It was almost midnight. The moon, hollowed by its waning, and red as blood under the last traces of the storm, was rising behind the little town of Armentières, which outlined against its pallid light the dark silhouette of its houses and the skeleton of its high carved belfry. In front of them the Lys was rolling its waters like a river of molten lead; while on the other bank could be seen a black mass of trees, outlined against a stormy sky, which was invaded by huge coppery clouds, creating a kind of twilight amid the night.
Two of the lackeys dragged milady along, each taking one of her arms. The executioner walked behind them, and Lord Winter,DArtagnan, Porthos, and Aramis walked behind the executioner.
When they reached the banks of the river the executioner approached milady and bound her hands and her feet.
Athos took a step toward milady.
I pardon you, said he, the ill you have done me; I pardon you for my blasted future, my lost honour, my defiled love, and my salvation for ever compromised by the despair into which you have cast me. Die in peace!
Lord Winter advanced next.
I pardon you, said he, the poisoning of my brother, the assassination of his Grace the Duke of Buckingham; I pardon you poor Feltons death; I pardon you the attempts on me personally. Die in peace!
And I, said DArtagnanpardon me, madame, for having by deceit, unworthy of a gentleman, provoked your anger; and in exchange I pardon you the murder of my poor sweetheart and your cruel I am lost! murmured milady in English; I must die!
Then she rosa of her own accord, and cast around her one of those keen looks which seemed to dart from a flaming eye.
She saw nothing.
She listened; she heard nothing.
She had only enemies around her.
Where am I to die? she asked.
On the other bank, replied the executioner.
Then he made her enter the boat,
The boat moved off toward the left bank of the Lys, bearing the guilty woman and the executioner. All the others remained on the right bank, where they had fallen on their knees.
The boat glided along the ferry-rope under the gleam of a pale cloud which hung over the water at the moment.
It was seen reaching the opposite bank; the figures were outlined in black against the red-tinted horizon.
Milady during the passage had contrived to untie the cord which fastened her feet; on reaching the bank, she jumped lightly on shore and took to flight.
But the soil was moist. When she reached the top of the bank she slipped and fell on her knees.
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