Buckingham collected all his remaining strength to listen to the reading of the letter; then, when it was ended, as if he had met with a bitter disappointment, he asked, "Have you nothing else to say to me by the living voice, Laporte?"
"The queen charged me to tell you to watch over yourself, for she had advice that your assassination would be attempted."
"And is that all — is that all?" replied Buckingham, impatiently.
"She likewise charged me to tell you that she still loved you."
"Ah," said Buckingham, "God be praised! My death, then, will not be to her as the death of a stranger!"
Laporte burst into tears.
"Patrick," said the due, "bring me the casket in which the diamond studs were kept."
Patrick brought the object desired, which Laporte recognized as having belonged to the queen.
"Now the scent bag of white satin, on which her cipher is embroidered in pearls."
Patrick again obeyed.
"Here, Laporte," said Buckingham, "these are the only tokens I ever received from her — this silver casket and these two letters. You will restore them to her Majesty; and as a last memorial" — he looked round for some valuable object — "you will add — "
He still sought; but his eyes, darkened by death, encountered only the knife which had fallen from the hand of Felton, still smoking with the blood spread over its blade.
"And you will add to them this knife," said the duke, pressing the hand of Laporte. He had just strength enough to place the scent bag at the bottom of the silver casket, and to let the knife fall into it, making a sign to Laporte that he was no longer able to speak; than, in a last convulsion, which this time he had not the power to combat, he slipped from the sofa to the floor.
Patrick uttered a loud cry.
Buckingham tried to smile a last time; but death checked his thought, which remained engraved on his brow like a last kiss of love.
At this moment the duke's surgeon arrived, quite terrified; he was already on board the admiral's ship, where they had been obliged to seek him.
He approached the duke, took his hand, held it for an instant in his own, and letting it fall, "All is useless," said he, "he is dead."
"Dead, dead!" cried Patrick.
At this cry all the crowd re-entered the apartment, and throughout the palace and town there was nothing but consternation and tumult.
As soon as Lord de Winter saw Buckingham was dead, he ran to Felton, whom the soldiers still guarded on the terrace of the palace.
"Wretch!" said he to the young man, who since the death of Buckingham had regained that coolness and self-possession which never after abandoned him, "wretch! what have you done?"
"I have avenged myself!" said he.
"Avenged yourself," said the baron. "Rather say that you have served as an instrument to that accursed woman; but I swear to you that this crime shall be her last."
"I don't know what you mean," replied Felton, quietly, "and I am ignorant of whom you are speaking, my Lord. I killed the Duke of Buckingham because he twice refused you yourself to appoint me captain; I have punished him for his injustice, that is all."
De Winter, stupefied, looked on while the soldiers bound Felton, and could not tell what to think of such insensibility.
One thing alone, however, threw a shade over the pallid brow of Felton. At every noise he heard, the simple Puritan fancied he recognized the step and voice of Milady coming to throw herself into his arms, to accuse herself, and die with him.
All at once he started. His eyes became fixed upon a point of the sea, commanded by the terrace where he was. With the eagle glance of a sailor he had recognized there, where another would have seen only a gull hovering over the waves, the sail of a sloop which was directed toward the cost of France.
He grew deadly pale, placed his hand upon his heart, which was breaking, and at once perceived all the treachery.
"One last favor, my Lord!" said he to the baron.
"What?" asked his Lordship.
"What o'clock is it?"
The baron drew out his watch. "It wants ten minutes to nine," said he.
Milady had hastened her departure by an hour and a half. As soon as she heard the cannon which announced the fatal event, she had ordered the anchor to be weighed. The vessel was making way under a blue sky, at great distance from the coast.
"God has so willed it!" said he, with the resignation of a fanatic; but without, however, being able to take his eyes from that ship, on board of which he doubtless fancied he could distinguish the white outline of her to whom he had sacrificed his life.
De Winter followed his look, observed his feelings, and guessed all.
"Be punished ALONE, for the first, miserable man!" said Lord de Winter to Felton, who was being dragged away with his eyes turned toward the sea; "but I swear to you by the memory of my brother whom I have loved so much that your accomplice is not saved."
Felton lowered his head without pronouncing a syllable.
As to Lord de Winter, he descended the stairs rapidly, and went straight to the port.