She shuddered.

“Mademoiselle,” resumed the fawning voice of the attorney of the Ecclesiastical Court, “for the third time, do you persist in denying the facts of which you are accused?”

This time she only bent her head in assent— she was past speaking.

“You persist?” said Jacques Charmolue. “Then, to my infinite regret, I must fulfil the duty of my office.”

“Monsieur the King’s Attorney,” said Pierrat, “with which shall we begin?”

Charmolue hesitated a moment with the ambiguous grimace of a poet seeking a rhyme. “With the boot,” he said at last.

The unhappy creature felt herself so completely forsaken of God and man, that her head dropped upon her breast like a thing inert and without any power in itself. The torturer and the physician approached her together, while the two assistants began to search in their hideous collection.

At the clank of these terrible irons the wretched child started convulsively, like a poor dead frog galvanized to life.

“Oh!” she murmured, so low that no one heard her; “oh, my Phœbus!” Then she sank again into her previous immobility and but her stony silence. The spectacle would have wrung any but the hearts of judges. It might have been some sin-stained soul being questioned by Satan at the flaming gate of hell. Could the miserable body on which this awful swarm of saws and wheels and pincers was preparing to fasten— could it be this gentle, pure, and fragile creature? Poor grain of millet which human justice was sending to be ground by the grewsome mill-stones of torture!

And now the horny hands of Pierrat Torterue’s assistants had brutally uncovered that charming leg, that tiny foot, which had so often astonished the passers-by with their grace and beauty in the streets of Paris.

“‘Tis a pity!” growled even the torturer at the sight of the slender and delicate limbs.

Had the Archdeacon been present, he would certainly have recalled at this moment his allegory of the spider and the fly.

Now, through the mist that spread before her eyes, the unhappy girl perceived the “boot” being brought forward, saw her foot, encased between the iron-bound boards, disappear within the frightful apparatus. Terror restored her strength. “Take it away!” she cried vehemently, starting up all dishevelled: “Mercy!”

She sprang from the bed to throw herself at Charmolue’s feet, but her leg was held fast in the heavy block of oak and iron, and she sank over the boot like a bee with a leaden weight attached to its wing.

At a sign from Charmolue they replaced her on the bed, and two coarse hands fastened round her slender waist the leather strap hanging from the roof.

“For the last time, do you confess to the facts of the charge?” asked Charmolue with his imperturbable benignity.

“I am innocent,” was the answer.

“Then, mademoiselle, how do you explain the circumstances brought against you?”

“Alas, my lord, I know not.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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