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58. The Women Of Braunau

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In the mean time Palm had constantly been in the French prison at Braunau. During the sixteen days since he had been in jail, he had only twice been taken out of it to be examined by the court-martial, which General St. Hilaire had specially convoked for his trial.

This court-martial consisted of French generals and staff-officers; it met at a time of peace in a German city, and declared its competence to try a German citizen who had committed no other crime than to circulate a pamphlet, in which the misfortunes of Germany, and the oppressions of German states by Napoleon and his armies, had been commented upon.

The whole proceedings had been carried on so hastily and secretly, that the German authorities of Braunau had scarcely heard of them at the time when the French court-martial was already about to sentence the prisoner.

The French, however, wanted to maintain some semblance of impartiality; and before Palm was called before the court-martial, it was left to him either to defend himself in person against the charges, or to provide himself with counsel.

Palm, who was ignorant of the French language, had preferred the latter, and selected as his counsel a resident lawyer of Braunau, with whom he was well acquainted, and even on terms of intimacy, and whom he knew to be familiar with the French language.

But this friend declined being a "friend in need." He excused himself on the pretext of a serious indisposition which confined him to his bed, and rendered it impossible for him to make a speech.

Palm was informed of this excuse only at the moment when he entered the room in which the trial was to be held; hence he had to make up his mind to conduct his own defence, and to have his words translated by an interpreter to the members of the court.

And he felt convinced that his defence had been successful, and satisfied the men who had assumed to be his judges, of his entire innocence.

He had, therefore, no doubt of his speedy release; he was looking every day for the announcement that his innocence had been proved, and that he should be restored to liberty and to his family. This confident hope caused him to bear his solitary confinement with joyful courage, and to look, in this time of privations and pain, fondly for the golden days to come, when he would repose again, after all his trouble and toil, in the arms of love, gently guarded by the tender eyes of his affectionate young wife, and his heart gladdened by the sight of his sweet children.

From dreams so joyous and soul-stirring he was awakened on the morning of the 26th of August by the appearance of the jailer and of several soldiers who came to summon him before the court-martial which would communicate his sentence to him.

"God be praised!" exclaimed Palm, enthusiastically. "My sentence, that is to say, my release. Come, let us go; for, you see, it is hot and oppressive in my cell, and I long for God's fresh air, of which I have been deprived so long. Let us go, then, that I may receive the sentence which I have so ardently yearned for."

And with a kind smile he offered his hand to the jailer who stood at the door with a gloomy, sullen air. "Do not look so gloomy, Balthasar," he said. "You always used to be so merry a companion and have often agreeably enlivened the long and dreary hours of my confinement by your entertaining conversation. Accept my thanks for your kindness and clemency; you might have tormented me a great deal, and you have not done so, but have always been accommodating and compassionate. I thank you for it, Balthasar, and beg you to accept this as a souvenir from me."

He drew a golden breastpin richly set with precious stones from his cravat, and offered it to the jailer.

But Balthasar did not take it; on the contrary, he averted his head sullenly and gloomily. "I am not allowed to accept any presents from the prisoners," he muttered.

"Well, then, I shall come and see you as soon as I am free, and from the free man, I suppose, you will accept a small souvenir?" asked Palm, kindly.

The jailer made no reply to this question, but exclaimed, impatiently: "Make haste, it is high time!"

Palm laughed, and, nodding a farewell to the jailer, left the prison in the midst of the soldiers.

"Poor man, he suspects nothing," murmured the jailer to himself, and his features now became mild and gentle, and his eyes were filled with tears. "Poor man, he believes they will set him at liberty! Yes, they will do so, but it is not the sort of liberty he is looking and hoping for!"

Palm followed the soldiers gayly and courageously to the room where the members of the court-martial were assembled seated on high- backed arm-chairs which had been placed in a semicircle on one side of the room, awaiting the arrival of the prisoner.

He greeted them with an unclouded brow and frank and open bearing; not a tinge of fear and nervousness was to be seen in his features; he fixed his large and lustrous eyes on the lips of General St. Hilaire who presided over the court-martial and now rose from his seat. The secretary of the court immediately approached the general and handed him a paper.

The general took it, and, bending a stern glance on Palm, said: "The court-martial has agreed to-day unanimously on your sentence. I will now communicate it to you."

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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