« AnteriorContinuar »
“ Madame,” said Magdalene, while a generous enthusiasm beamed in her look, “ if I have had the misfortune to offend you unwittingly, I am in your hands, do with me as you please ; but, in the mean time, Carl Benzel is in the prison-tower of Birkenfeld, and in a very few days must suffer death in the character he personates, if not released by the valour and generosity of him for whom he appears to be contented to die!”
“ Madame," said Ida, stepping forward, “if money can be of any assistance, I have abundance. If necessary, to deliver him, make me a beggar.” The mistress did not raise her head for some time; but the heaving of her bosom betrayed her agitation.
“ You have heard ?” said she at last, standing up, and turning about sternly to the robbers.
“ We have said," they replied simultaneously; and as the deep low voices died away, the silence that succeeded was strange and even awful. The mistress sunk down on her chair by the table, and burying her face in both hands, remained motionless for some moments : then raising her head slowly
Magdalene, wife of Ishmael, the son of Joab," said she, “it is ordered that you return forthwith to your house, and there remain for at least three days, unless at the special command of your husband. You, lady, will be so good as to retire to your chamber.” The orders were no sooner issued, than two sentries, who were posted near the door, with drawn swords, came forward to clear the room ; and Ida and Magdalene, after a vain attempt to make themselves heard, gave up their pleas
“ Adieu !” said Magdalene to her companion when they were outside the door. " There is that in the eye of yonder bandit-queen which makes me incline to trust her. I am convinced there is more than meets
the ear in her injunction to me to remain at home; and since it seems I can do no good elsewhere, I shall even obey.” Ida, unable to advise, or almost to think, folded the girl in her arms, and kissed her; and the two friends, who not an hour before had met for the first time, parted with tears and trembling.
“ It is strange !” thought Ida, as she endeavoured to find her way through the labyrinth of ruins to her own apartment. “ The eye of that outlaw's wife seems to possess a kind of fascination which I can no more account for than I could resist. Is it possible that I can have ever seen her before ? Surely not. good heaven, what an idea! Yes, it was the resemblance that struck me ; and that resemblance can only be an accident of nature. It must be so.
What sorcery of circumstances could have produced on a sudden 80 extraordinary a metamorphosis ?” The object of her meditations at this moment emerged from a gap in the ruined wall, and stood before her like a spirit. Ida, after the first start of surprise, perused her features with intense curiosity.
“ You are right, madame," said the bandit queen,' crossing her hands upon her bosom, and bending lowly before her; “ the wife of Schinderhannes is the pea sant Liese!”
“ Çan it be possible? What a strange world is this! Oh, Liese, it is I who must now bend to you! You have the power, and surely you have the will to assist
You must have known Carl Benzel-you did know him, and you knew him to be kind, and noble, and good, and generous, and brave. Will you not save him, Liese? Will you not utter the word—the single word—which will restore him to life, and freedom, and happiness ? ” Liese had covered her face with her hands, and tears were now seen gushing through between her fingers.
“ And is it you who ask me?” cried she, dashing suddenly away the rebellious drops. “ What right has Ida Dallheimer to put such a question to Liese? Did you watch the live-long night by his fever-bed, and listen to the ravings of his love and his despair ? Did you tend and cherish him like a sick infant, surrendering to his wants your thoughts, your time, your labour, your all of worldly wealth, though it lay but in the compass of a dollar ? Did
you count the beatings of his pulse, and the heavings of his bosom ? and when he opened his feeble eyes, and they rested on no eyes but yours—no friend, no love, no kinsman in the wide world— did you fly away out of his sight, to give vent in secret to the pride, and joy, and grief of your
full heart, in tears, and sobs, and prayer? All that did I!
“ Now mark me, Ida Dallheimer,” continued Liese, with a proud shame, “I do not love him! I could have loved him then-I do confess I could- but it was impossible. The name of Ida was on his dreaming lips, and her idea the only strong and enduring image in his fainting bosom. I did not love him-- I could not love him with the love of a mistress; but he was to me even as something of my own, dear, lone, and secret, which the world knew not of; and when he left me to go in search of that Ida, for whom I had preserved him, and his form faded slowly away in the distance, I felt, for the first time, that I was bereft and alone on the earth.
6 Would I save Carl Benzel ? save him whom I tore from the arms of death, and who thus, and therefore, became mine? Ay! at the expense
life existing-but one- - and that one is not my own!”
“ You tell me strange things, Liese;" said Ida Dallheimer, putting her arm round the waist of the bandit's wife, “and was it of me he spoke, even in dreams and sickness? Was it my name that hovered on his delirious lips ? Did he know me in his beart when all the visible world was strange to his feverish eyes? Did his mind-his thoughts-his-his" and, her voice choked with sobs, she leaned her face on Liese’s bosom, and wept aloud.
“ But come,” said Ida, starting up, after a few moments' forgetfulness, and dashing away her tears, and flinging back the disordered hair from her eyes, “ you speak as if in this case your powers were limited, or wholly neutralised. Something must be done. Let us act first, and weep afterwards. Counsel me, my friend, what to do. My fortune shall go, every dollar- and I will beg what may be wanting; or I will visit him in the dungeon, and he shall escape dressed in my clothes ; or, if all is unavailing, I will at least be near, tain and cheer him in the hour of death-and then then-when all is over
- What then?” “ I will sit down under the guillotine and die ! ”
“ I told him so !” cried Liese. "I told him the very words;
and he believed me on my woman's faith, and blessed me in his heart !
“ I would not deceive you, dear lady, on such a point for the world. I dare not bid your mind be at rest : for all is doubt and darkness around us. The time is so short since my destiny was linked to that of Schinderhannes, and the act itself was so sudden, that as yet I hardly know who I am, although I try to queen it as bravely as I can. The laws of the association are written in blood; and neither chief nor
subaltern can strain them one hair's breadth. Heaven knows the power of Schinderhannes is great enough for one man to sway : but it has its limits; he dares not for his life overstep those boundaries which are already placed so distant as hardly to leave an excuse for the desire.
“ On the night that Carl Benzel was taken at the mill, Schinderhannes was also in the power of the police. This would have been nothing at another time--a circumstance hardly worthy of notice; but at that moment it was life or death to the individual, and salvation or total ruin to the band. A cordon militaire was drawn closely round, for the sole purpose of capturing this famous chief; and his usual resource, a retreat to the right bank of the Rhine, which we now contemplate at our ease, seemed to be impossible.
“ In the necessity of the moment, it was determined that Benzel should personate Schinderhannes; and thus produce the dispersion of the military force, and leave time for our escape.
The general resemblance between the two originated the idea ; but without a certain something in the mind of the prisoner, which could be so wrought upon as to induce him to continue the deceit, were it necessary, even to the block -the plan was hopeless. Benzel was the only man living, so far as was known, who possessed at once courage, honour, and weakness enough for the undertaking; and he accordingly, although fallen upon by the chance of the moment, was chosen for the victim.”
“ Selfish, cruel, dishonourable policy !” exclaimed Ida. Liese smiled bitterly. She perceived that the young lady had forgotten that they were talking of banditti!