Schneider's carriage speedily rolled into the court-yard, and Schneider's Cart followed, as a matter of course. The ex-priest only entered the house; his companion remaining with the horses to dine in private. Here was a most touching meeting between him and Jacob. They talked over their old college pranks and successes; they capped Greek verses, and quoted ancient epigrams upon their tutors, who had been dead since the Seven Years' War. Mary declared it was quite touching to listen to the merry friendly talk of these two old gentlemen.
After the conversation had continued for a time in this strain, Schneider drew up all of a sudden, and said quietly, that he had come on particular and unpleasant business--hinting about troublesome times, spies, evil reports, and so forth. Then he called uncle Edward aside, and had with him a long and earnest conversation: so Jacob went out and talked with Schneider's FRIEND; they speedily became very intimate, for the ruffian detailed all the circumstances of his interview with me. When he returned into the house, some time after this pleasing colloquy, he found the tone of the society strangely altered. Edward Ancel, pale as a sheet, trembling, and crying for mercy; poor Mary weeping; and Schneider pacing energetically about the apartment, raging about the rights of man, the punishment of traitors, and the one and indivisible republic.
'Jacob,' he said, as my uncle entered the room, 'I was willing, for the sake of our old friendship, to forget the crimes of your brother. He is a known and dangerous aristocrat; he holds communications with the enemy on the frontier; he is a possessor of great and ill-gotten wealth, of which he has plundered the Republic. Do you know,' said he, turning to Edward Ancel, 'where the least of these crimes, or the mere suspicion of them, would lead you?'
Poor Edward sat trembling in his chair, and answered not a word. He knew full well how quickly, in this dreadful time, punishment followed suspicion; and, though guiltless of all treason with the enemy, perhaps he was aware that, in certain contracts with the Government, he had taken to himself a more than patriotic share of profit.
'Do you know,' resumed Schneider, in a voice of thunder, 'for what purpose I came hither, and by whom I am accompanied? I am the administrator of the justice of the Republic. The life of yourself and your family is in my hands: yonder man, who follows me, is the executor of the law; he has rid the nation of hundreds of wretches like yourself. A single word from me, and your doom is sealed without hope, and your last hour is come. Ho! Gregoire!' shouted he; 'is all ready?'
Gregoire replied from the court, 'I can put up the machine in half an hour. Shall I go down to the village and call the troops and the law people?'
'Do you hear him?' said Schneider. 'The guillotine is in the court-yard; your name is on my list, and I have witnesses to prove your crime. Have you a word in your defence?'
Not a word came; the old gentleman was dumb; but his daughter, who did not give way to his terror, spoke for him.
'You cannot, sir,' said she, 'although you say it, FEEL that my father is guilty; you would not have entered our house thus alone if you had thought it. You threaten him in this manner because you have something to ask and to gain from us: what is it, citizen? -- tell us how much you value our lives, and what sum we are to pay for our ransom?'
'Sum!' said uncle Jacob; 'he does not want money of us: my old friend, my college chum, does not come hither to drive bargains with anybody belonging to Jacob Ancel?'
'Oh, no, sir, no, you can't want money of us,' shrieked Edward; 'we are the poorest people of the village: ruined, Monsieur Schneider, ruined in the cause of the Republic.'
'Silence, father,' said my brave Mary; 'this man wants a PRICE: he comes, with his worthy friend yonder, to frighten us, not to kill us. If we die, he cannot touch a sou of our money; it is confiscated to the State. Tell us, sir, what is the price of our safety?'
Schneider smiled, and bowed with perfect politeness.