"Have you the order?" inquired Coursegol.
"I am going for it," responded Vauquelas, meekly.
"Do not return without it if you wish to leave this place alive."
Vauquelas hastily retired. Robespierre lived on the Rue Saint Honore. Thither Vauquelas went, wondering under what form he should present his petition. The friendship existing between this celebrated man and himself was lively and profound. It had its origin in former relations, in services mutually rendered, and in common interests, but so far as Robespierre was concerned, he would never allow friendship to conflict with what he considered his duty. Even in his most cruel decisions, he was honest and sincere. He was deeply impressed with a sense of his responsibility and no consideration foreign to what he regarded as the welfare of the Nation could move him. He never granted a pardon; he never allowed his heart to be touched with compassion; and when one reads his history, it is hard to decide which is most horrible, the acts of his life or the spirit of fanaticism that inspired them. Vauquelas understood the character of the man with whom he had to deal, and felt that there was no hope of exciting Robespierre's pity by the recital of the misfortunes of Philip and Dolores, or by an explanation of the embarrassing position in which he found himself; so he finally decided to resort to strategy to obtain what he desired.
When he reached the house, he found that Robespierre had just gone out. Vauquelas did not seem at all annoyed. He entered the office—that dread place from which emanated those accusations that carried death and despair to so many households. The visitor was well-known to the servants of the household and he was permitted to roam about at will. As he declared his intention of awaiting Robespierre's return, the servant who ushered him into the room withdrew, leaving him quite alone. He hastened to Robespierre's desk and began rummaging among the papers with which it was strewn, keeping one eye all the while upon the door lest some one should enter and detect him. There were intended orders, lists of proscriptions, documents and reports from the provinces, as well as police reports, but Vauquelas paid no attention to these. He continued his search until Robespierre's signature on the bottom of a blank sheet of paper met his eyes, and drew from him an exclamation of joy.
This sheet was the last belonging to a police report which had been approved by the committee, and the only one upon which the clerk to whom the copying of the document had been entrusted had as yet written nothing. It was upon this sheet that Robespierre had placed his signature. His name, written by his own hand and ornamented with the flourish which he always appended to his signature, lay upon the immaculate whiteness of the paper like a blood stain. Without the slightest hesitation, Vauquelas tore this precious page loose from the others; then in a feigned hand he wrote these words "Permission to leave the prison is hereby granted to the man and woman bearing this order." These lines written above the signature transformed the paper into the safe-conduct which Coursegol had demanded. Greatly agitated by the audacious act he had just accomplished, Vauquelas placed the document he had fabricated in his pocket, hid the mutilated report in the bottom of a desk drawer under a pile of memorandum books; then, after giving his agitation time to subside, he left the house, lingering a moment to chat with those on guard at the door, and remarking as he left them:
"I have not time to wait just now; I will call again."
But as soon as he had gained the street he quickened his pace, as if fearing pursuit. On reaching home he hastened to the cellar and, addressing Coursegol who had not once quitted his post, he said:
"Here is what you desired. Go!"
Coursegol took the paper without a word, scrutinized it closely to convince himself that the signature was genuine: then satisfied with his examination he replied:
"I am going with the hope that I shall be able to save Dolores and Philip; but do not consider yourself forgiven for the injury you have done them. Remember this; if my efforts fail and any harm befalls them it is on you that my vengeance will fall."
He rose to go; then changing his mind, he added:
"For six months we have worked together, and as I shall probably need a good deal of money to carry this undertaking to a successful termination, I wish you to give me my share of the profits."
"Make your own estimate," replied Vauquelas, who was too thoroughly frightened to haggle as to terms.
"Give me fifty thousand francs; half in gold, half in assignats."
Vauquelas breathed a sigh of relief. He had feared that Coursegol would demand an amount ten times as large. He counted out fifty thousand francs. Coursegol put the assignats in his pocket, and secreted the gold in a leather belt he wore; then without another word, he started in quest of Philip and Dolores.
How could he reach them? He must first discover where they were. Prisons were very numerous in those days. There were the Luxembourg, the Abbaye, the Force, the Carmes, the Madelonnettes, Saint-Lazare and many others. In which of them were Philip and Dolores immured? Had they been sent to the same prison or had they been separated? Vauquelas had been unable to furnish any information on this subject, and Coursegol could only conjecture. He repaired immediately to the house of the Bridouls, where he made arrangements to remain for a time. He apprised these tried friends of the events that had occurred since the evening before. Cornelia could not restrain her tears when she heard that her young friend was in prison. As for Bridoul, he soon decided upon the course to be pursued. In most of the prisons there were many persons charged with no particular offence. It was not at all probable that they would ever be brought to trial, and, in spite of the surveillance to which they were subjected, they enjoyed comparative freedom. They were not absolutely forbidden to hold communication with the world outside, and if they possessed pecuniary resources it was possible for them to purchase the good-will of the jailers and to obtain permission to receive letters, food and even visits from their friends. It may have been that the number of prisons and of prisoners prevented the maintenance of very severe discipline; it may have been that the Committee of Public Safety, having decided to execute all convicted prisoners, did not desire to exercise a too rigid surveillance. However this may have been, many of the prisoners were in daily communication with the outer world. Wives and children obtained permission to visit their husbands and fathers without much difficulty; and there had been established, for the convenience of the prisoners, a corps of regularly appointed messengers who came and went at all hours of the day on condition that they paid the jailers a certain percentage on their earnings. Coursegol was ignorant of these details, but Bridoul acquainted him with them.
"One of these messengers is a friend of mine," added Bridoul, "and for a fair compensation, he will consent to take you with him as his assistant. In his company, you can visit the different prisons without the slightest danger."
This plan delighted Coursegol. That same evening they made the desired arrangement with the man of whom Bridoul had spoken. The next day, he began his search, and three days later he ascertained that Dolores was confined in the Conciergerie and Philip in the Madelonnettes.
After their arrest Philip and Dolores were taken to the nearest station-house and ushered into a room where three persons, arrested like themselves during the evening, were awaiting examination. Unfortunately the official charged with conducting these investigations had already gone home. As he would not return until the next morning, the sergeant of police decided that the prisoners must pass the night there. Some mattresses were spread upon the floor for those who chose to use them. Dolores refused to lie down. She seated herself in a broken-down arm chair which Philip obtained for her, not without considerable difficulty, and declared that she would spend the night there. Philip placed himself on a stool at her feet and thus they waited the break of day.
Their companions were stretched upon their couches fast asleep, and the night, which promised to be heavy with cruel wakefulness and fatigue, passed like some delightful dream.
They could not close their eyes to the fate that was in store for them. Philip had plotted to save the queen; he had returned from his refuge in foreign lands solely for this purpose. By sheltering him, Dolores had become his accomplice. Such crimes would meet with, no indulgence. In the morning they would be interrogated by an official, whose mind had been poisoned against them in advance, and who would show no mercy to their youth. Accused of desiring the overthrow of the Republic and the return of the Bourbons, they would be sent to prison, taken from their cells to the Revolutionary Tribunal, and condemned to the guillotine. Such was the summary mode of procedure during the Reign of Terror. To hope that any exception would be made in their case was folly. All that was left for them, therefore, was to prepare to die. If the prospect of such a fate brought the tears to their eyes at first, it was not because either of them was wanting in courage. No, it was only for the fate that was to befall the other that each wept. But when they had talked together, and learned that they were mutually resigned, their sorrow was appeased; and as if their sentence had already been pronounced, they thought only of making their last hours on earth pass as calmly and sweetly as possible.
"Why should I fear to die?" said Dolores, when Philip tried to encourage her by hopes in which he himself had not the slightest confidence. "Death has terrors only for those who leave some loved one behind them; but when I am gone, who will be left to mourn for me? Antoinette? Have I not for a long time been the same as dead to her? I can leave the world without creating a void in any heart, without causing any one a pang. Hence I can, without regret, go to seek the eternal rest for which I have sighed so long."
"Have you truly longed for death?" asked Philip.
"I have seen so many loved ones fall around me," replied Dolores, "my eyes have witnessed so many sorrows, I have suffered so much, and my life since my happy childhood has been so unspeakably lonely and sad that I have often and often entreated God to recall me to Himself."
"But, Dolores, if you had only listened to me when I pleaded in vain, if you had but placed your hand in mine, what misery we should have been spared."
"It would not have averted our misfortunes."
"No; but we might have borne them together, and after our sorrows found consolation in each other."
"I could not be your wife."
"Is it true, then, that you do not love me?"
Dolores made no answer. Emboldened by the solemn calmness of these moments which were, as they supposed, ushering them into eternity, Philip continued:
"Whenever I pressed my suit, you pleaded my father's wishes as an excuse for not listening to my prayers. To gratify a foolish ambition he desired me to marry Antoinette. Ah, well! my father's will no longer stands between us; and the engagement that binds me to her is broken by the changed situation in which we find ourselves. We are free now in the shadow of death. Will you not tell me the truth? Will you not open your heart to me as I have opened mine to you?"
Dolores listened, her glowing eyes riveted upon Philip's face, her bosom heaving with emotion. The words; "We are free now in the shadow of death," rang in her ears. She felt that she could not refuse her lover the last joy and consolation that he claimed; and that she, whose past had been one long sacrifice of her happiness and of her hopes, had a right to reveal the secret so long buried in her soul. Gently, almost solemnly, these words fell from her lips:
"Listen, Philip, since you ask me for the truth, now, at this supreme hour, I have always loved you as I love you now; and I love you now as ardently as I am beloved!"
There was so much tenderness in her manner that Philip sprang up, his eyes sparkling with rapture.
"And this is the avowal you have refused to make for five long years!" he cried. "I knew that my love was returned. You have confessed it; and if I were compelled to give my life in exchange for the happiness of hearing this from your lips, I should not think that I paid too dearly for it. But you have restored my energy and my courage. I feel strong enough, now, to defy the whole world in a struggle for the felicity that is rightfully ours. We shall live, Dolores, to belong to each other, to comfort each other."
"Do not, I entreat you, ask me to live," exclaimed Dolores, "since the certainty of death alone decided me to speak."
"But," pleaded Philip, "if I should succeed in rescuing you from the peril that surrounds us, would you be more rigorous than destiny? Would you not feel that God smiled upon our love, and that it was He who had mercifully united us again?"
"Philip! Philip!" murmured Dolores. She could say no more, but yielding at last to the sweet power of the love against which she had struggled so long, she laid her weary head upon the heart that worshipped her with such a tender and all-absorbing passion.
It was nine o'clock in the morning when the officer who was to conduct the examination made his appearance. The expectations of Philip and Dolores were realized. He questioned them hastily, listened to the report of the sergeant who had arrested them, took a few notes, then ordered the culprits to be sent, one to the Conciergerie, the other to the Madelonnettes.
"Can we not be together?" asked Philip, filled with dismay by the prospect of a separation.
"The Committee will decide. For the present, I shall be obliged to separate you" was the officer's reply.
Philip approached Dolores.
"Do not lose courage," he whispered. "I shall soon rejoin you."
Dolores was to be taken to the Conciergerie.
Several gendarmes formed her escort. At her request, one of them sent for a carriage. She entered it and her guards seated themselves opposite her and on the box with the driver. To reach the Conciergerie, they were obliged to pass the Palais de Justice. Upon the steps of the palace, not far from the prison, was a crowd of women that assembled there every day to witness the departure of the prisoners who were condemned to death. They saw Dolores when she alighted from the carriage, and immediately began to clap their hands and utter shrill cries of delight. She was compelled to pass through a storm of hisses, gibes and insults in making her way to the prison; and it was not without considerable difficulty that the men acting as her escort protected her from the infuriated throng. At last the dread door opened before her. She was ushered into the office, a small room where the prison register was kept. Her full name and age were recorded by the clerk, and she was then placed in charge of one of the jailers, who was ordered to find accommodations for her in that part of the prison over which he had jurisdiction.
"I have two favors to ask of you," Dolores said to this man, whose benevolent face inspired her with confidence.
"What do you desire, citoyenne?"
"First, to have a cell to myself, if possible. I will pay for it."
"That will be a difficult matter; but I think I can arrange it. And what else?"
"I wish to send a letter to a person who is very dear to me."
"Coursegol. He lives at the house of Citizen Vauquelas, where I was living myself when I was arrested in his absence. You may see the contents of the letter and assure yourself that it contains nothing objectionable."
"Very well," replied the jailer, moved with compassion by the misfortunes of this beautiful young girl. "I will conduct you to a cell where you will be alone, and where you will have an opportunity to write your letter."
As he spoke, he led Dolores to a small room on the second floor, lighted by a grated window, opening upon the court-yard.
"You can remain here as long as you like. No one shall come to trouble you. Meals are served in the refectory, unless a prisoner desires them in his own apartment, at a charge of six francs per day."
"I shall have no money until the letter I am about to write reaches its destination," said Dolores. "It took all I had to pay for the carriage that brought me here."
"I will give you credit," replied the jailer. "No no; do not thank me. It always pays to be accommodating. I will now go for pen, ink and paper."
The worthy man withdrew but soon returned, bringing the desired articles. Dolores wrote a hasty note to Coursegol, informing him of her arrest and that of Philip, and begging him to send her some money at once. The jailer promised that the letter should be delivered some time during the day. Then he departed. Dolores, left in solitude, fell upon her knees and prayed for Philip. She had never loved him so fondly as now; and the misfortune that had befallen her would have been nothing had it been alleviated by the joy of knowing that her lover was near her.
She spent the day alone, and she was really surprised at her own calmness. Comforted by the immortal hopes that are ever awakened in the Christian's soul by the prospect of death, and elevated to an ideal world by the exciting events of the previous evening and by the eloquent confession of Philip, as well as by her own, life seemed despicable, unworthy of her; and she felt that she could leave it without a regret. Toward evening, the jailer returned. He brought back the letter she had given him. Coursegol could not be found; he was no longer with Vauquelas, and the latter knew nothing of his whereabouts.
This news brought Dolores back to the stern reality of her situation. She feared that Coursegol had excited the anger of Vauquelas by his threats, and that he had drawn down some misfortune upon himself. Moreover, the disappearance of her protector cut off her pecuniary resources; and as the prisoners could not obtain the slightest favor without the aid of gold, she was deprived of the means to alleviate the hardships of her lot. The jailer pitied her distress.
"Do not worry, citoyenne," he said to Dolores. "You shall have your meals here, and you shall not be disturbed. By and by, you will be able to compensate me for my services."
Grateful for this unexpected kindness, Dolores removed a small cross set with diamonds which she wore about her neck, and, offering it to the jailer, said:
"Accept this as security for the expense that I shall cause you. If I die, you can keep it; if I live, I will redeem it."
The man refused at first; but the girl's entreaties conquered his scruples, and he finally accepted it.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"I am called Aubry. You will find me ever ready to serve you, citoyenne."
Such were the incidents that marked our heroine's arrival at the Conciergerie. This first day in prison passed slowly. She did not leave her cell, but toward evening Aubry brought up two dishes which were as unpleasing to the taste as to the eye. As he placed them before her and saw the movement of disgust which Dolores could not repress, Aubry was almost ashamed of the meagre fare.
"Things here are not as they were in your chateau," he remarked, rather tartly.
"No matter, my good Aubry, I am content;" responded Dolores, pleasantly.
She ate the food, however, for she had fasted since the evening before; then, drawing the table to the wall pierced by the small, high window, she mounted it to obtain a few breaths of fresh air. She opened the sash; the breeze came in through the heavy bars, but Dolores could only catch a glimpse of the gray sky already overcast by the mists of evening.
An hour later, Dolores was sleeping calmly; and the next morning, as if to render her first awakening in prison less gloomy, a bright sunbeam peeped in to salute her.
When Aubry entered about ten o'clock with her breakfast, she was walking about her cell.
"Citoyenne," he began; "I must tell you that as I was leaving the prison, this morning, I met a man who inquired if I had seen, among the prisoners, a pretty young girl with golden hair and dark eyes. The description corresponded with you in every particular."
"Describe the man," said Dolores, eagerly.
"He was very tall; he had gray hair, and he seemed to be in great trouble."
"It was Coursegol—the person for whom my letter was intended. Shall you see him again?"
"His evident distress excited my pity, and I promised to aid him in his search. He agreed to come to the office at ten o'clock this morning, ostensibly to seek employment in the prison; and I promised to make some excuse for taking you there at the same hour, so you can see each other; but you are not to exchange a word or even a sign of recognition."
So in a few moments Dolores found herself face to face with Coursegol. Of course, they did not attempt to exchange a single word: but, by a look, Coursegol made her understand that he was employing every effort to effect her deliverance; and she returned to her cell cheered by the thought that a devoted heart was watching over her and over Philip. The next day, when she was least expecting it, the door opened and Coursegol entered.
"I have taken Aubry's place to-day," he remarked.
Dolores sprang towards him, and he clasped her in his arms. They had been separated only three days, but those three days had seemed a century to both.
"Have you seen Philip?" inquired Dolores.
"I saw him yesterday, after leaving here, my child."
"Is he still in the Madelonnettes?"
"Yes; but next week he will be brought here."
Nothing could have afforded Dolores greater pleasure than this intelligence; and she gratefully thanked the protector whose devotion thus alleviated the hardships of her lot; then he told her what had occurred since her arrest, and how he had compelled Vauquelas to obtain an order for the release of those he had betrayed.
"This order is now in my possession," he continued; "but it cannot be used until Philip is an inmate of the same prison in which you are confined. He will be here in a few days and then you can both make your escape. In the meantime I will make all the necessary arrangements to enable you to leave Paris as soon as you are set at liberty."
This interview, which lasted nearly an hour, literally transformed Dolores. For the first time in many years she allowed herself to contemplate the possibility of happiness here below; and the grave and solemn thoughts that had been occupying her mind gave place to bright anticipations of a blissful future with Philip.
For the first time since her arrival at the Conciergerie, she went down into the public hall. This hall was separated only by an iron grating from the long and narrow corridor upon which the cells assigned to the men opened, and in which they spent most of their time. It was against this grating that they leaned when they wished to converse with their lady friends; and, during the day, it not unfrequently happened that the doors were left open, and prisoners of both sexes were allowed to mingle together. Then, ladies and gentlemen promenaded gayly to and fro; acquaintances exchanged greetings; and handsome men and beautiful women chatted as blithely as if they were in their elegant drawing-rooms.
The ancient nobility of France thus entered its protest against the persecutions of which it was the victim, and convinced even its bitterest enemies that it was not lacking in spirit and in courage in the very jaws of death. All the historians who have attempted a description of the prison life of that time unite in declaring that contempt of death was never evinced more forcibly than by the victims of that bloody epoch.
The ladies displayed habits of luxury that were worthy of the days of the Regency. In the morning they generally appeared in bewitching negliges; in the afternoon they made more careful and elegant toilettes, and when evening came they donned the costly, trailing robes which they had worn at Court, only a few short weeks before. Those who, by the circumstances attendant upon their arrest, had been prevented from bringing a varied assortment of dresses with them, expended any amount of energy and ingenuity in their attempts to rival their more fortunate companions in the splendor of their costumes. Hence, the prison resembled a ball-room rather than an antechamber of death. The ladies were coquettish and bewitching; the men were gallant and impassioned; and more than one love was born in those days of alternate hope and terror—more than one love whose ardor was not impaired by fears for the morrow, and whose delights sweetened the last hours of those who shared it. There was, of course, little real enjoyment or happiness in those clays which were constantly disturbed by the arrival of new victims. One came mourning for her children; another, for her husband. At intervals, the jailer appeared to summon those condemned to die. Heart-rending shrieks and despairing farewells attended these separations; the executioner led away his victims, and all was over. Those who remained filled up the ranks, and, looking at one another with an anguish that deprived them of none of their courage, whispered:
"Who of us will die to-morrow?"
But a secret flame burned in every heart, imparting strength to the weak and resignation to the strong. Cowardice was as rare as voluntary sacrifice was common; and that which rendered the sight of such fortitude and courage in the presence of danger still more touching, was the tender sympathy that united all the prisoners, without regard to former differences in social position.
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when Dolores, reassured by her interview with Coursegol, made her appearance in the hall frequented by the inmates of the prison. More than a hundred persons had gathered there. They were now scattered about in little groups; and the conversation was very animated. Here sat an ancient dowager, delighting some gentlemen with piquant anecdotes of the Court of Louis XV.; there, stood a jovial priest, composing rhymes for the amusement of a half-dozen young girls; at a little distance were several statesmen, earnestly discussing the recent acts of the Convention—all doing their best to kill time, as travellers detained at some wayside inn strive to divert one another, while they wait for the sunshine that will enable them to pursue their journey.
Dolores was not remarked at first among the crowd of prisoners. Each day brought so many new faces there that one more unfortunate excited little comment. But soon this young girl, who seemed to be entirely alone, and who gazed half-timidly, half-curiously, at the scene before her, attracted the attention of several prisoners. A woman, endowed with such rare loveliness of form and feature as Nature had bestowed upon Dolores, cannot long remain unnoticed. Her golden hair lay in soft rings upon her smooth, open brow, and drooped in heavy braids upon her white neck. Her dark brown dress and the little fichu knotted at the waist behind, were very simple in texture and in make; but she wore them with such grace, and there was such an air of elegance and distinction in her bearing, that she soon became an object of general curiosity.
"What! So young, so beautiful, and in prison!" said one.
"Youth and beauty do not soften the hearts of tigers!" another replied.
A murmur of pity was heard as she passed, and some young men placed themselves in her path in order to obtain a closer look at her. Not until then did she note the sensation she had created. She became embarrassed, and took a step backward as if to retire; but, at that very moment, a lady, still young, in spite of the premature whiteness of her locks, approached her and said:
"Why do you draw back, my child? Do we frighten you?"
"No, madame," replied Dolores; "but I am a stranger, and, finding, myself alone among so many, I thought to retire to my own cell; but I will gladly remain if you will act as my protectress."
"Take my arm, my dear. I will present you to my friends here. I am the Marquise de Beaufort. And you?"
"My name is Dolores. I have neither father nor mother. The Marquis de Chamondrin adopted me; and I was reared in his house as his own daughter."
"The Marquis de Chamondrin? Why! his son Philip——"
"My adopted brother! You know him, madame?"
"He is one of my friends and often came to my salon—when I had a salon," added the Marquise, smiling.
"Philip emigrated," remarked Dolores, "but unfortunately, he recently returned to France. He, with several other gentlemen, attempted to save the queen. He was with me, yesterday, when we were arrested; he, as an Emigre; I, for giving him shelter."
This short explanation sufficed to awaken the liveliest sympathy among her listeners. She was immediately surrounded and respectfully entreated to accept certain comforts and delicacies that those who had money were allowed to purchase for themselves. She refused these proffered kindnesses; but remained until evening beside the Marquise de Beaufort, who seemed to take an almost motherly interest in the young girl.
The days that followed were in no way remarkable; but Dolores was deeply affected by scenes which no longer moved her companions. Every evening a man entered, called several persons by name and handed them a folded paper, a badly written and often illegible scrawl in which not even the spelling of the names was correct, and which, consequently, not unfrequently failed to reach the one for whom it was intended. This was an act of accusation. The person who received it was allowed no time to prepare his defence, but was compelled to appear before the Revolutionary Tribunal the following day, and on that day or the next, he was usually led forth to die.
How many innocent persons Dolores saw leave the prison never to return! But the victims, whatever might be their age or sex, displayed the same fortitude, courage and firmness. They met their doom with such proud audacity that those who survived them, but who well knew that the same fate awaited them, in their turn, watched them depart with sad, but not despairing, eyes.
These scenes, of which she was an almost hourly witness, strengthened the soul of Dolores and increased her distaste for life and her scorn of death. Still, she experienced a feeling of profound sorrow when, on the morning of the ninth day of her captivity, she was obliged to bid farewell to the Marquise de Beaufort, who, in company with the former abbess of the Convent of Bellecombe, in Auvergne, and a venerable priest, had been summoned before the Tribunal. They were absent scarcely three hours; they returned, condemned. Their execution was to take place that same day at sunset. They spent the time that remained, in prayer; and Dolores, kneeling beside them, wept bitterly.
"Do not mourn, my dear child," said the Marquise, tenderly. "I die without regret. There was nothing left me here on earth. I have lost my husband, my son—all who were dear to me. I am going to rejoin them. I could ask no greater happiness."
She spoke thus as she obeyed the call of the executioner, who summoned her and her companions to array themselves for their final journey. When her toilet was completed, she knelt before the aged priest.
"Bless me, my father!" said she.
And the priest, who was to die with her, extended his hands and blessed her. When she rose, her face was radiant. She took Dolores in her arms.
"Farewell, my child;" she said, tenderly. "You are young. I hope you will escape the fury of these misguided wretches. Pray for me!"
And as the prisoners crowded around her with outstretched hands, she cried, cheerfully:
"Au revoir, my friends, au revoir!"
She was led away. Just as she was disappearing from sight, she turned once more and sent Dolores a last supreme farewell in a smile and kiss. Then, in a clear, strong voice, that rang out like a song of victory, she cried:
"Vive le Roi!"
The very next day Dolores saw two young men led out to die. Their bearing was no less brave than that of the Marquise. They were not royalists. They died accused of Moderantisme, that frightful word with which the revolution sealed the doom of so many of its most devoted children. The Marquise de Beaufort had cried: "Vive le Roi!" They cried:
"Vive la Republique!"
ANTOINETTE DE MIRANDOL.
A fortnight had elapsed since Dolores first entered the Conciergerie. In the many trying experiences through which she had been obliged to pass, she had been sustained by the hope of a speedy meeting with Philip. She dare not believe that Coursegol's efforts, or even the order of release which he had obtained through Vauquelas, could save them; but it seemed to her if she could only see her lover once more before she died, she could mount the scaffold without a regret.
One morning, on entering the public hall, she saw Coursegol behind the grating in the corridor. She hastened to him, and he whispered through the bars that Philip was to be brought to the Conciergerie the next day. Dolores was overcome with joy at this news.
"As soon as M. Philip arrives here," added Coursegol; "we will arrange to make use of the order of release and to remove you from prison."
"Will that be possible?" inquired Dolores.
"Certainly. All prisoners who are set at liberty are released by order of the Committee; and the order given me by Vauquelas is a fac-simile of those always used."
"With this difference, however: the names of those to be released have not yet been inserted," objected Dolores.
"What of that?" exclaimed Coursegol, "I will insert the names myself, and then the order will be in favor of citoyen and citoyenne Chamondrin."
"But if we should succeed in escaping from this prison, Coursegol, where shall we go?"
"To Bridoul's at first, where you will be safe for at least twenty-four hours. From there I shall conduct you to a cottage in the Forest of Chevreuse, some little distance from Versailles. The place is almost a wilderness; no one will ever think of looking for us there."
Coursegol's words made a deep impression upon the girl's mind. After resigning herself to an eternal separation from the object of her love; after trampling her own heart and all her hopes of happiness under foot, and just as her peace, her future, her very life itself seemed irretrievably lost, hope sprang up from the ruins like some gorgeous flower and unfolded its brilliant petals one by one before her wondering and enraptured eyes.
"And Antoinette?" some one asks, "Had Dolores forgotten Antoinette's right to Philip's devotion?" No; the reader knows how heroically Dolores had sacrificed her happiness for her friend's sake, and how earnestly she had endeavored to compel Philip to fulfil his father's wishes; but when Philip met her at the house of Vauquelas after their long separation, he made no allusion to the recent promise which bound him more closely than ever to Mlle. de Mirandol; and, knowing that Dolores was aware of the engagement which had formerly existed between himself and Antoinette, he did his best to make that bond appear of a trivial nature in order to induce her to listen to his suit with favor. So he had merely told Dolores that he did not love Antoinette, that he could never love Antoinette, that it was she, Dolores, whom he passionately adored and whom he was resolved to make his wife. If we remember the influence such words as these could not fail to exercise over the mind of Dolores, and the influence exerted by the peculiar circumstances of their meeting, and by the perils that surrounded them; if we recollect, too, that Antoinette was far away and presumably beyond the reach of danger or of want, it is easy to understand how they came to forget everything but their own happiness, and to regard their marriage—until now deemed an impossibility—as a most natural and proper thing.
It was in this condition of mind that Dolores listened to Coursegol's description of the little house in the Chevreuse valley, in which they were to take refuge; but the vision of happiness conjured up by his words was rudely dispelled by a sudden commotion around her which recalled her to the grim reality of the dangers that still threatened her on every side. The jailer was reading the names of the prisoners who were to appear before the Revolutionary Tribunal the next day.
That evening, when Dolores re-entered her cell, eagerly longing for the morrow which would bring Philip once more to her side, she was followed by Aubry, who was carrying a small iron bedstead which he placed near the one occupied by Dolores.
"What are you doing?" inquired the young girl.
"I am placing a bed here for the companion I shall be compelled to give you to-morrow, citoyenne. I have resorted to every sort of stratagem to gratify your desire to be alone, but now there is no help for it. We are expecting a party of prisoners from La Vendee. There are several women among them; and some place must be found for them, although the prison is filled to overflowing. While you were down-stairs the inspector came here and ordered me to put another prisoner in this cell. It is annoying, but, never mind; when the new-comers arrive I will choose your room-mate, and you will be pleased with her."
This intelligence was exceedingly unwelcome to Dolores, but the hope of seeing Philip the next day greatly mitigated her regret. She had just left her bed the next morning, when she heard footsteps in the corridor. She hastily completed her toilet, and had hardly done so when the key turned in the lock. The door opened and Aubry entered. He was not alone; but Dolores could not distinguish the features of the lady who accompanied him, on account of the dim light and the thick veil that shrouded her face.
"Here is your companion," Aubry whispered to Dolores. "I hope you will be pleased with my selection. Poor little thing, she seems worn out and terribly dejected."
The stranger, without lifting her veil, had seated herself upon her bed in an attitude which indicated intense fatigue or despondency. Aubry gave her a few directions to which she listened abstractedly, without replying or even looking at the jailer, who then withdrew. Dolores, after a moment, approached the stranger and said:
"Since we are to be together for a time more or less long, shall we not be friends?"
At the sound of the girl's voice, the stranger trembled; then she rose and looked Dolores full in the face with a strange intentness.
"Shall we not be friends!" she repeated. "Dolores, do you not know me?"
It was Dolores' turn to tremble. She clasped her hands, uttered a cry of astonishment in which one could detect both consternation and joy; then, springing forward, she hastily lifted the veil which hid the face of the speaker.
"Dolores, you here!"
They were again in each other's arms after four long years of separation, kissing each other, questioning each other, smiling and weeping by turns.
"Tell me about yourself!" cried Antoinette.
"All in good time, my dearest," replied Dolores. "First, lie down and rest. You look weary and are pale with fatigue."
"I was travelling all night!"
Dolores helped her remove her damp clothing and made her lie down upon her own bed; then she left her a moment to ask Aubry to bring a cup of coffee to her weary friend. That worthy man exhibited his accustomed zeal, and soon the two young-girls, one reclining on her couch, the other seated by her bedside were talking of the past. But their conversation had hardly begun when Antoinette inquired:
"Have you seen Philip?"
A slight pallor overspread the cheeks of Dolores, but the next instant she responded, calmly:
"I have seen Philip. He, too, has been arrested, and he will be brought here to-day."
Antoinette was eager to know the circumstances of Philip's arrest. Dolores related them, and to do so she was obliged to give her companion some account of her own life since she left the Chateau de Chamondrin four years before. Antoinette was affected to tears by the story of her friend's misfortunes. She interrupted her again and again to pity and caress her, and Dolores could not summon up courage to speak of her love for Philip, or of what had passed between them.
Then, it was Antoinette's turn to speak of herself and of her own past; and she soon revealed the fact that Philip had solemnly plighted his troth to her at last. She also told her friend that she could not endure her life in England, separated from him, and that anxiety for his safety had induced her to leave the Reed mansion by stealth and come to France in quest of him.
In London, she had sought the protection of the Chevalier de Millemont, an aged nobleman, and Philip's devoted friend. That gentleman, after vainly attempting to dissuade her, at last consented to make such arrangements as would enable her to reach France in safety. It was through his efforts that Antoinette was allowed to take passage in a small vessel that was sent to bear a message from the princes to La Vendee. On reaching the coast of Brittany where the vessel landed, she and her travelling companions parted. She was eager to reach Paris, but found that the journey would be no easy task. She finally succeeded in finding a man who agreed to take her as far as Nantes in his carriage. He procured two passports, one for his own use, and in which he figured as a grain merchant; the other for Antoinette, who was represented to be his daughter. Unfortunately, they stopped for refreshments at a small village near Nantes; and Antoinette's unmistakable air of distinction and the whiteness of her hands led people to suspect that she was not the child of a petty village merchant. The man discovered this; his fears were aroused, and while Antoinette was sitting in the parlor of the inn, he harnessed his horses and drove off at full speed. This cowardly desertion filled the girl with dismay. On finding herself alone, she could not conceal her disquietude, and this increased the suspicions that had already been aroused. The inn-keeper, who was a zealous patriot, compelled her to go with him to the district Commissioner. Her presence of mind deserted her; and her incoherent replies and her reticence caused her arrest. The Commissioner intended to send her to Nantes; but she begged so hard to be sent to Paris, instead, that he finally granted her request. That same evening a party of prisoners from La Vendee passed through the village; and Antoinette was entrusted to the care of the officer in charge of them. After a long and painful journey, she at last reached Paris, where the Conciergerie opened to receive her.
Such was the story she related to Dolores. The latter listened to it in silence. When it was ended, she said to her friend:
"Now you must sleep and regain your strength. Have no fears, I will watch over you."
"If I could only see Philip!" sighed Antoinette.
"You shall see him; I promise you that."
Antoinette submissively closed her eyes and soon fell asleep. Dolores sat motionless, her thoughts busy with what she had just heard. In all this narrative she had clearly understood only two things: first, that it was the hope of discovering and saving Philip, whom she still passionately loved, that had induced Mlle. de Mirandol to make this journey which had terminated so disastrously, and secondly, that Philip only a few weeks before had solemnly renewed an engagement which he had concealed from her.
"What shall I do?" asked the poor girl, as she remembered with a breaking heart her blissful dreams of the evening before.
Her own great love stood face to face with that of Antoinette. Which should be sacrificed? Antoinette's most assuredly, since Philip loved Dolores. But she dare not contemplate such a solution of the problem.
"What!" she thought; "after the Marquis de Chamondrin has reared me as his own child, I repay his kindness by encouraging his son to disobey his last wishes? No, no! It is impossible! He made him promise to marry Antoinette; and Philip did promise, first his father and afterwards Antoinette. What does it matter if he does love me! When he no longer sees me, he will forget me! Antoinette will again become dear to him. They will be happy. What am I, that I should destroy the plans that were so dear to the heart of my benefactor? Have I not made one sacrifice, and can I not make another? Come, Dolores, be brave, be strong! If you wed Philip, Antoinette will be miserable. Her disappointment would break her heart; and all your life long, the phantom form of the dear sister whose happiness you had wrecked would stand between your husband and yourself. She is innocent; she does not even know that I love Philip. I have never admitted it to her; I have always concealed the truth. She will be happy; she will feel no remorse, and she will cause peace, resignation and love to descend with healing wings upon the heart of him she so fondly loves."
Never was there a nobler example of self-denial and renunciation. She had only to utter a single word and Philip was hers forever; but if she must pain Antoinette's tender heart, and fail in respect to her benefactor in order to win happiness, she would have none of it. Such were her reflections as she watched over her sleeping friend.
"Ah!" she murmured, as she sadly gazed upon her; "why did you not remain in England? Why did you come here? You little know how much misery you have caused me!"
One cannot wonder that a rebellious cry rose from her tortured heart; but the cry did not escape her lips. It was stifled in her inmost soul with the hopes she had just relinquished forever. Suddenly the door opened, and the jailer entered. It was now about ten o'clock in the morning.
"There is a prisoner below who has just arrived, and who wishes to see you, citoyenne."
"It is he!" thought Dolores, turning pale at the thought of meeting Philip again.
Nevertheless, she armed herself with courage, and went down-stairs with a firm step to welcome Philip. He was awaiting her with feverish impatience. On seeing her, he uttered a cry of joy and sprang forward, crying:
"Dolores, Dolores, at last we meet never again to part!"
"Never?" she asked, faintly.
"Do you not remember my words? If God, who has united us once more, after a long and cruel separation, saves us from the dangers that threaten us with destruction, shall you not believe that he smiles upon our love? Ah, well! thanks to Coursegol, we shall succeed in making our escape from this place. We shall soon be free!"
"And what is to be Antoinette's fate?'
Dolores looked him full in the eyes and said, with all the firmness she could command:
"You left Antoinette in England, Philip, promising to marry her on your return. She is now in France, in Paris, in this prison. She comes to claim the fulfilment of your promise."
While Dolores was speaking, Philip's face underwent an entire change, so great was the surprise and emotion caused by this intelligence. When she had finished, he could make no response; he could only lean against the wall of the prison, speechless and motionless.
What Philip had just heard filled his heart with grief and consternation. How had Antoinette succeeded in reaching Paris? What had been her object in coming? Dolores repeated the story exactly as Antoinette had told it. When it was ended she simply added:
"Philip, why did you not tell me of the engagement that existed between you? What! you left Antoinette scarcely six weeks ago—left her, promising to marry her on your return, and now you entreat me to be your wife!"
Philip hastily interrupted her.
"Ah, Dolores, do not reproach me. I have been neither false nor treacherous. There has been a terrible, a fatal mistake. Yes, separated from you, convinced that I should never see you again—that you were dead or forever lost to me, I made Antoinette the same promise I made my father four years ago, when I believed you consecrated to God; but when I found you once more, you whom I adore, how could I forget that you first—that you alone, possessed my heart? Even as a child, I loved you as one loves a wife, not as one loves a sister; and this passion has grown with my growth, and strengthened with my strength, until it has become the ruling power of my life."
"Alas!" murmured Dolores.
"And when a thrice-blessed change has brought us together once more, now that I can at last cover your dear hands with kisses, and feast my hungry eyes upon your beauty, you would forbid me in the name of Antoinette to tell you what has been in my heart so many years? No, Dolores, no. You are strong, I know. You possess sufficient energy and determination to conquer yourself and to remain apparently cold and unmoved while your heart is writhing in anguish; but I have no such fortitude. I cannot hide my suffering; I love you, I must tell you so."
As he spoke, Philip became more and more agitated. Tears gathered in his eyes and his features worked convulsively.
"Do you not see," he resumed, after a short silence, "that the scruples which led us to conceal the truth were the causes of all our misery? If, hand in hand, we had knelt before him and said: 'Father, we love each other, give us your blessing,' he would have been content."
"You are mistaken, Philip. Just before I left for the convent, I told the Marquis with my own lips of your love for me, and he did not bid me stay."
Philip stood as if stupefied.
"My father knew—"
"And yet, on his deathbed, he compelled me to promise that I would marry Antoinette!"
"He thought you would forget me."
"Can those who truly love ever forget?" cried Philip. "But what is to be done?" he asked.
Dolores made no response. She stood before him with eyes downcast that he might not see the conflict which was raging in her soul. Philip took advantage of her hesitation to plead his cause anew.
"Listen, Dolores; it is not right that we should all sacrifice ourselves to my father's ambition; and if I wed Antoinette, still loving you, I cannot make her happy. Besides, what would become of you?"
"But if I listen to you, what will become of Antoinette?"
"She will forget. She loves me because she met me before she met any other young man, before she had seen the world; but she will soon forget me. After a few tears that cannot compare in bitterness with those that I have shed, and with those I shall shed, if I am compelled to give you up, she will bestow her love elsewhere."
"Do not wrong her, Philip. For four long years she has considered herself your wife in the sight of God, and now you would leave her to mourn your infidelity!"
"Yes, Philip, for you have plighted your troth to her. You have made no promise to me."
"I have promised nothing."
"But your silence the other evening when I entreated you to grant my suit—was not your silence then an avowal?"
"You misunderstood me!" replied Dolores, courageously.
The girl could endure no more; her strength was exhausted; but her decision was made, and her sole aim now was to assure Antoinette's happiness by compelling Philip to marry her. She said, gently:
"Coursegol must bring the order of release by the aid of which you and I were to leave the prison. It will be of service when we plan Antoinette's escape."
Philip uttered an exclamation of remonstrance. She pretended not to hear it and continued:
"You will go with her. When you are once outside these walls, thanks to Coursegol, it will be easy for you to reach a place of safety. I do not ask you to marry Antoinette as soon as you have left me; but when time has calmed the fever that is now raging in your heart, and peace has descended upon your troubled soul, you will bravely fulfil the promise you have made, as befits an honest man. This is my request."
Philip shook his head.
"What is to be your fate?" he inquired.
"If I ever leave this prison, or rather, if I escape the guillotine, I shall go to some foreign land and there, resuming the vocation to which I have consecrated myself, I shall pass the remainder of my life in a convent where I shall pray for you. But I shall not take the vows of eternal seclusion from the world; and if, some day, you feel strong enough to endure my presence without danger to your peace of mind, I will see you again, Philip, and give your children a second mother by the renewal of my friendship with Antoinette."
"I refuse to obey you! No; I will not marry Antoinette, and since you would compel me to do so, she shall decide what course I ought to pursue. I will tell her all; I will tell her that we love each other, that we have always loved each other."
"Hush!" said Dolores, beseechingly; "she must never know—you have no right to reveal a secret that is as much mine as it is yours."
Their conversation had lasted some time. The yard and the hall that opened into it were beginning to fill with the inmates of the prison. They came down from their cells by no means certain that evening would find them still alive; and yet this uncertainty did not mar the serenity of their features or of their minds. Several, on passing Philip and Dolores, looked at them with evident curiosity, as if anxious to know the theme of such an animated conversation.
"I must return to Antoinette," said Dolores. "I will bring her down with me, and I entreat you, in the name of your love, to say nothing that will cause her pain. There is no haste. We are in prison, and, in spite of Coursegol's efforts, none of us may succeed in making our escape. An act of accusation may fall upon one of us, if not upon all three of us, at any moment. What the future has in store for us we do not know, but let us not embitter the present by reproaches and differences. Let us live here, as we lived at Chamondrin, in perfect harmony, encouraging and sustaining one another in our misfortunes, so we can endure them cheerfully, and wait with patience until time shall solve this difficulty for us."
"What energy you possess!" replied Philip, gladly accepting this proposal, since it gave him a gleam of hope.
Dolores left him to go to Antoinette, and Philip mingled with the other prisoners, among whom he found many noblemen and titled ladies whose acquaintance he had made at court and at the house of the Duke de Penthieore. Antoinette was just waking when Dolores returned to the cell they shared in common, and she did not notice the emotion that was still visible on her friend's face. She smiled, extended her hand and kissed her.
"Philip?" she asked.
This was the first word she uttered.
"Philip has come. I have seen him; he is waiting for you below."
This news made Antoinette spring hastily to her feet; and arm in arm the two girls went down to join Philip. Dolores felt Antoinette's heart throb violently, so deeply was she moved by the thought of seeing him whom she regarded as her betrothed. She flew to his arms with such artless delight that he was really touched with remorse when he remembered that, only a moment before, he had almost hated this lovely young girl whose only fault was her love for him.
"Poor child," he said, almost tenderly, "why did you not remain in England? Why did you expose yourself to such danger?"
"Was it not my duty to come to you that I might die with you? When, after vainly waiting a fortnight for news of you, I heard of the death of the queen, I said to myself that, in your fruitless efforts to save her, you must have incurred great peril, and that you had probably been arrested. You see that I was not mistaken. So I started to find you, and I deem myself fortunate to be with you once more."
This response, which Dolores heard distinctly, was only another proof of the promises Philip had made to Antoinette. These promises, consecrated as they had been by the blessing of the Abbe Peretty, beside the deathbed of the Marquis de Chamondrin, seemed of so sacred a nature in the eyes of Antoinette that she really felt it her duty to treat Philip as if their marriage was an accomplished fact.
Dolores glanced at Philip; her look seemed to say:
"Would you dare to tell her that you do not love her? No; think only of making yourself worthy of her, and of assuring the happiness to which she is justly entitled."
Philip was greatly embarrassed. Antoinette seemed to expect that he would greet her arrival with some word expressive of joy or of love; but, in spite of his efforts, he could not utter a word. The presence of Dolores from whom he could no longer conceal the truth, intimidated him and rendered him mute. Some minutes passed thus. The prisoners were passing and repassing. Those who had been surprised by the arrival of Philip a short time before, were now wondering who this young girl, for whom Dolores evinced all a sister's tenderness, could be.
We have already said that each of the prisons which had been crowded with victims by the Reign of Terror was a faithful reproduction of the aristocratic society of Paris, now decimated by death and by exile, but which was famous for its intrigues, its wit, its indiscretions, its luxury and its gallantries. Behind the prison bars the ladies still remained grandes dames; the men, courtiers: and neither sex had lost any of its interest in small events as well as great. On the contrary, the monotony of prison life and the desire to kill time intensified this interest so natural to the French mind. An incident of trifling importance furnished them with a topic of conversation for hours. The new dress in which the duchess had appeared, the pleasure with which the marquise seemed to receive the attentions of the chevalier, interested this little world, which had not been cured of its frivolity by its misfortunes, as much as the heroism which the last person condemned had displayed on ascending the scaffold.
This serves to explain how and why a general curiosity was awakened by the appearance of Antoinette de Mirandol. A few moments before, they had noticed the Marquis de Chamondrin engaged in animated conversation with Dolores. The malicious scented an intrigue; the ladies undertook the defence of Dolores; the old people remembered that she had been educated with Philip, and thought it quite natural that they should have much to say to each other after a long separation; but when Dolores, after absenting herself a few moments, returned with a charming young girl upon her arm, a stranger, whom she led straight to Philip, every one was eager to know the name of the new-comer. They watched the group with evident curiosity, as if trying to divine what was passing; they commented on the emotion betrayed in Philip's face, and the acquaintances of Dolores were anxiously waiting for an opportunity to question her.
"I think we are creating quite a sensation," Dolores said, at last, in a low tone and with a smile.
Philip turned, and seeing they were the subject of universal comment, and desiring an opportunity to collect his scattered thoughts, he said:
"We will meet again presently."
Then, without another word, he left them.
Dolores looked at Antoinette. She was very pale, and she trembled violently. Dolores led her gently back to the cell which they occupied in common. When Antoinette found herself again alone with her friend she made no attempt to restrain her tears.
"He did not even answer me," she sobbed. "My arrival seemed to cause him sorrow rather than joy."
"It is because he loves you and it makes him wretched to see you threatened by the same dangers that surround us," replied Dolores, striving to console her.
"Does he love me? I am quite sure, had I been in his place, that I should have awaited his coming with impatience and greeted him with joy. I should have seen in it only a proof of love, and I should have forgotten the dangers he had incurred in the rapture of meeting. When two persons love, there is no sorrow so great as to be separated by death. The one who survives can but be wretched for the rest of his life; and the kindest and most generous wish the departing soul can frame is that the loved one left behind, may soon follow."
Dolores made no reply. She understood the deep despondency which had taken possession of Antoinette's mind. Her own sorrow was no less poignant, but it was mitigated by a feeling of serenity and resignation, which was constantly gaining strength now that what has just passed had convinced her of the necessity of her sacrifice; and, from that moment, there reigned in the heart of Dolores, a boundless self-abnegation, a constant desire to insure the happiness of her friend by the surrender of her own. The remainder of the day passed uneventfully. Dolores and Antoinette made only one more visit to the hall below, and then Philip avoided them.
"He is suffering," said Antoinette. "What troubles him?"
She could learn this only by learning, at the same time, that Philip was not only indifferent to her, but that his love was given to Dolores. The latter, faithful to her vow, carefully concealed Philip's secret from her friend. That evening, before they retired, the two girls talked long and sadly of the past. They lived over again the happy hours they had spent together; and when, overcome with weariness, sleep at last overtook them, they fancied themselves once more in the Chateau de Chamondrin. Dolores was listening to the Marquis, as he divulged the hopes he had centred on Philip, and planned a noble and wealthy alliance which would restore the glory of his name. But Antoinette's thoughts had taken a different course. When she awoke in the morning, her mind reverted to the days which had immediately followed her arrival at the chateau five years before—the days when love suddenly sprang up and blossomed in her soul. Then, she recalled a morning when Philip requested an interview with her. She believed herself beloved, and stole to the trysting-place in a transport of unspeakable joy. What consternation filled her heart when Philip told her of his love for Dolores, and entreated her to plead his cause! The painful impression produced by this scene gradually faded after Dolores left the chateau to enter the convent at Avignon, and when Antoinette saw Philip becoming, each day, more and more favorably disposed toward herself; but now this impression returned again even more strongly and vividly than before, and awakened fresh sorrow and despair in the poor girl's soul. Philip's desire to postpone their marriage and his failure to keep his promises were now explained. The cold reception he had accorded her enlightened the poor child as to the real sentiments of the man whom she only yesterday regarded as her husband. She found herself in the same position she had occupied years before; the same danger threatened her happiness with destruction—Philip loved Dolores. When the revelation burst upon her, she could not repress a moan, and burying her face in her pillow, she sobbed and wept unheard by Dolores, who was sleeping peacefully only a few feet from her. All the pangs of anguish that had tortured her five years before now returned; and her suffering was even more poignant, for her love had increased and her hopes had grown stronger. Her first outbreak of despair was followed by a season of calmness which enabled her to decide upon her future course; and, after fighting against her doubts and fears for a long time, she finally concluded to go to Dolores and ascertain the extent of her misfortune from this faithful friend. The first gray light of morning was stealing into the gloomy cell when Antoinette arrived at this conclusion, and the next moment she was up and dressed. She approached the bed upon which Dolores was lying, still asleep. Antoinette seated herself at the foot of the bed and waited. It was her pale face and eyes swimming with tears that first met her companion's gaze when she awoke.
"You have been weeping, Antoinette?" she exclaimed with tender solicitude.
"Yes; I have passed a miserable night."
"Philip's indifference has wounded me to the heart!"
"Do not grieve about that, my dearest. What you think indifference, is perhaps, an excess of tenderness. Philip regrets that you did not remain in England. The terrible position in which you are placed grieves and, at the same time, irritates him."
She thus endeavored to quiet Antoinette's suspicions, but the latter could no longer be deceived. She heard her to the end; then she asked.
"Are you sure that these are really Philip's sentiments? Is it not more probable that there is another love in his heart?"
"Another love!" repeated Dolores, frightened by these words; "do not believe it. Philip is your betrothed husband; he knows it. He is as conscious of his present as of his future duties; and he loves you only."
"You are wrong, Dolores. It is you he loves!"
"Loves me! Who has told you this?"
"So it is true! Ah! I was sure of it," murmured Antoinette. "He has met you again after a separation of four years, and I am forgotten."
Dolores rose, took her friend in her arms as if she were a child, and said gently:
"Be comforted, I entreat you. Your imagination deceives you and leads you far from the truth. It is possible that Philip, on meeting me again, was moved by some of the emotions that are often awakened in the heart by memories of the past; but these emotions are fleeting and do not endanger your happiness. If Philip once cherished fancies that troubled your peace, you know that my departure sufficed to cure him of them; and should these foolish fancies revive, my departure will again suffice to dispel them and to restore to you the heart to which you, and you alone, have an inalienable claim."
These words reassured Antoinette. She ceased to weep, and her whole heart seemed to go out in gratitude to Dolores. The latter continued:
"If God wills that we recover our freedom, you shall depart with Philip. As for me, I shall take refuge in some convent in a foreign land. My place is there, and I solemnly assure you that I shall never marry."
"Ah! how I thank you!" cried Antoinette. "You have restored my happiness and my peace of mind."
Love is selfish, and Antoinette knew nothing of Dolores' struggles. She did not attempt to fathom the motives of her friend, and relieved by the assurance she had just received, and no longer doubting her ability to regain her lost influence over Philip, she passed suddenly from the poignant suffering we have described to a state of peaceful security.
Three days passed, leaving the situation of affairs unchanged. Antoinette and Dolores saw Philip but seldom, though they were living under the same roof, so persistently did he avoid them. If he chanced to enter the hall when they were there, he took refuge with some of the groups of gentlemen, where the two girls would not be likely to approach him unless they had something of great importance to communicate to their ungracious friend.
What Philip utterly lacked, after the events recounted in the last chapter, was resignation. He felt, that Dolores was irrevocably lost to him, and that even if she left the prison alive, she would instantly place an impassable barrier between them; but though he was convinced of this, he could not make up his mind to submit to a decision that destroyed all his hopes of happiness; so he hoped and despaired by turns, sometimes assuring himself that he could find words sufficiently eloquent to move Dolores, sometimes admitting with a sort of desperation that nothing could shake the firmness of the young girl who had resolved to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of duty.
Antoinette and Dolores respected his sadness and his evident desire for solitude. They spent most of their time together in their own little room, happy in being again united, and bearing the trials that beset them on every side with wonderful fortitude. Each evening found them astonished that they had not been summoned before the Revolutionary Tribunal; and each evening they said, not without anguish:
"The summons will come, perhaps, to-morrow."
The fourth day after Philip's arrival at the Conciergerie, Aubry, the jailer, who had shown Dolores so much kindness and attention, obtained leave of absence for the day, and engaged Coursegol to take his place. Once before he had made a similar arrangement, and Coursegol had thus been able to spend almost an entire day with Dolores.
His anxiety to see her now, was increased by his desire to fix upon a plan whereby he could rescue her and also Philip from the danger that threatened them. He brought with him the order in which he had inserted their names, and which would set "Citoyen and Citoyenne Chamondrin" at liberty. He was not aware of Antoinette's arrest, and when he entered the cell and saw Mlle. de Mirandol, he uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"You here, mademoiselle!" he cried.
"Yes, I have been here three days."
"But the order releases only two persons!" he exclaimed, sorrowfully.
Antoinette did not understand him; she had heard nothing about the order to which he alluded; but Dolores quickly approached Coursegol and said, hurriedly, in a low voice:
"Not another word. Give me the order. When the proper time comes, it shall be used by those who have the best right to it."
Coursegol reluctantly obeyed. He was convinced that Dolores would concentrate all her efforts upon the deliverance of Philip and Antoinette; and he almost hated the latter who, for the second time, imperiled the life and happiness of one so dear to him.
"Before, it was her presence in the chateau that prevented the marriage of my dear Dolores to the man she loved; to-day, after I have worked so hard to secure their liberty and the realization of their hopes, it is she who destroys all my plans," he thought. Perhaps he would have given vent to his feelings had not Dolores, who seemed to read what was passing in his mind, made an imperative sign; so he withdrew and went to join Philip, and to tell him that the order was in the hands of Dolores.
"It will not be used," said Philip, sadly. "If it would open the prison doors for two women, I could induce them to go; but since I must go out with one of them, and as neither will consent to save her life at the cost of the other's, we shall all remain."
"Then all my efforts will be lost," cried Coursegol, despairingly; "and I shall be compelled to see you perish after I have accomplished miracles in order to save you."
And tears of anger and disappointment sprang to his eyes.
Philip calmed him by explaining how impossible it would be for two to avail themselves of an opportunity to escape and abandon their friend to her fate. If one was forsaken by the others, eternal remorse would be the portion of those who deserted her; hence, they must make their escape together or await the denouement.
Coursegol promised to do his best to obtain an order which could be used by three persons; and he left the prison towards evening, telling his friends that he would see them again in a few days and even sooner, if possible.
While he was there, Antoinette, Dolores, and Philip had repaired, as if by common consent, to the main hall; and when he had gone, the three young people found themselves together.
"Shall we still persist in shunning one another?" Antoinette asked Philip.
"No, no," he replied, touched by the tender sorrow in her voice; "let us be together while we can; then, should death be our portion, we shall not be obliged to regret that we have not consecrated to friendship the few moments left at our disposal."
"That is well, Philip," rejoined Dolores, and as she could say no more in Antoinette's presence without revealing the secret she wished to conceal, she extended her hand to her friend as if in approval of his decision.
They remained together until the usual signal warned the prisoners that they must retire to their cells and extinguish their lights; but no allusion was made to the order of release. Philip and Dolores seemed to have tacitly agreed to conceal from Antoinette the fact that her unforeseen arrival had prevented their immediate restoration to liberty.
The next morning Dolores went down to the public hall, and there held a long conversation with Philip.
"Since God has united us here," she said to him; "let us enjoy the time he has given us, and allow no differences to creep in between us and destroy the peace and harmony that are our only consolation. I do not wish to know your feelings, whatever they may be. You must constantly bear in mind these two things, Philip—that I can never, never be your wife, and that you owe Antoinette reparation. This is the duty that life imposes upon you. So accept your destiny, and no longer pain us by the sight of your despondency. It only renders me miserable and it can change nothing."
Philip listened with bowed head to these firm words. He said to himself:
"She is right. Why should we concern ourselves about the future, since the present allows me to remain by her side? We are ever on the threshold of the grave, here. Alas! we must escape from the shadow of death that is hanging over us before we make any plans for the future."
But he was touched, and while he mentally resolved to keep his love and his hopes a secret in his own heart, he bowed over the hand of Dolores, and raising it to his lips, said:
"You speak wisely, my sister. I will be worthy of you."
This day was the first that passed happily for the three whose life-history we are attempting to relate. Unfortunately, this long-sought happiness was to endure but for a day. The very next afternoon after the just described, all the prisoners were assembled in the main hall. It was the last of December, and night comes quickly in winter. It was only four o'clock, and already the gathering twilight warned the prisoners that the hour for returning to their cells was fast approaching.
Suddenly there was a movement in the crowd. The prisoners nearest the door pushed against those who were further away, and soon they found themselves ranged along the wall, while a large vacant space was left in the centre of the room.
A man had just entered. He was attired in black, and he wore a large red cockade on his hat. In his hand he held a roll of papers. Four soldiers accompanied him. It was easy to recognize in this personage a clerk of the Revolutionary Tribunal; and it was his duty as an officer of that body, to visit the prisons and read the names of those condemned to death and of those who were summoned to appear before the Tribunal to answer the charges against them. Like an avenging spirit, he appeared every day at the same hour, rigid, inflexible, cruel, deaf to supplications and tears, a grim avant-courier of the executioner, selecting his victims and marking them for death.
Accustomed as they were to see him, his appearance among the prisoners always caused a thrill of horror. There was so much youth, beauty, innocence, grace, and devotion there! Why should they be doomed? They were enemies to whom? To what projects were they an obstacle? Useless questions! It is because Robespierre laid his merciless hand upon the good, upon the weak and upon the timid that his name will be eternally held in execration by all generous hearts.
When this official entered, Antoinette and Philip, who were as yet unversed in the customs of the prison, were pushed back by the crowd into the yard, without understanding why. Dolores, who knew what was to come, remained in the hall and chanced to be in the foremost row.
The clerk came forward, unrolled a long list and began to read in a loud voice the names of all who were to appear before the Tribunal the following day. What a strange medley of names! Names of plebeians and of nobles; of nuns and of priests; of royalists and of republicans; of old men and of children; of men and of women; it was all the same, provided the guillotine was not compelled to wait for its prey.
Each time a prisoner's name was called a murmur, more or less prolonged according as the rank, the age or the sex of the victim inspired more or less sympathy or pity, ran through the crowd. Then, the person named came forward and received from the hands of the official a paper, enumerating the real or imaginary crimes with which he was charged and ordering him to appear before his judges the following day. If his father, his wife or his children were in prison with him, the air was filled with tears and lamentations.
One could hear such words as these:
"If they had but taken me!"
"Would I could die in your stead!"
These heart-breaking scenes began even before the departure of the officer, and generally lasted the entire night until the hour of final adieu; but if the prisoner designated was alone and without family, he came forward with a firm step, stoically accepted his sentence of death, and hummed a lively air as he returned to the crowd where a dozen unknown, but friendly, hands were extended as if to encourage and strengthen him.
Dolores had been a sympathetic witness of many such scenes, and that evening she was neither more nor less moved than on previous occasions. The eyes and the heart soon become accustomed to anything. But suddenly she trembled. Those near her saw her totter and turn pale. She had just heard the officer call the name of Antoinette de Mirandol. She glanced around her but did not see her friend. Antoinette was with Philip, outside the door. She did not reply to her name. The clerk repeated it in a still louder voice.
"Antoinette de Mirandol," he repeated a third time.
Dolores stepped forward.
"Here I am," said she. "Pardon me, I did not hear at first."
"Are you Citoyenne Mirandol?"
This generous response, twice repeated, caused a murmur of admiration, surprise and consternation among those who knew Dolores. She did not hear it, but her eyes glowed with heroic resolve as, with a firm hand, she took the act of accusation extended to her, and slowly returned to her place.
The name of Antoinette to which she had just responded was the last upon the sad list.
"All whose names I have called will be tried to-morrow morning at ten o'clock."
With these words, the messenger of the Tribunal withdrew. Then came a sigh of relief from those who had not been summoned.
The friends of Dolores assembled around her.
"Unfortunate child, what have you done?" asked one.
"Are you, then, so anxious to die?"
"Why did you go forward when it was not your name that he called?"
She glanced calmly at her questioners; then, in a voice in which entreaty was mingled with the energy that denotes an immutable resolve, she said:
"I beg that no one will interfere in this matter, or make me unhappy by endeavoring to persuade me to reconsider my decision. Above all, I earnestly entreat you to keep my secret."
No one made any response. The wish she had expressed was equivalent to a command; and as such, deeds of heroism were not uncommon, the one which she had performed so bravely, and which would cost her her life, was forgotten in a few moments by her companions in misfortune, who were naturally absorbed in the question as to when their own turn was to come.
Dolores passed through the little group that had gathered around her, each person stepping aside with a grave bow to make way for her, and rejoined Antoinette and Philip, who knew nothing of what had taken place. When she appeared before them no trace of emotion was visible upon her face, and she had concealed the fated paper beneath the fichu that covered her bosom. She chatted cheerfully with her friends until the sound of the drum warned the prisoners that they must retire to their cells. Then, she smilingly extended her hand to Philip.
"Good-night!" she said, simply.
And taking Antoinette's arm in hers, she led her back to the cell they occupied in common. Antoinette entered first, leaving Dolores alone an instant in the main corridor. The latter turned and swiftly retraced her steps. She was seeking Aubry, the jailer. She soon met him. He, too, was ignorant of all that had occurred.
"Where are you going?" he inquired, in a half-good-natured, half-grumbling tone.
"I was looking for you," Dolores replied. "I must send a message to Coursegol this very night."
"I am not sure that I can get permission to leave the prison."
"You must," she eagerly rejoined. "It is absolutely necessary that I see Coursegol to-morrow morning at nine o'clock. If he comes later, he will not find me here."
And as Aubry looked at her in astonishment, she added:
"I am to appear to-morrow before the Tribunal."
"You! I hoped they had forgotten you."
"Hush! not a word to any one, above all, to the young girl who shares my cell. If you have any regard for me, give my message to Coursegol. You will do a good deed for which you shall be rewarded."
She left the kind-hearted jailer without another word, and hastened back to the cell where Antoinette was awaiting her.
Dolores passed the night in a profound and peaceful slumber and awoke with a heart overflowing with pure and holy joy at the thought that she was about to heroically crown a life devoted to duty and to abnegation. She did not underrate the sacrifice she was to make; but she knew that the death would not be without moral grandeur, and even while she comprehended that she had exceeded the limit of the obligations which duty imposed upon her, she felt no agitation, no regret.
She rose early and arrayed herself with more than usual care. The dress she selected was of gray cashmere. Her shoulders were covered with a silk fichu of the same color, knotted behind at the waist. Upon her head she wore one of the tall, plumed felt hats in fashion at the time, and from which her golden hair descended in heavy braids upon her white neck. Never had she been more beautiful. The light of immortality seemed to beam in her lovely face; and the serenity of her heart, the enthusiasm that inspired her and the fervor of her religious faith imparted an inexpressible charm to her features. When her toilet was completed, she knelt, and for an hour her soul ascended in fervent aspiration to the God in whom she had placed her trust. Her heart was deeply touched: but there were no tears in her eyes.
"Death," she thought, "is only a journey to a better life. In the unknown world to which my soul will take flight, I shall rejoin those whom I love and who have gone before: the Marquis, whose benevolence sheltered me from misery and want; his wife, who lavished all a mother's tenderness upon me; my mother, herself, who died soon after giving me birth. For those I leave behind me I shall wait on high, watching over them, and praying for their peace and happiness."
These consoling thoughts crowded in upon her as if to strengthen her in her last moments by hopes which render the weakest natures strong and indomitable, even before the most frightful suffering. She rose calm and tranquil, and approached Antoinette's bedside. She was sleeping soundly. Dolores looked at her a moment with loving, pitying eyes.
"May my death assure your happiness," she murmured, softly; "and may Philip love you as fondly as I have loved him!"
She left the cell. In the corridor, she met Aubry, who was in search of her.
"Your friend Coursegol is waiting for you below," he said, sadly.
"Oh! thank you," she quickly and cheerfully rejoined.
She hastened down. Coursegol was there. He was very pale, his face was haggard, and his eyes were terribly swollen. Warned the evening before by Aubry, the poor man had spent the entire night in the street, crouching against the wall of the prison, weeping and moaning while he waited for the hour when he could see Dolores.
"What do I hear, mademoiselle," he exclaimed, on meeting her. "You are summoned before the Tribunal! Oh! it is impossible. There must be some mistake. They can accuse you of no crime, nor can they think of punishing you as if you had been an Emigre or a conspirator."
"Nevertheless, I received a summons yesterday and also a paper containing the charge against me."
"Alas, alas!" groaned Coursegol, "why did you not listen to me? Why have you not made use of the order I procured for you? You would now be at liberty and happy."
"But Antoinette had no means of escape."
"And what do I care for Mademoiselle de Mirandol? She is nothing to me, while you are almost my daughter. If you die, I shall not survive you. I have accomplished miracles to insure your escape from prison. I also flattered myself that I had assured your life's happiness, but by your imprudence you have rendered all my efforts futile. Oh, God is not just!"
"Coursegol, in pity say no more!"
But he would not heed her. He was really beside himself, and he continued his lamentations and reproaches with increasing violence, though his voice was choked with sobs. He gesticulated wildly; he formed a thousand plans, each more insane than the preceding. Now, he declared his intention of forcibly removing Dolores; now he declared he would appeal to the judges for mercy; again he swore that Vauquelas should interfere in her behalf. But the girl forbade any attempt to save her.
"No, my good Coursegol," she said; "the thought of death does not appall me; and those who mourn for me will find consolation in the hope of meeting me elsewhere."
"And do you think this hope will suffice for me?" cried Coursegol. "Since I took you from the breast of your dying mother on the threshold of the Chateau de Chamondrin, I have loved you more and more each day. I lived for you and for you alone. My every hope and ambition were centred in you. You were my joy, my happiness, the only charm life had for me; and to see you condemned, you, the innocent—"
Sobs choked his utterance.
"Show me the charges against you," he demanded, suddenly.
"What is the use?" rejoined Dolores, desiring to conceal the truth from him until the last.
"I wish to know the crimes of which you are accused," persisted Coursegol. "There are no proofs against you. I will find a lawyer to defend you—if need be, I, myself will defend you."
"It would be useless, my friend. Your efforts would only compromise you, without saving me."
As she spoke, she heard quick footsteps behind her. She turned. The officer who was there the evening before had returned to conduct the prisoners to the Tribunal. He began to call their names.
"Farewell, farewell," murmured Dolores, huskily.
In this parting from the friend who had loved her so long and faithfully, she experienced the first pang of anguish that had assailed her heart since she had decided to sacrifice her own life for Antoinette's sake.
"Not farewell," responded Coursegol, "but au revoir!"
And without another word, he departed.
Dolores glanced around the hall; but saw nothing of Philip or Antoinette. She was greatly relieved, for she had feared that their emotion would unnerve her; but now she could reasonably hope to carry with her to the grave the secret of the devotion which was to cost her her life. She did not wish Philip ever to know that she had died in place of Antoinette, lest her friend should become hateful in his sight, and Antoinette herself be condemned to eternal remorse.
It was now nine o'clock, and about twenty persons had assembled in the hall. The majority of them were unfortunates who, like Dolores, were to appear that morning before the tribunal; but all did not enjoy a serenity like hers. One, a young man, seated upon a chair, a little apart from his companions, allowed his eyes to rove restlessly around without pausing upon any of the objects that surrounded him. Though his body was there, his mind assuredly, was far away. He was thinking, doubtless, of days gone by, memories of which always flock into the minds of those who are about to die; not far from him, a venerable man condemned to death, was striving to conquer his emotion in order to console a young girl—his daughter—who hung about his neck, wiping bitterly; there, stood a priest, repeating his breviary, pausing every now and then to reply to each of the prisoners who came to implore the benediction which, according to the tenets of the Romish Church, insures the soul the eternal joys of Paradise. So these prisoners, all differently occupied, were grouped about the hall; and those who were to die displayed far more fortitude and resignation than those who would survive them. Dolores approached the priest.
"Father," said she, "on returning from the Tribunal, I shall beg you to listen to my confession and to grant me absolution."
As he looked upon this beautiful young girl who confronted death so calmly and serenely, the priest closed his book and said, in a voice trembling with compassion:
"What! are you, too, a victim for the guillotine? You cannot be a conspirator. Do these wretches respect nothing?"
"I am glad to die," Dolores said, simply.
Did he comprehend that this resignation concealed some great sacrifice? Perhaps so. He looked at her with admiration, and bowed respectfully before her, as he replied:
"You set us all an example of courage, my child. If you are condemned, I will give you absolution; and I shall ask you to address to Him, who never turns a deaf ear to the petitions of the innocent, a prayer for me."
There was so much sadness in his voice that all the sympathies of Dolores were aroused. She pitied those who were doomed to die without even remembering to weep over her own sad fate.
When the name of Mademoiselle de Mirandol was called, Dolores stepped forward as she had done the evening before, and took her place with the other prisoners between the double file of soldiers who were to conduct them to the Tribunal. Then the gloomy cortege started. When they entered the court-room a loud shout rent the air. The hall was filled with sans-culottes and tricoteuses who came every day to feast their eyes upon the agony of the prisoners, and to accompany them to the guillotine. Never was there such an intense and long-continued thirst for blood as prevailed in those horrible days.
The prisoners were obliged to pass through this hooting and yelling crowd, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the soldiers protected them from its violence. Several wooden benches occupied the space between the bar and the chairs of the judges; and upon these the prisoners were seated, eleven on each bench and so close together that it was almost impossible for them to make the slightest movement. On their right stood the arm chair of the prosecuting attorney, or "accusateur;" on their left, were the seats of the jurors. Ten minutes passed, and the noise and confusion increased until it became positively deafening. Suddenly, a door opened and the court entered. The judges came first, dressed in black, with plumed hats, and with red sashes about their waists. The government attorney took his seat; the jurors installed themselves noisily in their places, and the session began.
Nothing could be more summary than the proceedings of this tribunal. The prisoner at the bar was generally ignorant of the charges against him, for the so-called act of accusation was in most cases, a scrap of paper covered with cramped and illegible hand-writing that frequently proved undecipherable. The president read a name. The person designated, rose and replied to such questions as were addressed to him. If the responses were confused, the prisoner's embarrassment was regarded as a conclusive proof of his guilt; if they were long, he was imperiously ordered to be silent. Witnesses were heard, of course; but those who testified in favor of the accused were roughly handled. Then the prosecuting attorney spoke five minutes, perhaps; the jury rendered its verdict, and the judge sentenced the prisoner or set him at liberty as the case might be. That day, eleven persons were tried and condemned to death in less than two hours. Dolores' turn came last.
"Your name?" asked the president.
"Antoinette de Mirandol."
As she made this reply, she heard an ill-suppressed cry behind her. She turned quickly, and saw Coursegol. He was leaning upon the arm of Bridoul, and his hands were clenched and his face flushed. He now comprehended, for the first time, the girl's heroic sacrifice. Fearing he would betray her, she gave him a warning glance, as if to impose silence. It was unnecessary. He well knew that any statement of the real facts would be useless now; and that the truth would ruin Antoinette without saving Dolores. Such mistakes were not rare during the Reign of Terror. Almost daily, precipitancy caused errors of which no one was conscious until it was too late to repair them. Only a few days before, a son had been condemned in place of his father; and another unfortunate man had paid with his head, for the similarity between his name and that of another prisoner in whose stead he had been summoned before the Tribunal, and with whom he was executed; for Fouquier-Tinville, not knowing which was the real culprit, chose rather to doom two innocent men to death than to allow one guilty man to escape. Dolores was sentenced to be beheaded under the name of Antoinette de Mirandol When her sentence was pronounced, the business of the Court was concluded, and the judges were about to retire when suddenly a man made his way through the crowd to the bar, and cried a stentorian voice:
"The sentence you have just pronounced is infamous. You are not judges, but assassins and executioners."
Then he crossed his arms upon his breast and glowered defiance on the indignant and wrathful judges.
"Arrest that man!" thundered the public accusateur.
Two gendarmes sprang forward, and the officer who had just spoken added:
"Citizen judges, I place this prisoner at your bar. Question him that the citizen jurors may decide upon his fate."
It was Coursegol, who, hearing Dolores condemned, had suddenly resolved not to survive her, but to die with her.
"Unfortunate man!" murmured the young girl, and for the first time that morning her eyes filled with tears.
Coursegol looked at her as if to ask if she thought him worthy of her. In answer to the question put by the chief judge, he curtly replied:
"It is useless to seek any other explanation of my conduct than that which I am about to give. I am weary of the horrors which I have witnessed. I hate the Republic and its supporters. I am a Royalist; and I have no other wish than to seal with my blood, the opinions I have here proclaimed.
"Citizen jurors," cried his accuser, angrily; "I ask for this man a punishment which shall be an example to any who may desire to imitate him."
"He is mad!" objected one of the jurors.
"No, I am not mad!" cried Coursegol. "Down with the Republic and long live the King!"
There was such boldness in this defiance that a profound stillness made itself felt in the crowded hall. Judges and jurors conferred together in wrathful whispers. In a few moments, Coursegol was condemned to suffer death upon the guillotine for having been guilty of the heinous crime of insulting the court in the exercise of its functions, and of uttering seditious words in its presence. Then he approached Dolores. She was sobbing violently, entirely overcome by this scene which had moved her much more deeply than her own misfortunes.
"Forgive me, mademoiselle," said he, "for being so bold as to resolve not to survive you; but even in death, my place is beside you."
"My friend! my protector! my father!" sobbed Dolores.
And yielding to an irresistible impulse, she threw herself into Coursegol's arms. He held her pressed tightly to his breast until he was ordered to make ready to start for the prison with the other victims. They were to remain there until the hour of execution.
THE LAST FAREWELL.
While these events were taking place in the Tribunal, Antoinette de Mirandol awoke later than usual to find her friend absent; but the discovery caused her little surprise, for this was not the first time that Dolores, who was a much earlier riser than herself, had left the cell without disturbing her slumbers. Antoinette dressed herself with all possible speed, but it was nearly twelve o'clock before she was ready to go down to the main hall in search of Dolores. She did not see her in the hall or in the corridors, and she entered the refectory certain that her friend was already seated at the table where they had taken their meals since the increasing coldness of the weather had driven them from their cell in the daytime. She cast a quick glance through the dining-hall. The prisoners were chatting gayly over their meagre fare, as if wishing to console themselves for the plainness of their food by the cheerfulness and brilliancy of their conversation. Dolores was not there.
The discovery brought with it a feeling of vague alarm; not that Antoinette had any suspicion of the truth, but because she was seized with a grim presentiment of approaching misfortune. She hastily turned away and started in pursuit of Philip, hoping to find Dolores with him. She soon met him, but he was alone.
"Dolores? where is Dolores?" she cried.
"I have not seen her," replied Philip, surprised at the question, and alarmed by Antoinette's manner.
"My God!" the girl whispered, turning suddenly pale; then, overcome with an inexplicable terror, she stood silent and motionless.