“And, by the bye,” he added, when he had brought his narrative to a close, “I must not forget to tell you that I carried away with me the undeniable proofs of my victory—here they are;” and as he spoke he drew a handkerchief from his pocket in which something was evidently folded.
At that very instant the door of the room opened, and a man entered, large in stature, but pale and weak, and with his clothes saturated with rain. He could scarcely stagger to a chair before he sank down like one whose vital powers were utterly exhausted; and in a moment the whole family were crowded about him.
“My father! my dear father!” exclaimed Adolphe; “weary as you evidently are, how thankful I am that you have returned; I have news for you that will, I know, be welcome.”
As he spoke the young man extended his hand, but the action met with no response; and as he glanced towards that which was so strangely withheld, he remarked that it was enveloped in a blood-stained linen.
“What!” he asked anxiously, “are you suffering from more than fatigue? Have you been wounded?”
“Yes,” was the faint reply; “as I was coming through the forest, four leagues from this, I was attacked by brigands. I had heard that they were in the neighbourhood, but I believed it to be an idle rumour. I endeavoured to defend myself; and in the fray one of the ruffians struck off two of my fingers. I am faint from loss of blood; give me some wine, and I shall soon be better.”
Madame de Rosval hurried to the sideboard, and with a trembling hand and swimming eyes brought the required refreshment, while the two elder girls wound their arms about their father’s neck, and wept piteously. Adolphe stood motionless, like one in a frightful dream; but little Rosalie, the pet and plaything of the family, too young to comprehend the sorrow on which she looked, and full of curiosity to see what her soldier brother had really brought home, busied herself in unfolding the handkerchief which had fallen from his hand on the entrance of his father, and she had no sooner succeeded than, clapping her chubby hands in childish delight, she called out almost breathlessly:
“Mamma! Mamma! Adolphe has got the two fingers he cut off at the inn; give them to poor papa, and then he will be quite well again.”
In another hour M. de Rosval was in the hands of justice. The landlord of Le Grand Roi had been so active in his exertions to redeem the honour of his house, that the gensdarmes had tracked the culprit by the traces of his blood; and in the extremity of their anguish his family had forgotten to urge upon him a second flight.
On the 20th of December, the assize-court of Tours was filled to overflowing. The event was one productive of unusual excitement; the idle and the unfeeling were on the tiptoe of expectation; a drama of real life, and involving real suffering, was to be concluded before their very eyes. A father was about to be tried for the attempted murder of his son; and, moreover, the prisoner was no common criminal, but a man of old and honoured family. No wonder that the whole city was convulsed with curiosity and animation!
The court had assembled: the prisoner was ushered to his seat; the jury were duly sworn, and the proceedings commenced.
Pale, agitated, and painfully excited, Adolphe de Rosval replied to the summons of the greffier, and prepared to give his evidence. He was closely wrapped in a large military cloak, but raised his right hand steadily, and repeated the oath in a clear and audible voice.
“What is your name?” demanded the President.
“Adolphe Ernest Leon de Rosval.”
“Pupil of St. Cyr; sub-lieutenant of the —— regiment of the line.”
Then followed the whole detail of the nocturnal attempt upon his life; or, as he persisted in believing it to be, upon his property; but he was, as a necessary consequence of his position throughout the adventure, unable to establish the identity of the culprit. Not once had he ventured to turn his eyes towards the Banc d’Infamie on which his wretched father was seated between two gensdarmes; and the President, touched by the painfulness of his position, gave him permission to withdraw.
Jean Antoine Ebrard was the next witness called. He had been dead three weeks.
As the third name rang through the hall, a young girl dressed in deep mourning, and wearing a long black veil which concealed her face, was led to the witness-chair; as she took the oath she trembled violently; but when desired to say if she recognised the prisoner, she answered firmly: “No.”
Poor Marie! She had perjured herself to save the father of the youth to whom, in one short hour, she had given away her heart. Adolphe had been, as we have already said, the solitary ray of brightness which had pierced through the darkness of her lot; and in seeking to save him one bitter pang, she had perilled her own soul.
The circumstantial evidence against M. de Rosval was overwhelming, but still failed to establish the identity of the culprit. The evidence of the landlord or his step-daughter must have condemned him; but the one was dead, and the other had positively sworn that she had never seen him before.
After the counsel for the prosecution (procureur du roi
) had addressed the court, the counsel for the prisoner made an able speech, in which he strenuously endeavoured to prove an alibi. He stated that it was impossible to prove that the prisoner at the bar had slept at the aubérge of Le Grand Roi
on the night of the mysterious event which had led to the present trial, since the only witness now alive, who must have seen him had such been the case, had solemnly assured the court that she did not recognise him. “No, gentlemen of the jury,” he concluded, “the accused has been a victim, not an assassin. That he has been mutilated by violence is certain; but he has explained, in the clearest manner, the cause