Page images
PDF
EPUB

peach"

De Loire, recognising the features of the man of office, exclaimed“Grognon ! Is't you?—thank God!”

“Civilly spoken, Sir, and like a gentleman,” answered Grognon. “ The man of true breeding never forgets himself, as my good friend Jacques Tenebræ says, whether at the wheel or on the gallows. Humph! Poor Aaron Ezra ! Surely, if any bit of the devil be in our faces, death brings it out with a vengeance!" and Pierre leered with mixed disgust and contempt at the body of the Jew.

“Now, Sir,” said Pierre with smiling courtesy, we are ready to attend ye. Saul, Tripot, Longuemain," and the officer spoke to his followers—" stay you here and possess the house-I'll bring ye further orders. Now, Sir ;” and Grognon waved De Loire from the room.

"I—what is–Grognon-the villains who have doubtless done this,” stammered De Loire.

“We have two of them,” answered Grognon; "two, Sir.”

“ 'Tis well—but there was one-a seeming fool--a subtle, simple accessary—"

“He is one of the prisoners,” said Pierre.
“ One! But have you not the villains whoʻz"
“ We have already two, Sir,-two.

If, in the benevolence of your nature,” and this time the officer fairly grinned, "you are disposed to

“Peach !” exclaimed De Loire ; for his indignation left him no more words.

“Well, Sir, well,” observed Grognon, mistaking the passion of his prisoner, “ your pardon—I did not, understand me, accuse you of so mean a disposition. No-no; I honour virtue even in the murderer of a money-lender.”

Is it possible,” cried De Loire, aghast at the thought that for the first time presented itself—“is it possible that-do you not know me?"

“ I lack that distinction,"answered Grognon.

“Fellow, I am the Count de Loire ;” and the young man, summoning his proudest look, stepped forward, and was about to pass the officer.

“I am sorry for it,” answered Grognon, “ sorry and glad, my Lord; for, had you killed a brother nobleman,—but, I crave your pardon, your lordship's private inclinations are not for my humility to question ; I am only here to attend you.'

“ Whither ?” asked De Loire, his frame quivering with suppressed rage.

“ To the place of justice—there you may tell your tale, my Lord; and it is the honest prayer of the simple Pierre Grognon that you tell it to believing ears. Forward.”

De Loire, deigning no reply to the impertinent sympathy of the menial, stepped into the place left for him between his guards, and, burning with anger, amazed, confounded, and thinking all about him a miserable dream, walked forward and in an instant passed the door. He was received with a shout of triumph by the mob gathered on the Quai, who all pressed to look upon him, whilst many Jews, drawn by the tidings of their brother's fate to the door, struggled through the crowd, and called down fiercest curses on the murderer.

“Carry that home with ye, pig-hating unbeliever !” exclaimed Pierre Grognon, as, seizing a halberd from one of his men, he felled a

wretched Hebrew to the ground, one of the twenty who raved and howled, and shook their fists at the prisoner. “Is't so rare a sight to see a gentleman in trouble, that ye all make this devil's holiday? Pluck their beards from their dogs' chins, the unclean heretics !" cried the Captain of the band; and the Jews, awed by his voice, slunk back, and muttered their maledictions. “ A thousand pardons, noble Sir,” said Pierre to his prisoner, “ for the incivilities of the rabble. Poor things ! 'tis not every day they see a Count in our society. A few minutes, Šir, and we are at home." The crowd increased by the way, and ere De Loire had reached the place of justice, a vast multitude surrounded him, some of them asking his guilt, and some in reply heaping upon his head unnumbered crimes. At length the procession arrived at its destination.

“Look, man, look-how his Countship flusters and swells," said a man wrapt in a cloak and raised upon the topmost of a flight of steps, but a few paces from the hall of justice. “ Is't the flare of the torches on his cheek, or is it the natural colour of an assassin ? Look !"

“ I cannot see him," replied his companion, muffled like the first speaker. “Let us go."

“Not for the world !” and De la Jonquille—for it was the airy, philosophic, bitter-speaking Marquis-held fast his friend and his victim, Belleville : “not for the world. There is a brave sight to witness.”

“A brave sight!" echoed Belleville, faintly.

“Ay: the strugglings of innocence the fight of conscious truth against the deadly grasp, the silent, killing power of circumstance. Is't not a glorious combat ? Though, to speak truly, the odds are terrible. Ha! ha! ha!”

“Why-why do you laugh?” cried the Chevalier, and he shuddered as he spoke.

“Why? To think, my dear Belleville, what a pretty painting of the world in little—that is, of much of this great world—is now presented in the culprit there, in the crowd, and, my excellent friend, in yourself. There is helpless innocence, damned by appearance, hauled through the mire, beset by ribald laughter, scorn, and curses; and there it goes, with its pure heart, it may be, first to the wheel, and next to the gibbet, dying for the great example of all living rogues. So does circumstance judge and execute! And here are you, the true assassin—My dear fellow,” cried De la Jonquille a tone of remonstrance, feeling Belleville start at his side—“ my best and dearest friend, give not thus in to the common weakness that, as it becomes familiar with the thing, affects the greater abhorrence of the word. Leave such unworthy affectation to those elect of the earth, who by virtue of their offices are white, milk-white-wher), by the want of every other virtue, they are, to speak mincingly, a little clouded. Scorn such moral coxcombry, and let your ears be as dauntless as your hand. There-the Count has passed into the hall! and here stand you, the true assassin, with your nails yet warm with your victim's flesh

• Jonquille!" exclaimed Belleville in an imploring tone, wholly lost upon the Marquis, for he deliberately repeated the words.

“With your nails yet warm with your victim's flesh, muffled smugly up, gazing on the hapless wretch, condemned to suffer for your villanyI use, my worthy friend, the vulgar language of the vulgar world-con

demned to suffer for your villany; you dwelling and glittering among men, a fine, a joyous gentleman, a rare companion, a most conscientious knave. Is it not so, my noble Chevalier ?" asked De la Jonquille with his terrible smile.

“Why, and at such a time, dwell upon it?" cried Belleville, gloomily. “Come, let us hence."

Ay, you would go to supper. Faith! I'm hungry, too; yet, curiosity, my dear friend, is stronger than appetite : let us first witness the meeting of the Count de Loire and the Judge, and then, have with ye. Tut! 'tis a pity that poor rascal Narcisse will be cooped too."

“He must be saved. My friend—my dear De la Jonquille," cried Belleville with emotion—"he must be saved.”

“I have a younger brother at the bar, a most promising spirit-with a brow of brass, and a tongue of silver-he shall plead for him," said the Marquis in the tone of a man who has said sufficient.

“Plead for him! What pleading can rescue him from the evidence ? My counsellor and friend-think of some other means," said Belleville earnestly.

“Ha! I have it; fiat justitiahow runs the gibberish? Justice shall be done; and Narcisse, your poor simple boy, simple in his doglike honesty, may yet be saved. I see it.”

“My genius--my better star," cried Belleville; "tell me the means.

Willingly; attend.” And the Chevalier bent his earnest looks on the face of De la Jonquille, gazing upon him as a penitent gazes upon his confessor. “Thus it is, then-do you mark me. You would have Narcisse free; I cannot blame the weakness: he is the prince of valets - tracks a lady or a prodigal like a bloodhound; such virtues should neither expire on the scaffold, nor toil at the galleys. You may, and with a word, ay, this instant, save him."

“How-how ?” cried the impatient Chevalier.

“Was there ever such dulness?” cried De la Jonquille, drawing a little back, and, with affected wonder, staring at Belleville. not perceive the means ?”

“I am dull—I do not,” answered Belleville.

“ It seems, then, I must speak out. Do you not perceive, my excellent, yet all too simple Chevalier, that, as it was yourself who throttled the Jew, you have only to confess the indiscretion, and take my word for it, your valet, your faithful boy, is preserved.”

The blood suddenly burned in Belleville's face; he bit his lip, and, without a word, turned from his adviser.

“At all events,” continued De la Jonquille, who would not perceive the effect of his counsel, “ at all events, 'tis worth the trial. Nay, I am willing to risk my head-more, my honour on the glad result. You do not speak? I see it-you are thunderstruck that such simple, such ready means of preservation should not have entered your brain? It is strange; but there are certain thoughts which, though affecting our most vital interests, rarely originate with ourselves. We owe them too often to the teeming minds of our best friends, our worthiest acquaintance. What say you to my proposal ?"

“Let us first seek some other means," answered Belleville doggedly. “Right-- very right; and, all others failing, 'twill then be time

“ Can you

enough to tell the simple truth, and die yourself. I perceive that in some things you are more provident than I, your friend. Now, let us to the hearing :” and the Marquis made his way towards the hall.

“ No-no-I will wait for you at the hotel,” cried Belleville, and he sought to slip away, when De la Jonquille seized him by the arm, and, by his manner, rather than by his strength, forced the Chevalier into the hall of Justice.

“ Why this hurry?" asked the Marquis, as he jostled through the crowd; after the murderers have been fairly heard we'll hence to supper.” He had scarcely uttered the words when he found himself with Belleville in the presence of the accused.

Narcisse stood looking vacantly at the Judge, the guards, and all about him; but when he perceived the Count de Loire his face lighted up, and he smiled and nodded to him, as to an old associate. The Count, turning with unutterable loathing from the greeting of his fellow-prisoner, in an imperious tone demanded to be heard. Why had he been dragged-he, a nobleman-through the streets of Paris, like a felon ? With what was he charged ?

The murder of Aaron Ezra, a Jew, dwelling on the Quai des Orfèvres.” Such was the cold, measured reply of the Judge, to the passionate appeals of young De Loire ; and at the words Narcisse nodded, rubbed his hands, and evinced the deepest satisfaction at the answer. The Count was about to reply, when he was commanded to be silentto listen to the evidence which Pierre Grognon, the principal officer, was to adduce. Grognon briefly told his tale: he had that night received secret intelligence of the assassination.

“ Is it possible ?” was the involuntary exclamation of Belleville to the Marquis.

“Hush, my excellent friend," answered De la Jonquille," consider where you are.”

Grognon continued his statement. He and his men immediately sought the house of the goldsmith. As they halted at the door, the younger prisoner-he had not given his name“ Narcisse,” exclaimed the lacquey, with a low laugh. “ Narcisse.”

The younger prisoner rushed from the house, and was secured. On entering the dwelling, after some search, the Count was discovered in the same room with the murdered man.

“ What are you?”' asked the Judge of Narcisse.

“ Nothing,” answered the menial,“ or, it may be, please your Wor ship, less than that.”

“What took you to the house of the Jew ?”

“ But, that I would not tell your holiness a lady's secret,” answered Narcisse, gravely, “ I should say I was to marry the Mayor's daughter, and went to choose a wedding-ring. Alack! the tradesman was choked, and so, Sirs, could not serve me. Ha! ha! Had you all been as lucky as Narcisse when you went on such an errand, some of ye might have fewer wrinkles in your cheeks; perhaps, too, lighter foreheads. Who knows, my masters, eh ?”

“ This trick will not answer, fellow. Who do you serve?” interrogated the Judge. * Heaven,” answered Narcisse.

Come, sirrah, you have a master.”

his grasp;

“ I know it,” was the prisoner's answer ; and Belleville, muffled as he was, and hidden in the crowd, trembled, for he thought the searching eyes of Narcisse had found him.

“Let us fly,” exclaimed Belleville to the Marquis, and made a sudden movement to depart, but De la Jonquille grasped him as with a hand of iron, and held him to the spot.

“ Tut!” cried the Marquis, “ 'tis most interesting—you have no curiosity-none."

“ Does your master reside in Paris ?” asked the Judge, believing that he was gradually but surely bringing Narcisse to confession.

“In Paris," answered Narcisse, apparently becoming more rational. De la Jonquille,” whispered Belleville, in agony, and struggled in

“Hush! and listen," answered the smiling Marquis—“'tis worth the hearing."

“ Ay, I thought in Paris," said the Judge, humouring the prisoner. “ And how long ?” “Oh! long-long-long,” replied the accused, very volubly.

And what is his condition? But, doubtless, he sent you to the house of Aaron ?”

Narcisse shook his head. “ Faithful creature !” murmured Belleville in the ear of the Marquis.

“ 'Tis touching-delicious to find such humble virtue !” observed De la Jonquille.

“ He did not send you to the house of the goldsmith ? Perhaps, then,” continued the Judge, “ he---your master—was there himself? Eh ? Have we hit upon the truth ?"

“ For once," answered Narcisse; and a fearful exclamation from Belleville was, happily for him, lost in the sudden laughter of the audience.

“Silence !" growled the Judge, and knit his threatening brows. Then, with a smile upon his parchment cheek, he again addressed the prisoner. Your master, then, was at the house of old Aaron ? I thought so. Very good : poor lad! fear nothing, but tell the truth. And your master was there when the goldsmith was sacrificed ?”

Narcisse stared at the Judge, and replied contemptuously, “ To be sure-certainly."

“ The villain !" muttered Belleville," he will betray me!”

“ Alas! alas !” sighed De la Jonquille, “ there is no virtue under the moon."

“ Your master,” resumed the Judge," has been long in Paris—was at the house of the murdered man when he was killed ? This

you have confessed.” Narcisse bowed. “Now, complete the confession, and tell the court your master's name."

Belleville griped De la Jonquille's arm, and, lowering his head, awaited in paralyzing terror the reply that was to denounce him. Narcisse paused. Again the Judge put the question.

" What is this master's name?”

“Death !" replied Narcisse, his eye twinkling that he had trapped the Judge.

“ Excellent Narcisse !” cried Belleville, relieved of a world of apprehension.

« PreviousContinue »