Imagens das páginas

she told him it was Victor Marras who had ordered the arrest, his countenance fell; and although he could not suppose the plot had been discovered, he felt that his incognito could not deceive Victor. He fled

therefore, as we have seen; and when recaptured, it only remained for them to put a bold face on the matter, and try what influence Adrienne could exert with Victor in preventing their detention.



Victor ordered the two male prisoners to be conducted into his preAs they were unarmed, he motioned to the soldiers to withdraw, and was thus left alone with the Count and the Chevalier.

Strange were the feelings which the sight roused within him; not of wrath, for, as I have said, his indig nation had long burned itself out; not of kindness, for he had a dim remembrance of a wrong, and he felt as we feel in the presence of those who have once deeply humiliated us. A certain irrepressible exultation mingled with his feelings. His prophecy had been fulfilled; they were to sue for mercy to him whom they had outraged! He felt as if there were something peculiarly mysterious in this fulfilment of a wild prophecy although, as he had been implored by hundreds of prisoners to whom no such prophecy had been uttered, as he stood in the same relation to the Count in which he had stood to many other nobles, there was nothing peculiar in this which he considered so very mysterious.

"Why, bless me !" exclaimed the Count, pretending surprise, and turning to the Chevalier, it is Victor our old friend Victor! This is a surprise and a pleasure! You have not forgotten me?" he added, seeing no recognition in Victor's eye.

"The proof that I have not forgotten you is that you are here," said Victor, coldly.

"Certainly; and although I cannot divine the reason of our journey being interrupted, I am sure nothing but friendliness actuates you towards those who always showed the utmost kindness to you; except," he added hesitatingly, 'on one little occasion, the last time we met, when a momentary surprise, and very excusable indignation-it was excusable, you must admit ?--produced a somewhat


disagreeable interruption to our friendship. But a man of your high spirit would never bear malice, I am sure. You have long ago forgotten that unpleasantness ?"

"Long ago," said Victor.

"I knew it. I was certain of it. I have often thought of the incident with pain, and, let me add, with some self-reproach; but, however, this is not the time to talk of such things. May I ask why you have had us arrested?"

'May I ask why your papers bear the name of Citizen Foville?" Merely a precaution."

[ocr errors]

Your arrest is a precaution." "What is your purpose?" "To do my duty to the Republic." "I do not understand." "The Revolutionary Tribunal will make everything clear."

[ocr errors]

"The Tribunal!" exclaimed the Count, fairly alarmed. You are not about to send us there! That, as you know, is certain death." "I know it."

"You would not have innocent blood shed for

[ocr errors]

"I would not. Yours is no innocent blood. In vain you try to defend yourself; your conspiracy is discovered."

"What conspiracy?"

"To assassinate Robespierre, Couthon, and St Just."

The Count's heart ceased to beat. The Chevalier boisterously exclaimed:

"What miserable calumny is this!" "A miserable conspiracy, Chevalier, but no calumny, as you are perfectly aware."

"It is false !"

"I have proofs," said Victor, sternly, "which you can swear are false, but which no tribunal will refuse to accept."

"Dear Victor," said the Count, earnestly, "whatever your suspicions

or information may be, let me entreat you not to act hastily in this matter. We are innocent, but you know too well that, once before the Revolutionary Tribunal, our innocence will avail us nothing. Now I claim from you the office of friendship. In early days I showed you much kindness, for you were an especial favourite with me, as you know. In return, I only ask you not to be rash."

"I shall not be rash. I act on certain knowledge. I told you I had proofs."

"What are they?"

"I shall produce them on the proper occasion."

"But it will then be too late for us to clear ourselves. If you are really actuated by sincere desire to discover a conspiracy against the Republic, tell us what information now causes you to arrest us; we may be able to point out to you our innocence."

Victor smiled slightly, and then, with some scorn, said

"Citizen, you undervalue me. I do not act upon suspicions; I have proofs."

"What are they?"

"Bricolin's confession."

A dead silence ensued, in which the hearts of both prisoners beat almost audibly. Victor continued: "You have appealed to my friendship; it shall not be in vain."

They breathed more freely. "But even my friendship must give place to my duty. I am bound to frustrate your scheme, but I would willingly spare your lives. Tell me candidly who are your accomplices; let me be assured that I have really prevented your plan, and a boat shall convey you in safety to England."

"We have no accomplices," they both answered.

"Excuse me if I do not believe that."

"You doubt the word of a gentleman!" asked the Chevalier, with some haughtiness.

"In such a case, I do."

"Then, as we can only give our word, nothing more need be said."

"You forget, Chevalier, that I am in possession of knowledge which assures me that you have accom

plices. I can myself name one of them to you the citizen Henri de St Marc. He is also in my hands.”. "Where ?"

"At St Malo. If, therefore, you conceal from me one accomplice, I am forced to believe, in spite of your word, that you conceal others."

"We did not attempt to conceal his complicity," replied the Chevalier; "for if Bricolin betrayed us, he must have betrayed the whole family. But again, I say, on the word of a gentleman, that beyond our family no one is implicated. No one except Bricolin knew anything of our scheme."

"If you persist in the denial the Tribunal must investigate the case. Confess, and in return for the safety of the Republic I assure you your lives. I shall thus fulfil my duty, and not send you to the scaffold."

"But, my dear Victor, we have nothing to confess. Do you suppose that we, finding you so well-disposed towards us, would not gladly embrace your offer."

"If you have nothing to confess," said Victor, coldly, "this interview had better cease. I have informed you of my resolution."

"And you persist

[ocr errors]

"If you persist. You know my terms, and can accept or reject them." He rose and opened the door, ordering the prisoners to be removed into an inner apartment, and the Countess de St Marc to be conducted before him. She came in with great haughtiness, and scarcely paid any attention to what he said, until he informed her of all he knew. She coloured violently, but made no remark as he proceeded :

"I have offered your brother and nephew a safe-conduct to England in exchange for a free confession of their scheme, which they have frankly accepted."

"They confessed!" exclaimed the indignant Countess.

"How else should I have been informed of the plot ?" asked Victor, quietly.


The cowards!" muttered the amazed Countess, thinking, no doubt, that her misgivings respecting the Count's fitness for such a plot were now realised.

"But," he continued, "as their confession may be incomplete, or designedly inaccurate, I am not going to act without feeling quite convinced of its accuracy; for this reason I have thought proper to examine you separately. If your stories coincide I shall be convinced; if not, I shall know that I have been misinformed. I do not ask you for details of the scheme; that is unnecessary; what I want to know is whether the names of the conspirators have been all given up. Will you be kind enough to tell me who they are?" 66 Ourselves." 66 And? "No one else."

[ocr errors]

"Excuse me; there are others. For instance there is your son

[ocr errors]

The Countess shook as he said this; but recovering herself she said:

"I include him among ourselves." "And the others?"

There are no others." "Have a care: the lives of the whole family are at stake unless I am satisfied; unless your stories separately agree, I must send you to the Revolutionary Tribunal."

"I have answered you: there are no others."

"The Count named some, however."

Here the Countess looked at him steadily, and said: "You have overreached yourself; the Count has made no confession. I shall answer no more questions.'

Victor saw indeed that his last assertion had betrayed him. But the fact that it had betrayed him suggested the probability of there being really no other accomplices to name. In this respect the stories of both coincided. He remained thoughtful for a few minutes, and then opening the door of the apartment, into which the Count and Chevalier had been conducted, bowed her into it. Left alone, he mused for some time on the two interviews. He then ordered Adrienne to be introduced.

Their meeting was strangely agitated, and for some time neither spoke. To meet thus after such a parting, after six long years of separation, was indeed a trying event. The emotion soon subsided in his breast.


He had ceased to love her. He had indeed almost forgotten her in the hurrying tumult of his agitated life; and although the sight of that face which once filled him with rapture, still affected him with peculiar feelings, he looked on it rather as we look on an old book which once delighted us, but which long has lost its power of charming. Adrienne, indeed, was greatly altered. Beautiful she was still, but there was a faded look about her, produced by illness and anxiety, and a constraint produced by her present situation, which robbed her of that buoyant grace once so enchanting to him.

Victor saw clearly that he had outlived his love, and instantly his resolution, hitherto undefined, became fixed.

[ocr errors]

Adrienne," he said mournfully, 66 we should not have met thus. Do you remember the happy days long ago?"

Tears rose into her eyes as she looked at him and said, “I have never forgotten them."

"I was happy then," he continued. "And now!" He threw a dreary mournfulness into this phrase which moved her, and quite pleased him, for in truth he was acting, and thought of his effects like an actor. "In those days," said Adrienne with effort, your life was pure. You had not then joined the bloodthirsty men who have destroyed France."


"My life remains pure, Adrienne. Yes, in spite of what you say, I repeat it, pure. I have served the Republic; but my hands are free from blood."

"Do you not serve those men-are you not their accomplice ?"

"No; I serve a great idea, not men."

"Has not your Republic become an odious Despotism? Has it not murdered a king, a queen, thousands of innocent beings, and are you not an accomplice in such acts? Why, then, do you serve those men ?"

[ocr errors]

Adrienne," said Victor, with an enthusiasm which was only half feigned, for he half believed in what he said, "there is nothing in this world worked out by human hands but has some imperfection clinging to it. I deplore, as much


as you can do, the crimes which passion perpetrates in the name of a principle. I see the madness of our time. I pity the victims. But even among the ruin and the bloodshed I see the grand principles of Liberty retain their everlasting purity; and seeing this, I do not give up all my faith in freedom because I see men so little able to bear it at first. You know my early dreams; well, they visit me still! I am older now, and wiser. I have learned that those dreams are still far from becoming realities. I have learned that the progress of the race is slow, and beset with pitfalls; but my faith in ultimate good remains unshaken."

Adrienne was so carried away by the tones of his voice, and the enthusiasm of his manner, that she forgot her own opinions in admiration. He

perceived the effect, and continued for some time in the same strain. The ardour of his eloquence not only carried him away, but made him once more feel something of his old passion for Adrienne. It was thus he used to speak, and thus she used to listen, in old times! He sat by her side, and took her hand as he spoke. She did not withdraw it. A knock startled them. It was Sergeant Roussel, who, on entering, noticed their ill-concealed confusion, and made a note of it in his own mind. He came to say that a courier had arrived with despatches, and begged for instant audience. With some impatience Victor ordered him to be admitted; and having shown Adrienne into the room where the Count, Countess, and Chevalier already were, bade her be of good cheer, and confide in him.


Adrienne found Nicotte with them, energetically recommending some plan she had at heart, which they seemed to reject.

"Oh, that I could do anything myself," exclaimed the good girl. A mouse once set a lion free from the net in which he was caught; but then I ain't a mouse, you see.

"How many soldiers are there?" inquired the Chevalier.

"Oh, ever so many. It's no use trying force. If Victor only were my lover now; but he hasn't the good taste. You see we women find it easy to come over the men when they are fond of us; we twist them round our fingers, and they think it pleasant; but when they don't care for us, our power is nothing. Goulard never would have risked his head if I hadn't promised to marry him. I'd promise to marry Victor, but it would be no use. But now I think of it, if he don't love me, he does love you, ma'mselle. You could turn him round your fingers." Adrienne shook her head.

"You could indeed. You don't know how easy it is to make fools of men: they like it!"

"Victor is a Republican!" "Well, but Republicans, the boobies, are men, are they not? If you

look a little languishing the Chevalier won't mind looks, will you?" she said suddenly turning to de Figeac, who smiled," and then say a few pretty speeches, just to throw out a bait he'll be like a hungry pike, and rush at any bait-you're sure to hook him, if you try. I tell you what, leave him to me; I'll promise and hint all sorts of things. Do you only look sweet upon him, and then you need say nothing; he will imagine

you look all I say.'


[ocr errors]

And what is to be the upshot?" "Why, that he will let you escape course.'

[ocr errors]

"He! never!" exclaimed the Countess. "I mistrust him in every way. He only affects friendship for us. His vanity will never forgive us; we once humiliated him; he will take his revenge."

Adrienne defended him warmly; the Count was disposed to take her view, but the Chevalier and the Countess persisted in considering it hopeless to expect any clemency. His manner to them that day, they said, was only a trap. He pretended to befriend them, that he might extort their secret, and then send them to the tribunal. Nicotte, however, was certain of one thing let him mean them well or ill, he was a man; and being

a man, it was hard indeed if a woman couldn't bamboozle him. At any rate she would try.

She did try. She went straight to Victor, and told him she wanted some serious conversation with him. "About the affairs of the Republic ?" he asked.


"Pooh!" she said, tossing up her little saucy nose, you know how much I care for the Republic! About as much as you do yourself, if the truth were known. Oh! you needn't smile and look knowing. You don't care for the Republic; you're too clever to be the dupe of such rubbish, and too good really to tolerate such villany. But you don't choose to risk your head by saying so. I understand so does somebody else that I could name I shan't somebody whose opinion of you is too high to make her believe any ill of you. And because she thinks well of you I think well of you. Victor, there's my hand." She held out her hand to him with an air of entire forgiveness. He took it, drew her towards him, kissed her pretty cheek, at which she was not at all displeased, but said

"Now let us talk sense. No one can overhear us, can they?"

"No one. But be quick, for I

have much to do."

"Look here, Victor. You are today at the top of the wheel-tomorrow you may be sprawling in the dirt. It is well to look ahead. It is well to have friends in both camps. If you act like a man of honour, and wink at the escape of your prisoners, you will "

"Nicotte, you must not talk to me in this way. If you have nothing else to say, I must decline to hear it." "How can you know what I have got to say, when you won't hear me to the end?"

"It is unnecessary I should hear the end, when the beginning is treason."

"Treason!" she exclaimed, with a contemptuous toss of her head. "How grandly we talk! I don't understand politics; I only care about common sense. It's common sense I want to show you. What will you gain by murdering your old benefactor Nothing. By saving him you may gain--I need not

say what, but, unless I am much
mistaken, your early inclinations
were fixed somewhere.
when you left Chateauneuf so sud-
By the way, why did
you leave it? No one even could
make out why you disappeared. But
never mind that now. When you
left, how some one drooped, and
pined. I noticed it! Trust a
woman's eyes in such matters. You
see how pale and worn she looks?
Who can say how much of that is
caused by you? Well, now you
meet again-meet under circum-
stances in which you can show
the extent of your love.
a chance doesn't occur every day, I
can tell you!"

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

"You must put a plainer question, Nicotte."

"Well, then-to gain her love would you let her father and cousins escape? Come, that's plain."

Victor was silently drawing figures on the paper with a pen, and revolving in his mind the thoughts called up by Nicotte's question. He felt persuaded that she had been commissioned to put this question to him, and never imagined the little woman was boldly taking upon herself to promise anything and everything which would secure her purpose, in the comfortable belief that it could all be justly disavowed by the Count and Adrienne when the promises were claimed to be fulfilled.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Why do you hesitate?" she continued. Any other man would jump out of his skin with joy at the chance."

"Nicotte, you have put a very strange question to the Commissary of the Republic."

"I spoke to Victor Marras." "Well, then, Victor Marras shall answer you; but remember it is not the Commissary who speaks."

« AnteriorContinuar »