Monsieur Roguin stopped, perceiving that he might talk on for two hours without obtaining any answer; he felt, moreover, a singular emotion at the aspect of the man he was attempting to convert. An extraordinary revolution had taken place on Piombo’s face; his wrinkles, contracting into narrow lines, gave him a look of indescribable cruelty, and he cast upon the notary the glance of a tiger. The baroness was mute and passive. Ginevra, calm and resolute, waited silently; she knew that the notary’s voice was more potent than hers, and she seemed to have decided to say nothing. At the moment when Roguin ceased speaking, the scene had become so terrifying that the men who were there as witnesses trembled; never, perhaps, had they known so awful a silence. The notaries looked at each other, as if in consultation, and finally rose and walked to the window.
“Did you ever meet people born into the world like that?” asked Roguin of his brother notary.
“You can’t get anything out of him,” replied the younger man. “In your place, I should simply read the summons. That old fellow isn’t a comfortable person; he is furious, and you’ll gain nothing whatever by arguing with him.”
Monsieur Roguin then read a stamped paper, containing the “respectful summons,” prepared for the occasion; after which he proceeded to ask Bartolomeo what answer he made to it.
“Are there laws in France which destroy paternal authority?—” demanded the Corsican.
“Monsieur—” said Roguin, in his honeyed tones.
“Which tear a daughter from her father?—”
“Which deprive an old man of his last consolation?—”
“Monsieur, your daughter only belongs to you if—”
“And kill him?—”
“Monsieur, permit me—”
There is nothing more horrible than the coolness and precise reasoning of notaries amid the many passionate scenes in which they are accustomed to take part.
The forms that Piombo saw about him seemed, to his eyes, escaped from hell; his repressed and concentrated rage knew no longer any bounds as the calm and fluted voice of the little notary uttered the words: “permit me.” By a sudden movement he sprang to a dagger that was hanging to a nail above the fireplace, and rushed toward his daughter. The younger of the two notaries and one of the witnesses threw themselves before Ginevra; but Piombo knocked them violently down, his face on fire, and his eyes casting flames more terrifying than the glitter of the dagger. When Ginevra saw him approach her she looked at him with an air of triumph, and advancing slowly, knelt down. “No, no! I cannot!” he cried, flinging away the weapon, which buried itself in the wainscot.
“Well, then! have mercy! have pity!” she said. “You hesitate to be my death, and you refuse me life! Oh! father, never have I loved you as I do at this moment; give me Luigi! I ask for your consent upon my knees: a daughter can humiliate herself before her father. My Luigi, give me my Luigi, or I die!”