The Seventh Chamber
Shouts, songs, peals of laughter and all the grotesque pantomime which renders a French tribunal melodramatic, interrupted this scene. “Another witness! A lost witness found!” was the chorus, and Claude entered, rather carried than escorted into the Prefect’s presence. “You see messieurs,” he began uncovering his bronzed head, “it is something to have a remarkable name good or bad — every woman and child in Avignon knows Claude Larron, and I come to make my name better.”
“It is freed from one charge,” said the Procurator, “but not from heavy suspicion. You may repent this challenge, unless you have Roland’s sword to cut through mountains.”
“Not if I bring as evidence, an English peer’s, to shew I was in his island, aye, and in his hall the very hour and day of the felony charged on me here.”
“First convince us you are the Claude Larron or the bearer of that name, described in these indictments.”
“Call Emilia now called Douglas, my wife, and the mother of my son. He will know me though she may deny us both, and her father M’Caire, the idiot-maker.”
The deep hoarse murmur of vengeance rose even in the court when the absence of both was discovered. The idiot boy had been led from the vestibule by old Babuti’s partisans — Emilia and Wallace had disappeared together.
“Let her go with him if he still lives,” said the Prefect, “fit prizes for each other — shame, fear, and hatred are worse punishments than our chains and axes. But where is the noble Englishman?”
“Monseigneur,” answered a deep voice, “I claim an instant reply to that demand. As his countryman, a peer of England and once a minister of her laws, I repeat your question. Claude has spoken truth — he was my guest in England on the day of his supposed offence and accompanied me here to expose real criminals. Prefect, you know me and I expect your justice.”
The Frenchman smiled as he pointed with his usual theatric air to the splendid horologe which represented Time unveiling Truth. “My lord Glenalmond, we wait for Time when we intend to seek Justice. She is not very distant and has not been blindfolded. Your friend is at this moment in the Dominican Hall seeking the secret in the keeping of old Babuti. We will make St. Dominic’s chair a ‘Justice Seat’ again.”
“They will make the cave under it his grave and my boy’s!” shouted Claude. “I am free — I am acquitted — let me follow him — life for life, he saved mine.”
As the clock tolled one, the seventh chamber of the old Dominican House was lighted by the torch of old Babuti as he guided his visitor over its mouldering floor. “Take our load and begone,” he muttered, “if meddlers care for it — lady-mothers want none.” And throwing the muffled burthen he had dragged towards Stewart’s feet, he strode over a few embers on the hearth-stone, leaving him in absolute darkness. But a dull gleam rose again, and he saw himself at the edge of a deep black chasm in the floor, with the dead or dying. For one instant he looked with loathing on the thing whose existence had been a blot and bane to his, half-tempted to spurn or crush it — in another he listened to a feeble moan and hastened to loosen the cloak cruelly bound. While bending over it, he perceived a hand clinging to the cord suspended from a rude kind of windlass in the chasm. His pistol only flashed, but that flash enabled him to see another hand clench the cloak and drag its hapless wearer downwards. But his grasp was firm while he threw his powder-flask among the embers on the hearth. An instant and intense glare filled the chamber, his keen couteau-de-chasse severed the cord by one stroke and the assassin sank with the last cry of mortal agony. Still other perils remained. Suffocating smoke and a redder light, probably of fire gathered round while the loose planks crackled and bowed under him. “Leave the dead and save the living,” was whispered near his ear, but the rush of fee and the clamour of many voices silenced the unseen speaker. “Where is he? Where have they hid the corpse” was shouted from every recess of the ruined hall while the Prefect, Glenalmond and Claude gathered round Stewart and the victim. They uncovered the face — life, beautiful life was still there. It was Marianne’s.
* * *
“Stay procurator! — agent! — M’Campbell, M’Caire, or whatever alias pleases best! I have not forgotten my clerkship or my first tutor. Where is your accomplice and your daughter?”
The baffled felon, crouching like a tiger-cat in the shadow, only growled, “Gone, with my curse.”
Glenalmond turned from him to wring Stewart’s hand and gaze on Marianne. “My letter,” he added, “my intercepted letter would have told you all. This base agent knew your wife’s rights and contrived he abduction, her imprisonment, and almost her death here. But you have saved her — and the doomed boy is safe with us.”
The Frenchman’s light heart threw aside rights and wrongs. He made a pirouette, sang ‘ca-ira’, and gave M’Caire a jocular accolade. “Glory to St. Dominic’s Justice-seat and the law which feeds such vultures! We have found the diamond in the roc’s nest. And low, Sindbad, is this, your seventh adventure, to be your last? Or is it your pleasure to carry casks and tales into other lands?”
“Why, my lord judge,” said Claude shewing his bright teeth and laughing eyes, “Sindbad had always a good cargo, but I have only this stout leg which two friends saved when I was Julien — young Julien of Chamouny, as my boy shall be called if he is grateful.”
“Ever our preserver!” was all that could be spoken by Stewart and Marianne while as with one heart, they held his bronzed hands in theirs.
“And gives us light even now!” added the gay Prefect flourishing his, and rekindling the torch Claude had dropped to conceal tears of joy. “Let me add some oil of gladness.
Our good Baron did not forget wild adventures. I am the guardian of twelve thousand francs intended for your son or you when you left rope-dancing and called yourself honest Julien again.”
“The romance ends well,” said Glenalmond, “and I have ancient precedents to shew how lawyers should atone for their mistakes. My judicial error disinherited this lady and gave heirship to impostors who have perished with their tools. She shall be my heiress and adopted daughter. I have laboured long enough in the world’s dark tunnels — let me build a bridge for travellers in sunshine.”
“No more toiling in the dark, my friend! Why did we not know all sooner?”
“Ask the fool Pride, the father of Mystery.”
* * *
“Delay the drop-scene a moment,” interposed the Prefect, gaily assuming a theatric air, “you have told my parentage — Claude’s doom might have been mine had our choice been the same. But he scorned the law — I served it, and it has enabled me to serve my father and his friends. He has bestowed his fortune — now let me claim his motto — the maxim of an English Judge — JUSTICE IS MERCY.