The day wore on. By ones and twos and threes at a time, the condemned prisoners came from the tribunal, and collected in the waiting-room. At two o’clock all was ready for the calling over of the death-list. It was read and verified by an officer of the court; and then the jailer took his prisoners back to St. Lazare.
Evening came. The prisoners’ meal had been served; the duplicate of the death-list had been read in public at the grate; the cell doors were all locked. From the day of their arrest, Rose and her brother, partly through the influence of a bribe, partly through Lomaque’s intercession, had been confined together in one cell; and together they now awaited the dread event of the morrow.
To Rose that event was death—death, to the thought of which, at least, she was now resigned. To Trudaine the fast-nearing future was darkening hour by hour, with the uncertainty which is worse than death; with the faint, fearful, unpartaken suspense, which keeps the mind ever on the rack, and wears away the heart slowly. Through the long unsolaced agony of that dreadful night, but one relief came to him. The tension of every nerve, the crushing weight of the one fatal oppression that clung to every thought, relaxed a little when Rose’s bodily powers began to sink under her mental exhaustion—when her sad, dying talk of the happy times that were passed ceased softly, and she laid her head on his shoulder, and let the angel of slumber take her yet for a little while, even though she lay already under the shadow of the angel of death.
The morning came, and the hot summer sunrise. What life was left in the terrorstruck city awoke for the day faintly; and still the suspense of the long night remained unlightened. It was drawing near the hour when the tumbrils were to come for the victims doomed on the day before. Trudaine’s ear could detect even the faintest sound in the echoing prison region outside his cell. Soon, listening near the door, he heard voices disputing on the other side of it. Suddenly, the bolts were drawn back, the key turned in the lock, and he found himself standing face to face with the hunchback and one of the subordinate attendants on the prisoners.
“Look!” muttered this last man sulkily, “there they are, safe in their cell, just as I said; but I tell you again they are not down in the list. What do you mean by bullying me about not chalking their door, last night, along with the rest? Catch me doing your work for you again, when you’re too drunk to do it yourself!”
“Hold your tongue, and let me have another look at the list!” returned the hunchback, turning away from the cell door, and snatching a slip of paper from the other’s hand. “The devil take me if I can make head or tail of it!” he exclaimed, scratching his head, after a careful examination of the list. “I could swear that I read over their names at the grate yesterday afternoon with my own lips; and yet, look as long as I may, I certainly can’t find them written down here. Give us a pinch, friend. Am I awake, or dreaming? drunk or sober this morning?”