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hands in his pockets and his heart on his sleeve, who, as he craned his neck to watch her pass with her escort, gave a low whistle, and said “Bon! Our little affair is about to be decided. Let us see what M. le Juge will make of our obstinate little friend.”
And Simon Lefranc was seen no more that day in the Hall of the Lost Footsteps.
The gendarmes and their charge passed through a little swing door covered with baize, descended a wide and somewhat handsome staircase, and entered a long, lofty, vaulted corridor, into which opened many doors, each bearing a name inscribed upon its centre panel; each door had beside a number. These were the cabinets of MM. les Juges d'Instruction ; and into cabinet No. 5 Florence Armytage was ushered, the huissier preceding her, but the gendarmes remaining outside.
The door was immediately locked behind her, a chair was pointed out to her, and she was bidden to sit down. After the gloomy sternness of the cell she had just left, after the cold and naked want and misery in which she had passed the days of her captivity,—she who had passed her wicked life in tremor and anxiety certainly, but still in silken luxury and wanton plenty and soft repose,—it was a relief to Florence to find herself in an apartment which offered no signs of being in contiguity to the sternest and most repellent of French prisons. Cabinet No. 5 was an apartment of considerable size, comfortably, and even handsomely furnished, thickly carpeted, with heavy curtains to the windows, a number of easy-chairs about, and with a handsome clock ticking on the marble mantle-piece beneath the insignia of the Republic one and indivisible. There were two large book-cases, and in the centre of the room was a huge official table covered with leather, and strewn with filed and docketed papers. Before it was a vacant arm-chair; and directly in a line with this, facing the table, Florence Armytage and her chair were planted by the silent and dexterous huissier.
The clock on the mantle-piece had marked the passage of ten minutes, when a side door, not the one by which Florence had entered, opened, and there entered smirking and smiling, and clad in the invariable black with a white neckcloth, but with the ribbon of the Legion of Honour at his button-hole, a charming gentleman of middle age, a bald head and a blue eye, a fair whisker and a rosy cheek, and a gleaming set of teeth, and a white soft hand decorated with a snowy wristband, and a diamondbrooch in his frill, and a signet-ring on his right fore-finger, and a heavy chain and seals, and polished boots, and a large yellow China silk pockethandkerchief, of which he made frequent and sounding use. This was the Juge d'Instruction. He looked much less like a judge attached to a court of criminal judicature than like a prosperous linen-draper's assistant, or an English ladies' physician, or a fashionable undertakersay Plumer Ravenbury, for instance—who did not wish to look too pro fessional, but liked to combine the mortuary with the mundane. Yet M. Plon was the Juge d Instruction all over, the sharp astute criminal inquisitor, who had had to do with many scores of assassins, robbers, and vagabonds, male and female, in his time, and who, though shorn of his quondam powers of rack and thumbscrew, was in spirit the lineal descendant of those old councillors of the Parliament, in the ancien régime, who, when they went home at night, used to be asked by their pretty wives whether they had applied the torture to any one that day. And M. Plon, making a side-long bow as he entered, to Justice in general, and the prisoner in particular, seated himself in his great arm-chair, first threw himself back in a critical manner, and, shading his blue eyes with one of the white hands, looked long and keenly at Florence. Then he leant forward on his table, folded his white hands about six inches in advance, so that his signetring might be displayed to the best advantage, flashed his white teeth on the captive widow, and took another keen glance at her with the blue eyes. This was what M. Plon called “ fixing his subject.”
He fixed her so well that she flinched under his gaze, as birds are said to do beneath the fascination of the basilisk. There was nothing terrifying either in M. Plon or in his speech. He was simply fascinating, and murdered while he fascinated.
“And your state of health, madame?” he asked, with polite suddenness. “I am as well as I can expect to be,” Florence answered.
“ You have been subject to some severities. Justice regrets them; but you have left us no other alternative. Even as it is, you have been treated with certain égards and certain ménagements which, to one in your position, might justifiably have been with held.”
"I know that I have been stripped and searched over and over again, and treated with the most revolting indignity by two horrible old women. I know that I have been thrust into a strait-waistcoat, as though I were a raving maniac. I know that I have been half-starved, and debarred, not only from writing to my friends and to my professional advisers, but from even reading a book.”
“The exigencies of the case, my dear madame,-only consider the exigencies of the case. The provocation,-you must bear the provocation in mind. We acted towards you with the tenderest solicitude until we we were compelled, through your contumacy, to have recourse to harsh measures. Your arrest in England was surrounded by elements of the most chivalrous courtesy”—M. le Juge was speaking in French—“on the part of the agents of authority. Only judge of what a scandal, what an exposure, what an esclandre, from your capture in so public a place in a public manner !"
“Yes,” Florence said, “I was captured, that is to say, kidnapped, in the most private manner. I was brought over here like a bale of contraband goods. I have been smuggled from prison to prison, and tormented in every imaginable way. Are these your notions of Law and Justice, M. le Juge?"
“My dear madame, we manage these things differently on this side of the water. You have probably heard that sentiment before. All that
has been done could be justified to you by rule and precedent, if justification were needed; but it is not. We have here, my dear madame, within the walls of the Palais de Justice, and the adjacent Conciergerie, what is called le pouvoir matériel, the material power; and, within the limits of reason, we act as we please, and how we please. However, I am not about to bandy words with you. I have one or two little questions to ask you, and we will at once proceed to business.”
He unclasped the white hands, and taking a little silver bell which stood on the table beside him, softly tinkled it. In a minute or two a huissier—not Florence's huissier, he had been motionless all this while behind her chair-made his appearance at the side door.
“Beg M. le Greffier to step hither.”
The huissier retired, and almost immediately afterwards the snakelike personage in the rusty black and the dingy white, who had accompanied the first inquisitor to Florence's dungeon, made his appearance.
“Will you be good enough, monsieur, to take a seat and transcribe while I proceed with the examination of this lady ?”
“I cannot bear it! I cannot bear it !" cried Florence, covering her face with her hands. “Do any thing to me; but spare me the infliction of that frightful ordeal. Send these men away, and I will answer any questions you like to put to me."
“M. le Greffier,” said M. Plon, his white teeth blandly beaming, “will you have the goodness to retire? Huissiers," he added, “you may withdraw. If there be any further necessity for your services, I will ring."
When they were left alone, the Juge d'Instruction once more threw himself back in his great arm-chair, and took a survey of his prisoner in the critical manner, shading his blue eyes with his hand meanwhile. Then he bent forward, clasped his hands before him, and said, as blandly as ever :
“Now, madame, do you know any thing of the original of the portrait contained in this locket ?”
And, so saying, he held aloft a little golden locket attached to a slender chain. It was open, and framed within it was the portrait of a fair young man, clad in English military uniform, and with very full auburn moustaches.
LET the weary world go round;
What care I?
I would die.
Under waving grasses,
Why—why remain ? Graves are the sheltering wimples
Against Life's rain ; Graves are the sovereign simples
Against Life's pain; Graves are a mother's dimples,
When we complain.
O Death! beautiful Death !
Why do they thee disfigure?
Hath nor alarm nor rigour.
Others have gone before :
I hunger more and more
Boy, boy ! be thou content !
Accept thy banishment !
Yet for a little while
Bear with this harsh exile,
Shot in the Back.
To Mr. Godfrey, Rector of Harston, Devonshire. When you came to me yesterday, sir, to tell me that the doctor says I have got my route, you were sure that I had something on my mind, and urged me to confess to you what it was. I would not do so at the time, but have thought the matter over, as I promised, and have come to the conclusion that you are one of the right sort, without any nasal twang or humbug about you, and that you would not have said what you did out of curiosity, far less for the purpose of betraying a poor fellow, but because you know that I shall die easier if I make a clean breast of it. You need not have been so cautious about giving me your message, though. Every bullet has its billet; and a man does not lie down to sleep, sit down to eat, day after day, week after week, with death hurtling and whistling about him without a moment's pause, as I have done, without getting familiarised with it; besides, when I got my pension, I heard one surgeon say to the other, “He will not draw it long, poor fellow !” And, indeed, any one might guess that a bullet through the lungs would not improve the constitution. Still, I had sooner die in my bed than or the gallows; and so I have kept my secret to myself hitherto. However, as the end is so near, and since you, sir, urge it so much, I will trust to your honour not to mention a word of the matter until I am beyond the reach of human justice, and will write down an account of what I have done. I prefer this to telling it you, because, if you are to have any part of the story, I wish you to know the whole, else you would not be able te judge me fairly; and this murdering cough stops me if I try to talk for five minutes together.
Well, then, I have killed a man,-murdered him, I suppose you will say; and since you have sat and talked with me so often during the last year and a half that I have been in this pretty village, I begin to think that is the right name to give the business, though before that I always flattered myself that I was not without justification. But the story is the story of my life.
My real name I will not mention, as I have relations in a better class of life than myself, who would be ashamed of me; however, the name of Thomas Brown, which I enlisted under twenty years ago, and bave borne ever since, is not mine. My father was a Suffolk farmer, as his father and grandfather and great-grandfather had been before him for I don't know how long, generation after generation, renting the same acres, and living in the same old house, with its flat roof, walls a yard and a half thick, and moat surrounding it, and its little flower-garden. Branches of the family had at different times gone out into the world, some of whom rose high in the various professions,— Parliament, and so forth; but there was always one member a tenant of that same farm, till at last, as I said, it came to