'I must make, however, some conditions regarding our proposed marriage, which a gentleman of Monsieur Schneider's gallantry cannot refuse.'
'Pray command me,' replied the husband elect. 'Fair lady, you know I am your slave.'
'You occupy a distinguished political rank, citizen representative,' said she; 'and we in our village are likewise known and beloved. I should be ashamed, I confess, to wed you here; for our people would wonder at the sudden marriage, and imply that it was only by compulsion that I gave you my hand. Let us, then, perform this ceremony at Strasburg, before the public authorities of the city, with the state and solemnity which befits the marriage of one of the chief men of the Republic.'
'Be it so, madam,' he answered, and gallantly proceeded to embrace his bride.
Mary did not shrink from this ruffian's kiss; nor did she reply when poor old Jacob, who sat sobbing in a corner, burst out, and said,--
'O Mary, Mary, I did not think this of thee!'
'Silence, brother!' hastily said Edward; 'my good son-in-law will pardon your ill-humor.'
I believe uncle Edward in his heart was pleased at the notion of the marriage; he only cared for money and rank, and was little scrupulous as to the means of obtaining them.
The matter then was finally arranged; and presently, after Schneider had transacted the affairs which brought him into that part of the country, the happy bridal party set forward for Strasburg. Uncles Jacob and Edward occupied the back seat of the old family carriage, and the young bride and bridegroom (he was nearly Jacob's age) were seated majestically in front. Mary has often since talked to me of this dreadful journey. She said she wondered at the scrupulous politeness of Schneider during the route; nay, that at another period she could have listened to and admired the singular talent of this man, his great learning, his fancy, and wit; but her mind was bent upon other things, and the poor girl firmly thought that her last day was come.
In the meantime, by a blessed chance, I had not ridden three leagues from Strasburg, when the officer of a passing troop of a cavalry regiment, looking at the beast on which I was mounted, was pleased to take a fancy to it, and ordered me, in an authoritative tone, to descend, and to give up my steed for the benefit of the Republic. I represented to him, in vain, that I was a soldier, like himself, and the bearer of despatches to Paris. 'Fool!' he said; 'do you think they would send despatches by a man who can ride at best but ten leagues a day?' And the honest soldier was so wroth at my supposed duplicity, that he not only confiscated my horse, but my saddle, and the little portmanteau which contained the chief part of my worldly goods and treasure. I had nothing for it but to dismount, and take my way on foot back again to Strasburg. I arrived there in the evening, determining the next morning to make my case known to the citizen St. Just; and though I made my entry without a sou, I don't know what secret exultation I felt at again being able to return.
The ante-chamber of such a great man as St. Just was, in those days, too crowded for an unprotected boy to obtain an early audience; two days passed before I could obtain a sight of the friend of Robespierre. On the third day, as I was still waiting for the interview, I heard a great bustle in the courtyard of the house, and looked out with many others at the spectacle.
A number of men and women, singing epithalamiums, and dressed in some absurd imitation of Roman costume, a troop of soldiers and gendarmerie, and an immense crowd of the badauds of Strasburg, were surrounding a carriage which then entered the court of the mayoralty. In this carriage, great God! I saw my dear Mary, and Schneider by her side. The truth instantly came upon me: the reason for Schneider's keen inquiries and my abrupt dismissal; but I could not believe that Mary was false to me. I had only to look in her face, white and rigid as marble, to see that this proposed marriage was not with her consent.
I fell back in the crowd as the procession entered the great room in which I was, and hid my face in my hands: I could not look upon her as the wife of another,--upon her so long loved and truly--the saint of my childhood--the pride and hope of my youth--torn from me for ever, and delivered over to the unholy arms of the murderer who stood before me.
The door of St. Just's private apartment opened, and he took his seat at the table of mayoralty just as Schneider and his cort?ge arrived before it.
Schneider then said that he came in before the authorities of the Republic to espouse the citoyenne Marie Ancel.
'Is she a minor?' asked St. Just.
'She is a minor, but her father is here to give her away.'
'I am here,' said uncle Edward, coming eagerly forward and bowing. 'Edward Ancel, so please you, citizen representative. The worthy citizen Schneider has done me the honor of marrying into my family.'
'But my father has not told you the terms of the marriage,' said Mary, interrupting him, in a loud, clear voice.
Here Schneider seized her hand, and endeavored to prevent her from speaking. Her father turned pale, and cried, 'Stop, Mary, stop! For heaven's sake, remember your poor old father's danger!'