14 THE MAN OF MEUNG
The crowd was caused, not by the expectation of a man to be hanged, but by the contemplation of a man who was hanged.
The carriage, which had been stopped for a minute, resumed its way, passed through the crowd, threaded the Rue St. Honore, turned into the Rue des Bons Enfants, and stopped before a low door.
The door opened; two guards received Bonacieux in their arms from the officer who supported him. They carried him through an alley, up a flight of stairs, and deposited him in an antechamber.
All these movements had been effected mechanically, as far as he was concerned. He had walked as one walks in a dream; he had a glimpse of objects as through a fog. His ears had perceived sounds without comprehending them; he might have been executed at that moment without his making a single gesture in his own defense or uttering a cry to implore mercy.
He remained on the bench, with his back leaning against the wall and his hands hanging down, exactly on the spot where the guards placed him.
On looking around him, however, as he could perceive no threatening object, as nothing indicated that he ran any real danger, as the bench was comfortably covered with a well-stuffed cushion, as the wall was ornamented with a beautiful Cordova leather, and as large red damask curtains, fastened back by gold clasps, floated before the window, he perceived by degrees that his fear was exaggerated, and he began to turn his head to the right and the left, upward and downward.
At this movement, which nobody opposed, he resumed a little courage, and ventured to draw up one leg and then the other. At length, with the help of his two hands he lifted himself from the bench, and found himself on his feet.
At this moment an officer with a pleasant face opened a door, continued to exchange some words with a person in the next chamber and then came up to the prisoner. "Is your name Bonacieux?" said he.
"Yes, Monsieur Officer," stammered the mercer, more dead than alive, "at your service."
"Come in," said the officer.
And he moved out of the way to let the mercer pass. The latter obeyed without reply, and entered the chamber, where he appeared to be expected.
It was a large cabinet, close and stifling, with the walls furnished with arms offensive and defensive, and in which there was already a fire, although it was scarcely the end of the month of September. A square table, covered with books and papers, upon which was unrolled an immense plan of the city of La Rochelle, occupied the center of the room.
Standing before the chimney was a man of middle height, of a haughty, proud mien; with piercing eyes, a large brow, and a thin face, which was made still longer by a ROYAL (or IMPERIAL, as it is now called), surmounted by a pair of mustaches. Although this man was scarcely thirty-six or thirty-seven years of age, hair, mustaches, and royal, all began to be gray. This man, except a sword, had all the appearance of a soldier; and his buff boots still slightly covered with dust, indicated that he had been on horseback in the course of the day.
This man was Armand Jean Duplessis, Cardinal de Richelieu; not such as he is now represented — broken down like an old man, suffering like a martyr, his body bent, his voice failing, buried in a large armchair as in an anticipated tomb; no longer living but by the strength of his genius, and no longer maintaining the struggle with Europe but by the eternal application of his thoughts — but such as he really was at this period; that is to say, an active and gallant cavalier, already weak of body, but sustained by that moral power which made of him one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived, preparing, after having supported the Duc de Nevers in his duchy of Mantua, after having taken Nimes, Castres, and Uzes, to drive the English from the Isle of Re and lay siege to La Rochelle.
At first sight, nothing denoted the cardinal; and it was impossible for those who did not know his face to guess in whose presence they were.
The poor mercer remained standing at the door, while the eyes of the personage we have just described were fixed upon him, and appeared to wish to penetrate even into the depths of the past.
"Is this that Bonacieux?" asked he, after a moment of silence.
"Yes, monseigneur," replied the officer.
"That's well. Give me those papers, and leave us."
The officer took from the table the papers pointed out, gave them to him who asked for them, bowed to the ground, and retired.
Bonacieux recognized in these papers his interrogatories of the Bastille. From time to time the man by the chimney raised his eyes from the writings, and plunged them like poniards into the heart of the poor mercer.
At the end of ten minutes of reading and ten seconds of examination, the cardinal was satisfied.
"That head has never conspired," murmured he, "but it matters not; we will see."
"You are accused of high treason," said the cardinal, slowly.
"So I have been told already, monseigneur," cried Bonacieux, giving his interrogator the title he had heard the officer give him, "but I swear to you that I know nothing about it."
The cardinal repressed a smile.
"You have conspired with your wife, with Madame de Chevreuse, and with my Lord Duke of Buckingham."
"Indeed, monseigneur," responded the mercer, "I have heard her pronounce all those names."
"And on what occasion?"
"She said that the Cardinal de Richelieu had drawn the Duke of Buckingham to Paris to ruin him and to ruin the queen."
"She said that?" cried the cardinal, with violence.
"Yes, monseigneur, but I told her she was wrong to talk about such things; and that his Eminence was incapable — "
"Hold your tongue! You are stupid," replied the cardinal.
"That's exactly what my wife said, monseigneur."
"Do you know who carried off your wife?"
"You have suspicions, nevertheless?"
"Yes, monseigneur; but these suspicions appeared to be disagreeable to Monsieur the Commissary, and I no longer have them."
"Your wife has escaped. Did you know that?"
"No, monseigneur. I learned it since I have been in prison, and that from the conversation of Monsieur the Commissary — an amiable man."
The cardinal repressed another smile.
"Then you are ignorant of what has become of your wife since her flight."
"Absolutely, monseigneur; but she has most likely returned to the Louvre."
"At one o'clock this morning she had not returned."
"My God! What can have become of her, then?"
"We shall know, be assured. Nothing is concealed from the cardinal; the cardinal knows everything."
"In that case, monseigneur, do you believe the cardinal will be so kind as to tell me what has become of my wife?"
"Perhaps he may; but you must, in the first place, reveal to the cardinal all you know of your wife's relations with Madame de Chevreuse."
"But, monseigneur, I know nothing about them; I have never seen her."
"When you went to fetch your wife from the Louvre, did you always return directly home?"
"Scarcely ever; she had business to transact with linen drapers, to whose houses I conducted her."
"And how many were there of these linen drapers?"