Milady mounted upon a chair and passed the upper part of her body through the window. She saw the young officer suspended over the abyss by a ladder of ropes. For the first time an emotion of terror reminded her that she was a woman.
The dark space frightened her.
"I expected this," said Felton.
"It's nothing, it's nothing!" said Milady. "I will descend with my eyes shut."
"Have you confidence in me?" said Felton.
"You ask that?"
"Put your two hands together. Cross them; that's right!"
Felton tied her two wrists together with his handkerchief, and then with a cord over the handkerchief.
"What are you doing?" asked Milady, with surprise.
"Pass your arms around my neck, and fear nothing."
"But I shall make you lose your balance, and we shall both be dashed to pieces."
"Don't be afraid. I am a sailor."
Not a second was to be lost. Milady passed her two arms round Felton's neck, and let herself slip out of the window. Felton began to descend the ladder slowly, step by step. Despite the weight of two bodies, the blast of the hurricane shook them in the air.
All at once Felton stopped.
"What is the matter?" asked Milady.
"Silence," said Felton, "I hear footsteps."
"We are discovered!"
There was a silence of several seconds.
"No," said Felton, "it is nothing."
"But what, then, is the noise?"
"That of the patrol going their rounds."
"Where is their road?"
"Just under us."
"They will discover us!"
"No, if it does not lighten."
"But they will run against the bottom of the ladder."
"Fortunately it is too short by six feet."
"Here they are! My God!"
Both remained suspended, motionless and breathless, within twenty paces of the ground, while the patrol passed beneath them laughing and talking. This was a terrible moment for the fugitives.
The patrol passed. The noise of their retreating footsteps and the murmur of their voices soon died away.
"Now," said Felton, "we are safe."
Milady breathed a deep sigh and fainted.
Felton continued to descend. Near the bottom of the ladder, when he found no more support for his feet, he clung with his hands; at length, arrived at the last step, he let himself hang by the strength of his wrists, and touched the ground. He stooped down, picked up the bag of money, and placed it between his teeth. Then he took Milady in his arms, and set off briskly in the direction opposite to that which the patrol had taken. He soon left the pathway of the patrol, descended across the rocks, and when arrived on the edge of the sea, whistled.
A similar signal replied to him; and five minutes after, a boat appeared, rowed by four men.
The boat approached as near as it could to the shore; but there was not depth enough of water for it to touch land. Felton walked into the sea up to his middle, being unwilling to trust his precious burden to anybody.
Fortunately the storm began to subside, but still the sea was disturbed. The little boat bounded over the waves like a nut-shell.
"To the sloop," said Felton, "and row quickly."
The four men bent to their oars, but the sea was too high to let them get much hold of it.
However, they left the castle behind; that was the principal thing. The night was extremely dark. It was almost impossible to see the shore from the boat; they would therefore be less likely to see the boat from the shore.
A black point floated on the sea. That was the sloop. While the boat was advancing with all the speed its four rowers could give it, Felton untied the cord and then the handkerchief which bound Milady's hands together. When her hands were loosed he took some sea water and sprinkled it over her face.
Milady breathed a sigh, and opened her eyes.
"Where am I?" said she.
"Saved!" replied the young officer.
"Oh, saved, saved!" cried she. "Yes, there is the sky; here is the sea! The air I breathe is the air of liberty! Ah, thanks, Felton, thanks!"
The young man pressed her to his heart.
"But what is the matter with my hands!" asked Milady; "it seems as if my wrists had been crushed in a vice."
Milady held out her arms; her wrists were bruised.
"Alas!" said Felton, looking at those beautiful hands, and shaking his head sorrowfully.
"Oh, it's nothing, nothing!" cried Milady. "I remember now."
Milady looked around her, as if in search of something.
"It is there," said Felton, touching the bag of money with his foot.
They drew near to the sloop. A sailor on watch hailed the boat; the boat replied.
"What vessel is that?" asked Milady.
"The one I have hired for you."
"Where will it take me?"
"Where you please, after you have put me on shore at Portsmouth."
"What are you going to do at Portsmouth?" asked Milady.
"Accomplish the orders of Lord de Winter," said Felton, with a gloomy smile.
"What orders?" asked Milady.
"You do not understand?" asked Felton.
"No; explain yourself, I beg."
"As he mistrusted me, he determined to guard you himself, and sent me in his place to get Buckingham to sign the order for your transportation."
"But if he mistrusted you, how could he confide such an order to you?"
"How could I know what I was the bearer of?"
"That's true! And you are going to Portsmouth?"
"I have no time to lose. Tomorrow is the twenty-third, and Buckingham sets sail tomorrow with his fleet."
"He sets sail tomorrow! Where for?"
"For La Rochelle."
"He need not sail!" cried Milady, forgetting her usual presence of mind.
"Be satisfied," replied Felton; "he will not sail."
Milady started with joy. She could read to the depths of the heart of this young man; the death of Buckingham was written there at full length.
"Felton," cried she, "you are as great as Judas Maccabeus! If you die, I will die with you; that is all I can say to you."
"Silence!" cried Felton; "we are here."
In fact, they touched the sloop.
Felton mounted the ladder first, and gave his hand to Milady, while the sailors supported her, for the sea was still much agitated.