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?"
"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."