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CHAPTER III.

THE BANDIT-QUEEN.
WHEN Ida and her new friend entered the

presence chamber, all was as silent as the grave.

The Jew was set down near the door more dead than alive; and our petitioners had an opportunity of observing the scene over his bowed head.

At the farther end of the room, the floor was slightly elevated ; and in front of this portion, which might be termed the stage, or hustings, was placed a table, with writing materials, where sat the principal actress of the show.

She was a woman in the very prime of youth, fantastically attired in a scarlet riding dress, embroidered with gold. A small round hat, without a veil, was stuck lightly on her head ; and her black hair, without comb, or band of any kind, hung in the wildest confusion over her shoulders and bosom, descending in glossy wreaths, that appeared to curl naturally, even to her waist. The high colour of her cheeks receiving a still deeper tinge from her dress, looked like the flush of pride and conscious beauty ; and her eyes, glistening and flashing in their darkness, struck the gazer at once with fear and admiration. If anything could have detracted from the real beauty of her features, it would have been the excess of what is called spirit; and yet, although her air and manner were not strictly feminine, they could with still less propriety have been stigmatised as masculine. The gallant daring, the haughty defiance, the generous disdain that sat on her brow and lightened in her eyes, were not the qualities of the same name we find in man; or at least, touched by the poetry of woman's imagination, they had acquired in her a character peculiar to the sex.

At the back of the hustings ten or twelve men stood uncovered. They were armed with carbines, swords, and pistols ; and looked like what they were the most daring, fierce, and desperate ruffians in Europe. Immediately behind the chair of the banditqueen-for such she seemed— Magdalene discovered, with a start, the Jewess Leah, once her rival in the love of Ishmael ; and at one end of the table, seated on the edge of a stool—which appeared to be half held as an honour, and half claimed as a right,-old Adonijah was busy turning over, with a trembling hand, a packet of papers.

The company at the lower end of the room were chiefly peasants, both male and female. They remained grouped as near the door as they could well stand ; and appeared to be so filled with awe that they hardly dared to breathe freely.

Our petitioners had just time to make these observations, which they did (being women) in a single glance, when the “ mistress, striking the table smartly with her riding-switch that lay upon it, inquired

“ What is the next case ?" and the refractory Jew, with his body bent till the trunk was at right angles

with the thighs, was led forward into the middle of the room.

“ Isaac Herz," said the mistress ; 6 it has been reported to us that you are never seen abroad without an escort of gendarmes. Is this true or false ?” The Jew bent still lower—tried to speak-gasped—but not a word would come.

« Such fooleries are not permitted. What is it you fear? Do you not know that if we desired your lifeby a single word of the mouth, by a sign of the fingerwe could have you shot in the midst of a hundred gendarmes ?" To give proper emphasis to the sentence, the beautiful speaker smote the table again, as she pronounced the word “shot;" and at the ominous sound, Isaac Herz sprang two feet from the floor.

“ Didst thou hear?" demanded the mistress, in a still more terrible tone ; while a gleam in her proud eye, and a sudden fulness in her rich cheek, proclaimed that she had much difficulty to hold from laughing. Isaac tried again to speak, but it was all in vain ; his throat was dry ; his lips crackled in the attempt, like old parchment; and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He bent himself to the floor, however, till his forehead touched the boards; and was then crawling backwards from the presence, when he was suddenly seized by his guard, and dragged towards the table.

“ Thirty six francs, French money, forthe audience!” bawled a stentorian voice. Grimly smiled the banditti at the horror of the Jew; and their young

mistress was so much overpowered by the ridicule of the scene, that she turned round, as if addressing Leah, and hid her face in her handkerchief. Leah herself stood, without altering a muscle, and with her eyes

VOL. II.

fixed on the ground; and old Adonijah only raised his head for an instant at the chink of the coins, which Isaac at length drew, one by one, from his pocket.

When this transaction was settled, and the Jew had crept out of the room, the mistress smote the table again, and called the next case; when Magdalene immediately darted forward, followed by Ida, and approached close to the hustings.

“ What is this ?" demanded the mistress, examin. ing both the clients with a keen brief glance—“ It is the name of a man that is next on the list."

“ The case I have to state, madame," replied Magdalene, “cannot be postponed. It is a matter of life and death; and you reject the petition without hearing it, if you

refuse to hear it on the instant.” The mistress looked again at her with a deep and searching gaze ; but did not direct her eye a second time to Ida.

“Let the room be cleared,” said she, “of spectators~" they instantly vanished—“and now say

When she had obtained permission, Magdalene related succinctly, and with great simplicity, all that she knew, although something less than the reader already knows, of the situation of Carl Benzel; and concluded by adjuring her hearer to interpose for the preservation of his life.

The mistress listened attentively, but without any display of womanly feeling. She appeared either to have been already familiar with the story, or to be altogether incapable of sympathy.

“ You say your husband wandered from you in the dark ?” said one of the banditti, striding forward“How did that happen? Had you not hold of his arm?” Yes, sir-but-but- we heard the cry of a

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“ Was it a sparrow?”
“ No.”
« Nor a linnet ?”
“ No."
“ Nor an owl?”

“It really escapes my memory-but-yes, I think it was an owl."

“ And you were frightened, of course ? " “ Yes.”

“ And your husband left you to go and see what it could be?”

Precisely.” A look of much meaning passed among the banditti.

“ Does the cry of any other bird frighten you as much ? ” continued the cross-questioner; " or have you an especial antipathy to owls ? ” Magdalene grew pale.

“ It was dark,” said she, “the road was silent; my nerves were weakened by the fatigues of the journey : the chirp of a sparrow would have frightened me."

“ There is no need of this,” said the mistress, hurriedly, “ the sound did frighten her-the man was fool enough to leave his wife in the hands of a stranger. Come, I should not wonder if it was an affair of gallantry after all, and if it was the wife herself who gave the husband the slip!

Madame," said Magdalene, “there are two persons beside you, whoare ableto vouch for the truth of my story if they choose.” Adonijah and his daughter exchanged looks, but remained silent; and the banditti grouping together began to talk earnestly, but in so low a tone that the purport of their discussion did not pass the bounds of the hustings. The mistress all on a sudden became dejected. The light forsook her eye; and, leaning her head upon her hand, she sunk into a deep reverie.

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