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Title: Prince Zaleski
Author: Shiel, M. P. (Matthew Phipps), 1865-1947
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prince Zaleski" ***

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PRINCE ZALESKI

M[atthew] P[hipps] Shiel

_Come now, and let us reason together._
  ISAIAH

_Of the strange things that befell the valiant Knight in the Sable
Mountain;  and how he imitated the penance of Beltenebros._
  CERVANTES

[Greek: All'est'ekeino panta lekta, panta de tolmaeta;]
  SOPHOCLES

1895

TO

MY DEAR MOTHER

CONTENTS

The Race of Orven

The Stone of the Edmundsbury Monks

The S.S.



THE RACE OF ORVEN

Never without grief and pain could I remember the fate of Prince
Zaleski--victim of a too importunate, too unfortunate Love, which the
fulgor of the throne itself could not abash; exile perforce from his
native land, and voluntary exile from the rest of men! Having renounced
the world, over which, lurid and inscrutable as a falling star, he had
passed, the world quickly ceased to wonder at him; and even I, to whom,
more than to another, the workings of that just and passionate mind had
been revealed, half forgot him in the rush of things.

But during the time that what was called the 'Pharanx labyrinth' was
exercising many of the heaviest brains in the land, my thought turned
repeatedly to him; and even when the affair had passed from the general
attention, a bright day in Spring, combined perhaps with a latent
mistrust of the _dénoûment_ of that dark plot, drew me to his place of
hermitage.

I reached the gloomy abode of my friend as the sun set. It was a vast
palace of the older world standing lonely in the midst of woodland, and
approached by a sombre avenue of poplars and cypresses, through which
the sunlight hardly pierced. Up this I passed, and seeking out the
deserted stables (which I found all too dilapidated to afford shelter)
finally put up my _calèche_ in the ruined sacristy of an old Dominican
chapel, and turned my mare loose to browse for the night on a paddock
behind the domain.

As I pushed back the open front door and entered the mansion, I could
not but wonder at the saturnine fancy that had led this wayward man to
select a brooding-place so desolate for the passage of his days. I
regarded it as a vast tomb of Mausolus in which lay deep sepulchred how
much genius, culture, brilliancy, power! The hall was constructed in
the manner of a Roman _atrium_, and from the oblong pool of turgid
water in the centre a troop of fat and otiose rats fled weakly
squealing at my approach. I mounted by broken marble steps to the
corridors running round the open space, and thence pursued my way
through a mazeland of apartments--suite upon suite--along many a length
of passage, up and down many stairs. Dust-clouds rose from the
uncarpeted floors and choked me; incontinent Echo coughed answering
_ricochets_ to my footsteps in the gathering darkness, and added
emphasis to the funereal gloom of the dwelling. Nowhere was there a
vestige of furniture--nowhere a trace of human life.

After a long interval I came, in a remote tower of the building and
near its utmost summit, to a richly-carpeted passage, from the ceiling
of which three mosaic lamps shed dim violet, scarlet and pale-rose
lights around. At the end I perceived two figures standing as if in
silent guard on each side of a door tapestried with the python's skin.
One was a post-replica in Parian marble of the nude Aphrodite of
Cnidus; in the other I recognised the gigantic form of the negro Ham,
the prince's only attendant, whose fierce, and glistening, and ebon
visage broadened into a grin of intelligence as I came nearer. Nodding
to him, I pushed without ceremony into Zaleski's apartment.

The room was not a large one, but lofty. Even in the semi-darkness of
the very faint greenish lustre radiated from an open censerlike
_lampas_ of fretted gold in the centre of the domed encausted roof, a
certain incongruity of barbaric gorgeousness in the furnishing filled
me with amazement. The air was heavy with the scented odour of this
light, and the fumes of the narcotic _cannabis sativa_--the base of the
_bhang_ of the Mohammedans--in which I knew it to be the habit of my
friend to assuage himself. The hangings were of wine-coloured velvet,
heavy, gold-fringed and embroidered at Nurshedabad. All the world knew
Prince Zaleski to be a consummate _cognoscente_--a profound amateur--as
well as a savant and a thinker; but I was, nevertheless, astounded at
the mere multitudinousness of the curios he had contrived to crowd into
the space around him. Side by side rested a palaeolithic implement, a
Chinese 'wise man,' a Gnostic gem, an amphora of Graeco-Etruscan work.
The general effect was a _bizarrerie_ of half-weird sheen and gloom.
Flemish sepulchral brasses companied strangely with runic tablets,
miniature paintings, a winged bull, Tamil scriptures on lacquered
leaves of the talipot, mediaeval reliquaries richly gemmed, Brahmin
gods. One whole side of the room was occupied by an organ whose thunder
in that circumscribed place must have set all these relics of dead
epochs clashing and jingling in fantastic dances. As I entered, the
vaporous atmosphere was palpitating to the low, liquid tinkling of an
invisible musical box. The prince reclined on a couch from which a
draping of cloth-of-silver rolled torrent over the floor. Beside him,
stretched in its open sarcophagus which rested on three brazen
trestles, lay the mummy of an ancient Memphian, from the upper part of
which the brown cerements had rotted or been rent, leaving the
hideousness of the naked, grinning countenance exposed to view.

Discarding his gemmed chibouque and an old vellum reprint of Anacreon,
Zaleski rose hastily and greeted me with warmth, muttering at the same
time some commonplace about his 'pleasure' and the 'unexpectedness' of
my visit. He then gave orders to Ham to prepare me a bed in one of the
adjoining chambers. We passed the greater part of the night in a
delightful stream of that somnolent and half-mystic talk which Prince
Zaleski alone could initiate and sustain, during which he repeatedly
pressed on me a concoction of Indian hemp resembling _hashish_,
prepared by his own hands, and quite innocuous. It was after a simple
breakfast the next morning that I entered on the subject which was
partly the occasion of my visit. He lay back on his couch, volumed in a
Turkish _beneesh_, and listened to me, a little wearily perhaps at
first, with woven fingers, and the pale inverted eyes of old anchorites
and astrologers, the moony greenish light falling on his always wan
features.

'You knew Lord Pharanx?' I asked.

'I have met him in "the world." His son Lord Randolph, too, I saw once
at Court at Peterhof, and once again at the Winter Palace of the Tsar.
I noticed in their great stature, shaggy heads of hair, ears of a very
peculiar conformation, and a certain aggressiveness of demeanour--a
strong likeness between father and son.'

I had brought with me a bundle of old newspapers, and comparing these
as I went on, I proceeded to lay the incidents before him.

'The father,' I said, 'held, as you know, high office in a late
Administration, and was one of our big luminaries in politics; he has
also been President of the Council of several learned societies, and
author of a book on Modern Ethics. His son was rapidly rising to
eminence in the _corps diplomatique_, and lately (though, strictly
speaking, _unebenbürtig_) contracted an affiance with the Prinzessin
Charlotte Mariana Natalia of Morgen-üppigen, a lady with a strain of
indubitable Hohenzollern blood in her royal veins. The Orven family is
a very old and distinguished one, though--especially in modern
days--far from wealthy. However, some little time after Randolph had
become engaged to this royal lady, the father insured his life for
immense sums in various offices both in England and America, and the
reproach of poverty is now swept from the race. Six months ago, almost
simultaneously, both father and son resigned their various positions
_en bloc_. But all this, of course, I am telling you on the assumption
that you have not already read it in the papers.'

'A modern newspaper,' he said, 'being what it mostly is, is the one
thing insupportable to me at present. Believe me, I never see one.'

'Well, then, Lord Pharanx, as I said, threw up his posts in the fulness
of his vigour, and retired to one of his country seats. A good many
years ago, he and Randolph had a terrible row over some trifle, and,
with the implacability that distinguishes their race, had not since
exchanged a word. But some little time after the retirement of the
father, a message was despatched by him to the son, who was then in
India. Considered as the first step in the _rapprochement_ of this
proud and selfish pair of beings, it was an altogether remarkable
message, and was subsequently deposed to in evidence by a telegraph
official; it ran:

'"_Return. The beginning of the end is come._" Whereupon Randolph did
return, and in three months from the date of his landing in England,
Lord Pharanx was dead.'

'_Murdered_?'

A certain something in the tone in which this word was uttered by
Zaleski puzzled me. It left me uncertain whether he had addressed to me
an exclamation of conviction, or a simple question. I must have looked
this feeling, for he said at once:

'I could easily, from your manner, surmise as much, you know. Perhaps I
might even have foretold it, years ago.'

'Foretold--what? Not the murder of Lord Pharanx?'

'Something of that kind,' he answered with a smile; 'but proceed--tell
me all the facts you know.'

Word-mysteries of this sort fell frequent from the lips of the prince.
I continued the narrative.

'The two, then, met, and were reconciled. But it was a reconciliation
without cordiality, without affection--a shaking of hands across a
barrier of brass; and even this hand-shaking was a strictly
metaphorical one, for they do not seem ever to have got beyond the
interchange of a frigid bow. The opportunities, however, for
observation were few. Soon after Randolph's arrival at Orven Hall, his
father entered on a life of the most absolute seclusion. The mansion is
an old three-storied one, the top floor consisting for the most part of
sleeping-rooms, the first of a library, drawing-room, and so on, and
the ground-floor, in addition to the dining and other ordinary rooms,
of another small library, looking out (at the side of the house) on a
low balcony, which, in turn, looks on a lawn dotted with flower-beds.
It was this smaller library on the ground-floor that was now divested
of its books, and converted into a bedroom for the earl. Hither he
migrated, and here he lived, scarcely ever leaving it. Randolph, on his
part, moved to a room on the first floor immediately above this. Some
of the retainers of the family were dismissed, and on the remaining few
fell a hush of expectancy, a sense of wonder, as to what these things
boded. A great enforced quiet pervaded the building, the least undue
noise in any part being sure to be followed by the angry voice of the
master demanding the cause. Once, as the servants were supping in the
kitchen on the side of the house most remote from that which he
occupied, Lord Pharanx, slippered and in dressing-gown, appeared at the
doorway, purple with rage, threatening to pack the whole company of
them out of doors if they did not moderate the clatter of their knives
and forks. He had always been regarded with fear in his own household,
and the very sound of his voice now became a terror. His food was taken
to him in the room he had made his habitation, and it was remarked
that, though simple before in his gustatory tastes, he now--possibly
owing to the sedentary life he led--became fastidious, insisting on
_recherché_ bits. I mention all these details to you--as I shall
mention others--not because they have the least connection with the
tragedy as it subsequently occurred, but merely because I know them,
and you have requested me to state all I know.'

'Yes,' he answered, with a suspicion of _ennui_, 'you are right. I may
as well hear the whole--if I must hear a part.'

'Meanwhile, Randolph appears to have visited the earl at least once a
day. In such retirement did he, too, live that many of his friends
still supposed him to be in India. There was only one respect in which
he broke through this privacy. You know, of course, that the Orvens
are, and, I believe, always have been, noted as the most obstinate, the
most crabbed of Conservatives in politics. Even among the
past-enamoured families of England, they stand out conspicuously in
this respect. Is it credible to you, then, that Randolph should offer
himself to the Radical Association of the Borough of Orven as a
candidate for the next election in opposition to the sitting member? It
is on record, too, that he spoke at three public meetings--reported in
local papers--at which he avowed his political conversion; afterwards
laid the foundation-stone of a new Baptist chapel; presided at a
Methodist tea-meeting; and taking an abnormal interest in the debased
condition of the labourers in the villages round, fitted up as a
class-room an apartment on the top floor at Orven Hall, and gathered
round him on two evenings in every week a class of yokels, whom he
proceeded to cram with demonstrations in elementary mechanics.'

'Mechanics!' cried Zaleski, starting upright for a moment, 'mechanics
to agricultural labourers! Why not elementary chemistry? Why not
elementary botany? _Why_ mechanics?'

This was the first evidence of interest he had shown in the story. I
was pleased, but answered:

'The point is unimportant; and there really is no accounting for the
vagaries of such a man. He wished, I imagine, to give some idea to the
young illiterates of the simple laws of motion and force. But now I
come to a new character in the drama--the chief character of all. One
day a woman presented herself at Orven Hall and demanded to see its
owner. She spoke English with a strong French accent. Though
approaching middle life she was still beautiful, having wild black
eyes, and creamy pale face. Her dress was tawdry, cheap, and loud,
showing signs of wear; her hair was unkempt; her manners were not the
manners of a lady. A certain vehemence, exasperation, unrepose
distinguished all she said and did. The footman refused her admission;
Lord Pharanx, he said, was invisible. She persisted violently, pushed
past him, and had to be forcibly ejected; during all which the voice of
the master was heard roaring from the passage red-eyed remonstrance at
the unusual noise. She went away gesticulating wildly, and vowing
vengeance on Lord Pharanx and all the world. It was afterwards found
that she had taken up her abode in one of the neighbouring hamlets,
called Lee.

'This person, who gave the name of Maude Cibras, subsequently called at
the Hall three times in succession, and was each time refused
admittance. It was now, however, thought advisable to inform Randolph
of her visits. He said she might be permitted to see him, if she
returned. This she did on the next day, and had a long interview in
private with him. Her voice was heard raised as if in angry protest by
one Hester Dyett, a servant of the house, while Randolph in low tones
seemed to try to soothe her. The conversation was in French, and no
word could be made out. She passed out at length, tossing her head
jauntily, and smiling a vulgar triumph at the footman who had before
opposed her ingress. She was never known to seek admission to the house
again.

'But her connection with its inmates did not cease. The same Hester
asserts that one night, coming home late through the park, she saw two
persons conversing on a bench beneath the trees, crept behind some
bushes, and discovered that they were the strange woman and Randolph.
The same servant bears evidence to tracking them to other
meeting-places, and to finding in the letter-bag letters addressed to
Maude Cibras in Randolph's hand-writing. One of these was actually
unearthed later on. Indeed, so engrossing did the intercourse become,
that it seems even to have interfered with the outburst of radical zeal
in the new political convert. The _rendezvous_--always held under cover
of darkness, but naked and open to the eye of the watchful
Hester--sometimes clashed with the science lectures, when these latter
would be put off, so that they became gradually fewer, and then almost
ceased.'

'Your narrative becomes unexpectedly interesting,' said Zaleski; 'but
this unearthed letter of Randolph's--what was in it?'

I read as follows:

'"Dear Mdlle. Cibras,--I am exerting my utmost influence for you with
my father. But he shows no signs of coming round as yet. If I could
only induce him to see you! But he is, as you know, a person of
unrelenting will, and meanwhile you must confide in my loyal efforts on
your behalf. At the same time, I admit that the situation is a
precarious one: you are, I am sure, well provided for in the present
will of Lord Pharanx, but he is on the point--within, say, three or
four days--of making another; and exasperated as he is at your
appearance in England, I know there is no chance of your receiving a
_centime_ under the new will. Before then, however, we must hope that
something favourable to you may happen; and in the meantime, let me
implore you not to let your only too just resentment pass beyond the
bounds of reason.

"Sincerely yours,

"RANDOLPH."'

'I like the letter!' cried Zaleski. 'You notice the tone of manly
candour. But the _facts_--were they true? _Did_ the earl make a new
will in the time specified?'

'No,--but that may have been because his death intervened.'

'And in the old will, _was_ Mdlle. Cibras provided for?'

'Yes,--that at least was correct.'

A shadow of pain passed over his face.

'And now,' I went on, 'I come to the closing scene, in which one of
England's foremost men perished by the act of an obscure assassin. The
letter I have read was written to Maude Cibras on the 5th of January.
The next thing that happens is on the 6th, when Lord Pharanx left his
room for another during the whole day, and a skilled mechanic was
introduced into it for the purpose of effecting some alterations. Asked
by Hester Dyett, as he was leaving the house, what was the nature of
his operations, the man replied that he had been applying a patent
arrangement to the window looking out on the balcony, for the better
protection of the room against burglars, several robberies having
recently been committed in the neighbourhood. The sudden death of this
man, however, before the occurrence of the tragedy, prevented his
evidence being heard. On the next day--the 7th--Hester, entering the
room with Lord Pharanx's dinner, fancies, though she cannot tell why
(inasmuch as his back is towards her, he sitting in an arm-chair by the
fire), that Lord Pharanx has been "drinking heavily."

'On the 8th a singular thing befell. The earl was at last induced to
see Maude Cibras, and during the morning of that day, with his own
hand, wrote a note informing her of his decision, Randolph handing the
note to a messenger. That note also has been made public. It reads as
follows:

'"Maude Cibras.--You may come here to-night after dark. Walk to the
south side of the house, come up the steps to the balcony, and pass in
through the open window to my room. Remember, however, that you have
nothing to expect from me, and that from to-night I blot you eternally
from my mind: but I will hear your story, which I know beforehand to be
false. Destroy this note. PHARANX."'

As I progressed with my tale, I came to notice that over the
countenance of Prince Zaleski there grew little by little a singular
fixed aspect. His small, keen features distorted themselves into an
expression of what I can only describe as an abnormal _inquisitiveness_
--an inquisitiveness most impatient, arrogant, in its intensity.
His pupils, contracted each to a dot, became the central _puncta_
of two rings of fiery light; his little sharp teeth seemed to
gnash. Once before I had seen him look thus greedily, when, grasping a
Troglodyte tablet covered with half-effaced hieroglyphics--his fingers
livid with the fixity of his grip--he bent on it that strenuous
inquisition, that ardent questioning gaze, till, by a species of
mesmeric dominancy, he seemed to wrench from it the arcanum it hid from
other eyes; then he lay back, pale and faint from the too arduous
victory.

When I had read Lord Pharanx's letter, he took the paper eagerly from
my hand, and ran his eyes over the passage.

'Tell me--the end,' he said.

'Maude Cibras,' I went on, 'thus invited to a meeting with the earl,
failed to make her appearance at the appointed time. It happened that
she had left her lodgings in the village early that very morning, and,
for some purpose or other, had travelled to the town of Bath. Randolph,
too, went away the same day in the opposite direction to Plymouth. He
returned on the following morning, the 9th; soon after walked over to
Lee; and entered into conversation with the keeper of the inn where
Cibras lodged; asked if she was at home, and on being told that she had
gone away, asked further if she had taken her luggage with her; was
informed that she had, and had also announced her intention of at once
leaving England. He then walked away in the direction of the Hall. On
this day Hester Dyett noticed that there were many articles of value
scattered about the earl's room, notably a tiara of old Brazilian
brilliants, sometimes worn by the late Lady Pharanx. Randolph--who was
present at the time--further drew her attention to these by telling her
that Lord Pharanx had chosen to bring together in his apartment many of
the family jewels; and she was instructed to tell the other servants of
this fact, in case they should notice any suspicious-looking loafers
about the estate.

'On the 10th, both father and son remained in their rooms all day,
except when the latter came down to meals; at which times he would lock
his door behind him, and with his own hands take in the earl's food,
giving as his reason that his father was writing a very important
document, and did not wish to be disturbed by the presence of a
servant. During the forenoon, Hester Dyett, hearing loud noises in
Randolph's room, as if furniture was being removed from place to place,
found some pretext for knocking at his door, when he ordered her on no
account to interrupt him again, as he was busy packing his clothes in
view of a journey to London on the next day. The subsequent conduct of
the woman shows that her curiosity must have been excited to the utmost
by the undoubtedly strange spectacle of Randolph packing his own
clothes. During the afternoon a lad from the village was instructed to
collect his companions for a science lecture the same evening at eight
o'clock. And so the eventful day wore on.

'We arrive now at this hour of eight P.M. on this 10th day of January.
The night is dark and windy; some snow has been falling, but has now
ceased. In an upper room is Randolph engaged in expounding the elements
of dynamics; in the room under that is Hester Dyett--for Hester has
somehow obtained a key that opens the door of Randolph's room, and
takes advantage of his absence upstairs to explore it. Under her is
Lord Pharanx, certainly in bed, probably asleep. Hester, trembling all
over in a fever of fear and excitement, holds a lighted taper in one
hand, which she religiously shades with the other; for the storm is
gusty, and the gusts, tearing through the crevices of the rattling old
casements, toss great flickering shadows on the hangings, which
frighten her to death. She has just time to see that the whole room is
in the wildest confusion, when suddenly a rougher puff blows out the
flame, and she is left in what to her, standing as she was on that
forbidden ground, must have been a horror of darkness. At the same
moment, clear and sharp from right beneath her, a pistol-shot rings out
on her ear. For an instant she stands in stone, incapable of motion.
Then on her dazed senses there supervenes--so she swore--the
consciousness that some object is moving in the room--moving apparently
of its own accord--moving in direct opposition to all the laws of
nature as she knows them. She imagines that she perceives a phantasm--a
strange something--globular-white--looking, as she says, "like a
good-sized ball of cotton"--rise directly from the floor before her,
ascending slowly upward, as if driven aloft by some invisible force. A
sharp shock of the sense of the supernatural deprives her of ordered
reason. Throwing forward her arms, and uttering a shrill scream, she
rushes towards the door. But she never reaches it: midway she falls
prostrate over some object, and knows no more; and when, an hour later,
she is borne out of the room in the arms of Randolph himself, the blood
is dripping from a fracture of her right tibia.

'Meantime, in the upper chamber the pistol-shot and the scream of the
woman have been heard. All eyes turn to Randolph. He stands in the
shadow of the mechanical contrivance on which he has been illustrating
his points; leans for support on it. He essays to speak, the muscles of
his face work, but no sound comes. Only after a time is he able to
gasp: "Did you hear something--from below?" They answer "yes" in
chorus; then one of the lads takes a lighted candle, and together they
troop out, Randolph behind them. A terrified servant rushes up with the
news that something dreadful has happened in the house. They proceed
for some distance, but there is an open window on the stairs, and the
light is blown out. They have to wait some minutes till another is
obtained, and then the procession moves forward once more. Arrived at
Lord Pharanx's door, and finding it locked, a lantern is procured, and
Randolph leads them through the house and out on the lawn. But having
nearly reached the balcony, a lad observes a track of small
woman's-feet in the snow; a halt is called, and then Randolph points
out another track of feet, half obliterated by the snow, extending from
a coppice close by up to the balcony, and forming an angle with the
first track. These latter are great big feet, made by ponderous
labourers' boots. He holds the lantern over the flower-beds, and shows
how they have been trampled down. Some one finds a common scarf, such
as workmen wear; and a ring and a locket, dropped by the burglars in
their flight, are also found by Randolph half buried in the snow. And
now the foremost reach the window. Randolph, from behind, calls to them
to enter. They cry back that they cannot, the window being closed. At
this reply he seems to be overcome by surprise, by terror. Some one
hears him murmur the words, "My God, what can have happened now?" His
horror is increased when one of the lads bears to him a revolting
trophy, which has been found just outside the window; it is the front
phalanges of three fingers of a human hand. Again he utters the
agonised moan, "My God!" and then, mastering his agitation, makes for
the window; he finds that the catch of the sash has been roughly
wrenched off, and that the sash can be opened by merely pushing it up:
does so, and enters. The room is in darkness: on the floor under the
window is found the insensible body of the woman Cibras. She is alive,
but has fainted. Her right fingers are closed round the handle of a
large bowie-knife, which is covered with blood; parts of the left are
missing. All the jewelry has been stolen from the room. Lord Pharanx
lies on the bed, stabbed through the bedclothes to the heart. Later on
a bullet is also found imbedded in his brain. I should explain that a
trenchant edge, running along the bottom of the sash, was the obvious
means by which the fingers of Cibras had been cut off. This had been
placed there a few days before by the workman I spoke of. Several
secret springs had been placed on the inner side of the lower
horizontal piece of the window-frame, by pressing any one of which the
sash was lowered; so that no one, ignorant of the secret, could pass
out from within, without resting the hand on one of these springs, and
so bringing down the armed sash suddenly on the underlying hand.

'There was, of course, a trial. The poor culprit, in mortal terror of
death, shrieked out a confession of the murder just as the jury had
returned from their brief consultation, and before they had time to
pronounce their verdict of "guilty." But she denied shooting Lord
Pharanx, and she denied stealing the jewels; and indeed no pistol and
no jewels were found on her, or anywhere in the room. So that many
points remain mysterious. What part did the burglars play in the
tragedy? Were they in collusion with Cibras? Had the strange behaviour
of at least one of the inmates of Orven Hall no hidden significance?
The wildest guesses were made throughout the country; theories
propounded. But no theory explained _all_ the points. The ferment,
however, has now subsided. To-morrow morning Maude Cibras ends her life
on the gallows.'

Thus I ended my narrative.

Without a word Zaleski rose from the couch, and walked to the organ.
Assisted from behind by Ham, who foreknew his master's every whim, he
proceeded to render with infinite feeling an air from the _Lakmé_ of
Delibes; long he sat, dreamily uttering the melody, his head sunken on
his breast. When at last he rose, his great expanse of brow was clear,
and a smile all but solemn in its serenity was on his lips. He walked
up to an ivory _escritoire_, scribbled a few words on a sheet of paper,
and handed it to the negro with the order to take my trap and drive
with the message in all haste to the nearest telegraph office.

'That message,' he said, resuming his place on the couch, 'is a last
word on the tragedy, and will, no doubt, produce some modification in
the final stage of its history. And now, Shiel, let us sit together and
confer on this matter. From the manner in which you have expressed
yourself, it is evident that there are points which puzzle you--you do
not get a clean _coup d'oeil_ of the whole regiment of facts, and their
causes, and their consequences, as they occurred. Let us see if out of
that confusion we cannot produce a coherence, a symmetry. A great wrong
is done, and on the society in which it is done is imposed the task of
making it translucent, of seeing it in all its relations, and of
punishing it. But what happens? The society fails to rise to the
occasion; on the whole, it contrives to make the opacity more opaque,
does not see the crime in any human sense; is unable to punish it. Now
this, you will admit, whenever it occurs, is a woful failure: woful I
mean, not very in itself, but very in its significance: and there must
be a precise cause for it. That cause is the lack of something not
merely, or specially, in the investigators of the wrong, but in the
world at large--shall we not boldly call it the lack of culture? Do
not, however, misunderstand me: by the term I mean not so much
attainment in general, as _mood_ in particular. Whether or when such
mood may become universal may be to you a matter of doubt. As for me, I
often think that when the era of civilisation begins--as assuredly it
shall some day begin--when the races of the world cease to be
credulous, ovine mobs and become critical, human nations, then will be
the ushering in of the ten thousand years of a _clairvoyant_ culture.
But nowhere, and at no time during the very few hundreds of years that
man has occupied the earth, has there been one single sign of its
presence. In individuals, yes--in the Greek Plato, and I think in your
English Milton and Bishop Berkeley--but in humanity, never; and hardly
in any individual outside those two nations. The reason, I fancy, is
not so much that man is a hopeless fool, as that Time, so far as he is
concerned, has, as we know, only just begun: it being, of course,
conceivable that the creation of a perfect society of men, as the first
requisite to a _régime_ of culture, must nick to itself a longer loop
of time than the making of, say, a stratum of coal. A loquacious
person--he is one of your cherished "novel"-writers, by the way, if
that be indeed a Novel in which there is nowhere any pretence at
novelty--once assured me that he could never reflect without swelling
on the greatness of the age in which he lived, an age the mighty
civilisation of which he likened to the Augustan and Periclean. A
certain stony gaze of anthropological interest with which I regarded
his frontal bone seemed to strike the poor man dumb, and he took a
hurried departure. Could he have been ignorant that ours is, in
general, greater than the Periclean for the very reason that the
Divinity is neither the devil nor a bungler; that three thousand years
of human consciousness is not nothing; that a whole is greater than its
part, and a butterfly than a chrysalis? But it was the assumption that
it was therefore in any way great in the abstract that occasioned my
profound astonishment, and indeed contempt. Civilisation, if it means
anything, can only mean the art by which men live musically
together--to the lutings, as it were, of Panpipes, or say perhaps, to
triumphant organ-bursts of martial, marching dithyrambs. Any formula
defining it as "the art of lying back and getting elaborately tickled,"
should surely at this hour be _too_ primitive--_too_ Opic--to bring
anything but a smile to the lips of grown white-skinned men; and the
very fact that such a definition can still find undoubting acceptance
in all quarters may be an indication that the true [Greek: _idéa_]
which this condition of being must finally assume is far indeed--far,
perhaps, by ages and aeons--from becoming part of the general
conception. Nowhere since the beginning has the gross problem of living
ever so much as approached solution, much less the delicate and
intricate one of living _together: à propos_ of which your body
corporate not only still produces criminals (as the body-natural
fleas), but its very elementary organism cannot so much as catch a
really athletic one as yet. Meanwhile _you_ and _I_ are handicapped.
The individual travaileth in pain. In the struggle for quality, powers,
air, he spends his strength, and yet hardly escapes asphyxiation. He
can no more wriggle himself free of the psychic gravitations that
invest him than the earth can shake herself loose of the sun, or he of
the omnipotences that rivet him to the universe. If by chance one
shoots a downy hint of wings, an instant feeling of contrast puffs him
with self-consciousness: a tragedy at once: the unconscious being "the
alone complete." To attain to anything, he must needs screw the head up
into the atmosphere of the future, while feet and hands drip dark
ichors of despair from the crucifying cross of the crude present--_a
horrid strain_! Far up a nightly instigation of stars he sees: but he
may not strike them with the head. If earth were a boat, and mine, I
know well toward what wild azimuths I would compel her helm: but
gravity, gravity--chiefest curse of Eden's sin!--is hostile. When
indeed (as is ordained), the old mother swings herself into a sublimer
orbit, we on her back will follow: till then we make to ourselves
Icarian "organa" in vain. I mean to say that it is the plane of station
which is at fault: move that upward, you move all. But meantime is it
not Goethe who assures us that "further reacheth no man, make he what
stretching he will"? For Man, you perceive, is not many, but One. It is
absurd to suppose that England can be free while Poland is enslaved;
Paris is _far_ from the beginnings of civilisation whilst Toobooloo and
Chicago are barbaric. Probably no ill-fated, microcephalous son of Adam
ever tumbled into a mistake quite so huge, so infantile, as did Dives,
if he imagined himself rich while Lazarus sat pauper at the gate. Not
many, I say, but one. Even Ham and I here in our retreat are not alone;
we are embarrassed by the uninvited spirit of the present; the adamant
root of the mountain on whose summit we stand is based ineradicably in
the low world. Yet, thank Heaven, Goethe was not _quite_ right--as,
indeed, he proved in his proper person. I tell you, Shiel, I _know_
whether Mary did or did not murder Darnley; I know--as clearly, as
precisely, as a man can know--that Beatrice Cenci was not "guilty" as
certain recently-discovered documents "prove" her, but that the Shelley
version of the affair, though a guess, is the correct one. It _is_
possible, by taking thought, to add one cubit--or say a hand, or a
dactyl--to your stature; you may develop powers slightly--very
slightly, but distinctly, both in kind and degree--in advance of those
of the mass who live in or about the same cycle of time in which you
live. But it is only when the powers to which I refer are shared by the
mass--when what, for want of another term, I call the age of the
Cultured Mood has at length arrived--that their exercise will become
easy and familiar to the individual; and who shall say what
presciences, prisms, _séances_, what introspective craft, Genie
apocalypses, shall not _then_ become possible to the few who stand
spiritually in the van of men.

'All this, you will understand, I say as some sort of excuse for
myself, and for you, for any hesitation we may have shown in loosening
the very little puzzle you have placed before me--one which we
certainly must not regard as difficult of solution. Of course, looking
at all the facts, the first consideration that must inevitably rivet
the attention is that arising from the circumstance that Viscount
Randolph has strong reasons to wish his father dead. They are avowed
enemies; he is the _fiancé_ of a princess whose husband he is probably
too poor to become, though he will very likely be rich enough when his
father dies; and so on. All that appears on the surface. On the other
hand, we--you and I--know the man: he is a person of gentle blood, as
moral, we suppose, as ordinary people, occupying a high station in the
world. It is impossible to imagine that such a person would commit an
assassination, or even countenance one, for any or all of the reasons
that present themselves. In our hearts, with or without clear proof, we
could hardly believe it of him. Earls' sons do not, in fact, go about
murdering people. Unless, then, we can so reason as to discover other
motives--strong, adequate, irresistible--and by "irresistible" I mean a
motive which must be _far_ stronger than even the love of life
itself--we should, I think, in fairness dismiss him from our mind.

'And yet it must be admitted that his conduct is not free of blame. He
contracts a sudden intimacy with the acknowledged culprit, whom he does
not seem to have known before. He meets her by night, corresponds with
her. Who and what is this woman? I think we could not be far wrong in
guessing some very old flame of Lord Pharanx's of _Théâtre des
Variétés_ type, whom he has supported for years, and from whom, hearing
some story to her discredit, he threatens to withdraw his supplies.
However that be, Randolph writes to Cibras--a violent woman, a woman of
lawless passions--assuring her that in four or five days she will be
excluded from the will of his father; and in four or five days Cibras
plunges a knife into his father's bosom. It is a perfectly natural
sequence--though, of course, the _intention_ to produce by his words
the actual effect produced might have been absent; indeed, the letter
of Lord Pharanx himself, had it been received, would have tended to
produce that very effect; for it not only gives an excellent
opportunity for converting into action those evil thoughts which
Randolph (thoughtlessly or guiltily) has instilled, but it further
tends to rouse her passions by cutting off from her all hopes of
favour. If we presume, then, as is only natural, that there was no such
intention on the part of the earl, we _may_ make the same presumption
in the case of the son. Cibras, however, never receives the earl's
letter: on the morning of the same day she goes away to Bath, with the
double object, I suppose, of purchasing a weapon, and creating an
impression that she has left the country. How then does she know the
exact _locale_ of Lord Pharanx's room? It is in an unusual part of the
mansion, she is unacquainted with any of the servants, a stranger to
the district. Can it be possible that Randolph _had told her_? And here
again, even in that case, you must bear in mind that Lord Pharanx also
told her in his note, and you must recognise the possibility of the
absence of evil intention on the part of the son. Indeed, I may go
further and show you that in all but every instance in which his
actions are in themselves _outré_, suspicious, they are rendered, not
less _outré_, but less suspicious, by the fact that Lord Pharanx
himself knew of them, shared in them. There was the cruel barbing of
that balcony window; about it the crudest thinker would argue thus to
himself: "Randolph practically incites Maude Cibras to murder his
father on the 5th, and on the 6th he has that window so altered in
order that, should she act on his suggestion, she will be caught on
attempting to leave the room, while he himself, the actual culprit
being discovered _en flagrant délit_, will escape every shadow of
suspicion." But, on the other hand, we know that the alteration was
made with Lord Pharanx's consent, most likely on his initiative--for he
leaves his favoured room during a whole day for that very purpose. So
with the letter to Cibras on the 8th--Randolph despatches it, but the
earl writes it. So with the disposal of the jewels in the apartment on
the 9th. There had been some burglaries in the neighbourhood, and the
suspicion at once arises in the mind of the crude reasoner: Could
Randolph--finding now that Cibras has "left the country," that, in
fact, the tool he had expected to serve his ends has failed him--could
he have thus brought those jewels there, and thus warned the servants
of their presence, in the hope that the intelligence might so get
abroad and lead to a burglary, in the course of which his father might
lose his life? There are evidences, you know, tending to show that the
burglary did actually at last take place, and the suspicion is, in view
of that, by no means unreasonable. And yet, militating against it, is
our knowledge that it was Lord Pharanx who "_chose_" to gather the
jewels round him; that it was in his presence that Randolph drew the
attention of the servant to them. In the matter, at least, of the
little political comedy the son seems to have acted alone; but you
surely cannot rid yourself of the impression that the radical speeches,
the candidature, and the rest of it, formed all of them only a very
elaborate, and withal clumsy, set of preliminaries to the _class_.
Anything, to make the perspective, the sequence of _that_ seem natural.
But in the class, at any rate, we have the tacit acquiescence, or even
the cooperation of Lord Pharanx. You have described the conspiracy of
quiet which, for some reason or other, was imposed on the household; in
that reign of silence the bang of a door, the fall of a plate, becomes
a domestic tornado. But have you ever heard an agricultural labourer in
clogs or heavy boots ascend a stair? The noise is terrible. The tramp
of an army of them through the house and overhead, probably jabbering
uncouthly together, would be insufferable. Yet Lord Pharanx seems to
have made no objection; the novel institution is set up in his own
mansion, in an unusual part of it, probably against his own principles;
but we hear of no murmur from him. On the fatal day, too, the calm of
the house is rudely broken by a considerable commotion in Randolph's
room just overhead, caused by his preparation for "a journey to
London." But the usual angry remonstrance is not forthcoming from the
master. And do you not see how all this more than acquiescence of Lord
Pharanx in the conduct of his son deprives that conduct of half its
significance, its intrinsic suspiciousness?

'A hasty reasoner then would inevitably jump to the conclusion that
Randolph was guilty of something--some evil intention--though of
precisely what he would remain in doubt. But a more careful reasoner
would pause: he would reflect that _as_ the father was implicated in
those acts, and _as_ he was innocent of any such intention, so might
possibly, even probably, be the son. This, I take it, has been the view
of the officials, whose logic is probably far in advance of their
imagination. But supposing we can adduce one act, undoubtedly actuated
by evil intention on the part of Randolph--one act in which his father
certainly did _not_ participate--what follows next? Why, that we revert
at once to the view of the hasty reasoner, and conclude that _all_ the
other acts in the same relation were actuated by the same evil motive;
and having reached that point, we shall be unable longer to resist the
conclusion that those of them in which his father had a share _might_
have sprung from a like motive in _his_ mind also; nor should the mere
obvious impossibility of such a condition of things have even the very
least influence on us, as thinkers, in causing us to close our mind
against its logical possibility. I therefore make the inference, and
pass on.

'Let us then see if we can by searching find out any absolutely certain
deviation from right on the part of Randolph, in which we may be quite
sure that his father was not an abettor. At eight on the night of the
murder it is dark; there has been some snow, but the fall has
ceased--how long before I know not, but so long that the interval
becomes sufficiently appreciable to cause remark. Now the party going
round the house come on two tracks of feet meeting at an angle. Of one
track we are merely told that it was made by the small foot of a woman,
and of it we know no more; of the other we learn that the feet were big
and the boots clumsy, and, it is added, the marks were _half
obliterated by the snow_. Two things then are clear: that the persons
who made them came from different directions, and probably made them at
different times. That, alone, by the way, may be a sufficient answer to
your question as to whether Cibras was in collusion with the
"burglars." But how does Randolph behave with reference to these
tracks? Though he carries the lantern, he fails to perceive the
first--the woman's--the discovery of which is made by a lad; but the
second, half hidden in the snow, he notices readily enough, and at once
points it out. He explains that burglars have been on the war-path. But
examine his horror of surprise when he hears that the window is closed;
when he sees the woman's bleeding fingers. He cannot help exclaiming,
"My God! what has happened _now_?" But why "now"? The word cannot refer
to his father's death, for that he knew, or guessed, beforehand, having
heard the shot. Is it not rather the exclamation of a man whose schemes
destiny has complicated? Besides, he should have _expected_ to find the
window closed: no one except himself, Lord Pharanx, and the workman,
who was now dead, knew the secret of its construction; the burglars
therefore, having entered and robbed the room, one of them, intending
to go out, would press on the ledge, and the sash would fall on his
hand with what result we know. The others would then either break the
glass and so escape; or pass through the house; or remain prisoners.
That immoderate surprise was therefore absurdly illogical, after seeing
the burglar-track in the snow. But how, above all, do you account for
Lord Pharanx's silence during and after the burglars' visit--if there
was a visit? He was, you must remember, alive all that time; _they_ did
not kill him; certainly they did not shoot him, for the shot is heard
after the snow has ceased to fall,--that is, after, long after, they
have left, since it was the falling snow that had half obliterated
their tracks; nor did they stab him, for to this Cibras confesses. Why
then, being alive, and not gagged, did he give no token of the presence
of his visitors? There were in fact no burglars at Orven Hall that
night.'

'But the track!' I cried, 'the jewels found in the snow--the
neckerchief!'

Zaleski smiled.

'Burglars,' he said, 'are plain, honest folk who have a just notion of
the value of jewelry when they see it. They very properly regard it as
mere foolish waste to drop precious stones about in the snow, and would
refuse to company with a man weak enough to let fall his neckerchief on
a cold night. The whole business of the burglars was a particularly
inartistic trick, unworthy of its author. The mere facility with which
Randolph discovered the buried jewels by the aid of a dim lantern,
should have served as a hint to an educated police not afraid of facing
the improbable. The jewels had been _put_ there with the object of
throwing suspicion on the imaginary burglars; with the same design the
catch of the window had been wrenched off, the sash purposely left
open, the track made, the valuables taken from Lord Pharanx's room. All
this was deliberately done by some one--would it be rash to say at once
by whom?

'Our suspicions having now lost their whole character of vagueness, and
begun to lead us in a perfectly definite direction, let us examine the
statements of Hester Dyett. Now, it is immediately comprehensible to me
that the evidence of this woman at the public examinations was looked
at askance. There can be no doubt that she is a poor specimen of
humanity, an undesirable servant, a peering, hysterical caricature of a
woman. Her statements, if formally recorded, were not believed; or if
believed, were believed with only half the mind. No attempt was made to
deduce anything from them. But for my part, if I wanted specially
reliable evidence as to any matter of fact, it is precisely from such a
being that I would seek it. Let me draw you a picture of that class of
intellect. They have a greed for information, but the information, to
satisfy them, must relate to actualities; they have no sympathy with
fiction; it is from their impatience of what seems to be that springs
their curiosity of what _is_. Clio is their muse, and she alone. Their
whole lust is to gather knowledge through a hole, their whole faculty
is to _peep_. But they are destitute of imagination, and do not lie; in
their passion for realities they would esteem it a sacrilege to distort
history. They make straight for the substantial, the indubitable. For
this reason the Peniculi and Ergasili of Plautus seem to me far more
true to nature than the character of Paul Pry in Jerrold's comedy. In
one instance, indeed, the evidence of Hester Dyett appears, on the
surface of it, to be quite false. She declares that she sees a round
white object moving upward in the room. But the night being gloomy, her
taper having gone out, she must have been standing in a dense darkness.
How then could she see this object? Her evidence, it was argued, must
be designedly false, or else (as she was in an ecstatic condition) the
result of an excited fancy. But I have stated that such persons,
nervous, neurotic even as they may be, are not fanciful. I therefore
accept her evidence as true. And now, mark the consequence of that
acceptance. I am driven to admit that there must, from some source,
have been light in the room--a light faint enough, and diffused enough,
to escape the notice of Hester herself. This being so, it must have
proceeded from around, from below, or from above. There are no other
alternatives. Around these was nothing but the darkness of the night;
the room beneath, we know, was also in darkness. The light then came
from the room above--from the mechanic class-room. But there is only
one possible means by which the light from an upper can diffuse a lower
room. It _must_ be by a hole in the intermediate boards. We are thus
driven to the discovery of an aperture of some sort in the flooring of
that upper chamber. Given this, the mystery of the round white object
"driven" upward disappears. We at once ask, why not _drawn_ upward
through the newly-discovered aperture by a string too small to be
visible in the gloom? Assuredly it was drawn upward. And now having
established a hole in the ceiling of the room in which Hester stands,
is it unreasonable--even without further evidence--to suspect another
in the flooring? But we actually have this further evidence. As she
rushes to the door she falls, faints, and fractures the lower part of
her leg. Had she fallen _over_ some object, as you supposed, the result
might have been a fracture also, but in a different part of the body;
being where it was, it could only have been caused by placing the foot
inadvertently in a hole while the rest of the body was in rapid motion.
But this gives us an approximate idea of the _size_ of the lower hole;
it was at least big enough to admit the foot and lower leg, big enough
therefore to admit that "good-sized ball of cotton" of which the woman
speaks: and from the lower we are able to conjecture the size of the
upper. But how comes it that these holes are nowhere mentioned in the
evidence? It can only be because no one ever saw them. Yet the rooms
must have been examined by the police, who, if they existed, must have
seen them. They therefore did not exist: that is to say, the pieces
which had been removed from the floorings had by that time been neatly
replaced, and, in the case of the lower one, covered by the carpet, the
removal of which had caused so much commotion in Randolph's room on the
fatal day. Hester Dyett would have been able to notice and bring at
least one of the apertures forward in evidence, but she fainted before
she had time to find out the cause of her fall, and an hour later it
was, you remember, Randolph himself who bore her from the room. But
should not the aperture in the top floor have been observed by the
class? Undoubtedly, if its position was in the open space in the middle
of the room. But it was not observed, and therefore its position was
not there, but in the only other place left--behind the apparatus used
in demonstration. That then was _one_ useful object which the
apparatus--and with it the elaborate hypocrisy of class, and speeches,
and candidature--served: it was made to act as a curtain, a screen. But
had it no other purpose? That question we may answer when we know its
name and its nature. And it is not beyond our powers to conjecture this
with something like certainty. For the only "machines" possible to use
in illustration of simple mechanics are the screw, the wedge, the
scale, the lever, the wheel-and-axle, and Atwood's machine. The
mathematical principles which any of these exemplify would, of course,
be incomprehensible to such a class, but the first five most of all,
and as there would naturally be some slight pretence of trying to make
the learners understand, I therefore select the last; and this
selection is justified when we remember that on the shot being heard,
Randolph leans for support on the "machine," and stands in its shadow;
but any of the others would be too small to throw any appreciable
shadow, except one--the wheel, and-axle--and that one would hardly
afford support to a tall man in the erect position. The Atwood's
machine is therefore forced on us; as to its construction, it is, as
you are aware, composed of two upright posts, with a cross-bar fitted
with pulleys and strings, and is intended to show the motion of bodies
acting under a constant force--the force of gravity, to wit. But now
consider all the really glorious uses to which those same pulleys may
be turned in lowering and lifting unobserved that "ball of cotton"
through the two apertures, while the other strings with the weights
attached are dangling before the dull eyes of the peasants. I need only
point out that when the whole company trooped out of the room, Randolph
was the last to leave it, and it is not now difficult to conjecture
why.

'Of what, then, have we convicted Randolph? For one thing, we have
shown that by marks of feet in the snow preparation was made beforehand
for obscuring the cause of the earl's death. That death must therefore
have been at least expected, foreknown. Thus we convict him of
expecting it. And then, by an independent line of deduction, we can
also discover the _means_ by which he expected it to occur. It is clear
that he did not expect it to occur when it did by the hand of Maude
Cibras--for this is proved by his knowledge that she had left the
neighbourhood, by his evidently genuine astonishment at the sight of
the closed window, and, above all, by his truly morbid desire to
establish a substantial, an irrefutable _alibi_ for himself by going to
Plymouth on the day when there was every reason to suppose she would do
the deed--that is, on the 8th, the day of the earl's invitation. On the
fatal night, indeed, the same morbid eagerness to build up a clear
_alibi_ is observable, for he surrounds himself with a cloud of
witnesses in the upper chamber. But that, you will admit, is not nearly
so perfect a one as a journey, say, to Plymouth would have been. Why
then, expecting the death, did he not take some such journey? Obviously
because on _this_ occasion his personal presence was necessary. When,
_in conjunction_ with this, we recall the fact that during the
intrigues with Cibras the lectures were discontinued, and again resumed
immediately on her unlooked-for departure, we arrive at the conclusion
that the means by which Lord Pharanx's death was expected to occur was
the personal presence of Randolph _in conjunction_ with the political
speeches, the candidature, the class, the apparatus.

'But though he stands condemned of foreknowing, and being in some sort
connected with, his father's death, I can nowhere find any indication
of his having personally accomplished it, or even of his ever having
had any such intention. The evidence is evidence of complicity--and
nothing more. And yet--and yet--even of _this_ we began by acquitting
him unless we could discover, as I said, some strong, adequate,
altogether irresistible motive for such complicity. Failing this, we
ought to admit that at some point our argument has played us false, and
led us into conclusions wholly at variance with our certain knowledge
of the principles underlying human conduct in general. Let us therefore
seek for such a motive--something deeper than personal enmity, stronger
than personal ambition, _than the love of life itself!_ And now, tell
me, at the time of the occurrence of this mystery, was the whole past
history of the House of Orven fully investigated?'

'Not to my knowledge,' I answered; 'in the papers there were, of
course, sketches of the earl's career, but that I think was all.'

'Yet it cannot be that their past was unknown, but only that it was
ignored. Long, I tell you, long and often, have I pondered on that
history, and sought to trace with what ghastly secret has been pregnant
the destiny, gloomful as Erebus and the murk of black-peplosed Nux,
which for centuries has hung its pall over the men of this ill-fated
house. Now at last I know. Dark, dark, and red with gore and horror is
that history; down the silent corridors of the ages have these
blood-soaked sons of Atreus fled shrieking before the pursuing talons
of the dread Eumenides. The first earl received his patent in 1535 from
the eighth Henry. Two years later, though noted as a rabid "king's
man," he joined the Pilgrimage of Grace against his master, and was
soon after executed, with Darcy and some other lords. His age was then
fifty. His son, meantime, had served in the king's army under Norfolk.
It is remarkable, by the way, that females have all along been rare in
the family, and that in no instance has there been more than one son.
The second earl, under the sixth Edward, suddenly threw up a civil
post, hastened to the army, and fell at the age of forty at the battle
of Pinkie in 1547. He was accompanied by his son. The third in 1557,
under Mary, renounced the Catholic faith, to which, both before and
since, the family have passionately clung, and suffered (at the age of
forty) the last penalty. The fourth earl died naturally, but suddenly,
in his bed at the age of fifty during the winter of 1566. At midnight
_of the same day_ he was laid in the grave by his son. This son was
later on, in 1591, seen by _his_ son to fall from a lofty balcony at
Orven Hall, while walking in his sleep at high noonday. Then for some
time nothing happens; but the eighth earl dies mysteriously in 1651 at
the age of forty-five. A fire occurring in his room, he leapt from a
window to escape the flames. Some of his limbs were thereby fractured,
but he was in a fair way to recovery when there was a sudden relapse,
soon ending in death. He was found to have been poisoned by _radix
aconiti indica_, a rare Arabian poison not known in Europe at that time
except to _savants_, and first mentioned by Acosta some months before.
An attendant was accused and tried, but acquitted. The then son of the
House was a Fellow of the newly-founded Royal Society, and author of a
now-forgotten work on Toxicology, which, however, I have read. No
suspicion, of course, fell on _him_.'

As Zaleski proceeded with this retrospect, I could not but ask myself
with stirrings of the most genuine wonder, whether he could possess
this intimate knowledge of _all_ the great families of Europe! It was
as if he had spent a part of his life in making special study of the
history of the Orvens.

'In the same manner,' he went on, 'I could detail the annals of the
family from that time to the present. But all through they have been
marked by the same latent tragic elements; and I have said enough to
show you that in each of the tragedies there was invariably something
large, leering, something of which the mind demands explanation, but
seeks in vain to find it. Now we need no longer seek. Destiny did not
design that the last Lord of Orven should any more hide from the world
the guilty secret of his race. It was the will of the gods--and he
betrayed himself. "Return," he writes, "the beginning of the end is
come." What end?

_The_ end--perfectly well known to Randolph, needing no explanation for
_him_. The old, old end, which in the ancient dim time led the first
lord, loyal still at heart, to forsake his king; and another, still
devout, to renounce his cherished faith, and yet another to set fire to
the home of his ancestors. You have called the two last scions of the
family "a proud and selfish pair of beings"; proud they were, and
selfish too, but you are in error if you think their selfishness a
personal one: on the contrary, they were singularly oblivious of self
in the ordinary sense of the word. Theirs was the pride and the
selfishness of _race_. What consideration, think you, other than the
weal of his house, could induce Lord Randolph to take on himself the
shame--for as such he certainly regards it--of a conversion to
radicalism? He would, I am convinced, have _died_ rather than make this
pretence for merely personal ends. But he does it--and the reason? It
is because he has received that awful summons from home; because "the
end" is daily coming nearer, and it must not find him unprepared to
meet it; it is because Lord Pharanx's senses are becoming _too_ acute;
because the clatter of the servants' knives at the other end of the
house inflames him to madness; because his excited palate can no longer
endure any food but the subtlest delicacies; because Hester Dyett is
able from the posture in which he sits to conjecture that he is
intoxicated; because, in fact, he is on the brink of the dreadful
malady which physicians call "_General Paralysis of the Insane_." You
remember I took from your hands the newspaper containing the earl's
letter to Cibras, in order to read it with my own eyes. I had my
reasons, and I was justified. That letter contains three mistakes in
spelling: "here" is printed "hear," "pass" appears as "pas," and "room"
as "rume." Printers' errors, you say? But not so--one might be, two in
that short paragraph could hardly be, three would be impossible. Search
the whole paper through, and I think you will not find another. Let us
reverence the theory of probabilities: the errors were the writer's,
not the printer's. General Paralysis of the Insane is known to have
this effect on the writing. It attacks its victims about the period of
middle age--the age at which the deaths of all the Orvens who died
mysteriously occurred. Finding then that the dire heritage of his
race--the heritage of madness--is falling or fallen on him, he summons
his son from India. On himself he passes sentence of death: it is the
tradition of the family, the secret vow of self-destruction handed down
through ages from father to son. But he must have aid: in these days it
is difficult for a man to commit the suicidal act without
detection--and if madness is a disgrace to the race, equally so is
suicide. Besides, the family is to be enriched by the insurances on his
life, and is thereby to be allied with royal blood; but the money will
be lost if the suicide be detected. Randolph therefore returns and
blossoms into a popular candidate.

'For a time he is led to abandon his original plans by the appearance
of Maude Cibras; he hopes that _she_ may be made to destroy the earl;
but when she fails him, he recurs to it--recurs to it all suddenly, for
Lord Pharanx's condition is rapidly becoming critical, patent to all
eyes, could any eye see him--so much so that on the last day none of
the servants are allowed to enter his room. We must therefore regard
Cibras as a mere addendum to, an extraneous element in, the tragedy,
not as an integral part of it. She did not shoot the noble lord, for
she had no pistol; nor did Randolph, for he was at a distance from the
bed of death, surrounded by witnesses; nor did the imaginary burglars.
The earl therefore shot himself; and it was the small globular silver
pistol, such as this'--here Zaleski drew a little embossed Venetian
weapon from a drawer near him--'that appeared in the gloom to the
excited Hester as a "ball of cotton," while it was being drawn upward
by the Atwood's machine. But if the earl shot himself he could not have
done so after being stabbed to the heart. Maude Cibras, therefore,
stabbed a dead man. She would, of course, have ample time for stealing
into the room and doing so after the shot was fired, and before the
party reached the balcony window, on account of the delay on the stairs
in procuring a second light; in going to the earl's door; in examining
the tracks, and so on. But having stabbed a dead man, she is not guilty
of murder. The message I just now sent by Ham was one addressed to the
Home Secretary, telling him on no account to let Cibras die to-morrow.
He well knows my name, and will hardly be silly enough to suppose me
capable of using words without meaning. It will be perfectly easy to
prove my conclusions, for the pieces removed from, and replaced in, the
floorings can still be detected, if looked for; the pistol is still, no
doubt, in Randolph's room, and its bore can be compared with the bullet
found in Lord Pharanx's brain; above all, the jewels stolen by the
"burglars" are still safe in some cabinet of the new earl, and may
readily be discovered I therefore expect that the dénoûment will now
take a somewhat different turn.'

That the dénoûment did take a different turn, and pretty strictly in
accordance with Zaleski's forecast, is now matter of history, and the
incidents, therefore, need no further comment from me in this place.



THE STONE OF THE EDMUNDSBURY MONKS


'Russia,' said Prince Zaleski to me one day, when I happened to be on a
visit to him in his darksome sanctuary--'Russia may be regarded as land
surrounded by ocean; that is to say, she is an island. In the same way,
it is sheer gross irrelevancy to speak of _Britain_ as an island,
unless indeed the word be understood as a mere _modus loquendi_ arising
out of a rather poor geographical pleasantry. Britain, in reality, is a
small continent. Near her--a little to the south-east--is situated the
large island of Europe. Thus, the enlightened French traveller passing
to these shores should commune within himself: "I now cross to the
Mainland"; and retracing his steps: "I now return to the fragment rent
by wrack and earthshock from the Mother-country." And this I say not in
the way of paradox, but as the expression of a sober truth. I have in
my mind merely the relative depth and extent--the _non-insularity_, in
fact--of the impressions made by the several nations on the world. But
this island of Europe has herself an island of her own: the name of it,
Russia. She, of all lands, is the _terra incognita_, the unknown land;
till quite lately she was more--she was the undiscovered, the
unsuspected land. She _has_ a literature, you know, and a history, and
a language, and a purpose--but of all this the world has hardly so much
as heard. Indeed, she, and not any Antarctic Sea whatever, is the real
Ultima Thule of modern times, the true Island of Mystery.'

I reproduce these remarks of Zaleski here, not so much on account of
the splendid tribute to my country contained in them, as because it
ever seemed to me--and especially in connection with the incident I am
about to recall--that in this respect at least he was a genuine son of
Russia; if she is the Land, so truly was he the Man, of Mystery. I who
knew him best alone knew that it was impossible to know him. He was a
being little of the present: with one arm he embraced the whole past;
the fingers of the other heaved on the vibrant pulse of the future. He
seemed to me--I say it deliberately and with forethought--to possess
the unparalleled power not merely of disentangling in retrospect, but
of unravelling in prospect, and I have known him to relate _coming_
events with unimaginable minuteness of precision. He was nothing if not
superlative: his diatribes, now culminating in a very _extravaganza_ of
hyperbole--now sailing with loose wing through the downy, witched,
Dutch cloud-heaps of some quaintest tramontane Nephelococcugia of
thought--now laying down law of the Medes for the actual world of
to-day--had oft-times the strange effect of bringing back to my mind
the very singular old-epic epithet, [Greek: aenemoen]--_airy_--as
applied to human thought. The mere grip of his memory was not simply
extraordinary, it had in it a token, a hint, of the strange, the
pythic--nay, the sibylline. And as his reflecting intellect, moreover,
had all the lightness of foot of a chamois kid, unless you could
contrive to follow each dazzlingly swift successive step, by the sum of
which he attained his Alp-heights, he inevitably left on you the
astounding, the confounding impression of mental omnipresence.

I had brought with me a certain document, a massive book bound in iron
and leather, the diary of one Sir Jocelin Saul. This I had abstracted
from a gentleman of my acquaintance, the head of a firm of inquiry
agents in London, into whose hand, only the day before, it had come. A
distant neighbour of Sir Jocelin, hearing by chance of his extremity,
had invoked the assistance of this firm; but the aged baronet, being in
a state of the utmost feebleness, terror, and indeed hysterical
incoherence, had been able to utter no word in explanation of his
condition or wishes, and, in silent abandonment, had merely handed the
book to the agent.

A day or two after I had reached the desolate old mansion which the
prince occupied, knowing that he might sometimes be induced to take an
absorbing interest in questions that had proved themselves too
profound, or too intricate, for ordinary solution, I asked him if he
was willing to hear the details read out from the diary, and on his
assenting, I proceeded to do so.

The brief narrative had reference to a very large and very valuable
oval gem enclosed in the substance of a golden chalice, which chalice,
in the monastery of St. Edmundsbury, had once lain centuries long
within the Loculus, or inmost coffin, wherein reposed the body of St.
Edmund. By pressing a hidden pivot, the cup (which was composed of two
equal parts, connected by minute hinges) sprang open, and in a hollow
space at the bottom was disclosed the gem. Sir Jocelin Saul, I may say,
was lineally connected with--though, of course, not descendant
from--that same Jocelin of Brakelonda, a brother of the Edmundsbury
convent, who wrote the now so celebrated _Jocelini Chronica_: and the
chalice had fallen into the possession of the family, seemingly at some
time prior to the suppression of the monastery about 1537. On it was
inscribed in old English characters of unknown date the words:

  'Shulde this Ston stalen bee,
  Or shuld it chaunges dre,
  The Houss of Sawl and hys Hed anoon shal de.'

The stone itself was an intaglio, and had engraved on its surface the
figure of a mythological animal, together with some nearly obliterated
letters, of which the only ones remaining legible were those forming
the word 'Has.' As a sure precaution against the loss of the gem,
another cup had been made and engraved in an exactly similar manner,
inside of which, to complete the delusion, another stone of the same
size and cut, but of comparatively valueless material, had been placed.

Sir Jocelin Saul, a man of intense nervosity, lived his life alone in a
remote old manor-house in Suffolk, his only companion being a person of
Eastern origin, named Ul-Jabal. The baronet had consumed his vitality
in the life-long attempt to sound the too fervid Maelstrom of Oriental
research, and his mind had perhaps caught from his studies a tinge of
their morbidness, their esotericism, their insanity. He had for some
years past been engaged in the task of writing a stupendous work on
Pre-Zoroastrian Theogonies, in which, it is to be supposed, Ul-Jabal
acted somewhat in the capacity of secretary. But I will give _verbatim_
the extracts from his diary:

'_June 11_.--This is my birthday. Seventy years ago exactly I slid from
the belly of the great Dark into this Light and Life. My God! My God!
it is briefer than the rage of an hour, fleeter than a mid-day trance.
Ul-Jabal greeted me warmly--seemed to have been looking forward to
it--and pointed out that seventy is of the fateful numbers, its only
factors being seven, five, and two: the last denoting the duality of
Birth and Death; five, Isolation; seven, Infinity. I informed him that
this was also my father's birthday; and _his_ father's; and repeated
the oft-told tale of how the latter, just seventy years ago to-day,
walking at twilight by the churchyard-wall, saw the figure of _himself_
sitting on a grave-stone, and died five weeks later riving with the
pangs of hell. Whereat the sceptic showed his two huge rows of teeth.

'What is his peculiar interest in the Edmundsbury chalice? On each
successive birthday when the cup has been produced, he has asked me to
show him the stone. Without any well-defined reason I have always
declined, but to-day I yielded. He gazed long into its sky-blue depth,
and then asked if I had no idea what the inscription "Has" meant. I
informed him that it was one of the lost secrets of the world.

'_June l5_.--Some new element has entered into our existence here.
Something threatens me. I hear the echo of a menace against my sanity
and my life. It is as if the garment which enwraps me has grown too
hot, too heavy for me. A notable drowsiness has settled on my brain--a
drowsiness in which thought, though slow, is a thousandfold more
fiery-vivid than ever. Oh, fair goddess of Reason, desert not me, thy
chosen child!

'_June 18_.--Ul-Jabal?--that man is _the very Devil incarnate!_

'_June 19_.--So much for my bounty, all my munificence, to this
poisonous worm. I picked him up on the heights of the Mountain of
Lebanon, a cultured savage among cultured savages, and brought him here
to be a prince of thought by my side. What though his plundered
wealth--the debt I owe him--has saved me from a sort of ruin? Have not
_I_ instructed him in the sweet secret of Reason?

'I lay back on my bed in the lonely morning watches, my soul heavy as
with the distilled essence of opiates, and in vivid vision knew that he
had entered my apartment. In the twilight gloom his glittering rows of
shark's teeth seemed impacted on my eyeball--I saw _them_, and nothing
else. I was not aware when he vanished from the room. But at daybreak I
crawled on hands and knees to the cabinet containing the chalice. The
viperous murderer! He has stolen my gem, well knowing that with it he
has stolen my life. The stone is gone--gone, my precious gem. A
weakness overtook me, and I lay for many dreamless hours naked on the
marble floor.

'Does the fool think to hide ought from my eyes? Can he imagine that I
shall not recover my precious gem, my stone of Saul?

'_June 20_.--Ah, Ul-Jabal--my brave, my noble Son of the Prophet of
God! He has replaced the stone! He would not slay an aged man. The
yellow ray of his eye, it is but the gleam of the great thinker,
not--not--the gleam of the assassin. Again, as I lay in
semi-somnolence, I saw him enter my room, this time more distinctly. He
went up to the cabinet. Shaking the chalice in the dawning, some hours
after he had left, I heard with delight the rattle of the stone. I
might have known he would replace it; I should not have doubted his
clemency to a poor man like me. But the strange being!--he has taken
the _other_ stone from the _other_ cup--a thing of little value to any
man! Is Ul-Jabal mad or I?

'_June 21_.--Merciful Lord in Heaven! he has _not_ replaced it--not
_it_--but another instead of it. To-day I actually opened the chalice,
and saw. He has put a stone there, the same in size, in cut, in
engraving, but different in colour, in quality, in value--a stone I
have never seen before. How has he obtained it--whence? I must brace
myself to probe, to watch; I must turn myself into an eye to search
this devil's-bosom. My life, this subtle, cunning Reason of mine, hangs
in the balance.

'_June 22_.--Just now he offered me a cup of wine. I almost dashed it
to the ground before him. But he looked steadfastly into my eye. I
flinched: and drank--drank.

'Years ago, when, as I remember, we were at Balbec, I saw him one day
make an almost tasteless preparation out of pure black nicotine, which
in mere wanton lust he afterwards gave to some of the dwellers by the
Caspian to drink. But the fiend would surely never dream of giving to
me that browse of hell--to me an aged man, and a thinker, a seer.

'_June 23_.--The mysterious, the unfathomable Ul-Jabal! Once again, as
I lay in heavy trance at midnight, has he invaded, calm and noiseless
as a spirit, the sanctity of my chamber. Serene on the swaying air,
which, radiant with soft beams of vermil and violet light, rocked me
into variant visions of heaven, I reclined and regarded him unmoved.
The man has replaced the valueless stone in the modern-made chalice,
and has now stolen the false stone from the other, which _he himself_
put there! In patience will I possess this my soul, and watch what
shall betide. My eyes shall know no slumber!

'_June 24_.--No more--no more shall I drink wine from the hand of
Ul-Jabal. My knees totter beneath the weight of my lean body. Daggers
of lambent fever race through my brain incessant. Some fibrillary
twitchings at the right angle of the mouth have also arrested my
attention.

'_June 25_.--He has dared at open mid-day to enter my room. I watched
him from an angle of the stairs pass along the corridor and open my
door. But for the terrifying, death-boding thump, thump of my heart, I
should have faced the traitor then, and told him that I knew all his
treachery. Did I say that I had strange fibrillary twitchings at the
right angle of my mouth, and a brain on fire? I have ceased to write my
book--the more the pity for the world, not for me.

'_June 26_.--Marvellous to tell, the traitor, Ul-Jabal, has now placed
_another_ stone in the Edmundsbury chalice--also identical in nearly
every respect with the original gem. This, then, was the object of his
entry into my room yesterday. So that he has first stolen the real
stone and replaced it by another; then he has stolen this other and
replaced it by yet another; he has beside stolen the valueless stone
from the modern chalice, and then replaced it. Surely a man gone rabid,
a man gone dancing, foaming, raving mad!

'_June 28_.--I have now set myself to the task of recovering my jewel.
It is here, and I shall find it. Life against life--and which is the
best life, mine or this accursed Ishmaelite's? If need be, I will do
murder--I, with this withered hand--so that I get back the heritage
which is mine.

'To-day, when I thought he was wandering in the park, I stole into his
room, locking the door on the inside. I trembled exceedingly, knowing
that his eyes are in every place. I ransacked the chamber, dived among
his clothes, but found no stone. One singular thing in a drawer I saw:
a long, white beard, and a wig of long and snow-white hair. As I passed
out of the chamber, lo, he stood face to face with me at the door in
the passage. My heart gave one bound, and then seemed wholly to cease
its travail. Oh, I must be sick unto death, weaker than a bruised reed!
When I woke from my swoon he was supporting me in his arms. "Now," he
said, grinning down at me, "now you have at last delivered all into my
hands." He left me, and I saw him go into his room and lock the door
upon himself. What is it I have delivered into the madman's hands?

'_July 1_.--Life against life--and his, the young, the stalwart, rather
than mine, the mouldering, the sere. I love life. Not _yet_ am I ready
to weigh anchor, and reeve halliard, and turn my prow over the watery
paths of the wine-brown Deeps. Oh no. Not yet. Let _him_ die. Many and
many are the days in which I shall yet see the light, walk, think. I am
averse to end the number of my years: there is even a feeling in me at
times that this worn body shall never, never taste of death. The
chalice predicts indeed that I and my house shall end when the stone is
lost--a mere fiction _at first_, an idler's dream _then_, but
now--now--that the prophecy has stood so long a part of the reality of
things, and a fact among facts--no longer fiction, but Adamant, stern
as the very word of God. Do I not feel hourly since it has gone how the
surges of life ebb, ebb ever lower in my heart? Nay, nay, but there is
hope. I have here beside me an Arab blade of subtle Damascene steel,
insinuous to pierce and to hew, with which in a street of Bethlehem I
saw a Syrian's head cleft open--a gallant stroke! The edges of this I
have made bright and white for a nuptial of blood.

'_July 2_.--I spent the whole of the last night in searching every nook
and crack of the house, using a powerful magnifying lens. At times I
thought Ul-Jabal was watching me, and would pounce out and murder me.
Convulsive tremors shook my frame like earthquake. Ah me, I fear I am
all too frail for this work. Yet dear is the love of life.

'_July 7_.--The last days I have passed in carefully searching the
grounds, with the lens as before. Ul-Jabal constantly found pretexts
for following me, and I am confident that every step I took was known
to him. No sign anywhere of the grass having been disturbed. Yet my
lands are wide, and I cannot be sure. The burden of this mighty task is
greater than I can bear. I am weaker than a bruised reed. Shall I not
slay my enemy, and make an end?

'_July_ 8.--Ul-Jabal has been in my chamber again! I watched him
through a crack in the panelling. His form was hidden by the bed, but I
could see his hand reflected in the great mirror opposite the door.
First, I cannot guess why, he moved to a point in front of the mirror
the chair in which I sometimes sit. He then went to the box in which
lie my few garments--and opened it. Ah, I have the stone--safe--safe!
He fears my cunning, ancient eyes, and has hidden it in the one place
where I would be least likely to seek it--_in my own trunk_! And yet I
dread, most intensely I dread, to look.

'_July_ 9.--The stone, alas, is not there! At the last moment he must
have changed his purpose. Could his wondrous sensitiveness of intuition
have made him feel that my eyes were looking in on him?

'_July 10_.--In the dead of night I knew that a stealthy foot had gone
past my door. I rose and threw a mantle round me; I put on my head my
cap of fur; I took the tempered blade in my hands; then crept out into
the dark, and followed. Ul-Jabal carried a small lantern which revealed
him to me. My feet were bare, but he wore felted slippers, which to my
unfailing ear were not utterly noiseless. He descended the stairs to
the bottom of the house, while I crouched behind him in the deepest
gloom of the corners and walls. At the bottom he walked into the
pantry: there stopped, and turned the lantern full in the direction of
the spot where I stood; but so agilely did I slide behind a pillar,
that he could not have seen me. In the pantry he lifted the trap-door,
and descended still further into the vaults beneath the house. Ah, the
vaults,--the long, the tortuous, the darksome vaults,--how had I
forgotten them? Still I followed, rent by seismic shocks of terror. I
had not forgotten the weapon: could I creep near enough, I felt that I
might plunge it into the marrow of his back. He opened the iron door of
the first vault and passed in. If I could lock him in?--but he held the
key. On and on he wound his way, holding the lantern near the ground,
his head bent down. The thought came to me _then_, that, had I but the
courage, one swift sweep, and all were over. I crept closer, closer.
Suddenly he turned round, and made a quick step in my direction. I saw
his eyes, the murderous grin of his jaw. I know not if he saw
me--thought forsook me. The weapon fell with clatter and clangor from
my grasp, and in panic fright I fled with extended arms and the
headlong swiftness of a stripling, through the black labyrinths of the
caverns, through the vacant corridors of the house, till I reached my
chamber, the door of which I had time to fasten on myself before I
dropped, gasping, panting for very life, on the floor.

'_July 11_.--I had not the courage to see Ul-Jabal to-day. I have
remained locked in my chamber all the time without food or water. My
tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth.

'_July 12_.--I took heart and crept downstairs. I met him in the study.
He smiled on me, and I on him, as if nothing had happened between us.
Oh, our old friendship, how it has turned into bitterest hate! I had
taken the false stone from the Edmundsbury chalice and put it in the
pocket of my brown gown, with the bold intention of showing it to him,
and asking him if he knew aught of it. But when I faced him, my courage
failed again. We drank together and ate together as in the old days of
love.

'July l3.--I cannot think that I have not again imbibed some
soporiferous drug. A great heaviness of sleep weighed on my brain till
late in the day. When I woke my thoughts were in wild distraction, and
a most peculiar condition of my skin held me fixed before the mirror.
It is dry as parchment, and brown as the leaves of autumn.

'July l4.--Ul-Jabal is gone! And I am left a lonely, a desolate old
man! He said, though I swore it was false, that I had grown to mistrust
him! that I was hiding something from him! that he could live with me
no more! No more, he said, should I see his face! The debt I owe him he
would forgive. He has taken one small parcel with him,--and is gone!

'July l5.--Gone! gone! In mazeful dream I wander with uncovered head
far and wide over my domain, seeking I know not what. The stone he has
with him--the precious stone of Saul. I feel the life-surge ebbing,
ebbing in my heart.'

Here the manuscript abruptly ended.

Prince Zaleski had listened as I read aloud, lying back on his Moorish
couch and breathing slowly from his lips a heavy reddish vapour, which
he imbibed from a very small, carved, bismuth pipette. His face, as far
as I could see in the green-grey crepuscular atmosphere of the
apartment, was expressionless. But when I had finished he turned fully
round on me, and said:

'You perceive, I hope, the sinister meaning of all this?'

'_Has_ it a meaning?'

Zaleski smiled.

'Can you doubt it? in the shape of a cloud, the pitch of a thrush's
note, the _nuance_ of a sea-shell you would find, had you only insight
_enough_, inductive and deductive cunning _enough_, not only a meaning,
but, I am convinced, a quite endless significance. Undoubtedly, in a
human document of this kind, there is a meaning; and I may say at once
that this meaning is entirely transparent to me. Pity only that you did
not read the diary to me before.'

'Why?'

'Because we might, between us, have prevented a crime, and saved a
life. The last entry in the diary was made on the 15th of July. What
day is this?'

'This is the 20th.'

'Then I would wager a thousand to one that we are too late. There is
still, however, the one chance left. The time is now seven o'clock:
seven of the evening, I think, not of the morning; the houses of
business in London are therefore closed. But why not send my man, Ham,
with a letter by train to the private address of the person from whom
you obtained the diary, telling him to hasten immediately to Sir
Jocelin Saul, and on no consideration to leave his side for a moment?
Ham would reach this person before midnight, and understanding that the
matter was one of life and death, he would assuredly do your bidding.'

As I was writing the note suggested by Zaleski, I turned and asked him:

'From whom shall I say that the danger is to be expected--from the
Indian?'

'From Ul-Jabal, yes; but by no means Indian--Persian.'

Profoundly impressed by this knowledge of detail derived from sources
which had brought me no intelligence, I handed the note to the negro,
telling him how to proceed, and instructing him before starting from
the station to search all the procurable papers of the last few days,
and to return in case he found in any of them a notice of the death of
Sir Jocelin Saul. Then I resumed my seat by the side of Zaleski.

'As I have told you,' he said, 'I am fully convinced that our messenger
has gone on a bootless errand. I believe you will find that what has
really occurred is this: either yesterday, or the day before, Sir
Jocelin was found by his servant--I imagine he had a servant, though no
mention is made of any--lying on the marble floor of his chamber, dead.
Near him, probably by his side, will be found a gem--an oval stone,
white in colour--the same in fact which Ul-Jabal last placed in the
Edmundsbury chalice. There will be no marks of violence--no trace of
poison--the death will be found to be a perfectly natural one. Yet, in
this case, a particularly wicked murder has been committed. There are,
I assure you, to my positive knowledge forty-three--and in one island
in the South Seas, forty-four--different methods of doing murder, any
one of which would be entirely beyond the scope of the introspective
agencies at the ordinary disposal of society.

'But let us bend our minds to the details of this matter. Let us ask
first, _who_ is this Ul-Jabal? I have said that he is a Persian, and of
this there is abundant evidence in the narrative other than his mere
name. Fragmentary as the document is, and not intended by the writer to
afford the information, there is yet evidence of the religion of this
man, of the particular sect of that religion to which he belonged, of
his peculiar shade of colour, of the object of his stay at the
manor-house of Saul, of the special tribe amongst whom he formerly
lived. "What," he asks, when his greedy eyes first light on the
long-desired gem, "what is the meaning of the inscription 'Has'"--the
meaning which _he_ so well knew. "One of the lost secrets of the
world," replies the baronet. But I can hardly understand a learned
Orientalist speaking in that way about what appears to me a very patent
circumstance: it is clear that he never earnestly applied himself to
the solution of the riddle, or else--what is more likely, in spite of
his rather high-flown estimate of his own "Reason"--that his mind, and
the mind of his ancestors, never was able to go farther back in time
than the Edmundsbury Monks. But _they_ did not make the stone, nor did
they dig it from the depths of the earth in Suffolk--they got it from
some one, and it is not difficult to say with certainty from whom. The
stone, then, might have been engraved by that someone, or by the
someone from whom _he_ received it, and so on back into the dimnesses
of time. And consider the character of the engraving--it consists of _a
mythological animal_, and some words, of which the letters "Has" only
are distinguishable. But the animal, at least, is pure Persian. The
Persians, you know, were not only quite worthy competitors with the
Hebrews, the Egyptians, and later on the Greeks, for excellence in the
glyptic art, but this fact is remarkable, that in much the same way
that the figure of the _scarabaeus_ on an intaglio or cameo is a pretty
infallible indication of an Egyptian hand, so is that of a priest or a
grotesque animal a sure indication of a Persian. We may say, then, from
that evidence alone--though there is more--that this gem was certainly
Persian. And having reached that point, the mystery of "Has" vanishes:
for we at once jump at the conclusion that that too is Persian. But
Persian, you say, written in English characters? Yes, and it was
precisely this fact that made its meaning one of what the baronet
childishly calls "the lost secrets of the world": for every successive
inquirer, believing it part of an English phrase, was thus hopelessly
led astray in his investigation. "Has" is, in fact, part of the word
"Hasn-us-Sabah," and the mere circumstance that some of it has been
obliterated, while the figure of the mystic animal remains intact,
shows that it was executed by one of a nation less skilled in the art
of graving in precious stones than the Persians,--by a rude, mediaeval
Englishman, in short,--the modern revival of the art owing its origin,
of course, to the Medici of a later age. And of this Englishman--who
either graved the stone himself, or got some one else to do it for
him--do we know nothing? We know, at least, that he was certainly a
fighter, probably a Norman baron, that on his arm he bore the cross of
red, that he trod the sacred soil of Palestine. Perhaps, to prove this,
I need hardly remind you who Hasn-us-Sabah was. It is enough if I say
that he was greatly mixed up in the affairs of the Crusaders, lending
his irresistible arms now to this side, now to that. He was the chief
of the heterodox Mohammedan sect of the Assassins (this word, I
believe, is actually derived from his name); imagined himself to be an
incarnation of the Deity, and from his inaccessible rock-fortress of
Alamut in the Elburz exercised a sinister influence on the intricate
politics of the day. The Red Cross Knights called him Shaikh-ul-Jabal
--the Old Man of the Mountains, that very nickname connecting
him infallibly with the Ul-Jabal of our own times. Now three
well-known facts occur to me in connection with this stone of the House
of Saul: the first, that Saladin met in battle, and defeated, _and
plundered_, in a certain place, on a certain day, this Hasn-us-Sabah,
or one of his successors bearing the same name; the second, that about
this time there was a cordial _rapprochement_ between Saladin and
Richard the Lion, and between the Infidels and the Christians
generally, during which a free interchange of gems, then regarded as of
deep mystic importance, took place--remember "The Talisman," and the
"Lee Penny"; the third, that soon after the fighters of Richard, and
then himself, returned to England, the Loculus or coffin of St. Edmund
(as we are informed by the _Jocelini Chronica_) was _opened by the
Abbot_ at midnight, and the body of the martyr exposed. On such
occasions it was customary to place gems and relics in the coffin, when
it was again closed up. Now, the chalice with the stone was taken from
this loculus; and is it possible not to believe that some knight, to
whom it had been presented by one of Saladin's men, had in turn
presented it to the monastery, first scratching uncouthly on its
surface the name of Hasn to mark its semi-sacred origin, or perhaps
bidding the monks to do so? But the Assassins, now called, I think, "al
Hasani" or "Ismaili"--"that accursed _Ishmaelite_," the baronet
exclaims in one place--still live, are still a flourishing sect
impelled by fervid religious fanaticisms. And where think you is their
chief place of settlement? Where, but on the heights of that same
"Lebanon" on which Sir Jocelin "picked up" his too doubtful scribe and
literary helper?

'It now becomes evident that Ul-Jabal was one of the sect of the
Assassins, and that the object of his sojourn at the manor-house, of
his financial help to the baronet, of his whole journey perhaps to
England, was the recovery of the sacred gem which once glittered on the
breast of the founder of his sect. In dread of spoiling all by
over-rashness, he waits, perhaps for years, till he makes sure that the
stone is the right one by seeing it with his own eyes, and learns the
secret of the spring by which the chalice is opened. He then proceeds
to steal it. So far all is clear enough. Now, this too is conceivable,
that, intending to commit the theft, he had beforehand provided himself
with another stone similar in size and shape--these being well known to
him--to the other, in order to substitute it for the real stone, and
so, for a time at least, escape detection. It is presumable that the
chalice was not often _opened_ by the baronet, and this would therefore
have been a perfectly rational device on the part of Ul-Jabal. But
assuming this to be his mode of thinking, how ludicrously absurd
appears all the trouble he took to _engrave_ the false stone in an
exactly similar manner to the other. _That_ could not help him in
producing the deception, for that he did not contemplate the stone
being _seen_, but only _heard_ in the cup, is proved by the fact that
he selected a stone of a different _colour_. This colour, as I shall
afterwards show you, was that of a pale, brown-spotted stone. But we
are met with something more extraordinary still when we come to the
last stone, the white one--I shall prove that it was white--which
Ul-Jabal placed in the cup. Is it possible that he had provided _two_
substitutes, and that he had engraved these _two_, without object, in
the same minutely careful manner? Your mind refuses to conceive it; and
_having_ done this, declines, in addition, to believe that he had
prepared even one substitute; and I am fully in accord with you in this
conclusion.

'We may say then that Ul-Jabal had not _prepared_ any substitute; and
it may be added that it was a thing altogether beyond the limits of the
probable that he could _by chance_ have possessed two old gems exactly
similar in every detail down to the very half-obliterated letters of
the word "Hasn-us-Sabah." I have now shown, you perceive, that he did
not make them purposely, and that he did not possess them accidentally.
Nor were they the baronet's, for we have his declaration that he had
never seen them before. Whence then did the Persian obtain them? That
point will immediately emerge into clearness, when we have sounded his
motive for replacing the one false stone by the other, and, above all,
for taking away the valueless stone, and then replacing it. And in
order to lead you up to the comprehension of this motive, I begin by
making the bold assertion that Ul-Jabal had not in his possession the
real St. Edmundsbury stone at all.

'You are surprised; for you argue that if we are to take the baronet's
evidence at all, we must take it in this particular also, and he
positively asserts that he saw the Persian take the stone. It is true
that there are indubitable signs of insanity in the document, but it is
the insanity of a diseased mind manifesting itself by fantastic
exaggeration of sentiment, rather than of a mind confiding to itself
its own delusions as to matters of fact. There is therefore nothing so
certain as that Ul-Jabal did steal the gem; but these two things are
equally evident: that by some means or other it very soon passed out of
his possession, and that when it had so passed, he, for his part,
believed it to be in the possession of the baronet. "Now," he cries in
triumph, one day as he catches Sir Jocelin in his room--"_now_ you have
delivered all into my hands." "All" what, Sir Jocelin wonders. "All,"
of course, meant the stone. He believes that the baronet has done
precisely what the baronet afterwards believes that _he_ has
done--hidden away the stone in the most secret of all places, in his
own apartment, to wit. The Persian, sure now at last of victory,
accordingly hastens into his chamber, and "locks the door," in order,
by an easy search, to secure his prize. When, moreover, the baronet is
examining the house at night with his lens, he believes that Ul-Jabal
is spying his movements; when he extends his operations to the park,
the other finds pretexts to be near him. Ul-Jabal dogs his footsteps
like a shadow. But supposing he had really had the jewel, and had
deposited it in a place of perfect safety--such as, with or without
lenses, the extensive grounds of the manor-house would certainly have
afforded--his more reasonable _rôle_ would have been that of
unconscious _nonchalance_, rather than of agonised interest. But, in
fact, he supposed the owner of the stone to be himself seeking a secure
hiding-place for it, and is resolved at all costs on knowing the
secret. And again in the vaults beneath the house Sir Jocelin reports
that Ul-Jabal "holds the lantern near the ground, with his head bent
down": can anything be better descriptive of the attitude of _search_?
Yet each is so sure that the other possesses the gem, that neither is
able to suspect that both are seekers.

'But, after all, there is far better evidence of the non-possession of
the stone by the Persian than all this--and that is the murder of the
baronet, for I can almost promise you that our messenger will return in
a few minutes. Now, it seems to me that Ul-Jabal was not really
murderous, averse rather to murder; thus the baronet is often in his
power, swoons in his arms, lies under the influence of narcotics in
semi-sleep while the Persian is in his room, and yet no injury is done
him. Still, when the clear necessity to murder--the clear means of
gaining the stone--presents itself to Ul-Jabal, he does not hesitate a
moment--indeed, he has already made elaborate preparations for that
very necessity. And when was it that this necessity presented itself?
It was when the baronet put the false stone in the pocket of a loose
gown for the purpose of confronting the Persian with it. But what kind
of pocket? I think you will agree with me, that male garments,
admitting of the designation "gown," have usually only outer
pockets--large, square pockets, simply sewed on to the outside of the
robe. But a stone of that size _must_ have made such a pocket bulge
outwards. Ul-Jabal must have noticed it. Never before has he been
perfectly sure that the baronet carried the long-desired gem about on
his body; but now at last he knows beyond all doubt. To obtain it,
there are several courses open to him: he may rush there and then on
the weak old man and tear the stone from him; he may ply him with
narcotics, and extract it from the pocket during sleep. But in these
there is a small chance of failure; there is a certainty of near or
ultimate detection, pursuit--and this is a land of Law, swift and
fairly sure. No, the old man must die: only thus--thus surely, and thus
secretly--can the outraged dignity of Hasn-us-Sabah be appeased. On the
very next day he leaves the house--no more shall the mistrustful
baronet, who is "hiding something from him," see his face. He carries
with him a small parcel. Let me tell you what was in that parcel: it
contained the baronet's fur cap, one of his "brown gowns," and a
snow-white beard and wig. Of the cap we can be sure; for from the fact
that, on leaving his room at midnight to follow the Persian through the
_house_, he put it on his head, I gather that he wore it habitually
during all his waking hours; yet after Ul-Jabal has left him he wanders
_far and wide_ "with uncovered head." Can you not picture the
distracted old man seeking ever and anon with absent mind for his
long-accustomed head-gear, and seeking in vain? Of the gown, too, we
may be equally certain: for it was the procuring of this that led
Ul-Jabal to the baronet's trunk; we now know that he did not go there
to _hide_ the stone, for he had it not to hide; nor to _seek_ it, for
he would be unable to believe the baronet childish enough to deposit it
in so obvious a place. As for the wig and beard, they had been
previously seen in his room. But before he leaves the house Ul-Jabal
has one more work to do: once more the two eat and drink together as in
"the old days of love"; once more the baronet is drunken with a deep
sleep, and when he wakes, his skin is "brown as the leaves of autumn."
That is the evidence of which I spake in the beginning as giving us a
hint of the exact shade of the Oriental's colour--it was the
yellowish-brown of a sered leaf. And now that the face of the baronet
has been smeared with this indelible pigment, all is ready for the
tragedy, and Ul-Jabal departs. He will return, but not immediately, for
he will at least give the eyes of his victim time to grow accustomed to
the change of colour in his face; nor will he tarry long, for there is
no telling whether, or whither, the stone may not disappear from that
outer pocket. I therefore surmise that the tragedy took place a day or
two ago. I remembered the feebleness of the old man, his highly
neurotic condition; I thought of those "fibrillary twitchings,"
indicating the onset of a well-known nervous disorder sure to end in
sudden death; I recalled his belief that on account of the loss of the
stone, in which he felt his life bound up, the chariot of death was
urgent on his footsteps; I bore in mind his memory of his grandfather
dying in agony just seventy years ago after seeing his own wraith by
the churchyard-wall; I knew that such a man could not be struck by the
sudden, the terrific shock of seeing _himself_ sitting in the chair
before the mirror (the chair, you remember, had been _placed_ there by
Ul-Jabal) without dropping down stone dead on the spot. I was thus able
to predict the manner and place of the baronet's death--if he _be_
dead. Beside him, I said, would probably be found a white stone. For
Ul-Jabal, his ghastly impersonation ended, would hurry to the pocket,
snatch out the stone, and finding it not the stone he sought, would in
all likelihood dash it down, fly away from the corpse as if from
plague, and, I hope, straightway go and--hang himself.'

It was at this point that the black mask of Ham framed itself between
the python-skin tapestries of the doorway. I tore from him the paper,
now two days old, which he held in his hand, and under the heading,
'Sudden death of a Baronet,' read a nearly exact account of the facts
which Zaleski had been detailing to me.

'I can see by your face that I was not altogether at fault,' he said,
with one of his musical laughs; 'but there still remains for us to
discover whence Ul-Jabal obtained his two substitutes, his motive for
exchanging one for the other, and for stealing the valueless gem; but,
above all, we must find where the real stone was all the time that
these two men so sedulously sought it, and where it now is. Now, let us
turn our attention to this stone, and ask, first, what light does the
inscription on the cup throw on its nature? The inscription assures us
that if "this stone be stolen," or if it "chaunges dre," the House of
Saul and its head "anoon" (i.e. anon, at once) shall die. "Dre," I may
remind you, is an old English word, used, I think, by Burns, identical
with the Saxon "_dreogan_," meaning to "suffer." So that the writer at
least contemplated that the stone might "suffer changes." But what kind
of changes--external or internal? External change--change of
environment--is already provided for when he says, "shulde this Ston
stalen bee"; "chaunges," therefore, in _his_ mind, meant internal
changes. But is such a thing possible for any precious stone, and for
this one in particular? As to that, we might answer when we know the
name of this one. It nowhere appears in the manuscript, and yet it is
immediately discoverable. For it was a "sky-blue" stone; a sky-blue,
sacred stone; a sky-blue, sacred, Persian stone. That at once gives us
its name--it was a _turquoise_. But can the turquoise, to the certain
knowledge of a mediaeval writer, "chaunges dre"? Let us turn for light
to old Anselm de Boot: that is he in pig-skin on the shelf behind the
bronze Hera.'

I handed the volume to Zaleski. He pointed to a passage which read as
follows:

'Assuredly the turquoise doth possess a soul more intelligent than that
of man. But we cannot be wholly sure of the presence of Angels in
precious stones. I do rather opine that the evil spirit doth take up
his abode therein, transforming himself into an angel of light, to the
end that we put our trust not in God, but in the precious stone; and
thus, perhaps, doth he deceive our spirits by the turquoise: for the
turquoise is of two sorts: those which keep their colour, and those
which lose it.'[1]

[Footnote 1: 'Assurément la turquoise a une âme plus intelligente que
l'âme de l'homme. Mais nous ne pouvons rien establir de certain
touchant la presence des Anges dans les pierres precieuses. Mon
jugement seroit plustot que le mauvais esprit, qui se transforme en
Ange de lumiere se loge dans les pierres precieuses, à fin que l'on ne
recoure pas à Dieu, mais que l'on repose sa creance dans la pierre
precieuse; ainsi, peut-être, il deçoit nos esprits par la turquoise:
car la turquoise est de deux sortes, les unes qui conservent leur
couleur et les autres qui la perdent.' _Anselm de Boot_, Book II.]

'You thus see,' resumed Zaleski, 'that the turquoise was believed to
have the property of changing its colour--a change which was
universally supposed to indicate the fading away and death of its
owner. The good De Boot, alas, believed this to be a property of too
many other stones beside, like the Hebrews in respect of their urim and
thummim; but in the case of the turquoise, at least, it is a
well-authenticated natural phenomenon, and I have myself seen such a
specimen. In some cases the change is a gradual process; in others it
may occur suddenly within an hour, especially when the gem, long kept
in the dark, is exposed to brilliant sunshine. I should say, however,
that in this metamorphosis there is always an intermediate stage: the
stone first changes from blue to a pale colour spotted with brown, and,
lastly, to a pure white. Thus, Ul-Jabal having stolen the stone, finds
that it is of the wrong colour, and soon after replaces it; he supposes
that in the darkness he has selected the wrong chalice, and so takes
the valueless stone from the other. This, too, he replaces, and,
infinitely puzzled, makes yet another hopeless trial of the Edmundsbury
chalice, and, again baffled, again replaces it, concluding now that the
baronet has suspected his designs, and substituted a false stone for
the real one. But after this last replacement, the stone assumes its
final hue of white, and thus the baronet is led to think that two
stones have been substituted by Ul-Jabal for his own invaluable gem.
All this while the gem was lying serenely in its place in the chalice.
And thus it came to pass that in the Manor-house of Saul there arose a
somewhat considerable Ado about Nothing.'

For a moment Zaleski paused; then, turning round and laying his hand on
the brown forehead of the mummy by his side, he said:

'My friend here could tell you, and he would, a fine tale of the
immensely important part which jewels in all ages have played in human
history, human religions, institutions, ideas. He flourished some five
centuries before the Messiah, was a Memphian priest of Amsu, and, as
the hieroglyphics on his coffin assure me, a prime favourite with one
Queen Amyntas. Beneath these mouldering swaddlings of the grave a great
ruby still cherishes its blood-guilty secret on the forefinger of his
right hand. Most curious is it to reflect how in _all_ lands, and at
_all_ times, precious minerals have been endowed by men with mystic
virtues. The Persians, for instance, believed that spinelle and the
garnet were harbingers of joy. Have you read the ancient Bishop of
Rennes on the subject? Really, I almost think there must be some truth
in all this. The instinct of universal man is rarely far at fault.
Already you have a semi-comic "gold-cure" for alcoholism, and you have
heard of the geophagism of certain African tribes. What if the
scientist of the future be destined to discover that the diamond, and
it alone, is a specific for cholera, that powdered rubellite cures
fever, and the chryso-beryl gout? It would be in exact conformity with
what I have hitherto observed of a general trend towards a certain
inborn perverseness and whimsicality in Nature.'

_Note_.--As some proof of the fineness of intuition evidenced by
Zaleski, as distinct from his more conspicuous powers of reasoning, I
may here state that some years after the occurrence of the tragedy I
have recorded above, the skeleton of a man was discovered in the vaults
of the Manor-house of Saul. I have not the least doubt that it was the
skeleton of Ul-Jabal. The teeth were very prominent. A rotten rope was
found loosely knotted round the vertebrae of his neck.



THE S.S.

'Wohlgeborne, gesunde Kinder bringen viel mit....

'Wenn die Natur verabscheut, so spricht sie es laut aus: das Geschöpf,
das falsch lebt, wird früh zerstört. Unfruchtbarkeit, kümmerliches
Dasein, frühzeitiges Zerfallen, das sind ihre Flüche, die Kennzeichen
ihrer Strenge.' GOETHE. [Footnote: 'Well-made, healthy children bring
much into the world along with them....

'When Nature abhors, she speaks it aloud: the creature that lives with
a false life is soon destroyed. Unfruitfulness, painful existence,
early destruction, these are her curses, the tokens of her
displeasure.']

[Greek: Argos de andron echaerothae outo, oste oi douloi auton eschon
panta ta praegmata, archontes te kai diepontes, es ho epaebaesan hoi
ton apolomenon paides.] HERODOTUS. [Footnote: 'And Argos was so
depleted of Men (i.e. _after the battle with Cleomenes_) that the
slaves usurped everything--ruling and disposing--until such time as the
sons of the slain were grown up.']

To say that there are epidemics of suicide is to give expression to
what is now a mere commonplace of knowledge. And so far are they from
being of rare occurrence, that it has even been affirmed that every
sensational case of _felo de se_ published in the newspapers is sure to
be followed by some others more obscure: their frequency, indeed, is
out of all proportion with the _extent_ of each particular outbreak.
Sometimes, however, especially in villages and small townships, the
wildfire madness becomes an all-involving passion, emulating in its
fury the great plagues of history. Of such kind was the craze in
Versailles in 1793, when about a quarter of the whole population
perished by the scourge; while that at the _Hôtel des Invalides_ in
Paris was only a notable one of the many which have occurred during the
present century. At such times it is as if the optic nerve of the mind
throughout whole communities became distorted, till in the noseless and
black-robed Reaper it discerned an angel of very loveliness. As a
brimming maiden, out-worn by her virginity, yields half-fainting to the
dear sick stress of her desire--with just such faintings, wanton fires,
does the soul, over-taxed by the continence of living, yield voluntary
to the grave, and adulterously make of Death its paramour.

   'When she sees a bank
   Stuck full of flowers, she, with a sigh, will tell
   Her servants, what a pretty place it were
   To bury lovers in; and make her maids
   Pluck 'em, and strew her over like a corse.'

[Footnote: Beaumont and Fletcher: _The Maid's Tragedy_.]

The _mode_ spreads--then rushes into rage: to breathe is to be
obsolete: to wear the shroud becomes _comme il faut_, this cerecloth
acquiring all the attractiveness and _éclat_ of a wedding-garment. The
coffin is not too strait for lawless nuptial bed; and the sweet clods
of the valley will prove no barren bridegroom of a writhing progeny.
There is, however, nothing specially mysterious in the operation of a
pestilence of this nature: it is as conceivable, if not yet as
explicable, as the contagion of cholera, mind being at least as
sensitive to the touch of mind as body to that of body.

It was during the ever-memorable outbreak of this obscure malady in the
year 1875 that I ventured to break in on the calm of that deep Silence
in which, as in a mantle, my friend Prince Zaleski had wrapped himself.
I wrote, in fact, to ask him what he thought of the epidemic. His
answer was in the laconic words addressed to the Master in the house of
woe at Bethany:

'Come and see.'

To this, however, he added in postscript: 'but what epidemic?'

I had momentarily lost sight of the fact that Zaleski had so absolutely
cut himself off from the world, that he was not in the least likely to
know anything even of the appalling series of events to which I had
referred. And yet it is no exaggeration to say that those events had
thrown the greater part of Europe into a state of consternation, and
even confusion. In London, Manchester, Paris, and Berlin, especially
the excitement was intense. On the Sunday preceding the writing of my
note to Zaleski, I was present at a monster demonstration held in Hyde
Park, in which the Government was held up on all hands to the popular
derision and censure--for it will be remembered that to many minds the
mysterious accompaniments of some of the deaths daily occurring
conveyed a still darker significance than that implied in mere
self-destruction, and seemed to point to a succession of purposeless
and hideous murders. The demagogues, I must say, spoke with some
wildness and incoherence. Many laid the blame at the door of the
police, and urged that things would be different were they but placed
under municipal, instead of under imperial, control. A thousand
panaceas were invented, a thousand aimless censures passed. But the
people listened with vacant ear. Never have I seen the populace so
agitated, and yet so subdued, as with the sense of some impending doom.
The glittering eye betrayed the excitement, the pallor of the cheek the
doubt, the haunting _fear_. None felt himself quite safe; men
recognised shuddering the grin of death in the air. To tingle with
affright, and to know not why--that is the transcendentalism of terror.
The threat of the cannon's mouth is trivial in its effect on the mind
in comparison with the menace of a Shadow. It is the pestilence that
walketh _by night_ that is intolerable. As for myself, I confess to
being pervaded with a nameless and numbing awe during all those weeks.
And this feeling appeared to be general in the land. The journals had
but one topic; the party organs threw politics to the winds. I heard
that on the Stock Exchange, as in the Paris _Bourse_, business
decreased to a minimum. In Parliament the work of law-threshing
practically ceased, and the time of Ministers was nightly spent in
answering volumes of angry 'Questions,' and in facing motion after
motion for the 'adjournment' of the House.

It was in the midst of all this commotion that I received Prince
Zaleski's brief 'Come and see.' I was flattered and pleased: flattered,
because I suspected that to me alone, of all men, would such an
invitation, coming from him, be addressed; and pleased, because many a
time in the midst of the noisy city street and the garish, dusty world,
had the thought of that vast mansion, that dim and silent chamber,
flooded my mind with a drowsy sense of the romantic, till, from very
excess of melancholy sweetness in the picture, I was fain to close my
eyes. I avow that that lonesome room--gloomy in its lunar bath of soft
perfumed light--shrouded in the sullen voluptuousness of plushy,
narcotic-breathing draperies--pervaded by the mysterious spirit of its
brooding occupant--grew more and more on my fantasy, till the
remembrance had for me all the cool refreshment shed by a
midsummer-night's dream in the dewy deeps of some Perrhoebian grove of
cornel and lotos and ruby stars of the asphodel. It was, therefore, in
all haste that I set out to share for a time in the solitude of my
friend.

Zaleski's reception of me was most cordial; immediately on my entrance
into his sanctum he broke into a perfect torrent of wild, enthusiastic
words, telling me with a kind of rapture, that he was just then
laboriously engaged in co-ordinating to one of the calculi certain new
properties he had discovered in the parabola, adding with infinite
gusto his 'firm' belief that the ancient Assyrians were acquainted with
all our modern notions respecting the parabola itself, the projection
of bodies in general, and of the heavenly bodies in particular; and
must, moreover, from certain inferences of his own in connection with
the Winged Circle, have been conversant with the fact that light is not
an ether, but only the vibration of an ether. He then galloped on to
suggest that I should at once take part with him in his investigations,
and commented on the timeliness of my visit. I, on my part, was anxious
for his opinion on other and far weightier matters than the concerns of
the Assyrians, and intimated as much to him. But for two days he was
firm in his tacit refusal to listen to my story; and, concluding that
he was disinclined to undergo the agony of unrest with which he was
always tormented by any mystery which momentarily baffled him, I was,
of course, forced to hold my peace. On the third day, however, of his
own accord he asked me to what epidemic I had referred. I then detailed
to him some of the strange events which were agitating the mind of the
outside world. From the very first he was interested: later on that
interest grew into a passion, a greedy soul-consuming quest after the
truth, the intensity of which was such at last as to move me even to
pity.

I may as well here restate the facts as I communicated them to Zaleski.
The concatenation of incidents, it will be remembered, started with the
extraordinary death of that eminent man of science, Professor
Schleschinger, consulting laryngologist to the Charité Hospital in
Berlin. The professor, a man of great age, was on the point of
contracting his third marriage with the beautiful and accomplished
daughter of the Herr Geheimrath Otto von Friedrich. The contemplated
union, which was entirely one of those _mariages de convenance_ so
common in good society, sprang out of the professor's ardent desire to
leave behind him a direct heir to his very considerable wealth. By his
first two marriages, indeed, he had had large families, and was at this
very time surrounded by quite an army of little grandchildren, from
whom (all his direct descendants being dead) he might have been content
to select his heir; but the old German prejudices in these matters are
strong, and he still hoped to be represented on his decease by a son of
his own. To this whim the charming Ottilie was marked by her parents as
the victim. The wedding, however, had been postponed owing to a slight
illness of the veteran scientist, and just as he was on the point of
final recovery from it, death intervened to prevent altogether the
execution of his design. Never did death of man create a profounder
sensation; _never was death of man followed by consequences more
terrible_. The _Residenz_ of the scientist was a stately mansion near
the University in the _Unter den Linden_ boulevard, that is to say, in
the most fashionable _Quartier_ of Berlin. His bedroom from a
considerable height looked out on a small back garden, and in this room
he had been engaged in conversation with his colleague and medical
attendant, Dr. Johann Hofmeier, to a late hour of the night. During all
this time he seemed cheerful, and spoke quite lucidly on various
topics. In particular, he exhibited to his colleague a curious strip of
what looked like ancient papyrus, on which were traced certain
grotesque and apparently meaningless figures. This, he said, he had
found some days before on the bed of a poor woman in one of the
horribly low quarters that surround Berlin, on whom he had had occasion
to make a _post-mortem_ examination. The woman had suffered from
partial paralysis. She had a small young family, none of whom, however,
could give any account of the slip, except one little girl, who
declared that she had taken it 'from her mother's mouth' after death.
The slip was soiled, and had a fragrant smell, as though it had been
smeared with honey. The professor added that all through his illness he
had been employing himself by examining these figures. He was
convinced, he said, that they contained some archaeological
significance; but, in any case, he ceased not to ask himself how came a
slip of papyrus to be found in such a situation,--on the bed of a dead
Berlinerin of the poorest class? The story of its being taken from the
_mouth_ of the woman was, of course, unbelievable. The whole incident
seemed to puzzle, while it amused him; seemed to appeal to the
instinct--so strong in him--to investigate, to probe. For days, he
declared, he had been endeavouring, in vain, to make anything of the
figures. Dr. Hofmeier, too, examined the slip, but inclined to believe
that the figures--rude and uncouth as they were--were only such as
might be drawn by any school-boy in an idle moment. They consisted
merely of a man and a woman seated on a bench, with what looked like an
ornamental border running round them. After a pleasant evening's
scientific gossip, Dr. Hofmeier, a little after midnight, took his
departure from the bed-side. An hour later the servants were roused
from sleep by one deep, raucous cry proceeding from the professor's
room. They hastened to his door; it was locked on the inside; all was
still within. No answer coming to their calls, the door was broken in.
They found their master lying calm and dead on his bed. A window of the
room was open, but there was nothing to show that any one had entered
it. Dr. Hofmeier was sent for, and was soon on the scene. After
examining the body, he failed to find anything to account for the
sudden demise of his old friend and chief. One observation, however,
had the effect of causing him to tingle with horror. On his entrance he
had noticed, lying on the side of the bed, the piece of papyrus with
which the professor had been toying in the earlier part of the day, and
had removed it. But, as he was on the point of leaving the room, he
happened to approach the corpse once more, and bending over it, noticed
that the lips and teeth were slightly parted. Drawing open the now
stiffened jaws, he found--to his amazement, to his stupefaction--that,
neatly folded beneath the dead tongue, lay just such another piece of
papyrus as that which he had removed from the bed. He drew it out--it
was clammy. He put it to his nose,--it exhaled the fragrance of honey.
He opened it,--it was covered by figures. He compared them with the
figures on the other slip,--they were just so similar as two
draughtsmen hastily copying from a common model would make them. The
doctor was unnerved: he hurried homeward, and immediately submitted the
honey on the papyrus to a rigorous chemical analysis: he suspected
poison--a subtle poison--as the means of a suicide, grotesquely,
insanely accomplished. He found the fluid to be perfectly
innocuous,--pure honey, and nothing more.

The next day Germany thrilled with the news that Professor
Schleschinger had destroyed himself. For suicide, however, some of the
papers substituted murder, though of neither was there an atom of
actual proof. On the day following, three persons died by their own
hands in Berlin, of whom two were young members of the medical
profession; on the day following that, the number rose to nineteen,
Hamburg, Dresden, and Aachen joining in the frenzied death-dance;
within three weeks from the night on which Professor Schleschinger met
his unaccountable end, eight thousand persons in Germany, France, and
Great Britain, died in that startlingly sudden and secret manner which
we call 'tragic', many of them obviously by their own hands, many, in
what seemed the servility of a fatal imitativeness, with figured,
honey-smeared slips of papyrus beneath their tongues. Even now--now,
after years--I thrill intensely to recall the dread remembrance; but to
live through it, to breathe daily the mawkish, miasmatic atmosphere,
all vapid with the suffocating death--ah, it was terror too deep,
nausea too foul, for mortal bearing. Novalis has somewhere hinted at
the possibility (or the desirability) of a simultaneous suicide and
voluntary return by the whole human family into the sweet bosom of our
ancient Father--I half expected it was coming, had come, _then_. It was
as if the old, good-easy, meek-eyed man of science, dying, had left his
effectual curse on all the world, and had thereby converted
civilisation into one omnivorous grave, one universal charnel-house. I
spent several days in reading out to Zaleski accounts of particular
deaths as they had occurred. He seemed never to tire of listening,
lying back for the most part on the silver-cushioned couch, and wearing
an inscrutable mask. Sometimes he rose and paced the carpet with
noiseless foot-fall, his steps increasing to the swaying, uneven
velocity of an animal in confinement as a passage here or there
attracted him, and then subsiding into their slow regularity again. At
any interruption in the reading, he would instantly turn to me with a
certain impatience, and implore me to proceed; and when our stock of
matter failed, he broke out into actual anger that I had not brought
more with me. Henceforth the negro, Ham, using my trap, daily took a
double journey--one before sunrise, and one at dusk--to the nearest
townlet, from which he would return loaded with newspapers. With
unimaginable eagerness did both Zaleski and I seize, morning after
morning, and evening after evening, on these budgets, to gloat for long
hours over the ever-lengthening tale of death. As for him, sleep
forsook him. He was a man of small reasonableness, scorning the
limitations of human capacity; his palate brooked no meat when his
brain was headlong in the chase; even the mild narcotics which were now
his food and drink seemed to lose something of their power to mollify,
to curb him. Often rising from slumber in what I took to be the dead of
night--though of day or night there could be small certainty in that
dim dwelling--I would peep into the domed chamber, and see him there
under the livid-green light of the censer, the leaden smoke issuing
from his lips, his eyes fixed unweariedly on a square piece of ebony
which rested on the coffin of the mummy near him. On this ebony he had
pasted side by side several woodcuts--snipped from the newspapers--of
the figures traced on the pieces of papyrus found in the mouths of the
dead. I could see, as time passed, that he was concentrating all his
powers on these figures; for the details of the deaths themselves were
all of a dreary sameness, offering few salient points for
investigation. In those cases where the suicide had left behind him
clear evidence of the means by which he had committed the act, there
was nothing to investigate; the others--rich and poor alike, peer and
peasant--trooped out by thousands on the far journey, without leaving
the faintest footprint to mark the road by which they had gone.

This was perhaps the reason that, after a time, Zaleski discarded the
newspapers, leaving their perusal to me, and turned his attention
exclusively to the ebon tablet. Knowing as I full well did the daring
and success of his past spiritual adventures,--the subtlety, the
imagination, the imperial grip of his intellect,--I did not at all
doubt that his choice was wise, and would in the end be justified.
These woodcuts--now so notorious--were all exactly similar in design,
though minutely differing here and there in drawing. The following is a
facsimile of one of them taken by me at random:

[Illustration]

The time passed. It now began to be a grief to me to see the turgid
pallor that gradually overspread the always ashen countenance of
Zaleski; I grew to consider the ravaging life that glared and blazed in
his sunken eye as too volcanic, demonic, to be canny: the mystery, I
decided at last--if mystery there were--was too deep, too dark, for
him. Hence perhaps it was, that I now absented myself more and more
from him in the adjoining room in which I slept. There one day I sat
reading over the latest list of horrors, when I heard a loud cry from
the vaulted chamber. I rushed to the door and beheld him standing,
gazing with wild eyes at the ebon tablet held straight out in front of
him.

'By Heaven!' he cried, stamping savagely with his foot. 'By Heaven!
Then I certainly _am_ a fool! _It is the staff of Phaebus in the hand
of Hermes!'_

I hastened to him. 'Tell me,' I said, 'have you discovered anything?'

'It is possible.'

'And has there really been foul play--murder--in any of these deaths?'

'Of that, at least, I was certain from the first.'

'Great God!' I exclaimed, 'could any son of man so convert himself into
a fiend, a beast of the wilderness....'

'You judge precisely in the manner of the multitude,' he answered
somewhat petulantly. 'Illegal murder is always a mistake, but not
necessarily a crime. Remember Corday. But in cases where the murder of
one is really fiendish, why is it qualitatively less fiendish than the
murder of many? On the other hand, had Brutus slain a thousand
Caesars--each act involving an additional exhibition of the sublimest
self-suppression--he might well have taken rank as a saint in heaven.'

Failing for the moment to see the drift or the connection of the
argument, I contented myself with waiting events. For the rest of that
day and the next Zaleski seemed to have dismissed the matter of the
tragedies from his mind, and entered calmly on his former studies. He
no longer consulted the news, or examined the figures on the tablet.
The papers, however, still arrived daily, and of these he soon
afterwards laid several before me, pointing, with a curious smile, to a
small paragraph in each. These all appeared in the advertisement
columns, were worded alike, and read as follows:

'A true son of Lycurgus, _having news_, desires to know the _time_ and
_place_ of the next meeting of his Phyle. Address Zaleski, at R----
Abbey, in the county of M----.'

I gazed in mute alternation at the advertisement and at him. I may here
stop to make mention of a very remarkable sensation which my
association with him occasionally produced in me. I felt it with
intense, with unpleasant, with irritating keenness at this moment. It
was the sensation of being borne aloft--aloft--by a force external to
myself--such a sensation as might possibly tingle through an earthworm
when lifted into illimitable airy heights by the strongly-daring
pinions of an eagle. It was the feeling of being hurried out beyond
one's depth--caught and whiffed away by the all-compelling sweep of
some rabid vigour into a new, foreign element. Something akin I have
experienced in an 'express' as it raged with me--winged, rocking,
ecstatic, shrilling a dragon Aha!--round a too narrow curve. It was a
sensation very far from agreeable.

'To that,' he said, pointing to the paragraph, 'we may, I think,
shortly expect an answer. Let us only hope that when it comes it may be
immediately intelligible.'

We waited throughout the whole of that day and night, hiding our
eagerness under the pretence of absorption in our books. If by chance I
fell into an uneasy doze, I found him on waking ever watchful, and
poring over the great tome before him. About the time, however, when,
could we have seen it, the first grey of dawn must have been peeping
over the land, his impatience again became painful to witness; he rose
and paced the room, muttering occasionally to himself. This only
ceased, when, hours later, Ham entered the room with an envelope in his
hand. Zaleski seized it--tore it open--ran his eye over the
contents--and dashed it to the ground with an oath.

'Curse it!' he groaned. 'Ah, curse it! unintelligible--every syllable
of it!'

I picked up the missive and examined it. It was a slip of papyrus
covered with the design now so hideously familiar, except only that the
two central figures were wanting. At the bottom was written the date of
the 15th of November--it was then the morning of the 12th--and the name
'Morris.' The whole, therefore, presented the following appearance:

[Illustration]

My eyes were now heavy with sleep, every sense half-drunken with the
vapourlike atmosphere of the room, so that, having abandoned something
of hope, I tottered willingly to my bed, and fell into a profound
slumber, which lasted till what must have been the time of the
gathering in of the shades of night. I then rose. Missing Zaleski, I
sought through all the chambers for him. He was nowhere to be seen. The
negro informed me with an affectionate and anxious tremor in the voice
that his master had left the rooms some hours before, but had said
nothing to him. I ordered the man to descend and look into the sacristy
of the small chapel wherein I had deposited my _calèche_, and in the
field behind, where my horse should be. He returned with the news that
both had disappeared. Zaleski, I then concluded, had undoubtedly
departed on a journey.

I was deeply touched by the demeanour of Ham as the hours went by. He
wandered stealthily about the rooms like a lost being. It was like
matter sighing after, weeping over, spirit. Prince Zaleski had never
before withdrawn himself from the _surveillance_ of this sturdy
watchman, and his disappearance now was like a convulsion in their
little cosmos. Ham implored me repeatedly, if I could, to throw some
light on the meaning of this catastrophe. But I too was in the dark.
The Titanic frame of the Ethiopian trembled with emotion as in broken,
childish words he told me that he felt instinctively the approach of
some great danger to the person of his master. So a day passed away,
and then another. On the next he roused me from sleep to hand me a
letter which, on opening, I found to be from Zaleski. It was hastily
scribbled in pencil, dated 'London, Nov. 14th,' and ran thus:

'For my body--should I not return by Friday night--you will, no doubt,
be good enough to make search. _Descend_ the river, keeping constantly
to the left; consult the papyrus; and stop at the _Descensus Aesopi._
Seek diligently, and you will find. For the rest, you know my fancy for
cremation: take me, if you will, to the crematorium of _Père-Lachaise._
My whole fortune I decree to Ham, the Lybian.'

Ham was all for knowing the contents of this letter, but I refused to
communicate a word of it. I was dazed, I was more than ever perplexed,
I was appalled by the frenzy of Zaleski. Friday night! It was then
Thursday morning. And I was expected to wait through the dreary
interval uncertain, agonised, inactive! I was offended with my friend;
his conduct bore the interpretation of mental distraction. The leaden
hours passed all oppressively while I sought to appease the keenness of
my unrest with the anodyne of drugged sleep. On the next morning,
however, another letter--a rather massive one--reached me. The covering
was directed in the writing of Zaleski, but on it he had scribbled the
words: 'This need not be opened unless I fail to reappear before
Saturday.' I therefore laid the packet aside unread.

I waited all through Friday, resolved that at six o'clock, if nothing
happened, I should make some sort of effort. But from six I remained,
with eyes strained towards the doorway, until ten. I was so utterly at
a loss, my ingenuity was so entirely baffled by the situation, that I
could devise no course of action which did not immediately appear
absurd. But at midnight I sprang up--no longer would I endure the
carking suspense. I seized a taper, and passed through the door-way. I
had not proceeded far, however, when my light was extinguished. Then I
remembered with a shudder that I should have to pass through the whole
vast length of the building in order to gain an exit. It was an all but
hopeless task in the profound darkness to thread my way through the
labyrinth of halls and corridors, of tumble-down stairs, of bat-haunted
vaults, of purposeless angles and involutions; but I proceeded with
something of a blind obstinacy, groping my way with arms held out
before me. In this manner I had wandered on for perhaps a quarter of an
hour, when my fingers came into distinct momentary contact with what
felt like cold and humid human flesh. I shrank back, unnerved as I
already was, with a murmur of affright.

'Zaleski?' I whispered with bated breath.

Intently as I strained my ears, I could detect no reply. The hairs of
my head, catching terror from my fancies, erected themselves.

Again I advanced, and again I became aware of the sensation of contact.
With a quick movement I passed my hand upward and downward.

It was indeed he. He was half-reclining, half-standing against a wall
of the chamber: that he was not dead, I at once knew by his uneasy
breathing. Indeed, when, having chafed his hands for some time, I tried
to rouse him, he quickly recovered himself, and muttered: 'I fainted; I
want sleep--only sleep.' I bore him back to the lighted room, assisted
by Ham in the latter part of the journey. Ham's ecstasies were
infinite; he had hardly hoped to see his master's face again. His
garments being wet and soiled, the negro divested him of them, and
dressed him in a tightly-fitting scarlet robe of Babylonish pattern,
reaching to the feet, but leaving the lower neck and forearm bare, and
girt round the stomach by a broad gold-orphreyed _ceinture_. With all
the tenderness of a woman, the man stretched his master thus arrayed on
the couch. Here he kept an Argus guard while Zaleski, in one deep
unbroken slumber of a night and a day, reposed before him. When at last
the sleeper woke, in his eye,--full of divine instinct,--flitted the
wonted falchion-flash of the whetted, two-edged intellect; the secret,
austere, self-conscious smile of triumph curved his lip; not a trace of
pain or fatigue remained. After a substantial meal on nuts, autumn
fruits, and wine of Samos, he resumed his place on the couch; and I sat
by his side to hear the story of his wandering. He said:

'We have, Shiel, had before us a very remarkable series of murders, and
a very remarkable series of suicides. Were they in any way connected?
To this extent, I think--that the mysterious, the unparalleled nature
of the murders gave rise to a morbid condition in the public mind,
which in turn resulted in the epidemic of suicide. But though such an
epidemic has its origin in the instinct of imitation so common in men,
you must not suppose that the mental process is a _conscious_ one. A
person feels an impulse to go and do, and is not aware that at bottom
it is only an impulse to go and do _likewise_. He would indeed
repudiate such an assumption. Thus one man destroys himself, and
another imitates him--but whereas the former uses a pistol, the latter
uses a rope. It is rather absurd, therefore, to imagine that in any of
those cases in which the slip of papyrus has been found in the mouth
after death, the cause of death has been the slavish imitativeness of
the suicidal mania,--for this, as I say, is never _slavish._ The
papyrus then--quite apart from the unmistakable evidences of suicide
invariably left by each self-destroyer--affords us definite and certain
means by which we can distinguish the two classes of deaths; and we are
thus able to divide the total number into two nearly equal halves.

'But you start--you are troubled--you never heard or read of murder
such as this, the simultaneous murder of thousands over wide areas of
the face of the globe; here you feel is something outside your
experience, deeper than your profoundest imaginings. To the question
"by whom committed?" and "with what motive?" your mind can conceive no
possible answer. And yet the answer must be, "by man, and for human
motives,"--for the Angel of Death with flashing eye and flaming sword
is himself long dead; and again we can say at once, by no _one_ man,
but by many, a cohort, an army of men; and again, by no _common_ men,
but by men hellish (or heavenly) in cunning, in resource, in strength
and unity of purpose; men laughing to scorn the flimsy prophylactics of
society, separated by an infinity of self-confidence and spiritual
integrity from the ordinary easily-crushed criminal of our days.

'This much at least I was able to discover from the first; and
immediately I set myself to the detection of motive by a careful study
of each case. This, too, in due time, became clear to me,--but to
motive it may perhaps be more convenient to refer later on. What next
engaged my attention was the figures on the papyrus, and devoutly did I
hope that by their solution I might be able to arrive at some more
exact knowledge of the mystery.

'The figures round the border first attracted me, and the mere
_reading_ of them gave me very little trouble. But I was convinced that
behind their meaning thus read lay some deep esoteric significance; and
this, almost to the last, I was utterly unable to fathom. You perceive
that these border figures consist of waved lines of two different
lengths, drawings of snakes, triangles looking like the Greek delta,
and a heart-shaped object with a dot following it. These succeed one
another in a certain definite order on all the slips. What, I asked
myself, were these drawings meant to represent,--letters, numbers,
things, or abstractions? This I was the more readily able to determine
because I have often, in thinking over the shape of the Roman letter S,
wondered whether it did not owe its convolute form to an attempt on the
part of its inventor to make a picture of the _serpent;_ S being the
sibilant or hissing letter, and the serpent the hissing animal. This
view, I fancy (though I am not sure), has escaped the philologists, but
of course you know that all letters were originally _pictures of
things,_ and of what was S a picture, if not of the serpent? I
therefore assumed, by way of trial, that the snakes in the diagram
stood for a sibilant letter, that is, either C or S. And thence,
supposing this to be the case, I deduced: firstly, that all the other
figures stood for letters; and secondly, that they all appeared in the
form of pictures of the things of which those letters were originally
meant to be pictures. Thus the letter "m," one of the four "_liquid_"
consonants, is, as we now write it, only a shortened form of a waved
line; and as a waved line it was originally written, and was the
character by which _a stream of running water_ was represented in
writing; indeed it only owes its name to the fact that when the lips
are pressed together, and "m" uttered by a continuous effort, a certain
resemblance to the murmur of running water is produced. The longer
waved line in the diagram I therefore took to represent "m"; and it at
once followed that the shorter meant "n," for no two letters of the
commoner European alphabets differ only in length (as distinct from
shape) except "m" and "n", and "w" and "v"; indeed, just as the French
call "w" "double-ve," so very properly might "m" be called "double-en."
But, in this case, the longer not being "w," the shorter could not be
"v": it was therefore "n." And now there only remained the heart and
the triangle. I was unable to think of any letter that could ever have
been intended for the picture of a heart, but the triangle I knew to be
the letter #A.# This was originally written without the cross-bar from
prop to prop, and the two feet at the bottom of the props were not
separated as now, but joined; so that the letter formed a true
triangle. It was meant by the primitive man to be a picture of his
primitive house, this house being, of course, hut-shaped, and
consisting of a conical roof without walls. I had thus, with the
exception of the heart, disentangled the whole, which then (leaving a
space for the heart) read as follows:

     { ss
 'mn {    anan ... san.'
     { cc

But 'c' before 'a' being never a sibilant (except in some few so-called
'Romance' languages), but a guttural, it was for the moment discarded;
also as no word begins with the letters 'mn'--except 'mnemonics' and
its fellows--I concluded that a vowel must be omitted between these
letters, and thence that all vowels (except 'a') were omitted; again,
as the double 's' can never come after 'n' I saw that either a vowel
was omitted between the two 's's,' or that the first word ended after
the first 's.' Thus I got

'm ns sanan... san,'

or, supplying the now quite obvious vowels,

'mens sana in... sano.'

The heart I now knew represented the word 'corpore,' the Latin word for
'heart' being 'cor,' and the dot--showing that the word as it stood was
an abbreviation--conclusively proved every one of my deductions.

'So far all had gone flowingly. It was only when I came to consider the
central figures that for many days I spent my strength in vain. You
heard my exclamation of delight and astonishment when at last a ray of
light pierced the gloom. At no time, indeed, was I wholly in the dark
as to the _general_ significance of these figures, for I saw at once
their resemblance to the sepulchral reliefs of classical times. In case
you are not minutely acquainted with the _technique_ of these stones, I
may as well show you one, which I myself removed from an old grave in
Tarentum.'

He took from a niche a small piece of close-grained marble, about a
foot square, and laid it before me. On one side it was exquisitely
sculptured in relief.

'This,' he continued, 'is a typical example of the Greek grave-stone,
and having seen one specimen you may be said to have seen almost all,
for there is surprisingly little variety in the class. You will observe
that the scene represents a man reclining on a couch; in his hand he
holds a _patera,_ or dish, filled with grapes and pomegranates, and
beside him is a tripod bearing the viands from which he is banqueting.
At his feet sits a woman--for the Greek lady never reclined at table.
In addition to these two figures a horse's head, a dog, or a serpent
may sometimes be seen; and these forms comprise the almost invariable
pattern of all grave reliefs. Now, that this was the real model from
which the figures on the papyrus were taken I could not doubt, when I
considered the seemingly absurd fidelity with which in each murder the
papyrus, smeared with honey, was placed under the tongue of the victim.
I said to myself: it can only be that the assassins have bound
themselves to the observance of a strict and narrow ritual from which
no departure is under any circumstances permitted--perhaps for the sake
of signalling the course of events to others at a distance. But what
ritual? That question I was able to answer when I knew the answer to
these others,--why _under the tongue,_ and why _smeared with honey?_
For no reason, except that the Greeks (not the Romans till very late in
their history) always placed an _obolos,_ or penny, beneath the tongue
of the dead to pay his passage across the Stygian river of ghosts; for
no reason, except that to these same Greeks honey was a sacred fluid,
intimately associated in their minds with the mournful subject of
Death; a fluid with which the bodies of the deceased were anointed, and
sometimes--especially in Sparta and the Pelasgic South--embalmed; with
which libations were poured to Hermes Psuchopompos, conductor of the
dead to the regions of shade; with which offerings were made to all the
chthonic deities, and the souls of the departed in general. You
remember, for instance, the melancholy words of Helen addressed to
Hermione in _Orestes:_

 [Greek: _Kai labe choas tasd'en cheroin komas t'emas
 elthousa d'amphi ton Klutaimnaestras taphon
 melikrat'aphes galaktos oinopon t'achnaen._]

And so everywhere. The ritual then of the murderers was a _Greek_
ritual, their cult a Greek cult--preferably, perhaps, a South Greek
one, a Spartan one, for it was here that the highly conservative
peoples of that region clung longest and fondliest to this
semi-barbarous worship. This then being so, I was made all the more
certain of my conjecture that the central figures on the papyrus were
drawn from a Greek model.

'Here, however, I came to a standstill. I was infinitely puzzled by the
rod in the man's hand. In none of the Greek grave-reliefs does any such
thing as a rod make an appearance, except in one well-known example
where the god Hermes--generally represented as carrying the _caduceus_,
or staff, given him by Phoebus--appears leading a dead maiden to the
land of night. But in every other example of which I am aware the
sculpture represents a man _living_, not dead, banqueting _on earth_,
not in Hades, by the side of his living companion. What then could be
the significance of the staff in the hand of this living man? It was
only after days of the hardest struggle, the cruellest suspense, that
the thought flashed on me that the idea of Hermes leading away the dead
female might, in this case, have been carried one step farther; that
the male figure might be no living man, no man at all, but _Hermes
himself_ actually banqueting in Hades with the soul of his disembodied
_protégée_! The thought filled me with a rapture I cannot describe, and
you witnessed my excitement. But, at all events, I saw that this was a
truly tremendous departure from Greek art and thought, to which in
general the copyists seemed to cling so religiously. There must
therefore be a reason, a strong reason, for vandalism such as this. And
that, at any rate, it was no longer difficult to discover; for now I
knew that the male figure was no mortal, but a god, a spirit, a DAEMON
(in the Greek sense of the word); and the female figure I saw by the
marked shortness of her drapery to be no Athenian, but a Spartan; no
matron either, but a maiden, a lass, a LASSIE; and now I had forced on
me lassie daemon, _Lacedaemon._

'This then was the badge, the so carefully-buried badge, of this
society of men. The only thing which still puzzled and confounded me at
this stage was the startling circumstance that a _Greek_ society should
make use of a _Latin_ motto. It was clear that either all my
conclusions were totally wrong, or else the motto _mens sana in corpore
sano_ contained wrapped up in itself some acroamatic meaning which I
found myself unable to penetrate, and which the authors had found no
Greek motto capable of conveying. But at any rate, having found this
much, my knowledge led me of itself one step further; for I perceived
that, widely extended as were their operations, the society was
necessarily in the main an _English,_ or at least an English-speaking
one--for of this the word "lassie" was plainly indicative: it was easy
now to conjecture London, the monster-city in which all things lose
themselves, as their head-quarters; and at this point in my
investigations I despatched to the papers the advertisement you have
seen.'

'But,' I exclaimed, 'even now I utterly fail to see by what mysterious
processes of thought you arrived at the wording of the advertisement;
even now it conveys no meaning to my mind.'

'That,' he replied,' will grow clear when we come to a right
understanding of the baleful _motive_ which inspired these men. I have
already said that I was not long in discovering it. There was only one
possible method of doing so--and that was, by all means, by any means,
to find out some condition or other common to every one of the victims
before death. It is true that I was unable to do this in some few
cases, but where I failed, I was convinced that my failure was due to
the insufficiency of the evidence at my disposal, rather than to the
actual absence of the condition. Now, let us take almost any two cases
you will, and seek for this common condition: let us take, for example,
the first two that attracted the attention of the world--the poor woman
of the slums of Berlin, and the celebrated man of science. Separated by
as wide an interval as they are, we shall yet find, if we look closely,
in each case the same pathetic tokens of the still uneliminated
_striae_ of our poor humanity. The woman is not an old woman, for she
has a "small young" family, which, had she lived, might have been
increased: notwithstanding which, she has suffered from hemiplegia,
"partial paralysis." The professor, too, has had not one, but two,
large families, and an "army of grand-children": but note well the
startling, the hideous fact, that _every one of his children is dead!_
The crude grave has gaped before the cock to suck in _every one_ of
those shrunk forms, so indigent of vital impulse, so pauper of civism,
lust, so draughty, so vague, so lean--but not before they have had time
to dower with the ah and wo of their infirmity a whole wretched "army
of grand-children." And yet this man of wisdom is on the point, in his
old age, of marrying once again, of producing for the good of his race
still more of this poor human stuff. You see the lurid significance,
the point of resemblance,--you see it? And, O heaven, is it not too
sad? For me, I tell you, the whole business has a tragic pitifulness
too deep for words. But this brings me to the discussion of a large
matter. It would, for instance, be interesting to me to hear what you,
a modern European, saturated with all the notions of your little day,
what _you_ consider the supreme, the all-important question for the
nations of Europe at this moment. Am I far wrong in assuming that you
would rattle off half a dozen of the moot points agitating rival
factions in your own land, select one of them, and call that "the
question of the hour"? I wish I could see as you see; I wish to God I
did not see deeper. In order to lead you to my point, what, let me ask
you, what _precisely_ was it that ruined the old nations--that brought,
say Rome, to her knees at last? Centralisation, you say, top-heavy
imperialism, dilettante pessimism, the love of luxury. At bottom,
believe me, it was not one of these high-sounding things--it was simply
War; the sum total of the battles of centuries. But let me explain
myself: this is a novel view to you, and you are perhaps unable to
conceive how or why war was so fatal to the old world, because you see
how little harmful it is to the new. If you collected in a promiscuous
way a few millions of modern Englishmen and slew them all
simultaneously, what, think you, would be the effect from the point of
view of the State? The effect, I conceive, would be indefinitely small,
wonderfully transitory; there would, of course, be a momentary lacuna
in the boiling surge: yet the womb of humanity is full of sap, and
uberant; Ocean-tide, wooed of that Ilithyia whose breasts are many,
would flow on, and the void would soon be filled. But the effect would
only be thus insignificant, if, as I said, your millions were taken
promiscuously (as in the modern army), not if they were _picked_
men----in _that_ case the loss (or gain) would be excessive, and
permanent for all time. Now, the war-hosts of the ancient
commonwealths--not dependent on the mechanical contrivances of the
modern army--were necessarily composed of the very best men: the
strong-boned, the heart-stout, the sound in wind and limb. Under these
conditions the State shuddered through all her frame, thrilled adown
every filament, at the death of a single one of her sons in the field.
As only the feeble, the aged, bided at home, their number after each
battle became larger _in proportion to the whole_ than before. Thus the
nation, more and more, with ever-increasing rapidity, declined in
bodily, and of course spiritual, quality, until the _end_ was reached,
and Nature swallowed up the weaklings whole; and thus war, which to the
modern state is at worst the blockhead and indecent _affaires
d'honneur_ of persons in office--and which, surely, before you and I
die will cease altogether--was to the ancient a genuine and
remorselessly fatal scourge.

'And now let me apply these facts to the Europe of our own time. We no
longer have world-serious war--but in its place we have a scourge, the
effect of which on the modern state is _precisely the same_ as the
effect of war on the ancient, only,--in the end,--far more destructive,
far more subtle, sure, horrible, disgusting. The name of this
pestilence is Medical Science. Yes, it is most true, shudder
--shudder--as you will! Man's best friend turns to an asp in his
bosom to sting him to the basest of deaths. The devastating growth of
medical, and especially surgical, science--that, if you like, for us
all, is "the question of the hour!" And what a question! of what
surpassing importance, in the presence of which all other "questions"
whatever dwindle into mere academic triviality. For just as the ancient
State was wounded to the heart through the death of her healthy sons in
the field, just so slowly, just so silently, is the modern receiving
deadly hurt by the botching and tinkering of her unhealthy children.
The net result is in each case the same--the altered ratio of the total
amount of reproductive health to the total amount of reproductive
disease. They recklessly spent their best; we sedulously conserve our
worst; and as they pined and died of anaemia, so we, unless we repent,
must perish in a paroxysm of black-blood apoplexy. And this prospect
becomes more certain, when you reflect that the physician as we know
him is not, like other men and things, a being of gradual growth, of
slow evolution: from Adam to the middle of the last century the world
saw nothing even in the least resembling him. No son of Paian _he_, but
a fatherless, full-grown birth from the incessant matrix of Modern
Time, so motherly of monstrous litters of "Gorgon and Hydra and
Chimaeras dire"; you will understand what I mean when you consider the
quite recent date of, say, the introduction of anaesthetics or
antiseptics, the discovery of the knee-jerk, bacteriology, or even of
such a doctrine as the circulation of the blood. We are at this very
time, if I mistake not, on the verge of new insights which will enable
man to laugh at disease--laugh at it in the sense of over-ruling its
natural tendency to produce death, not by any means in the sense of
destroying its ever-expanding _existence_. Do you know that at this
moment your hospitals are crammed with beings in human likeness
suffering from a thousand obscure and subtly-ineradicable ills, all of
whom, if left alone, would die almost at once, but ninety in the
hundred of whom will, as it is, be sent forth "cured," like
missionaries of hell, and the horrent shapes of Night and Acheron, to
mingle in the pure river of humanity the poison-taint of their protean
vileness? Do you know that in your schools one-quarter of the children
are already purblind? Have you gauged the importance of your tremendous
consumption of quack catholicons, of the fortunes derived from their
sale, of the spread of modern nervous disorders, of toothless youth and
thrice loathsome age among the helot-classes? Do you know that in the
course of my late journey to London, I walked from Piccadilly Circus to
Hyde Park Corner, during which time I observed some five hundred
people, of whom twenty-seven only were perfectly healthy, well-formed
men, and eighteen healthy, beautiful women? On every hand--with a
thrill of intensest joy, I say it!--is to be seen, if not yet
commencing civilisation, then progress, progress--wide as the
world--toward it: only here--at the heart--is there decadence, fatty
degeneration. Brain-evolution--and favouring airs--and the ripening
time--and the silent Will of God, of God--all these in conspiracy seem
to be behind, urging the whole ship's company of us to some undreamable
luxury of glory--when lo, this check, artificial, evitable. Less death,
more disease--that is the sad, the unnatural record; children
especially--so sensitive to the physician's art--living on by hundreds
of thousands, bearing within them the germs of wide-spreading sorrow,
who in former times would have died. And if you consider that the
proper function of the doctor is the strictly limited one of curing the
curable, rather than of self-gloriously perpetuating the incurable, you
may find it difficult to give a quite rational answer to this simple
question: _why?_ Nothing is so sure as that to the unit it is a
cruelty; nothing so certain as that to humanity it is a wrong; to say
that such and such an one was sent by the All Wise, and must
_therefore_ be not merely permitted, but elaborately coaxed and forced,
to live, is to utter a blasphemy against Man at which even the ribald
tongue of a priest might falter; and as a matter of fact, society, in
just contempt for this species of argument, never hesitates to hang,
for its own imagined good, its heaven-sent catholics, protestants,
sheep, sheep-stealers, etc. What then, you ask, would I do with these
unholy ones? To save the State would I pierce them with a sword, or
leave them to the slow throes of their agonies? Ah, do not expect me to
answer that question--I do not know what to answer. The whole spirit of
the present is one of a broad and beautiful, if quite thoughtless,
humanism, and I, a child of the present, cannot but be borne along by
it, coerced into sympathy with it. "Beautiful" I say: for if anywhere
in the world you have seen a sight more beautiful than a group of
hospital _savants_ bending with endless scrupulousness over a little
pauper child, concentering upon its frailty the whole human skill and
wisdom of ages, so have not I. Here have you the full realisation of a
parable diviner than that of the man who went down from Jerusalem to
Jericho. Beautiful then; with at least surface beauty, like the serpent
_lachesis mutus_; but, like many beautiful things, deadly too,
_in_human. And, on the whole, an answer will have to be found. As for
me, it is a doubt which has often agitated me, whether the central
dogma of Judaism and Christianity alike can, after all, be really one
of the inner verities of this our earthly being--the dogma, that by the
shedding of the innocent blood, and by that alone, shall the race of
man find cleansing and salvation. Will no agony of reluctance overcome
the necessity that one man die, "so that the whole people perish not"?
Can it be true that by nothing less than the "three days of pestilence"
shall the land be purged of its stain, and is this old divine
alternative about to confront us in new, modern form? Does the
inscrutable Artemis indeed demand offerings of human blood to suage her
anger? Most sad that man should ever need, should ever have needed, to
foul his hand in the [Greek: musaron aima] of his own veins! But what
is, is. And can it be fated that the most advanced civilisation of the
future shall needs have in it, as the first and chief element of its
glory, the most barbarous of all the rituals of barbarism--the
immolation of hecatombs which wail a muling human wail? Is it indeed
part of man's strange destiny through the deeps of Time that he one day
bow his back to the duty of pruning himself as a garden, so that he run
not to a waste wilderness? Shall the physician, the _accoucheur,_ of
the time to come be expected, and commanded, to do on the ephod and
breast-plate, anoint his head with the oil of gladness, and add to the
function of healer the function of Sacrificial Priest? These you say,
are wild, dark questions. Wild enough, dark enough. We know how
Sparta--the "man-taming Sparta" Simonides calls her--answered them.
Here was the complete subordination of all unit-life to the well-being
of the Whole. The child, immediately on his entry into the world, fell
under the control of the State: it was not left to the judgment of his
parents, as elsewhere, whether he should be brought up or not, but a
commission of the Phyle in which he was born decided the question. If
he was weakly, if he had any bodily unsightliness, he was exposed on a
place called Taygetus, and so perished. It was a consequence of this
that never did the sun in his course light on man half so godly
stalwart, on woman half so houri-lovely, as in stern and stout old
Sparta. Death, like all mortal, they must bear; disease, once and for
all, they were resolved to have done with. The word which they used to
express the idea "ugly," meant also "hateful," "vile," "disgraceful"
--and I need hardly point out to you the significance of that
fact alone; for they considered--and rightly--that there is no
sort of natural reason why every denizen of earth should not be
perfectly hale, integral, sane, beautiful--if only very moderate pains
be taken to procure this divine result. One fellow, indeed, called
Nancleidas, grew a little too fat to please the sensitive eyes of the
Spartans: I believe he was periodically whipped. Under a system so very
barbarous, the super-sweet, egoistic voice of the club-footed poet
Byron would, of course, never have been heard: one brief egoistic
"lament" on Taygetus, and so an end. It is not, however, certain that
the world could not have managed very well without Lord Byron. The one
thing that admits of no contradiction is that it cannot manage without
the holy citizen, and that disease, to men and to nations, can have but
one meaning, annihilation near or ultimate. At any rate, from these
remarks, you will now very likely be able to arrive at some
understanding of the wording of the advertisements which I sent to the
papers.'

Zaleski, having delivered himself of this singular _tirade_, paused:
replaced the sepulchral relief in its niche: drew a drapery of silver
cloth over his bare feet and the hem of his antique garment of Babylon:
and then continued:

'After some time the answer to the advertisement at length arrived; but
what was my disgust to find that it was perfectly unintelligible to me.
I had asked for a date and an address: the reply came giving a date,
and an address, too--but an address wrapped up in cypher, which, of
course, I, as a supposed member of the society, was expected to be able
to read. At any rate, I now knew the significance of the incongruous
circumstance that the Latin proverb _mens sana etc._ should be adopted
as the motto of a Greek society; the significance lay in this, that the
motto _contained an address_--the address of their meeting-place, or at
least, of their chief meeting-place. I was now confronted with the task
of solving--and of solving quickly, without the loss of an hour--this
enigma; and I confess that it was only by the most violent and
extraordinary concentration of what I may call the dissecting faculty,
that I was able to do so in good time. And yet there was no special
difficulty in the matter. For looking at the motto as it stood in
cypher, the first thing I perceived was that, in order to read the
secret, the heart-shaped figure must be left out of consideration, if
there was any _consistency_ in the system of cyphers at all, for it
belonged to a class of symbols quite distinct from that of all the
others, not being, like them, a picture-letter. Omitting this,
therefore, and taking all the other vowels and consonants whether
actually represented in the device or not, I now got the proverb in the
form _mens sana in ... pore sano._ I wrote this down, and what
instantly struck me was the immense, the altogether unusual, number of
_liquids_ in the motto--six in all, amounting to no less than one-third
of the total number of letters! Putting these all together you get
_mnnnnr_, and you can see that the very appearance of the "m's" and
"n's" (especially when _written_) running into one another, of itself
suggests a stream of water. Having previously arrived at the conclusion
of London as the meeting-place, I could not now fail to go on to the
inference of _the Thames_; there, or near there, would I find those
whom I sought. The letters "mnnnnr," then, meant the Thames: what did
the still remaining letters mean? I now took these remaining letters,
placing them side by side: I got aaa, sss, ee, oo, p and i. Juxtaposing
these nearly in the order indicated by the frequency of their
occurrence, and their place in the Roman alphabet, you at once and
inevitably get the word _Aesopi._ And now I was fairly startled by this
symmetrical proof of the exactness of my own deductions in other
respects, but, above all, far above all, by the occurrence of that word
_"Aesopi."_ For who was Aesopus? He was a slave who was freed for his
wise and witful sallies: he is therefore typical of the liberty of the
wise--their moral manumission from temporary and narrow law; he was
also a close friend of Croesus: he is typical, then, of the union of
wisdom with wealth--true wisdom with real wealth; lastly, and above
all, he was thrown by the Delphians from a rock on account of his wit:
he is typical, therefore, of death--the shedding of blood--as a result
of wisdom, this thought being an elaboration of Solomon's great maxim,
"in much wisdom is much sorrow." But how accurately all this fitted in
with what would naturally be the doctrines of the men on whose track I
was! I could no longer doubt the justness of my reasonings, and
immediately, while you slept, I set off for London.

'Of my haps in London I need not give you a very particular account.
The meeting was to be held on the 15th, and by the morning of the 13th
I had reached a place called Wargrave, on the Thames. There I hired a
light canoe, and thence proceeded down the river in a somewhat zig-zag
manner, narrowly examining the banks on either side, and keeping a
sharp out-look for some board, or sign, or house, that would seem to
betoken any sort of connection with the word "Aesopi." In this way I
passed a fruitless day, and having reached the shipping region, made
fast my craft, and in a spirit of _diablerie_ spent the night in a
common lodging-house, in the company of the most remarkable human
beings, characterised by an odour of alcohol, and a certain obtrusive
_bonne camaraderie_ which the prevailing fear of death could not
altogether repress. By dawn of the 14th I was on my journey again--on,
and ever on. Eagerly I longed for a sight of the word I sought: but I
had misjudged the men against whose cunning I had measured my own. I
should have remembered more consistently that they were no ordinary
men. As I was destined to find, there lay a deeper, more cabalistic
meaning in the motto than any I had been able to dream of. I had
proceeded on my pilgrimage down the river a long way past Greenwich,
and had now reached a desolate and level reach of land stretching away
on either hand. Paddling my boat from the right to the left bank, I
came to a spot where a little arm of the river ran up some few yards
into the land. The place wore a specially dreary and deserted aspect:
the land was flat, and covered with low shrubs. I rowed into this arm
of shallow water and rested on my oar, wearily bethinking myself what
was next to be done. Looking round, however, I saw to my surprise that
at the end of this arm there was a short narrow pathway--a winding
road--leading from the river-bank. I stood up in the boat and followed
its course with my eyes. It was met by another road also winding among
the bushes, but in a slightly different direction. At the end of this
was a little, low, high-roofed, round house, without doors or windows.
And then--and then--tingling now with a thousand raptures--I beheld a
pool of water near this structure, and then another low house, a
counterpart of the first--and then, still leading on in the same
direction, another pool--and then a great rock, heart-shaped--and then
another winding road--and then another pool of water. All was a
model--_exact to the minutest particular_--of the device on the
papyrus! The first long-waved line was the river itself; the three
short-waved lines were the arm of the river and the two pools; the
three snakes were the three winding roads; the two triangles
representing the letter #A# were the two high-roofed round houses; the
heart was the rock! I sprang, now thoroughly excited, from the boat,
and ran in headlong haste to the end of the last lake. Here there was a
rather thick and high growth of bushes, but peering among them, my eye
at once caught a white oblong board supported on a stake: on this, in
black letters, was marked the words, "DESCENSUS AESOPI." It was
necessary, therefore, to go _down_: the meeting-place was subterranean.
It was without difficulty that I discovered a small opening in the
ground, half hidden by the underwood; from the orifice I found that a
series of wooden steps led directly downwards, and I at once boldly
descended. No sooner, however, had I touched the bottom than I was
confronted by an ancient man in Hellenic apparel, armed with the Greek
_ziphos_ and _peltè_. His eyes, accustomed to the gloom, pierced me
long with an earnest scrutiny.

'"You are a Spartan?" he asked at length.

'"Yes," I answered promptly.

'"Then how is it you do not know that I am stone deaf?"

'I shrugged, indicating that for the moment I had forgotten the fact.

'"You _are_ a Spartan?" he repeated.

'I nodded with emphasis.

'"Then, how is it you omit to make the sign?"

'Now, you must not suppose that at this point I was nonplussed, for in
that case you would not give due weight to the strange inherent power
of the mind to rise to the occasion of a sudden emergency--to stretch
itself long to the length of an event; I do not hesitate to say that
_no_ combination of circumstances can defeat a vigorous brain fully
alert, and in possession of itself. With a quickness to which the
lightning-flash is tardy, I remembered that this was a spot indicated
by the symbols on the papyrus: I remembered that this same papyrus was
always placed under the _tongue_ of the dead; I remembered, too, that
among that very nation whose language had afforded the motto, to "turn
up the _thumb_" (_pollicem vertere_) was a symbol significant of death.
I touched the under surface of my tongue with the tip of my thumb. The
aged man was appeased. I passed on, and examined the place.

'It was simply a vast circular hall, the arched roof of which was
supported on colonnades of what I took to be pillars of porphyry. Down
the middle and round the sides ran tables of the same material; the
walls were clothed in hangings of sable velvet, on which, in infinite
reproduction, was embroidered in cypher the motto of the society. The
chairs were cushioned in the same stuff. Near the centre of the circle
stood a huge statue, of what really seemed to me to be pure beaten
gold. On the great ebon base was inscribed the word [Greek: LUKURGOS].
From the roof swung by brazen chains a single misty lamp.

'Having seen this much I reascended to the land of light, and being
fully resolved on attending the meeting on the next day or night, and
not knowing what my fate might then be, I wrote to inform you of the
means by which my body might be traced.  'But on the next day a new
thought occurred to me: I reasoned thus: "these men are not common
assassins; they wage a too rash warfare against diseased life, but not
against life in general. In all probability they have a quite
immoderate, quite morbid reverence for the sanctity of healthy life.
They will not therefore take mine, _unless_ they suppose me to be the
only living outsider who has a knowledge of their secret, and therefore
think it absolutely necessary for the carrying out of their beneficent
designs that my life should be sacrificed. I will therefore prevent
such a motive from occurring to them by communicating to another their
whole secret, and--if the necessity should arise--_letting them know_
that I have done so, without telling them who that other is. Thus my
life will be assured." I therefore wrote to you on that day a full
account of all I had discovered, giving you to understand, however, on
the envelope, that you need not examine the contents for some little
time.

'I waited in the subterranean vault during the greater part of the next
day; but not till midnight did the confederates gather. What happened
at that meeting I shall not disclose, even to you. All was
sacred--solemn--full of awe. Of the choral hymns there sung, the
hierophantic ritual, liturgies, paeans, the gorgeous symbolisms--of the
wealth there represented, the culture, art, self-sacrifice--of the
mingling of all the tongues of Europe--I shall not speak; nor shall I
repeat names which you would at once recognise as familiar to
you--though I may, perhaps, mention that the "Morris," whose name
appears on the papyrus sent to me is a well-known _littérateur_ of that
name. But this in confidence, for some years at least.

'Let me, however, hurry to a conclusion. My turn came to speak. I rose
undaunted, and calmly disclosed myself; during the moment of hush, of
wide-eyed paralysis that ensued, I declared that fully as I coincided
with their views in general, I found myself unable to regard their
methods with approval--these I could not but consider too rash, too
harsh, too premature. My voice was suddenly drowned by one universal,
earth-shaking roar of rage and contempt, during which I was surrounded
on all sides, seized, pinioned, and dashed on the central table. All
this time, in the hope and love of life, I passionately shouted that I
was not the only living being who shared in their secret. But my voice
was drowned, and drowned again, in the whirling tumult. None heard me.
A powerful and little-known anaesthetic--the means by which all their
murders have been accomplished--was now produced. A cloth, saturated
with the fluid, was placed on my mouth and nostrils. I was stifled.
Sense failed. The incubus of the universe blackened down upon my brain.
How I tugged at the mandrakes of speech! was a locked pugilist with
language! In the depth of my extremity the half-thought, I remember,
floated, like a mist, through my fading consciousness, that now
perhaps--now--there was silence around me; that _now,_ could my palsied
lips find dialect, I should be heard, and understood. My whole soul
rose focussed to the effort--my body jerked itself upwards. At that
moment I knew my spirit truly great, genuinely sublime. For I _did_
utter something--my dead and shuddering tongue _did_ babble forth some
coherency. Then I fell back, and all was once more the ancient Dark. On
the next day when I woke, I was lying on my back in my little boat,
placed there by God knows whose hands. At all events, one thing was
clear--I _had_ uttered something--I was saved. With what of strength
remained to me I reached the place where I had left your _calèche_, and
started on my homeward way. The necessity to sleep was strong upon me,
for the fumes of the anaesthetic still clung about my brain; hence,
after my long journey, I fainted on my passage through the house, and
in this condition you found me.

'Such then is the history of my thinkings and doings in connection with
this ill-advised confraternity: and now that their cabala is known to
others--to how many others _they_ cannot guess--I think it is not
unlikely that we shall hear little more of the Society of Sparta.'

THE END





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