“His house, his address,—quick!” interrupted the man.
“The Palazzo di —, on the Grand Canal.”
“I thank you,—at nine we meet.”
The man hurried on through the street from which he had emerged; and, passing by the house in which he had taken up his lodging (he had arrived at Venice the night before), a woman who stood by the door caught his arm.
“Monsieur,” she said in French, “I have been watching for your return. Do you understand me? I will brave all, risk all, to go back with you to France,—to stand, through life or in death, by my husband’s side!”
“Citoyenne, I promised your husband that, if such your choice, I would hazard my own safety to aid it. But think again! Your husband is one of the faction which Robespierre’s eyes have already marked; he cannot fly. All France is become a prison to the ‘suspect.’ You do not endanger yourself by return. Frankly, citoyenne, the fate you would share may be the guillotine. I speak (as you know by his letter) as your husband bade me.”
“Monsieur, I will return with you,” said the woman, with a smile upon her pale face.
“And yet you deserted your husband in the fair sunshine of the Revolution, to return to him amidst its storms and thunder,” said the man, in a tone half of wonder, half rebuke.
“Because my father’s days were doomed; because he had no safety but in flight to a foreign land; because he was old and penniless, and had none but me to work for him; because my husband was not then in danger, and my father was! He is dead—dead! My husband is in danger now. The daughter’s duties are no more,—the wife’s return!”
“Be it so, citoyenne; on the third night I depart. Before then you may retract your choice.”
A dark smile passed over the man’s face.
“O guillotine!” he said, “how many virtues hast thou brought to light! Well may they call thee ‘A Holy Mother!’ O gory guillotine!”
He passed on muttering to himself, hailed a gondola, and was soon amidst the crowded waters of the Grand Canal.
Ce que j’ignore
Est plus triste peut-etre et plus affreux encore.
La Harpe, “Le Comte de Warwick,” Act 5, sc. 1.
(That which I know not is, perhaps, more sad and fearful still.)
The casement stood open, and Viola was seated by it. Beneath sparkled the broad waters in the cold but cloudless sunlight; and to that fair form, that half-averted face, turned the eyes of many a gallant cavalier, as their gondolas glided by.
But at last, in the centre of the canal, one of these dark vessels halted motionless, as a man fixed his gaze from its lattice upon that stately palace. He gave the word to the rowers,—the vessel approached the marge. The stranger quitted the gondola; he passed up the broad stairs; he entered the palace. Weep on, smile no more, young mother!—the last page is turned!