On hurried Francois, blithely unconscious of any dark prospect on his hopes of Josephte, but in visions, as he walked, of a little snow-white cottage known to him, with only one window in front, green-shuttered, but a dear little opening in the attic gable, and a leafy honey suckle creeping over the door way.
“The veil of mist that held
her eyes was rent
As by a lightning flash....”
An hour passes. The shades draw on and begin to blend hues and forms. Chrysler moves his deliberative survey over the neat-clipped grass and the tall hedge, the poplars looking over it from the other side of the highway, the boughs and trunks of the great triple tree—and the little pinnacles along the Manor-house. A couple of the visitors along the paths are discussing the situation with dapper Parisian steps and gestures.
Suddenly the shades creep perceptibly deeper. The gate rattles. A wild acting man—it is Benoit in his sky-blue clothes—rushes panting in, throwing out his arms before him, stumbling and gasping inarticulately lamentations of anguish. “He is dead; my God, the poor young man! Poor Francois! My God! my God!”
Yes, it is Benoit Iscariotes.
Everyone springs to him. A great tragedy has occurred—for Dormilliere; perhaps little for a more experienced world. In Benoit’s mind quivers a scene that has set shouting all the wild voices of his conscience. Ever-cheerful Francois, so full of life, so faithful, well named “Vadeboncoeur,” lies motionless upon the highway, deadly white, with glazed, half-closed eyes. Blood trickles from his open mouth, scatters from a frightful gash over his forehead, and bathes the ground in a dark pool; and a heavy stone lies near and relates its murderous tale. This is what guilty Jean-Benoit saw at his feet, as, having finished his “labors” to his own satisfaction he was returning from Misericorde in the footsteps of his coadjutor Cuiller. O, as the poor body lay in the blood like a judgment before him, and those half-closed eyes seemed to gleam at him from their lids, what a fearful blow did Conscience strike that hypocrite, leaping from the lair in which it had long lain in wait!
He cannot stir. A mighty thunder cloud rises up from behind high above him, and darkens the earth. A silence lies on the trees, the road, the moor, and all around to the horizon—a silence accusing him.
Not a leaf moved. The sun went down. The bright little narrow gleam under the eyelids of the dead stared slily up to him with an awful triumph. His heart was caught by the grip of a skeleton hand. He could feel its several sinews as they tightened their grasp. It was impossible to break away—the grip of the hand was on the heart in, his breast, and he was in the power of the triumphant corpse!