“Nobly spoken! Herr Chatelain,” cried the bailiff, “and in a manner to send repentance like a dagger into the criminal’s soul. What is thought and said in Valais we echo in Vaud, and I would not that any I love stood in thy shoes, Maso, for the honors of the emperor!”
“Signori, you have both spoken, and it is as men whom fortune hath favored since childhood. It is easy for those who are in prosperity to be upright in all that touches money, though by the light of the blessed Maria’s countenance I do think there is more coveted by those who have much than by the hardy and industrious poor. I am no stranger, to that which men call justice, and know how to honor and respect its decrees as they deserve. Justice, Signori, is the weak man’s scourge and the strong man’s sword: it is a breast-plate and back-plate to the one and a weapon to be parried by the other. In short, it is a word of fair import, on the tongue, but of most unequal application in the deed.”
“We overlook thy language in consideration of the pass to which thy crimes have reduced thee, unhappy man, though it is an aggravation of thy offences, since it proves thou hast sinned equally against thyself and us. This affair need go no farther; the headsman and the other travellers may be dismissed: we commit the Italian to the irons.”
Maso heard the order without alarm, though he appeared to be maintaining a violent struggle with himself. He paced the chapel rapidly, and muttered much between his teeth. His words were not intelligible, though they were evidently of strong, if not violent, import. At length he stopped short, in the manner of one who had decided.
“This-matter grows serious,” he said: “it will admit of no farther hesitation. Signor Grimaldi, command all to leave the chapel in whose discretion you have not the most perfect confidence.”
“I see none to be distrusted,” answered the surprised Genoese.
“Then will I speak.”
Thy voice to us is wind among still woods.
Notwithstanding the gravity of the facts which were accumulating against him, Maso had maintained throughout the foregoing scene much of that steady self-possession and discernment which were the fruits of adventure in scenes of danger, long exposure, and multiplied hazards. To these causes of coolness, might be added the iron-like nerves inherited from nature. The latter were not easily disturbed, however critical the state to which he was reduced. Still he had changed color, and his manner had that thoughtful and unsettled air which denote the consciousness of being in circumstances that require uncommon wariness and judgment. But his final opinion appeared to be formed when he made the appeal mentioned in the close of the last chapter, and he now only waited for the two or three officials who were present to retire, before he pursued his purpose. When the door was closed, leaving none but his examiners, Sigismund Balthazar, and the group of females in the side-chapel, he turned, with singular respect of manner, and addressed himself exclusively to the Signor Grimaldi, as if the judgment which was to decide his fate depended solely on his will.