59 WHAT TOOK PLACE AT PORTSMOUTH AUGUST 23, 1628
Felton took leave of Milady as a brother about to go for a mere walk takes leave of his sister, kissing her hand.
His whole body appeared in its ordinary state of calmness, only an unusual fire beamed from his eyes, like the effects of a fever; his brow was more pale than it generally was; his teeth were clenched, and his speech had a short dry accent 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 his face 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's apartment before nine o'clock, and it would require three hours to go from the castle to London.
Felton jumped onshore, climbed the little ascent which led to the top of the cliff, 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 only see the mast of the sloop.
He immediately ran in the direction of Portsmouth, which he saw at nearly half a league before him, standing out in the haze of the morning, with its houses and towers.
Beyond Portsmouth the sea was covered with vessels whose masts, like a forest of poplars despoiled by the winter, bent with each breath of the wind.
Felton, in his rapid walk, reviewed in his mind all the accusations against the favorite of James I and Charles I, furnished by two years of premature meditation and a long sojourn among the Puritans.
When he compared the public crimes of this minister — startling crimes, European crimes, if so we may say — with the private and unknown crimes with which Milady had charged him, Felton found that the more culpable of the two men which formed the character of Buckingham was the one of whom the public knew not the life. This was because his love, so strange, so new, and so ardent, made him view the infamous and imaginary accusations of Milady de Winter as, through a magnifying glass, one views as frightful monsters atoms in reality imperceptible by the side of an ant.
The rapidity of his walk heated his blood still more; the idea that he left behind him, exposed to a frightful vengeance, the woman he loved, or rather whom he adored as a saint, the emotion he had experienced, present fatigue — all together exalted his mind above human feeling.
He entered Portsmouth about eight o'clock in the morning. The whole population was on foot; drums were beating in the streets and in the port; the troops about to embark were marching toward the sea.
Felton arrived at the palace of the Admiralty, covered with dust, and streaming with perspiration. His countenance, usually so pale, was purple with heat and passion. The sentinel wanted to repulse him; but Felton called to the officer of the post, and drawing from his pocket the letter of which he was the 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 most intimate 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 the palace, tumbled on his foreknees.
Felton and he addressed Patrick, the duke's confidential lackey, at the same moment. Felton named Lord de Winter; the unknown would not name anybody, and pretended that it was to the duke alone he would make himself known. Each was anxious to gain admission before the other.
Patrick, who knew Lord de Winter was in affairs of the service, and in relations of friendship with the duke, gave the preference to the one who came in his name. The other was forced to wait, and it was easily to be seen how he cursed the delay.
The valet led Felton through a large hall in which waited the deputies from La Rochelle, headed by the Prince de Soubise, and introduced him into a closet where 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 rich toilet robe, worked with gold, in order to put on a blue velvet doublet embroidered with pearls.
"Why didn't the baron come himself?" demanded Buckingham. "I expected him this morning."
"He desired me to tell your Grace," replied Felton, "that he very much regretted not having that honor, but that he was prevented by the guard he is obliged 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. I shall 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 to request you to sign an order of embarkation relative to a young woman named Charlotte Backson."
"Yes, sir; and I answered him, to bring or send me that order and I would sign it."
"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, and perceiving that it was the one that had been mentioned to him, he placed it on the table, took a pen, and prepared to sign it.
"Pardon, my Lord," said Felton, stopping the duke; "but does your Grace know that 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 all the same?"
"Doubtless," said Buckingham, "and rather twice than once."
"I cannot believe," continued Felton, in a voice that became more sharp and rough, "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 I am very foolish to answer them?"
"Reply to them, my Lord," said Felton; "the circumstances are more serious than 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 Milady de Winter is a very guilty woman, and it is treating her very favorably to commute 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 the duke.
"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. "This lady is infamous."