“What have you to say in your justification? Come, be quick!” said the judge roughly, with a yawn of impatience.
“I have not got to justify myself—I have to make a complaint, Mr. Burgomaster,” replied Dagobert in a firm voice.
“Do you think you are to teach me in what terms I am to put my questions?” exclaimed the magistrate, in so sharp a tone that the soldier reproached himself with having begun the interview so badly. Wishing to pacify his judge, he made haste to answer with submission:
“Pardon me, Mr. Burgomaster, I have ill-explained my meaning. I only wished to say that I was not wrong in this affair.”
“The Prophet says the contrary.”
“The Prophet?” repeated the soldier, with an air of doubt.
“The Prophet is a pious and honest man,” resumed the judge, “incapable of falsehood.”
“I cannot say anything upon that subject; but you are too just, and have too good a heart, Mr. Burgomaster, to condemn without hearing me. It is not a man like you that would do an injustice; oh, one can see that at a glance!”
In resigning himself thus to play the part of a courtier, Dagobert softened as much as possible his gruff voice, and strove to give to his austere countenance a smiling, agreeable, and flattering expression. “A man like you,” he added, with redoubled suavity of manner, “a respectable judge like you, never shuts his ears to one side or the other.”
“Ears are not in question, but eyes; and, though mine smart as if I had rubbed them with nettles, I have seen the hand of the brute-tamer, with a frightful wound on it.”
“Yes, Mr. Burgomaster, it is very true; but consider, if he had shut his cages and his door, all this would not have happened.”
“Not so; it is your fault. You should have fastened your horse securely to the manger.”
“You are right, Mr. Burgomaster, certainly, you are right,” said the soldier, in a still more affable and conciliating voice. “It is not for a poor devil like me to contradict you. But supposing my horse was let loose out of pure malice, in order that he might stray into the menagerie—you will then acknowledge that it was not my fault. That is, you will acknowledge it if you think fit,” hastily added the soldier “I have no right to dictate to you in anything.”
“And why the devil should any one do you this ill-turn?”
“I do not know, Mr. Burgomaster—but—”
“You do not know—well, nor I either,” said the burgomaster impatiently. “Zounds! what a many words about the carcass of an old horse!”
The countenance of the soldier, losing on a sudden its expression of forced suavity, became once more severe; he answered in a grave voice, full of emotion: “My horse is dead—he is no more than a carcass—that is true; but an hour ago, though very old, he was full of life and intelligence. He neighed joyously at my voice—and, every evening, he licked the hands of the two poor children, whom he had carried all the day—as formerly he had carried their mother. Now he will never carry any one again; they will throw him to the dogs, and all will be finished. You need not have reminded me harshly of it, Mr. Burgomaster—for I loved my horse!”