The Three Musketeers – Day 192 of 227

“Impossible, madame, impossible,” murmured Felton, who felt to the bottom of his heart the justness of this argument. “A prisoner, you will not recover your liberty through me; living, you will not lose your life through me.”

“Yes,” cried Milady, “but I shall lose that which is much dearer to me than life, I shall lose my honor, Felton; and it is you, you whom I make responsible, before God and before men, for my shame and my infamy.”

This time Felton, immovable as he was, or appeared to be, could not resist the secret influence which had already taken possession of him. To see this woman, so beautiful, fair as the brightest vision, to see her by turns overcome with grief and threatening; to resist at once the ascendancy of grief and beauty—it was too much for a visionary; it was too much for a brain weakened by the ardent dreams of an ecstatic faith; it was too much for a heart furrowed by the love of heaven that burns, by the hatred of men that devours.

Milady saw the trouble. She felt by intuition the flame of the opposing passions which burned with the blood in the veins of the young fanatic. As a skillful general, seeing the enemy ready to surrender, marches toward him with a cry of victory, she rose, beautiful as an antique priestess, inspired like a Christian virgin, her arms extended, her throat uncovered, her hair disheveled, holding with one hand her robe modestly drawn over her breast, her look illumined by that fire which had already created such disorder in the veins of the young Puritan, and went toward him, crying out with a vehement air, and in her melodious voice, to which on this occasion she communicated a terrible energy:

“Let this victim to Baal be sent, To the lions the martyr be thrown! Thy God shall teach thee to repent! From th’ abyss he’ll give ear to my moan.”

Felton stood before this strange apparition like one petrified.

“Who art thou? Who art thou?” cried he, clasping his hands. “Art thou a messenger from God; art thou a minister from hell; art thou an angel or a demon; callest thou thyself Eloa or Astarte?”

“Do you not know me, Felton? I am neither an angel nor a demon; I am a daughter of earth, I am a sister of thy faith, that is all.”

“Yes, yes!” said Felton, “I doubted, but now I believe.”

“You believe, and still you are an accomplice of that child of Belial who is called Lord de Winter! You believe, and yet you leave me in the hands of mine enemies, of the enemy of England, of the enemy of God! You believe, and yet you deliver me up to him who fills and defiles the world with his heresies and debaucheries—to that infamous Sardanapalus whom the blind call the Duke of Buckingham, and whom believers name Antichrist!”

“I deliver you up to Buckingham? I? what mean you by that?”

“They have eyes,” cried Milady, “but they see not; ears have they, but they hear not.”

“Yes, yes!” said Felton, passing his hands over his brow, covered with sweat, as if to remove his last doubt. “Yes, I recognize the voice which speaks to me in my dreams; yes, I recognize the features of the angel who appears to me every night, crying to my soul, which cannot sleep: ‘Strike, save England, save thyself—for thou wilt die without having appeased God!’ Speak, speak!” cried Felton, “I can understand you now.”

A flash of terrible joy, but rapid as thought, gleamed from the eyes of Milady.

However fugitive this homicide flash, Felton saw it, and started as if its light had revealed the abysses of this woman’s heart. He recalled, all at once, the warnings of Lord de Winter, the seductions of Milady, her first attempts after her arrival. He drew back a step, and hung down his head, without, however, ceasing to look at her, as if, fascinated by this strange creature, he could not detach his eyes from her eyes.

Milady was not a woman to misunderstand the meaning of this hesitation. Under her apparent emotions her icy coolness never abandoned her. Before Felton replied, and before she should be forced to resume this conversation, so difficult to be sustained in the same exalted tone, she let her hands fall; and as if the weakness of the woman overpowered the enthusiasm of the inspired fanatic, she said: “But no, it is not for me to be the Judith to deliver Bethulia from this Holofernes. The sword of the eternal is too heavy for my arm. Allow me, then, to avoid dishonor by death; let me take refuge in martyrdom. I do not ask you for liberty, as a guilty one would, nor for vengeance, as would a pagan. Let me die; that is all. I supplicate you, I implore you on my knees—let me die, and my last sigh shall be a blessing for my preserver.”

Hearing that voice, so sweet and suppliant, seeing that look, so timid and downcast, Felton reproached himself. By degrees the enchantress had clothed herself with that magic adornment which she assumed and threw aside at will; that is to say, beauty, meekness, and tears—and above all, the irresistible attraction of mystical voluptuousness, the most devouring of all voluptuousness.

“Alas!” said Felton, “I can do but one thing, which is to pity you if you prove to me you are a victim! But Lord de Winter makes cruel accusations against you. You are a Christian; you are my sister in religion. I feel myself drawn toward you—I, who have never loved anyone but my benefactor—I who have met with nothing but traitors and impious men. But you, madame, so beautiful in reality, you, so pure in appearance, must have committed great iniquities for Lord de Winter to pursue you thus.”

“They have eyes,” repeated Milady, with an accent of indescribable grief, “but they see not; ears have they, but they hear not.”

“But,” cried the young officer, “speak, then, speak!”

“Confide my shame to you,” cried Milady, with the blush of modesty upon her countenance, “for often the crime of one becomes the shame of another—confide my shame to you, a man, and I a woman? Oh,” continued she, placing her hand modestly over her beautiful eyes, “never! never!—I could not!”

“To me, to a brother?” said Felton.

Milady looked at him for some time with an expression which the young man took for doubt, but which, however, was nothing but observation, or rather the wish to fascinate.

Felton, in his turn a suppliant, clasped his hands.

“Well, then,” said Milady, “I confide in my brother; I will dare to—”

At this moment the steps of Lord de Winter were heard; but this time the terrible brother-in-law of Milady did not content himself, as on the preceding day, with passing before the door and going away again. He paused, exchanged two words with the sentinel; then the door opened, and he appeared.

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