His vision was glazing; the muscles of his face were quietly settling to the repose that death only can command.
“Now, I would see the fruit of my prophecy; would see it all hung on the neck, in the hair of my child, that I may die rejoicing. Canst thou force the casket, George?”
The young man turned with a stifled groan. Some tools lay on a shelf hard by. He grasped a chisel and went to his task with shaking hands.
The box was all eaten and corroded. It was a matter of but a few seconds to prise it open. The lid fell back on the table with a rusty clang.
“Ah!” cried the dying man. “What now? Dost thou see them? Quick! quick! to glorify this little head! Are they not exquisite?”
George was gazing down with a dull, vacant feeling at his heart.
“Are they not?” repeated the voice, in terrible excitement.
“They—Mr. De Jussac, they are loveliness itself. Plancine, I will not touch them. You must be the first.”
He strode to the kneeling girl; lifted, almost roughly dragged her to her feet.
“Come!” he said; and, supporting her across the room, whispered madly in her ear: “Pretend! For God’s sake, pretend!”
Plancine’s swimming eyes looked down, looked upon a litter of perished rags of paper, and, lying in the midst of the rubbish, an ancient stained and cockled miniature of a powdered Louis Seize coquette.
This was all. This was the treasure the old crazed vanity had thought sufficient to build her nephew his fortune.
The diamonds! Probably these had long before been sacrificed to the armies ineffectively manoeuvring for the destruction of Monsieur “Veto’s” enemies.
Plancine lifted her head. Thereafter George never ceased to recall with a glad pride the nobility that had shone in her eyes.
“My papa!” she cried softly, going swiftly to the bed; “they are beautiful as the stars that glittered over the old untroubled France!”
De Jussac sprang up on his pillow.
“The guillotine!” he cried. “The beams break into flowers! The axe is a shaft of light!”
And so the glowing blade descended.
OF POLYHISTOR’S NARRATIVE
WRITTEN FOR, BUT NEVER INSERTED IN, THE ----- FAMILY MAGAZINE
The eyes of Polyhistor—as he sat before the fire at night—took in the tawdry surroundings of his lodging-house room with nothing of that apathy of resignation to his personal [Greek: ananke] which of all moods is to Fortune, the goddess of spontaneity, the most antipathetic. Indeed, he felt his wit, like Romeo’s, to be of cheveril; and his conviction that it needed only the pull of circumstance to stretch it “from an inch narrow to an ell broad” expressed but the very wooing quality of a constitutional optimism.