"Ay! mother, it is frightful; but I warned you of it, alas!—I told you."
The widow bit her pale lips with rage; her son did not comprehend her; she resumed: "They are going to kill us, as they killed your father."
"Alas! I can do nothing—it is finished. Now, what would you have me do? Why did you not listen to me—you and sister? You would not have been here."
"Oh! it is so," answered the widow, with her habitual and savage irony; "you find it all right, do you?"
"Now you are satisfied; you can say, without a lie, that your mother is dead; you shall no longer blush for her."
"If I were a bad son," answered Martial, quickly, shocked at the unjust harshness of his mother, "I should not be here."
"You came from curiosity."
"I come to obey you."
"Oh! if I had listened to you, Martial, instead of listening to my mother, I should not be here," cried Calabash, in a heart-rending voice, and yielding at length to her anguish and terror, which, until now (through the influence of her mother), she had restrained. "It is your fault: I curse you, my mother!"
"She repents—she curses me! you must be delighted now!" said the widow to her son, with a burst of diabolical laughter.
Without replying to her, Martial approached Calabash, whose agony continued, and said to her, with compassion, "Poor sister! it is too late now."
"Never too late to be a coward!" cried the mother, with fury. "Oh! what a race! what a race! Happily Nicholas has escaped; happily Francois and Amandine will escape you. They have already the seeds of vice: poverty will cause them to grow!"
"Oh, Martial! watch well over them, or they will end like my mother and myself. They will also lose their heads," cried Calabash, uttering a hollow groan.
"He will do well to watch over them," cried the widow, vehemently; "vice and misery will be stronger than he, and some day they will avenge father, mother, and sister."
"Your horrible hope will not be realized, mother!" answered Martial, indignantly. "Neither they nor I shall ever more have misery to fear. La Louve saved the young girl whom Nicholas wished to drown, the relations of this girl have proposed to give us plenty of money, or less money and some lands in Algiers. We have preferred the land. There is some danger, but that suits us. To-morrow we leave with the children, and never return."
"Is what you say true?" asked the widow, in a tone of irritated surprise.
"I never told a falsehood."
"You do now, to drive me mad."
"Why? because the welfare of your children is secured?"
"Yes; of the wolfs cubs you would make lambs. The blood of your father, your sister, mine, will not be avenged."
"At this moment, do not talk thus."
"I have killed—they kill me. We are even."
The widow shouted with laughter.
"For thirty years I have lived in crime, and to repent for thirty years they give me three days, and death at the end of them. Do you think I have time? No, no; when my head falls, it will gnash its teeth with rage and hatred."
"Brother, help—take me from hence; they are coming," murmured Calabash, in a suffocating voice, for the poor creature began to be delirious.
"Will you hush?" said the widow, exasperated by the weakness of Calabash, "will you hush? Oh! the wretch! and she my daughter! pah!"
"Mother! mother!" cried Martial, tortured by this horrible scene, "why did you send for me?"
"Because I thought to give you a heart and revenge: but who has not the one has not the other, coward!"
"Coward, I say!"
At this moment a tramp of footsteps was heard in the corridor. The veteran looked at his watch, and stood up. The rising sun, dazzling and radiant, shot suddenly a golden beam of light through the grated window of the corridor opposite the door of the dungeon. This door was thrown open, and two keepers appeared, bringing two chairs; then the jailer came, and said to the widow, in an agitated voice, "Madame, it is time."
The widow stood up, impassible; Calabash uttered piercing screams. Four men entered. Three of them, roughly clad, held in their hands small coils of very fine but strong cord. The tallest of these four men, neatly dressed in black, wearing a round hat and a white cravat, handed a paper to the jailer. This man was the executioner. The paper was a receipt for two women fit to be guillotined. The executioner took possession of these two of God's creatures; from that time he was answerable.
To the frightful despair of Calabash had succeeded a helpless torpor. Two of the assistants were obliged to seat her on her bed, and to sustain her. Her jaws, clinched by convulsions, hardly allowed her to utter some unmeaning words; she rolled around in vacancy her dull and almost sightless eyes; her chin fell upon her breast, and without the assistance of the two deputies, her body would have sunk to the ground like an inert mass. Martial (after having for a long time embraced this unfortunate being) alarmed, not daring nor able to move a step, and as if fascinated by the scene, remained immovable. The brazen hardihood of the widow did not forsake her; with her head erect and thrown back, she assisted to take off the waistcoat, which impeded her movements. It fell to the ground, and she remained in her old dress of black woolen.
"Where must I place myself?" she asked in a firm voice.
"Have the kindness to seat yourself in one of these two chairs," said the executioner, pointing to them.
The door being left open, several of the keepers, the governor of the prison, and some privileged persons, were seen standing in the corridor. The widow walked with a firm and bold step to the place indicated, passing near her daughter, when she stopped, and said in a voice slightly broken:
"Daughter, kiss me!"
At the voice, Calabash was aroused from her apathy, drew up on her seat, and with a gesture of malediction, she cried, "If there is eternal fire, descend into it, accursed."
"My child, embrace me!" said the widow again, making a step toward her daughter.
"Do not approach me! you have ruined me!" murmured the unfortunate, throwing out her hands as if to repulse her mother.
"No, no!" said Calabash, in a convulsed voice; and this effort having exhausted her strength, she fell back, almost without consciousness, into the arms of the assistants.
A shade passed over the impassible face of the widow; for a moment her dry and burning eyes became moistened. At this instant she met the eyes of her son. After a moment's hesitation, and as if she yielded to the effect of an inward struggle, she said to him, "And you?"
Martial threw himself sobbing into the arms of his mother.
"Enough!" said the widow, overcoming her emotion, and disengaging herself from the embraces of her son. "He is waiting," she added, pointing to the executioner.
Then she walked rapidly toward the chair, where she resolutely seated herself. The spark of maternal sensibility, which had for a moment lighted up the dark recesses of this corrupted heart, was extinguished forever.
"Sir," said the veteran to Martial, approaching him with interest, "do not remain here. Come, come."
Martial, stupefied, with horror and alarm, mechanically followed the soldier. Two of the assistants had carried the wretched Calabash to the other chair; one of them sustained the almost lifeless body, while the other, by means of whip-cord, exceedingly fine but very strong, tied her hands behind her back, and also fastened her feet together by the ankles, allowing slack enough to enable her walk slowly. The executioner and his other assistant performed the same operation on the widow, whose features underwent no alteration; only from time to time she coughed slightly. When the condemned were thus prevented from offering any resistance, the executioner, drawing from his pocket a long pair of scissors, said to her with marked politeness, "Have the goodness to bend your head."
The widow obeyed, saying: "We are good customers; you have had my husband; now here are his wife and daughter."
Without replying, the executioner gathered in his left hand the long gray hair of the condemned, and commenced cutting it short—very short, particularly about the neck.
"This makes the third time that I have had my hair dressed in my lifetime," said the widow, with a horrible laugh: "the day of my first communion, when they put on my veil; the day of my marriage, when they put on my orange blossoms; and now to-day—the head-dress of death."
The executioner remained silent. The hair of the condemned being thick and coarse, the operation was so long in being performed, that Calabash's lay strewed upon the ground before her mother's was half finished.
"You do not know of what I am thinking?" said the widow, after having looked at her daughter again.
The executioner continued to keep silent. Nothing could be heard but the snipping of the scissors and the kind of rattling which from time to time escaped from the throat of Calabash. At this moment was seen in the corridor a priest of venerable appearance, who approached the governor, and spoke a few words to him in a low tone. The chaplain came to make a last effort to soften the heart of the widow.
"I think," resumed the widow at the end of some moments, and seeing that the executioner did not reply, "I think that at five years old, my daughter, whose head is to be cut off, was the handsomest child that I ever saw. She had flaxen hair and rosy cheeks. Then, who would have told me that,—" After a pause, she cried, with a burst of laughter, and an expression impossible to be described, "What a comedy is fate!"
At this moment the last locks of the condemned fell upon her shoulders.
"It is finished, madame,' said the executioner, politely.
"Thank you. I recommend to you my son Nicholas," said the widow; "you will dress his hair some of these days." A keeper came and whispered a few words to her.
"No; I have already said no," answered she, roughly. The priest heard these words, raised his eyes toward heaven, clasped his hands, and disappeared.
"Madame, we are going to set out; will you take something?" said the executioner, obsequiously.
"Thank you; to-night I will take a drink of sawdust."
And the widow after this new sarcasm stood up erect. Although her step was firm and resolute, the executioner obligingly wished to assist her; she made a gesture of impatience and said, in a harsh and imperious tone:
"Do not touch me; I have a firm step and a good eye. On the scaffold you will see I have a good voice, and if I speak words of repentance."
And the widow, leaving the dungeon, escorted by the executioner and an assistant, entered the corridor. The two other assistants were obliged to carry Calabash in a chair; she was dying. After having traversed the whole length of the corridor, the funeral procession ascended the same staircase, which conducted to a court on the outside. The sun, with its warm and golden light, gilded the tops of the high white walls which surrounded the court, and strangely contrasted with the pure blue of the sky. The air was soft and balmy; never was a spring morning more smiling, more magnificent. In this court were seen a detachment of police, a cab, and a long, narrow vehicle, painted yellow, drawn by three post horses, which neighed gayly, shaking little bells on their harness. This vehicle was entered from behind like an omnibus. This was the cause of a last joke from the widow.
"The conductor will not say full?" said she, as she mounted the step as lightly as the cord which confined her ankles would allow.
Calabash, expiring, sustained by an assistant, was placed in the carriage opposite her mother, and the door was closed. The hackney-coachman had fallen asleep; the executioner shook him.
"Excuse me, citizen," said he, descending hastily from his seat; "but a night in Mid-Lent is rough. I had just taken to Vendanges de Bourgogne a load of maskers, who were singing, 'La mere Godichon,' when you engaged me by the hour. I—"
"Enough. Follow this vehicle to the Boulevard St. Jacques."
"Excuse me, citizen. An hour ago I was going to the 'Vendanges;' now to the guillotine! That proves that, as the saying is, there are queer ups and downs in life!"
The two vehicles, preceded and followed by the gendarmes, left Bicetre and took the road to Paris.
* * * * *
We have presented the picture of the toilet of the condemned in all its frightful reality, because it seems to us that we can derive from it powerful arguments. Against punishment of death. Against the manner in which it is applied. Against the effects which must be expected from such an example given to the populace.
The toilet, although divested of that solemnity, at once imposing and religious, which ought, at least to surround all the acts of the highest punishment known to the laws, is the most impressive of all the ceremonies attending the execution of a criminal, and yet it is concealed from the multitude.
In Spain, on the contrary, the condemned remains exposed during three days in a "chapelle ardente;" his coffin is continually before his eyes; the priests say the prayers for the dying; the bells of the church night and day ring a funeral knell.
It will be conceived that this kind of initiation to death may alarm the most hardened criminals, and inspire with salutary terror the crowd which surrounds the "chapelle mortuaire."
Then the day of the execution is a day of public mourning; the bells of all the churches toll; the condemned is slowly conducted to the scaffold, with mournful and imposing pomp; his coffin is carried before him; the priests, walking at his side, chant the prayers for the dead; then comes the religious brotherhood; and, finally, the mendicant friars, asking from the crowd money for prayers for the repose of the culprit's soul. The crowd never remains deaf to this appeal. Without doubt, all this is frightful, but it is logical and imposing. It shows that they do not cut off from this world a creature of God, full of life and strength, as they would slaughter an ox. It causes the multitude to reflect (who always judge of the crime by the magnitude of the punishment) that homicide is a fearful offense, since its punishment disturbs, afflicts, and sets in commotion a whole city. Again, this dreadful spectacle may cause serious reflections, inspire salutary alarms; and that which is barbarous in this human sacrifice, is at least hidden by the awful majesty of its execution. But, we ask, the events taking place exactly as we have described them (and sometimes even less seriously), what kind of an example can it afford? Early in the morning, the condemned is bound and thrown into a closed carriage; the postilion whips up his horses, reaches the scaffold; the ax descends, and a head falls into a basket, in the midst of the most atrocious jeerings of the vilest of a vile populace! Finally, in a hasty and secret execution, where is the example? where is the terror? And then, as the execution takes place, as we may say, privately, in a byplace, with great precipitation, the whole town is ignorant of this bloody and solemn act; nothing announces that, on this day, they are killing a man; they laugh and sing at the theaters; the multitudes pass on, careless and indifferent. As it regards society, religion, and humanity, this judicial homicide, committed in the name of the interests of all, is, however, something which ought to be of importance to all. In fine, let us say it again, say it always, here is the sword, but where is the crown? Beside the punishment show the recompense; then only will the lesson be complete and fruitful. If, on the day following this morn of sorrow and of death, the people, who have seen the blood of a great criminal redden the scaffold, should see the truly virtuous man honored and rewarded, they would dread as much the punishment of the first, as they would ambitiously covet the triumphs of the last; terror hardly prevents crime, never does it inspire virtue. Does any one consider the effect of capital punishment on the criminals themselves? Either they brave it with reckless impudence; or, inanimate, they suffer it, half dead with terror; or they offer their heads with profound and sincere repentance.
Now the punishment is insufficient for those who defy it; useless for those who are already morally dead; excessive for those who repent with sincerity. Let us repeat it: society does not kill the murderer to cause him suffering, or to inflict the lex talionis; it kills him to prevent him from doing harm; it kills him that the example of his punishment may serve as a warning to murderers to come. We think that the punishment is barbarous, and that it does not sufficiently terrify. If this assertion is doubted, we will recall many proved facts of the deep horror expressed by hardened criminals for solitary confinement. Is it not known that some have committed murders in order to be condemned to death, preferring this punishment to a cell? What, then, would be their horror, when blindness, joined to solitary confinement, would deprive them of the hope of escape—a hope which he preserves, and which he sometimes realizes, even in a dungeon and loaded with irons. And touching this matter, we also think that the abolishment of capital punishment will be one of the forced consequences of solitary confinement; the alarm which this punishment inspires the generation who at this moment people the prisons and the galleys, being such, that many among these incorrigibles prefer to incur the highest penalty known to the law, than imprisonment in a cell; then, doubtless, the punishment of death ought to be suppressed, in order to sweep away this last and frightful alternative.
MARTIAL AND THE SLASHER.
Before we pursue our narrative, let us say a few words touching the recently established connection between the Slasher and Martial. As soon as Germain had left the prison, the Slasher, who easily proved that he had robbed himself, confessed to the judge the reason of this singular deceit, and was set at liberty after receiving a severe and just reproof from the magistrate. Not having then recovered Fleur-de-Marie, and wishing to recompense the Slasher (to whom he had already owed his life) for this new act of devotion, Rudolph, to crown the happiness of his rude protegee, had lodged him in the mansion of the Rue Plumet, promising him to take him in his train when he returned to Germany. We have already said that the Slasher felt for Rudolph the instinctive, faithful attachment of a dog for his master. To live under the same roof with the prince; to see him sometimes; to await with impatience a new opportunity of sacrificing himself for his interests, were the limits of the ambition and happiness of the Slasher, who preferred a thousand times this situation, to money and the possession of the farm at Algiers which Rudolph had placed at his disposal. But when the prince had discovered his daughter, all was changed: notwithstanding his lively gratitude toward the man to whom he owed his life, he could not resolve to take with him to Germany this witness of Fleur-de-Marie's first shame. Determined in any other manner to satisfy the wishes of the Slasher, he sent for him for the last time, and told him that he expected a new service from his attachment. At these words, the Slasher's face brightened, but it soon became clouded when he learned that not; only must he not follow the prince to Germany, but that it was necessary for him to leave the hotel that very day. It is useless to speak of the brilliant compensations that Rudolph offered to the Slasher: the money that was designed for him—the deed for the farm in Algiers—anything more that he wished; all was at his disposal. The Slasher, cut to the heart, refused all; and, for the first time in his life, perhaps, this man shed tears. It had needed all the persuasion of Rudolph to induce him to accept his previous gifts. The next day the prince sent for La Louve and Martial; and, without informing them that Fleur-de-Marie was his daughter, he asked them what he could do for them; all their wishes should be accomplished. Perceiving their hesitation, and remembering what Fleur-de-Marie had told him about the slightly uncivilized tastes of La Louve and her husband, he offered them either a considerable amount of money, or the half of this amount, and lands in the vicinity of the farm which he had bought for the Slasher. Both of them rugged, energetic, both endowed with good natural impulses, sympathized the better with each other, since they each had reasons to seek solitude—the one for her past life, the other for the crimes of his family. He was not deceived; Martial and La Louve accepted his offer with transport; then, having, through the intervention of Murphy, made the acquaintance of the Slasher, they mutually congratulated each other on the agreeable prospects before them in Algiers. Notwithstanding the deep sadness into which he was plunged; or, rather, in consequence of this sadness the Slasher, affected by the cordial advances of Martial and his wife, responded to them with warmth. In a short time a sincere friendship united the future colonists; persons of their temperament form very sudden attachments. La Louve and Martial, being unable, in spite of their kind attentions, to divert the melancholy of their new friend discontinued their efforts, trusting that the voyage, and the active employment of their future life, would change his thoughts; for, once in Algiers they would be obliged to turn their attention to the cultivation of the lands which had been bestowed upon them. These facts established, it will be understood that, informed of the painful interview that Martial was obliged to undergo in obedience to the last wishes of his mother, the Slasher had wished to accompany his new friend to the gate of Bicetre, where he awaited him in the coach which had brought them, and which took them back to Paris, after Martial, deeply agitated, had left the dungeon, where the terrible preparations for the execution of mother and sister were being made. The physiognomy of the Slasher was completely altered; the expression of boldness and of happiness which ordinarily characterized his manly face was replaced with sorrowful dejection: his voice, also had lost somewhat of its roughness. Grief, until now a stranger to him, had broken, prostrated his energetic nature. He looked at Martial with compassion.
"Cheer up," said the Slasher to him "you have done all that a brave fellow could do—it is all over, think of your wife, of those children whom you have prevented from following the bad example of their parents; and then, besides, this evening we shall have quitted Paris, never to return; and you will never again hear of that which afflicts you."
"It is a11 the same, do you see, Slasher. After all, it is my mother and my sister."
"But what would you—this has happened; and it's no use crying over spilled milk," said the Slasher, suppressing a sigh.
After a moment's silence, Martial said to him, cordially, "I, also, ought to console you, my poor fellow—always this melancholy."
"Well, my wife and I confidently hope that, once away from Paris, it will be dissipated."
"Yes," said the Slasher, at the expiration of a few seconds, and hardly restraining a shudder, "if I leave Paris—"
"But we set out this evening."
"That is to say, you—you go this evening."
"And you, then, have you changed your intention recently?"
"Well, what then?"
The Slasher again remained silent; then he replied, struggling to preserve his calmness, "Hold, Martial; I know that you will laugh at me; but I wish to tell you all, so that, if anything should happen to me, this at least will prove that I was not deceived."
"What is it, then?"
"When M. Rudolph asked if it should be agreeable for us to go together to Algiers, and to be neighbors there, I did not wish to deceive either you or your wife. I told you what I had been."
"Let us speak no more about that. You have undergone your punishment—you are as good as the best of us. But I can conceive that, like me, you would prefer to live abroad, thanks to our generous protector, than to remain here, where, no matter how honest, and how easy in our circumstances we may be, we shall always be reproached, you for the crime which you have expiated, and which you still regret, and I for the crimes of my parents, for which I am not responsible. But, between us, the past is gone, and gone forever. Be tranquilized; we rely upon you, as you may rely upon us."
"Between us, perhaps, the past will be forgotten; but, as I said to M. Rudolph, Martial, there is a Providence above, and I have killed a man."
"It is a great misfortune; but at the time you did not know what you were doing—you were not yourself; and, besides, you have saved the lives of others, and that ought to count in your favor."
"Listen, Martial, I have now spoken to you of my unhappiness, because, formerly, I often had a dream, in which I saw the sergeant, whom I killed; for a long time I have not had this dream, and last night I dreamed it"
"It was chance."
"No, this forebodes that some misfortune will happen to me this day."
"You are unreasonable, my good comrade."
"I have a presentiment that I shall never quit Paris."
"Once more, you have not common sense. Your sorrow at the thought of quitting our benefactor, the knowledge that you were to accompany me to Bicetre, where so painful an interview awaited me; all this agitated you last night; hence naturally, your dream returned to you."
The Slasher sadly shook his head.
"It has returned to me on the night before the departure of M. Rudolph, for it is today that he goes."
"Yes; yesterday I sent a messenger to his hotel, not daring to go there myself; he has forbidden it. They told him that the prince would set out this morning, at eleven o'clock, by the Barriere Charenton. Thus, when we shall have arrived in Paris, I will post myself there, to endeavor to see him for this last time! the last!"
"He appears so good that I comprehend how well you must love him."
"Love him!" said the Slasher, with deep and passionate emotion; oh, yes! Do you understand, Martial! to sleep on the ground—to eat black bread—to be his dog; but to be where he is, I ask nothing more—that was too much—he did not wish it."
"He has been so generous to you!"
"It is not that which makes me love him so much—it is because he said to me that I had a heart and honor! yes, and at a time when I was as ferocious as a wild beast, when I despised myself as the vilest of the vile, he made me comprehend that there was still some good in me, since, my punishment inflicted, I had repented, and after having suffered the utmost extremity of want without being guilty of theft, I had industriously labored to gain an honest livelihood: wishing to injure no one, although every one looked upon me as a finished scoundrel, which was not very encouraging. It is true, in most instances, all that is necessary to keep one in the right path are words of encouragement and kindness. Is it not so, Martial? So when M. Rudolph said these words to me, my heart beat high and proudly. Since then I would go through fire to do a good action. Oh! that the opportunity might offer! you would see—and to whom the thanks? the thanks to M. Rudolph."
"Truly, since you are a thousand times better than you used to be, you should not have such evil presentiments. Your dream signifies nothing."
"Well, we shall see. I do not purposely search for a misfortune; there can be for me no greater one than that which has already happened; never to see him more. M. Rudolph! I who thought never more to quit him. In my sphere, I would have been at his service, body and soul, always ready. Well, perhaps he is wrong. You know, Martial, that I am but an earth-worm in comparison with him; well, sometimes it happens that the most insignificant can be useful to the most powerful. If that should be the case, I would never pardon him for depriving himself of my services."
"Who knows? one day, perhaps, he will recall you."
"Oh, no! he said to me, 'My good fellow, you must promise me that you will never endeavor to see me again; by so doing, you will render me a service.' You understand, Martial, I have promised; on the honor of a man, I will keep my word; but it is hard."
"Once at our destination, you will forget, by degrees, your sorrow. We will work, we will live retired and tranquil, like good farmers, except occasionally trying our skill, as marksmen, on the Arabs. Ah! there La Louve will help us."
"If it should come to blows, I am at home there, Martial," said the Slasher, slightly animated. I am unmarried, and I have been a trooper."
"And I a poacher!"
"But you—you have a wife, and these two children whom you have adopted. As for me, I have nothing but my hide, and since it can no longer serve as a screen for M. Rudolph, I have no regard for it. So, if we should be obliged to give them their change, it's my affair."
"Ah! we'll both have something to do with it."
"No; I alone—thunder! leave the Bedouins to me."
"Good; I would rather hear you speak thus than you did a short time since. Come, Slasher, we will be true brothers, and you can converse with me of your sorrow, if it endures, for I have my own. The recollection of this day will last all my life. One cannot see his mother, his sister, as I have seen mine, without forever bearing it in remembrance. Our situations are so similar that it is good for us to be together. We will not fear to look danger in the face; well, we will be half farmers, half soldiers. If we can start any game, we will hunt. If you wish to live alone, you can do so, and we will be near neighbors: if otherwise, we will all live together. We will bring up the children like honest people, and you shall be, almost, their uncle, while we will be brothers. How does it suit you?" said Martial, offering his hand to the Slasher.
"It suits me well, my good Martial; and then, sorrow shall kill me or I will kill it, as the saying is."
"It will not kill you—we shall grow old in our wilderness, and every night we will say, brother, thanks to M. Rudolph—that shall be our prayer for him."
"Martial, you put balsam on my wound."
"Good; this foolish dream, you will think no more of it, I hope?"
"I will endeavor."
"Ah! well, you will call for us at four o'clock? the diligence starts at five."
"It is agreed upon. But here we are in Paris; I will stop the coach, and go on foot to the Barriere Charenton; I will await M. Rudolph, to see him pass."
The carriage stopped, and the Slasher got out.
"Don't forget, at four o'clock, my good comrade," said Martial: "at four o'clock!"
The Slasher had forgotten that it was the morning after Mid-Lent. So he was much surprised at the spectacle, at the same time fantastic and hideous, which was presented to his view when he walked through a part of the exterior boulevard which he crossed on his way to the Barridre Charenton.
THE HAND OF HEAVEN.
The Slasher in a few moments was carried along, in spite of himself, by a dense crowd, a popular torrent, which, descending from the taverns of the Faubourg de la Glaciere, collected around the approaches to the Barriere, to pour out afterward on the Boulevard Saint Jacques, where the execution was to take place. Although it was broad daylight, yet still could be heard at a distance the resounding music of the orchestras of the drinking dens, where, above all, could be distinguished the sonorous vibrations of the cornets-a-piston.
It needs the pencil of Callot, or Rembrandt, or of Goya to portray the bizarre, hideous, almost fantastical appearance of this multitude. Almost all, men, women, children, were dressed in old masquerading costumes; those who had not been able to obtain this luxury had fastened on their clothes old rags, of flaunting colors; some young men were attired in women's apparel, torn and soiled with mud; all these faces, haggard from debauch and vice, bloated by intoxication, sparkled with savage joy, in thinking that, after a night of drunken orgies, they were going to see the two women put to death, for whom the scaffold was raised. The scum of the population of Paris, an immense mob, was composed of bandits and abandoned women, who demand each day from crime their daily bread, and who each night return well filled to their dens. The exterior boulevard being very contracted at this place, the closely-packed crowd entirely blocked up the passageway. In spite of his athletic strength, the Slasher was obliged to remain almost immovable in the midst of this compact mass; he submitted. The prince, leaving the Rue Plumet at ten o'clock, as they had told him, would not leave the Barriere Charenton until about eleven, and it was not yet seven. Although formerly he had associated with the degraded classes to which this mob belonged, the Slasher, on again finding himself among them, felt invincible disgust. Crowded, by the reflux of the mob, against the wall of one of the wine shops, which swarm on these boulevards, through the open window from whence escaped the deafening sound of a brass band, the Slasher saw, against his will, a strange spectacle. In a long low room (one end of which was occupied by the musicians), surrounded by benches and tables covered with the remains of a repast, broken plates, and overturned bottles, a dozen men and women disguised, half drunk, were dancing La Chahut a dance which was never performed except at the end of the ball, when the municipal guards had retired. Among the depraved couples who figured in the revel, the Slasher remarked two who won applause above all by the disgusting immodesty of their postures, gestures, and words. The first couple were composed of a man nearly disguised as a bear, by means of a waistcoat and trousers of black sheepskin. The head of the animal, doubtless too heavy to carry, had been replaced by a kind of hood of long hair, which entirely covered the face; two holes near the eyes, and a large slit over the mouth, allowed him to see, speak, and breathe. This masked man, one of the prisoners who had escaped from La Force (among whom were also Barbillon and the two murderers arrested at the tapisfranc at the comencement of this story), was Nicholas Martial, the son and brother of the women for whom the scaffold was erected close at hand. Dragged into this act of inhuman insensibility by one of his companions, a formidable ruffian, this wretch dared, with the aid of his disguise, to yield himself to the last joys of the carnival. The woman with whom he danced was dressed as a sutler, with a leathern cap rather the worse for wear, the ribbons torn, a kind of jacket of faded red cloth, ornamented with three rows of brass buttons, hussar-fashion; a green petticoat and pantaloons of white calico; her black hair fell in disorder on her face; her ghastly and livid features expressed impudence and effrontery. The vis-a-vis of these dancers were not less vile. The man of very tall stature, disguised as Robert Macaire, had daubed his bony face with soot in such a manner that he was not recognizable; besides a large band covered his left eye, and the dead white of the right one, standing out in relief with the black face, made it still more hideous. The lower part of the visage of Skeleton (doubtless he has been recognized) disappeared entirely in a high cravat made of an old red shawl. He wore, according to the tradition, a gray hat, rasped, flattened, dirty, and without a crown; a green coat in tatters; madder-colored pantaloons, patched in a thousand places, and tied around the ankles with twine; this assassin, overdoing the most grotesque and most impudent positions of the Chahut, now to the right, now to the left, backward and forward, with his long limbs hard as iron, folded and unfolded them with so much vigor and elasticity, that one would have said they were hung on springs. Worthy corypheus of this Saturnalian, his partner, a tall, brazen creature dressed as a debardeur wearing a cap stuck on a powdered wig with a long tail, had on a vest and trousers of green velvet, fastened around her waist by an orange scarf, whose long ends floated behind. A fat, masculine-looking woman, the Ogress of the tapis-franc, seated on one of the benches, held on her lap the plaid cloaks of this creature and the sutler, while they danced with their worthy companions. Among the other dancers was remarked a little cripple dressed as a devil with the aid of a black knit guernsey, much too large for him, red drawers, and a horrible grinning green mask. Notwithstanding his infirmity, this little monster was of surprising agility; his precocious depravity reached, if it did not surpass, that of his frightful companions, and he gamboled away with equal effrontery opposite his partner, a fat woman disguised as a shepherdess, who excited still more the impudence of her partner by her shouts of laughter.
No charge being brought against Tortillard, and Bras-Rouge having been provisionally left in prison, the child, on the demand of his father, had been reclaimed by Micou the receiver.
As secondary figures of the picture which we have endeavored to paint, let the reader imagine all that is lowest, most shameless, and most monstrous in this idle, reckless, rapacious, sanguinary debauch, which shows itself more hostile to social order, and to which we have wished to call the attention of reflecting persons on terminating this recital. May this last horrible scene symbolize the imminent peril which continually menaces society! Yes, let one reflect that the cohesion, the dreaded increase of this race of robbers and murderers is a kind of living protest against the defects of restraining laws, and, above all, against the absence of preventive measures, of provident legislation, of preservative institutions, destined to overlook and guard from infancy this crowd of unfortunates, abandoned or perverted by frightful examples. Once more, these disinherited beings, made neither better nor worse than other creatures, do not become thus incurably corrupted but in the filth of misery, ignorance, and brutality, where they crawl into existence. Still more excited by the laughter, by the bravos of the crowd collected at the windows, the actors of the abominable orgies which we now relate shouted to the orchestra to play a last galop. The musicians, delighted at the prospect of a termination to their labors, yielded to the general wish, and played with energy a lively tune. At the vibrating sounds of the brazen instruments, the excitement increased, the dancers appeared to be seized with a sort of frenzy, and, following Skeleton, and his partner, commenced a ronde infernale, uttering savage shouts. A thick dust, raised by these furious shufflings, arose from the floor, and cast a kind of red cloud around this whirlwind of men and women, who turned with giddy rapidity. Soon—for these heads excited by wine, by the rapid motion, by their own cries, it was no longer inebriety—it was delirium, it was frenzy; room was wanting.
Skeleton cried with a breathless voice, "Clear the door! We are going out—up on the boulevard."
"Yes, yes!" cried the dense crowd at the windows, "a galop to the Barriere Saint Jacques!"
"It will soon be time for them to shorten the two motts!"
"The executioner throws a double ace; it is low!"
"Accompanied by the French horn!"
"We will dance the cotillon by the guillotine!"
"Go ahead of the women without any head!" cried Tortillard.
"It will enliven the condemned."
"I invite the widow."
"I invite the daughter."
"That will make Jack Ketch gay."
"He will dance La Chahut in his shop with customers."
"Death to the nobs. Long live the leary coves and nailers!" cried Skeleton, in a roar.
These jests, and cannibal threats, accompanied by vulgar songs, cries, whistlings, shouts, were augmented still more when the band had made, by its impetuous violence, a large opening through the middle of this compact crowd. Then it was a frightful pell-mell; then were heard howlings, imprecations, and bursts of mad laughter, which no longer appeared human.
The tumult was suddenly carried to its height by two new incidents.
The vehicle containing the condemned, accompanied by its escort of cavalry, appeared in the distance at the corner of the boulevard; then all the mob rushed in this direction, uttering a howl of ferocious satisfaction.
At this moment, also, the crowd was met by a courier coming from the Boulevard des Invalides, and galloping toward the Barriere de Charenton. He was dressed in a light blue jacket, with a yellow collar, laced with silver on all the seams; but as a sign of deep mourning, he wore black breeches, with heavy boots; his cap, also, bordered with silver was surrounded with a crape. In fine, on the horses blinkers were, in relief, the sovereign arms of Gerolstein.
The courier walked his horse; but, his progress becoming more and more embarrassed, was almost obliged to stop when he found himself in the midst of the crowd of which we have spoken. Although he cried "Take care!" and guided his horse with the greatest precaution, cries, threats, abuses, soon arose against him.
"Does he want to get on our backs with his camel, this fellow?"
"A silver door-plate on his body!" cried Tortillard, under his green mask with its red tongue.
"If he gives us any cheek, we'll put him on his feet."
"And we'll cut off the jingles of his jacket to melt them," said Nicholas.
"And we'll rip you open if you are not satisfied, dirty footman," added Skeleton, addressing the courier, and seizing the bridle of his horse, for the crowd had become so dense that the bandit had relinquished his project of dancing to the barrier.
The courier, a vigorous and resolute man, said to Skeleton, raising the handle of his whip, "If you do not let go the bridle of my horse, I will cut you across the face."
"You, you pitiful scoundrel?"
"Yes; I am walking my horse; I cry 'Take care!' you have no right to stop me. The carriage of my lord follows me. I already hear the cracking of the whips. Let me pass."
"Your lord?" said Skeleton. "What is your lord to me? I will knock him down if it pleases me. I never have stabbed a lord: this gives me a desire to do it."
"There are no more lords—Hooraw for the Revolution!" cried Tortillard, and humming the lines of the Parisienne:
"Onward! on! upon their cannon!"
he caught hold of one of the courier's boots, and bearing with all his weight, made him shake in his seat. A blow with the butt of his whip on the head of Tortillard paid him for his audacity. But immediately the enraged mob threw themselves upon the courier; he dashed the spurs into the sides of his horse, and endeavored to disengage himself, but could not succeed; neither was he able to draw his hunting-knife. Dismounted, thrown backward, amid their cries and enraged shouts, he would have been killed, had it not been for the arrival of Rudolph's carriage, which diverted the attention of these wretches.
For some time the prince's coupe, drawn by four post-horses, went only at a walk, and one of the two footmen, in mourning (on account of the Countess M'Gregor's death) seated behind, had prudently descended, and stood near one of the doors, the carriage being a very low one. The postilions cried, "Look out!" and advanced with caution. Rudolph, as well as his daughter, was dressed in deep mourning; holding one of her hands, he looked at her with unspeakable happiness; the sweet, charming face of Fleur-de-Marie appeared to advantage in her little black crape bonnet, which set off her fair complexion and the brilliant tints of her beautiful flaxen hair; one would have said that the azure of this fine day was reflected in her large eyes, which never had been of a softer and more transparent blue. Although her sweet smiling face expressed calmness and happiness, yet, when she looked at her father, a shade of melancholy, sometimes even of indefinable sadness, cast this shadow on the features of Fleur-de-Marie, when the eyes of her father were turned away.
"You are displeased at my calling you so early this morning, and for having advanced the moment of departure?" said Rudolph, smiling.
"Oh, no! father dear—the morning is so beautiful!"
"That was my thought; and our day's journey will be better divided by leaving early, and you will be less fatigued. Murphy, my aids-de-camp, and the carriage with your women, will join us at our first stopping-place, where you will repose."
"Dear father, it is I only of whom you are always thinking."
"Yes, darling, it is impossible for me to have any other thought," said the prince, smiling; then he added, with a burst of tenderness, "Oh! I love you so much—I love you so much—your forehead—quick."
Fleur-de-Marie leaned toward her father, and Rudolph kissed her beautiful forehead.
It was at this moment that the carriage, approaching the crowd, had lessened its speed. Rudolph, much astonished let down the window, and said in German to the foot-man who stood near the door, "Well, Franz, what is the matter? what is this tumult?"
"There is such a crowd that the horses cannot your highness."
"And what is the reason of the crowd?"
"I have just heard that there is an execution about to take place, your highness."
"Oh! this is frightful!" cried Rudolph, throwing himself back in the carriage.
"What is the matter, father?" said Fleur-de-Marie, with anxiety.
"Nothing—nothing, my child."
"But these threatening cries—do you hear? they approach. What is that?"
"Franz, order the postilions to turn and go to Charenton by another road, whatever it may be," said Rudolph.
"It is too late, your highness! we are in the crowd. They have stopped the horses. Some ill-looking people—" The footman could not say another word. The crowd, exasperated by the sanguinary shouts of Skeleton and Nicholas, suddenly surrounded the carriage. In spite of the efforts and threats of the postilions, the horses were stopped, and Rudolph saw himself surrounded on all sides by horrible, threatening, and furious faces: pre-eminent among all, from his great height, was Skeleton, who advanced to the carriage door.
"Father, take care!" cried Fleur-de-Marie, throwing her arms around Rudolph's neck.
"Is it you, then, who are the lord?" said the Skeleton, thrusting his hideous head into the carriage.
At this insolence, Rudolph would have given way to the natural violence of his charcter, had it not been for the presence of his daughter; but he restrained himself, and answered cooly, "What do you want? Why do you stop my carriage?"
"Because it pleases us," said Skeleton, placing his bony hands on the door. "Every one in his turn; yesterday you trampled on the poor man; today the poor man will trample on you, if you stir."
"Father, we are lost!" murmured Fleur-de-Marie in a low voice.
"Compose yourself—I comprehend," said the prince; "it is the last day of the carnival. These people are drunk. I will soon get rid of them."
"We must make him get out, and his mott also," cried Nicholas. "Why should they trample on poor folks?"
"You appear to be drunk, and doubtless have a desire to drink more," said Rudolph, taking a purse from his pocket. "Here, this is for you; do not detain my carriage any longer." And he threw out his purse. Tortillard caught it.
"Exactly; you are going a journey; your pockets must be well lined, so hand out some more money or I will kill you. I have nothing to risk. I ask you for your money or your life in broad daylight. It is a rare old game!" said Skeleton, completely intoxicated with wine and rage; and he roughly opened the door. The patience of Rudolph was exhausted; uneasy for Fleur-de-Marie, whose alarm increased at each moment, and thinking that a decided stand would overawe this wretch, whom he thought intoxicated, he sprung from his carriage to seize Skeleton by the throat. At first the latter drew back quickly, taking from his pocket a long knife; then he threw himself upon Rudolph. Fleur-de-Marie, seeing the poniard of the villain raised against her father, uttered a piercing scream, sprung out of the carriage, and clasped her arms around him. Without the aid of the Slasher, they would have perished. He, at the commencement of the affray, having recognized the livery of the prince, had succeeded, after superhuman efforts, in approaching the Skeleton. At the moment that he threatened the prince with his knife, the Slasher with one hand grasped the arm of the villain, and with the other seized him by the throat, and gave him the trip backward. Although taken by surprise, Skeleton turned, recognized the Slasher, and cried, "Blue Cap of La Force! this time I kill you;" and throwing himself furiously on the Slasher, he plunged the knife into his breast.
The Slasher staggered, but did not fall; the crowd supported him.
"The guard! here is the guard!" cried several voices.
At these words, at sight of the assassination of the Slasher, the dense crowd, fearing to be compromised in the murder, dispersed as by enchantment, and fled in all directions. When the guard arrived, guided by the courier, who had succeeded in making his escape when the mob had abandoned him to surround the carriage, there only remained on the mournful scene Rudolph, his daughter, and the Slasher covered with blood. The two footmen had seated him on the ground, with his back against a tree. All this had passed a thousand times more rapidly than it is possible to write it, at some steps from the wine shop whence had issued Skeleton and his band. The prince, pale and agitated, supported the fainting Fleur-de-Marie in his arms, while the postilions readjusted the traces, which had been injured.
"Quick!" said the prince to his people, who were occupied in assisting the Slasher. "Carry this unfortunate man into this tavern. And you," added he, addressing his courier, "get on the box, and drive with all speed to the hotel for Dr. David. He was not to leave before eleven o'clock: you will find him there."
Some minutes afterward, the carriage was rapidly driven off, and the two domestics carried the Slasher into the saloon where the orgies had taken place, and where still remained some of the women who had figured in it.
"My poor child," said Rudolph to his daughter, "I will lead you to a chamber in this house, and you will await me there; for I cannot abandon solely to the care of my people this courageous man, who has once more saved my life."
"Oh! father, I entreat you, do not leave me!" cried Fleur-de-Marie with alarm, clinging to the arm of Rudolph. "Do not leave me alone. I would die with fear. I will go where you go—"
"But this is a frightful sight!"
"But, thanks to this man, you live for me, father; at least, permit me to unite with you in thanking and consoling him."
The perplexity of the prince was great; his daughter seemed so much alarmed at remaining alone, that he was obliged to allow her to accompany him to the room where the Slasher had been carried. The master of the tavern, assisted by several of the women who had remained (among whom was the Ogress of the White Rabbit), had in haste laid the wounded man upon a mattress, and then stanched his wound with napkins. The Slasher had just opened his eyes, when Rudolph entered. At the sight of the prince, his countenance of deathlike paleness, brightened up a little; he smiled painfully, and said to him, in a feeble voice:
"Ah! M. Rudolph! how fortunate it was that I was at hand."
"Brave and devoted—as always," said the prince to him in a mournful voice; "you save me again!"
"I was going to the Barriere de Charenton—to see you depart—happily—I was stopped here by the crowd—besides, this was to happen to me—I said so to Martial—I had a presentiment."
"Yes, M. Rudolph—the dream of the sergeant—last night I had it—-"
"Forget these ideas. Hope; your wound will not be mortal."
"Oh! yes—Bones has struck home. Never mind, I was right—to say to Martial—that an earthworm like me could sometimes be—useful—to a great lord like you—-"
"But it is life—life!—that I owe you again."
"We are quits, M. Rudolph. You told me that I had a heart and honor. These words—Oh! I suffocate, without you—command—do me the honor—of—your hand!—I feel that I am going—-"
"No, it is impossible!" cried the prince, bending over the Slasher, and pressing in his hands the icy fingers of the dying man. "No; you will live—you will live!"
"M. Rudolph—do you see that there is something-up there!—I killed—with a slash myself!" said the Slasher, in a voice more and more feeble and indistinct.
At this moment his eyes were fixed on Fleur-de-Marie, whom he had not yet perceived. Astonishment was painted on his dying face, he started, and said, "Oh! La Goualeuse."
"Yes, she is my daughter. She blesses you for having preserved her father."
"She—your daughter! here—that reminds me of our acquaintance—M. Rudolph—and the—blows with the fists—at the end—but—this—blow with the knife—will be also—the blow—of the end. I have slashed—I am slashed—it is fair play!"
Then he uttered a deep sigh, his head falling backward—he was dead!
The noise of horses resounded without; the carriage of Rudolph had met that of Murphy and David, who, in their eagerness to rejoin the prince, had hastened their departure. David and the squire entered.
"David," said Rudolph, wiping away his tears, and pointing to the Slasher, "is there no hope?"
"None, your highness," said the doctor, after a minute's examination. During this minute, a mute but frightful scene passed between Fleur-de-Marie and the Ogress, which Rudolph had not noticed. When the Slasher pronounced in a low tone the name of La Goualeuse, the Ogress raising her head, had quickly seen Fleur-de-Marie. Already the horrible woman had recognized Rudolph in the person whom they called his highness. He called La Goualeuse his daughter. Such a transformation stupefied the Ogress, who kept her staring eyes obstinately fixed on her former victim.
Fleur-de-Marie, pale and alarmed, seemed fascinated by this look. The death of the Slasher, the unexpected appearance of the Ogress, who had just awakened more grievously than ever the remembrance of her former degradation, seemed to her of mournful presage. From this moment, Fleur-de-Marie was struck with one of those presentiments which often have, on characters like hers, an irresistible influence.
* * * * *
A short time after these sad events, Rudolph and his daughter had left Paris forever.
PRINCE HENRY D'HERKAUSEN-OLDENZAAL TO COUNT MAXIMILIAN KAMINETN.
"OLDENZAAL, August 23d, 1841.
I have just returned from Gerolstein, where I passed three months with the grand duke and his family. I expected to have found a letter announcing your arrival at Oldenzaal, my dear Maximilian. Imagine my grief and surprise, when I understood that you would be detained in Hungary several weeks longer. I have not been able to write to you for four months, not knowing how to direct my letters to you, thanks to your original and adventurous manner of traveling; and yet you had, nevertheless, seriously promised me at Vienna, at the moment of our separation, that you would be at Oldenzaal the first of August. I must, then, renounce the pleasure of seeing you; and never had I more desire to pour out my heart into yours, my good Maximilian, my oldest friend; for though we are both still young, our friendship is old—it dates from our infancy. What shall I say to you? Within three months a great revolution has taken place in me. I have reached one of those moments which decide a man's fate. Judge if I do not want your presence, your advice. But you will not fail me much longer; whatever concerns detain you in Hungary, you will come, Maximilian; you must come, I conjure, for I shall, indeed, need the most earnest consolation, and I cannot go to you. My father, whose health becomes more and more feeble, has recalled me from Gerolstein. He grows weaker every day. It is impossible for me to leave him. I have so much to tell you, that I shall be prolix, for I have to recount to you the most painful, the most romantic incident of my life. Strange and sad chance! during this period we are fatally distant from each other; we inseparables, we brothers, both of us the most fervent apostles of thrice holy friendship, we, who were so proud of proving that the Cazlas and Posa of our Schiller are not idealities, and that, like those divine creations of the great poet, we know how to taste the sweet delights of a tender and mutual attachment! Oh, my friend, why were you not there, why were you not there! For three months my heart has been overflowing with emotions at the same time inexpressibly sweet and sad. And I was alone; I am alone now. Pity me; you, who know my sensibility, at times so fancifully expansive; you, who have often seen my eyes moistened with tears at the simple recital of a generous action, at the simple view of a beautiful sunset, or in a quiet and starry summer night. You remember the past year, during our excursion to the Ruins of Oppenfeld—the borders of the great lake—our silent reveries during that magnificent evening, so calm, so poetical, so serene. Strange contrast! it was three days before that bloody duel, in which I would not take you for my second, for I should have suffered too much for you if I had been wounded under your eyes—that duel, for a quarrel at play, in which my second unfortunately killed that young Frenchman, the Viscount St. Remy. Apropos, do you know what has become of that dangerous siren St. Remy brought to Oppenfeld, and whose name was, I think, Cecily David? You will smile with pity, my friend, to see me wander thus among these vague remembrances of the past, instead of proceeding to the grave confessions which I have announced to you; it is because, in spite of myself, I recoil from these confessions. I know your severity; I am afraid of being scolded, yes, scolded, because, instead of having acted with reflection, with wisdom (alas for the wisdom of one-and-twenty!), I have acted foolishly, or, rather, I have not acted at all; I have suffered myself to be borne along blindly on the current which carried me forward. It is only since my return from Gerolstein that I have, so to speak, awakened from the enchanting vision in which I have been cradled for the last three months, and this waking is sad. Come then, my friend, good Maximilian, I assume my best courage. Hear me with indulgence. I begin by casting down my eyes; I dare not look at you, for as you read these lines your features will become so grave, so severe. Stoical man! Having obtained leave of absence for six months, I left Vienna, and remained here some time with my father; his health was then good, and he advised me to go and visit my excellent aunt, Princess Juliana, the superior of the Abbey of Gerolstein. I have told you, I believe, my friend, that my grandmother was cousin-german of the grandfather of the present grand duke; and that the latter, Gustavus Rudolph, on account of this relationship, has always treated my father and myself very kindly, very affectionately, as cousins. You know also, I believe, that during a very long journey which the prince recently made into France he gave to my father the charge of the government of the grand duchy.
You will believe that it is not from any pride, my friend, that I mention these circumstances to you; it is only by way of explanation of the causes of the extreme intimacy in which I live with the grand duke and his family during my stay at Gerolstein. You recollect that last year, during our journey on the banks of the Rhine, we were informed that the prince had found in France, and had married in extremis, the Countess M'Gregor, in order to legitimatize the birth of a daughter, whom he had by her in consequence of an early secret marriage, which was afterward broken, from some illegality in the ceremony, and because it had been contracted against the will of the reigning grand duke. This young daughter, so solemnly acknowledged, is that charming Princess Amelia, [Footnote: As the name of Marie recalled to Rudolph and his daughter such sad recollections, he had given her the name of Amelia, after his mother.] of whom Lord Dudley, who saw her at Gerolstein about a year since, spoke to us so often at Vienna last winter. You recollect we accused him of exaggeration. Strange chance! If any one had then told me—But though you have undoubtedly now almost divined my secret, let me follow the march of events without interruption. The Convent of Saint Hermangilda, of which my aunt is the abbess, is hardly a quarter of a league distant from Gerolstein, for the abbey gardens border on the suburbs of the city. A charming house, completely isolated from the cloister, had been placed at my disposition by my aunt, who loves me, as you know, with a maternal tenderness. The day of my arrival she informed me that there was the next day to be a solemn reception and court ceremony; the grand duke on that day was to make the official announcement of his approaching marriage with the Marchioness d'Harville, who had recently arrived at Gerolstein, accompanied by her father, Count Orbigny. [Footnote: The reader is reminded, in order to maintain the probability of this narrative, that the last Princess of Courtland, a lady as remarkable for the singular superiority of her mind as for the charm of her character, and the admirable goodness of her heart, was Mademoiselle de Medeur.] Some blame the prince for not having sought a sovereign alliance in his marriage (the grand duchess, the former wife of the prince, belonged to the house of Bavaria): others, on the contrary, and my aunt is of the number of these, congratulate him for having preferred an amiable young lady, whom he adores, and who belongs to the highest nobility of France, to considerations of ambition. You know, moreover, my friend, that my aunt having always entertained for the Grand Duke Rudolph the most profound attachment, she can appreciate, better than any one else, the eminent qualities of the prince.
"My dear child," said she to me, on occasion of this solemn reception, which I was to attend the day after my arrival, "my dear child, the most remarkable part of this fete the Pearl of Gerolstein."
"What do you mean, my dear aunt?"
"The Princess Amelia."
"The daughter of the grand-duke? Lord Dudley told us about her at Vienna. He spoke of her with an enthusiasm which we called poetical exaggeration."
"At my age, with my character, and in my position," replied my aunt, "one is not easily excited; and you will believe my judgment to be impartial, my dear child. Indeed, I assure you, that in my whole life I never knew anything so enchanting as the Princess Amelia. I might speak to you of her angelic beauty, if she were not endowed with an inexpressible charm which is superior even to her beauty. Figure to yourself candor with dignity, and grace in modesty. From the first day in which the grand-duke presented me to her, I felt for this young princess an involuntary sympathy. Nor am I alone in this opinion. The Archduchess Sophia has been at Gerolstein some days; she is the proudest and most haughty princess whom I know."
"Very true, my aunt, her irony is terrible; few persons escape her biting pleasantries. At Vienna she was dreaded like the fire. Can the Princess Amelia have found favor with her?"
"The other day she came here, after having visited the House of Refuge, which is placed under the superintendence of the young princess. 'Do you know one thing,' said this dreaded archduchess to me, with her abrupt frankness, 'I have a mind singularly disposed to satire, have I not? Well, if I were to live long with the daughter of the grand duke, I should become, I am sure, inoffensive; her goodness is so penetrating, so contagious."
"But is my cousin, then, an enchantress?" said I to my aunt, smiling.
"Her most powerful attraction, in my eyes at least," replied my aunt, "is that mingling of gentleness, modesty, and dignity, of which I have spoken to you, and which gives the most touching expression to her angelic face."
"Modesty is certainly a rare quality in a princess so young, so beautiful, so happy."
"Remember, too, my dear child, how much better it is for the Princess Amelia to enjoy without vain ostentation the high position which is incontestably acquired for her; her elevation is recent." [ Footnote: On arriving in Germany, Rudolph had given out that Fleur-de-Marie, whom he had long supposed dead, had never quitted her mother, the Countess M'Gregor.]
"In her conversations with you, dear aunt, has the princess ever made any allusions to her past fortunes?"
"No; but when, notwithstanding my advanced age, I have spoken to her with the respect which is due to her, since her royal highness is the daughter of our sovereign, her ingenuous distress, mingled with gratitude and veneration for me, have deeply moved me; for her reserve, at the same time noble and affable, proved to me that the present did not intoxicate her so much as to make her forget the past, and that she rendered to my age what I granted to her rank."
"You must have an exquisite tact, my dear aunt, to observe such delicate shades."
"Thus, my dear child, the more I have seen of the Princess Amelia, the more I have felt my first impression confirmed. Since she has been here, the good works she has accomplished are incredible, and she has done it all with a reflection, a maturity of judgment, which amazes me in a person of her age. Judge of them: at her request, the grand duke has founded at Gerolstein an establishment for little orphan girls of five or six years old, and for young girls, also orphans or abandoned by their parents, who have reached the age of sixteen, an age so fatal for the unfortunate who have no one to defend them from the seductions of vice or the pressure of want. The noble nuns of my abbey teach and direct the daughters of this house. In going to visit it, I have often occasion to observe the adoration which these poor disinherited creatures entertain toward the Princess Amelia. Every day she goes to pass several hours in this establishment, which is placed under her especial protection; and I repeat to you, my child, it is not only respect, gratitude, that these poor girls and the nuns feel for her highness, it is almost fanaticism."
"The Princess Amelia must be an angel," replied I to my aunt.
"An angel—yes, an angel," replied she, "for you cannot imagine with what melting goodness she treats her favorites, and with what pious solicitude she watches over them—I have never seen the susceptibility of misfortune more delicately treated; it seems as if an irresistible sympathy especially attracts the princess toward this class of the abandoned poor. Finally, would you believe it, she, the daughter of a sovereign, never calls these young girls anything but sisters."
At these last words of my aunt, I confess to you, Maximilian, the tears came into my eyes. Do you not find something beautiful and holy in this conduct of the princess? You know my sincerity, I protest to you that I report to you, as I will always report to you, the conversation of my aunt, almost word for word.
"Since the princess," said I to her, "is so marvelously endowed, I shall feel great embarrassment when I am presented to her to-morrow; you know my insurmountable timidity, you know that elevation of character overpowers me more even than that of rank, I am sure I shall appear to the princess as stupid as embarrassed; I know this well enough beforehand."
"Come, come," said my aunt, smiling, "she will take pity on you, my dear child, and the more so as you will not be a new acquaintance to her."
"You recollect that when at the age of sixteen years, you quitted Oldenzaal to make a journey to Russia and England with your father, I had your portrait painted in the costume which you wore at the first fancy ball given by the late grand duchess?"
"Yes, the costume of a German page of the sixteenth century."
"Our excellent painter, Fritz Mokker, while he faithfully reproduced your features, not only retraced a personage of the sixteenth century, but with the caprice of an artist, he amused himself with imitating even the manner and the appearance of age of pictures painted soon after that period. A few days after her arrival in Germany, the Princess Amelia having come to visit me with her father, remarked your portrait, and asked me with great simplicity what this charming picture of the olden time was? Her father smiled, and making a signal to me, answered her, 'This portrait is that of one of our cousins, you see by his costume, my dear Amelia, of some three hundred years date. When he was very young he exhibited a rare courage and an excellent heart. Does he not, in fact, display bravery in his bearing, and goodness in his smile?'
(I beg you, Maximilian, do not shrug your shoulders with impatient disdain, at my writing such things about myself. It is hard for me to do it, you may suppose, but the sequel of this narrative will prove to you that these puerile details, of which I feel the bitter ridicule, are unfortunately indispensable. I close the parenthesis, and go on:)
"The Princess Amelia," continued my aunt, "the dupe of this innocent pleasantry, agreed in opinion with her father, respecting the gentle and proud expression of your physiognomy, after having attentively examined the portrait. Afterward, when I went to see her at Gerolstein, she smilingly asked me the news of her cousin of the olden time. I then owned to her our deception, telling her that the fair page of the sixteenth century was simply my nephew, Prince Henry d'Herkausen Oldenzaal, now twenty-one years of age, captain of his Majesty the Emperor of Austria's Guards, and in everything, excepting, the costume, very like his portrait. At these words, the Princess Amelia," added my aunt, "blushed and became again serious, as she almost always is. Since then, she has not spoken to me again about the picture. Nevertheless, you see, my dear child, that you will not be entirely a stranger and a new face to your cousin, as the grand duke calls you. So take courage and sustain the honor of your portrait," added my aunt, smiling.
This conversation took place, as I have told you, my dear Maximilian, on the eve of the day when I was to be presented to the princess, my cousin. I then left my aunt, and returned to my apartment. I have never hidden from you my most secret thoughts, good or evil; I am therefore about to confess to you what absurd and foolish imaginations I allowed myself to indulge in after the conversation which I have just reported to you.
PRINCE HENRY D'HERKAUSEN-OLDENZAAL TO COUNT MAXIMILIAN KAMINETZ.
You have often told me, my dear Maximilian, that I have no vanity; I believe that is true, and must believe so, to be able to continue this account without exposing myself to the charge of presumptuousness in your eyes. When I was alone at home, in recalling my aunt's conversation, I could not help dreaming over with a secret satisfaction the fact that the Princess Amelia having observed the portrait of me, made six or seven years ago, had asked a few days after, in jest, for news of her cousin of the olden time. I acknowledge that nothing was more foolish than to found the least hope upon such an insignificant circumstance; but, as I told you, I shall always use the most entire frankness with you; this insignificant circumstance ravished me. Undoubtedly the praises which I had heard lavished upon the Princess Amelia by a woman as grave and austere as my aunt, while they raised the princess still higher in my eyes, rendered me yet more sensible to the distinction which she had deigned to bestow upon me, or, rather, had granted to my portrait. However, as I tell you, this distinction awakened in me such foolish hopes, that, now, in throwing back a calmer glance upon the past, I ask how I could have allowed myself to be drawn on to those thoughts, which inevitably bordered upon a precipice. Although a relation of the grand duke, and always kindly welcomed by him, it was impossible for me to conceive of the least hope of marriage with the princess, even if she had accepted my love, which was still more improbable. Our family holds an honorable rank, but it is poor, if we compare our fortune with the immense domains of the grand duke, the richest prince of the Germanic Confederation; and then, I was hardly twenty-one years old; I was a mere captain in the Guards, without renown, without personal reputation; never, in short, would the grand duke dream of me for his daughter. All these reflections should have preserved me from a passion which as yet I did not feel, but of which I had, so to speak, a singular presentiment. Alas! I gave myself up, on the contrary to new childishness. I was wearing on my finger a ring which was formerly given me by Theckla (the good countess, whom you know); although this token of careless and frivolous love could not trouble me much, I heroically made of it a sacrifice to ray new-born love, and the poor ring disappeared in the water which flows rapidly under my window. It is useless to tell you what a night I passed; you can imagine it I knew that the Princess Amelia was fair, and of angelic beauty; I endeavored to imagine her features, her stature, her demeanor, the sound of her voice, the expression of her countenance; then, remembering my portrait which she had remarked upon, I recollected with regret that the cursed artist had flattered me; besides, in despair, I compared the picturesque costume of a page of the fifteenth century with the severe uniform of His Imperial Majesty's captain of the Guards. Then to these foolish ideas succeeded now and then, I assure you, my friend, some generous thoughts, some noble impulses of the soul; I felt myself moved—yes! deeply moved at the remembrances, of what my aunt had told me of that adorable goodness of the Princess Amelia who called the poor abandoned ones whom she protected—her sisters. In fine—odd and inexplicable contrast—I have, you know, the most humble opinion of myself—and I was, nevertheless, proud enough to suppose that the sight of my portrait had struck the princess; I had good sense enough to understand that an impassable distance separated me from her forever, and yet I asked myself, with real anxiety, whether she would not find me unworthy of my portrait. In short, I had never seen her; I was convinced beforehand that she would hardly look upon me; and, nevertheless, I thought myself right in sacrificing to her the pledge of my former love. I passed in real suffering the night of which I speak, and a part of the next day. The hour of reception arrived. I tried on two or three uniforms, finding each worse than the other, and set out for the palace of the grand duke, much displeased with myself.
Although Gerolstein is hardly a quarter of a league from St. Hermangilda's Abbey, during the short drive a thousand thoughts assailed me: all the nonsense with which I had busied myself disappeared before a grave, sad, almost threatening idea; an invincible presentiment forwarned me of one of those crises which govern the whole life; a sort of revelation told me that I was about to love, to love passionately, to love as one loves but once; and, to heighten the fatality, this love, so highly and worthily placed, was always to be unfortunate to me. These ideas alarmed me so much, that I suddenly took the wise resolution of stopping my carriage, returning to the abbey, and going to rejoin my father, leaving to my aunt the duty of excusing me to the grand duke for my abrupt departure. Unfortunately, one of those vulgar causes, of which the effects are sometimes so immense, prevented me from executing this. My carriage having stopped at the entrance of the avenue leading to the palace, I leaned out at the window to give orders to my people to return, when the Baron and Baroness Roller, who, like me, were on their way to court, perceived me, and ordered their carriage also to stop. The baron, seeing me in uniform, said, "Can I assist you in anything, my dear prince? what has happened to you? Since you are on your way to the palace, will you not join us, if anything has happened to your horses?"
Nothing could have been more easy you may say, my friend, than for me to have made some excuse for leaving the baron, and to have regained the abbey. I suppose it would have been; whether it was weakness, or a secret desire to escape from the salutary resolution I had just formed, I replied with an embarrassed air, that I was giving orders to my coachman to inquire at the gate of the palace whether we entered by the new pavilion, or through the marble court. "The entrance is through the marble court, my dear prince," replied the baron; "it is a grand gala reception. Tell your coachman to follow mine; I will show you the way."
You know, Maximilian, how much of a fatalist I am; I would have returned to the abbey, to spare myself the vexations which I foresaw; fate opposed it; I abandoned myself to my star. You do not know the grand ducal palace of Gerolstein, my friend. According to all those who have visited the capitals of Europe, there is not, with the exception of Versailles, a royal residence, of which the whole pile of building, and the avenues to it, have a more majestic aspect. If I enter into some details on this subject, it is that, in recalling at this hour these imposing splendors, I ask myself why they did not all at first call up my nothingness; for the Princess Amelia was the daughter of the sovereign of this palace, of these guards, of this great wealth. The court of marble, a vast hemicycle, is so called because, with the exception of a broad path around it, in which the carriages pass, it is paved with marble of every color, having magnificent mosaics. In the center of it is placed an immense basin of antique marble, fed by abundant springs of water, which fall continually into a large porphyry vase. This court of honor is surrounded by a row of white marble statues, of the finest execution, bearing torches of gilded bronze, from whence floods of dazzling gas are poured out. Alternating with these statues, Medicean vases, raised on their richly-sculptured pedestals, contain enormous rose-laurels, real flourishing shrubs, whose lustrous foliage, seen in the resplendent light, shines with a metallic verdure.
The carriages stopped at the foot of a double row of balustrades, which led to the peristyle of the palace; at the foot of this staircase, two cavaliers of the guard of the grand duke, mounted on black horses, stood as sentries. The soldiers of the guard were chosen from among the largest-sized non-commissioned officers of the army. You, my friend, who are so fond of military men, would have been struck with the severe and martial air of these two colossal figures, whose cuirasses and brazen casques of an antique form, without ornament or crest, shone in the light. These cavaliers wore blue coats with yellow collar, pantaloons of white buckskin, and stout boots, reaching above the knee. Finally, for you, my friend, who are fond of military details, I will add, that at the top of the steps, on each side of the door, two grenadiers of the regiment of infantry of the grand ducal guard were on duty. They resembled, I was told, in appearance, with the single exception of the color of the dress and its facings, Napoleon's old guard. After having crossed the vestibule, where, with their halberts in their hands, stood the Swiss liveried servants of the prince, I ascended an imposing staircase of white marble, which led to a portico, ornamented with columns of jasper, surmounted by a cupola, painted and gilded. There were ranged two long files of foot servants. I afterward entered into the guard-room, at the door of which were standing a chamberlain and an aid-de-camp on service, whose duty it was to lead up to his royal highness such persons as were entitled to be presented to him. My relationship, though distant, gave me a right to this honor. An aid-de-camp preceded me into a long gallery filled with men in court-dresses or uniforms, and ladies in full costume. While I was slowly passing through this brilliant crowd, I heard words which heightened still more my emotion. On all sides people were admiring the angelic beauty of the Princess Amelia, the charming face of the Marchioness d'Harville, and the truly imperial air of the Archduchess Sophia, who had recently arrived from Munich, with the Archduke Stanislaus, and was soon to go to Warsaw. But while all rendered homage to the lofty dignity of the archduchess and to the distinguished grace of the Marchioness d'Harville, it was acknowledged that nothing was more ideal than the enchanting form of the Princess Amelia. As I approached the spot where the grand duke and his daughter were standing, I felt my heart beating violently. At the moment when I reached the door of this saloon (I forgot to tell you that there was a ball and court concert), the illustrious Liszt had just seated himself at the piano, and the deepest silence succeeded to the slight murmur of conversation. While awaiting the end of the piece, which the artist played with his accustomed superiority, I remained standing at the door. Then, my dear Maximilian, for the first time I saw the Princess Amelia. Allow me to paint to you the scene, for I feel an inexpressive pleasure in gathering up all these recollections. Imagine, my friend, a vast saloon, furnished with royal splendor, dazzling with light, and hung with crimson draperies, about which ran a border of foliage embroidered in gold. In the first row, in large gilded chairs, were seated the Archduchess Sophia (to whom the prince was doing the honors of the palace), on her left the Marchioness d'Harville, and on her right the Princess Amelia. Standing behind them was the grand duke, wearing the uniform of colonel of his guards. He seemed to have renewed his youth by his happiness, and did not look more than thirty years old. The military dress set off finely the elegance of his height, and the beauty of his face. Near him stood the Archduke Stanislaus, in the uniform of a field marshal. Then came the Princess Amelia's ladies of honor, the wives of the grand dignitaries of the court, and, finally, the latter themselves. Need I tell you that the Princess Amelia, by her rank, less than by her grace and beauty, reigned supreme in this dazzling assemblage? Do not condemn me, my friend, without reading this description. Though it fall a thousand times below the reality, you may comprehend my adoration; you will understand that as soon as I saw her, I loved her, and that the suddenness of this passion can be equaled only by its violence, and the intensity of its duration. The Princess Amelia, dressed in a simple robe of white watered silk, wore, like the Archduchess Sophia, the grand cordon of the Imperial Order of Saint Nepomucene, which had been recently sent her by the empress. A bandeau of pearls, surrounding her noble and open forehead, harmonized most exquisitely with the two large braids of magnificent ashy blond hair which bordered her cheeks, which were lightly tinged with red; her fair arms, still whiter than the waves of lace from which they escaped, were half hidden by her gloves, which did not come up to her dimpled elbow: nothing could be more graceful than her bearing; nothing prettier than her little foot, with its white satin shoe. At the moment when I saw her, her large eyes, of the purest azure, were thoughtful. I do not know whether at this moment she felt the influence of some serious idea, or whether she was deeply impressed by the grave harmony of the piece Liszt was playing, but her half smile seemed to me to have a sweet and inexpressible melancholy: her head was slightly bent over on her bosom, and she was playing mechanically with a great bouquet of white violets and roses which she held in her hand. I could never express to you my feelings at that moment; all that my aunt had said to me of the ineffable goodness of the Princess Amelia came back to my mind. You may smile, my friend, but in spite of myself I felt my eyes moistening as I gazed on this thoughtful, almost sad young girl, so admirably beautiful, surrounded with honors, with such respect, and so idolized by such a father as the grand duke.