THE HEADSMAN.

A TALE OF DOOM.

[MAGA. February 1830.]

On a dark and gusty evening in November 178—, three students at a university in Northern Germany were sitting with Professor N. around the stove of his study. These four individuals had in the morning accompanied a much-valued friend, who was finally quitting the university, on the first stage of his journey homeward, and had returned at the full speed of their jaded horses, to reach the city before the closing of the gates. On arrival within the ramparts, they were invited by the Professor to drown their parting sorrow in a bowl of punch, and accompanied him to his abode, where they sat for some time gazing at the crackling firewood in the stove, and musing in silent melancholy upon the social and endearing qualities of the friend with whom they had parted—perhaps for ever. Meanwhile the materials for the most cheering of all potations lay untouched upon the table, the candles remained unlighted and forgotten, and, as if by tacit agreement, the friends continued to indulge in retrospective musings until the twilight waned into darkness, and the flickering light from the open door of the stove just enabled each of them to discern the saddened features of his neighbour. When returning to the city, their exhausted spirits had been painfully jarred by the spectacle, so rare in Germany, of a scaffold erecting without the ramparts for the execution of a murderer. Some remarks of the humane Professor upon the crime and punishment of the condemned did not tend to cheer the young men, who replied in monosyllables, and were pondering in mute and melancholy excitement upon the awful catastrophe so near at hand, when a tap at the door made them all start from the reverie in which they had been too deeply absorbed to hear any one ascending the stairs. “Come in,” at length shouted the Professor, after pausing a little to recollect himself. The door was gently opened, and the dying flame in the stove threw its last blaze upon the pallid features of a tall and handsome youth, who entered the room with diffidence, and inquired if Professor N. was at home. “Here I am, my dear Julius,” answered the kind Professor, as he rose from his chair, and grasped with cordial pressure the hand of the inquirer. “Can I do anything to oblige you?”

“I have called upon you to request a favour,” answered the stranger hesitatingly, as he surveyed with searching looks the three students, whose features were not distinguishable in the Rembrandt chiaroscuro of the Professor’s study.

“If no secret,” said the Professor briskly, as he replenished his stove with beechwood, “explain yourself freely. All present are my particular friends, and certainly no enemies of yours. Say, my dear boys! you all know and respect our worthy Harpocrates?”

The students briefly assented, and the Professor invited the stranger to take a seat near the fire, which, darting playfully through the pile of beech, soon roared loudly up the chimney. “I believe that Lieutenant B. is your near relation?” began the pale youth, in tones which betrayed an inward tremor.

“He is my nephew,” replied the Professor.

“I have understood,” continued the stranger, “that he will command the detachment ordered on duty at the execution to-morrow. I am particularly desirous to stand near the criminal at the moment of decapitation, and wish, through your kind interference with the Lieutenant, to obtain admission within the circle.”

“By all means,” answered the Professor. “My nephew has invited me to accompany him, but I have declined it, and I must own that your request surprises me no little. How is it, my dear Julius, that you, who are by nature and habit so gentle and fastidious, can seek such strong aliment as the near inspection of a public execution? Even I, who served three campaigns in the artillery before I betook myself to mathematics, could not face a catastrophe so appalling.”

“I study anatomy as an amateur,” replied Julius, somewhat disconcerted; “and, as I may eventually embrace the medical profession, it is essential to my purpose to steel my nerves by inuring them to every trying spectacle.”

“You are right, Julius!” exclaimed the Professor, with cordial assent. “Trials are the fostering element of great hearts and lofty natures. To become great in anything, we must take the Egyptian test, and purify our feeble minds by passing through fire and water. Call upon me to-morrow morning at seven. I will introduce you to my nephew, and he shall give you a place near the headsman. And now, not another word on this painful subject, which has haunted us ever since we heard the workmen hammering the scaffold this afternoon. So cheer up, my dear boys! Light the candles, and fill your meerschaums, while I compound a bowl of such punch as Anacreon would have made, had he known how.—No, no! my dear Julius,” he continued, seizing the arm of the young stranger, who was rising to depart. “A friendly chance has brought you into our cordial circle, and I must insist upon your remaining my guest.”

In vain did the three students, by whom Julius was more respected than liked, indicate by significant looks their objection to his stay; the benevolent Professor, who had long observed, with better feelings than curiosity, the pale features and habitual depression of a youth distinguished by great intellectual promise, persevered in his hospitable attempt, and at length succeeded in subduing his visible reluctance to stay.

Julius Arenbourg had been three years a student at the university, but his retiring habits and invincible taciturnity had hitherto prevented any free and amicable communion with his fellow-students. His name was that of a Swiss, or of a Strasburger; and, although he spoke German with facility, there were certain peculiarities of accent and idiom in his language which betrayed a longer familiarity with French: he shunned, however, all intercourse with the Swiss and French students at the university, and his country and connections were still a matter of conjecture. His engaging person and address, and the dejection so legibly written in his countenance, had excited on his arrival an immediate and general impression in his favour, but he shunned alike exclusive intimacy and general intercourse; his replies were either commonplaces or monosyllables; and as the unhappy and reserved find little sympathy from the young and joyous, his fellow-students dubbed him the Harpocrates of the university, and left him to solitude and self-communion.

The kind-hearted Professor, desirous to lead this interesting youth into habits of social ease and intimacy with the students present, exerted his colloquial powers, and endeavoured to lead them into general conversation; but his benevolent endeavours were baffled by the ineradicable impression which the approaching execution had made upon the mind of every student of good feeling in the university; and the successive attempts of the Professor were succeeded by long intervals of brooding and melancholy silence. At length, one of the young men, notwithstanding his host’s prohibition, could no longer refrain from adverting to this all-absorbing subject. “Excuse me, Professor,” he began, “but I find it impossible to withdraw my thoughts, even for a moment, from the present situation of the poor wretch who is so soon to bend his neck to the executioner. It appears to me, that the intervening hours of deadly and rising terror, are the real and atoning punishment, and not the friendly blow which releases him from the fear of death. Even the reprieve, sometimes granted on the scaffold, is no compensation for terrors so intense. The criminal has already died many deaths, and the new existence, thus tardily bestowed, can be compared only with the revival of the seeming dead in his coffin. Gracious Heaven!” he continued, with shuddering emotion, “how dreadfully bitter must be the sensations of the poor fellow at this moment!”

“In all probability,” replied another student, “he has either made up his mind to the impending catastrophe, or he finds sustaining consolation in the hope of a reprieve. At all events, his reflections must have, in my opinion, a more justified character than those of the wretch, who, before another sunset, with a firm eye and unsparing hand, with as little remorse as the butcher who kills a lamb, will shed the blood of a fellow-creature—of one who never injured him in deed or thought—who will kneel to him with folded hands, and humbly stretch his neck to the fatal blow. Verily, I think that I would rather thus suffer death, than thus inflict it.”

“Does not this view of the subject,” remarked the third student, “justify, in some measure, the so often ridiculed prejudice of the uneducated multitude, who pronounce an executioner infamous, because they cannot otherwise define the disgust which his appearance, even across a street, invariably excites? And may not this association of ideas be grounded on a religious feeling? The Mosaic law provided a sanctuary for the blood-guilty who had committed murder in sudden wrath; and, except in cases of rare enormity, compassion for the criminal must tend to increase the popular detestation of a man, who, in consideration of a good salary, is ever ready to shed the blood of a fellow-creature.”

“For the honour of human nature,” observed the Professor, “I will hope that, could we read the hearts of many who fulfil this terrible duty to society, we should behold, both before and during its exercise, strong feelings of reluctance and compassion. I can conceive, too, that those who have by long habit become callous to their vocation, are by no means destitute of kindly feeling in matters unconnected with their calling; but I do not comprehend how any man can voluntarily devote himself to an office which excludes him for life from the sympathy and society of his fellow-men; nor do I believe that this terrible vocation is ever adopted, except by those who, through early training, or a long course of crime, have blunted the best feelings of human nature.”

Julius, who had hitherto been a silent but attentive listener, now addressed the Professor with an animation which surprised all present. “You must excuse me, Professor,” said he, “if I dissent from your last remark. You seem to have overlooked the fact, that the numerous individuals devoted to this melancholy office, in Germany and France, compose two large families severally connected by intermarriages and adoptions. In France especially, the executioner is under a compulsory obligation to transmit his office to one of his sons, who grows up with a consciousness of this necessity; and, being systematically trained to it, he submits, in most instances, without repining, to his painful lot. If the executioner has only daughters, he adopts a young man, who becomes his son-in-law and successor. I knew an instance of adoption which affords decisive evidence, that even a youth of education and refinement, of spotless integrity, diffident, gentle, and humane to a fault, may be compelled, by the force of circumstances, to undertake an office from which his nature recoils with abhorrence, and from which, in this instance, the party would have been saved by a higher degree of moral courage.”

It was here remarked by one of the students, that cruel propensities and a want of courage were perfectly compatible.

“But I am speaking of a good man,” warmly rejoined Julius, “and good in the best and most comprehensive sense of the word. A man, not only pure from all offence, but of primitive and uncorrupted singleness of heart. For the truth of this I can pledge myself, for I know him well.”

At this undisguised avowal of his acquaintance with a public executioner, his auditors looked at him, and at each other, with obvious dismay. “Oh!” continued he, with a mournful smile, while his pale face was flushed with strong emotion, “wonder not at this acknowledgment. I can assure you, that, on my part, the acquaintance was involuntary; and had we not already devoted too much time to this painful subject, I could, by relating this headsman’s strange and eventful history, fully vindicate my opinion of him, and of the unhappy caste to which he belongs.”

The Professor, who thought that the detail of an interesting story would excite in the three students a friendly feeling for the melancholy narrator, besought him earnestly to indulge them with the recital. “In our present frame of mind,” he added, “your narrative will lay a strong hold, and will doubtless tend to reconcile our various opinions.”

The students warmly seconded the Professor’s entreaties, and, thus called upon, Julius could no longer hesitate to comply. A flush of timidity, or of some more deeply-seated feeling, darkened his pale forehead, while he paused some moments as if to collect his firmness for a trying effort. He then began, in tones which, although tremulous at first, became deep and impressive as he proceeded; while the Professor and his friends, little prepared to expect any continuous recital from one who rarely uttered a connected sentence, listened with strong and rising interest to the following narrative.


It is about five-and-thirty years since a murderer was condemned to suffer death by the sword, at a town in western Normandy; and, on the morning of the execution, two senior pupils of the Jesuit-seminary went, by permission of their superiors, to view a spectacle of rare occurrence in that province. The cordial intimacy subsisting between these youths had long been a problem, both to their teachers and schoolfellows. So widely different, indeed, were they in appearance and character, and so harshly did the ferocity and cunning of the one contrast with the pure and gentle habits of the other, that they were called the “Wolf and the Lamb.”

The older of them, named Bartholdy, was a native of Strasburg, tall and robust in person, but high-shouldered, stooping, and in dress and gait slovenly and clownish. His yellow visage was deeply furrowed with the small-pox, and his remarkably large and staring eyes, which were of a pale and milky blue, indicated a dulness bordering on imbecility. This appearance, however, was belied by his habitual cunning, and by the dexterity with which he often contrived to exculpate himself under criminatory circumstances. His spreading jawbones, large mouth, and coarsely-moulded lips, truly betokened his proneness to sensual gratifications; and the collective expression of his forbidding features was so remarkable, that a single glance sufficed to fix it in the memory for ever. It was rumoured in the seminary, that this youth had been sent by his friends to a school so remote from Strasburg in consequence of some highly culpable irregularities; and certainly these rumours were justified by occasional instances of wolfish ferocity and deliberate duplicity, for which he was severely but vainly punished.

Florian, the friend of Bartholdy, although nearly of the same age, was shorter by the head. His figure was slender and elegant—his countenance eminently prepossessing and ingenuous. His complexion was of that pure red and white, through which every flitting emotion is instantaneously legible. His hazel eyes sparkled with intelligence; locks of glossy chestnut curled round his fair and open forehead; and there was about his lips and smile a winning grace, which, at maturer age, would have been thought too feminine. Although not regularly handsome, there was in his form and features that harmonious configuration which is termed beauty of character, and which, when accompanied by the correspondent moral graces of gentleness and refinement, often lays a more enduring hold of the affections than beauty of a more dignified and masculine order. An habitual and blushing timidity of address, of which he was painfully conscious, made him shrink from a free and general intercourse with his fellow-pupils. He had few friends, because his bashful habits had made him fastidious and reserved; but his gentle and unassuming deportment, and the invariable sweetness of his temper, endeared him to the few who had penetration enough to discern his real merits; and so far recommended him to all, that the existence of an enemy was impossible.

Thus widely opposite in physical and moral attributes were Florian and Bartholdy; and yet so cordial appeared their attachment, so incessant was their intercourse, that the presiding Jesuits could only solve this psychological enigma by conjecturing that Bartholdy, whose fierce temper and great bodily strength made him detested and shunned by every other boy, had found in the gentle sympathies of the unspoiled and credulous Florian a relief which long habit had made essential to him. It is probable, too, that the often guilty, and ever equivocal Bartholdy, had found a protecting influence in the warm adherence of one whose purity of mind and character were universally acknowledged. His specious reasoning rarely failed to convince the confiding Florian that he was unjustly accused, and on several occasions he was screened from well-merited punishment by the favourable testimony of a friend whose veracity was above all suspicion.

Florian, on the other hand, was flattered by the consciousness of his power to protect one so much feared by all but himself, and whom he thought unjustly persecuted. He was bound to him also by the tie of gratitude, for the protection which he derived from the size and strength of Bartholdy when insulted or aggrieved in the quarrels which so often occur in large seminaries. Gradually, however, this exclusive intercourse with one so generally detested, alienated from Florian the good-will of his schoolfellows. Even the few who had most esteemed him, now shunned his society; and the two friends, finding themselves excluded from all participation in the sports and feelings of others, became more than ever essential to each other. This enduring intimacy of two beings so opposite had been long watched by the Jesuits who conducted the establishment; but, with their wonted sagacity, they forbore to check this singular friendship; not, however, in the hope of any amelioration in the habits of Bartholdy, but with a view to learn from the unqualified sincerity of Florian what the duplicity of the other would have concealed. Hoping that the trying spectacle of a public execution would make a salutary impression upon the hitherto callous feelings of Bartholdy, the reverend fathers had permitted him and his friend to be present on this awful occasion. Florian, who, at the urgent and often-repeated entreaties of Bartholdy, had applied for this permission, followed him with reluctant steps, and a heart beating with terror, and was prevented only by the jeers and remonstrances of his companion from running back to school, and burying his head under his bed-clothes, until the rush of the excited multitude, and the deep rolling of the drums and deathbells, had ceased. As usual, however, his complying temper yielded to the persuasion of his plausible and reckless friend, with whom he gained an elevated station, and so near the scaffold as to enable them to discern the features of the hapless criminal. Florian saw him kneel before the headsman; the broad weapon glittered in the sun-beams, and the assumed firmness of the trembling gazer utterly failed him. An ashy paleness overspread his features; his joints shook with terror; and closing his eyes, he saved himself from falling by clinging to the arm of Bartholdy, who, with unshaken nerves, opened to their full extent his large dull eyes, and glutted his savage curiosity by gazing with intense eagerness on the appalling scene. In a few seconds the severed head fell upon the scaffold; the headsman’s assistant, grasping the matted locks, held it aloft to the gazing crowd; and Bartholdy exclaimed, with heartless indifference, “Come along, Florian! ’tis all over, and capitally done! I would bet a louis that you saw nothing, and yet your face looks as white as if it had left your shoulders. Be more a man, Florian. If thus daunted at the sight of another’s execution, how would you face your own, if destined to mount the scaffold?”

“Face my own!” exclaimed Florian, shuddering at the suggestion. “God forbid! I shall take good care to avoid it.”

“Say not so,” rejoined Bartholdy; “no man can avoid his doom; and it may be yours or mine to die upon the scaffold. Avoid it, indeed! I wish from my soul that you had never uttered those unlucky words. How often do the very evils we most carefully shun fall upon our devoted heads! My mind has been long made up to avoid nothing; and, soon as I become my own master, I will throw myself on the world, and grapple with it boldly. Avoid your destiny, indeed! Beware of using those words again; for, trust me, Florian, they bode no good to you.”

The timid Florian felt his blood freeze as he listened; but, recollecting himself, he was about to express his perfect reliance upon the integrity of his life and principles, when he shuddered with new dismay as he recollected the judicial murder of Calas, and considered the complexities of human and circumstantial evidence. In deep and silent dejection, he walked homeward with his friend. He felt as if his existence had been blighted by some sudden and dreadful calamity; and even fancied that he saw his future fate rising before him in storm and darkness, through which menacing images were indistinctly shadowed. Bartholdy, meanwhile, appeared as much exhilarated as if returning from a comedy, and amused himself with making sarcastic and ludicrous remarks upon the saddened countenances of the returning spectators.

The lapse of several months gradually weakened the strong hold which the execution, and the strange comments of Bartholdy, had laid upon the imagination of Florian, but they tended to increase the timid indecision of his character, and induced a disposition to endure, in uncomplaining silence, many school annoyances, which more energy of character would have easily repelled. An extraordinary incident, however, gave a new turn to his situation. About six months after the execution, Bartholdy suddenly disappeared from the seminary; and this unaccountable event, by which Florian was the only sufferer, was neither explained nor even alluded to by the reverend fathers. To the scholars, who in vain sought an explanation of this mystery from the friend of Bartholdy, it was for some weeks a subject of wondering conjecture, which soon, however, subsided into indifference with all save Florian. He had lost his only, and, as he firmly believed, his sincerely attached friend and companion; and as this friendship had deprived him of the sympathy of every other schoolfellow, he had now no alternative but to retire within himself, and lean upon his own thoughts and resources. For some time he brooded incessantly upon the strange disappearance of his friend. He recollected that for several days preceding the event, the spirits of Bartholdy were so obviously depressed as to create inquiries, to which his replies were vague and unsatisfactory. Notwithstanding the guarded silence of the reverend fathers, it was evident to Florian that his friend had not absconded from the seminary, as not only his clothes and books, but even his bed, had disappeared with him. One article only remained, which had been left in the custody of Florian. It was a large clasp-knife, of excellent workmanship and finish. The handle was of the purest ivory, wrought in curious devices, and the long blade, which terminated in a sharp point, was secured from closing by a powerful spring, thus serving the double purpose of a knife and dagger. The owner of this remarkable weapon had told Florian that it was precious to him, as the legacy of a near relative, and requested him to take charge of it, from an apprehension that, if discovered in his own possession, it would either be stolen by the boys, or taken from him by the Jesuit fathers. “And now,” sighed Florian, as he gazed with painful recollections on the knife, “it is too probably lost to him for ever. But if he is still in being, I may yet see and restore to him his favourite knife; and that I may be always ready to restore it, as well as in remembrance of the owner, I will henceforth always carry it about me.”

During the remainder of Florian’s stay at the seminary, his thoughts continually reverted to his lost friend, who had, he feared, from a mysterious expression of the presiding Jesuit, met with some terrible calamity. During confession, he had once expressed his grief for the sudden deprivation of his friend, when, to his great surprise, the venerable priest, placing his hand solemnly upon the fair and innocent brow of Florian, exclaimed with fervent emphasis, “Thank God, my son, that it has so happened!”

Florian often pondered upon these remarkable words, which, until some years after his departure from school, he could never satisfactorily interpret. For a long period he fondly cherished the memory of Bartholdy, and this feeling was prolonged by the knife, which, from habit, he continued to carry about him, even when the lapse of time had reconciled him to the loss of his early friend, and his riper judgment told him that that friend had unworthily imposed upon his credulity, and that the consequences of their exclusive intimacy still exercised a pernicious influence upon his character and his happiness.

About three years after the disappearance of Bartholdy, the guardians of Florian, who had been an orphan from infancy, removed him from the seminary, and placed him as a law-student at the University of D.; but here again, although advantageously introduced and recommended, he found himself a stranger, unheeded, and desolate. His timid and now invincible reserve, which prevented all advances on his part towards a frank and social communion with his fellow-students, chilled that disposition to cultivate his acquaintance, which his graceful person and intelligent physiognomy had excited; while his hesitating indecision, at every trivial and commonplace incident, made him ridiculous to the few who had been won, by his prepossessing exterior, to occasional intercourse. Thus, amidst numbers of his own age and pursuit, and in the dense population of a city, the timid Florian continued as deficient as a child in all practical acquaintance with society. Without a single friend or associate, he acquired the habits of a solitary recluse; and, yielding supinely to what now appeared to him his destiny, he became anxious, disconsolate, and misanthropic. Conscious, however, that in France a sound and comprehensive knowledge of jurisprudence was a frequent avenue to honourable civic appointments, and yet overlooking his own incompetency to make any degree of legal knowledge available for this purpose, he pursued his studies for some years with indefatigable assiduity; and during the last year of his stay at D. his endeavours to insure himself, by accumulated knowledge, an honourable support, were stimulated by a growing attachment to the lovely daughter of a merchant, through whose agency he drew occasional supplies of money from his guardians.

But even the passion of love, which so often rouses the latent powers of the diffident into life and energy, failed to inspire the timid Florian with that external ardour and prompt assiduity so essential to success; and although the fair object of his regard did not appear insensible to his silent and gentle homage, he never could collect resolution to reveal his feelings. His diffidence was increased, too, by the unmeaning gallantry of two young and lively officers of the garrison, who, although precluded by their nobility from marriage with the daughter of a citizen, employed a portion of their abundant leisure in making skirmishing experiments upon the affections of the lovely Angelique. While these military butterflies were fluttering round the woman he loved, poor Florian, daunted by the painful consciousness of his comparative disadvantages, rarely presumed to enter the villa in which her father resided, about half a league beyond the city gates, and endeavoured to console himself by wandering in a pleasant grove immediately contiguous. Here a majestic elm was endeared to him by the knowledge that his beloved Angelique often took her work to a turf seat beneath its spreading branches. Here, too, he sometimes left a flower, or other silent token of his regard, the ascertained acceptance of which did not, however, encourage him to any decisive measure. At length arrived the autumnal vacation, which closed his academic studies; and he determined to pass the winter in his native province, where he thought the influence of his guardians, and the favourable testimony of his Jesuit teachers, would procure for him such recommendations as might render his extensive legal knowledge available for his future support. He proposed to return in the ensuing spring to D.; and should his mistress have stood the test of six months’ absence, and still regard him with an eye of favour, he would then openly declare himself. He called upon her father at his counting-house, and after explaining to him the probable advantages of his visit to Normandy, bade him farewell, and hastened with a beating heart to the villa, where he had the good fortune to find his Angelique alone. Always timid and irresolute in her presence, the fear of betraying his feelings on this occasion made him tremble as he approached her. Her young cheek glowed with unaffected blushes, as she observed a confusion which led her to anticipate an avowal of his attachment; and when he merely told her that he was going to pass the winter in Normandy, and had called to say farewell, her fine eyes became humid with the starting tears of sudden and uncontrollable emotion. Yet even this obvious proof of sympathy failed to encourage the timid and ever-doubting Florian. Persuaded that he had nothing but his sincerity to recommend him, he dreaded a repulse; and, pressing with gentle fervour her proffered hand, he hastily quitted the apartment without daring to take another look.

After having secured a place in the diligence for the following morning, he called upon the few acquaintances he had in D., and late in the afternoon repaired with eager haste to the grove behind the abode of Angelique. He had determined that his favourite elm, hitherto the only witness of his love, should become the medium of a more palpable declaration of his feelings than he had hitherto dared to convey. Intending to carve in the bark the initial letters of his own and his fair one’s names within the outline of a heart, he drew from his pocket the ivory clasp-knife of Bartholdy, which, after seven years of faithful custody, he had begun to consider as his own; and, kneeling on the bank of turf, he was enabled, by the sharpness of the point, to cut in deep and firm characters the initials of the name so dear to him. Laying down the knife upon the seat, he gazed, with folded arms, upon the beloved cipher, and fell into one of his accustomed reveries. An hour had thus elapsed, when suddenly he was roused from his dream of bliss by tones of loud and vehement contention at no great distance from the elm. Prompted by his natural aversion for scenes of violence, he concealed himself behind the tree, from whence he was enabled to discern his two military rivals, out of uniform, approaching the elm, and indicating, by furious tones and gestures, feelings of mutual and deadly animosity. Florian, whose sense of the awkwardness of his situation was increased by his timidity, fancied that he should be accused of listening to their conversation, and, retreating unobserved into the wood, he had gained the high-road before he recollected that he had left his knife on the seat of turf. Ashamed of his cowardice, he determined to return and claim it, in the event of its having been discovered and taken by one of the contending parties. He was solicitous, also, to complete the intended cipher on the bark of the elm, while there was light enough for his purpose; and concluding that his angry rivals had walked on in another direction, he hastily retraced his steps. Looking over some tall evergreen shrubs, which were separated by a footpath from the elm, he observed that the turf-seat was unoccupied. Supposing, from the total silence, that the hostile youths had quitted the grove, he emerged from the evergreens with confidence, and approached the tree, but recoiled in sudden horror, as he almost stepped upon the body of one of his rivals, who lay dead on his back, while the blood was issuing in torrents from a wound in his throat, inflicted by the knife of Bartholdy, the remarkable handle of which protruded from the deep incision. His blood froze as he gazed on this sad spectacle; and covering his face with his hands, he stood for some moments over the body in stolid and sickening horror. Soon, however, his strong antipathy to scenes of bloodshed and violence impelled him to rush, with headlong precipitation, from the fatal spot. Leaving his knife in the wound, he darted forward through the wood, and fortunately without meeting any one within or near it. When he reached the high-road, the darkness had so much increased as to render his features undistinguishable to the passengers, and, running towards the city, he soon reached the public promenade without the barriers, where he threw himself upon a bench, exhausted with terror and fatigue. Looking fearfully around him through the darkness, he endeavoured to collect his reasoning faculties, and immediately the recollection that he had left his knife in the throat of the murdered officer flashed upon him. With this fatal weapon were connected many old associations, which now crowded with sickening potency upon his memory. Again he saw the sarcastic grin with which his friend had said, “What we most carefully shun, is most likely to befall us.” And would not the remarkable knife of Bartholdy too probably verify the malignant prophecy of its owner? Forgetful of the improbability that any one had seen in his possession a knife which, before that evening, he had never used, his senses yielded to an irresistible conviction, that this instrument of another’s guilt would betray and lead him to the scaffold. Immediate flight was the only resource which presented itself to his bewildered judgment; and, rising from the bench, he hastened to his lodgings, to complete his preparations for departure the following morning. After a sleepless night, during which he started at every sound with apprehension of a nocturnal visit from the police, he proceeded at daybreak, with a heavy heart, to the post-house, where, observing a carrier’s waggon on the point of departure for Normandy, he availed himself of the opportunity to facilitate his escape, by putting a few essentials into a cloak-bag, and forwarding his heavy trunk by the carrier. After some delay, of which every moment appeared an age, the diligence departed; and when the church-towers were lost in distance, the goading terrors of the unhappy fugitive yielded for a time to feelings of comparative security. His apprehensions, however, were renewed by every rising cloud of dust behind the diligence, and by every equestrian who followed and passed the vehicle. In vain did he endeavour to console himself with the consciousness that he was innocent, and under the protection of a just and merciful Providence. The judicial murder of Calas, and of other innocent sufferers, detailed in the Causes Célèbres of Pitaval, were ever present to his fevered fancy; and when he closed his eyes and assumed the semblance of sleep, to avoid the conversation of his fellow-travellers, his imagination conjured up the staring orbs and satanic smile of Bartholdy, who pointed at him jeeringly, and exclaimed, “In vain you seek to shun your destiny! In France, the innocent and the guilty bleed alike upon the scaffold.” And then he shouted in the ear of Florian, “Why did you part with the knife I confided to you? Why provoke me to become your evil genius?” Or, with a hoarse and fiendish laugh, he seemed to whisper to the shrinking fugitive—“You are a doomed man, Florian! doomed to the scaffold!”

Thus busily did the frenzied fancy of the unhappy youth call up a succession of imaginary terrors, until at dusk the diligence stopped at a solitary inn, and Florian heard, with new alarm, that here the passengers were to remain the night. “And here,” thought the timid fugitive, “I shall certainly be overtaken and arrested by the gens-d’armes.” A traveller, who arrived soon after the diligence, and supped with the passengers, afforded him, however, another chance of escape. This man was lamenting that, at a neighbouring fair, he had not been able to sell an excellent horse, and Florian, watching his opportunity, concluded the purchase with little bargaining. Pleading the necessity of going forward on urgent business, he mounted his purchase, and quitted the inn-yard, with a heart lightened by the certainty that he should gain a night upon his pursuers. At that time France was at peace both abroad and at home; passports were not essential to the native traveller; and Florian, turning down the first cross-road, proceeded rapidly all night, and the four following days; pausing occasionally to refresh his wearied steed, changing his name whenever he was required to declare it, and observing a zigzag direction to blind his pursuers. On the fifth morning he found himself in a fertile district of central France; and, considering himself safe from all immediate danger, he pursued his journey more leisurely between the vine-covered and gently-swelling hills, until the noonday heat and dusty road made him sensibly feel the want of refreshment. While gazing around him for some hamlet or cottage to pause at, his attention was caught by sounds of lamentation at no great distance, and a sudden turn in the road revealed to him a prostrate mule, vainly endeavouring to regain his legs, one of which was broken. A tall boy, in peasant garb, was scratching his head in rustic embarrassment at this dilemma, and near him stood a young and very lovely woman, wringing her hands in perplexity, and lamenting over the unfortunate mule, a remarkably fine animal, and caparisoned with a completeness which indicated the easy circumstances of his owner. Florian immediately stopped his horse, and, with his wonted kindness, dismounted to offer his assistance. The young woman said nothing as he approached, but her beautiful dark eyes appealed to him for aid and counsel with an eloquence which reached his heart in a moment. Examining the mule, he said, after some consideration, “There is no hope for the poor animal; and the most humane expedient will be to shoot him as soon as possible. Your side-saddle can be strapped on my horse, which shall convey you to the next village, or as much farther as you like, if you have no objection to the conveyance.”

Expressing her thanks with engaging frankness and cordiality, the fair traveller told him that she was returning from a visit to some relations, and that she was still four leagues from her father’s house. She would gladly, she said, avail herself of his kind offer, but insisted that her servant should not kill her favourite mule until she was out of sight and hearing. Then turning briskly towards Florian, she told him that she was ready to proceed, but objected to the exchange of saddles; and, as she was accustomed to ride on a pillion, would rather sit behind him as well as she could, than give him the trouble of walking four leagues. Finding all opposition fruitless, Florian remounted; and, with the assistance of her servant, the fair unknown was soon seated behind him. Blushing and laughing at the necessity, she put an arm around his waist to support herself, and then begged him to proceed without delay, as she was anxious to reach home before night.

Conversing as they journeyed onward, their communications became every moment more cordial and interesting; and as Florian felt the warm hand of his lovely companion near his heart, he began to feel a soothing sense of gratification, which cheered and elevated his perturbed spirits. He had never before found himself in such near and agreeable relation to a beautiful and lively woman; and whenever he turned his head to speak or listen, he found the finest black eyes, and the most lovely mouth he had ever seen, within a few inches of his own. So potent, indeed, was the charm of her look and language, that he forgot, for a time, the timid graces and less sparkling beauty of her he had lost for ever, and was insensibly beguiled of all his fears and sorrows as he listened to the lively sallies of this laughter-loving fair one. Meanwhile they had quitted the cross-road in which he had discovered her, and pursued, by her direction, the great road from Paris towards eastern France. Here, however, he remarked, with surprise, that she invariably drew the large hood of her cloak over her face when any travellers passed them; and his surprise was converted into uneasiness and suspicion, when, after commencing the last league of their journey, she drew the hood entirely over her face; and her conversation, before so animated and flowing, was succeeded by total silence, or by replies so brief and disjointed as to indicate that her thoughts were intensely preoccupied.

The sun had reached the horizon when they arrived within a short half-league of the town before them, and here she suddenly asked her conductor whether he intended to travel farther before morning. Florian, hoping to obtain some clue to her name and residence, replied that he was undetermined; on which she advised him to give a night’s rest to his jaded horse, and strongly recommended to him an hotel, the name and situation of which she minutely described. He promised to comply with her recommendations; and immediately, by a prompt and vigorous effort, she threw herself from the horse to the ground. Hastily arranging her disordered travelling-dress, she approached him, clasped his hand in both her own and thanked him, in brief but fervent terms, for the important service he had rendered her. “And now,” added she, in visible embarrassment, as she raised her hood, and looked fearfully around, “I have another favour to request. My father would not approve of your accompanying me home, nor must the town gossips see me at this hour with a young man and a stranger: you will, therefore, oblige me by resting your horse here for half an hour, that I may reach the town before you. Will you do me this favour?” she repeated, with a pleading look. “Most certainly I will,” replied the good-natured but disappointed Florian. “Farewell, then,” she cordially rejoined, “and may Heaven reward your kindness!”

Bounding forward with a light and rapid step, she soon disappeared round a sharp angle in the road, occasioned by a sudden bend of the adjacent river. Florian, dismounting to relieve his horse, gazed admiringly upon her elastic step and well-turned figure, until she was out of sight. He recollected, with a sigh of regret, the sprightly graces and artless intelligence of her conversation; again the sense of his desolate and perilous condition smote him; he felt himself more than ever forlorn and unhappy, and reproached himself for the helpless bashfulness which had prevented him from inquiring more urgently the name and residence of this charming stranger. While thus painfully musing, the time she had prescribed elapsed; and Florian, remounting, let the bridle fall upon the neck of the exhausted animal, which paced towards the town as deliberately as the unknown fair one could have wished. At a short distance from the town-gate the high-road passed under an archway, composing part of a detached house of Gothic and ancient structure; and on the town side of the arch was a toll-bar, at which a boy was stationed, who held out his hat to Florian, and demanded half a sous. “For what?” asked Florian.

“A long-established toll, sir,” said the boy; “and if you have a compassionate heart, you will give another half-sous to the condemned criminals,” he continued, as he pointed to an iron box, placed near the house door, under a figure of the Virgin. Shuddering at the words, Florian threw some copper coins into the box; and, as he hastened forward, endeavoured to banish the painful association of ideas, by fixing his thoughts upon the mysterious fair one. Suspecting, from the pressing manner in which she had recommended a particular hotel to his preference, that, if he went there, he might possibly see or hear from her in the morning, he proceeded to the Henri Quatre, which proved to be an hotel of third-rate importance, but well suited to his limited means, and recommending itself by an air of cleanliness and comfort. The evenings at this season were cool; and as it would have required some time to heat the parlour, the landlord proposed to him to sit down and take some refreshment in his well-warmed kitchen. Florian complied with this invitation, but not without some apprehension of the presence of strangers; and, stepping into the kitchen, was relieved by the discovery that it was occupied only by servants, who were too busily engaged in preparing supper to take notice of him.

Sitting down in a corner near the fire, the combined effects of a genial warmth and excessive fatigue threw him into a sound sleep, which lasted several hours, and would have continued much longer, had he not been roused by the landlord, who told him that his supper had been ready some time, but that he had been unwilling to disturb a slumber so profound. In fact, the repose of the unfortunate fugitive had not, during the five preceding nights, been so continuous and refreshing, so free from painful and menacing visions. Rising drowsily from his chair, he followed the landlord to a table where a roasted capon and a glass jug of bright wine waited his arrival. The servants had all retired for the night,—the landlord quitted the kitchen, and Florian, busily engaged in dissecting the fowl, thought himself the sole tenant of the spacious apartment, when, looking accidentally towards the fire, he saw with surprise that the chair he had just quitted was occupied. Looking more intently, he distinguished a short man of more than middle age, whose square and sturdy figure was partially concealed by a capacious mantle. His hair was grey, his forehead seamed with broad wrinkles, and his bushy brows beetled over a set of features stern and massive as if cast in iron. His eyes were small and deep-set, but of a lustrous black; and Florian observed with dismay that they were fixed upon his countenance with a look of searching scrutiny. It was near midnight, and in the deep silence which reigned through the house, this motionless attitude, and marble fixedness of look, gave to the stranger’s appearance a character so appalling, that, had he not broken the spell by stooping to light his pipe, the excited Florian would ere long have thought him an unearthly object. The stranger now quitted his seat by the fire, took from a table near him a jug of wine, and approached the wondering Florian. “With your leave, my good sir,” he began, “I will take a chair by your table. A little friendly gossip is the best of all seasoning to a glass of wine.”

Without waiting for a reply, the old man seated himself directly opposite to Florian, and again fixed a scrutinising gaze upon his countenance. The conscious fugitive, who felt a growing and unaccountable dread of this singular intruder, muttered a brief assent, and continued to eat his supper in silent but obvious embarrassment; stealing now and then a timid look at the stranger, but hastily withdrawing his furtive glances as he felt the beams of the old man’s small and vivid eyes penetrating his very soul. He observed that the features of his tormentor were cast in a vulgar mould, but his gaze was widely different from that of clownish curiosity, and there was in his deportment a stern and steady self-possession, which suggested to the alarmed Florian a suspicion that he was an agent of the police, who had probably tracked him through the cross-roads he had traversed in his flight from D. The rich colour of his cheeks turned to an ashy paleness at this appalling conjecture; and, leaving his supper unfinished, he rose abruptly from the table to quit the room, when the old man, starting suddenly from his chair, seized the shaking hand of Florian, and, looking cautiously around him, said in subdued but impressive tones—“It is not accident, young man, which brings us together at this hour. I came in while you were asleep, and begged the landlord would not awaken you, that I might say a few words to you in confidence, after the servants had gone to bed.”

“To me?” exclaimed Florian, in anxious wonder.

“Hush!” said the old man, again looking round the kitchen. “My object is to give you a friendly warning; for, if I am not for the first time mistaken in these matters, you are menaced with a formidable danger.”

“Danger?” repeated the pallid Florian, in a voice scarcely audible.

“And have you not good reason to expect this danger?” continued the stranger. “Your sudden paleness tells me that you know it. I am an old man, and my life has been a rough pilgrimage, but I have still a warm heart, and can make large allowances for the headlong impetuosities which too often plunge a young man into crime. You may safely trust one,” he continued, placing his hand upon his heart, “in whose bosom the confessions of many hapless fugitives repose, and will repose, so long as life beats in my pulses. I betray no man who confides in me, were he stained even with blood.”

Pausing a little, he fixed a keenly searching look upon the shrinking youth, and then whispered in his ear—“Young man! you have a murder on your conscience!”

For a moment the apprehensions of Florian yielded to a lofty sense of indignation at this groundless charge. “It is false, old man!” he exclaimed with energy. “I swear by the just God who searches all hearts, that I am not conscious of any crime.”

“I shall rejoice to learn that I am mistaken,” replied the old man, with evident gratification, as again he fixed his searching orbs upon the indignant Florian. “If you are innocent, it will be all the better for both of us; but,” he continued, after a hasty look around him, “the danger I alluded to still hangs over your head. I trust, however, that with God’s help I shall be able to shield you from it.”

Florian, too much alarmed to reply, looked at him doubtingly. “I will deal candidly with you,” resumed the old man, after a pause of reflection. “When you rode by my house this evening”——

“Who and what are you?” exclaimed Florian, in new astonishment.

“Have a little patience, young man!” replied the stranger, while his iron features relaxed into a good-natured smile. “Do you recollect the tall archway under an old house where a toll of half a sous was demanded from you? That house is mine; and I was sitting by the window as you threw an alms into the box for the condemned criminals. Had you then looked upward, you would have seen a naked sword and a bright axe suspended over your head.”

At these words Florian shuddered, and involuntarily retreated some paces from his companion. “I see by your flinching,” sternly resumed the old man, “that you guess who is before you. You are right, young man! I am the town executioner, but an honest man withal, and well inclined to render you essential service. Now, mark me! When you stopped beneath the broad blade, it quivered, and jarred against the axe. Whoever is thus greeted by the headsman’s sword is inevitably doomed to come in contact with it. I heard the boding jar, which every executioner in France well knows how to interpret, and I immediately determined to follow and to warn you.”

The unhappy youth, who had listened in disheartening emotion to this strange communication, now yielded to a sense of ungovernable terror. Covering with both his hands his pallid face, he exclaimed, in nameless agony—“O God! in thy infinite mercy, save me!”

“Hah!” ejaculated the headsman sternly, “have I then roused your sleeping conscience? However, whether you conclude to open or to shut your heart, is now immaterial. In either case, I will never betray you—for accusation and judgment belong not to my office. Profit, therefore, as you best may, by my well-intended warning. Alas! alas!” he muttered between his closed teeth, “that one so young should dip his hands in blood!”

“By all that is sacred!” exclaimed Florian, with trembling eagerness, “I am innocent of murder, and incapable of falsehood; and yet so disastrous is my destiny, that I am beset with peril and suspicion. You are an utter stranger to me, but you appear to have benevolence and worldly wisdom. Listen to my tale, and then in mercy give me aid and counsel.”

He now unfolded to the executioner the extraordinary chain of circumstances which had compelled him to seek security in flight, and told his tale of trials with an artless and single-hearted simplicity of language, look, and gesture, which carried with it irresistible conviction of his innocence. The rigid features of the headsman gradually relaxed, as he listened, into a cheerful and even cordial expression; then warmly grasping the hand of Florian as he concluded, he said, “Well! well! I see how it is. In my profession we learn how to read human nature. When I watched your slumber, I thought your sleep looked very like the sleep of innocence; and now I believe from my soul that you are as guiltless of this murder as I am. With God’s help I will yet save you from this peril; and, indeed, had you killed your rival in sudden quarrel, I would have done as much for you, for I well know that sudden wrath has made many a good man blood-guilty. There was certainly some danger of your being implicated by the singular circumstances you have detailed; but the real and formidable peril has grown out of your flight. That was a blunder, young man! but I see no reason to despair. ’Tis true, the broad blade has denounced you, and my grandfather and father, as well as myself, have traced criminals by its guidance; but I know that the sword will speak alike to its master and its victim. You have yet to learn, young man, that in this life every man is either an anvil or a hammer, a tool or a victim; and that he who boldly grasps the blade will never be its victim. Briefly, then, I feel a regard for you. I have no sons, but I have a young and lovely daughter. Marry her, and I will adopt you as my successor. You will then fulfil your destiny by coming in contact with the sword; and, if you clutch it firmly, I will pledge myself that you never die by it.”

At this strange proposal Florian started on his feet with indignant abhorrence. “Hold!” continued the headsman coolly. “Why hurry your decision? The night is long, and favourable to reflection. Bestow a full and fair consideration upon my proposal, and recollect that your neck is in peril; that all your prospects in life are blasted; and that my offer of a safe asylum, and a competent support, can alone preserve you from despair and destruction. The sword has sent you a helper in the hour of need, and if you reject the friendly warning, you will soon discover that the consciousness of innocence will not protect a blushing and irresolute fugitive from the proverbial ubiquity and prompt severity of the French police.”

The headsman now emptied his glass, and with a friendly nod left the kitchen. Soon after his departure the landlord appeared with a night-lamp, and conducted Florian to his apartment. Without undressing, the bewildered youth extinguished his lamp, and threw himself on the bed, hoping that the darkness would accelerate the approach of sleep, and of that oblivion which in his happier days had always accompanied it. Vain, however, for some hours, was every attempt to lull his senses into forgetfulness. The revolting proposal of the old man haunted him incessantly.

“I become an”——he muttered indignantly, but could never utter the hateful word. The shrinking diffidence which had been a fertile source of difficulty to him through life, had been increased tenfold by his recent calamities; he was conscious even to agony of his total inability to contend with the consequences of his imprudent and cowardly flight; but from such means of escape he recoiled with unutterable loathing. He felt that he should never have resolution to grasp the sword which was to save him from being numbered with its victims, and yet his invincible abhorrence of this alternative failed to rouse in him the moral courage which would have promptly rescued him from the toils of the cunning headsman. The broken slumber into which he fell before morning was haunted by boding forms and tragic incidents. The sword, the axe, the scaffold, and the rack, flitted around him in quick procession, and seemed to close every avenue to escape. He awoke from these visions of horror at daybreak, and left his bed as wearied in body, and as irresolute in mind, as when he entered it. Dreading alike a renewal of the executioner’s proposal, and the risk of being arrested and tried for murder, he saw no alternative but flight—immediate flight beyond the bounds of France. While pondering over the best means of accomplishing this now settled purpose, the tin weathercock upon the roof of his bedroom creaked in the morning breeze. Florian, to whose excited fancy the headsman’s sword was ever present, thought he heard it jar against the axe, and started in sudden terror. “Whither shall I fly?” he exclaimed, as tears of agony rolled down his cheeks—“where find a refuge from the sword of justice? Alas! my doom is fixed and unalterable. Anvil or hammer I must be, and I have not courage to become either.”

Again the weathercock creaked above him, and more intelligibly than before. Florian, discovering the simple cause of his terrors, rallied his drooping spirits, and hastened down-stairs to order his horse, that he might leave the hotel and the town before the promised visit of the fearful headsman. Notwithstanding his urgency, he found his departure unaccountably delayed. The servants were not visible, and the landlord, insisting that he should take a warm breakfast before his departure, was so dilatory in preparing it, that a full hour elapsed before Florian rode out of the stable-yard. His officious host then persisted in sending a boy to show him the nearest way to the town gate; and the impatient traveller, who would gladly have declined the offer, found himself obliged to submit. His guide accompanied him to the extremity of the small suburb beyond the eastern gate, and quitted him; while Florian, whose ever-ready apprehensions had been roused by the tenacious civility of the landlord, rode slowly forward, looking around occasionally at his returning guide, and determining to take the first cross-road he could find. A little farther he discovered the entrance of a narrow lane, shaded by a double row of lofty chestnuts; and as he turned towards it his horse’s head, he saw the old man, whose promised visit he was endeavouring to escape, issuing from the lane on horseback. “I guessed as much,” said the headsman, smiling, as he rode up to the startled fugitive. “I knew you would try to escape me, but I cannot consent that you should thus run headlong into certain destruction. You have neither sanguine hopes nor a fixed purpose to support you, and you want firmness to answer with discretion the trying questions which will everywhere assail you. You are silent—you feel the full extent of your danger—why not then embrace the certain protection I offer you? Fear not that I shall either repeat or allude to my last night’s proposal. My sole object is your immediate protection at this critical period, when you are doubtless tracked in all directions by the blood-hounds of the police. At the frontiers you will inevitably be stopped and identified; but under my roof you will be safe from all pursuit and suspicion. I live secluded from the world; I have no visitors; and your presence will not be suspected by any one. In a few weeks the heat of pursuit will abate, and you may then take your departure with renewed courage and confidence.”

“Courage and confidence!” repeated to himself the timid Florian; “would Heaven I had either!” The good sense, however, of the old man’s advice was so obvious, that he determined to avail himself of so kind an offer. Gratefully pressing his hand, he dismissed all doubts of his sincerity, and said, “I will accompany you; and may God reward your benevolence, for I cannot.”

“We must return by the road I came,” said the headsman, turning his horse. “It will take us outside the town to my house; and, at this hour, we shall arrive there unperceived. Your landlord, who is under obligations to me, sent you this road at my request. He supposes that you are my distant relative, and that, unwilling to appear in public with an executioner, you had made an appointment with me for this early hour on your way homeward.”

After a ride of half an hour through the shady lanes which skirted the ramparts, they reached the back entrance of the Gothic building before mentioned, and Florian entered this singular sanctuary with emotions not easily described. The old headsman was in high spirits; and the blunt but genuine kindness and cordiality of his manners soon removed from the mind of his guest every lurking suspicion that some treachery was intended. The table was promptly covered with an excellent breakfast, and the old man sent a message to his daughter, requesting that she would bring a bottle of the best wine in the cellar.

Florian fixed his eyes upon the door in shrinking anticipation. He suspected new attempts to ensnare him to the headsman’s purpose; and notwithstanding his firm determination to resist them, he recoiled with fastidious disgust from the possible necessity of contending with the meretricious advances of a bold and reckless female, whose limited opportunities of marriage would impel her to lure him by any means to her father’s object. How widely different were his emotions when the door opened, and his lovely travelling-companion, whom, in the terrors of the past night, he had forgotten, entered, in blushing embarrassment, with the bottle of wine. In a tumult of mingled apprehension and delight, he started from his chair, but the cordial greeting he intended was checked by a significant wink from the lively fair one as she passed behind her father to the table. It was obvious to Florian that she wished to conceal their previous acquaintance, and with a silent bow he resumed his seat, while the smiling maid, whom her father introduced to his guest by the name of Madelon, took a chair between them, and the conversation soon became general and exhilarating.

The continued fever of apprehension which had almost unhinged the reason of the timid Florian, now rapidly subsided. The cordial hospitality of the old headsman soon made him feel at home in an abode which he had once contemplated with horror and disgust; while the artless attentions and fascinating vivacity of the pretty Madelon soon wove around him a magic spell, and invested the Gothic chambers of her father’s antique mansion with all the splendours of Aladdin’s palace.

Motherless from the age of fourteen, and secluded by her father’s vocation from all society save occasional intercourse with relatives of the same degraded caste, the headsman’s daughter had been early accustomed to rely upon her own resources.

Most of her leisure hours had been devoted to a comprehensive course of historical reading, from which her unpolished but strong-minded father conceived that she would derive not only amusement and instruction, but that sustaining fortitude so essential to the station in which her lot was cast. Thus her innocent and active mind, untainted by the licentiousness and infidelity of French romance, acquired concentration and strength; the study of sacred and profane history induced habits of salutary reflection, and her character gradually developed a masculine yet unpretending energy, which admirably fitted her to become the helpmate of a man so timid and indecisive as Florian. Her mother was a Parisian, of good manners and education, but an orphan and defenceless. Persecuted by a licentious nobleman, who, in revenge for her firm rejection of his dishonourable addresses, had accused her of theft, she had effected her escape from the chateau in which she resided as governess to his daughters, to the same town in which Florian had been discovered by the headsman. Circumstances somewhat similar, but not essential to my narrative, had induced her to accept a temporary asylum in the house of the executioner, whose mother was then living; and here, in a moment of despair at her destitute and hopeless condition, she accepted the often-tendered addresses of the enamoured headsman, and became his wife. The life of this amiable and accomplished woman was shortened by her calamities, and by a sense of degradation which she could never subdue. Secluded from all human society save that of an uncultivated husband, who but imperfectly understood her value, she loved her only child with more than a mother’s idolatry; and, while her strength permitted, devoted herself, with unceasing solicitude, to the formation of her mind, and to the regulation of her untamable vivacity. Thus happily moulded in her early youth, and judiciously cultivated after her mother’s death, Madelon combined, with clear and vigorous perceptions, a degree of personal attraction rarely seen in France, and no small portion of the feminine grace and fascination peculiar to well-educated Frenchwomen, while to these advantages were superadded eyes of radiant lustre, a voice rich in soft and musical inflections, and a smile of irresistible archness and witchery. Accustomed, from her limited opportunities of observation, to regard men as collectively coarse and uncultivated, she had been immediately and powerfully attracted by the elegant person, the refined and gentle manners, of Florian, during their four leagues’ journey; and to one who felt the value of knowledge, and eagerly sought to extend her means of pursuing it, there was, on farther acquaintance, a charm in his comprehensive attainments and in the classic elegance of his diction, which compensated for the unmanly timidity and morbid infirmity of purpose, so easily distinguishable in his character and conduct.

In Florian, whose feelings were fortified by reminiscences of a prior attachment, the progress of sentiment was slower, but not less certain in its tendency. His silent worship of Angelique had always been accompanied by doubts and misgivings innumerable. He thought her lost to him for ever; he felt that all his prospects of professional advancement were blighted by the disastrous incident at D., and his consequent flight; and insensibly he yielded to the charm of daily and hourly intercourse with the bewitching Madelon. The consciousness of her admiring prepossession, and of his own superior attainments, gave to him, while conversing with her, a soothing self-possession, an expansion of thought and feeling, and a glowing facility of elocution, which he had never yet experienced, and which proved a source of exquisite and inexhaustible gratification. Her unceasing sympathy and kindness, her flattering anticipation of his wishes, lulled the anguish of his recollections, and her sparkling gaiety never failed to rouse his drooping spirits. He soon learned to estimate at its true value the rare combination of gentleness and energy which her character displayed; while her courageous self-possession and unfailing resources under every difficulty, made him regard her as a woman gifted beyond her sex with those qualities in which he felt himself most deficient. In short, feelings of deep and lasting attachment stole insensibly into the hearts of the youthful pair. Florian had surrendered all his sympathies to Madelon before he was conscious of the power she had gained over his happiness, and their mutual affection was betrayed and sealed by word and pledge before he reflected upon the inevitable consequences. Too soon, alas! he was awakened from this dream of bliss to a long reality of terror and anguish. The spell which bound him was broken, and the scene of enchantment was abruptly changed into a chaos of interminable dismay and anxiety.

Some weeks after his arrival in this asylum, the headsman had advised him to prolong his stay until all danger of pursuit had subsided, and the fears of the fugitive soon gave way to cheering sensations of security and confidence. To lovers the present is everything: Florian forgot alike the trying past and the menacing future; weeks and months flitted past unobserved by the youthful pair, while the crafty headsman, who had silently watched their growing intelligence, crowed in secret over the now certain success of his stratagem.

Several months had thus elapsed, and the old man, after ascertaining from his daughter that the affections and the honour of Florian were irredeemably plighted, took an opportunity to address him one morning as soon as Madelon had quitted the breakfast-room.

“I think it is high time, young man,” he said, smiling, “that you should proceed to business. Come along with me into my workshop.”

Florian looked at him in silent wonder, but unhesitatingly followed him into the capacious cellars, where the old man unlocked a door which his guest had never before observed. Florian entered with his conductor, but started back in dismay as he saw a number of executioner’s swords and axes hanging round the walls of a low vaulted room, in the centre of which several cabbage-heads were fixed with pegs upon an oblong block of wood. The headsman took one of the swords from the wall, drew it from the scabbard, carefully wiped the glittering blade, and then offered it to Florian. “Now, my son,” he began, “try your strength upon these cabbage-heads. It is easy work, and requires nothing but a steady hand.”

“Gracious heaven! you cannot be in earnest!” exclaimed Florian, retreating from him in deadly terror.

“Not in earnest?” rejoined the headsman, sternly; “I consider your compliance as a matter of course. You love my daughter—you have won her affections—and surely, Florian, you are not the man to play her false!”

“God forbid!” exclaimed Florian with honest fervour. “I dearly love her, and seek no happier lot than to become her husband.”

“I offered her to you, my son!” said the other with returning kindness; “but you did not like the conditions, and declined her. You have since, without my permission, sought and won her affections, and you have no right to flinch from the implied consequences. It is high time to come to a conclusion, and to apply yourself in good faith to the only pursuit through which you can ever obtain my Madelon.”

“The only one?” timidly repeated Florian. “I have, ’tis true, abandoned for your daughter’s sake the world, and the world’s prejudices; but I am young and industrious; I possess valuable knowledge, and surely I may find some employment which will maintain a wife and family. Do, my good father, relinquish this dreadful vocation”——

“And my daughter!” exclaimed the headsman, with loud and bitter emphasis. “What is to become her? If even you could step back within the pale of society, she would for ever be excluded. But you have neither moral courage nor animal bravery enough for any worldly pursuit—your original station in society is irrecoverably gone—and if you attempt to leave this safe asylum, the sword of justice will face you at every turn. No, no, Florian! I love my future son-in-law too well to expose him to such imminent and deadly peril. There, read that paper! The contents will bring you to your senses.”

With these words, which struck like a wintry chill into the heart of Florian, he took an old newspaper from his pocket-book. The unhappy fugitive received it with a shaking hand, and read a judicial summons from the authorities of D., seeking intelligence of a student, who had on a certain day quitted the university by the diligence for Normandy, and unaccountably disappeared. His Christian and surname, with an accurate description of his dress and person, were appended. Glancing fearfully down the page, he distinguished some particulars of a murder; his sight grew dim with terror; and after a vain attempt to read farther, he dropped the fatal document, and reeled back, breathless, and almost fainting, against the wall.

“He is the very man!” muttered the headsman, whose keen eye had been intently fixed upon him during the perusal. “I never asked your real name, young man,” he continued, “but now I know it. Your terrors would betray it to a child. How then are you, without fortitude to face the common evils of life, and bearing in every feature a betrayer, to escape the giant-grasp of the French police? And had this calamity never befallen you, how could you gain a support in a world, which, by your own confession, you have ever found ungenial and repulsive? Believe me, Florian! here, and here only, will you find safety, support, and happiness.”

“Happiness?” mournfully repeated Florian.

“Yes, happiness!” rejoined the tempter. “You and Madelon love each other, and in every station, from the highest to the lowest, love is the salt of life, the balm and cordial of existence. My office descends from generation to generation; it insures to the holder not only a good house and landed property, but an income of no mean amount. Every traveller who passes my house pays me a toll, because fifty years since an inundation compelled the town to cut a high-road through my grandfather’s garden. Of all these benefits I shall be deprived, when old and disabled, if my children disdain to follow my vocation; and if Madelon were to marry within the pale of that society which regards her father with abhorrence, my house and vineyard would be destroyed by the bigoted and furious populace, and too probably my innocent child along with them. Have you the heart, Florian, to hazard her destruction and your own, in preference to an office essential to the existence of civil society, and from which that obedience to the laws, which is the first duty of a good citizen, removes all self-reproach? With a due sense of the importance of your official duties, you will find yourself sustained in the performance of them; and a practised hand will soon give you firmness enough to follow a vocation attended with no personal risk; but if you determine to leave me, where will you find resolution to face the perils which surround you? and if you escape them, how are you to compete in the race of life with the daring and the fleet?”

The appalling alternatives held out to Florian by the politic headsman, and the consciousness of his own inability either to escape the police, or to steer his way successfully through the shoals and quicksands of life, rendered him incapable of argument or reply. He had for some months been cut off from all that freedom has to bestow—he had neither relations nor friends on whose interposition he could firmly rely—he recollected with agony that every heart beyond the limits of his present home was steeled against him—that every hand was ready to seize and betray him. Should he quit this safe asylum, and even establish his innocence of the imputed murder, his ignorance of the world, and his invincible timidity and self-distrust, would make him the prey of any plausible knavery. Bewildered and stupified by contending emotions, his mind became palsied by despair, and his powers of resistance began to fail him. The headsman saw his advantage; but, satisfied with the impression he had made upon his hapless victim, he ceased to press any immediate decision, told him to consider of the proposal, and went to his vineyard; while Florian, hastening to his Madelon, was assailed by all the witchery of sighs and tears; by looks, which alternately pleaded and upbraided; and by inspiriting and cogent arguments, which shamed him into temporary resolution. Thus alternately intimidated by the deep tones and stern denunciations of the father, encouraged by the specious reasonings of the daughter, or soothed by her resistless fascinations; assured, too, by the headsman, that for some years sentences of decapitation, with rare exceptions, had been commuted for the galleys, his power to contend with his tempter abandoned him: he dropped, like the fascinated bird, into the jaws of the serpent; and, yielding to his destiny, he commenced his training in a vocation from which every feeling in his nature, and every dictate of his understanding, recoiled with abhorrence.

It was no sacrifice, to one of his timid and fastidious habits, to abandon a world in which he had ever found himself an alien, and which he now thought confederated to persecute and destroy him. He submitted in uncomplaining resignation to his fate, and ere long found relief in the growing attachment of the headsman and his daughter. His pure and affectionate heart, and the undeviating rectitude of his principles and conduct, soon won the entire esteem of the old man, whose better feelings had not been blunted by his official duties; while the light-hearted and bewitching Madelon, who now loved almost to idolatry a man so incomparably superior to any she had hitherto known, delighted to cheer his hours of sadness, and watched his every wish with intense and unwearied solicitude. Meanwhile, the old man had quietly made every requisite preparation, and a month after the assent of Florian to his proposal, the lovers were united. The official appointment of Florian, as adopted successor to the headsman, took place some days before the marriage, and it was stipulated by the town authorities that, on the next ensuing condemnation of a criminal to death, he should prove on the scaffold his competency to succeed the executioner.

For many months after this appointment, every arrival of a criminal in the town prison struck terror into the heart of Florian. Happily, however, the assertion of the headsman that it was a growing practice of the judicial authorities to substitute the galleys for decapitation, was verified by the fact, and Florian enjoyed several years of domestic happiness, disturbed only by apprehensions which he could never subdue, that sooner or later the evil he so much dreaded would certainly befall him. Meanwhile his beloved Madelon had made him the happy father of three promising boys, and he began to experience a degree of tranquillity to which he had long been a stranger; when, at a period in which the town-prison was untenanted, the long-dreaded calamity burst upon his devoted head like a bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky.

His father-in-law received one morning at breakfast an order from the town authorities to repair early on the following day to a city at ten leagues distance, and there to behead a criminal whose execution had been delayed by the illness and death of the resident headsman. At this unexpected intelligence, the features of Florian were blanched with horror, but the iron visage of the old executioner betrayed not the slightest emotion. Regardless of his son-in-law’s terrors, he viewed this unexpected summons as a fortunate incident, and maintained that any unskilfulness in decapitation would be of less importance at a distance than in his native town. He regarded also this brief summons as much more favourable to Florian’s success than a longer foreknowledge, and urged in strong and decisive terms the necessity of submission to the call of duty. The blood of Florian froze as he listened, but he acquiesced, as usual, in timid silence. In the afternoon he yielded to the old man’s wish, that he should give what the headsman termed a master-proof of his skill in the science of decapitation, and with cold sweat on his brow severed a number of cabbage-heads to the satisfaction of his teacher. Meanwhile the sympathising but energetic Madelon prepared a palatable meal, and endeavoured, more successfully than her uncompromising parent, to sustain and cheer the drooping spirits of the husband she so entirely loved. She could not, however, always suppress her starting tears; and as the night approached, even the firm nature of the old headsman betrayed symptoms of growing anxiety, notwithstanding his endeavours to exhilarate himself by deep potations of his favourite wine.

After a night of wearying vigilance and internal conflict, the miserable Florian entered at daybreak the vehicle which awaited him and his father-in-law under the arched gateway. With a view to prevent his trembling substitute from witnessing all the preparations for the approaching catastrophe, the old man so measured his progress as to enter the city a few minutes before the appointed hour, and drove immediately to the scene of action, without pausing at the church, to attend, as customary, the mass then performing in presence of the criminal. Soon after their arrival, the melancholy procession approached, and Florian, unable to face the criminal, turned hastily away, ascended the ladder with unsteady steps, and concealed himself behind the massive person of the old headsman, as the victim of offended justice, with a firm and measured step, mounted the scaffold. The old man felt for his shrinking son-in-law, but kept a stern eye upon him, in hopes to counteract the disabling effects of his rising agony. When, however, the decisive moment approached, he whispered to him encouragingly—“Be a man, Florian! Beware of looking at the criminal before you strike; but when his head is lifted, look him boldly in the face, or the people will doubt your courage.”

Florian fixed on him a vacant stare, but these kindly-meant instructions reached not his inward ear. The remembrance of the execution he had witnessed with his friend Bartholdy had flashed upon him, and he recollected the taunting prediction—that he might himself be condemned to the scaffold. His agony rose almost to suffocation; he compared his own destiny with that of the being whom he was about to deprive of life, and he felt that he could not unwillingly have taken his place. At this moment his attention was caught by the admiring comments of the crowd upon the courageous bearing and firm unflinching features of the criminal. Roused by these exclamations to a stinging consciousness of his own unmanly timidity, he made a powerful effort, and rallied his expiring energies into temporary life and action. The headsman now approached him with the broad axe, and whispered, “Courage, my son! ’tis nothing but a cabbage-head.”

With a desperate effort, Florian seized the weapon, fixed his dim gaze upon the white neck of the criminal, and, guided more by long practice than by any estimate of place and distance, he struck the death-stroke. The head fell upon the hollow flooring of the scaffold with an appalling bounce, which petrified the unfortunate executioner. The consciousness that he had deprived a fellow-creature of life now smote him with a withering power, which for some moments deprived him of all volition, and he stood in passive stupor, gazing wildly upon the blood which streamed in torrents from the headless trunk. Immediately, however, his father-in-law again approached him, with a whisper. “Admirably done, my son! I give you joy! But recollect my warning, and look boldly at your work, or the mob will hoot you as a craven headsman from the scaffold.”

The old man was obliged to repeat his admonition before it reached the senses of his unconscious son-in-law. Long accustomed to yield unresisting obedience, Florian slowly raised his eyes, at the moment when the executioner’s assistant, after showing the criminal’s head to the multitude, turned round and held out to him the bleeding and ghastly object.—Gracious Heaven! what were his feelings when he encountered a well-known face—when he saw the yellow pock-marked visage of Bartholdy, whose widely-opened milk-blue eyes were fixed upon him in the glassy, dim, and vacant stare of death!

Paralysed with sudden and overwhelming horror, he fell senseless into the arms of the headsman, who had watched this critical moment, and, with ready self-possession, loudly attributed to recent illness an incident so puzzling to the spectators. He succeeded ere long in rousing Florian to an imperfect sense of his critical situation, and, supporting his tottering frame, led him to the house of the deceased executioner. For an hour after their arrival, the unhappy youth sat mute and motionless—the living image of despair. Agony in him had passed its wildest paroxysm, and settled down into a blind and mechanical unconsciousness. The old man, who began to suspect some extraordinary reason for emotion so excessive, compelled him to swallow several glasses of wine, and anxiously besought him to explain the cause of his impassioned deportment. It was long, however, before the disconsolate Florian regained the power of utterance. At length a burst of tears relieved him. “I knew him!” he began, in a voice broken by convulsive sobs. “He was once my friend. Oh, my father! there is no hope for me! I am a doomed man—a murderer! He stands before me ever, and demands my blood in atonement for his destruction. How can I justify such guilt? I never knew his crime—I cannot even fancy him a criminal—but I well remember that he loved and cherished me. Away, my father, if you love me, to the judges! I must know his crime, or the pangs I feel will never depart from me.”

The executioner, in whose stern and inflexible nature feelings of pity, and even of repentance, were now at work, hastened to obtain some information, and returned in half an hour, with indications of anxiety and doubt too obvious to escape the unhappy Florian, who, with folded hands, exclaimed, “For God-sake, father, tell me all—I must know it, sooner or later. Your anxiety prepares me for the worst. If you, a man of iron, are thus shaken”——

“I? Nonsense!” retorted the old man, somewhat disconcerted. “The fellow was a notorious villain, and was executed for two murders.”

Florian, relieved by this intelligence, began to breathe more freely, and gazed upon the headsman with looks which sought farther explanation, “Florian,” continued the old man, fixing upon him his stern and searching look, “when you told me the tale of your calamities at D., did you tell me all? Had you no reservations?”

“None, father, by all I hold most sacred!” replied Florian, with emphatic earnestness.

“One of Bartholdy’s crimes,” resumed the headsman, “was connected with your story. He is said to have slain the officer in whose murder you thought yourself implicated by suspicious appearances.”

He?” exclaimed Florian, gasping with horror. “No! by the Almighty God, he did not slay him! I have beheaded an innocent man, and the remembrance will cleave to me like a curse!”

“Can you prove that he had no share in that murder?” now sternly demanded the headsman, whose suspicions had been roused by Florian’s acknowledgment of former intimacy with Bartholdy.

“I can swear to his innocence of that murder,” vehemently replied Florian, whose energies rose with his excitement. “And the other crime?” he eagerly continued. “In mercy, father, tell me whom else he is said to have murdered?”

Yourself!” said the old man, turning pale as he anticipated the effect of this communication,—“if the name inserted in the judicial summons from D. was really yours.”

For some moments Florian gazed upon him in speechless despair—his eyes became fixed and glassy—his jaw dropped—and he would have fallen from his chair, had not the old man supported him. The headsman looked with anxious and growing perplexity upon his unfortunate victim. “After all,” he muttered, “he is my daughter’s husband, and a good husband. I forced him to the task, and must, if possible, save him from the consequences.”

By an abundant application of cold water to the face of Florian, he succeeded at length in restoring him to consciousness. The miserable youth opened his eyes, and, leaning on the old man’s shoulders, burst into a passion of tears. When in some measure tranquillised, the headsman asked him soothingly if he was sufficiently collected to listen to him.

“Yes, father, I am,” he replied, with an effort.

“Recollect, then, my son,” continued the old man, “that you are under the assured protection of the sword, and that you may open your heart to me without fear of consequences. Say, then, in the first place, who are you?”

“I am no other, father,” answered Florian, with returning energy, “than I have already acknowledged to you; and I was the early friend and schoolfellow of the man whose blood I have shed upon the scaffold. But I must and will have clear proof of every crime imputed to Bartholdy,” he exclaimed in wild emotion. “Again I see his large dim eyes fixed on me in reproach; and if you cannot give me evidence that he deserved his fate, my remorse will goad me on to suicide or madness.”

It was now evident to the old man that the suspicions he had founded on Florian’s acknowledged intimacy with Bartholdy were groundless. Recollecting, too, the undeviating truth and honesty of Florian’s character, he felt all the injustice of his suspicions; and his compassion for the tortured feelings of his son-in-law became actively excited. He clearly saw that nothing but the truth, and the whole truth, would satisfy him; he determined, therefore, to call upon the criminal’s confessor; and, after prevailing upon the exhausted Florian to go to bed, he watched by him until he saw his wearied senses sealed up in sleep, and then departed in quest of farther intelligence.

After three hours of undisturbed repose, which restored, in some measure, the exhausted strength of Florian, he awoke, and saw his father-in-law sitting by his bed, with a confident and cheerful composure of look, which spoke comfort to his wounded spirit.

“Florian,” he began, “I have cheering news for you. I have seen the confessor of Bartholdy, a good old man, who feels for, and wishes to console you. He has long known the habits and character of the criminal. More he would not say, but he will receive you this evening at his convent, and will not only impart to you the consolations of religion, but reveal as much of the criminal’s previous life as the sacred obligations of a confessor will permit. Meanwhile, my son, you must rouse yourself from this stupor, and accompany me in a walk round the city ramparts.”

After a restorative excursion, they repaired, at the appointed hour, to the Jesuit convent, and were immediately conducted to the cell of the confessor, an aged and venerable priest, who gazed for some seconds in silent wonder on the dejected Florian, and then, laying a hand upon his shoulder, exclaimed, “Gracious Heaven! Florian, is it possible that I see you alive?”

The startled youth raised his downcast eyes at this exclamation, and recognised in the Jesuit before him the worthy superior of the school at which he had been educated, and the same who had congratulated him on the disappearance of Bartholdy. This discovery imparted instant and unspeakable relief to the harassed feelings of Florian. The years he had passed under the paternal care of this benevolent old man arose with healing influence in his memory, and losing, in the sudden glow of filial regard and entire confidence, all his wonted timidity, he poured his tale of misery and remorse into the sympathising ear of the good father, with the artless and irresistible eloquence of a mind pure from all offence. The confessor, who listened with warm interest to his recital, forbore to interrupt its progress by questions. “I rejoice to learn,” he afterwards replied, “that Bartholdy, although deeply stained with crime, quitted this life with less of guilt than he was charged with on his conscience. The details of his confession I cannot reveal, without a breach of the sacred trust reposed in me. It is enough to state, that he was deeply criminal. Without reference, however, to his more recent transgressions, I can impart to you some particulars of his earlier life, and of his implication in the murder you have detailed, which will be sufficient to relieve your conscience, and reconcile you to the will of Him who, for wise purposes, made you the blind instrument of well-merited punishment. Know then, my son, that when Bartholdy was supposed by yourself and others to have absconded from the seminary, he was a prisoner within its walls. Certain evidence had reached the presiding fathers, that this reckless youth was connected with a band of plundering incendiaries, who had for some months infested the neighbouring districts. Odious alike to his teachers and schoolfellows, repulsed by every one but you, and almost daily subjected to punishment or remonstrance, he sought and found more congenial associates beyond our walls; and, with a view to raise money for the gratification of his vicious propensities, he contrived to scale our gates at night, and took an active part in the plunder of several unprotected dwellings. At the same time, we received a friendly intimation from the police, that he was implicated in a projected scheme to fire and plunder a neighbouring chateau, and that the ensuing night was fixed upon for the perpetration of this atrocity. Upon inquiry it was discovered that Bartholdy had been out all night, and it was now feared that he had finally absconded. Happily, however, for the good name of the seminary, he returned soon after the arrival of this intelligence, and, as I now conjecture, with a view to repossess himself of the knife he had left in your custody. He was immediately secured and committed to close confinement, in the hope that his solitary reflections, aided by our admonitions, would have gradually wrought a salutary change in his character. This confinement, which was sanctioned by his relations, was prolonged three years without any beneficial result; and at length, after many fruitless attempts, he succeeded in making his escape. Joining the scattered remnant of the band of villains dispersed by the police, he soon became their leader in the contrivance and execution of atrocities which I must not reveal, but which I cannot recollect without a shudder. In consequence of high winds and clouds of dust, the public walk and grove beyond the gate of D. had been some days deserted by the inhabitants, and the body of the murdered officer was not discovered until the fourth morning after your departure from the university. A catastrophe so dreadful had not for many years occurred in that peaceful district: a proportionate degree of abhorrence was roused in the public mind, and the excited people rushed in crowds to view the corpse, in which, by order of the police, the fatal knife was left as when first discovered; while secret agents mingled with the crowd, to watch the various emotions of the spectators. Guided by a retributive providence, Bartholdy, who had that morning arrived in D., approached the body, and gazed upon it with callous indifference, until the remarkable handle of his long-lost knife caught his eye. Starting at the well-remembered object, a deep flush darkened his yellow visage, and immediately the police-officers darted forward and seized him. At first he denied all knowledge of the knife, and, when again brought close to the body, he gazed upon it with all his wonted hardihood; but when told to take the bloody weapon from the wound, he grasped the handle with a shudder, drew it forth with sudden effort, and, as he gazed on the discoloured blade, his joints shook with terror, and the knife fell from his trembling hand. Superstition was ever largely blended with the settled ferocity of Bartholdy’s character, and I now attribute this emotion to a fear that his destiny was in some way connected with this fatal weapon, which had already caused his long imprisonment, and would now too probably endanger his life. This ungovernable agitation confirmed the general suspicion excited by his forbidding and savage exterior. He was immediately conveyed to the hotel of the police, and the knife was placed before him; but when again interrogated, he long persisted in denying all knowledge of it. When questioned, however, as to his name and occupation, and his object in the city of D., his embarrassment increased, his replies involved him in contradictions, and at length he admitted that he had seen the knife before, and in your possession. This attempt to criminate you by implication, failed, however, to point any suspicion against one whose unblemished life and character were so well known in the university. Your gentle and retiring habits, your shrinking aversion from scenes of strife and bloodshed, were recollected by many present: their indignation was loudly uttered, and a friend of yours expressed his belief that you had quitted the city some days before the murder was committed. In short, this base and groundless insinuation of Bartholdy created an impression highly disadvantageous to him. A few hours later, intelligence arrived that the diligence in which you had left D. had been attacked by a band of robbers, while passing through a forest, the day after your departure. Several of the passengers had been wounded; some killed; others had saved themselves by flight; and, as you had disappeared, it was now conjectured that Bartholdy had murdered you, and taken from your person the knife with which he had afterwards stabbed the young man in the grove. This presumptive evidence against him was so much strengthened by his sudden emotion at the sight of the weapon, and by the apparent probability that the murder of the young officer had succeeded the robbery of the diligence, that the watch and money found upon the body failed to create any impression in his favour, as it was conjectured, by the strongly excited people, that he had been alarmed by passing footsteps before he had succeeded in rifling his victim. He was put into close confinement until farther evidence could be obtained; and, ere long, a letter arrived to your address from Normandy, stating the arrival of your trunk by the carrier, and expressing surprise at your non-appearance. A judicial summons, detailing your name and person, and citing you to appear and give evidence against the supposed murderer, led to no discovery of your retreat, and the evidence of your wounded fellow-travellers was obscure and contradictory. Meanwhile, however, several of the robbers who had attacked the diligence were captured by the gens-d’armes. When confronted with Bartholdy, their intelligence was sufficiently obvious, and he at length confessed his co-operation in the murderous assault upon the travellers; but stoutly denied that he had either injured or even seen you amongst the passengers, and as tenaciously maintained his innocence of the murder committed in the grove. Your entire disappearance however, his emotion on beholding the knife, and his admission that he knew it, still operated so strongly against him that he was tried and pronounced guilty of three crimes, each of which was punishable with death. During the week succeeding his trial, he was supplied by a confederate with tools, which enabled him to escape and resume his predatory habits; nor was he retaken until a month before his execution, while engaged in a robbery of singular boldness and atrocity. He was recognised as the hardened criminal who had escaped from confinement at D.; and as the authorities were apprehensive that no prison would long hold so expert and desperate a villain, an order was obtained from Paris for the immediate execution of the sentence already passed upon him at D. Thus, although guilty of one only of the three crimes for which he suffered, the forfeiture of ten lives would not have atoned for his multiplied transgressions. From boyhood even he had preyed upon society with the insatiable ferocity of a tiger; and you, my son, ought not to murmur at the decree which made your early acquaintance with him the means of stopping his savage career, and your hand the instrument of retribution.”

The concluding words of the venerable priest fell like healing balm upon the wounded spirit of Florian, who returned home an altered and a saddened, but a sustained and a devout man: deeply conscious that the ways of Providence, however intricate, are just; and more resigned to a vocation, to which he now conceived that he had been for especial purposes appointed. He followed, too, the advice of the friendly priest, in leaving the public belief of his own death uncontradicted; and, as he had not actually witnessed the murder in the grove near D., he felt himself justified in withholding his evidence against an individual, of whose innocence there was a remote possibility.

The mental agony of the unfortunate young headsman had been so acute, that a reaction upon his bodily health was inevitable. Symptoms of serious indisposition appeared the next day, and were followed by a long and critical malady, which, however, eventually increased his domestic happiness, by unfolding in his Madelon nobler and higher attributes than he had yet discovered in her character. No longer the giddy and laughter-loving Frenchwoman, she had, for some years, become a devoted wife and mother; but it was not until she saw her husband’s gentle spirit for ever blighted, and his life endangered for some weeks by a wasting fever, that she felt all his claims upon her, and bitterly reproached herself as the sole cause of his heaviest calamities. During this long period of sickness, when all worldly objects were waning around this man of sorrows, she watched, and wept, and prayed over him with an untiring assiduity and self-oblivion, which developed to the grateful Florian all the unfathomable depths of woman’s love, and proved her consummate skill and patience in all the tender offices and trying duties of a sick-chamber. Her health was undermined, and her fine eyes were dimmed for ever by long-continued vigilance; but her assiduities were at length rewarded by a favourable crisis; and when the patient sufferer was sufficiently restored to bear the disclosure, she kneeled to him in deep humility, and acknowledged, what the reader has doubtless long conjectured, that she had, from an upper window, caused that ominous jarring of the sword and axe which induced her father to suspect and follow him, and which eventually led to their marriage.

Florian started in sudden indignation; but his gentle nature, and the hallowed influences of recent sickness and calamity, soon prevailed over his wrath. What could he say? How could he chide the lovely and devoted woman, whose fraud had grown out of her affection for him! In an instant he forgot his own sorrows; and, as he listened to the mournful and beseeching accents of her who was the mother of his children, and had been unto him, in sickness and in health, a ministering angel, his anger melted into love. He had no words; but, like the father of the humbled prodigal, he had compassion, and fell upon her neck and kissed her, and forgave her entirely, and for ever.

The old headsman survived these events several years; and, while his strength continued equal to the effort, he spared his son-in-law from the trying duties of his office. After his death, however, his successor was compelled to encounter the dreadful task. For some time before and after each execution, sadness sat heavy on his soul, but yielded gradually to the sustaining influence of fervent prayer, and to the caresses of his wife and children. In the intervening periods he regained comparative tranquillity, and devoted himself unceasingly to the education of his boys, and to the labours of his field and vineyard. I have been told, however, that since the execution of Bartholdy he was never seen to smile; and that, when gazing on the joyous sports of his unconscious children, his eyes would often fill with tears of sorrowing anticipation. Thus many years elapsed: his boys have become men, and the recent training and nomination of one of them as his successor, have renewed in the heart of the fond father all those bitter pangs which the soothing agency of time and occupation had lulled to comparative repose.


Here the interesting narrator paused. Towards the conclusion of his recital his mournful voice had quivered with suppressed emotion; and, as he finished, his eyes were clouded with tears.

His companions had listened to this affecting narrative with a sympathy which, for some moments, subdued all power of utterance, and the silence which ensued was interrupted only by involuntary and deep-drawn sighs. At length the Professor roused himself, and, prompted by a friendly wish to draw out a more explanatory conclusion, he put the leading question, “Had he, then, no alternative?”

“You forget, my dear sir,” replied Julius, rallying with sudden effort, “that by the French laws the son of an executioner must succeed his father, or see the family estate transferred to strangers. When the old headsman was near his end, his son-in-law pledged himself by oath to train a son as his own successor. His eldest boy, who blended with his father’s gentle manners some portion of his mother’s courage, evinced, from an early age, such determined antipathy to this vocation, that the appointment was transferred to the second son, who had inherited the masculine spirit and prompt decision of his mother. Unhappily, however, soon after his nomination, he died of a malignant fever. His sorrowing mother, who had for some time observed symptoms of declining health in her husband, and was indescribably solicitous to see him relieved from his official duties, prevailed upon her youngest son, in absence of her first-born, to accept the appointment. But this youth, not then nineteen, and in mind and person the counterpart of his timid father, was equally unsuited to this formidable calling. Well knowing, however, that his refusal would deprive his parents of the home and the support so essential to their growing infirmities, he strung his nerves to the appalling task, and, at the next execution, he mounted the scaffold as his father’s substitute. But, alas! at the decisive moment his strength and resolution failed him. His sight grew dim with horror, and he performed his trying duty so unskilfully, that the people groaned with indignation at the protracted sufferings of the unfortunate criminal, and the town authorities pronounced him unqualified. The consequence of this disastrous failure was an immediate summons to the eldest son, who had for several years thought himself finally released from this terrible appointment. So unexpected a change in his destination fell upon him like a death-blow; and, as he read the fatal summons, he felt the sword and axe grating on his very soul.”

“And do you think it possible,” exclaimed one of the students, “that after such long exemption he will submit to a life so horrible?”

“Too probably,” replied Julius, mournfully, “he must submit to it. Indeed, I see no alternative. His refusal would not only deprive his drooping and unhappy parents of every means of support, but too probably expose their lives to the fury of a bigoted and ferocious populace. None but a childless headsman can hold his property during life without a qualified successor; and, when he dies, the magistrates appoint another.”

Here Julius paused again. He gazed for some moments in melancholy abstraction upon the dying embers in the stove—the tears again started to his eyes, and he rose abruptly to depart; nor could the joint efforts of the kind Professor, and the now warmly-interested students, prevail on him to stay out another bowl of punch.

“To-morrow early,” said he, in unsteady tones, to the Professor, “I will claim your promised introduction to the lieutenant. Till then, farewell!”

“Promise me, then, my dear Julius,” rejoined his host, “that you will give us your company to-morrow evening. After so trying a spectacle, a bowl of punch, and the society of four friends, will recruit and cheer you.”

The students successively grasped his hand, and cordially urged him to comply. Overcome by this unexpected sympathy, the agitated youth could not restrain his tears, and in a voice tremulous with emotion, he said, “I shall never forget your kindness, and, if I know my heart, I shall prove myself not unworthy of it. If in my power, I will join your friendly circle to-morrow night; but”—he hesitatingly added—“I have never yet faced an execution, and I know not how far such strong excitement may unfit me for society.”

The Professor and his friends accompanied him to the street, where they again shook hands and separated.


On the following evening the three students were again assembled in the Professor’s study, and the conversation turned more upon their new friend and his interesting narrative, than upon the tragedy of that morning. The Professor told them that Julius had called early, and been introduced by him to the lieutenant, since which he had not seen or heard of him. One of the students said, that his curiosity to observe the deportment of their mysterious friend had led him early to the ground, where he had seen Julius standing, with folded arms, and pale as death, within a few feet of the scaffold; but that, unable to subdue his own loathing of the approaching catastrophe, he had left the ground before the arrival of the criminal.

An hour elapsed in momentary expectation of the young student’s arrival, but he came not. The conversation gradually dropped into monosyllables, and the Professor could no longer disguise his anxiety, when a gentle tap was heard, like that of the preceding night, and without any previous sound of approaching footsteps. “Come in!” cheerfully shouted the relieved Professor, but the door was not unclosed. Again he called, but vainly as before. Then starting from his chair, he opened the door, but discovered no one. The students, who also fancied they had heard a gentle knock, looked at each other in silent amazement; and the warm-hearted Professor, unable to reason down his boding fears, determined to seek Julius at his lodgings, and requested one of the students to accompany him.

He knew the street, but not the house, in which the young man resided; and as soon as they had entered the street, their attention was excited by a tumultuous assemblage of people at no great distance. Hastening to the spot, the Professor ascertained from a bystander that the crowd had been collected by the loud report of a gun or pistol in the apartments of a student. Struck with an appalling presentiment, the Professor and his companion forced a passage to the house-door, and were admitted by the landlord, to whom the former was well known. “Tell me!” exclaimed the Professor, gasping with terror and suspense—“Is it Julius Arenbourg?”

“Alas! it is indeed,” replied the other. “Follow me up-stairs, and you shall see him.”

They found the body of the ill-fated youth extended on the bed, and a pistol near him, the ball of which had gone through his heart. His fine features, although somewhat contracted by the peculiar action of a gunshot wound, still retained much of their bland and melancholy character. The landlord and his family wept as they related that Julius, who was their favourite lodger, had returned home after the execution with hurried steps, and a countenance of death-like paleness. Without speaking to the children, as was his wont, he had locked the door of his apartment, where he remained several hours, and then hastened with some letters to the post-office. In a few minutes after his return, the fatal shot summoned them to his room, where they found him dying and speechless. “But I had nearly forgotten,” concluded the landlord, “that he left upon his table a letter addressed to Professor N.”

The worthy man opened the letter with a trembling hand, and, in a voice husky with emotion, read the contents to his companion.

“From you, my dear Professor, and from my younger friends, although but friends of yesterday, I venture to solicit the last kindness which human sympathy can offer. If, as I dare to hope, I have some hold upon your good opinion, you will not refuse to see my remains interred with as much decency as the magistrates will permit. In my purse will be found enough to meet the amount of this and every other claim upon me.

“I have yet another boon to ask, and one of vital moment to my unhappy relatives. I have prepared them to expect intelligence of my death by fever; and surely my request, that the subjoined notice of my decease may be inserted in the papers of Metz and Strasbourg, will not be disregarded by those whose kindness taught me the value of existence when I had no alternative but to resign it.

“That those earthly blessings, which were denied to me and mine, may be abundantly vouchsafed to you, is the fervent prayer of the unhappy

Julius.

“Died of fever, at ——, in Germany, Julius Florian Laroche, a native of Champagne, aged 22.”

“Alas!” exclaimed the deeply affected Professor, “the mystery is solved, and my suspicions were too well founded. Sad indeed was thy destiny, my Julius, and sacred shall be thy last wishes.”

Kissing the cold brow of the deceased, he hung over his remains in silent sorrow, and breathed a fervent prayer for mercy to the suicide; then giving brief directions for the funeral, the Professor and his friend paced slowly homeward, in silence and in tears.