A mass of regal chestnut hair crowned with the white cap of a Norman peasant girl; gray eyes, very sad and serious, but looking serenely forth from under long, dark lashes; lips slightly curved with an expression of quiet humor; a face the color of the sun and wind, a bust indicative of perfect health, the chin of a Caesar, and the whole expression one of almost divine self-sacrifice. Such were the features that the painter was swiftly putting upon his canvas; but behind them Adam Lux discerned the soul for which he gladly sacrificed both his liberty and his life.
He forgot his surroundings and seemed to see only that beautiful, pure face and to hear only the exquisite cadences of the wonderful voice. When Charlotte was led forth by a file of soldiers Adam staggered from the scene and made his way as best he might to his lodgings. There he lay prostrate, his whole soul filled with the love of her who had in an instant won the adoration of his heart.
Once, and only once again, when the last scene opened on the tragedy, did he behold the heroine of his dreams.
On the 17th of July Charlotte Corday was taken from her prison to the gloomy guillotine. It was toward evening, and nature had given a setting fit for such an end. Blue-black thunder-clouds rolled in huge masses across the sky until their base appeared to rest on the very summit of the guillotine. Distant thunder rolled and grumbled beyond the river. Great drops of rain fell upon the soldiers’ drums. Young, beautiful, unconscious of any wrong, Charlotte Corday stood beneath the shadow of the knife.
At the supreme moment a sudden ray from the setting sun broke through the cloud-wrack and fell upon her slender figure until she glowed in the eyes of the startled spectators like a statue cut in burnished bronze. Thus illumined, as it were, by a light from heaven itself, she bowed herself beneath the knife and paid the penalty of a noble, if misdirected, impulse. As the blade fell her lips quivered with her last and only plea:
“My duty is enough—the rest is nothing!”
Adam Lux rushed from the scene a man transformed. He bore graven upon his heart neither the mob of tossing red caps nor the glare of the sunset nor the blood-stained guillotine, but that last look from those brilliant eyes. The sight almost deprived him of his reason. The self-sacrifice of the only woman he had ever loved, even though she had never so much as seen him, impelled him with a sort of fury to his own destruction.
He wrote a bitter denunciation of the judges, of the officers, and of all who had been followers of Marat. This document he printed, and scattered copies of it through every quarter in Paris. The last sentences are as follows:
The guillotine is no longer a disgrace. It has become a sacred altar, from which every taint has been removed by the innocent blood shed there on the 17th of July. Forgive me, my divine Charlotte, if I find it impossible at the last moment to show the courage and the gentleness that were yours! I glory because you are superior to me, for it is right that she who is adored should be higher and more glorious than her adorer!