“’O Count, be calm. This is not as bad as a sentence of twenty years in the penitentiary for an honest and innocent man. And, remember, my dear Count, how you have enjoyed yourself all these years, while my poor father has been toiling in prison in a striped suit. Think of the roast beef you have eaten and the wine you have consumed! And, moreover, the death you are about to die, my dear Count, was once fashionable and popular in the world; and many a good and holy man went up to heaven from just such a death-bed as you shall have-a death-bed of fire and ashes. And see, my good Count, how willingly these honest men, whom you hired, with your damnable money, to destroy my father—see how willingly they work to prepare your funeral pile! What a supple and pliant thing, O Count, is human baseness. It has but one defect—it may be turned upon ourselves! And then, O my dear Count, it shocks us and hurts our feelings. But say your prayers, Count, say your prayers. Call upon God, for He is the only one likely to listen to you now.’
“‘Here,’ I said to the judge, ‘put a match to the pile.’
“The miserable wretch, trembling and hoping to save his own life by his superserviceable zeal, got down upon his knees, and lighted a match, and puffed and blew to make the fire catch. At last it started briskly, and in a few minutes the Count was screaming in the center of a roaring furnace.
“I gave a preconcerted signal to my men. In the twinkling of an eye each of the prisoners was manacled hand and foot, shrieking and roaring for mercy.
“‘It was a splendid joke, gentlemen,’ I said to them, ’that you played on my father. To send that good man to prison, and to go home with the price of his honor and his liberty jingling in your pockets. It was a capital joke; and you will now feel the finest point of the witticism. In with them!’
“And high above the walls of fire they were thrown, and the briber and the bribed—the villain and his instruments—all perished howling together.”
I listened, awestruck, to the terrible story. There was a light in Max’s eyes which showed that long brooding over the wrongs of his father and the sight of his emaciated and wretched form had “worked like madness in his brain,” until he was, as I had feared, a monomaniac, with but one idea—revenge.
“Max, dear Max.” I said, “for Heaven’s sake never let Christina or your mother hear that dreadful story. It was a madman’s act! Never think of it again. You have wiped out the crime in blood; there let it end. And leave these awful scenes, or you will become a maniac.”
He did not answer me for a time, but looked down thoughtfully; and then he glanced at me, furtively, and said:
“Is not revenge right? Is it not simply justice?”
“Perhaps so, in some sense,” I replied; “and if you had killed those base wretches with your own hand the world could not have much blamed you. Remember, however, ’Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay.’ But to send them out of life by such dreadful tortures! It is too terrible.”