Those who knew the widow Lesueur declared that she was quite incapable of the villainous and spiteful action which landed poor Joséphine Palmier in the dock for theft. This may or may not be so. Citoyenne Lesueur had many friends, seeing that she was well-to-do and in good odour with all the Committees and Sections that tyrannized over humble folk in a manner which recalled the very worst days of the old régime, to the distinct advantage of the latter. Moreover, Achille Lesueur was a fine man, with a distinct way with the women. He had a glossy black moustache and flashing dark eyes, since he was a true son of the South, rather inclined to be quarrelsome; and he had very decided views on politics, had Achille. You should hear him singing the Carmagnole: "Ca ira! Ca ira!" and "Les aristos à la lanterne!" He did it so lustily, it verily sent a thrill all down your spine.
He was for destroying everything that pertained to the old order: titles, of course, and private ownership of every sort and kind, and the lives of all those who did not agree with him. Land must belong to the nation, and all that grew on the land and was produced under the earth or brought out of the sea. Everything must belong to the people: that was Achille's creed. Houses and fields and cattle and trees and women. Oh, above all, women! Women were the property of the nation.
That was the grand new creed, which had lately been propounded at Achille's Club--the Cordeliers. And everybody knows that what the Cordeliers discuss to-day becomes law by decree of the National Assembly the day after to-morrow.
Now, there were many who averred that Achille Lesueur became a devotee of that creed only after Joséphine Palmier, his mother's maid-of-all-work, disdained his amorous advances. Joséphine was pretty and had the dainty appearance which, in these grand days of perfect equality, proclaimed past sojourn in the house of a whilom aristocrat--as a menial, probably. Bah! Achille, whenever he tried to question Joséphine about the past and received no satisfactory answer, would spit and leer; for he had a wholesome contempt for all aristocrats and bourgeois and capitalists, and people of all sorts who had more money than he--Achilles Lesueur, the only son of his mother--happened to have at the moment.
Did I mention the fact that the widow Lesueur was very well-to-do, that she owned an excellent little business for the sale of wines, both wholesale and retail, and that Achille's creed that everything should belong to the people did not go to the length of allowing, say, Hector and Alcibiade, to help themselves to a stray bottle or so of the best Roussillon which happened to be standing invitingly on his mother's counter?
How he explained this seeming discrepancy in his profession of faith I do not pretend to say. Perhaps he did not consider it a discrepancy, and drew a firm line between the ownership of the people and the dishonesty of individuals. Be that as it may, Achille Lesueur had made up his mind that he was in love with Joséphine Palmier and that he would honour her by asking her to become his wife.
She refused--refused categorically and firmly; gave as an excuse that she could give him no love in return. No love, to him--Achille--with the flashing eyes, the long maternal purse, and the irresistible ways? It was unthinkable! The wench was shy, ignorant, stupid, despite her airs and graces of an out-at-elbows aristocrat. Achille persevered in his suit, enlisted his mother's help, who indeed could not imagine how any girl in her five senses could throw away such a splendid chance. Joséphine Palmier had looked half-starved when first she applied for the situation of maid-of-all-work in the widow Lesueur's house. She had great purple rings under her eyes and hands almost transparently thin; her lips looked pinched with cold, and her hair was lank and lustreless.
Now she still looked pale and was not over-plump; but the Citizeness Lesueur told all her neighbours that the wench had a voracious appetite, very difficult to satisfy, and that in accordance with the national decree, she was being treated as a friend of the house.
And now this wanton ingratitude! Joséphine Palmier, a waif out of the gutter, refusing the hand of Achille, his mother's only son, in marriage!
Ah, ça! Was the baggage perchance an aristocrat in disguise? One never knew these days! Half-starved aristocrats were glad enough to share the bread of honest citizens in any capacity; and it was a well-known fact that the ci-devant Comtesse d'Aurillac had been cook to Citizen Louvet before she was sent as a traitor and a spy to the guillotine.
Achille was persistent, and Joséphine obstinate. Citoyenne veuve Lesueur, whilst watching the growth of her son's passion, waxed exasperated.
Then the crisis came.
Achille's passion reached its climax, and the widow Lesueur's anger no longer knew bounds. The baggage must go. Had anyone ever seen such wanton wickedness? First to encourage Achille's attentions--oh, yes! the whilom aristo had from the first made eyes at the rich and handsome son of the house. Now, no doubt, she had some traitor waiting for her somewhere, or even perhaps one of those abominable English spies who literally infested Paris these days, intriguing and suborning traitors and seducing the daughters of honest patriots, so as to point with hypocritical finger afterwards at the so-called immoral tendencies of this glorious revolution. Oh, no! Citoyenne Lesueur did not mince matters.
"Take your rags and chattels with you, my wench, and go!"
And Joséphine, tearful, humiliated, anxious for the future of pauvre maman, who was quietly starving in a garret whilst her daughter earned a precarious livelihood for both as a household drudge, put together her few tiny possessions--mere relics of former happy times--and went out of the Citoyenne Lesueur's inhospitable doors, followed by the latter's curses and jeers--Achille having been got safely out of the way for the occasion.
This had occurred in the late afternoon of the 6th Floréal, which corresponds with the 25th day of April of more ordinary calendars.
On the morning of the 7th, which was Saturday, Citoyenne Lesueur came downstairs to the shop as usual, a little after six, took down the shutters, and started to put the place tidy for the day's work; when, chancing to look on the drawer which contained the takings of the week, she saw at once that it had been tampered with, the lock forced, the woodwork scratched.
With hands trembling with anxiety, the worthy widow fumbled for her keys, found them, opened the drawer, and there was confronted with the full evidence of her misfortune. Two hundred francs had been abstracted from the till--oh! the citoyenne was quite positive as to that, for she had tied that money up separately with a piece of string and set it in a special corner of the drawer. As for the baggage--eh! was not her guilt patent to everyone?
To begin with, she had been dismissed for bad conduct the evening before, turned out of the house for immoral ways, with which Citoyenne Lesueur had only put up all this while out of pity and because the girl was so poor and so friendless. Then there was the testimony of Achille. He had returned from his Club at ten o'clock that evening. He was positive as to the time, because the clock of the Hôtel de Ville was striking the hour at the very moment when he saw Joséphine Palmier outside his mother's shop. She was wrapped in a dark cloak, and carried a bundle under her arm. He--Achille --could not understand what the girl might be doing there, out in the streets at that hour, for he knew nothing of the quarrel between her and his mother.
He spoke to her, it seems, called her by name; but she did not respond, and hurried by in the direction of the river. Achille was very much puzzled at this incident, but the hour being so late he did not think of waking his mother and telling her of this strange rencontre, nor did he think of going into the shop to see if everything was in order. What would you? One does not always think of everything!
But there the matter stood, and the money was gone. And Citoyenne veuve Lesueur called in the Chief Commissary of the Section and gave her testimony, and attested as a patriot and a citizen against Joséphine, known to her as Palmier. That this was an assumed name, the worthy widow was now quite positive. That Joséphine was nought but an aristo in disguise looked more and more likely every moment.
The citoyenne recalled many an incident. Name of a name, what a terrible affair! If only she had not been possessed of such a commiserating heart, she would have turned the baggage out into the street long ago.
But now, what further testimony did any Commissary want, who is set at his post by the Committee of Public Safety for the protection of the life and property of honest citizens and for the punishment of bourgeois and aristos--traitors all--who are for ever intriguing against both?
As for Achille, he attested and deposed, fumed, raged, and swore; would have struck the Citizen Commissary had he dared, when the latter cast doubt upon his--Achille's--testimony; suggested that the Club of the Cordeliers was known for its generous libations, and that at that hour of the night any of its members might be pardoned for not recognizing even a pretty wench in the dark. And the Rue des Enfers was always a very dark street, the Citizen Commissary concluded indulgently.
Achille was beside himself with rage. Imagine his word being doubted! What was this glorious Revolution coming to, he desired to know? In the end, he vowed that Joséphine Palmier was both a thief and an aristocrat, but that he--Achille Lesueur, the most soulful and selfless patriot the Republic had ever known--was ready to exercise the rights conferred upon him by the recent decree of the National Convention and take the wench for his wife; whereupon she would automatically become his property, and, as the property of the aforesaid soulful and selfless patriot, be no longer amenable to the guillotine.
Achille had inherited that commiserating heart from his mother apparently; and the Chief Commissary of the Section, himself a humane and a just man, if somewhat weak, greatly approved of this solution to his difficulties. Between ourselves, he did not believe very firmly in Joséphine's guilt, but would not have dared to dismiss her without sending her before the Tribunal lest this indulgence on his part be construed into trafficking with aristos.
All would then have been well, but that Joséphine Palmier, from the depths of the prison where she had been incarcerated for three days, absolutely refused to be a party to this accommodating arrangement. She refused to be white-washed by the amorous hands of Achille Lesueur, declared that she was innocent and the victim of an abominable conspiracy hatched by mother and son in order to inveigle her into a hated marriage.
Thus the matter became very serious. From a mere question of theft, the charge had grown into one of false accusation, of conspiracy against two well-known and highly respected citizens. The Citizen Chief Commissary scratched his head in uttermost perplexity. The trouble was that he did not believe that the accusation was a false one. In his own mind, he was quite certain that the widow and her precious son had adopted this abominable means of bringing the recalcitrant girl to the arms of a hated lover.
But, name of a name! what is a Commissary to do? Being a wise man, Citizen Commissary Bourgoin referred the whole matter to a higher authority: in other words, he sent the prisoner to be tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal, the Tribunal Extraordinaire, where five judges and a standing jury would pronounce whether Joséphine Palmier was a traitor, an aristo, as well as a thief, and one who has trafficked with English spies for the destruction of the Republic.
And here the unfortunate girl is presently arraigned, charged with a multiplicity of crimes, any one of which will inevitably lead her to the guillotine.
Citizen Fouquier-Tinville, the Attorney-General, has the case in hand. Citizen Dumas, the Judge-President, fixes the accused with his pale, threatening eye. The narrow court is crowded to the ceiling. Somehow, the affair has excited public interest, and Achille Lesueur and his widowed mother, being well-to-do sellers of good wine, have many friends.
Attorney-General Fouquier-Tinville has read the indictment. The accused stands in the dock facing the five judges, with a set, determined look on her face. She wears a plain grey frock with long, narrow sleeves down to her pale, white hands, which accentuate the slimness of her appearance. The white kerchief round her shoulders and the cap which conceals her fair hair are spotlessly clean. Maman has carefully washed and ironed them herself and brought them to Joséphine in the prison, so that the child should look neat before her judges.
"Accused, what answer do you give to the indictment?" the Judge-President questions sternly.
"I am innocent," the girl replies firmly. "I was not in the Rue des Enfers at the hour when yonder false witness declares that he spoke with me."
Achille, who sits on a bench immediately below the jury, devours the girl with his eyes. Every now and again he sighs, and his red, spatulated hands are clasped compulsively together. At Joséphine's last words, spoken in a tone of unutterable contempt, a crimson flush spreads over his face, and his teeth--white and sharp as those of some wild, feline creature--bury themselves in his fleshy lower lip. His mother, who sits beside him, demure and consequential in sober black with open-work mittens on her thin, wrinkled hands, gives Achille a warning look and a scarce-perceptible nudge. It were not wise to betray before these judges feelings of which they might disapprove.
"I am innocent!" the girl insists. "I do not know why the Citizeness Lesueur should try and fasten such an abominable crime on me."
Here the Attorney-General takes her up sharply.
"The Citizeness Lesueur cannot be accused of tr ying to make you out a thief, since her only. son is prepared to make you his wife."
"I would rather die accused of the vilest crimes known upon this earth," she retorts firmly, "than wed a miserable liar and informer!"
Achille utters a cry of rage not unlike that of a wild beast. Again his mother has to restrain him. But the public is in sympathy with him. Imagine that pitiful aristo scorning the love of so fine a patriot!
The Attorney-General is waxing impatient.
"If you are innocent," he says tartly, "prove it. The Revolutionary Committee of your Section has declared you to be a Suspect, and ,ordered your arrest as such. The onus to prove your innocence now rests with you."
"At ten o'clock on the night of the 6th Floréal, I was with my mother," the girl insists calmly, "in the Rue Christine--at the opposite end of the city to where the Rue des Enfers is situated."
"Prove it," reiterates the Attorney-General imperturbably.
"My mother can testify--" the girl retorts.
But Citizen Fouquier-Tinville shrugs his shoulders.
"A mother is not a witness," he says curtly. "Mothers have been known to condone their children's crimes. The law does not admit the testimony of a mother, a father, a husband, or a wife. Was anyone else at the Rue Christine that night--one who saw you, and can swear that you could not possibly have been at the Rue des Enfers at the hour to which the principal witness hath attested?"
But this time the girl is dumb. Her sensitive lips are drawn closely together, as if they would guard a secret which must remain inviolate.
"Well?" the Attorney-General goes on with a sneer. "You do not reply. Where is the witness who can testify that you were in the Rue Christine, at the other end of Paris, at the hour when the principal witness swears that he saw you in the Rue des Enfers?"
Again the accused gives no reply. And now it is the turn of the five judges to become insistent first, then impatient, and finally very angry. Every one of them has, in turn, put the same proposition to the accused:
"You say that the principal witness could not have seen you in the Rue des Enfers at ten o'clock of the 6th Floréal, because at that hour you were in the Rue Christine. Well, prove it!"
And every one of them has received the same mute answer: an obstinate silence, the sight o a face pale and drawn, and a glance from large, purple-rimmed eyes that have a haunting, terrified look in them now.
In the end, the Judge-President sums up the case and orders the jury to "get themselves convinced". And this they must do by deliberating and voting audibly in full hearing of the public; for such is the law to-day.
For awhile thereupon, nothing is heard in the court save that audible murmur from the stand where the jury are "getting themselves convinced". The murmur itself is confused; only from time to time a word, a broken phrase, penetrates to the ear of the public or to that of the unfortunate girl who is awaiting her doom. Such words as "obvious guilt", or "no doubt a traitor", "nought but an aristo", "the guillotine", occur most frequently; especially "the guillotine". It is such a simple solver of problems, such an easy way to set all doubts at rest!
The accused stands in the dock facing the judges. She does not glance in the direction of the jury. She seems like a statue fashioned of alabaster, a ghost-like harmony in grey and white, her kerchief scarce whiter than her cheeks.
Then suddenly there is a sensation. Through the hum of the jury "debating audibly", a raucous voice is raised from out the body of the public, immediately behind the dock.
"Name of a dog! Why, Cyrano lodges at No. 12, Rue Christine. He was there on the evening of the 6th. Eh, Cyrano? En avant, my ancient!"
"Cyrano, en avant!" The chorus is taken up by several men in ragged shirts and blouses, to the accompaniment of ribald laughter and one or two coarse jokes.
The jury cease their "audible deliberation". Remember that this Tribunal Extraordinaire is subject to no law forms. Judges and jury are here to administer justice as they understand it, not as tradition--the hated traditions of the old régime--had it in the past. They are here principally in order to see that the Republic suffers no detriment through the actions of her citizens; and there is no one to interfere with them as to how they accomplish this laudable end.
This time, all of them being puzzled by the strangeness of the affair--the singular dearth of witnesses in such a complicated case--they listen to the voice of the public: vox populi suits their purpose for the nonce.
So, at an order from the Judge-President, someone is hauled out of the crowd, pushed forward into the witness-box, hustled and bundled like a bale of goods: a great, hulking fellow with muscular arms and lank, fair hair covered with grime. He is a cobbler by trade, apparently, for he wears a leather apron and generally exhales an odour of tanned leather. He has a huge nose, tip-tilted and of a rosy-purple hue; a perpetual tiny drop of moisture hangs on his left nostril, whilst another glistens unceasingly in his right eye. His appearance in the witness-box is greeted by a round of applause from his friends.
"Cyrano!" they shout gaily, and clap their hands. " Vivat, Cyrano!"
He draws his hand slowly across his nose and smiles, a shy, self-deprecating smile which sits quaintly on one so powerfully built.
"They call me Cyrano, the comrades," he says in a gentle, indulgent voice, addressing the Judge-President, "because of my nose. It seems there was once a great citizen of France called Cyrano, who had a very large nose, and----"
"Never mind about that," the Judge-President breaks in impatiently. "Tell us what you know."
"I don't know much, Citizen," the man replies with a doleful sigh. "The comrades, they will have their little game."
"What is your name, and where do you lodge?"
"My name is Georges Gradin, and I lodge at No. 12, Rue Christine."
He fumbles with one hand inside his shirt, for he wears no coat, and out of that mysterious receptacle he presently produces his certificatory Carte de Civisme--his identity card, what?--which the sergeant of the Revolutionary guard, who stands beside the witness-box, snatches away from him and hands up to the Judge-President.
Apparently the document is all in order, for the Judge returns it to the witness; then demands curtly:
"You know the widow Palmier?"
"Yes, Citizen Judge," replies the witness. "She lives on the top floor and my shop is down below. On the night of the 5th, I was in the lodge of the Citizen Concierge at ten o'clock when someone rang the front-door bell. The concierge pulled the communicating-cord and a man came in and walked very quickly past the lodge on his way to the back staircase; but not before I had seen his face and recognized him as one who has frequently visited the widow Palmier."
"Who was it?" queries the Judge-President.
"I don't know his name, Citizen Judge," Gradin replies slowly, "but I know him for a cursed aristocrat, one who, if I and the comrades had our way, would have been shorter by a head long ago."
He still speaks in that same shy, self-deprecating way, and there is no responsive glitter in his blue eyes as he voices this cold-blooded, ferocious sentiment. The judges suddenly sit up straight in their chairs, as if moved by a common spring. They had not expected these ultra-revolutionary terrorist opinions from the meek-looking cobbler with the watery eyes and the huge, damp nose. But the Judge-President figuratively smacks his lips, as does also Attorney-General Fouquier-Tinville. They have both already recognized the type of man with whom they have to deal: one of your ferocious felines, gentle in speech, timid in manner and self-deprecating; but one who has sucked in bloodthirsty Marat's theories of vengeance and of murder, by every pore of his grimy skin, and hath remained more vengeful far than Danton, more relentless than Robespierre.
"So the principal witness in this mysterious case is an aristo?" the Judge-President puts in thoughtfully. "Where does he live?"
"That I do not know, Citizen Judge," Gradin replies in his meek, simple way. "But I can find him," he adds, and solemnly wipes his nose on his shirt-sleeve.
"How?" queries the Judge.
"That is my affair, Citizen," says Gradin imperturbably. "Mine, and the comrades!" Then he turns to the body of the court, there where in a compact mass of humanity a number of grimy faces are seen, craned upwards in order to catch full sight of the man in the witness-box. "Eh, comrades?" he says to them. "We can find the aristo, what? "
There is a murmur of assent, and a reiteration of the ribald joke of awhile ago. The Judge-President raps upon his desk with the palm of his hand, demands silence peremptorily. When order is restored, he turns once more to the witness.
"Your affair!" he says curtly. "Your affair! That is not enough. The law cannot accept the word of all and sundry who may wish to help in its administration, however well-intentioned they may be; and it is the work of the Committee of Public Safety to find such traitors and aristos as are a danger to the State. You and your comrades are not competent to deal with so serious a matter."
"Not competent, Citizen Judge?" Georges Gradin queries meekly. "Then I pray you look at the accused and see if we are not competent to find the aristo whom she is trying to shield."
He gave a short, dry laugh, and pointed a long, stained finger at the unfortunate girl in the dock. All eyes were immediately turned to her. Indeed, it required no deep knowledge of psychology to interpret accurately the look of horror and of genuine fear which literally distorted Joséphine Palmier's pale, emaciated face. And now, when she saw the eyes of the five judges fixed sternly upon her, a hoarse cry escaped her trembling lips.
"It is false!" she cried, and clung to the bar of the dock with both hands as if she were about to fall. "The man is lying! No one came that evening to maman's lodgings. There was no one there but maman and I."
"Give me and the comrades till to-morrow, Citizen Judge," Gradin interposed meekly; "and we'll have the aristo here, to prove who it is that is lying now."
The Moniteur, of the 10th Floréal, year 1, which gives a detailed account of that memorable sitting of the Tribunal Extraordinaire, tells us that after this episode there was a good deal of confusion in the court. The jury, once more ordered by the judges to deliberate and to vote audibly, decided that the principal witness on behalf of the accused must appear before the court on the morrow at three o'clock of the afternoon; failing which, Joséphine Palmier would be convicted of perjury and conspiracy directed against the persons of Citizeness veuve Lesueur and her son Achille, a crime which entailed the death sentence.
Gradin stepped down from the witness-box, a hero before the public. He was soon surrounded by his friends and led away in triumph.
As for Achille and his mother, they had listened to Georges Gradin's evidence with derision rather than with wrath. No doubt they felt that whichever way the affair turned new they would have ample revenge for all the disdain they had suffered at the hands of the unfortunate Joséphine.
The Moniteur concludes its account of the episode by the bald statement that the accused was taken back to the cells in a state of unconsciousness.
The public was on tenterhooks about the whole affair. The latter had the inestimable charm which pertains to the unusual. Here was something new--something different to the usual tableau of the bourgeois or the aristocrat arraigned for spying or malpractices against the safety of the Republic; to the usual proud speech from the accused, defying the judges who condemned; to the usual brief indictment and swift sentence, followed by the daily spectacle of the tumbril dragging a few more victims to the guillotine.
Here, there was mystery; a secret jealously guarded by the accused, who apparently preferred to risk her neck rather than drag some unknown individual--an aristo evidently, and her lover--before the tribunal, even in the mere capacity of witness.
And so the court is crowded on this second day of Joséphine's trial, with working-men and shopmen, with women and some children. A sight, what? This girl, half-aristocrat, half-maid-of-all-work! And the handsome Achille--how will he take the whole affair? He has been madly in love with the accused, so they say.
And will Cyrano produce the principal witness as he promised that he would do? A fine fellow, that Cyrano, and hater of aristos! Name of a name, how he hated them!
The court is crowded; the judges waiting. The accused, more composed than yesterday, stands in the dock, grasping the rail with her thin, white hands, her whole slender body slightly bent forward, as if in an attitude of tense expectancy.
Anon, Georges Gradin appears upon the scene, is greeted with loud guffaws and calls of "Vivat, Cyrano!" He is pushed along, jostled, bundled forward, till he finds himself once more in the witness-box, confronting the Judge-President, who demands sternly:
"The witness you promised to find--the aristocrat--where is he?"
"Gone, Citizen Judge!" Gradin exclaims, and throws up his arms with a gesture of desperation. "Gone; the canaillee scoundrel! The traitor!"
"Gone? Name of a dog, what do you mean?"
It is Fouquier-Tinville who actually voices the question. But the Judge-President has echoed it by bringing his heavy fist down with a crash upon his desk. The other judges, too, have asked the question by gesture, exclamation, every token of wrath. And the same query has been re-echoed by a hundred throats, rendered dry and raucous with excitement.
"Gone? Where? How? What do you mean?"
And Gradin, meek, ferocious, with great hairy hands clawing the rail of the witness-box, explains.
"We scoured Paris all last night, the comrades and I," he begins, in short, halting sentences. "We knew one or two places the aristo was wont to haunt--the Café de la Montagne, the Club Républicain, the Bibliothèque de la Nation. That is how we meant to find him. We went in bands, two and three of us at a time. We did not know where he lodged; but we knew we should find him at one of those places--then we would tell him that his sweetheart was in peril--we knew we could get him here-- But he has gone--gone; the scoundrel, the canaille! They told us at the Club Républicain he had been gone five days . . . got a forged passport through the agency of those abominable English spies--the Scarlet Pimpernel, what? It was all arranged the night of the 6th, when he went to the Rue Christine, and the accused and her mother were to have joined him the next day. But the accusation was launched by that time and the Palmiers, mother and daughter, were detained in the city. But he has gone! The thief! The coward!"
He turned to the crowd, amongst whom his friends were still conspicuous, stretched out his long, hairy arm, and shook his fist at an imaginary foe.
"But me and the comrades will be even with him yet! Aye, even!" he reiterated, with that sleek and ferocious accent which had gained him the confidence of the judges. "And in a manner that will punish him worse than even the guillotine could have done. Eh, comrades?"
The Judge-President shrugs his shoulders. The whole thing has been a failure. The accused might just as well have been condemned the day before and much trouble would have been saved.
Attorney-General Fouquier-Tinville alone rejoices. His indictment of the accused would now stand in its pristine simplicity: "Joséphine Palmier, accused of conspiring against the property and good name of Citizeness Lesueur and her son." A crime against the safety of the Republic. The death sentence to follow as a natural sequence. Fouquier-Tinville cares nothing about a witness who cannot be found. He is not sure that he ever believed in the latter's existence, and hardly listens to Georges Gradin, still muttering with sleek ferocity: "I'll be even with the aristo!"
The Judge-President, weary, impatient, murmurs mechanically: "How?"
Georges Gradin thoughtfully wipes his nose, looks across at the accused with a leer on his face, and a sickly smile upon his lips.
"I'll marry the accused myself," he says, with a shy, self-deprecating shrug of his broad shoulders. "I must be even with the aristo."
Everyone looks at the accused. She appears ready to swoon. Achille Lesueur has pushed his way forward from out the crowd at the back.
"You fool!" he shouts, in a voice half-strangled with rage. "She has refused to marry me!"
"The law takes no count of a woman's whim," Gradin rejoins simply. "She is the property of the State. Is that not so, comrades?"
He is fond of appealing to his friends: does so at every turn of events; and they stand by him with moral support, which consists in making a great deal of noise and in shouting ""Vivat, Cyrano!" at every opportunity. They are a rough-looking crowd, these comrades of Gradin: mechanics, artisans, citizens with or without employment, of the kind that are not safely tampered with these days. They are the rulers of France.
Now they have ranged themselves against Achille Lesueur: call him "bourgeois" to his face, and quot;capitalist".
"The aristo shall wed Gradin, not Achille! Vivat, Cyrano!" they shout.
Georges Gradin is within his rights. By decree of the Convention, a female aristocrat becomes the property of the State. Is Joséphine Palmier an aristocrat?
"Yes!" asserts Gradin. "Her name is de Lamoignan. Her father was a ci-devant--an aristo--of the worst type."
"If she marries anyone, she marries me!" asserts Achille.
"We'll see about that!" comes in quick response from Gradin. "A moi, comrades!"
And before the judge or jury, or anyone there for that matter, can recover from the sudden shock of surprise, Gradin, with three strides of his long legs, is over the bar of the dock, in the dock itself the next moment, and has seized Joséphine Palmier and thrown her across his broad shoulders as if she were a bale of goods. To clinch the bargain, he imprints a smacking kiss upon her cheek. Josephine Palmier's head rolls almost inert upon her shoulders, white and death-like save for the crimson glow on one side of her face, there where her conquering captor has set his seal of possession. Gradin gives a long, coarse laugh.
"She does not care for me, it seems," he says, in his usual self-deprecating way. "But it will come."
The comrades laugh. "Vivat, Cyrano!" And they close in around their friend, who once more, with one stride of his long limbs, is over the bar of the dock, at the back of it this time, and is at once surrounded by a yelling, gesticulating crowd.
There is indescribable confusion. Vainly does the Attorney-General shout himself hoarse, vainly does the Judge-President rap with a wooden mallet against his desk. Everyone shouts, everyone gesticulates; most people laugh. Such a droll fellow, that Cyrano, with his big nose! There he is, just by the doorway now, still surrounded by "the comrades". But his huge frame towers above the crowd, and across his broad shoulder, still slung like a bale of goods, lies the unconscious body of Joséphine Palmier.
In the doorway he turns. His glance sweeps over the court, above the massed heads of the throng; and suddenly he flings something white and weighty across the court. It lands on the desk of the Judge-President. Then, using the inert body of the girl as a battering-ram wherewith to forge himself a way through the fringe of the crowd, he begins to move. His strength, his swiftness, above all his authority, carry him through. In less than ten seconds he has scattered the crowd and has gained ten paces on the foremost amongst them. The five judges and the jury are left gasping; and the Judge-President's trembling hands mechanically finger the missile, whilst with every second the pseudo-Gradin has forged ahead, striding with long limbs that know neither hesitation nor slackness. He knows his way about this Palace of Justice as no one else does probably in the whole of Paris. In and out of corridors, through guarded doors and down winding stairs, he goes with an easy, swinging stride, never breaking into a run. To those who stare at him with astonishment or who try to stop him, he merely shouts over his shoulder:
"A female aristocrat! The spoils of the nation! The Judge-President has just given her to me. A fine wife, what?"
Some of them know Gradin the cobbler by sight. A ferocious fellow with whom it is not safe to interfere; and name of a name, what a patriot!
As for "the comrades", they have been merged with the crowd, swallowed up, disappeared. Who shall recognize them amongst so many?
Less than five minutes later, there is a coming and a going, and a rushing; orders given; shouts and curses flying from end to end, from court to corridor. The whole machinery of the executive of the Committee of Public Safety is set in motion to find traces of a giant cobbler, carrying a fainting aristocrat upon his shoulders.
The Judge-President has at last mastered the contents of that missile flung at him by the cobbler across the court. It consists of a scrap of paper, scrawled over with a doggerel rhyme and a signature drawn in red, representing a small, five-petalled flower in shape like a Scarlet Pimpernel.
But of "Cyrano" there is not a trace, nor yet of half a dozen of his "comrades" who had been so conspicuous in the court when first he had snatched the aristocrat Joséphine Palmier from the dock.
Maître Rochet, the distinguished advocate who emigrated to England in the year 1793, has left some interesting memoirs, wherein he gives an account of the last days which he spent in Paris, when his fiancée, Mademoiselle Joséphine de Lamoignan, driven by extreme poverty to do the roughest kitchen work for a spiteful employer, was accused by the latter of petty theft, and stood in the dock under the charge. He knew nothing of her plight, for she had never told him that she had been driven to work under an assumed name; until one evening he received the visit of a magnificent English milord, whom he subsequently knew in England as Sir Percy Blakeney.
In a few very brief words, Sir Percy told him the history of the past two days and of the iniquitous accusation and trial which had ended so fortunately for Mademoiselle de Lamoignan, and for her mother. The two ladies were now quite safe under the protection of a band of English gentlemen, who would see them safely across France and thence to England.
Sir Percy had come to propose that Maître Rochet should accompany them.
It was not until the distinguished advocate met his fiancée again that he heard the full and detailed account of her sufferings and of the heroism and audacity of the English adventurer who had brought her and her mother safely through perils innumerable to the happy haven of a home in England.