"Gabriel, Gabriel—save me, save me."
He saw Lucille's face; it was her voice that rang in his ears. He felt his strength multiplied a hundred fold. He would have, single-handed, fought an army in such a quarrel. With a cry of delight, that burst from his very soul, he sprang to the side of the carriage and grasped the door. Before he reached it, however, some one from within had drawn her away and shut the window close, and the horses being again in motion, and rapidly quickening their pace to a gallop, Gabriel ran by the side, tugging vainly at the door, until one of the mounted attendants, spurring beside, seized him by the collar, and flung him headlong upon the road.
Stunned and giddy, he got upon his feet again, and staggered blindly after the whirling carriage, uttering threats and defiances as huge as ever were thundered from the lips of the renowned knight of La Mancha. All would not do, however; the cortege held on its way with whirlwind speed. Vainly Gabriel strained every sinew to overtake the coach. The fell enchanters rapt his peerless mistress from his eyes, and every moment the distance between him and them became wider and more hopeless. At last, breathless, exhausted, enraged, he was forced to give over the pursuit, after having maintained it for nearly three miles over the pavements of the long straight road.
It was on the highway to Paris; thither he assumed they were bound, and there he resolved that night should behold him also. Sometimes running, sometimes walking with hurried strides, he steadily and rapidly pursued his way; his imagination every moment filled with images of the strange golden dragons and cupids, and the pale, beautiful face of Lucille shrieking from among them for help.
"What then had befallen Lucille?" The reader shall hear.
The first symptom which assured her that Blassemare was at work in the realization of this plot, was that her Norman woman, having stayed away longer than usual at her suppertime, returned with a very flushed face and dancing eyes, and altogether in a very hilarious and impertinent mood. For a long time, however, it appeared that the woman was only "pleasantly intoxicated," a state in which she would probably prove a more effectual check upon her plans of escape than in her ordinary condition. Spite of the seriousness of the issue, there was something inconceivably absurd in this distress. The woman was noisy, familiar, and sometimes indulged in a vein of menacing jocularity, the principal material of which was supplied from scraps of old Norman ditties. There was one in particular which had a specially grisly sound in the ears of the friendless and frightened young wife. It was about a belle demoiselle—
"Who lived all alone in a castle of brick, And all in the night-time this lady fell sick; She had eat of a berry that grew by the well, And black grow her features—her members they swell; This lady is poisoned and so she must lie, All stark in her bower with nobody nigh."
In the midst of this sinister merriment the woman suddenly became drowsy, and after a few ineffectual efforts to shake off the torpor that was overpowering her, sank into a profound sleep. This occurred in the anteroom, and, leaving the snoring amazon to the sole occupation of the apartment, Lucille hastened to the bedchamber, from which she commanded a view of the little pavilion, in the window of which she was to expect the signal of escape.
It was quite dark; and with a heart palpitating so violently that she felt at times almost suffocating, she watched the hardly discernible outline of the building from which the signal was to be displayed.
The wicked Norman was snoring under the influence of her narcotics; but to the accompaniment of her abominable drone what a hell of suspense did poor Lucille endure! At length, and not until considerably past ten o'clock, a light gleamed faintly and for an instant in the appointed spot, and then disappeared. It returned, however, and now shone steadily. The decisive moment which was to commence the adventure had arrived. She murmured an imploring prayer, and turned the bolt of the window which opened on the balcony. Horror of horrors! it was fast locked; a strong wire grating covered the outside, so that even had she ventured upon so much noise as would have been necessary in order to break the glass, she would in that have encountered a further obstacle, to her strength absolutely insurmountable.
She made up her mind to escape by the outer door of her suite of rooms, and to risk all on being able undetected to make her exit in that way from the house. But that door was also locked. She wrung her hands in an agony of distraction; but she did not abandon the enterprise. Encouraged by the lusty snoring of the woman, she approached the fauteuil, where she lay rather than sat. She slid her hand into the sleeper's pocket, scarcely daring to breathe while she did so. The keys were not in it; and the woman turned with something like a start in the chair. Lucille recoiled on tiptoe, holding her breath, until she seemed again soundly asleep. She might have concealed them in her bosom; and with an effort of resolution Madame Le Prun stepped noiselessly beside her and tried there. She was successful, but in drawing out the key her hand brushed slightly on the slumbering woman's face, and to her unutterable terror she started bolt upright in the chair, and stared with a wild and glassy gaze in her face. Lucille's heart died within her; she froze with terror; but the action was purely physical, the woman's senses were still slumbering; there was no trace of meaning in her face; and in a few moments she fell back again in the same profound sleep.
XIV.—THE PALACE OF TERROR.
With this key Lucille opened the window of the balcony softly. The descent from this would at another time have appeared to her a matter of peril, if not impossibility; nerved, however, by the stake and the emergency, it was nothing; she was upon the ground. The park door she found, as Blassemare had promised, open. She was now amidst the misty shadows of the solemn wood. She knew the path to the well by which the two chestnut-trees grew, and, with light and trembling steps, ran toward the trysting place. The moon had just begun to rise, and afforded a wan light, as she reached the appointed spot.
She stood beside the well, almost frightened at the success of her adventure. A figure emerged from a thicket close by. It was that of a man in a huge red cloak, and with a great cocked hat, like that of a gens-d'armes. Could this possibly be De Secqville? He whistled a shrill summons as he approached, and she heard the sound of steps hurrying to the spot. She was full of fear, apprehensive of treason and danger. The gentleman in the cocked hat was now close to her. He had long black hair, descending upon his shoulders, a pair of shaggy eyebrows, and a preposterous pair of black moustaches. She asked, in a faltering voice—
"Who are you, sir?"
"An officer, madame, of the police; and you are Madame Lucille Le Prun, nee de Charrebourg, wife of Etienne Le Prun; and I arrest you in the King's name."
"Arrest me!—why?—upon what charge?—who is my accuser?"
"By my faith, madame, I know not. My duty is, simply to arrest you, in the name of his Majesty, and to convey you to Paris. It is nothing very bad, I fancy. Perhaps you have made monsieur a little jealous, or so; but you know best."
He spoke in a harsh, gruff voice, and his hand rested upon her arm, so as to render escape impossible, while he addressed her.
"By what authority do you arrest me?—by what order?"
"By virtue of this lettre-de-cachet; you see, madame, signed by the minister of police."
"I cannot read it; there is not light sufficient."
"Ma foi, madame, there is little sunshine at half-past eleven o'clock at night. I can't help that. Madame will please to come with us."
Two men by this time had appeared close at hand; and Madame Le Prun, who much preferred one of the King's prisons to that in which her husband was absolute, accompanied her captors with a far better grace than under other circumstances she would have done.
Distant a few score steps, upon a sort of grass-grown road, which traversed the park, stood the equipage which we have already described; and in a few seconds Lucille found herself seated beside the red cloak and mighty moustache, that held her in durance, jolting and rolling at a rapid pace along the moonlit scenery of the park.
"Where am I going?—to the Bastile?" asked Lucille, when a few minutes had a little recovered her from the stun and confusion of this adventure.
"Hum!—why, no, madame—not the Bastile; you are going to a convent."
"A convent!—how strange! What convent?"
"That of the Sisters of Love and Our Lady of the Sparkling Eyes—an ancient foundation of royalty in the city."
"I dare say; I never heard of it before;" and Lucille sank into profound silence.
After a considerable interval, she asked, with a tremulousness she in vain tried to conceal—
"There were some friends who were to have arranged my departure from the place where you arrested me to-night—did you see them?"
"Oh, yes; there was the atribilious Marquis de Secqville and the handsome Conte de Blassemare. St. Imay arrested them about half-an-hour ago; they are gone to the Bastile."
Lucille sighed profoundly. She did not observe that the farouche officer in the corner of the coach was shaking with suppressed laughter. After a time he ejaculated, in a sepulchral tone—
"I strongly suspect their punishment will be dreadful. It is bad enough to conspire to steal away the wife of a respectable curmudgeon, madame, but to draw one's sword on the king's police!—ma foi, madame, that is another affair. If his majesty's clemency be enlisted, notwithstanding, in their behoof, they may chance to get off with the galleys. It will be a dreadful sight to see that solemn De Secqville and that jovial Blassemare pulling one of those cursed long oars together, in red serge shirts, cursing Cupid and Monsieur Le Prun."
Lucille shrunk back into the obscurity of her corner. The officer could not discern how his brusque communication had affected her; but, after a short silence, he burst into an unrestrained peal of laughter. This unseasonable insolence incensed his prisoner. She felt, however, that she was at his mercy, and commanded herself; but she could not avoid saying—
"If the calamities of other people afford you entertainment, monsieur, I can congratulate you upon possessing an inexhaustible fund of amusement in the discharge of your odious and melancholy office."
"Amusement! entertainment!" he ejaculated, with another eclat of laughter, still more obstreperous. "I can't help laughing; but it is merely hysterical, on the faith of a gentleman. I laugh in proportion to my desolation. I could at this moment tear out my beard by handfuls through sheer despair. Par exemple, madame, par exemple!" And, with a frantic gesture and a roar of laughter, he literally tore off his huge moustache with both his hands, at a single pluck. "And my chevelure also, madame. See, here it goes—all for despair—hurra, hurra, hurrah! And my eyebrows—ay, they, too—pa ma foi—the eyebrows—there, presto—hurra, hurra!"
He shook and roared with laughter as he made these successive sacrifices, and, shifting his seat, so that the moonlight fell full upon him, cried, panting from exhaustion—
"Does not madame know me?—is it possible? Here I am—cloak, cocked hat, wig, all gone—in the proper costume of madame's fortunate and adoring deliverer."
So saying, Blassemare, for it was he, descended, as well as he could, upon one knee, and seizing Lucille's hand, pressed it to his lips.
"Monsieur Blassemare, you insult me, sir; you forget the conditions upon which I trusted myself to your care."
"Pardon me, there are no conditions. Madame will please to remember I would accept none."
At this moment the carriage stopped at the point where Gabriel was at that instant about to pass.
"Let me go, sir—I will descend. Open the door, I am free—I insist, I desire to leave the carriage."
"No, no—pray be tranquil—it is impossible."
"I will descend, monsieur."
"Madame, you shall not."
He spoke with a good-humored and emphatic impudence which implied the most perfect resolution. A vague terror took possession of her. She rushed to the window, and Blassemare, with a gentle force, drew her back.
It was at that moment she saw Gabriel, and shrieked to him for help.
The coach was again thundering at a gallop along the highway. Lucille sank back in the corner, and wept with mingled anger and despair. Blassemare was not a ruffian, so he said, "Madame, calm yourself, I wish to treat you with respect; your suspicions wound me as much as your ingratitude. I hope, however, that both will vanish on reflection. In the meantime, I cannot consent to so insane a measure as your leaving the carriage. Your return to the Chateau des Anges is not to be thought of; you dare not go back; and pardon me, madame, I will not permit you to leave this carriage except for a place of safety and temporary concealment."
Lucille's haughty and fiery temper could hardly brook this hoity-toity assumption of authority. There was, however, an obvious vein of reason in what he said; and she saw, besides, the futility of contending with one whose will was probably as strong as her own, and backed with power to make it effectual. She therefore maintained a moody silence, and Blassemarre, deeming it best to suffer her ill-humor to expend itself harmlessly, awaited better moments in congenial taciturnity.
Having got a relay of fresh horses upon the way, they continued their journey at the same furious pace, and at last they entered Paris. Passing through streets which hemmed her in, or opened in long vistas like the fantastic scenery of a dream, hurrying onward, she knew not whither, under swinging lamps, amidst silence and desertion, the carriage at last drove under a narrow archway into a sort of fore-court, over which a dark mass of building was looming, and through a second gateway in this, into an inclosed quadrangle, surrounded by the same black pile of buildings.
Here the carriage stopped, and one of the attendants, dismounting, rang a hall bell, whose deep sudden peal through empty vastness gave a character of profound desolation to the silence in which it was swallowed. More than once the summons was repeated, and at last a faint light gleamed upon the windows, and the door was timorously unbarred and opened. A hard-featured hag, in a faded suit of an obsolete fashion—the genius loci—received the party. She scrutinized Lucille with a protracted stare of audacious inquisitiveness, and when she had quite satisfied her curiosity, she led the way through several halls and lobbies up the great staircase, along a corridor, through a suite of rooms, upon another lobby up a second staircase, into a great dreary passage, through half a dozen waste and desolate chambers, and so at last into a room which had a few pieces of furniture at one end of it, and a log of wood smouldering and smoking on the hearth.
In truth it was a melancholy place, haunted by dismal reverberations and a deathlike atmosphere—everywhere mildewed, faded, and half rotten with decay. It was a place where crimes might be committed, unrecorded and unsuspected—where screams would lose themselves in vacancy, and desolation and solitude would swallow up the ghastly evidences of outrage. Here was the fitting scenery for tales of preternatural terror or fiendish crime. Lucille felt her heart sink within her as she entered this vast and awful labyrinth. But she felt that, be her destiny what it might, she had herself no power to mend it. What resource was left to her? Necessity retained her amidst the menacing solitudes of this half-ruined mansion.
Blassemare left her to the care of the old crone, who, to judge from appearances, was hardly an improvement upon the ungracious attendant she had left at the Chateau des Anges. This hag had evidently the worst possible opinion of her guest, and took no pains to affect a respect which she was far from feeling. She contented herself with offering Lucille some supper, and this declined, showed her the bedroom that was prepared for her—a room of the same depressing vastness, and offering, in its shabby and niggard furniture, a contrast to its majestic dimensions.
Such as it was, however, it was welcome. Lucille was exhausted with the anxieties and agitations of the day, as well as with her late and rapid journey. Having examined the room with a fearful scrutiny, she succeeded in bolting one of the doors, and placed the only chair the room contained against the other; so that she might, at least, be warned by the noise, in the event of any persons forcing an entrance. She lay down without taking off her clothes, and leaving the candle unextinguished.
For a long time the excitement of her strange situation, and the alarms that environed her, chased sleep away, worn and exhausted as she was. After a while, however, fatigue began to confuse her thoughts with interposing visions. The dreary chamber faded from her view; her heavy eyelids closed; fantastic scenes and images chased one another through her wearied brain, and slumber stole gradually upon her, overpowering spirit and body with a sweet torpor.
From this profound sleep Lucille was disturbed by a peremptory knocking at the door of the room, which she had bolted. This was accompanied by violent and reiterated attempts to force it open. At first, these sounds had mingled with her dreams; but the noise of a struggle, the suppressed tones of a man's voice, speaking rapidly and fiercely, followed by one thrilling maniacal scream, which hurried away through the remote passages, until it either subsided, or was lost in distance, called her up from her slumbers, trembling with terror.
Sleep was effectually dispelled, and, overcome with the horror of her situation, she wept, and prayed, and watched through the remainder of the night. In the morning she heard the old woman arranging the next room, and soon the voice of Blassemare. Emboldened by the daylight, and confident that Blassemare, however insulting his designs, would at all events protect her from actual violence, she opened the door, and entered the outer chamber, looking so pale, haggard, and fear-stricken, that the roue himself felt a momentary emotion of compassion.
XV.—THE GRATED WINDOW.
"Monsieur de Blassemare," she said, abruptly, "I cannot remain here!"
"And why not, madame?"
"I have passed a night of terror."
"I should be happy to protect madame."
The significance of his tone, made her eyes flash and her cheeks tingle; but she controlled her indignation, and said—
"I last night heard the sounds of violence and agony at my very door—in this apartment. Who was the woman that screamed? What have they done?"
"Shall I tell you?" asked Blassemare, with an odd smile.
"Yes, monsieur, who was she?" she persisted, her curiosity aroused by the pointed question of Blassemare.
"Well, madame, the person whom you heard scream at your door last night is Madame Le Prun, wife of the Fermier-General—the wealthy and benevolent owner of the Chateau des Anges, and your successful—lover!"
"Wife—wife of Monsieur Le Prun!" she faltered, nearly stupefied.
"Ay, madame, his wife."
"Then, thank God, he has no control over me. I am free!—that, at least, is a happiness."
"Nay, madame, you will not find it so easy to satisfy our tribunals—you seem to have forgotten the necessity of proofs. In the mean time, you are de facto the wife of Monsieur Le Prun, and he will exert, according to law, the rights and authority of a husband over you."
"Monsieur de Blassemare, for God's sake, help me—help me in this frightful extremity!"
"Madame, the fact is, I must be plain with you. If I mix myself further in this frightful affair, as you justly term it, I must lay my account with serious perils. Men do not run their heads into mischief for nothing; and, therefore, if I act as your champion, I must be accepted as your lover also."
"Oh, Monsieur de Blassemare, you cannot be serious!—you will not be so inhuman as to desert me!"
"By my faith, madame, the age of knight-errantry is over—nothing for nothing is the ruling principle of our own prosaic day. To be plain with you, I can't afford to quarrel with Le Prun for nothing; and, if you persist in refusing my services, I must only make it up with him as best I can; and of course you return to the Chateau des Anges."
"I can't believe you, Monsieur de Blassemare; I won't believe you. You are a gentleman—kind, honorable, humane."
"Gad!—so I am, madame; but I am no professed redresser of wrongs. I never interpose between husband and wife—or those who pass for such—without a sufficient motive. Now, Monsieur Le Prun believes I have gone down to his estate at Lyons, but he will have intelligence of your flight to-day, and he will learn, in a few days more, that I have also disappeared. The fact is, my complicity can't remain a secret long. You see, madame, I must take my course promptly. It altogether rests with you to decide what it shall be. But you are fatigued and excited: don't pronounce in too much haste. Consider your position, and I shall have the honor to present myself again in the course of the afternoon."
She did not attempt to detain him, or, indeed, to reply. Her thoughts were too distracted.
Lucille, alone once more, became a prey to the terror of another visit from the so-called Madame Le Prun, whose ill-omened approaches had inspired her with so much terror on the night preceding.
The chambers looked, if possible, more decayed and dilapidated by daylight than they had upon the preceding night. She went to the windows, but they afforded no more cheering prospect—looking out upon a dark courtyard, round which the vast hotel rose in sombre altitude—dreary, inauspicious, and colossal. The court was utterly deserted, and the gate leading from it into the fore-court was closed and barred. The Bastile itself would have been cheerful compared with this vast and fearful castle of solitude, or, as it might be, worse. The sense of absolute defencelessness added poignancy to her fears of a renewed visit from some ill-disposed denizen of the mansion; and her fears at last became so strong, that she ventured to leave the rooms where she had been established, intending to retreat to some part of the house where her presence might at all events be less certainly expected than where she was. Accordingly she was soon wending among all the intricacies and solemn grandeur of a huge and half-ruinous hotel. Descending, at last, a turret stair, she came to a small stone chamber, in which was a little grated window. Standing upon a block of stone, she looked through the strong bars of this little aperture, and perceived that it was but some six or seven feet above the pave of a dark and narrow lane. She would have given worlds to escape from the prison in which she found herself, but the close, thick bars rendered all chance of making that a passage of escape wholly desperate.
As she looked wistfully through, a little ragged urchin came whistling carelessly along the lane, kicking a turnip before him.
She called the gamin: he was a shrewd monkey-faced fellow, with an insolent crafty eye.
"My good boy, here is a louis-d'or, as earnest of twenty more which I will give you, if you bring this safely to Monsieur le Marquis de Secqville, at the Hotel de Secqville, Rue St. Etienne, and conduct him hither."
"Hey, mademoiselle! it is a bargain. But how shall I know you again?—what is your name?"
"I am Madame Le Prun; but the marquis will tell you where I am to be found. See, here is the note!"
She had written a few lines upon a leaf of her tablet. She tore it off, directed it, and then threw it out to the boy, together with the promised coin. He ran away, chuckling and singing upon his errand, believing his fortune made, and in an instant was out of sight.
Let us now see how he fared.
As the demon of contrariety would have it, Monsieur Le Prun, almost insane with rage and spite, had, not five minutes before, dismounted at the Hotel de Secqville, to consult the marquis respecting the flight of Madame Le Prun. He had certainly chosen his advisers well. The marquis, as it happened, was out, and Le Prun, who, of course, had access under all circumstances to the interior of the hotel, established himself in the private apartment of De Secqville, awaiting his return.
While there, the servant brought in the pencil-note on which so much depended.
"It must be intended for monsieur," said the man presenting it upon his salver, "for the messenger says it comes from Madame Le Prun."
"Hey!—ha!—let us see! Ten thousand devils, what is this?"
"Relying upon your professions of devotion, I implore of you to deliver me from a prison as terrifying as that of which my husband was the jailer. The messenger, a little boy whom fortune has sent to me, will conduct you to this spot. I know not the name of the street, nor of the hotel. In the name of heaven lose not a moment!
Monsieur Le Prun descended the stairs, and was in the street in a second.
"Well, garcon, here I am—I've got the note—conduct me to the place."
"Ha, ha! then you are—the marquis?"
"To be sure I am. Here, boy, take this, and lead on."
He gave him a piece of money, and, following his little guide, Le Prun, in less than half an hour, reached the spot from which he had started.
"Bon jour, madame. I hope you have recovered the fatigue of your night's journey. You see I lose no time in hastening to bid you welcome."
So cried Monsieur Le Prun, with a sardonic grin upon his pale face, as he bowed to the horror-stricken girl, who still occupied the little window, where she expected so different an image.
She fled from this spectre as if she had seen the Evil One incarnate. Flying wildly through the passages and chambers of the deserted house, she found herself on a sudden in an apartment furnished like an office, with shelves, desks, &c., and here Blassemare was sitting among a pile of papers. He started on seeing her, and she exclaimed:
"Monsieur Le Prun has seen me—he will be here in a moment."
"Here!—where is he?"
"He saw me in the window, and spoke to me with furious irony from the street. For God's sake, hide me. I feel that he will kill me."
"Hum!—so. Gad, he will be here in a moment. I must meet him boldly—I have nothing for it but impudence. A few fibs, and, if the worst should come, my sword. But don't be frightened, madame, he shan't hurt you."
Blassemare proceeded to the court, awaiting the advent of his incensed patron.
XVI.—THE WOMAN IN FLANNEL.
We must now, with the reader's leave, follow Gabriel to Paris, where he arrived fully three hours later than the fugitive cortege. He wandered for more than an hour among the streets, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the coach with the blue panels, and the golden cupids and dragons so curiously interlaced; but we need not say how vainly.
Worn out with fatigue, hungry and cold—for the nights were now very chill—and without a sou in his pocket, poor Gabriel, having wandered for some hours among the streets of this great city, now emptied of all but its crime and destitution, at last found shelter for the night in an empty cask, which had served probably as a dog-kennel in an open workyard into which he strayed. In this he made his bed with a few armfuls of shavings, and, spite of the cold, slept soundly till morning.
Had it not been for the charity of a poor woman, who gave him a piece of black bread, he might have starved. Refreshed, however, with this dainty, he prosecuted his rambles. Among other wonderful sights, he saw the splendid equipages of many of the nobility, drawn up in the street before the mansion of the minister, who was holding a levee. Fortune seemed to have directed his steps thither, for he saw a familiar face among the splendid throng who glided in and out at the great man's portals. This was no other than the Marquis de Secqville, who was passing to his carriage.
"Oh, pray, Monsieur Dubois, monsieur, don't you know me?"
So cried poor Gabriel in his eagerness, forcing himself to the front rank of the crowd.
"No, my good friend, no," answered the marquis, hesitating and surprised; "I do not recollect you."
"Don't you recollect the park of Charrebourg, monsieur, and the boy who sometimes carried your game, Gabriel, who was so frequently your attendant?"
"Hey! by my faith, so it is."
"Well, but monsieur, I want to consult you about a lady who, I fear, is in distress."
"Well, let us hear," continued the marquis, feeling in his pocket for his purse, and smiling.
"It is Mademoiselle Lucille—that is, I mean, Madame Le Prun. You have heard of her, perhaps?"
The marquis could not restrain a start at the name; but affecting haste, he desired one of his servants to give the boy a cloak, and directing him to roll himself up in it, and jump into the carriage, he followed him thither, amidst the wonder and gibes of the crowd, and in a few minutes they were at the Hotel de Secqville.
The marquis, having learned all that Gabriel had to disclose, was utterly at fault as to what steps it was prudent for him to take. It was just possible that the removal of the lady from the Chateau des Anges might be a measure of Monsieur Le Prun's. This seemed to him more than probable, and the hypothesis prevented his having recourse to the minister of police. He, however, lost not a moment in adopting such measures as the resources of his wealth enabled him to command. In the course of the afternoon he had nearly a score of paid agents, excellently qualified for the task, pushing their sagacious inquiries in every quarter.
He had promised to sup with some of the officers of his regiment, in the quartier de St. Thomas du Louvre, and he had there appointed his emissaries to meet him, having also directed Gabriel, whom he retained in his service, to call for him there, with a flambeau, at twelve o'clock.
Gabriel was destined to another adventure in executing these directions, simple as they were.
As he was on his way, he was suddenly set upon, in a deserted spot at the end of the Pont St. Michel, by four robbers. He brandished his flambeau, and shouted for help; but he was instantly disarmed, and a sword at his throat reduced him to silence. Disappointed of money, they proceeded to undress him with a running accompaniment of threats and curses, and in a trice had left poor Gabriel standing in his shirt, while they made good their retreat.
It was bitter cold, and, what made it worse still, rather windy; and after a few moments of hesitation, he began to retrace his steps towards the Hotel de Secqville at the top of his speed. As ill luck would have it, however, this course led him unconsciously upon the track of the four brethren of the road, who, convinced that he was dogging them, turned about, and, with awful menaces and drawn swords, recommenced the pursuit with the most murderous designs.
Of course Gabriel had nothing for it but his fleetness of limb. He ran as fast as he could toward the Quai des Augustins. At that moment a coach was passing at a furious speed, and thinking of nothing but his safety, he jumped nimbly up behind.
He had distanced the thieves, and the sound of pursuit was no longer heard. The wind often whirled his shirt, his only covering, over his head, and he could not control its vagaries, for both his hands were engaged in retaining his position; and, indeed, so numbing was the cold, hardly sufficed for the purpose. Could any thing more undignified or uncomfortable be imagined?
His teeth were chattering, his hands numb, his shirt sporting cruelly in the blast, yet, spite of his misery, he did not fail to observe, in the dull moonlight, that the carriage was blue, and decorated with gilded dragons and cupids in relief. It was, in short, he could have no doubt, the very carriage which had conveyed away Lucille. Forgetting his nakedness, and even his cold, in the astonishment of this discovery, he awaited, with the intensest interest, the conclusion of an adventure which promised to furnish him with a clue to the present habitation of the concealed lady.
The carriage continued to drive at a furious rate, and having passed the College des Quatre Nations, it took the line of the Pont Rouge (now perfectly deserted), in the middle of which it came to a full stop.
Two gentlemen descended; they looked up and down the bridge to ascertain that all was quiet. One of them came so close that the plumed fringe of his cocked hat almost touched Gabriel, who was cowering as close as possible to escape notice. His surprise at their stopping at a place where there was no house or dwelling of any sort was soon changed to horror, when he saw these gentlemen carry a corpse out of the carriage, which, by its long hair, he perceived to be that of a female, and project it over the battlements of the bridge into the river.
They then re-entered the carriage, which again turning toward the Louvre, retraced its way. Was that pale corpse, with its long tresses, the murdered body of the fair and beloved Lucille? Were her assassins unconsciously hurrying through the dark in company with him? Torture, despair, vengeance!
At the same mad pace this carriage drove through deserted streets, scarce encountering a human being—Gabriel still clinging to his position, and exciting many a strange surmise, as, half seen, he was whirled beside such stray passengers as were still abroad.
At length it turned abruptly—thundered through a narrow archway into a fore-court, and then through a second, into the dark quadrangle of the half ruinous and vast hotel, to which we conducted Lucille.
Gabriel jumped nimbly to the ground, and, unperceived, glided into the shadow of the archway, intending to escape through the outer gate, and spread the alarm of murder. This door was, however, already secured, and hearing steps, he glided along under the shadow until he reached the open door of a stable, and climbing to the loft, found some hay there, in which, nearly dead with cold, he buried himself.
Let us now follow Monsieur Le Prun, whom we left in a high state of malignant frenzy, approaching the entrance of the desolate building.
"Ha!—Blassemare," he said, with a livid smile, the meaning of which was obvious, in reply to that gentleman's fearless salutation, "you have made good speed from the south. How goes all at Lyons? Come, come, the particulars?"
"I have not been there at all; I altered my plans; not without just reason. I have removed Madame Le Prun here; the fact is, I had reason to suspect a design to escape. It was nearly ripe; the eclat of such a thing would have been scandalous. I disorganized the whole affair, and have placed her here under your own roof; I had to use stratagem for the purpose, but I succeeded; she is still safe—the plot has failed."
"More than one plot, perhaps, has failed, sir," said Le Prun, with a look of lowering scrutiny; "I have exploded one myself. Let me see Madame Le Prun."
"Do you wish to see her?"
"Certainly—conduct me to her at once."
Blassemare, with a malicious smile and shrug, exclaimed—
"Well, monsieur, you shall be obeyed; let us proceed to Madame Le Prun, by all means."
He led the way; they ascended a staircase, Le Prun growing gloomier and gloomier at every step.
Smothering his malicious laughter, Blassemare glided past him, and opening a door exclaimed—
"Madame, a gentleman desires the honor of an interview; Monsieur Le Prun attends you."
Le Prun entered; a step was heard in a recess opening from the room, and a form entered, before which he recoiled as from a malignant spectre.
"Is it this one or the other?" asked Blassemare, with much simplicity.
Le Prun did not hear him; he was astounded and overpowered in the presence of the phantom-like form that stood in its strange draperies of flannel at the other end of the chamber, eyeing him askance, with a look of more than mortal hate.
"It is not fair to disturb such a meeting; the domestic affections, eh? had best be indulged in private."
So saying, Blassemare abruptly withdrew, and shut the door sharply upon the pair.
Roused by the sound, Le Prun attempted to follow him, but his agitation prevented his being able to open the door, and he cursed Blassemare from the bottom of his soul, in the belief that he had bolted it.
"So, face to face at last," she said; "for years you have escaped me; for years your agents have persecuted and imprisoned me. I heard of your courtship—aye, and your marriage, and rejoiced at it, for I knew it could bring you nothing but grief; accursed monster, murderer of my sister, attempted murderer of myself, seducer and betrayer of the girl you call your wife."
"I say, she is my wife," stammered Le Prun, recovering his voice.
"No, miscreant! that she cannot be; well you know that I am your wife."
"It is a lie; I have that under your own hand; it is a lie, a lie."
"And do you fancy that, because intimidated by a murderer, I signed the paper you speak of, the document has lost its force, and I ceased to be your wife? No, no; adulterer and poisoner that you are, I retain the right to blast you; you shall yet taste retribution; you shall perish by a bloody end."
Blassemare read in Le Prun's countenance that there was an end of their connection. He was, however, a man of resource, and whatever the loss involved in the severance, he was not dismayed. He made up his mind to quarrel with eclat, and sitting himself down upon the window-sill, laughed with a sardonic glee at the rencontre he had just brought about. In a little while, however, he began to wonder at its length, and after a while he was startled by Le Prun's voice calling him by name, and at the same time by a furious knocking at the door.
"Hey!—why don't you come here if you want me?" cried Blassemare.
"I can't—you know I can't—you have locked the door."
"I've not—try it," replied Blassemare, coolly.
In a moment more Le Prun entered, trembling like a man in an ague, his face livid and covered with a cold sweat.
"That, that accursed fiend, she has—the murderess—she attempted my life—upon my soul she did."
There was some blood upon his hand, and more upon his lace cravat.
"What do you mean?" said Blassemare, growing very pale. "Why, why, you have not, great God, you have not hurt the wretched woman?" and he grasped him by the collar with a hand that trembled with mingled fury and horror.
"It was she, I tell you—let me go—it was she—she that tried—by ——, she had a knife at my throat—I could not help it—I'm ruined—help me, Blassemare—for God's sake, help me—what—what is to be done?"
Blassemare gave him a look of contemptuous fury, turned from him, and entered the chamber.
Le Prun stood like one stupefied, stammering excuses and oaths, and trembling as if it were the day of judgment.
Blassemare reentered, paler than before, and said—
"You cowardly, barbarous miscreant, you will answer for it here and hereafter."
"Blassemare, my friend—my dear friend—in the name of God, don't denounce me. You would not; no, you could not. I have been a good friend to you. For the love of God, help me, Blassemare—save me. You shall have half my fortune; I'll stick at no terms; I'll make you, by —— the richest man in Paris. You shall have what you like—every thing, any thing—only help me in this accursed extremity."
For a long time, Blassemare met his abject and agonized entreaties with a stoical scorn; at last, however, he relented.
The body was removed that night; and it is well known to the readers of old French trials, how wonderfully Providence supplied by a chain of apparent accidents, an important witness in our friend Gabriel.
We left him buried in the hay of the stable-loft. We must pursue his adventure to its conclusion.
As soon as he had a little recovered the heat which was nearly extinguished, he got up, and finding an old piece of drugget, he wrapped it about him in the fashion of a cloak; and having looked in vain for any window opening upon the street, he climbed, by the aid of the joists, to an aperture in the half-rotten roof, and passing through it, crept like a cat along, until he reached the spout, down which, at the risk of his neck, he climbed. He was now safe in the public street. Picking up a sharp stone, he scratched some marks, such as he could easily recognize again, upon the gateway. He then knocked at a barber's shop, nearly opposite, where he saw a light, and asked the name of the street, and his route to the Hotel de Secqville.
The marquis had arrived before him; and his amazement at the strange attire of his retainer was changed to horror, when he learned the particulars of his adventure.
Not a moment was lost by De Secqville in applying to the police, and, with an officer and a party of archers, he proceeded at once to the Hotel St. Maurice—for such was the name of the nearly ruinous building we have described. There they arrested Monsieur Le Prun, who was just emerging from the gate as they arrived; as also Blassemare, whom they surprised in his room. No definite suspicion, beyond the conjectures of De Secqville, had as yet attached to either of these gentlemen; but some expressions which escaped Le Prun, upon his arrest, were of a character to excite the profoundest suspicions of his guilt.
Blassemare instantly tendered his evidence, and in the course of it was forced to make disclosures very little creditable to himself. The old woman, Gertrude Peltier, who resided in the house, and had attended upon Lucille, was also examined, and a servant named St. Jean, a sort of groom, who had been a long time in Le Prun's service, also deposed to some important facts. This evidence, collected and reduced to a narrative form, was to the following effect:—
It seemed that, about twenty-four years before, Le Prun had privately married an actress of the Theatre ——, named Emilie Guadin. They had lived together—not very happily—by reason, as was supposed, of her violent temper. Her sister, Marie Guadin, resided with them. After about four years it began to be rumored that Monsieur Le Prun was about to be married to the widow of an immensely rich merchant of Bourdeaux. The strict privacy and isolation in which his wife and her sister were compelled by him to live, prevented the rumor from reaching them, and the circumstance of his existing marriage had been kept so strict a secret, that it was not suspected by any but the immediate parties to the ceremony.
Monsieur Le Prun, about this time, visited the country-seat where he had placed his wife and sister-in-law. He affected an unusual kindness towards the former; but he had not been there a week, when she became ill. A physician was called in, and appeared perplexed by the nature of her disease, which, notwithstanding his treatment, seemed to be rapidly gaining ground. As matters were in this state, one night Le Prun entered his wife's bedroom; her sister Marie was sitting at the further side of the bed, in the shadow of the curtains, which, as well as the unusual hour, prevented Le Prun's suspecting her presence. He looked stealthily round the room. His wife was sleeping, and with her face away from him, and a draught ordered by the physician was upon the table waiting her awaking.
From a small vial he dropped some fluid into this, and was about to replace it, when Marie, nerved with terror, glided swiftly to his side, snatched the vial from his hand, and cried, in a thrilling voice—
"Emilie, awake! he is poisoning you!"
The sleeping girl started up, and at the same moment the vial, which in her horror Marie had flung from her hand, fell beside her, on the pillow. Le Prun was first confounded and speechless—then furious. He broke the glass that contained the medicine, and pursuing the girl to the further end of the room, seemed on the point of wreaking his fury upon her. He restrained himself, however, and having demanded the vial repeatedly in vain, went to his own room. The next day the physician did not attend, and in the dead of night the house was entered by thieves, some valuables were stolen, and Mademoiselle Marie Guadin was found murdered in her bed in the morning.
The occurrence made a great eclat, and suspicions, from the taint of which he had never quite recovered, began to environ Monsieur Le Prun. His unhappy wife was now put under the severest restraint—from which, and, as was supposed, the partial effects of the poison, she became subject to temporary fits of insanity. By sheer terror, Le Prun extorted from her a written declaration, to the effect that she lived with him merely as his mistress, and that no marriage ceremony, or any contract of marriage, had ever been performed between them. It was about three months after these terrible occurrences that she gave birth to a male child. This child, it appeared, was removed after a few weeks from its mother, and placed in the care of a poor woman in the village of Charrebourg, where, under the name of Gabriel, he, as we know, lived unrecognized, and himself unsuspecting his origin.
His mother had been a heartless, as she was a vicious and a miserable woman. Instead of the yearnings of maternal love, she regarded her innocent child merely as the offspring of that monster, whom she execrated and feared with a preternatural hate. If she looked upon him with any feeling more lively than that of indifference, it was with one of positive malice and antipathy.
Among his other employments of a delicate kind, Blassemare had charge of all arrangements affecting this person, of whom, for every reason, Le Prun hated even to hear. He paid, therefore, whatever was demanded on this account, with the sole proviso that her name should never be mentioned. On her removal, about a year since, from the country-house where she had been for so long a scarcely unwilling prisoner, to the vast and melancholy Hotel St. Maurice, which had lately fallen into the hands of M. Le Prun, an accident to the carriage obliged them to arrest their progress for an hour at the village of Charrebourg. She was brought into the park meanwhile, and there met with Gabriel, and subsequently, as the reader may recollect, with Lucille. Her she had armed with the hateful relic of her husband's uncompleted crime, conscious that its exhibition would sow between her and Le Prun suspicion, fear, and enmity enough to embitter their lives. She had at first intended declaring all the truth, but feared the explosion of Le Prun's fury, and doubted, too, whether the girl would believe her. The rest the reader knows.
As there was no reason to doubt Blassemare's statement, and no actual suspicion attached to him, he was merely examined as witness.
Le Prun is, we need scarcely remind the student of old French criminal cases, a celebrated name in the annals of guilt. Suspicion, by a strange coincidence, fell upon the servant whom we have mentioned, and this man having been, according to the atrocious practice of the civil law, put to the torture confessed his having, at the instigation of Le Prun, murdered the unfortunate Marie Guadin, so contriving as to make it appear that the house had been entered and plundered by thieves.
A full confession, after condemnation, was extorted by the question, that dreadful ordeal, from Le Prun, who ultimately suffered the extreme penalty of the law, as every body knows, upon the Place de Greve.
That portion of Le Prun's immense property which was not appropriated by the crown, went, of course, to Gabriel, the peasant boy of Charrebourg. He purchased an estate near it, and was ultimately ennobled. His grandson, the Count de St. M——, distinguished himself in the Austrian service, and after the Restoration, obtained a distinguished position in the court of Louis XVIII.
The king remitted a large portion of the line in favor of Julie and of Lucille. As, however, some grave suspicions were entertained by the advisers of his majesty both as to Lucille's avowed, and, as we know, real ignorance of the existence of Le Prun's first wife when she consented to marry him, and also as to her subsequent conduct in relation to De Secqville, the remission in her favor was coupled with a condition that she should take the veil. This was in effect a command; and Lucille entered a convent with a cheerful acquiescence in this condition which astonished all who knew the facts of her story.
Julie, of course, on learning the pre-engagement of De Secqville's affections, and being relieved from the influence which had hitherto held her to her involuntary engagement, demanded her freedom, and De Secqville, as may be supposed, offered no vexatious resistance to her request.
Julie, indeed, had never loved him, and consequently had little difficulty in forgiving Lucille her treason. Inspired by the example of her companion, she proved the sincerity of those professions which so few had believed in, by taking the veil on the same day with Lucille.
The astounding and mysterious adventure which, under these melancholy circumstances, closed the hazardous romance of Lucille's existence, would form in itself a story, too long, however, to be told in a single page.
BARRY CORNWALL'S LAST SONG.
Mr. Proctor does not write very often now-a-days, but he has contributed several songs lately to the Ladies' Companion, which remind us of his best performances. Here is one:—
Sit near! sit near! I kiss thy lips, Ripe, richer than the crimson cherry. Girl, canst thou love me in eclipse? Tell me, and bid my soul be merry.
My light is dim, my fortune fled; I've nothing save the love I bear thee. Give back thy love, or I am dead;— A word—a look—whilst I can hear thee.
Sit nearer! near! I kiss thine eyes; There,—where the white lids part asunder. I love thee—dost thou hear my sighs? Love thee beyond the world, thou wonder!
My life is spent. I've nothing left To tender now, save love's soft duty; Yet, gaze I,—of all else bereft,— And feed till death upon thy beauty.
From the London Keepsake
BY RICHARD MONCTON MILNES.
"Anima Mundi"—of thyself existing, Without diversity or change to fear, Say, has this life to which we cling persisting, Part in communion with thy steadfast sphere? Does thy serene eternity sublime Embrace the slaves of Circumstance and Time?
Could we remain continually content To heap fresh pleasure on the coming day, Could we rest happy in the sole intent To make the hours more graceful or more gay, Then must the essence of our nature be That of the beasts that perish, not of Thee.
But if we mourn, not because time is fleeting, Not because life is short and some die young, But because parting ever follows meeting; And, while our hearts with constant loss are wrung, Our minds are tossed in doubt from sea to sea, Then may we claim community with thee.
We cannot live by instincts—forced to let To-morrow's wave obliterate our to-day— See faces only once—read and forget— Behold Truth's rays prismatically play About our mortal eye and never shine In one white daylight, simple and divine.
We would erect some thought the world above, And dwell in it for ever—we make Some moment of young Friendship or First-love Into a dream, from which we would not wake; We would contrast our action with repose, Like the deep stream that widens as it flows.
We would be somewise as Thou art, Not sprig, and bud, and flower, and fade and fall; Not fix our intellects on some scant part Of Nature, but enjoy or feel it all. We would assert the privilege of a soul, In that it knows—to understand the Whole.
If such things are within us—God is good— And flight is destined for the callow wing, And the high appetite implies the food, And souls must reach the level whence they spring; O Life of very Life! set free our Powers, Hasten the travail of the yearning hours.
Thou! to whom old Philosophy bent low, To the wise few mysteriously revealed; Thou! whom each humble Christian worships now, In the poor hamlet and the open field; Once an Idea—new Comforter and Friend, Hope of the human Heart! Descend! Descend!
From Frazer's Magazine.
THE GHETTO OF ROME.
The Church of Rome has never been famed for her tolerance; her energy and indomitable will have been too frequently manifested by the stern behests of imperious authority. The sovereign pontiffs, with their claims of infallibility, have left the Pagan far behind in the ardor of persecution and the more than imperial character of their governments. Julian published edicts of universal toleration; from time to time he assumed the garb of each different sect, and claimed affinity with the gods of each conquered race. At one moment the zealous supporter of Christianity, then the ablest advocate of the Platonic philosophy: at another, initiated into all the arcana of the Theurgic science and the Eleusinian mysteries, terminating his checkered religious career by that great edict of universal toleration which astonished the whole Roman world, when all classes of all religions, Pagan and Christian, received alike an express command to open the portals of their temples. Paganism could afford to be tolerant, not so Christianity. One god, more or less, in the Heathen Pantheon makes very little difference, but the worship of the Christian Church is one and exclusive. The very ardor of its belief renders it essentially intolerant. How is it possible to be indulgent to error, when we are firmly persuaded that such error must lead to eternal condemnation? But whatever apology may be made for intolerance by those who do not suffer from its severities, it will not be approved of by the thousands who find themselves deprived of their most prized social rights for the sake of their faith. None suffer more from this Christian spirit than the favored and exclusive race in Rome. While other nations have been constantly relieving the Jews from the pains and penalties which have been attached to their absence of faith, the Church of Rome has stood over them stern, proud, and uncompromising. To be a Jew in the Holy City, is at once to be deprived of half the social privileges of citizenship. Among other grievances under which they suffer, they are confined to a small district of the town called the Ghetto, where formerly the gates were locked from sunset to sunrise, during which period no one was permitted to pass out; on the slightest pretences they used to be persecuted for any the least expression of irritation into which they may have been betrayed: the poor people bear impressed on their countenances the downcast dogged look of persecution. Confined to such a small space, they have crowded their houses together until, in some of the streets, or rather lanes, it is easy to step across from one roof to another. The dark eye, the luxurious black hair, and a sensual expression produced by a fulness of the lower lip are the characteristics of the women. Long, dirty, scanty beards—thin, lank, gray hair—frames which have grown decrepit through long persecution—eyes piercing and crafty—sickly, wrinkled features, are the characteristics of the men. Although, as I have remarked, the gates and the pales of the Ghetto are now removed, a stranger can easily tell when he enters what Catholic Rome considers its tainted circle, by the miserable, poverty-stricken appearance of the whole district. The people crowd around him, losing all sense of manly dignity or mental degradation in the anxiety for gain. Skinny shrivelled hands touch his clothes in the hope of arresting his progress; worn-out tawdry finery is thrust before him, in the hope of tempting him to purchase. No shop, or rather store, is devoted to any particular object of gain. Butter, dates, olives, broken and pawned articles, are mixed up in the most absurd confusion. With brocaded coats, valuable lace, and Eastern silks, Jewish trade resembles the Jewish character and the Jewish faith,—much that is low, mean, and sordid, combined with some elements of the beautiful, the prized, and the good.
And yet this strange, fantastic, rococo district, if beyond the pale of Christianity, is far from being without the pale of fashion. Ladies, exhibiting the height of Parisian fashions, with dainty footsteps and soft movement, may be seen of an afternoon endeavoring to thread their way through the greasy throng, which jostle, elbow, and abuse each other in these narrow lanes. The cunning Israelites must have scouts to tell them whenever any particular connoisseur is approaching; for, strange enough, the article which each is in search of is precisely that which is displayed in all the shops. If the lady come to purchase lace, the most valuable specimens of the pointe du roi are forced upon her; if she require silks, by the strangest magnetism the finest dyes and richest fabrics are unrolled as she draws near. From the constant and invaluable habit of concealing their own impressions, the Jews appear to be better enabled to read the sensations of others. They know, almost to a nicety, the extent of their customers' means and intentions. Go disguised as you choose, they will discover you. The Jewish origin, grafted on the Roman craft, has produced a progeny which would astonish the adroitness of our own peculiar tribe of Levis and Fagans.
I had, on two or three different occasions, visited the Ghetto in search of old lace, and on each occasion had turned to admire perhaps one of the most beautiful faces which could at that time have been found in Rome. It was that of a young Jewish girl, who was always sitting at the same corner of the street at the entrance of the Ghetto, where she kept a fruit-stall.
Hers was one of those faces in which the features, from their strongly marked development, become at once impressed upon the memory. She was tall, of a commanding appearance, her cheek was very pale, but lit up by the blackest eyes. She wore a thick Indian-striped handkerchief, tied cunningly round her head; and a large pair of massive gold ear-rings, which fell almost to her neck. Even if plain, she would have been most remarkable, from the perfect indifference which she evinced as to whether she sold her goods or not. While all the rest of her tribe were fawning, cringing, flattering, and importuning, she sat there like a statue, but a statue of a most perfect order. Nor was this indifference and apathy of her manner thrown away on the purchasers who crowded towards the Ghetto. It stood her in better stead than the most manifest anxiety could have done; it placed her apart from that detestable crowd. I observed many persons stop and make purchases of her on whom all importunity would have been thrown away. There was not one of the buyers who did not look back with hurried gaze at that pale and glorious face, which did not even glow with the least tinge of animation at the admiration which she excited. She sold her stock in trade, changed her money, with the same entire absence of interest in her occupation. Carriages turning the corner suddenly where her fruit-stall was placed, sometimes almost grazed it and overthrew all its contents; but even this circumstance did not appear to awaken any interest in her mind; she only stooped down to pick up one or two of the peaches which had been shaken off by the jar, quietly moved her stall a little nearer the wall, and then folded her arms again in the same contemptuous manner.
Strange, indeed, but it ever is so; the world cares most for those who appear to treat it with contempt and to be indifferent to its petty interests. Be a slave to the world, and it will impose the heaviest burdens upon you; it will be the hardest of all taskmasters; but, on the other hand, drive it before you, and it will obey almost every impulse of the determined. In this country, where individualism and idiosyncracy are now so rare, the very deference which the whole of constituted society pays to the requirements of the majority, only renders the exceptional case more rare and prized. We unconsciously admire those who, instead of seeking to be guided by the opinions of others, endeavor to direct them, and who, forming their own standard of judgment, keep themselves aloof from all fluctuations of indecision and weakness.
I had been commissioned to purchase two flounces of the handsomest lace, and had made two unsuccessful expeditions to the Ghetto in search of it, ransacking all the shops and listening to an immeasurable amount of falsehood; but as I was soon to leave Rome, I did not wish to do so with my commission unfulfilled, and resolved to make another search: besides, that beautiful pale statuette deeply interested me, without ever having addressed a single word to her. I felt well assured that her mind must be one of no ordinary stamp. One day I stopped near her for some time, without attracting her observation, and then it was that I so greatly admired and marvelled at the total absence of the two qualifications for which her nation are remarkable—cunning and obtrusiveness.
I reached the stall, and turned after I had passed it a little way to take a passing glance at her. To my astonishment, and almost sorrow, I observed that her cheeks, and even her figure, had lost their admirable fulness: there was a strange and wild expression in her eye. I turned back involuntarily and stood for a moment opposite her stall. She beckoned me towards her.
"I know what you want," she said, with a rapid utterance, as if anxious to get rid of the subject; "you want to purchase some lace. I have a piece which I am sure will suit you, and you shall have it very cheap. It belonged to—." Here she hesitated, looked down, and, as I fixed my eye on her countenance for the first time, the blood rose to the very temples, and she appeared lovely. "No matter who it belonged to; some great man, of course; but I have the lace, that is sufficient for you to know. Tell me what sum you are willing to give, and then I shall know whether mine is too expensive."
I named the amount which I was desired to lay out for the finest quality of old lace. It was, I knew, a small sum for such an object, unless in the case of some fortunate hit; but to my surprise she told me that her piece of lace was much within that mark; and then I began to imagine that it must be of inferior quality, but she assured me of the contrary.
She commissioned a boy to keep her stall for her for a few minutes, and then walked on at a rapid pace, desiring me to follow her.
It was not until she rose from her seat that I had an opportunity of observing the beautiful symmetry of her figure. Her footstep was firm, like that of one who possesses a strong will. To have seen her as she swept along the streets, you would have imagined that she was on a mission, in which high resolve and great self-sacrifices were required, so compressed was the lip and haughty the glance,—
Moving through the throng, Like one who does, not suffers wrong.
No one would have imagined that it was the question of the sale of a piece of lace as she passed down the streets, with the folds of her dress almost sweeping the ground; while, with a scarf of beautiful texture fastened round her waist, she resembled one of those maidens of the sun which we see in Egyptian frescoes.
"Let me pass, Emmanuel," she said to a broken-backed, stunted broker, who was hanging some filthy rags on a string which stretched across a narrow lane.
"Pass! so you shall, my love, my own bright eyes: but you shall give me a kiss first," said the cadaverous-looking wretch; and he put his thin, bleared, and hairy lips near her face; but in the act he turned his head half round, and, for the first time, he saw me.
"Oh, I ask your pardon, Rachel!" he said; "the Christian, of course, before one of our own tribe. I know you well, my darling, you never deceived me in your brightest days. You are a great lady; but, after all, we are both more or less in the same line. I sell old clothes, you sell old kisses; the difference is, that I cannot get rid of my wares as fast as you can of your kisses."
Suddenly she turned round in all her beauty; flushed with indignation and trembling with anger, contempt, bitterness, and hatred, could not have been more gloriously expressed. The sallow, sickly, hollow-eyed impertinent was looking up at her face when, with one push, she hurled him over a heap of rubbish, which in the centre of the street supplied the place of a gutter; and shouts of laughter saluted him as he slunk, downcast and defeated, back into his shop.
When I looked at him, I observed that his eyes, which before had only expressed lust and sordid avarice, now gleamed wildly with a look of intense and bitter hatred.
There are none whom we are so disposed to punish as the mean and sordid, and yet there are none whom it is more dangerous to offend; they feel, with tenfold virulence, the disgust which they engender; they go about bearing with them a curse, which they are ever ready to transfer to any who offend them. No man is ignorant of his possessing the lower qualities; and no one, not even he who suffers from their action, can so intensely hate and despise them as their possessor. They are the chains on the galley-slaves, which clank at every step, but which they cannot shake off, allowing them only that amount of liberty of action which incessantly recalls their restraint.
My guide turned sharp round to the left, and the next moment we were at the foot of the broken stair. Two or three dogs, which as usual had taken possession of the small space allotted for the passage to the primo piano, rushed, with frantic yells, down stairs. It could scarcely be properly called a house; it was rather a collection of planks nailed together, supporting the most rickety description of roof. It was quite wonderful how the whole fabric held together at all; for between the chinks of the rotten and creaking floor we could look into the shop below, where, amid immense piles of bales and casks, children were riotously playing.
There was a curious expression of doubt and uneasiness in Rachel's countenance, when, with some slight degree of impatience, I begged her to be quick and show me the lace. She looked carefully round the room, as though fearful of being observed. At last, after some hesitation, she ransacked an old drawer, and drew forth the lace from beneath a heap of rags and rubbish.
It was certainly the most magnificent specimen of old lace which I had seen in Italy. A large and deep flounce of the pointe du roi; that lace which was made solely for the Grand Monarque, and subsequently sold at immense prices, a great portion of it coming into the possession of the cardinals. It was in a most perfect state, and the only thing that surprised me in the transaction was the excessively low price which she asked for it: but, of course, it was not my business to tell her the real value of her own property; so I eagerly wrote a check on Torlonia, and requested her to pack it up.
My attention had latterly been so absorbed by the beauty of the fabric, that it was not until I placed the check in her hand I observed how she trembled. She endeavored, when she saw me observing her, to conceal her agitation, but it soon defied even her dissimulation. She leant against a small chest of drawers, and had barely strength enough to point to a cup, which was half full of spirits, which I handed to her. She drank it off with the energy of apparent despair, and then it was that she commenced to revive slowly; but her forehead was still damp from agitation, and her lips were as pale and colorless as her cheeks.
"What is the matter?" I asked. "Are you ill, Rachel?"
She clutched hold of my arm mechanically.
"Do not show the lace," she exclaimed, "to any one in Rome; at least promise me solemnly that you will not allow a single person to know from whom you purchased it."
"Just as you like," I answered, "but you ought, on the contrary, to be very proud of having such a beautiful piece in your possession. I should have thought that you would have wished me to tell every one of my friends, so as to extend the reputation of your shop; but, of course, I will do as you like, and lock it up until I leave Rome."
She seemed greatly relieved by this assurance; it must have restored or confirmed her confidence in me, for after a long pause she said,—
"I will tell you the truth, for you are a friend. You saw that man," she continued; "that miserable wretch, Emmanuel? Well, although I treated him in so bold and harsh a manner, I must tell you that I am at heart bitterly afraid of him. He is at once a coward to the strong, and a tyrant to the weak; one of those despicable characters which get our nation unjustly aspersed. He really does possess all those vices and meannesses which are attributed to many who are as noble, true, and good as you of the Christian race. You will consider me as unmerciful as my faith, from the manner in which I speak of this abandoned villain; but the truth is, that I am in the power of a guardian, who, if he knew that I had this money, would be the first to take it from me; and Emmanuel, who finds every thing out, will be certain to inform him. You saw the look he gave when I pushed the foul creature from me. I know that he is only waiting his opportunity to be revenged upon me. He had the insolence to ask me to marry him two years since; and upon my refusing to accept him, he swore that his hatred should some day or another find me out; so I quite tremble when I see him, however bold I may pretend to be. But, oh, my heart! Hush! he is standing there below."
She knelt down on the floor, and touched me gently to make me draw back so as not to be seen by him; but it was too late, he had caught a glimpse of her through the crevices of the floor. He did not attempt to come up the stair, but he stood at the foot of it, heaping upon her the coarsest and most brutal expressions. For a moment, all the fear that had shortly before marked her countenance had given way to the most intense hatred. It flashed from her eyes and dilated her nostrils. My first impulse was to rush forward and turn the man out of the shop; but the girl saw the movement, and placed her hand on my arm with a significant look. The color had left her cheeks, and she was again pale as star-light.
We waited there some minutes, when Emmanuel, after muttering sundry curses, withdrew. We looked at him as he passed down the lane, with his hands clenched and the muscles of his countenance trembling with excitement. We heard him, as he passed by, telling every one of his friends that Rachel was shut up in the room with a Christian. Some treated the information with indifference, others only called him jealous; but sundry boys crowded round the door, waiting for my departure.
I took the lace and left the shop with her. The children in the street, excited by that rascal, made use of some insulting expressions towards her; but ran away whenever I made an attempt to approach them. I could, however, see that the poor girl was, if not alarmed, very unhappy; for, now that Emmanuel was no longer present, the tears ran down her cheeks. I took her hand kindly and parted from her, but not without a vague and uncomfortable feeling of doubt and mistrust.
"Ah, me!" I thought, when alone, "is this the freedom, the liberty, the charity which suffereth long, the consideration for others, which the gospel teaches? It is well for the great poet to write of the freedom of the Roman citizen:—
But Rome, 'tis thine alone, with awful sway, To rule mankind, and make the world obey; Disposing peace and war, thine own majestic sway. To tame the proud, the fettered slave to free: These are imperial acts, and worthy thee.
The fettered slave is set free, but the citizen is enthralled; not because he now proclaims another king than Caesar, but simply because the tenets of his faith are not precisely the same as our own. And this beautiful girl, brought up in that worst of suffering—mental suffering—keenly feeling the persecution to which her race is exposed, however, she could bear children who would, in those moments of tribulation to which Imperial Rome of all empires is most subject, stand forth to defend her walls!"
I went away, however, well pleased with my purchase. Notwithstanding my promise to the contrary, I could not avoid showing it to one or two particular friends. Even in so slight a matter it is very easy to find food for vanity. It gratified me to have purchased it so cheaply. When it was pronounced quite beautiful, I accepted the expression as an indirect tribute to my judgment, taste, and ability. It was, of course, not the lace that I cared for, although most anxious to gratify her who had charged me with the commission. What, to judge myself truly, I delighted in, was the circumstance of my having gained a victory over those who possess hereditary claims for depth and cunning.
Ah, it does not do to cast the lead too frequently into the depths of the heart in search of motives.
I was at dinner the same day when a card was sent in to me; it had the name of M. Narelli, the head of the police, printed upon it. I was at a loss to imagine what business he could have with me; but as my servant told me that it was a matter of the last moment, with some misgivings I desired that he might be shown in. The moment he appeared, I could detect at one glance that he was a man of official eminence, and also of great ability. The eye always catches the resolution or indecision of the mind. To judge from his expression, he must have been a man of the coolest courage and most determined character. His manner was deferential, without being obsequious; his voice, clear, sonorous, and distinct, rang on the ear like a well-toned bell.
He commenced by apologizing for the intrusion, and then at once asked me whether it was true that I had that morning purchased some lace of a young Jewish girl in the Ghetto.
No sooner had he uttered the word lace, than the whole tragedy burst upon me. I remembered Rachel's hesitation, her fears, her tremblings, and excitement: all was explained. For one moment I felt tempted to deny the whole transaction, and to refuse to show the lace: a second consideration, however, proved to me that it would be at once absurd and unjustifiable: but that moment showed me the poor girl, pale, broken-hearted, and trembling under the weight of a terrible accusation. I bitterly lamented the innocent part which I had taken in this transaction, and regretted that I had ever visited the Ghetto in search of lace. I thought of her as I first saw her standing at the fruit-stall, with that haughty, contemptuous glance, that resolute and open countenance; and it was bitter to picture her sinking in jail, in such a prison as Italy boasts of in these enlightened days: but there was not much time for reflection and consideration. M. Narelli, who saw that I was hesitating, told me at once that the whole truth was known, and that he must require the piece of lace to be given over to him; he then suggested that it would be a kindness to the woman herself if I would accompany him at once to St. Angelo, to be confronted with her.
As we drove rapidly down the streets, he told me that the lace had been stolen some months since from one of the cardinals. The police had suspected for a long time that it was concealed somewhere in the Ghetto; but in consequence of the hostile feeling which had been apparent there for many months, they did not like to commence an official search in that district without sufficient evidence; this evidence had been obtained that very day through one of those ill-conditioned, ill-omened spies, who are to be found connected with the police of every country. From the description which he gave of the man, I could not for a moment doubt that it was Emmanuel. He told me very frankly the precise hour at which the informer came to him, and I found that it was soon after I had left the shop.
There was a slight stoppage caused by the carriages which were driving up to the Teatro d'Apolion, the present Opera. People looked curiously into ours, which was well-known as that of the chief of the police. How wonderful are the circles into which the interests of society are divided; how many currents are eddying and bubbling in their course before the mighty river of human existence is formed; each stream so perfect in itself, so separate from every other, yet ever flowing towards the same wide fathomless sea. Of the gay and the happy whom I passed, how few cared for this poor girl, or how few would have cared had they even heard the tale! I felt myself almost criminal from the circumstance of having been the cause of this misery to another. My whole thoughts were fixed on this one object. Before the fulness of my imagination the prison-walls disappeared, and I saw nothing but the cells, and listened to the voices of the many to whom the voice of the comforter is never heard. We were passing over the yellow Tiber, but I heeded not its associations, either with history or with my early schoolboy days, their studies and their struggles. When the mind is full of one object, all others become invisible, even to the senses. The light of the mind is greater than the light of the body.
We arrived at last at the gates of St. Angelo, the tomb of the dead Pagan and of the living Christian. After certain stern, painful formalities were gone through, in the most matter-of-fact way, between my companion and the commander of the strong post which was on guard, we entered the mighty precincts, and the gates closed behind us. I had then time to marvel at the massiveness of the structure—the immense blocks of stone, so typical of the colossal empire under which it was constructed. Passing through a long series of narrow passages, gloomy and sad, impervious to all sound, save that of low sighs and groans from dungeons below and around us, we arrived at an open space in the centre, above which the winged angel is poised in the act of sheathing his sword. The moon shone around it, and the expanded wings, edged with a silvery light, seemed almost to move in the light breeze: there were guards on the battlements, who marched with solemn, measured tread; and high above all floated the Pontifical banner, with the keys of St. Peter in its huge folds flapping in the breeze,—the emblem of sovereignty, spiritual and temporal. No one can judge of the immense extent of St. Angelo from the interior. The ashes of the great Emperor, how small a space could they have occupied in that vast circumference—the tomb of the one day, the citadel of the morrow—the grave of the Pagan, the fortress of Christianity! During the recent revolution at Rome the people broke down the viaduct which connects it with the Vatican, and the ruined wall still remains;—we may hope, as a good omen, to show that the palace and the prison are no longer closely connected together, and that safety does not depend on the battlements and armaments of that stern old tower of other days, which stands surrounded with the memorials and memories of imperial Rome.
In one of the darkest of these cells the poor girl had been thrown.
When the door was opened gently, we saw what seemed to be a heap of clothes piled together in one corner; but the light from a small lamp suspended from the ceiling was so weak that it was quite impossible to distinguish any object distinctly. The cell, as far as I could judge from a hasty glance, resembled those abodes of misery which have been so frequently described, and which it would require the energies of ten Howards to improve. There was a disagreeable, close, damp smell; the pavement of the floor was sadly out of repair; there was a bracket placed against the wall, with a few necessary articles of furniture for ordinary use; but when my eyes became more accustomed to the light, I discovered that what had appeared a mere heap of clothes was the poor girl, almost rolled up in the corner. For some moments she continued to lie there, apparently quite insensible; but at last, with a sharp cry, she raised her head suddenly, and then I could not mistake the beautiful countenance that had so struck me on that morning. But, sad to say, even these few hours had made great ravages: sorrow, anxiety, and misery are the most zealous accessories of age. She really looked years older: this might have been partly the effect of the lurid, flickering light, and the disorder of her dress; but sure I am that no one could have recognized the haughty, dignified, imposing woman, who but a few hours since had swept almost contemptuously through the streets.
"You are come to accuse me," she exclaimed, falling with both her hands on the pavement, and striking it with violence; "now you come to accuse me. It is like a Christian," she continued, with increased bitterness in her voice and vehemence in her action. And then she sobbed violently, and looked into my face with a piteous expression.
The police prevented the necessity of my reply, for one of the men seized her at once by the arm, and dragged her up rudely, desiring her to stand. And she did stand there—a picture of utter prostration, mental and physical, to have melted any heart, save the stony, arid ones of those men who were with me. Stand alone she could not, but she leaned against the wall, and her head fell on her shoulder, her fingers were intertwined together, and she moved them about with a kind of galvanic agitation. All the anger and impetuosity of her character had passed away: she was no longer the ideal of ruined greatness, but the simple, broken-hearted woman. Violence in a woman is at all times so painful to witness, even in moments of extreme sorrow, that it rather offends than interests.
"You know this woman?" said the abrupt, uncouth examiner, in a voice which echoed to the vaulted roof.
I scarcely dared look at her; but I felt that those large black eyes were fixed supplicatingly upon me, and I, too, trembled.
The question was repeated in the same harsh manner, and this time I nodded in the affirmative.
"She sold you this piece of lace?" was the next question.
He took the lace of exquisite texture, and unrolled it so roughly that it tore in his hand. M. Narelli had left us for some minutes, or this miserable subordinate would not have dared to behave in so rude a manner; but I scarcely thought it worth while to notice it,—or rather, I scarcely did notice it at the time, my attention was so absorbed by the poor girl, whose happiness, whose every prospect, depended on my evidence.
I could not but repeat the affirmation; but how strange a thing is justice, that it is sometimes difficult to reconcile it to humanity, generosity, and all the nobler qualities of the heart! At the moment that I was telling the truth my heart, and almost my conscience, reproached me; it was impossible for me to deny the fact; even had it been possible by a denial to have destroyed all the links of evidence, could I so violate every received principle? But, nevertheless, however irreconcilable with honor, dignity, and religion such a course would have been, the features of that poor girl have frequently since appeared to me wearing such a reproachful glance, that I have seemed to stand before her abashed and self-convicted.
"And this piece of lace you stole?" continued the inquisitor, turning sharply to Rachel,—a style of examination which would scarcely be understood in England.
She made no reply, but looked at him with a calm, steady glance. Then a sudden thought seemed to strike her.
"I ask you but one favor," she said, speaking to M. Narelli, who had just returned. "Order these men away, and leave me alone for ten minutes with this gentleman: if you mistrust me, you will, at least, have confidence in an English gentleman. Besides, what chance is there of my escaping from this place?" And she cast a melancholy glance around the cell. "You can watch at the door, if you choose," she continued, with additional animation; "do this, and I will give him some most important information; if you remain, I will tell nothing at all."
The men whispered together, and appeared to hesitate about granting her request. I looked on in great anxiety. I was most desirous of being of some use to the poor girl, more especially as I felt myself to have been the innocent, but still the original cause, of all her sufferings.
"Do this," she continued, with a heightened tone,—"do this, and I will tell you much more: I will put you upon the track of a man who has stolen countless wealth—who has done worse than steal, who has stained his hands with blood. You know Flavio. Well, I know him also; and at the present moment I can tell you where he is to be found. Do you believe me now?"
Flavio had been well known some two years previously as one of those bandits who was the terror of a whole province. He was accused of several daring crimes, and a few months before these events a person had been murdered in one of the narrow streets which skirt the city, and the strongest circumstantial evidence pointed him out as the criminal. Since then the police had been vigorously on the alert to discover his hiding-place, but all their efforts up to this period had been fruitless. I had often heard him spoken of, more especially in connection with the republican movement then in progress in Italy; but I was quite at a loss to imagine what connection could have subsisted between this man and Rachel, or where she had had the opportunity of seeing him.
The men left the cell, M. Narelli whispering me to curtail the interview as much as possible, as they were anxious to terminate the first inquiry. So soon as the door was closed, she threw herself at my feet, took from her bosom a small packet, which I opened, and there I saw the picture of a fair child—she might have been seven years of age; and packed up with the picture was a lock of hair, and an address.
"As you are the cause of my misery," she said, "be also the source of my happiness, even in this infliction. Give this to my child at the inclosed address, and tell her to love me."
"Your child!" I exclaimed, with astonishment.
"My child, and by a man who you heard me mention so recently—Flavio!"
"And Flavio?" I said.
"I shall denounce him," she exclaimed,—"denounce him, as the one great duty which I owe to society, as an atonement for my own sins. And does he not deserve it? Is it but a light thing for a man to ruin me, in the first instance,—to leave me afterwards to starve, and compel me to keep a fruit-stall to gain the shadow of a subsistence,—condemning me to misery and to humiliations which my soul abhorred and loathed? And was that all? I said that you were the cause of my being here in this wretched dungeon; you are the innocent cause, but the man who betrayed me was——"
"Was Emmanuel," I interrupted.
"Yes, Emmanuel, it is true," she continued; "but there was a traitor prior to him, and greater than him; it was Flavio."
"It is scarcely credible, but true. He insisted upon my giving him all my earnings; when I refused to do so,—not for my own sake, for I could live just as happily on bread-and-water as you could surrounded by all your luxuries, but for the sake of my child, who, at that time, was almost starving, for I had to bestow all the pittance I could scrape together to procure it a nurse and a lodging. It was Flavio induced me to steal the lace. I did so in a moment of desperation, when I fully believed he would have murdered me if I had refused to obey him. I had it by me so long; for, in the first instance, I did not venture to offer it for sale; and latterly, I thought it would be difficult to procure the full price. At last I heard that you were searching for old lace, and thought I was safe in your hands. Circumstances have turned out differently. I sent to Flavio to tell him that I had found a customer for it, and till the very moment I was arrested I was perfectly ignorant that he and that scoundrel Emmanuel were in close communion together; but when I was dragged out of my small, miserable lodging, like a condemned criminal, rather than as a person only accused of a crime, Emmanuel, who stood by, with a glow of triumph over his pale, miserable, withered countenance, whispered to me, 'Thank Flavio for this; he denounced you for the reward.'"
"He will escape you," I said; "of course he will imagine that you intend to be revenged upon him."
"He will not escape me long, for I know that he imagines me ignorant of the woman with whom he is now living, and who hates him with a bitterness second only to my own. She will give him up to justice, and deservedly so. A greater villain does not exist. I cannot tell you what his whole conduct has been to me—his acts of barbarous cruelty. Even my child, whom I dote on, cannot make me forgive the father all his iniquity."
"And this poor child?" I said.
"Ah, that is the thought that lays next my heart with a weight which I can scarce sustain!" And she clasped her hands to her bosom, as though to express the greatness of her affliction. "What I ask you is to see the child, to give her this lock of hair and likeness. And may I venture one thing more,—may I ask you to take care that she is not left utterly destitute?" And so saying, she put a small purse in my hand, saying, "It is very light, but it contains all that I possess."
I returned her the purse, as she required every baiocchi to add to her comforts in the prison; but I set her mind at rest by promising to see her child the next morning, and to do all that lay in my power for its support and protection.
She fell at my feet, bathing my hands with her tears. In her beauty, as she knelt before me, I for the moment forgot in what spot we were standing, and looked upon her with an interest which was only broken, rudely enough, by the clanging of the chains of the door, and its creaking movement on its rusty hinges. M. Narelli entered, and with the rough, straightforward, practical conduct of a man in his position, he came at once to the point.
"You confess, then, that you stole the lace?"
"I do," she answered, with a firm voice, which surprised me after the scene I had just witnessed; "I do confess that I stole the lace; but it was not for myself, but for one far greater, and far better capable of making a defence—for that man Flavio."
I noticed the gleam of satisfaction that passed over M. Narelli's countenance at the mention of his name; and when he felt well assured that he was, at last, fairly on the track of the man who had evaded all his efforts, and in pursuit of whom, as I afterwards learned, he was, on one occasion, nearly losing his situation, on account of a robbery which it was quite evident that Flavio had committed, but of which he could not obtain the least trace, at once his whole manner changed towards the unfortunate girl; he asked her to sit down, to be quite calm, and to tell him all that she knew of the man's career.