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28. The Justification

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Bonnier paused for a moment on the threshold, fixing his eyes on Victoria, who greeted him with a sweet, fascinating smile. But the smile disappeared from her lips when she beheld the threatening angry glance with which he was staring at her, and the air of gloomy indignation depicted on his countenance. She might be mistaken, however, and perhaps it was merely the anguish of her conscience which made her tremble.

"And you bring me the papers, my beloved friend?" asked Victoria, with an air of fascinating kindness.

"Yes," said Bonnier, still remaining on the threshold, "I bring you the papers. But just look what a fool love has made of me! For your sake, I forgot the portfolio with those other papers, and dropped it on the floor there. Do you now perceive your power over me? For I believe I told you that the loss of those papers would ruin me irretrievably."

"Yes, you told me so," said Victoria, smiling.

"And yet I forgot them here!" exclaimed Bonnier, stooping to pick them up. But Victoria immediately rose and hastened to him.

"To punish you for your carelessness, you shall now leave the portfolio on the floor," she said, smiling; "nor shall you think of it again as long as I am with you. Tell me, will that be too hard for you?"

She bent her beautiful face over him, and with flaming glances looked deeply into his eyes.

Bonnier dropped the portfolio again and smiled.

"It may lie there," he said; "it has performed its part anyhow. And now, I suppose, we will talk again about our business?"

"Yes, we will," replied Victoria. "Give me the papers."

"No, madame; no one gives up such important papers without witnesses," said Bonnier. "Permit me therefore to call my witnesses."

He hastily turned to the door and pushed it open.

"Come in, gentlemen!" he shouted, and his two colleagues, Roberjot and Debry, immediately appeared on the threshold. Without greeting Victoria, merely eyeing her with cold, contemptuous glances, the two gentlemen entered and walked directly to the desk. Bonnier locked the door and put the key into his pocket.

Victoria saw it, and a slight pallor overspread her rosy face for a moment.

"Will you tell me, sir, what all this means?" she asked, in a threatening voice.

"You will learn it directly," said Bonnier. "Please sit down again in your arm-chair, for we are going to resume our diplomatic negotiations. You, gentlemen, take seats on both sides of the lady; I shall sit down opposite her, and at the slightest motion she makes, either to jump out of the window there, or to interrupt us by an exclamation, I shall shoot her as sure as my name is Bonnier!"

He drew a pistol from his bosom and cocked it. "I command you to be silent and not to interrupt us," he said, turning to Victoria. "The pistol is loaded, and, unless you respect my orders, I will most certainly inflict upon you the punishment you have deserved; I shall take your life like that of any other spy who has been caught in a hostile camp."

He dropped his right hand with the pistol on the table, and then turned to the two gentlemen, who had listened to him in gloomy silence.

"Yes, my friends," he said, throwing back his head in order to shake away his long black hair, surrounding his face like a mane--"now, my friends, I beg you to listen to my justification. You have latterly believed me to be a fool, a prodigal son of the republic, who, for the sake of a miserable love-affair with a flirt, neglected the most sacred interests of his country. You shall see and acknowledge now that, while I seemed to be lost, I was only working for the welfare and glory of our great republic, and that this woman with her beautiful mask did not make me forget for a single moment my duties to my country. These papers contain my justification--these papers, madame, with which you hoped to revenge yourself. Pardon me, my fairy queen, I have made another mistake, and again brought a wrong portfolio; these are not the documents either which you would like to obtain. Perhaps they are after all in the portfolio lying on the floor there!"

He looked at Victoria with a scornful smile; she fixed her large eyes steadfastly upon him; not a muscle of her face was twitching-- not the slightest anxiety or fear was depicted on her features.

Bonnier opened the portfolio and drew the papers from it.

"I shall only briefly state to you the contents of those papers," he said, "you may afterward peruse them at leisure. This first paper is a letter I received by a courier from Vienna, without knowing who sent it to me. The letter only contains the following words:"

"'Be on your guard. A very dangerous spy will be sent to you--a lady who is the most intimate friend of a distinguished statesman. Receive her well, and let no one see these lines. It will promote the welfare of France.'"

"As a matter of course, I said nothing about it, not even to you, my friends; I was silent, and waited for further developments. Two days later I received this second paper. It was a note from a lady, who wrote to me that she had just arrived at Rastadt, and was very anxious to see me, but under the seal of the most profound secrecy. I followed the invitation, and repaired to the designated house. I found there this lady, who introduced herself to me as Madame Victoria de Poutet; and if you now look at her you will comprehend why that refined half-Turk Thugut, as well as the mad rake Count Lehrbach, are both in love with her, for she is more beautiful than the loveliest odalisque and the most fascinating Phryne!"

The three men fixed their eyes upon Victoria, and ogled her with an impudent leer. Victoria sat erect and immovable, and even her eye- lashes did not move; she apparently did not see the glances fixed upon her; nor even heard what Bonnier had said about her, for her countenance remained calm and almost smiling.

Bonnier continued: "The lady told me a very pretty little story, the particulars of which I shall not relate to you. In short, Thugut had attacked her innocence and her honor--her innocence and her honor, do not forget that!--and she wanted to revenge herself upon him. She asked me to lend her my assistance for this purpose. I feigned to believe every thing she told me, and promised to protect her."

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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