Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The Cannstatt conspirators
THE CANNSTATT CONSPIRATORS.
Part I. The Czar’s Protégée.
In the autumn of the year 185—, the Institution of Herr Popp in Cannstatt, for the care and cure of spinal diseases, was increased by three individuals of whom it is necessary that we give some account.
I. Paul Jansiewich, a Russian gentleman about seventy-eight, very thin and bowed in person, with bald head covered by a black fur cap, no whiskers, and bright, small eyes. With any strangers, however unobservant they might be, Jansiewich would be set down as a miser—he was not a miser, because he had no money to be miserly over; but his grand-daughter, Alexandrina had money, and though he was on the verge of the grave, and she was a young, blooming girl of seventeen, her money and the hoarding of it were the objects of his life. Except that he never allowed the house windows to be opened, and had an appetite of very large and liberal capacity, with no consideration whatever for appetites more nice or conservative, he cannot be described as an unpleasant person.
II. Alexandrina, commonly called Sasha, his grand-daughter, aged seventeen; fair-haired, pink-cheeked, and rosy-lipped, showing her teeth too much in a smile, otherwise quite pretty. Being light-haired, with that kind of smile and a sparkle or two of steel in her eyes, some readers may begin to imagine for themselves that she will prove of mediocre intellect and stupendous will. Wait and see. Mademoiselle Alexandrina’s papa had been tutor to the great, terrible Czar Nicholas I., and to imperial gratitude she owed the comfortable sum of eight hundred a year, pensioned on her at her father’s death. Without this, she could hardly have afforded to become a patient of Herr Popp’s, however much her very slight spinal deformity might have grieved her friends, and she could hardly have afforded anything so fashionable as an English, or rather Irish, governess, who received a tolerable salary and accompanied her in all her travels. For they were a restless pair, old Paul Jansiewich and his grand-daughter Sasha. One month they would be at Heidelberg, another at Frankfort, the next at Brussels, the next at Ems, and so on. They had now come to Cannstatt, because an accident which happened ten years ago to the young girl’s spine, had lately begun to show itself alarmingly. Herr Popp’s method was held throughout Germany to be a short and very safe road to cure.
III. Norah Malone, aged thirty-three, governess and companion.
What Miss Malone thought of her employer and pupil, would be difficult to arrive at, even after an acute study of the lady’s countenance. Except a flash now and then from her dark eyes, and a warm glow on her cheeks that would come and go as quickly as the flash, she never gave signs either of pleasure or anger. That she was often tried to the utmost by old Paul’s whims and by Sasha’s self-will, was plain to everybody—that she never resented these by any words spoken in or out of season, nobody could deny,—yet for so much patience, for so much good temper, for so much thoughtful attention, was it not strange that she gained no praise?
Miss Malone was one of those women who have no fault-finders and no friends among her own sex. Women admired her in spite of themselves. Her pupil, who was herself pretty and vain, would say sometimes, “I would rather be straight and tall and handsome as you are, than have all the money in the world,” knowing all the while that in her own heart she hated her. In this way people atoned for their injustice to her good qualities.
Perhaps this little family party was not the happiest in the world. At any rate such was the conclusion drawn by those members of Herr Popp’s establishment who held intercourse with them during the first week of their stay. Sometimes Mademoiselle Sasha would speak to her grand-papa in disrespectful terms of the barley soup and unchangeable veal cutlets, or would make a moue of disdain after her first taste of the wine—at which, if the old man were in a good temper, he would only swear quietly in Russian and tell her to hold her peace. If he were irate, which Sasha liked best, he kept up a constant small shot of provocations throughout the meal. The girl enjoyed his ill-temper more than the servants—that was evident, or why did she always try to enrage him?
Sometimes Miss Malone would be fired at with his biggest guns, because she had allowed Sasha to walk in the park where the officers were exercising, or worse still, to cross the street by herself on her way to the baths. All this the poor lady bore with Christian fortitude, as the newspapers say, and marvellous to tell, though old Paul Jansiewich could never succeed in aggravating her into an outward passion, he liked her. A fiery-tempered man liked a woman who was no less fiery, but who could show him her way of victory, by an apparent calm, mirabile dictu—for most people cordially hate those whom they cannot provoke—when they try. I don’t mean to say that there are not some easy souls among us, but with the others there is a rule of this kind.
It is necessary to speak a few words about Alexandrina’s education, to which was paid no ordinary attention. In the first place she had Miss Malone, who constantly spoke English (tinctured with Hibernian), out of school hours, and instructed her in the proprieties, no ill-timed instruction to the unsophisticated young Russian. Miss Malone taught her that it was not polite to put one’s knife in one’s mouth, to come down-stairs to breakfast without having touched the water in one’s hand-basin, to be utterly oblivious on the subject of boot-laces and other laces, &c. Perhaps a governess in England would be rather surprised if she were complimented on having instilled into her pupil’s mind the rudiments of tidiness and cleanliness—but I assure you to have instilled such into the mind of pretty Mademoiselle Sasha, was no small triumph, and Miss Malone had won it. Then, besides this lady’s instructions in English, she joined Herr Popp’s other pupils in German, French, and music classes, learned a great deal of natural philosophy and metaphysics to the utter exclusion of spelling, as is the fashion in Germany, lay on the sofa a stated number of hours every day in some kind of armour which was supposed to straighten the slight curve of her right shoulder, and by many other devices, satisfied the heart of old Paul Jansiewich that she would be the cleverest and prettiest woman of her time.
“She’ll be quite attractive enough to be married for her looks, and not for her money,” he said to himself often. “Money, indeed, I should like to see Sasha married for her money!” And he chuckled over the last words and thought that he should live for no end of years to enjoy what her husband ought to have.
It never once occurred to him that he might not live long enough to cheat this imaginary person.
The Jansiewich party arrived in Cannstatt during the first week of October. This week marks an era in scholastic life there, for the King’s birthday and the Volk’s Fest, or People’s Festival, attending it, bring a time of holiday to everybody, and new masters and new scholars are entered upon the lists when the general rejoicing is over.
People of every class and of every nation are left behind also. English, French, Dutch, Belgians, Saxon—each friendly nationality leaves its representatives, who dwindle away by degrees, like wasps when the plum season is over.
With only one of these representatives, however, have we any concern.
Though Herr Popp’s establishment consisted of a hundred patient-pupils, the Jansiewich family were as private as if they occupied a house of their own, with the exception of meeting pupils and governesses on the stairs or in the grounds, and a daily visit from the haus frau, Madame Roser. Many of the pupils who were sent from a distance lived together precisely as in an ordinary boarding-school; but Sasha showed no wish to make acquaintances, and she was therefore not aware when she went into the class-room to take her French lesson, that a new master sat on the stool of authority.
The class-room was a long naked apartment, containing no furniture but an oblong table painted blue, with benches placed round it, and a chair at the head for the master. When Miss Malone entered it with her pretty, wilful pupil hanging on her arm, the scholars were already assembled, and, having nothing else to do, stared at the new-comers with all their might, till the opposite door creaked.
“M. Pierre Talobre,” said cheery, consequential, little Herr Popp, and the girls rose to make reverence to their new instructor.
Miss Malone hated doing reverence to anyone. Taking her work from her pocket, she walked carelessly to the window, and leaning upon the ledge began to sew. With her back half turned towards M. Talobre, she now glanced at him.
His eyes were fixed upon her own stealthily, composedly, but with infinite surprise. His spirit seemed to leap up into them to question her, to defy her, to daze her. A deep, deep flush, fading to a livid pallor, a quick, short catching of the breath—only by these signs did Miss Malone testify her consciousness of a presence that amazed, overpowered her, filled her with passion and dread more terrible to bear than death.
No one but Alexandrina saw the sword that had been struck into her governess’s heart. She, perhaps the dullest pupil at conjugations and inflections in the room, was quick as lightning to observe, what it would have been well she had never observed.
The silence was broken by the rich deep voice of the master who inaugurated himself, as the custom is, by a few words of friendliness, advice, and critique on the French language. It was not his mode, he said, ever to teach a language as if it were a piece of mechanism. Life, vitality, feeling, all these are incarnated in the words we learn at our mother’s knee—life, vitality, feeling, all these ought to be incarnated in the words that we learn in advanced years of any language, sweet or sonorous, grand or graceful, in which people think, speak, hope, love, hate, or despair. It was not his purpose to give them dry rules and masses of meaningless words. It was his intention to give them the living language of a living people; to show them, not the museum-like specimens of an extinct species, but to create the beautiful animate form before their eyes. For this purpose he should read to them one of Corneille’s most glowing scenes, which he should afterwards divide into lessons, rising, as he did so, from simple elements of beauty and agreement to those higher and more complicated harmonies that only become apparent to the thoughtful and sympathetic.
All the girls listened, as girls should listen to their master, with wide-open eyes of admiration and homage, quite prepared to make an idol of M. Pierre Talobre at once, and embroider no end of shaving serviettes for him.
Alexandrina sat at the foot of the table, with one hand supporting her chin, the other playing carelessly with her pencil. But her eyes, her whole face, seemed fixed upon M. Talobre, as if by a spell. The colour, the freshness, the beauty of her face heightened with that earnestness, the white teeth were entirely hidden, the steely glisten of the eyes softened as a cold sky will soften under the first blush of the morning. One could have loved the girl then.
I never describe people. In the first place, because other people’s descriptions so seldom give me any real idea of the person described, and in the second, because individuality generally depends upon those delicate and subtle characteristics that can never be seized at once and defined in broad English, but must be caught one at a time, softly and delicately, as we used to catch butterflies—no legs torn off, no wings broken, or our pains are nought. But M. Pierre Talobre’s physique is easy to outline on account of its remarkableness; and whatever pains I shall henceforth take to discover to my readers his morale, which is far more difficult, I feel that I am helping myself by telling you that M. Pierre Talobre was remarkably tall and slender, with a delicate transparency of skin that augured weakness of health; that he stooped in his carriage as if he were always trying to bring other people’s eyes in a line with his own; that his own were peculiar both in form and colour, being large and round, with dark pupils that could not be called exactly black or blue or grey or brown—but of whatever colour they were, must be set down as the most unfathomable in the world. Without a mouth of so much delicacy of outline and softness of expression, I fear M. Pierre would have found those dark unreadable eyes of his rather unprepossessing cartes de visite; but the mouth and eyes told such different stories that the former, being pleasantest, was always believed instead of the latter.
Adding that M. Talobre’s age was forty-three, I will say no more on my own part regarding him.
As soon as the lesson was over, Alexandrina sprang to her governess, and, linking her arm in hers, prepared to quit the room.
“You have left your books and slate on the table,” said Miss Malone, quite calmly, and without looking at the master.
Sasha’s eyes were steel in a moment.
“It is not often that you are so particular about the books,” she said, pertly. “The slate and dictionary I shall certainly leave here.”
A voice close by made Miss Malone’s frame thrill with an agony half of terror, half of joy. She was a proud woman, however, and fought for her ground bravely. Neither Sasha nor M. Talobre could have detected any agitation.
“The dictionary I can hardly permit you to leave behind,” said the master, smiling, “remember your forthcoming description of spring.”
Sasha blushed crimson, and her hand trembled as she took the book which M. Talobre politely handed to her. Did their fingers meet, or did his hair touch her forehead as he bent forward? I know not: but so confused, so absorbed was the young blushing girl in her own feelings that she did not see a look M. Talobre gave Miss Malone ere they parted. It was but momentary, yet it had answered a question involving the cruelest doubt and dread, the acutest suffering of long unspeakable despair and bitterness, perhaps the hardest struggle of which a woman’s nature is capable.
As they returned to their apartments Sasha’s heedless, spiteful, young tongue inflicted a hundred asp-bites. She was not radically hard-hearted, this poor child, and she often showed herself capable of self-devotion, but she had been brought up in a bad school, and felt no repugnance in tormenting one who was set in authority over her, who often stood in the way of her secret longings.
“How conscious you looked, Miss Malone, when M. Talobre entered. Do you know him? Have you seen him often before? Do tell me a pretty love-story about him. You have seen him before, haven’t you, now?”
“What right have you to talk so much about your French master? If you are not more prudent, I shall speak to your grandpapa about the advisability of your receiving lessons from a lady—and indeed, Sasha, I don’t approve of—of that kind of teaching.”
In this way Miss Malone artfully contrived to parry the boldest attack, and the presence of old Jansiewich at the Abendessen, or tea-and-supper meal, effectually shielded her from Sasha’s further sarcasms. She sat quietly at her work, as if nothing had happened.
But when the hour of release came, and she was alone in her bedroom (who but governesses and companions know the full blessing of that word alone?), such a storm of passion overpowered her that she lay on the bed and bit her lips till the blood came, lest her sobs should be heard. What tears, what trembling, what fearful gasps told the extent of her sufferings!
“God in Heaven, have pity!” she cried, again and again. “I thought it was over, but now it is come once more—and I shall never, never be at peace. Let me die—let me die and be tempted no longer.”
She prayed once or twice, and grew calmer. Then the calm would wear off as she thought of him, and she would repeat:
“Let me die before it comes! O God! let me die!”
Part II. In the Conservatory.
Two or three weeks passed, during which, to Sasha’s certain knowledge, M. Talobre had never spoken to her governess. It was clear enough that he could not speak to her in the class-room before all the pupils, and she had never allowed herself to be separated from Miss Malone at other times. Indeed, Miss Malone really seemed to avoid any opportunity of meeting the French master in Cannstatt alone, and for once Alexandrina’s ingenuity was baffled. That Miss Malone and M. Talobre were not strangers to each other—that something had occurred during their acquaintance to make, if not the two enemies, at least suspectors, perhaps haters, she could not doubt. What was the mystery?
She had no clue. They met as strangers. Nothing to make other people suspicious of their former life had ever transpired to her knowledge; nothing was likely to transpire. Miss Malone and M. Pierre had both paved the way for good opinions by the very highest of testimonials, both were so well-bred, so respectable, so fenced by conventional proprieties, that a doubt upon their antecedents would have made sensible people laugh. Sasha was sorely perplexed. But with that young lady’s secret feelings after the third week, we have nothing to do. Something—many things occurred to render her opinions regarding her governess and master nugatory as evidence in this story. We must now adhere to facts, and having but a few of them to throw light upon the mystery, they must be carefully studied and followed up. It was M. Talobre’s custom to give his more advanced pupils impromptu pieces of dictation, turning upon such rules of grammar as had been under discussion during the lesson. One day, in the fourth week after his installation, he gave the following:
In the first hurry of having built the Cannstatt Conservatory, on a close and careful inspection you will find some errors were made, which will give me to-night an opportunity of showing you how, between ten feet of length at the base and twelve feet of height at the summit might be there gained, by a judicious displacement of (and all reference to contracts and any money matters being settled afterwards by those who like them) we can so alter and improve the building, so arrange and dispose of our old materials, that we leave a new and more elegant building in Cannstatt together with a model for other architects.
According to his usual custom, the master corrected each pupil’s slate by turns; when Sasha’s was under inspection his brow contracted, and he chided her gently.
“There are many faults of simple spelling,” he said; “more than I can stop to correct—will you kindly do it for me?” he added to Miss Malone; and having dashed here and there on the offending words, passed the slate to her.
He generally made use of the presiding governess in this way, and even Sasha’s quick eye could discern nothing in the action; but if my readers will kindly turn to the dictated sentence above, and connect the words marked by the professor (indicated in italics), he will have very good reason for supposing Miss Malone to be in no ordinary agitation for the rest of the evening.
The lesson finished at seven, and supper was over by eight—only two hours more.
Two hours! Had she been alone they would have been intolerable; as it was, she nerved herself to outward calm by so terrible an effort that when she reached her bedroom, she could not prevent herself from screaming.
Sasha came running out of the door opposite.
“My dear creature, how you frighten me! What is the matter?”
“A spider! horrid, horrid thing! it crawled on me,” and the governess shuddered and clasped her hands over her face.
“What a coward! let me kill it for you,” answered Sasha, good-naturedly taking off her slipper for the purpose.
But the spider was nowhere to be found, and by-and-by the young lady returned.
Ten o’clock struck, and the house was perfectly quiet.
Herr Popp’s habitation was immensely large, and was built after the ordinary way of a German house let to many families. Each logement consisted of four or five rooms opening on to the large staircase by a glass door, the key of which was kept by the superintending governess of the class domiciled therein. The Jansiewich family, however, being people of importance, and bringing a jungfer of their own, occupied one entire set of rooms on the ground floor for the convenience of the old gentleman, who could not climb stairs. Miss Malone’s only difficulty, therefore, lay in clearing the front door, which difficulty was not trivial. About ten o’clock the female servants of the establishment held a levée on the stone steps, sub dio, to which numerous hussars and moustached boy-guards were enticed by basins of coffee and portions of fruit pasties cribbed from the housekeeper’s cupboards. Then, again, the return! By eleven o’clock, the housemaids would be sent off to their narrow quarters aloft, and the street-door locked.
A sash-window might have removed all perplexity, but, as all travellers in Germany are aware, the windows only open in the centre, thus hardly admitting room for a child to get through. Therefore only one course lay clear to Miss Malone. She must watch her opportunity when the maids were all in the front, secrete the key of the back kitchen entrance, and make her escape that way. The kitchen-maid, she well knew, would be far too lazy and indifferent to take the trouble of looking for the key; perhaps she might not even observe the fact of its absence.
With a stealthy step she crept through the dark passage, and by the kitchen, into the back yard. Her hand trembled as she felt over and over for the key, but it was not there. So reckless and agitated was she, however, that without heeding this obstruction, without pausing to question the possibility of being locked out on her return, she rushed into the open air, and never slackened her wild haste, till she stood beneath the portico of the conservatory.
M. Pierre was the first to speak.
“It’s deuced cold,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “let us seek the south side, where we shall be safe from the wind. Take my arm.”
She did not hear or would not heed his proposal, but kept both hands elapsed on her breast. Did she fear her heart was breaking? It might well have broken under the weight that oppressed it.
Beneath the feeble light of one small lamp they stood face to face on the south side of the portico. What a handsome, wild-looking couple they were!
“Well, Norah, we have met again. What is to be the next act of the drama?” he said, in the same light tones.
Her words could be hardly heard for her gasping sobs.
“Have you no heart—no pity,” she exclaimed, “am I to be not only your slave but your scorn? Am I so much less than other women, that you should treat me in this way? Let me go on as I have begun since we parted; let me be innocent, if I cannot be happy. Oh! if you knew the misery that those days have left to me—if you could tell my shame and agony—”
“You will hardly think I took so much trouble to see you for the purpose of hearing this! My dear girl, collect your sober senses. We have done with romance, you and I. Will you help me, or will you not? That is the point, and let us stick to it.”
“Help you? Oh, Pierre!”
She trembled so much that he held out his hand to support her; but stepping back, as if unwilling to be touched by him, she leaned on a marble pillar and gazed at him with tearless, despairing eyes.
“I should be so glad to die now,” she said, “or to hide myself from your eyes. Here I thought I could live an honest and clean life; and though I never hoped for peace, much less happiness, I was reconciled to it. I cannot go back again to that terrible sinful existence—”
“Remember,” he said, gloomily, “that you are speaking to one who holds your fate in his hands. You are in my power; yield to it. Do you not see that it is useless resisting?”
“I will die rather than yield to it,” she answered with calmness.
His eyes flashed, and he laid one hand heavily on her shoulder.
“You shall not die,” he said, in a low, hard voice, “you shall live, and live for me. Do you hear what I say? It is as useless for you to try to free yourself, as it would be for you to try and bring down that pillar on which you lean. You were mine in your youth and beauty and innocence; you are more than ever mine since you have lost these; you are mine so long as there is breath in your body.”
She turned deadly pale as he went on speaking, and tried once or twice to reply without the power.
He added, “You are mine so long as I love you.”
Her face changed then, as the calm sea will change when a breath of wind rises in the east, and the waves dance and sparkle in wild haste beneath the first blush of the morning.
Colour and life came into her cheeks, light and passion sprang to her eyes; all the woman’s nature rose to her face. Half proudly, half pathetically, half entreatingly, she stretched out her hands towards him, whom her whole life had loved unchangeably.
“Do you love me still, Pierre?” she said, softly. “Am I more to you than all other women? Are you glad to see me again?”
Her youth and beauty seemed to come back to her then, and the man was touched. His voice softened.
“You know that all other women are nothing to me; that through all I have loved you; through all I will love you. Yet knowing this, you will not serve me: you will do nothing for one who has been so faithful to you.”
The beauty and warmth of youthfulness faded from her face in an instant. Despairingly and brokenly, she answered him:
“You ask too much of me, Pierre. Any hardship, any toil, any sacrifice, I am ready to make for you. I cannot surrender my soul.”
“Hear me, Norah. There is no question of souls. You belong to me, and you are by no means burdened with my sins (if they are sins) committed through you. I make one proposition to you, and no more. If you agree to it, you and I leave Cannstatt, leave Germany together, and live happily, and without cares for the future. Your life with me, may be after your own pattern. You shall have an indulgent husband so long as you are a forbearing wife. Think well over it. If you will not consent, do not hope for a quiet future—do not hope anything from me.”
He led her out a few steps beyond the portico, and whispered in her ear. Arm-in-arm the two paced backwards and forwards together, till the clock struck eleven.
“I must go,” she whispered hurriedly.
“Yes, or no?” asked M. Talobre, in a determined voice.
“Give me at least a few hours to consider of it,” she whispered entreatingly; “that is surely but little to ask. I cannot, cannot tell you now.”
“You must tell me now. There is no chance of my conveying a message to you without fear of detection. You and I are watched already. No, no. You must make up your mind before we part to-night. Come, I will give you ten minutes, during which we will walk beneath these orange-trees.”
There was no sound but the low ominous west wind whirling the dead orange blossoms round their feet. The little town, with its white bath-houses and gleaming river, lay on their right, the dense shades of the royal park of Stuttgart on their left. Beyond rose ridges of hills and vineyards, through which curled the broad road to freedom, to luxury, to pleasure. All was dark around her. The darkness pressed on her heart like a heavy hand, and no thought of the future could raise it.
“I love you,” whispered M. Pierre.
Having no other light for her guidance, she accepted this.
Part III. Guilty, or Not Guilty?
Herr Christian Schmidt and his wife Maria, a jolly, pleasant-faced, merry-hearted couple, living in the Eschenheimer Strasse, Frankfort-on-the-Maine, and letting all the upper rooms of their house, or rather cigar-shop, are one morning busily discussing the affairs of a new lodger, when it behoves us to make their acquaintance.
“Her husband is coming to-night, and that is why she has sent out for a bottle of Moselle,” said rosy Frau Schmidt. “She knows how men love their palates.”
“I don’t fancy he will come,” added her husband, wisely; “there is something in her face of a woman who is accustomed to expect in vain.”
“All husbands are wretches,” added Frau Maria, with a comfortable sigh.
“All women are saints in their own opinion, and sinners when they get the chance,” returned the Herr Schmidt.
Just then the new lodger passed out of their front door into the street. Customers entering the shop deterred the master and mistress from observing that she turned down into the Zeil. We follow her till she stops at the Poste Restante.
“Any letters for Mrs. Carey?” she asked in a quick, anxious voice.
The man handed her one, and, without waiting to thank him, she turned away. With the letter crushed in her hand, she rushed onwards till she came to a side street leading off the crowded Zeil, where she stopped, and turning her face towards a shop window, tore open the letter.
It bore no date or address, and only the following words:
“Dear Norah,—If you don’t see me in a day or two, slip away quietly to Paris, alone. It is not my own fault that I have delayed to come.”
Norah Malone, for it was she, tore the paper into twenty fragments, and scattered them in the street. Her eyes flashed with an anger that might have been terrible then, to the man who had deceived her. Drawing her veil close over her face, she rushed on and never stopped till she reached a solitary spot in the Eschenheimer pleasure-garden. There, she threw herself on an empty seat, and cried as an ordinary woman cries when her heart is breaking.
For this, then, she had sacrificed so much? For disappointment, for deception, for betrayal she had sold her peace of mind, her good conscience, her all that was dear to woman.
Fool, fool that she had been to trust him again. Was she not rightly served?
An hour passed, before the first vehemence of her passion was over. When she grew calmer she rose and walked on—on through the pretty gardens where happy children danced and laughed amid the falling leaves,—on through the fresh Grüneburgweg, with its white villas and neat gardens, so many cozy birds-nests for peaceful souls;—on through the open corn-fields till she passed the Rothschild mansion, and the grey old Eschenheimer Thor and Dom were all that pointed to the city she had left behind.
The sun had set now and the mists were rising fast. She did not return home wildly and recklessly as she had come. Choosing the nearest way, and walking with steady haste, she reached the cigar-shop just as the Herr and Frau Schmidt were sitting down to tea.
The Frau came into the passage to meet her.
“A gentleman is up-stairs waiting to see you. He has travelled from a distance, and is very impatient,” she said with a bow.
A hope, strong and bright, of joy unexpected, lighted up her whole being. The desolation and the cruel delay were both forgotten. In an instant she stood on the threshold.
“God bless you, Pierre!” she cried, and held out both her trembling hands.
But a touch stranger and colder than her husband’s had ever been, was laid upon her shoulder.
“In the name of Wilhelm, King of Wirtemberg, I arrest you for having stolen two thousand florins, the property of Paul Jansiewich, in trust for his grand-daughter Alexandrina—”
The voice paused, then, and gathered fresh severity and fresh force, as it added:
“And for the murder of Paul Jansiewich on Tuesday, the twenty-seventh of October, eighteen hundred and fifty-four.”
She did not faint or scream, but yielded herself a prisoner, as one who has no longer any hope of life or fear of death.
The first day of Norah Malone’s imprisonment was passed by her in a kind of torpor, out of which she was aroused by a visit from the Herr Polizeibeamte.
He was a heavy, plethoric man with glassy bead-like eyes that had no expression in them but sharpness of perception; these eyes he fixed upon her throughout the whole interview. He might not have acknowledged it to himself, but he was impressed, amazed by the wild daring beauty of the woman.
Beauty of a rare and most irresistible kind—intellect, keener than that of many men—generous, brave candour of soul—were such gifts ever more ill-used than these of Norah Malone’s?
“Have you any wish to make a statement?” asked the Herr.
“Perhaps when I have informed you of some facts that have occurred since your arrest, you will feel inclined to alter your decision. These facts have given a most unexpected and extraordinary turn to the whole affair. Answer me, have you any acquaintance with a person calling himself Pierre Talobre, lately employed as professor of French at Herr Popp’s?”
The glassy eyes scintillated like fire.
“You have? Have you any reason to suppose that this M. Talobre has been in frequent intercourse with your late pupil Alexandrina Jansiewich? Will it surprise you to hear that both are missing?”
Such a scream as the unhappy woman uttered then, had never before greeted the ears of Herr Polizeibeamte. He turned pale, and drew back nervously in his chair when she touched his arm.
Falling on her knees she begged to be heard.
“Let me speak, let me confess,” she cried with terrible fervour. “I loved him once, but now hate him, and in defending myself, can make his guilt plain. Oh! hear me, hear me!”
The substance of Norah Malone’s statement ran as follows:
“My real name is Norah Martyn, née Malone. Pierre Henri Martyn (son of a French lady married to an Englishman) is my husband, and we were married at Paris in July, 1849. Of our former life, I will only say that he was engaged in a kind of speculative swindling, to which I was accessory, and on account of its discovery we fled to America. There we separated, after living very unhappily together, and we did not meet or have any communication whatever till on the fourth of last month. No one knew of our connection, and I only had one interview with him, viz., on the twenty-seventh. We met secretly, because I had no wish to give up my respectable and harmless life, and he had reasons of his own. On this occasion he declared that he loved me still—that he would henceforth be faithful to me—that he would give up gaming and vice, and live honestly—if I started him with money. In England, he said, he would procure some appointment or other, and then all my troubles would be over. But we must have something to begin with, and he had debts of honour already, which kept him tied hand and foot in Cannstatt. In fact, the money must be had, and the way of getting it lay clearly before him. Do women who love bad men lose all the whiteness and honesty of their souls? I think so, for I consented. Yet the crime seemed to me as black as it could do to any innocent young girl. But I listened to him. Throughout that interview the name of Paul Jansiewich was only once mentioned by him. He said, ‘I know for a certainty that the old man keeps his money in a box, which you could easily get at, as he trusts you implicitly. You have only to send him to sleep.’
“Our plot was arranged thus: On the following day I was to steal the money from the old man’s room when he was taking his noonday sleep. To ensure his sounder sleep and my safety, I put a few drops of laudanum in his coffee, and before it was time for Sasha and myself to take our afternoon walk, I had abstracted the key from his pocket, taken out the money, and replaced the key. Before this, however, Pierre Talobre had sent by post a note of invitation, purporting to be from an English lady I knew in Stuttgart, inviting me to a coffee-drinking at her house that night, and at dinner, M. Jansiewich had consented that I should go. I do not think he would have consented, had not Sasha declined her invitation of going out to spend the evening with her musical-governess. We therefore walked out together for an hour, and parted at the door of her friend’s house. I took a drosky to Stuttgart, where my husband met me in the narrow street adjoining the post-hof. He appeared to be very much excited, and proceeded to ask me immediately for the money.
“‘The fact of my taking possession of it at once,’ he said, ‘will be the only means of ensuring your safety, and through yours of mine. Suspicion cannot rest upon you, when there is no money found in your keeping, when no one can prove your having changed or used it. I shall join you at Frankfort or Berlin, in a few days, as soon as I safely can. Change your name, address, and identity as often as you find it possible.’
“He then informed me that an express train was on the point of starting for Mannheim; that it would be safest for me to take it, to diverge from the general route at that place, and proceed by country roads and eilwagens to Frankfort. He should write to me next day, and name the time and place of meeting. Assuring me again of his unalterable reformation, and kissing me on the forehead with renewed expressions of love, he left me.
“I spent three days at Frankfort in the cruelest suspense and apprehension, during which time I received two letters from him, both purporting that I had better go to Paris in the case of his non-appearance shortly. I cannot remember the postmark of the last letter. The first bore that of Thun. I did not wonder at his first delay, for I knew that his path was one of unsafety wherever he was known.
“That I am a robber, a betrayer of my master’s trust, a dupe to incredible folly, I do not deny. That I am innocent of any intention to murder him; that he was alive, and, to all appearances, in his usual health when I left him, I affirm on my most sacred oath.
“This is the truth, and nothing but the truth.
“Norah Henri Martyn.”
Two circumstances blackened, almost beyond hope of whitening, the mass of evidence against Norah Martyn.
First and chiefly:—she was the last person seen to enter the room of Paul Jansiewich, between the hours of one and four on the day of the murder.
Secondly:—she was known to be in the old man’s confidence, and to have so far an interest in his death, that in the event of it, she was nominated guardian to the young girl, Alexandrina, at a high fixed salary, double the sum she had hitherto been receiving. Norah Martyn denied any knowledge of this, but thus ran the will, and to a woman who had sworn herself the accomplice of a gambler, a thief, a swindler, what credence, removed from the evidence of facts, could be given?
The following facts were all that as yet threw any light on the subject. Immediately after dining with his grand-daughter and her governess in the common dining-room, Paul Jansiewich had retired to his sanctum, which was built beyond the apartment he had just quitted, and had no other communication whatever with the house. Dinner being over by one o’clock, it was between one and two that Norah Martyn carried him a cup of coffee, as was her usual habit, returned with the empty cup, read English to her pupils for about twenty minutes, then started up looking a little agitated, saying that she had an important question to ask M. Jansiewich before going out. She said this to Sasha in the hearing of their servant, who also saw her issue from the dining-room leading out of M. Jansiewich’s apartment a few minutes later. No noise was heard. The two ladies soon after put on their bonnets and went out; it was owing to their absence at four o’clock, that the hausfrau sent a servant with coffee and bread to M. Jansiewich, it being customary in the house to take a light meal between dinner and supper.
What was the girl’s horror to find the old man lying dead upon the floor, apparently killed by a heavy blow on the head? No weapon was found, and the room bore no sign of any struggle.
On whom else but Norah Martyn, could possible suspicions rest? No doubt, the flight of Sasha and M. Talobre formed another mysterious adjunct to this strange story; but with regard to the murder, the two could only be required as witnesses. It was proved by the servant’s testimony, and also by that of her governess, that Sasha could not have seen M. Jansiewich since the dinner-hour. As to M. Talobre, he had not been seen on the premises of Herr Popp’s institution since the day of his last lesson, which happened on the Saturday previous to the murder, and he had been seen in Stuttgart by several people on the fatal day. This testimony, it will be observed, exactly tallied with his unhappy wife’s confession.
How the French master had found opportunity to woo and win the young Russian heiress, was no little matter of conjecture and gossip, till a paper was accidentally found among her copy-books, which showed that he had made artful use of his scholastic privileges to that effect. The paper, a piece of foolscap, and to all appearances an ordinary school exercise, was closely written with the warmest and wildest declarations of love, the most romantic sketches of a life blessed with the fervency of poetic passion; in fine, all that was calculated to captivate the heart and brain of a young girl.
Where were they, these ill-suited, unprincipled, to all others such unloving, lovers? Was their honey-moon an agreeable one, or did the asphodel of their own hearts spoil the sweetness of it a little? Did the dark shadow of that woman’s avenging, awful soul blot out the sun from their hiding place? I think it must have done. Alexandrina was hardly tender-hearted and womanly enough to be happy any how, and for him, the very name of happiness was a jest too poor to laugh at. Yet he had romance in him still. There is no doubt that he loved her after his own fashion, for she was fresh and fair, and no man with that hushed, deep-sinking voice of his, and that winning smile, could ever lose a certain unrespecting admiration of women.
Meantime, did he know that one woman who loved him, as only those women can love, whose natures are capable of high things,—did he know that she was in prison, alone, and, before the face of man, a condemned murderess?
I think words would fail utterly to describe that loneliness, that desolation, that sense of womanly shame. Night and day she prayed with tears that drained her heart like drops of blood, for death. Sometimes she almost hoped that her prayers would be answered, for sleep, appetite, voice failed her: she could not raise her head from her hard pallet; she had hardly strength remaining to mourn aloud in her most despairing moments. The woman in attendance upon her, though utterly coarse, rough, and unmannerly, was kind and pitying. This was the only drop of healing in her bitter, bitter cup. One morning, our old friend the Polizeibeamte, with the glass bead eyes, was ushered into her room.
“I have come with strange news for you,” he said, but for the first time since their acquaintance his eyes looked dull, and were turned away from her.
“You are acquitted—you are proved innocent,” he added.
She made no sign of release. No tears came to the poor eyes that had wept too much in grief, ever to weep again for joy.
“A most extraordinary turn has been given to affairs,” here his eyes grew into beads again, as he ferreted out the secret of his story, “a most unprecedented affair, truly. You are, of course, aware that, adjoining the residence of Herr Popp is the private lunatic asylum of Herr Christian? You are also aware that the gardens are only separated by low fences, and that the sitting-room of M. Jansiewich opened by a glass door upon that portion of pleasure-ground immediately proximate to the most favourite walk of the patients?”
A gleam of light shot over the woman’s face, as she collected all her mental energies to follow the clue.
“Mark you, it was often M. Jansiewich’s habit to walk by this fence, and converse with those mild lunatics who were suffered to take the air alone. He was heard once, twice, thrice to quarrel with a crack-brained officer, proved by the witness of his attendants to be good-tempered enough when not put out, but liable to fits of frenzy. On the morning of the twenty-seventh, the sane man and the insane man were heard sneering at each other, reviling at each other. Yesterday, an iron-handed garden-rake was found in a shrubbery, exactly corresponding to the shape of the wound upon M. Jansiewich’s head, and this very tool had been seen in the hands of the officer that morning. I ask you to connect these facts. I ask you, Madame, to connect these facts, and I am sorry that you should ever have been placed in a position to reap the benefit of them.”
Norah Talobre Martyn died a few days after the communication narrated above, and was buried in the little grave-yard of Zuffenhausen. Her grave is surmounted by a wooden cross on which hangs a crown of thorns, placed thereby the rough, pitying hands of her nurse; the same good hands bear flowers and evergreens to the mound on Saints’ days, and keep the cross free from weather-stain, or soil. Pierre Talobre and his young wife never again appeared in Cannstatt. In Paris, in Berlin, in St. Petersburg they live their varied life of gaieties and quarrels, in alternate extravagance and want.
Perhaps they have often envied the peace of their victim. Perhaps this envy has taught them a better wisdom than their own lives could ever do. It is to be hoped so.