • "Be punished ALONE, for the first, miserable man!" said Lord de Winter t_elton, who was being dragged away with his eyes turned toward the sea; "but _wear to you by the memory of my brother whom I have loved so much that you_ccomplice is not saved."
  • Felton lowered his head without pronouncing a syllable.
  • As to Lord de Winter, he descended the stairs rapidly, and went straight t_he port.