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Chapter 66 EXECUTION

  • It was near midnight; the moon, lessened by its decline, and reddened by th_ast traces of the storm, arose behind the little town of Armentieres, whic_howed against its pale light the dark outline of its houses, and the skeleto_f its high belfry. In front of them the Lys rolled its waters like a river o_olten tin; while on the other side was a black mass of trees, profiled on _tormy sky, invaded by large coppery clouds which created a sort of twiligh_mid the night. On the left was an old abandoned mill, with its motionles_ings, from the ruins of which an owl threw out its shrill, periodical, an_onotonous cry. On the right and on the left of the road, which the disma_rocession pursued, appeared a few low, stunted trees, which looked lik_eformed dwarfs crouching down to watch men traveling at this sinister hour.
  • From time to time a broad sheet of lightning opened the horizon in its whol_idth, darted like a serpent over the black mass of trees, and like a terribl_cimitar divided the heavens and the waters into two parts. Not a breath o_ind now disturbed the heavy atmosphere. A deathlike silence oppressed al_ature. The soil was humid and glittering with the rain which had recentl_allen, and the refreshed herbs sent forth their perfume with additiona_nergy.
  • Two lackeys dragged Milady, whom each held by one arm. The executioner walke_ehind them, and Lord de Winter, d'Artagnan, Porthos, and Aramis walked behin_he executioner. Planchet and Bazin came last.
  • The two lackeys conducted Milady to the bank of the river. Her mouth was mute; but her eyes spoke with their inexpressible eloquence, supplicating by turn_ach of those on whom she looked.
  • Being a few paces in advance she whispered to the lackeys, "A thousan_istoles to each of you, if you will assist my escape; but if you deliver m_p to your masters, I have near at hand avengers who will make you pay dearl_or my death."
  • Grimaud hesitated. Mousqueton trembled in all his members.
  • Athos, who heard Milady's voice, came sharply up. Lord de Winter did the same.
  • "Change these lackeys," said he; "she has spoken to them. They are no longe_ure."
  • Planchet and Bazin were called, and took the places of Grimaud and Mousqueton.
  • On the bank of the river the executioner approached Milady, and bound he_ands and feet.
  • Then she broke the silence to cry out, "You are cowards, miserabl_ssassins—ten men combined to murder one woman. Beware! If I am not saved _hall be avenged."
  • "You are not a woman," said Athos, coldly and sternly. "You do not belong t_he human species; you are a demon escaped from hell, whither we send you bac_gain."
  • "Ah, you virtuous men!" said Milady; "please to remember that he who shal_ouch a hair of my head is himself an assassin."
  • "The executioner may kill, without being on that account an assassin," sai_he man in the red cloak, rapping upon his immense sword. "This is the las_udge; that is all. NACHRICHTER, as say our neighbors, the Germans."
  • And as he bound her while saying these words, Milady uttered two or thre_avage cries, which produced a strange and melancholy effect in flying awa_nto the night, and losing themselves in the depths of the woods.
  • "If I am guilty, if I have committed the crimes you accuse me of," shrieke_ilady, "take me before a tribunal. You are not judges! You cannot condem_e!"
  • "I offered you Tyburn," said Lord de Winter. "Why did you not accept it?"
  • "Because I am not willing to die!" cried Milady, struggling. "Because I am to_oung to die!"
  • "The woman you poisoned at Bethune was still younger than you, madame, and ye_he is dead," said d'Artagnan.
  • "I will enter a cloister; I will become a nun," said Milady.
  • "You were in a cloister," said the executioner, "and you left it to ruin m_rother."
  • Milady uttered a cry of terror and sank upon her knees. The executioner too_er up in his arms and was carrying her toward the boat.
  • "Oh, my God!" cried she, "my God! are you going to drown me?"
  • These cries had something so heartrending in them that M. d'Artagnan, who ha_een at first the most eager in pursuit of Milady, sat down on the stump of _ree and hung his head, covering his ears with the palms of his hands; an_et, notwithstanding, he could still hear her cry and threaten.
  • D'Artagnan was the youngest of all these men. His heart failed him.
  • "Oh, I cannot behold this frightful spectacle!" said he. "I cannot consen_hat this woman should die thus!"
  • Milady heard these few words and caught at a shadow of hope.
  • "d'Artagnan, d'Artagnan!" cried she; "remember that I loved you!"
  • The young man rose and took a step toward her.
  • But Athos rose likewise, drew his sword, and placed himself in the way.
  • "If you take one step farther, d'Artagnan," said he, "we shall cross sword_ogether."
  • D'Artagnan sank on his knees and prayed.
  • "Come," continued Athos, "executioner, do your duty."
  • "Willingly, monseigneur," said the executioner; "for as I am a good Catholic, I firmly believe I am acting justly in performing my functions on this woman."
  • "That's well."
  • Athos made a step toward Milady.
  • "I pardon you," said he, "the ill you have done me. I pardon you for m_lasted future, my lost honor, my defiled love, and my salvation foreve_ompromised by the despair into which you have cast me. Die in peace!"
  • Lord de Winter advanced in his turn.
  • "I pardon you," said he, "for the poisoning of my brother, and th_ssassination of his Grace, Lord Buckingham. I pardon you for the death o_oor Felton; I pardon you for the attempts upon my own person. Die in peace!"
  • "And I," said M. d'Artagnan. "Pardon me, madame, for having by a tric_nworthy of a gentleman provoked your anger; and I, in exchange, pardon yo_he murder of my poor love and your cruel vengeance against me. I pardon you, and I weep for you. Die in peace!"
  • "I am lost!" murmured Milady in English. "I must die!"
  • Then she arose of herself, and cast around her one of those piercing look_hich seemed to dart from an eye of flame.
  • She saw nothing; she listened, and she heard nothing.
  • "Where am I to die?" said she.
  • "On the other bank," replied the executioner.
  • Then he placed her in the boat, and as he was going to set foot in it himself, Athos handed him a sum of silver.
  • "Here," said he, "is the price of the execution, that it may be plain we ac_s judges."
  • "That is correct," said the executioner; "and now in her turn, let this woma_ee that I am not fulfilling my trade, but my debt."
  • And he threw the money into the river.
  • The boat moved off toward the left-hand shore of the Lys, bearing the guilt_oman and the executioner; all the others remained on the right-hand bank, where they fell on their knees.
  • The boat glided along the ferry rope under the shadow of a pale cloud whic_ung over the water at that moment.
  • The troop of friends saw it gain the opposite bank; the figures were define_ike black shadows on the red-tinted horizon.
  • Milady, during the passage had contrived to untie the cord which fastened he_eet. On coming near the bank, she jumped lightly on shore and took to flight.
  • But the soil was moist; on reaching the top of the bank, she slipped and fel_pon her knees.
  • She was struck, no doubt, with a superstitious idea; she conceived that heave_enied its aid, and she remained in the attitude in which she had fallen, he_ead drooping and her hands clasped.
  • Then they saw from the other bank the executioner raise both his arms slowly; a moonbeam fell upon the blade of the large sword. The two arms fell with _udden force; they heard the hissing of the scimitar and the cry of th_ictim, then a truncated mass sank beneath the blow.
  • The executioner then took off his red cloak, spread it upon the ground, lai_he body in it, threw in the head, tied all up by the four corners, lifted i_n his back, and entered the boat again.
  • In the middle of the stream he stopped the boat, and suspending his burde_ver the water cried in a loud voice, "Let the justice of God be done!" and h_et the corpse drop into the depths of the waters, which closed over it.
  • Three days afterward the four Musketeers were in Paris; they had not exceede_heir leave of absence, and that same evening they went to pay their customar_isit to M. de Treville.
  • "Well, gentlemen," said the brave captain, "I hope you have been well amuse_uring your excursion."
  • "Prodigiously," replied Athos in the name of himself and his comrades.