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communicate? Laurence Bigot regarded with a kind of respect the
serene and venerable countenance of the old beggar.

'Unfortunate man,' said he, 'what can _you_ have to tell us?'

But after his first involuntary movement, the blind man. Appeared
embarrassed and undecided. 'Ah, my lord,' said he, 'may I speak
without danger of my life?' and he turned his white head on every
side with a terrified air.

'Speak freely,' said Bigot; 'fear nothing.' Then the old man related
how, many months since, he was leaving Argenteuil on his usual
pilgrimage, and had gained the high ground beyond the village, when
the violent barking of his dog caused him to listen attentively. A
man's voice, feeble and suppliant, was distinctly heard. 'Monster!'
it said; 'thy master, thy benefactor - mercy! Must I die so far from
my country and my brother! Mercy, mercy!'

Then the blind man heard a fearful cry, like that of a dying man in
his last agony, and all was silence. After a time he distinguished
the steps of one who seemed staggering under a heavy burden.
'Influenced by a sudden impulse,' said Gervais, 'I went forward,
asking what was the matter, and who had been moaning so.'

"Nothing, nothing," said a voice in an agitated tone; "only a sick
man who is being carried home, and has fainted on the way." And the
voice added, in a lower and menacing tone: "You may thank God that
you are blind, or I would have done the same to you." I knew then
that a horrible crime had been committed, and was seized with terror.
All things conspired to overwhelm me with fear; for immediately a
dreadful storm arose, and the loud thunder seemed to pursue the
murderer. I thought the world was at an end. Trembling, I continued
my journey, resolving never to reveal what I had heard; for the
criminal may belong to these parts, and the life of a poor old blind
man is at the mercy of every one. But when the judge spoke of a
corpse being found so near to the place where I heard the voice, I
could not avoid a sudden exclamation. I have now told all; God grant
that no evil comes to me from it!'

During this relation Laurence Bigot appeared absorbed in a deep
reverie, which lasted long after the blind man ceased to speak. Then
addressing Gervais: 'Old man,' said he, 'I wish to ask you a
question; reflect well before answering it. Do you remember exactly
the voice that you heard that day on the hill, which replied to your
questions and threatened you? Do you think that you could recognise
it again - recognise it so as not to confound it with any other?'

'Yes, my lord advocate,' cried Gervais immediately: 'yes! even as I
should recognise the voice of my mother, if she were living still,
poor woman!'

'But,' said the judge, 'have you considered that eight or nine months
have passed since then?'

'It seems but a few hours ago,' answered the blind man. 'My terror
was so great, that even now I seem always to hear the voice that
cried for mercy, and that which spoke to me, and the awful thunder.'
And when Bigot still doubted, Gervais, lifting his hands to heaven,
said: 'God is good, and forsakes not the poor blind. Since I lost my
sight, I can hear wonderfully. Call the people of Argenteuil; they
will tell you how they amuse themselves with embarrassing me, and
saying, in counterfeited tones, "Who speaks to thee?" Ask them if
they have ever succeeded in deceiving me!' The people cried out that
all that the blind man said was true; his knowledge of voices was
wonderful. Some hours after, Laurence Bigot departed for Rouen, and
everything went on as usual in the village of Argenteuil. Bigot
conveyed Gervais with him to Rouen.

In the sixteenth century, the great hall of audience of the Norman
parliament was renowned for its beauty. The ceiling was of ebony,
studded with graceful arabesques in gold, azure, and vermilion. The
tapestry worked in fleurs-de-lis, the immense fireplace, the gilded
wainscot, the violet-coloured _dais,_ and, above all, the immense
picture in which were represented Louis XII., the father of his
people, and his virtuous minister and friend, the good Cardinal
d'Amboise - all united to give the great hall an aspect at once
beautiful and imposing. The effect was increased when, on days of
judicial solemnity, a hundred and twenty magistrates were seated in
judgment there, with their long white beards and scarlet robes,
having at their head the presidents, attired in ermine mantles, above
whom was a painting depicting the legislator Moses and the four

It was in this magnificent hall that the parliament assembled, by a
special convocation, on Christmas-eve, in the year 16 - . But this
time they were attired in black robes, and their serious countenances
showed they had a rigorous office to perform. This secret meeting of
parliament excited great curiosity throughout the whole town. The
murder of the merchant of Lucca, the arrest of the presumed criminal,
the discovery of the body of his supposed victim, the unhoped-for
testimony given by a blind man at Argenteuil, furnished an
inexhaustible subject of discussion for the crowd that thronged the
avenues of the palace. Every one agreed that the day was come which
would liberate an innocent man, or dismiss a murderer to the

The parliament, after many long debates, had decided that the blind
man of Argenteuil should be heard. Gervais appeared before them. His
frank and circumstantial deposition made a deep impression; but some
doubt still remained. It was a fearful thing to place a man's life at
the mercy of the fugitive reminiscences of a blind man, who could
only trust to his hearing. It seemed almost impossible that Gervais
should recognise faithfully a voice which he had heard but once only.
The parliament determined to prove him, and to bring before him
successively all the prisoners of the Conciergerie, Martel among the
rest. If, after having heard them speak, the blind man spontaneously,
and without once hesitating, should recognise the voice which had
struck him so powerfully, this evidence, united to others, should be
held conclusive. It was not without design that Christmas-eve was
chosen for this strange trial, unheard-of in the annals of justice.
To have brought up the prisoners together on an ordinary day, would
have awakened their suspicions, perhaps suggested to them various
stratagems, and thus left the success of this novel experiment to
chance. On Christmas-eve the order excited no surprise, as it was
customary on the eve of high festivals to bring all the prisoners of
the Conciergerie before the parliament, who sometimes, out of respect
to the day, liberated those criminals who had been imprisoned for
trifling offences.

Above all, as it was necessary to make the blind man understand the
almost sacred importance of the judgment with which Heaven had
invested him, a solemn oath was administered by the president of the
assembly. The old man took the oath in a truthful, earnest manner,
which left no doubt of his sincerity, and the trial commenced.
Eighteen prisoners were brought up, and answered the questions
proposed to them, but the old man never moved; and they, on their
part, on perceiving the unknown man, evinced no sign of alarm. At
last the nineteenth prisoner was introduced. Who shall paint his
horror and stupefaction at the sight of Gervais! His features grew
contracted, his hair rose up, and a sudden faintness overpowered him,
so that the turnkeys were obliged to lead him to a seat. When he
recovered a little, his involuntary and convulsive movements seemed
to show the poignant remorse of a guilty and tortured soul, or
perhaps the horrible regret of not having committed a second crime,
and finished his work.

The presidents and judges anxiously awaited the result. At the first
words that Martel uttered, in reply to the president's questions, the
blind man, who, ignorant of his presence, had hitherto remained quiet
and immovable, suddenly bent forward, listening intently; then
shrinking back with horror and fear, cried out: 'It is he! - it is the
voice that I heard on the heights of Argenteuil!'

The jailer led away Martel more dead than alive, obeying in this the
president's order, who in a loud tone had desired him to bring out
another prisoner. But this command was accompanied by a sign which
the jailer understood, and some minutes after, he again introduced
Martel, who was interrogated under a false name. Fresh questions
elicited fresh replies; but the blind man, shaking his head with an
air of incredulity, immediately cried out: 'No, no; it is all a
feint; that is the voice which conversed with me on the heights of

At last the horrible mystery was cleared up. The wretched, criminal,
trembling, despairing, stammered out a confession, which was now
almost needless, since the magistrates were fully convinced of the
truth which had been wonderfully elicited by the sole witness who
could declare the crime.

But a few hours passed, and Martel lay in a gloomy dungeon of the
Conciergerie, whilst in a public place, not far from the prison, were
made the preparations for execution; for at this period the scaffold
followed the sentence so rapidly, that a condemned man never beheld
the morrow's sun. Ere nightfall all was over. The wretched man died
penitent, confessing his crime, and denouncing the cupidity and
thirst of gold which had led him on to murder.

In fifty years from this period, Laurence Bigot had been long dead.
Emerie his son had succeeded him in his office. Etienne Pasquier had
become a learned and reverend old man, with silver hair. He was then
composing his curious and interesting _Recherches sur la France,_ and
there related the almost miraculous discovery of a murder long since
committed - of which discovery he had in his youth been an
eye-witness. It is from his statement that this history is taken.



'This wreath must be finished before the evening. Down with those
tiresome hands; you jumble together all my leaves; you give me one
colour instead of the other: you are spoiling all I have done. Be it
known to you, however, that I am determined you shall not leave Padua
until I have put the last leaf to our garland.'

These pettish words, qualified by the sweetest of smiles, were
addressed by a beautiful girl of sixteen to a young man who was
sitting beside her, and taking a mischievous pleasure in disturbing
her work; now catching hold of her hands; now removing out of her
reach something that she wanted; now playing with her long and
luxuriant hair, which floated negligently on her shoulders:
affectionate interruptions, which left a doubt whether the name of
brother or lover better suited them. But the light which flashed
from, the eyes of the youth, and seemed to irradiate the countenance
of the maiden, showed that his emotions were more rapid and ardent
than those inspired by fraternal love. They were seated at a table
strewed with shreds of cloth, gummed cotton, green taffeta, little
palettes of colours, small pencils, and all the necessary apparatus
of artificial flower-making.

'Well, then,' replied the youth, 'I will do as you wish; but what
haste with a wreath that is not to be used till Heaven knows when?
Ah! if you were to wear it tomorrow, I would then assist you with
hands, eyes, heart, mind - with my whole being.'

'What matters it? What harm will it do these flowers to wait for us?
I promise you to keep this garland so carefully, that it shall look
quite new on the day when it shall encircle my head; and then it will
seem to all others but an ordinary wreath: but to us - to me - oh, what
charms it will have! It will have been born, as it were, and have
grown with our love; it will have remained to me in memory of you
when you were obliged to leave me for a time; it will have spoken to
me of you when absent; will have a thousand times sworn love to me
for you. I shall have consulted, and kissed it a thousand times, till
that day in which I shall be yours! Do you hear that word, Edoardo?
Yours - yours for ever! never more to leave you! - to be divided from
you only by death!'

'That will indeed be a blessed day - the loveliest day of our life!
The desire of devoting all the powers of my mind to your happiness
will then become a right. Poor Sophia, you know not yet what
happiness is: so young, so good; you have hitherto met with thorns
only in your path. Poor Sophia, I desire no other glory in this world
than that of being able to make you feel the sweet that Providence in
pity mingles with the bitter of human existence. There is no
sweetness in the life of mortals that is not the offspring of love.'

'Yes,' added Sophia, 'when love is united with constancy. But what
are you daubing at, Edoardo? You are actually putting red on orange
leaves. Where have you learned botany? And what does that rose
signify? Is not this a bride's wreath, and are not bridal wreaths
always made of orange flowers? Do you know what I mean to do with
those roses? Ah, you would never guess. I shall make of them a
funeral crown. Here, take these leaves, and reach me the palette. You
have positively learned nothing all the time you have been seeing me
make flowers.'

A servant entered the room, saying, 'There is no post to Venice
either to-day or to-morrow: the Signor Edoardo cannot set out before

'Friday!' exclaimed Sophia, 'vile day!' and with a clouded
countenance she silently resumed her self-imposed task. Edoardo, on
the contrary, seemed glad of the delay.

'No matter; but,' he added, 'is not this a trick of yours - a plot
concocted by you and Luigia to prevent me from leaving Padua?'

'You mistake, Edoardo; I would wish rather to hasten your departure.'

'I am very much obliged to you,' replied Edoardo, half vexed. 'What
do you mean? If you do not explain your words I shall be very angry.'

'The explanation - the explanation, Edoardo, is here in my head, but
not in my heart. The explanation, Edoardo, is that I love you too
much, and I am not pleased with myself. Yes, but there are sorrows,
Edoardo, which sadly wear away our life; but these sorrows are a
need, a duty, and to forget them is a crime. My poor sister, the only
friend I have ever had, that poor saint, the victim of love, dead
through the treachery of a man hardly two years since: on memory of
her I have lived for eighteen months; but I even forget her when I
see you, when I speak to you. Perhaps I do not bestow on my mother as
much attention as her unhappy state requires. Alas! there is no
reproach more bitter than this: "You are a bad daughter!" And this my
conscience reproaches me with being a thousand times. Thus, Edoardo,
I am wanting in my duties. I am a weak creature: a powerful, and too
sweet sentiment threatens to take entire possession of me, to the
detriment of the other sentiments that nature has implanted in our
heart. Go, then, Edoardo; I have need of calm - I have need of not
seeing you. Suffer me to fulfil my duties, that I may be more worthy
of you. When you are far away, I shall have full faith in you. But if
your father should refuse his consent to our union?'

'Leave those sad thoughts. My father wishes only to please me, and it
will be sufficient for me to ask his consent to obtain it. Even
should he refuse it, in two years the law will permit me to dispose
of myself as I choose.'

'May Heaven remove this sad presentiment from my mind; but it makes
me tremble. Oh! if you return with the desired consent of your
father! oh! if my mother, as the physicians gave me reason to hope,
should then be well! we shall be the happiest of mortals.'

The sound of a silver bell, heard from a chamber close by, took away
Sophia from her occupation. She rose hastily, saving, 'My mother! oh,
my poor mother! Adieu for a while, Edoardo.'

Edoardo Valperghi was the son of a wealthy Venetian merchant. He had
received a grave but unprofitable education, it being that which is
wholly directed to the intellect and nothing to the heart. He was
studying in one of those colleges in which the system of education is
as old as the walls of the edifice. He had been told that he had a
heart, but no one had spoken of how it was to be directed to good. He
had been told that he must resist his own passions, but no one had
shown him what arms to make use of in this moral warfare. He had been
told to love virtue and to hate vice, but no one had furnished him
with a criterion for distinguishing true virtue from its counterfeit.
The temper of Edoardo was ardent and hasty, but flexible and weak.
Nature had made him good, but society could make him very bad. He was
like a ship without a good pilot - one to become good or bad according
to circumstances. Enthusiastic, easily impressed by example, he would
be most virtuous if his first steps had moved among the virtuous; if
among the wicked, he would rush to perdition.

A letter of recommendation to the father of Sophia, who had formerly
had some commercial dealings with the Valperghi, introduced him into
the house. His timidity made him prefer that family to richer ones
with which he was also acquainted, and amongst whom he could have
found youths, amusements, and habits similar to those he had left
behind in Venice. But Sophia, lovely, amiable, and frank, had shown
him the affection of a sister. He had soon conceived a passion for
her; declarations of love, promises, oaths, everything had thus been
impetuous and sudden with him, as his disposition prompted. The
inexperienced girl believed that a sentiment so strong, so ardent,
must be equally profound and constant, and yielded to the enchantment
of a first love. Edoardo had terminated the first year of his legal
studies, and was now preparing to return to Venice.

Alberto Cadori, the father of Sophia, was also a merchant. He had
begun business in a small sphere; but having guided his industry
prudently, from being poor he had gradually become rich, and at
length retired from commerce with a considerable fortune. Cadori was
avaricious, harsh, exacting: he wished rather to be feared than
loved: he was not the father, but the tyrant of his family. There was
seemingly some secret cause of disagreement between him and his wife:
it was perhaps for this reason that he did not love his children; but
what it was no one could tell. His family was now limited to Sophia
and his wife. He had had another daughter, fair and amiable as
Sophia; but the sad school of the world, and the all-powerful empire
of love, had untimely laid her low. The Signora Cadori, though still
young, was already on the brink of the grave. The grief that preyed
on her life, and especially the lamentable end of her first-born, had
brought on paralysis. She could no longer move without assistance.

One other person formed part of the family, without being connected
with it by relationship - a woman who seemed at first sight to have
reached her seventieth year, so slow and difficult were her
movements. Her words savoured a little of obscurity, and her
countenance was rather repulsive. She was a Milanese. Having come to
the baths in Padua, she had taken lodgings in Cadori's house. She
seldom spoke, and paid no attention to what was passing around her.
She always seemed unconscious of the loud and angry language of
Cadori, which was proving fatal to the neglected wife and the
oppressed daughter. She appeared to love no one; no one loved her.
However, as she paid largely for her apartments, Cadori did
everything to keep her in his house.

Though Sophia led a melancholy life, it was much relieved by the
exercise of her accomplishments, which were numerous. No female in
Padua, for instance, could compare with her in the art of
flower-making. Her friends contended for the pleasure of adorning
themselves with one of these flowers; courteous and kind to all, she
distributed some to each. Even the mercers of the city, when they had
need of flowers of superior beauty, applied to Sophia, who willingly
acceded to their requests.

The two days of delay to Edoardo's departure were past, and in those
two days the Signora Cadori had had a new and very violent attack,
which placed her life in danger. Edoardo came to take leave of the
family. When alone, the conversation, the adieus of the lovers, were
not long; they both wept, looked at each other, and were silent. Yet
how many things had they to say to each other, how many promises to
renew, how many hopes and fears to exchange!

They parted; Edoardo pleased with himself, and Sophia dissatisfied
with him and herself, without knowing why.

The heart is a true prophet: the fears of Sophia were about being
realised; the days of her mother were drawing to a close. Sophia,
sad and terrified, was never absent from her bedside. Her heart, her
heart alone, sometimes wandered after the footsteps of another
beloved, but less unhappy being. Forgive that thought of love to the
maiden; call it not a sin. Sixteen! a soul so tender! the first love!
The maternal eye saw into the inmost heart of the daughter, and felt
no jealousy at those thoughts flying to her distant love. In those
moments she silenced her own wants, lest she should disturb her in
her reveries, and humbly prayed for the happiness of her child.
Sophia, on recollecting herself, would testify the greatest sorrow,
ask pardon of her dear invalid, and redouble her attention. Neither
day nor night was she away from the pillow of her dying mother. Her
strength supported her, as if by a miracle. No one divided with her
this pious office, except the Countess Galeazzi, the mysterious guest
of that house, and she came but seldom to the chamber of suffering.

But the last hour had struck for the Signora Cadori. With her dying
breath she spoke of Edoardo. 'You love,' she said, 'and your love may
be the source of good to you. Take this cross, which I have worn on
my heart since the day of your birth; it was the gift of your father;
take it, and wear it in memory of your poor mother. You will find in
my chest a sum of money, and some bills on the imperial bank of
Vienna. It is no great riches, but it is sufficient for the
unforeseen wants that may press upon a woman. I would never consent
to give up these sums to your father, and that was one source of our
disagreement; but it was impossible for the heart of a mother to
deprive herself of what she could one day share with her children.
And I am glad that I have not done so; for, without such aid, your
poor sister would have died of misery, as she did of grief and

She said more, and seemed to make other confidences to her daughter,
but her words were uttered so feebly that they were lost. She then
leaned her head on the shoulder of Sophia, never to raise it more.

Four months after this event, the time of study returned, and Edoardo
came again to Padua. He did not bring the consent of his father to
their marriage, but only some distant hopes. Cadori, who was aware of
Sophia's inclinations, forbade Edoardo to frequent his house, until
the formal permission of his father could be procured. Thus was
Sophia deprived of the pleasure of being often near her lover, of
enjoying his society, his conversation. She could see him but seldom,
and that unknown to her father.

But Edoardo was changed. He was no longer the frank, the loving
Edoardo of former times. A residence of five months in Venice,
without being subjected to restraint, or having means to elude it;
the company of other young men, familiar with vice and dissipation;
above all, a fatal inclination had depraved and ruined him! He had
suffered himself to be fascinated by the fierce delight which is
found in gaming; play had become his occupation, his chief need. Play
and its effects, the orgies that precede, the excesses that follow,
were the life of Edoardo. Waste and debt were the consequences; and
when he had, under a thousand pretences, extorted from his father all
the money he could, he began, on arriving in Padua, to apply to
Sophia, whom he neglected, at least did not see as often as he might,
though he still loved her. Sophia was as indulgent as he was
indiscreet. At every fatal request for money, she offered him double
the sum he had asked. When Edoardo began to tell her some feigned
story, to conceal the shameful source of his wants, and to give her
an account of how he had employed those sums, she would not listen to

'Why,' said she, 'should I demand an account of your actions? Why
should I think over and debate what you have already considered? Will
not all you have be one day mine? Shall we not be one day man and

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Online LibraryVariousTales for Young and Old → online text (page 11 of 15)