Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

he was indebted for the precious microscope. He felt himself all at once overpowered with gratitude ; and strangely mingling the ideal of his dream with the figure he had once or twice seen at the window, he remembered that the latter had no flower in her hair. Not without some self-reproach, not without a trembling hesitation, did he gather one of the flowers from Picciola. *Formerly,' murmured he, ' I lavished gold and jewels on worthless women and false friends, without a feeling of regret ; but oh, if a gift be valued in proportion as the giver prizes it, never, I swear, have I bestowed anything so precious as the flower which I borrow from thee, Picciola!' Placing it in Ludovic's hand, he continued;

Give this from me to the old man's daughter. Tell her that I thank her from my heart for the interest she takes in me, and that the poor and imprisoned Count de Charney possesses nothing of more value to offer for her acceptance.'

Ludovic took the flower with an air of stupefaction ; for he had been so accustomed to consider the prisoner's love for his plant as all-engrossing, that he could not understand how Mademoiselle Teresa's slight service had deserved what he knew was the most munificent return. “Well,' said he, after a moment, 'they can now judge from the specimen what a sweet thing my goddaughter is !!

Charney pursued his examinations, and every day some new wonders were developed. Picciola was in the height of her beauty; not less than thirty flowers graced her stem, and numerous buds had still to open, when, one morning approaching her with the joy of a lover, and yet with the gravity of a man about seriously to study, he started on perceiving that his beloved Picciola was beginning to droop. He supplied water to the plant with his most tender care ; still she drooped the next day also. Something was wrong. On examining minutely into the cause of the illness, he learned, what he ought to have already looked for, that the stem, pressed between the edges of the two stones through which it had struggled into existence, was too slender to maintain the circulation in the plant. The stem must be set free from this tightening pressure, or death will be the consequence. Charney saw all this, and knew but one means to save the companion of his imprisonment. Alas! how could he save her? The stones must be broken or removed, and dare he hope that this indulgence would be granted ? He waited impatiently for the next appearance of Ludovic, and communicated to him the disaster, with a humble request that he would furnish him with tools to release the plant from its bondage.

'Impossible,' answered the jailer; 'you must apply to the superintendent.

Never,' cried Charney impetuously.
As you like ; but I think this pride is somewhat out of place.
I shall speak to him about it, I tell you.'

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"I forbid you,' replied the count.

You forbid 'me-how amusing! Do you suppose I am to be ordered by you? But never mind ; let her die if you like ; it is nothing to me. Good-morning'

Stay,' returned the count, 'would the superintendent understand this favour—the only one I will ever ask?'

• Understand! Why not? Isn't he a man? Cannot he understand, like me, that you love your plant? Besides, I'll tell him that it's good for fever-for all sorts of sickness; and he's not strong; he suffers terribly from rheumatism. Well, well, you 're a scholar; now prove it; write him a letter, not too long-pretty phrases.'

Charney still hesitated, but Ludovic made a sign of Picciola dying. The other gave a faint token of assent, and Ludovic went away.

In a few minutes afterwards, an official, half-civil half-military, appeared with pen and ink, and a single sheet of paper bearing the superintendent's stamp. He remained present while Charney wrote his request; then reading it, he sealed and took the letter away.

Reader, do 'you rejoice at the changed heart, or do you despise our noble count for thus conquering his pride to save a drooping flower? If the latter, you understand not the crushing influence of captivity on the haughtiest spirit; you imagine not the one strong love of a desolate heart, which perhaps saved the mind from madness or idiocy. The weakness of which you accuse him, was the very necessity of his mind, impelled by love and gratitude. Would that such holy springs were always near to bend the proud spirit !

Three hours dragged slowly away, and no answer came to the petition. Charney's agitation and anxiety were extreme. He could not eat. He tried to persuade himself that a favourable answer must arrive; that it would be impossible to refuse so simple a request. Yet, alas! concession might be too late ; Picciola was dying! Evening came, and no relief to his anxiety; night, and Charney could not close his eyes.

The next morning brought the brief answer, that 'the pavement of a prison-yard was one of its walls, and must be inviolable !

And so Picciola must die? Her odours no longer proclaim the hour truly; she is like a watch whose springs are disordered; she cannot entirely turn to the sun, but droops her flowers, as a young girl would close her dying eyes, rather than meet the gaze of the

ver sh parts from with anguish ! And Charney is in his chamber writing with care and diligence on one of his finest handkerchiefs!

His task completed, the handkerchief was carefully folded; then returning to the courtyard, and passing Picciola with the murmured

!! OF ILL. LIR

19

[ocr errors]

exclamation, 'I will save thee!' he attached the little packet to a cord which he found suspended from Girhardi's window.

In an instant it was drawn up.

Yes! Charney had humbled his pride yet more : to save Picciola he had addressed a petition to Napoleon! And Teresa Girhardi, the voluntary denizen of a prison, had undertaken to be the bearer, although Charney knew not at the time who was the messenger her father had promised to find. Few were her preparations, for every minute was precious; and, mounted on horseback, accompanied by a guide, in less than an hour she had left the walls of Fenestrelle. It was evening when they arrived at Turin ; but, alas ! the first news which greeted her was, that the emperor had set out for Alessandria. His visit had made a fête-day, and the people were too busy and elated to answer her anxious questions very readily ; yet her resolution was instantly taken to follow at all hazards. Here, however, the guide learning that the distance to Alessandria was at least equal to double that which they had already traversed, refused to accompany her a step further; and leaving her, as he said, to a night's repose at a little inn, he coolly bade her goodevening, as he should set out on his return the first thing in the morning Although, for a moment, almost paralysed with the sense of her desolation, the noble-hearted Teresa faltered not in her resolution. She could hear of no conveyance till the morrow, but it was torture to think of losing the night in inactivity.

Seated in the chimney-corner enjoying their supper were a couple, man and wife, who were evidently travelling with merchandise. It is true Teresa had just heard the order given to feed their mules, which were sent to the stable; it is true she heard their expressions of delight at being housed after their journey; yet on their assistance she built all her hopes.

“Pardon my question,' said she in a trembling voice to the woman; 'but what road do you take when you leave Turin ?'

"The road to Alessandria, my dear!'
'To Alessandria! It is my good angel which has led you hither.'

'Your good angel, then,' replied the woman, ‘has led us through a very bad road.'

'What is it you mean?' said the man, addressing Teresa.
"Most urgent business calls me to Alessandria. Will you take
'It is impossible,' said the woman.

'I will pay you well,' continued Teresa ; 'I will give you ten francs.'

'I don't know how we can do it,' replied the man ; 'the seat is so narrow, it will hardly hold three; though you are not very large, to be sure. But we are only going to Revigano, which is but half way to Alessandria.'

"Well, well, take me so far; but we must set out this instant.'

me?'

“This instant! What an idea : we cannot start till the morning.' 'I will pay you double the sum.' The husband looked at his wife, but she shook her head, exclaiming, “The poor beasts; it would kill them!'

‘But the twenty francs,' murmured he.

And the thought of twenty francs had so much weight, that before the clock struck eleven, Teresa found herself in the cart seated between the worthy pair.

In her impatience, winged horses would scarcely have contented her ; but the slow pace of the mules, with their bells jingling in measured time at every step, seemed insupportable. My good man, make them go a little faster,' said she.

My dear child,' replied he, 'I do not like spending the night in counting the stars any more than you ; but I am carrying earthenware to Revigano, and if the mules trot, they will break it all to pieces.'

' Earthenware ! oh!' groaned Teresa, while the tears streamed down her cheeks ; 'but at least you can make them go a little quicker?'

‘Not much.'

And so was performed the half of her journey. The seller of earthenware put her down on the roadside at the break of day, wishing her safe at her journey's end.

Tell me, sir,' said Teresa to the first person she met, “how I can procure a conveyance to Alessandria ?'

'I do not think you will find one,' replied the stranger; "the emperor reviews the troops at Marengo to-day, and every carriage, every place, has been engaged these three days.

To another she put the same question. You love the French, do you? that accursed race !' was the answer he gave between his set teeth.

At last she got a ride for a mile or two, till one whose place had been engaged was taken up. And so, by degrees, she found herself on foot among the crowd of sight-seekers who thronged to Marengo.

A magnificent throne, surrounded with tricoloured fags, had been erected on a hill which overlooked almost the spot where, five years before, the battle of Marengo had been fought; and here the conqueror had determined to review his victorious troops. The aides-de-camp, covered with their glittering orders, passed rapidly to and fro; the trumpet and the drum sounded; banners floated in the breeze, and the plumes in the helmets waved. Napoleon was at the head of his guards; Josephine, surrounded by her ladies, was seated on the throne, with an officer by her side, deputed to explain to her the military evolutions. Interested as the empress was, she yet observed some slight disturbance near her; and on inquiring the cause, was told that a young woman, at the risk of being trampled down by the horses, had, under cover of the smoke, made

[ocr errors]

her way across the line, and was earnestly beseeching permission' to
present a petition to her majesty.

What was the result of the interview will by and by be seen.

Over the dreary prison of Fénestrelle a yet darker cloud seemed to hover. Charney counted the minutes, and, unconscious who the messenger really was, sometimes blamed his tardiness, sometimes his own folly in daring to hope. The fourth day arrived ; Picciola was at the point of death ; and Girhardi came no more to the window, though from his room could be heard mingled prayers and sobs. The proud Charney hung despairingly over his plant. For her he had humbled himself to the dust, and yet was he to lose the charm of his life, the sole object of his love! Ludovic crossed the courtyard. Since the prisoner's affliction, the jailer had resumed his harsh deportment; for, as he dared not act, he would not speak kindly.

‘Ludovic, what have I done to you?' exclaimed Charney in his wretchedness.

'Done! nothing at all,' replied the other.

"Well, then,' continued the count, seizing his hand, save her now. Yes, the superintendent has no need to know it. Bring me some earth in a box-but for a moment will the stones be removed. We will transplant her.'

"Don't touch me,' replied Ludovic roughly, drawing away his hand. Deuce take your flower, she has worked nothing but mischief. To begin with yourself, you're going to fall ill again, I know. You had better boil her down into drink, and have done with her.'

Charney looked unutterable indignation.

However,' pursued Ludovic, “if it only affected yourself, it would
be but your own affair ; but the poor fly-catcher, he'll never see his
daughter again, that is certain.'

'His daughter!' exclaimed Charney in astonishment.
“Yes, his daughter. You may whip the horses, but who can tell
where the carriage will roll? You may fling a dagger, but who can
tell whom it shall wound? They've found out that you have written
to the emperor-through the guide, I suppose.

'His daughter,' repeated Charney, deaf to all else.
"Why, did you suppose your message would go by telegraph ?'
Charney buried his face in his hands.

'Well, they've found it out,' repeated the jailer; "and it is a good
thing I had no suspicion. But she is not to be admitted to see
her father again : they told him so yesterday. But your dinner is
getting cold.

The count threw himself on his bench. For a moment he thought of at once destroying Picciola, instead of watching her lingering death ; but his heart failed him; and he dwelt on the generous girl who had devoted herself to his cause, and whose punishment, and

1

1

« ForrigeFortsæt »