Billeder på siden

that of her good father, would be so heavy. 'Oh,' he exclaimed, “if they would but open again to thee these prison gates, how willingly would I purchase the favour by sacrificing the half of my life! Blessings on you, ye noble pair !'

In less than half an hour two officers presented themselves in the courtyard, accompanied by the superintendent of the prison, who requested Charney to return with them to his chamber. "The superintendent was a bald-headed man, with thick gray moustaches. A scar, which divided his left eyebrow, and descended to his lip, did not greatly improve his countenance; but in his own estimation he was a person of great consequence, and on the present occasion he assumed more than an ordinary degree of dignity and severity. He began the conversation by requesting to know if Charney had any complaint to make with regard to his treatment in the fortress of Fénestrelle. The prisoner replied in the negative. “You know, sir,' continued the great man, that in your illness every attention was paid to you. If you did not choose to follow the doctor's advice, it was not his fault, nor mine ; and since then, I have accorded you the unusual favour of walking when you pleased in the courtyard.

Charney bowed and thanked him.

However,' said the superintendent, with the air of a man whose feelings had been wounded, “you have infringed the rules of the fortress; you have injured me in the opinion of the governor of Piedmont, who doubts my vigilance, since you have succeeded in sending a petition to the emperor.'

• He has received it, then?' interrupted Charney.
. Yes, sir.'
“What says he?' and the prisoner trembled with hope.

'What says he! Why, that for thus transgressing orders, you are to be conveyed to a room in the old bastion, which you are not to quit for a month.'

But the emperor, exclaimed Charney, striving to wrestle with the cruel reality which thus dispelled his hopes—what says his majesty?'

* Thé emperor does not concern himself with such trifles,' replied the superintendent, seating himself as he spoke in the only chair. ‘But this is not all; your means of communication discovered, it is natural to suppose your correspondence has extended further. Have you written to any one besides his majesty ?'

Charney deigned not to answer.

“This visit has been ordered,' continued the superintendent ; “but before my officers commence their examinations, have you any confession to make? It may be to your advantage afterwards.'

The prisoner was still silent. ‘Do your duty, gentlemen.' The officers first looked up the chimney, and then proceeded to

rip open the mattress of the bed; then they examined the person of the count, and the lining of his clothes, while the superintendent walked up and down the room, striking every plank with his cane, to discover, if he could, a receptacle for important documents, or the means of escape. But nothing could they find except a little bottle containing a dark liquid ; this was, of course, the prisoner's ink. There remained the dressing-case to be examined, and when they asked for the key, he dropped rather than gave it. The rage of the superintendent had now conquered all his politeness; and when, after opening the dressing-case, the officers exclaimed : 'We have got them, we have got them,' his delight was evident. From the false bottom they drew the cambric handkerchiefs, closely written over ; and of course they were considered as the most important proofs of a conspiracy. When Charney beheld his precious archives thus profaned, he rose from the chair into which he had sunk, and extended his arm to seize them ; but though his mouth was open, words he had none. These signs of emotion only convinced the superintendent of the importance of their prize, and by his orders the handkerchiefs, bottle, and toothpick were packed up. A report of their proceedings was drawn out, and Charney was requested to sign it: by a gesture he refused, and his refusal was added to the list of his transgressions. Only a lover who is losing the portrait and letters of an adored mistress whom he has lost for ever, can understand Charney's deep anguish. To save Picciola he had compromised his pride ; almost his honour; he had broken the heart of an old man, and blighted the existence of his daughter ; and that which alone could reconcile him to life is ruthlessly snatched away with all its fond memorials.

Yet deeper agony was reserved for him. In following the superintendent and his satellites across the courtyard, on their way to the old bastion, they approached the dying Picciola ; and the ire of the great man, already at fever-heat from Charney's contemptuous silence, was yet increased by the sight of the props and defence placed round the plant.

What is all this ?' said he to Ludovic, who came at his call. 'Is this the way you watch your prisoners?'

'That, captain,' replied the jailer with hesitation, drawing his pipe from his mouth with one hand, while with the other he made a military salutation—that is the plant I told you of, which is good for gout and other illness.'

Don't talk such trash to me,' returned the superintendent; “if these gentlemen had their will, I suppose they would turn the fortress into a garden or menagerie. But come, tear it up, and sweep all this away?

Ludovic looked at the plant, at Charney, and then at the captain, and murmured some words of excuse.

‘Hold your tongue, and do as I order you,' thundered the captain.

Ludovic took off his coat, his cap, and rubbed his hands, as if thus to gain courage. Then he took away the matting, and made himself very busy in tearing it up and scattering it about the yard. One by one he plucked up the sticks and palings which supported the stem, and broke them singly across his knee. A stranger would have thought that his love for Picciola was changed to hatred, and that thus he was executing vengeance.

Meanwhile Charney stood motionless, gazing at Picciola as if to protect her with his eyes. The day had been cool, and the plant was refreshed; it seemed as if she had gained strength but to die the harder. And what now should fill the void in the prisoner's heart? what now should chase the evil spirits that had possessed him? who now should teach him holy lessons of wisdom, and instruct him to look up 'through nature to nature's God?' Must his sweet day-dreams never return? must he live his old life of apathy and disbelief? No, death at once would be preferable. At that moment the old man approached the window, and Charney almost expected that, maddened at being deprived of his daughter, he came to triumph at the misery of him who had been the cause. But when he looked up, and their eyes met ; when he beheld the trembling hands of Girhardi stretched through the bars of his prison, as if imploring mercy for the plant, Charney's heart smote him bitterly for his evil thought, and, rising at the wand of sympathy, a tear rolled down his cheek—the first he had shed since childhood!

"Take away this bench,' cried the superintendent to the loitering Ludovic; and slowly as he worked, its supports were at last removed. Nothing now remained but Picciola in the midst of the ruins.

• Why kill it? it is dying,' exclaimed Ludovic, once more risking the captain's anger by his supplication.

The great man only answered by a smile of irony.

'Let me do it,' cried Charney passionately, on whose brow large drops of agony had gathered.

• I forbid it;' and the captain stretched his cane between Count Charney and the jailer.

At that moment two strangers entered the courtyard. At the noise of their footsteps, Ludovic turned his head and relinquished his hold of Picciola. . Charney and he shewed emotions of surprise. The strangers were an aid-de-camp of General Menon and a page of the empress! The former presented a letter from the governor of Turin to the superintendent, who, as he read, testified every sign of astonishment. After a third perusal of the paper, and with a suddenly assumed air of courteousness, he approached Charney, and placed it in his hands. With a trembling voice the prisoner read as follows :

His majesty, the emperor-king, commands me to make known his consent to the petition of Monsieur Charney relative to the

plant which grows in the courtyard of Fénestrelle. The stones which incommode it are to be removed. You will be pleased to see that this order is executed, and will communicate with the prisoner on the subject.

Long live the emperor!' cried Ludovic.

'Long live the emperor !' murmured another voice, which seemed to come from the wall.

“There is a postscript from the empress,' whispered the page; and Charney read on the margin :

'I recommend Monsieur de Charney especially to your kind offices. I shall be obliged by your doing all you can to render the position of the prisoner as little painful as possible.

JOSEPHINE Long live the empress !' shouted Ludovic.

Charney kissed the signature, and remained some moments gazing on the paper mute and motionless.

Although Charney was permitted to retain his accustomed chamber, and the superintendent was even so far calmed as to send very often his complimentary inquiries after Picciola, he still thought himself justified in transmitting the handkerchiefs he had seized to the nearest authorities; who, however, not being able, as they said, 'to obtain the key of the correspondence,' despatched them to the minister of police at Paris, to be by him examined and deciphered. Charney, meanwhile, was supplied with writing materials, and resumed his studies with avidity. But, alas! Girhardi was no longer to be seen at the window ; for the superintendent, not daring to act harshly by Charney, had vented his spite on Girhardi for the share he had taken in the transaction, by removing him to a distant part of the fortress. Charney would really have been happy could he have forgotten that this tried friend was suffering for him.

Events, however, were hurrying on. Charney ventured to solicit the favour of a work on botany; and the next day came a package of books on the subject, with a note from the governor, observing that, “as her majesty was a great botanist, she would probably be pleased to learn the name of the flower in which she was so greatly interested.

And must I study all these,' exclaimed Charney with a smile, 'to compel my flower to tell me her name?'

But with what exquisite sensations did he once more turn the leaves of a book, and gaze on printed characters? Nevertheless, the authors differed so greatly in their systems of classification, that after a week's laborious research, he gave up his task in despair. Nor was this the worst ; for, in questioning the very last flower that Picciola bore, examining it petal by petal, it fell to pieces in his hand, thus destroying his hope of preserving the seed.

'Her name is Picciola !' exclaimed Charney in grief and anger; and she shall have no other—Picciola, the prisoner's friend, companion, and teacher.' As he spoke, there fell from one of the books a slip of paper, which contained these words : 'Hope, and tell your neighbour to hope, for God does not forget you.'

The writing was that of a woman, and Charney could not doubt it was placed there by Teresa. “Tell your neighbour to hope.' * Poor girl!' thought he, she dare not name her father, and is unconscious that we no longer meet.'

The very next morning Ludovic entered his chamber with a countenance radiant with joy, and informed him that the apartment next to his was to be occupied by Girhardi, and that they were to share the courtyard between them! And the next moment his friend stood before him. For an instant they looked at each other, as if doubting the reality of their meeting, till Charney exclaimed: “Who has done this?'

‘My daughter, undoubtedly,' replied the old man ; 'every happiness I derive through her.'

Charney again pressed Girhardi's hand, and drawing forth the slip of paper, presented it to him.

It is hers, it is hers; and behold the hope is realised !'

Charney involuntarily stretched forth his hand to recover the paper ; but he saw that the old man trembled with emotion, that he read it letter by letter, and covered it with kisses. He felt that, precious as it was, it no longer belonged to himself. Our egotist was learning gratitude and generosity !

Their first thoughts, their first discourse, were of Teresa; but they were lost in conjecture as to where she could be, and how she had obtained such influence. After a while, the old man looked up, and read the sentences which the philosopher had inscribed on his wall. Two of them had already been modified ; a third ran thus :

Men exist on the earth near to each other, but without a connecting-link. For the body, this world is a crowded arena, where one is battled with and bruised on all sides ; but for the heart it is a desert!'

Girhardi added : 'If one is without a friend !'

The captives were indeed friends, and they had no secrets from each other. Girhardi confessed his early errors, which had been the opposite extreme to those of his companion. Yes, the benevolent old man had once been the morose superstitious bigot; but this is not the place for his story; nor may we repeat those holy conferences which completed the change Picciola had begun. But she was still the book, Charney the pupil, and Girhardi the teacher.

My friend,' said Charney to the old man, as they were seated on the bench together, 'you who have made insects your study, tell me, do they present as many wonders to your view as I have found in Picciola?

« ForrigeFortsæt »