Meantime milady, drunk with rage, roaring on the deck of the vessel like a lioness embarked, had been tempted to leap into the sea in order to regain the coast, for she could not get rid of the idea that she had been insulted by D’Artagnan and threatened by Athos, and after all was leaving France without being revenged on either.

But milady continued her voyage, and on the very day that Planchet embarked at Portsmouth for France, his Eminence’s messenger entered the port in triumph.

All the city was stirred by an extraordinary commotion: four large ships, recently built, had just been launched. Standing on the jetty, his clothes bedizened with gold, glittering as usual with diamonds and precious stones, his hat ornamented with a white feather which drooped on his shoulder, Buckingham was seen, surrounded by a staff almost as brilliant as himself.

They entered the roadstead; but as they were making ready to cast anchor, a little cutter, formidably armed and purporting to be a coastguard, approached the merchant vessel, and dropped into the sea its gig, which directed its course to the ladder. The gig contained an officer, a boatswain, and eight oarsmen. The officer alone got on board, where he was received with all the deference inspired by a uniform.

The officer conversed a few moments with the captain, had him read several papers of which he was the bearer; and on the merchant-captain’s order, all on board, both passengers and crew, were called on deck.

After this kind of summons had been given, the officer inquired aloud about the place of the brig’s departure, of her route, of her landings; and all these questions the captain answered without hesitation and without difficulty.

Then the officer began to pass in review all the individuals, one after the other; and stopping in front of milady, surveyed her very closely, but without addressing a single word to her. He then went up to the captain, again said a few words to him, and, as if from that moment the vessel was under his command, he ordered a manœuvre which the crew immediately executed.

Then the vessel resumed her course, still escorted by the little cutter, which sailed side by side with it, threatening her side with the mouths of its six cannon, while the boat followed in the wake of the ship.

While the officer made his scrutiny of milady, milady, as may well be imagined, had been sharply eyeing him. But great as was the power of this woman, with eyes of flame, in reading the hearts of those whose secrets she wished to divine, she met this time with a face so impenetrable that no discovery followed her investigation. The officer who had stopped before her and silently studied her with so much care might have been twenty-five or twenty-six years old. He had a pale complexion, with clear blue eyes, rather deeply set; his mouth, fine and well cut, remained motionless in its correct lines; his chin, strongly set, denoted that strength of will which, in the ordinary Britannic type, usually stands only for obstinacy; a brow a little receding, as is proper for poets, enthusiasts, and soldiers, was scarcely shaded by short thin hair, which, like the beard covering the lower part of his face. was of a beautiful deep-chestnut colour.

When they entered the port it was already nightfall. The fog made the darkness still denser, and formed round the beacons and the lantern of the jetty a circle like that which surrounds the moon when the weather threatens to become rainy. The air they breathed was gloomy, damp, and cold.

Milady, courageous as she was, shivered in spite of herself.

The officer desired to have milady’s luggage pointed out to him, ordered it to be placed in the boat; and when this operation was completed, he offered her his hand and invited her to descend.

Milady looked at the man and hesitated.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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