Copyright
Kuno Francke.

The German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) online

. (page 5 of 34)
Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 5 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


torted by grief. Behind Charlotte there stood a lady of
portly build, with great warts on her hands ; yet her face
was thin, and her countenance as motionless as that of the
dead. She resembled a tree exuberant in strength, whose
crown is blighted.

Clarissa made a deprecatory gesture, yet she retained a
friendly and calm air. A second later, she thought she
beheld herself in the kneeling figure, beheld her double;
and a cruel triumph filled her heart. ' ' Have no care, my
child," said she, smiling, in a low voice; " as far as Bas-
tide is concerned, everything is already settled." There-
upon she opened the gate and walked into the house.
Charlotte arose and gazed motionless through the grating.

That night Clarissa retired early, but she awoke at four
o'clock and began dressing. She selected a black velvet
dress, and, as her only ornament, she fastened a diamond
star in the edge of it at her bare neck. Her heart beat
faster the nearer the hour approached. At eight o'clock
the carriage drew up; it vv'-as a long drive to Alby, where
the Court of Assizes sat. Monsieur Seguret had ridden
away early in the morning, nobody knew whither.

The walls of the old town had hardly come in sight be-
fore such a mass of people was to be seen on the road that
the horses were obliged to slacken their pace. They sur-
rounded the carriage and gazed with strained attention



CLARISSA MIRABEL 47

into the open windows ; women lifted up their children that
they, too, might see the famous Madame Mirabel. She
did not seek to escape the general curiosity ; with the happy
smile of a bride she sat there, her fine black brows lifted
high on her forehead.

On the stroke of ten President Enjalran, who was to
preside at the trial, appeared in the overcrowded hall, and
after the reading of the lengthy indictment Bastide was
summoned to the hearing.

Firm as if cast in bronze he stood before the judge's
table. His answers were cool, terse, and clear. From be-
ginning to end he now saw through the senseless fable,
woven of stupidity and malice. By a biting sarcasm he
showed his unutterable contempt of all the accusations
against him, thus placing the counsel assigned to him at
the last moment, with whom he stubbornly refused to con-
fer, in no slight embarrassment.

Now and then he turned his glance toward the tall,
church-like windows, and when he caught sight of a bird
that had alighted on the sill and dug his yellow bill into
the feathers on his breast, he lost his self-command for a
moment and his lips parted in pain.

His examination lasted but a short time. It was only a
matter of form, for his fate was sealed. With Bach, Colard,
and the other accomplices, Monsieur d' Enjalran 's task
was easy ; their testimony was petrified, as it were. Bous-
quier had died in prison. Of the others, each one sought
to grab at a little remnant of innocence ; they produced the
impression of men crushed and wholly bereft of will-power.
A sensation was created by old Bancal, who became
hysterical during his examination, and then, protesting his
innocence, behaved like a madman. The humpbacked
Missonier grinned when the question of his presence at
the murder was discussed; he had become brutalized by
his long imprisonment and the repeated examinations.
Little Madeleine Bancal behaved like an actress, and



48 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

greeted her acquaintances and patrons in the audience by
throwing them kisses. Rose Feral turned deadly pale at
the sight of the bloody rags on the Judge 's table, and could
not utter a word. Madame Bancal remembered that Mon-
sieur Fualdes was dragged into her house by six men, that
he was made to sign a number of papers, crisscross, as
she said. The day following, she had found one of these
bills, made out upon stamped paper, but as it was stained
with blood, had burned it. More than that she positively
refused to confess, met all questions with a stolid silence,
and declared finally that whatever else she knew she would
confide to her confessor alone.

The witnesses testified placidly the most incredible
things. Their memory was so good that they recollected
the hour and minute of the merest trifles, which are for-
gotten from one day to the next. In night and fog they
had seen and recognized people, their features, their ges-
tures, the color of their clothes. They had heard speaking,
whispering, sighing, through thick walls. A beggar by
the name of Laville, who used to sleep in Missonier's stable,
had heard not only the organ-grinders but also four men
carrying a burden, something like men dragging a barrel.
Bastide Grammont laughed repeatedly at statements which
he declared to be shameless lies. When the Bancal woman
began her testimony he remarked that since it came so late
he had expected that the old woman would be delivered of
it with still greater difficulty. To another witness he repre-
sented, in a vibrating voice, how the hand of Heaven rested
hea^^ upon her, and reminded her of the awful death of
her child. He was like a fencer whose opponent is the
mist; nobody, indeed, replied to him, he stood alone, the
contradictions which he believed he had demonstrated
remained there, that was all. At first he was self-confident
and maintained his composure, looked firmly into the
witnesses' faces; then he felt as if his sense for the signifi-
cance of words were leaving him, not alone for his own
but for that of all the w^ords in existence, or as if the



CLARISSA MIRABEL 49

ground were giving way under him and he were falling
irresistibly from space to space into an awful, infinite,
boundless void. His mind refused to work; he asked him-
self, horrified, whether this was still life, dared call itself
life; Nature's glorious structure seemed to him ravaged
like a wall rent by a storm, the speaking mouth of all these
people struck him as nothing but a chasm convulsively and
repellently opening and shutting, darkness invaded his
spirit, he burned with a feeling of shame, he felt ashamed
in the name of the nameless God, ashamed that his body
was molded like that of these creatures around him. He
had loved the world, had once loved the people in it; now
he was ashamed of them. It pained him to think that he
had ever cherished hopes, buoyed up his heart with prom-
ises, that sunshine and sky had ever been able to lure from
him a joyful glance, sportive words a smile; he wished he
had, like the stone by the wayside, never betrayed what he
felt, so that he might not have been doomed to bear mt-
ness before his own branded, scourged, unspeakably humili-
ated self. Thought alone seemed offensive enough to him,
how much more so what he could have said ; it was nothing,
less than a breath. What could he depend upon? what
hope for? They had no faith, not even in his scorn, not
even in his silence. And Bastide locked himself up, and
looked into the dawning countenance of Death.

It was already growing dark when the King's evidence,
Madame Mirabel, was finally summoned to the court-room,
and the whole tired assemblage started up convulsively like
a single body. She entered, and in spite of the close air
of the room, she seemed to be shivering. She trembled
visibly on taking the oath. Monsieur d' Enjalran urged
her to testify in accordance with the truth. In a strange,
uniformly dull tone, yet speaking rather hurriedly, she
repeated the statement that she had made before the ex-
amining magistrate. An oppressive silence pervaded the
hall, and her voice, in consequence, grew steadily lower.

She knew now a multitude of details, had seen the long
Vol. XX — 4.



50 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

knife lying on the table, had seen Bancal and Colard bring
in a wooden tub, and the lawyer Fualdes sitting with bowed
shoulders near the lamp, writing. She had also seen the
mysterious stranger with the wooden leg, and noticed that
Bach and Bousquier unfolded a large white cloth. To the
question why she had appeared in men's clothes, she gave
no reply. And when, with fingers convulsively clasped,
head bowed, her slender body bent slightly forward,
writhing almost imperceptibly, as if in the clutches of an
animal, yet with that blissful, sweet smile which lent her
countenance an expression of subdued madness, she related
with bated breath how Bastide had embraced and kissed
her in the dark adjoining room, he sprang up suddenly,
wrung his hands in despair and made a few hurried steps
until he stood at Clarissa's side. His heavy breathing was
audible to all.

The presiding officer rebuked him for his behavior, which
he designated as indelicate, but Bastide cried in a firm,
ringing voice: '^ Before -God, who hears me and will judge
me, I declare that it is all an awful lie. I have never as
much as touched that woman or set eyes upon her."

Clarissa turned as white as chalk. It seemed to her as
if she had but just now heard the clinking of the shattered
mirror which she had dashed to the floor after the dance.
When the prosecuting attorney asked her to continue, she
remained silent ; her eyes rolled and her whole body shook
convulsively.

* * Speak out ! ' ' exclaimed Bastide, addressing her, and
indignation almost choked his voice, " speak! Your silence
is even more ruinous to me than all the lies. ' '

Clarissa lifted her eyes to him and asked with curious
emotion: *' Do you really not know me, Bastide? "

'*No! no! no!" he burst out, and looking upward he
muttered in distress: '' She is demented."

Within a second's space Clarissa grew fiery red and
again deathly pale. And turning toward Bastide once more,
she exclaimed in a terrible tone of reproach : ' ' Oh,
murderer! "



CLARISSA MIRABEL 51

The public applauded. Clarissa reeled, however; an
usher of the court hurried to her side and caught her in
his arms, a number of ladies left their places and busied
themselves about her, and half an hour elapsed before she
regained consciousness ; but her appearance was as changed
as if she had suddenly aged by twenty j^ears. Monsieur
d'Enjalran tried to continue the examination, but she
answered only in incoherent words; she did not know; it
was possible; she did not wish to contradict. Bastide
Grammont had resumed his seat in the prisoner's dock;
immeasurable distress and consternation were pictured on
his countenance. His counsel bade Clarissa, since she had
spoken, to continue. '' I adjure you, Madame, make your-
self clear," he said; ''it depends upon you whether an
innocent man shall be saved or shall be sent to the scaffold."
Clarissa remained silent, as if she had not heard; in her
breast there surged, like morning mist over the waters, a
consoling and captivating image. Counselor Pinaud now
turned to her with a severe exhortation; she was not to
think she could make her assertions at will and suppress
what she wished. The prosecuting attorney spoke up for
her, saying that the cause of her silence was known; she
herself had asserted that she entertained a conviction the
grounds of which she could not state ; it should suffice that
she had uttered what was of the greatest importance ; nay,
he declared, moreover, that any further urging would be
improper. He had not concluded his speech when Clarissa
interrupted him; raising her right arm she said in solemn
protest: " I have taken no oath."

Bastide Grammont looked up. Shaking off his stupor,
he raised himself slowly and began in a voice all the more
affecting by its calmness : ' ' Prison walls do not speak.
And yet the time w^ill come when they will find a voice and
will proclaim the secret means which have been employed
to force all these wretches to make lies a shameful bulwark
of their lives. Fualdes was not my enemy, he was only
my creditor. If covetousness had misled a man other-



52 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

wise decent and moderate, if it had armed his hand, I
.would never, for all that, have raised it against a
defenseless old man. If you want a sacrifice, take me;
I am ready, but do not mingle my lot with that of this
brood. My family, who have always dwelt in the country,
and have followed the customs and simple ways of rural
life, are disgraced. My mother weeps and is crushed.
Judge whether I, who am plunged in this sea of misfortune,
can still cherish a love of life. I loved freedom once, I
loved animals, the water, the sky, the air, and the fruits
of the trees; but now I am dishonored, and if there were
a future before me it would be sullied with shame, and the
time would have an ill taste. Is it a court of justice before
which I have been summoned? No, it is a hunt, the judge
has become a hunter and prepares the innocent one to be
a tidbit for the rabble. I ask no longer for justice, it is
too late to mete out justice to me, too late, were the crown
of France itself to be offered to me. I surrender myself
to you to destroy me, your conscience will be loaded with
that burden. One guilty man makes many, and your chil-
dren's children will for this flood the living world with
disgrace."

A paralyzed silence succeeded these words. But sud-
denly there burst forth an indescribable tumult. The pub-
lic and the jurors arose and clenched their fists at Bastide
Grammont, screamed and howled in wild confusion, Mon-
sieur d'Enjalran's exhortation dying away unheard. And
just as suddenly a deathly silence ensued. A faint, long-
drawn cry which arose in the din, and now cont'nued its
plaintive note, petrified the faces of the listeners. All
eyes tourned toward Clarissa. She felt the glances shower-
ing down upon her like the beams in a falling building.

Her heart was aflame with a desire for expiation . . .

The speech of the public prosecutor gathered together
once more the weapons of hatred which Rumor had forged
against its victims ; with cunning skill, he painted the night
of the murder in such colors that the horror of it seemed



CLARISSA MIRABEL 53

to live for the first time, Bastide's advocate, on tlie other
hand, contented himself with high-sonnding phrases ; he
waxed warm, his listeners remained cold. While he was
speaking there was a shoving and pushing in the rear of
the hall; some of the ladies shrieked, a fair-sized dog ran
through an opening in the bar, looked around him with
glistening eyes, and, giving a short bark, crouched at Bas-
tide 's feet. Deeply moved, he laid his hand on the animal's
neck, and motioned the usher, w^ho wanted to remove itj
back with a commanding gesture.

Wlien the court retired for consultation, no one dared
speak above a whisper. A woman sobbed and she was^
told to be quiet; it was the Benoit girl, Colard's sweet-
heart. She had w^ound her arms about the poor wretch's
shoulders and her tear-stained face expressed but one
desire — to share his fate. A relative of Bastide ap-
proached him in order to speak to him; Bastide shook his
head and did not even look at the man. A sort of drowsi-
ness had settled on his countenance — at any rate, words
no longer carried any weight in his ears. Yet it happened
that he lifted his eyes once more and after coursing through
illimitable space they met those of Clarissa. Now the
strange woman did not strike him as so strange. He heard,
again the sound of her voice when she called him murderer ;
was it not rather a cry for help than an accusation? and
that beseeching look, as if invisible hands were clutching
at her throat? and that most delicate form so singularly
free from indications of her age, quivering like a young
birch in autumn?

Two lonely shipwrecked beings are driven by the cur-
rents of the ocean to the same spot, coming from opposite
ends of the earth, unable to abandon the plank upon w^hicli
their life depends, unable even to grasp each other's hands^
simply driven by the gradually dying wind to unknowm
depths. There was something weird in their mutual feel-
ing of compassion. Yet Bastide's pained and gloomy
astonishment gave way to the dreamy intoxication of



54 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

fatigue, and the watchful eyes of his dog api)eared to him
like two reddish stars between black tree-tops. He heard
the sentence of death when the court returned; he had
risen, and listened to the words of the presiding judge;
it sounded like the splashing of raindrops on withered
leaves. He heard himself say something, but what it was
he hardly knew. He saw many faces turned toward him
in the dim light, and they gave him the impression of
worm-eaten and decaying apples.

The verdict concerning the other accused persons was
not to be announced until the following day. The crowds
in the hall, in the entrances, and on the street, dispersed
slowly. When Clarissa passed through the corridor every
one stepped timidly aside.

She had learned that Bastide was not to be taken back
to Rodez, but was to remain in the prison at Alby. She
thereupon dismissed the carriage that was waiting for her,
betook herself to an inn near by, where she asked for a
room, and wrote a letter to her father — a few feverishly
agitated sentences: '' I know no longer what is truth and
what is falsehood ; Bastide is innocent, and I have destroyed
him, though my desire was to help him; Yes and No are
in my breast like two extinguished flames; if I were to
return whence I came I should suffer a continual death;
for that reason and because people live as they do, I go
where I must." It was already past midnight when she
asked to speak to the host. She requested him to send the
letter in the morning to Chateau Perrie by a reliable mes-
senger ; she then asked the startled man to sell her a small
basket of fresh fruit. The host expressed a polite regret
that he had nothing more in his storeroom. Passionately
urgent, she offered him ten, twentyf old its value and threw
a gold piece on the table. ' ' It is for a dying person, ' ' she
said, '* everything depends upon it.** The man gazed
anxiously at the pallid, gleaming countenance of the dis-
tinguished looking woman and pondered, declaring finally



CLARISSA MIRABEL 55

that he would rouse his neighbor, and bidding her wait.
Left alone, she knelt down by the bedside, buried her face
in the pillows and wept. After half an hour the host
returned, carrying a basket full of pears, grapes, pome-
granates, and peaches. Shaking his head, he followed her
with his eyes as she hastened away, and held the sealed
letter, which he w^as to forward, inquisitively up to the
light.

The streets were desolate and bathed in shadowy moon-
light. The windows of the little houses were blinking
drowsily; under a gateway stood the night-watchman with
a halberd and mumbled like a drunken man. In front of
the low prison building there was an open space ; Clarissa
seated herself on a stone bench, and, as there was a pump
near by and she felt thirsty, drank her fill. The softly
swelling outlines of the hills melted almost imperceptibly
into the sky, and behind a depression in the landscape a
fire-light was glowing; she seemed to hear, too, on listening
intently, the ringing of bells. The whole world was not
asleep, then, and she could link her anxious heart to human
concerns once more. After a time she rose, stepped over
to the building, set the basket of fruit on the ground, and
knocked with the knocker at the gate. It was a long while
before the door-keeper appeared and gruffly demanded
what she wanted. " I must speak to Bastide Grammont,"
she declared. The man made a face as if a demented per-
son had waylaid him, growled in a threatening tone and
was about to bang the door in her face. Clarissa clutched
his arm with one hand, and tore the diamond brooch from
her breast with the other. ''There, there, there!" she
stammered. The old man raised his lantern and examined
the sparkling jeweled ornament on all sides. Clarissa
misinterpreted his grinning, anxious joy, thought he was
not satisfied, and gave him her purse into the bargain,
" What is in the basket? " he inquired respectfully but
suspiciously. She showed him what it contained. He
contented himself with that, thought she was most likely



56 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

the mistress of the condemned man, and, upon locking the
door, walked on in front of her. They descended a few
steps, then crossed a narrow passage. '' How long do you
wish to stay inside? " asked the keeper, when they had
reached an iron door. Clarissa drew a deep breath and
replied in a whisper that she would give three knocks on
the door. The old man nodded, said he would wait at the
head of the stairs, opened the door cautiously, handed the
woman his lantern and locked the door behind her.

Inside Clarissa clung to the wall to give her riotous
pulses time to subside. The room seemed moderately
large and not altogether uninhabitable. Bastide lay on a
pallet along the opposite wall, asleep and fully dressed.
' ' What a stillness ! ' ' thought Clarissa shuddering, and
stole softly to the bedside of the sleeping man. What
quiet in that countenance, too, what a beautiful slumber,
thought she, and her lips parted in mute sorrow. She
placed the lantern on the floor where its light would strike
his face, then she knelt down and listened to his steady
breathing. Bastide ^s mouth was firmly closed, his eyelids
were motionless, a sign of dreamlessness ; his long beard
encircled cheeks and chin like brow^n brushwood, his head
was thrown slightly backward, and his hair shone with a
moist gleam. Grradually the peace of his countenance
passed into Clarissa too ; all words, all signs which she had
brought with her vanished, she determined to do nothing
more than place her gift by his bed and depart. Accord-
ingly she emptied the basket, and started and paused every
time she heard but a grain of sand crunch under her feet.
^Vhen she had laid out all the fruit and passed her hand
tenderly over each, she grew more and more peaceful and
calm ; she felt herself so strangely bound to death that she
dismissed the thought of leaving this room with a feeling
akin to fear, and prepared to do what possessed her so
strongly, with a composed assurance. A desire to kiss him
arose within her, and she actually bent down toward
him, but a commanding awe arrested her, more even than



CLARISSA MIRABEL 57

the fear that he might awake. Her body twisted and
turned, she embraced him in spirit and felt as if she w^ere
freed from the earth, like a pearl dropped from a ring.
She then rose quietly, walked softly to the other side of
the room, stretched herself on the floor, took a small pen-
knife and opened the veins in both wrists by deep cuts.
Within a quarter of an hour she sighed twice, and the hand
of Death sought in vain to wipe the enraptured smile from
her pallid lips.

Bastide still slept on, that abysmal sleep where total
oblivion chains and numbs body and spirit. Then he began
to dream. He found himself in a spacious, secluded cham-
ber, the centre of which was occupied by a richly decked
table. Many people were seated around it; they were
carousing and having a merry time. Suddenly all eyes
were turned to the middle of the table, where a vessel of
opaque blue glass, which had not been there before, now
stood. What was in the glass receptacle? what could it
signify? who brought it? was asked in muffled tones.
Thereupon an uncanny silence ensued; all gazed now at
the blue vessel, now, with sullen suspicion, at each other.
All at once, the jovial revelers of a few moments ago arose
and one accused the other of having placed the covered
dish on the table. A violent clamor now arose, some drew
their poniards, others swung chairs about, and meanwhile
a slim, nude girl's figure was seen to emerge, like white
smoke, from the vessel on the table. Bastide knew the
face, it w^as that of the false witness Clarissa ; with snake-
like glistening eyes she gazed at him, always only at him.
All the men followed her glance and they hurled themselves
upon him. '' You must die! You must die! " resounded
from hoarse throats, but while they were still shouting
their voices died away, the shadowy arms of the false wit-
ness stretched themselves out and divided one of the walls,
exposing to view a blooming garden, in the centre of which
stood a scaffold hung with branches laden with ripe fruit.
Bastide was a boy once more; slowly he strode out, Clar-



58 THE GERMAN CLASSICS

issa's hands waved above him and plucked the fruit, and
his fear of death was dulled by their intoxicating perfume,
which, like a cloud, filled the entire hall, nay, the entire
universe.

Here he awoke. His first drowsy glance fell upon the
flickering light of the lantern, the second upon a huge pear,
which, yellow as a rising moon, lay at his bedside. In
dazed, joyous astonishment he grasped it, but on raising



Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 5 of 34)