“I do not ask you to diminish the catalogue. Listen still! In your death-roll there is the name of an Italian woman whose youth, whose beauty, and whose freedom not only from every crime, but every tangible charge, will excite only compassion, and not terror. Even you would tremble to pronounce her sentence. It will be dangerous on a day when the populace will be excited, when your tumbrils may be arrested, to expose youth and innocence and beauty to the pity and courage of a revolted crowd.”
Dumas looked up and shrunk from the eye of the stranger.
“I do not deny, citizen, that there is reason in what thou urgest. But my orders are positive.”
“Positive only as to the number of the victims. I offer you a substitute for this one. I offer you the head of a man who knows all of the very conspiracy which now threatens Robespierre and yourself, and compared with one clew to which, you would think even eighty ordinary lives a cheap purchase.”
“That alters the case,” said Dumas, eagerly; “if thou canst do this, on my own responsibility I will postpone the trial of the Italian. Now name the proxy!”
“You behold him!”
“Thou!” exclaimed Dumas, while a fear he could not conceal betrayed itself through his surprise. “Thou!—and thou comest to me alone at night, to offer thyself to justice. Ha!—this is a snare. Tremble, fool!—thou art in my power, and I can have both!”
“You can,” said the stranger, with a calm smile of disdain; “but my life is valueless without my revelations. Sit still, I command you,—hear me!” and the light in those dauntless eyes spell-bound and awed the judge. “You will remove me to the Conciergerie,—you will fix my trial, under the name of Zanoni, amidst your fournee of to-morrow. If I do not satisfy you by my speech, you hold the woman I die to save as your hostage. It is but the reprieve for her of a single day that I demand. The day following the morrow I shall be dust, and you may wreak your vengeance on the life that remains. Tush! judge and condemner of thousands, do you hesitate,—do you imagine that the man who voluntarily offers himself to death will be daunted into uttering one syllable at your Bar against his will? Have you not had experience enough of the inflexibility of pride and courage? President, I place before you the ink and implements! Write to the jailer a reprieve of one day for the woman whose life can avail you nothing, and I will bear the order to my own prison: I, who can now tell this much as an earnest of what I can communicate,—while I speak, your own name, judge, is in a list of death. I can tell you by whose hand it is written down; I can tell you in what quarter to look for danger; I can tell you from what cloud, in this lurid atmosphere, hangs the storm that shall burst on Robespierre and his reign!”
Dumas grew pale; and his eyes vainly sought to escape the magnetic gaze that overpowered and mastered him. Mechanically, and as if under an agency not his own, he wrote while the stranger dictated.