“Tush, tush, Rene Dumas!” said the old man, “you are a lawyer. You are bred to regard human life with contempt. Let any man break a law, and you shout, ‘Execute him!’”
“I!” cried Dumas, lifting up his hands and eyes: “venerable sage, how you misjudge me! I lament more than any one the severity of our code. I think the state never should take away life,—no, not even the life of a murderer. I agree with that young statesman,—Maximilien Robespierre,—that the executioner is the invention of the tyrant. My very attachment to our advancing revolution is, that it must sweep away this legal butchery.”
The lawyer paused, out of breath. The stranger regarded him fixedly and turned pale.
“You change countenance, sir,” said Dumas; “you do not agree with me.”
“Pardon me, I was at that moment repressing a vague fear which seemed prophetic.”
“Was that we should meet again, when your opinions on Death and the philosophy of Revolutions might be different.”
“You enchant me, Cousin Rene,” said the old man, who had listened to his relation with delight. “Ah, I see you have proper sentiments of justice and philanthropy. Why did I not seek to know you before? You admire the Revolution;—you, equally with me, detest the barbarity of kings and the fraud of priests?”
“Detest! How could I love mankind if I did not?”
“And,” said the old man, hesitatingly, “you do not think, with this noble gentleman, that I erred in the precepts I instilled into that wretched man?”
“Erred! Was Socrates to blame if Alcibiades was an adulterer and a traitor?”
“You hear him, you hear him! But Socrates had also a Plato; henceforth you shall be a Plato to me. You hear him?” exclaimed the old man, turning to the stranger.
But the latter was at the threshold. Who shall argue with the most stubborn of all bigotries,—the fanaticism of unbelief?
“Are you going?” exclaimed Dumas, “and before I have thanked you, blessed you, for the life of this dear and venerable man? Oh, if ever I can repay you,—if ever you want the heart’s blood of Rene Dumas!” Thus volubly delivering himself, he followed the stranger to the threshold of the second chamber, and there, gently detaining him, and after looking over his shoulder, to be sure that he was not heard by the owner, he whispered, “I ought to return to Nancy. One would not lose one’s time,—you don’t think, sir, that that scoundrel took away all the old fool’s money?”
“Was it thus Plato spoke of Socrates, Monsieur Dumas?”
“Ha, ha!—you are caustic. Well, you have a right. Sir, we shall meet again.”
“Again!” muttered the stranger, and his brow darkened. He hastened to his chamber; he passed the day and the night alone, and in studies, no matter of what nature,—they served to increase his gloom.