'Mademoiselle Marie,' he said, 'is perfectly correct in her surmise. I do not want the life of this poor drivelling old man: my intentions are much more peaceable, be assured. It rests entirely with this accomplished young lady (whose spirit I like, and whose ready wit I admire), whether the business between us shall be a matter of love or death. I humbly offer myself, citizen Ancel, as a candidate for the hand of your charming daughter. Her goodness, her beauty, and the large fortune which I know you intend to give her, would render her a desirable match for the proudest man in the republic, and, I am sure, would make me the happiest.'
'This must be a jest, Monsieur Schneider,' said Mary, trembling, and turning deadly pale: 'you cannot mean this; you do not know me: you never heard of me until to-day.'
'Pardon me, belle dame,' replied he; 'your cousin Pierre has often talked to me of your virtues; indeed, it was by his special suggestion that I made the visit.'
'It is false!--it is a base and cowardly lie!' exclaimed she (for the young lady's courage was up),--'Pierre never could have forgotten himself and me so as to offer me to one like you. You come here with a lie on your lips--a lie against my father, to swear his life away, against my dear cousin's honor and love. It is useless now to deny it: father, I love Pierre Ancel; I will marry no other but him--no, though our last penny were paid to this man as the price of our freedom.'
Schneider's only reply to this was a call to his friend Gregoire.
'Send down to the village for the maire and some gendarmes; and tell your people to make ready.'
'Shall I put The Machine up?' shouted he of the sentimental turn.
'You hear him,' said Schneider; 'Marie Ancel, you may decide the fate of your father. I shall return in a few hours,' concluded he, 'and will then beg to know your decision.'
The advocate of the rights of man then left the apartment, and left the family, as you may imagine, in no very pleasant mood.
Old uncle Jacob, during the few minutes which had elapsed in the enactment of this strange scene, sat staring wildly at Schneider, and holding Mary on his knees: the poor little thing had fled to him for protection, and not to her father, who was kneeling almost senseless at the window, gazing at the executioner and his hideous preparations. The instinct of the poor girl had not failed her; she knew that Jacob was her only protector, if not of her life-- heaven bless him!--of her honor. 'Indeed,' the old man said, in a stout voice, 'this must never be, my dearest child--you must not marry this man. If it be the will of Providence that we fall, we shall have at least the thought to console us that we die innocent. Any man in France at a time like this, would be a coward and traitor if he feared to meet the fate of the thousand brave and good who have preceded us.'
'Who speaks of dying?' said Edward. 'You, Brother Jacob? -- you would not lay that poor girl's head on the scaffold, or mine, your dear brother's. You will not let us die, Mary; you will not, for a small sacrifice, bring your poor old father into danger?'
Mary made no answer. 'Perhaps,' she said, 'there is time for escape: he is to be here but in two hours; in two hours we may be safe, in concealment, or on the frontier.' And she rushed to the door of the chamber, as if she would have instantly made the attempt: two gendarmes were at the door. 'We have orders, Mademoiselle,' they said, 'to allow no one to leave this apartment until the return of the citizen Schneider.'
Alas! all hope of escape was impossible. Mary became quite silent for a while; she would not speak to uncle Jacob; and, in reply to her father's eager questions, she only replied, coldly, that she would answer Schneider when he arrived.
The two dreadful hours passed away only too quickly; and, punctual to his appointment, the ex-monk appeared. Directly he entered, Mary advanced to him, and said, calmly,--
'Sir, I could not deceive you if I said that I freely accepted the offer which you have made me. I will be your wife; but I tell you that I love another; and that it is only to save the lives of those two old men that I yield my person up to you.'
Schneider bowed, and said,--
'It is bravely spoken. I like your candor--your beauty. As for the love, excuse me for saying that is a matter of total indifference. I have no doubt, however, that it will come as soon as your feelings in favor of the young gentleman, your cousin, have lost their present fervor. That engaging young man has, at present, another mistress--Glory. He occupies, I believe, the distinguished post of corporal in a regiment which is about to march to--Perpignan, I believe.'
It was, in fact, Monsieur Schneider's polite intention to banish me as far as possible from the place of my birth; and he had, accordingly, selected the Spanish frontier as the spot where I was to display my future military talents.
Mary gave no answer to this sneer: she seemed perfectly resigned and calm: she only said,--