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Title: Pledged to the Dead
Author: Quinn, Seabury
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Weird Tales October 1937. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.


      [Illustration: "Good-bye for eternity!" we heard her sob.]


                         Pledged to the Dead


                           By SEABURY QUINN


     _A tale of a lover who was pledged to a sweetheart who had
      been in her grave for more than a century, and of the
      striking death that menaced him--a story of Jules de
      Grandin_

       *       *       *       *       *



The autumn dusk had stained the sky with shadows and orange oblongs
traced the windows in my neighbors' homes as Jules de Grandin and I
sat sipping kaiserschmarrn and coffee in the study after dinner. "_Mon
Dieu_," the little Frenchman sighed, "I have the _mal du pays_, my
friend. The little children run and play along the roadways at Saint
Cloud, and on the Ile de France the pastry cooks set up their booths.
_Corbleu_, it takes the strength of character not to stop and buy
those cakes of so much taste and fancy! The Napoléons, they are crisp
and fragile as a coquette's promise, the éclairs filled with cool,
sweet cream, the cream-puffs all aglow with cherries. Just to see them
is to love life better. They----"

The shrilling of the door-bell startled me. The pressure on the button
must have been that of one who leant against it. "Doctor Trowbridge; I
must see him right away!" a woman's voice demanded as Nora McGinnis,
my household factotum, grudgingly responded to the hail.

"Th' docthor's offiss hours is over, ma'am," Nora answered frigidly.
"Ha'f past nine ter eleven in th' marnin', an' two ter four in th'
afthernoon is when he sees his patients. If it's an urgent case ye
have there's lots o' good young docthors in th' neighborhood, but
Docthor Trowbridge----"

"Is he here?" the visitor demanded sharply.

"He is, an' he's afther digestin' his dinner--an' an illigant dinner
it wuz, though I do say so as shouldn't--an' he can't be
disturbed----"

"He'll see me, all right. Tell him it's Nella Bentley, and I've _got_
to talk to him!"

De Grandin raised an eyebrow eloquently. "The fish at the aquarium
have greater privacy than we, my friend," he murmured, but broke off
as the visitor came clacking down the hall on high French heels and
rushed into the study half a dozen paces in advance of my thoroughly
disapproving and more than semi-scandalized Nora.

"Doctor Trowbridge, won't you help me?" cried the girl as she fairly
leaped across the study and flung her arms about my shoulders. "I
can't tell Dad or Mother, they wouldn't understand; so you're the only
one--oh, excuse me, I thought you were alone!" Her face went crimson
as she saw de Grandin standing by the fire.

"It's quite all right, my dear," I soothed, freeing myself from her
almost hysterical clutch. "This is Doctor de Grandin, with whom I've
been associated many times; I'd be glad to have the benefit of his
advice, if you don't mind."

She gave him her hand and a wan smile as I performed the introduction,
but her eyes warmed quickly as he raised her fingers to his lips with
a soft "_Enchanté, Mademoiselle_." Women, animals and children took
instinctively to Jules de Grandin.

Nella dropped her coat of silky shaven lamb and sank down on the study
couch, her slim young figure molded in her knitted dress of coral
rayon as revealingly as though she had been cased in plastic
cellulose. She has long, violet eyes and a long mouth; smooth, dark
hair parted in the middle; a small straight nose, and a small pointed
chin. Every line of her is long, but definitely feminine; breasts and
hips and throat and legs all delicately curved, without a hint of
angularity.

"I've come to see you about Ned," she volunteered as de Grandin lit
her cigarette and she sent a nervous smoke-stream gushing from between
red, trembling lips. "He--he's trying to run out on me!"

"You mean Ned Minton?" I asked, wondering what a middle-aged physician
could prescribe for wandering Romeos.

"I certainly do mean Ned Minton," she replied, "and I mean business,
too. The darn, romantic fool!"

De Grandin's slender brows arched upward till they nearly met the
beige-blond hair that slanted sleekly backward from his forehead.
"_Pardonnez-moi_," he murmured. "Did I understand correctly,
_Mademoiselle_? Your _amoureux_--how do you say him?--sweetheart?--has
shown a disposition toward unfaithfulness, yet you accuse him of
romanticism?"

"He's not unfaithful, that's the worst of it. He's faithful as Tristan
and the chevalier Bayard lumped together, _sans peur et sans
reproche_, you know. Says we can't get married, 'cause----"

"Just a moment, dear," I interrupted as I felt my indignation
mounting. "D'ye mean the miserable young puppy cheated, and now wants
to welch----"

       *       *       *       *       *

Her blue eyes widened, then the little laughter-wrinkles formed around
them. "You dear old mid-Victorian!" she broke in. "No, he ain't done
wrong by our Nell, and I'm not asking you to take your shotgun down
and force him to make me an honest woman. Suppose we start at the
beginning: then we'll get things straight.

"You assisted at both our débuts, I've been told; you've known Ned and
me since we were a second old apiece, haven't you?"

I nodded.

"Know we've always been crazy about each other, too; in grammar
school, high school and college, don't you?"

"Yes," I agreed.

"All right. We've been engaged ever since our freshman year at Beaver.
Ned just had his frat pin long enough to pin it on my shoulder-strap
at the first freshman dance. Everything was set for us to stand up in
the chancel and say 'I do' this June; then Ned's company sent him to
New Orleans last December." She paused, drew deeply at her cigarette,
crushed its fire out in an ash-tray, and set a fresh one glowing.

"That started it. While he was down there it seemed that he got
playful. Mixed up with some glamorous Creole gal." Once more she
lapsed into silence and I could see the heartbreak showing through the
armor of her flippant manner.

"You mean he fell in love----"

"I certainly do _not_! If he had, I'd have handed back his ring and
said 'Bless you, me children', even if I had to bite my heart in two
to do it; but this is no case of a new love crowding out the old. Ned
still loves me; never stopped loving me. That's what makes it all seem
crazy as a hashish-eater's dream. He was on the loose in New Orleans,
doing the town with a crowd of local boys, and prob'bly had too many
Ramos fizzes. Then he barged into this Creole dame's place, and----"
she broke off with a gallant effort at a smile. "I guess young fellows
aren't so different nowadays than they were when you were growing up,
sir. Only today we don't believe in sprinkling perfume in the family
cesspool. Ned cheated, that's the bald truth of it; he didn't stop
loving me, and he hasn't stopped now, but I wasn't there and that
other girl was, and there were no conventions to be recognized. Now
he's fairly melting with remorse, says he's not worthy of me--wants to
break off our engagement, while he spends a lifetime doing penance for
a moment's folly."

"But good heavens," I expostulated, "if you're willing to forgive----"

"You're telling me!" she answered bitterly. "We've been over it a
hundred times. This isn't 1892; even nice girls know the facts of life
today, and while I'm no more anxious than the next one to put through
a deal in shopworn goods, I still love Ned, and I don't intend to let
a single indiscretion rob us of our happiness. I----" the hard
exterior veneer of modernism melted from her like an autumn ice-glaze
melting in the warm October sun, and the tears coursed down her
cheeks, cutting little valleys in her carefully-applied make-up. "He's
my man, Doctor," she sobbed bitterly. "I've loved him since we made
mud-pies together; I'm hungry, thirsty for him. He's everything to me,
and if he follows out this fool renunciation he seems set on, it'll
kill me!"

De Grandin tweaked a waxed mustache-end thoughtfully. "You exemplify
the practicality of woman, _Mademoiselle_; I applaud your sound, hard
common sense," he told her. "Bring this silly young romantic foolish
one to me. I will tell him----"

"But he won't come," I interrupted. "I know these hard-minded young
asses. When a lad is set on being stubborn----"

"Will you go to work on him if I can get him here?" interjected Nella.

"Of a certitude, _Mademoiselle_."

"You won't think me forward or unmaidenly?"

"This is a medical consultation, _Mademoiselle_."

"All right; be in the office this time tomorrow night. I'll have my
wandering boy friend here if I have to bring him in an ambulance."

       *       *       *       *       *

Her performance matched her promise almost too closely for our
comfort. We had just finished dinner next night when the frenzied
shriek of tortured brakes, followed by a crash and the tinkling
spatter of smashed glass, sounded in the street before the house, and
in a moment feet dragged heavily across the porch. We were at the door
before the bell could buzz, and in the disk of brightness sent down by
the porch light saw Nella bent half double, stumbling forward with a
man's arm draped across her shoulders. His feet scuffed blindly on the
boards, as though they had forgot the trick of walking, or as if all
strength had left his knees. His head hung forward, lolling drunkenly;
a spate of blood ran down his face and smeared his collar.

"Good Lord!" I gasped. "What----"

"Get him in the surgery--quick!" the girl commanded in a whisper. "I'm
afraid I rather overdid it."

Examination showed the cut across Ned's forehead was more bloody than
extensive, while the scalp-wound which plowed backward from his
hairline needed but a few quick stitches.

Nella whispered to us as we worked. "I got him to go riding with me in
my runabout. Just as we got here I let out a scream and swung the
wheel hard over to the right. I was braced for it, but Ned was
unprepared, and went right through the windshield when I ran the car
into the curb. Lord, I thought I'd killed him when I saw the
blood--you do think he'll come through all right, don't you, Doctor?"

"No thanks to you if he does, you little ninny!" I retorted angrily.
"You might have cut his jugular with your confounded foolishness.
If----"

"_S-s-sh_, he's coming out of it!" she warned. "Start talking to him
like a Dutch uncle; I'll be waiting in the study if you want me," and
with a tattoo of high heels she left us with our patient.

"Nella! Is she all right?" Ned cried as he half roused from the
surgery table. "We had an accident----"

"But certainly, _Monsieur_," de Grandin soothed. "You were driving
past our house when a child ran out before your car and _Mademoiselle_
was forced to swerve aside to keep from hitting it. You were cut about
the face, but she escaped all injury. Here"--he raised a glass of
brandy to the patient's lips--"drink this. Ah, so. That is better,
_n'est-ce-pas_?"

For a moment he regarded Ned in silence, then, abruptly: "You are
distrait, _Monsieur_. When we brought you in we were forced to give
you a small whiff of ether while we patched your cuts, and in your
delirium you said----"

The color which had come into Ned's cheeks as the fiery cognac warmed
his veins drained out again, leaving him as ghastly as a corpse. "Did
Nella hear me?" he asked hoarsely. "Did I blab----"

"Compose yourself, _Monsieur_," de Grandin bade. "She heard nothing,
but it would be well if we heard more. I think I understand your
difficulty. I am a physician and a Frenchman and no prude. This
renunciation which you make is but the noble gesture. You have been
unfortunate, and now you fear. Have courage; no infection is so bad
there is no remedy----"

Ned's laugh was hard and brittle as the tinkle of a breaking glass. "I
only wish it were the thing you think," he interrupted. "I'd have you
give me salvarsan and see what happened; but there isn't any treatment
I can take for this. I'm not delirious, and I'm not crazy, gentlemen;
I know just what I'm saying. Insane as it may sound, I'm pledged to
the dead, and there isn't any way to bail me out."

"_Eh_, what is it you say?" de Grandin's small blue eyes were gleaming
with the light of battle as he caught the occult implication in Ned's
declaration. "Pledged to the dead? _Comment cela?_"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ned raised himself unsteadily and balanced on the table edge.

"It happened in New Orleans last winter," he answered. "I'd finished
up my business and was on the loose, and thought I'd walk alone
through the _Vieux Carré_--the old French Quarter. I'd had dinner at
Antoine's and stopped around at the Old Absinthe House for a few
drinks, then strolled down to the French Market for a cup of chicory
coffee and some doughnuts. Finally I walked down Royal Street to look
at Madame Lalaurie's old mansion; that's the famous haunted house, you
know. I wanted to see if I could find a ghost. Good Lord, I _wanted_
to!

"The moon was full that night, but the house was still as old Saint
Denis Cemetery, so after peering through the iron grilles that shut
the courtyard from the street for half an hour or so, I started back
toward Canal Street.

"I'd almost reached Bienville Street when just as I passed one of
those funny two-storied iron-grilled balconies so many of the old
houses have I heard something drop on the sidewalk at my feet. It was
a japonica, one of those rose-like flowers they grow in the courtyard
gardens down there. When I looked up, a girl was laughing at me from
the second story of the balcony. '_Mon fleuron, monsieur, s'il vous
plait_,' she called, stretching down a white arm for the bloom.

[Illustration: DR. TROWBRIDGE.]

"The moonlight hung about her like a veil of silver tissue, and I
could see her plainly as though it had been noon. Most New Orleans
girls are dark. She was fair, her hair was very fine and silky and
about the color of a frosted chestnut-burr. She wore it in a long bob
with curls around her face and neck, and I knew without being told
that those ringlets weren't put in with a hot iron. Her face was pale,
colorless and fine-textured as a magnolia petal, but her lips were
brilliant crimson. There was something reminiscent of those ladies you
see pictured in Directoire prints about her; small, regular features,
straight, white, high-waisted gown tied with a wide girdle underneath
her bosom, low, round-cut neck and tiny, ball-puff sleeves that left
her lovely arms uncovered to the shoulder. She was like Rose
Beauharnais or Madame de Fontenay, except for her fair hair, and her
eyes. Her eyes were like an Eastern slave's, languishing and
passionate, even when she laughed. And she was laughing then, with a
throaty, almost caressing laugh as I tossed the flower up to her and
she leant across the iron railing, snatching at it futilely as it fell
just short of reach.

"'_C'est sans profit_,' she laughed at last. 'Your skill is too small
or my arm too short, _m'sieur_. Bring it up to me.'

"'You mean for me to come up there?' I asked.

"'But certainly. I have teeth, but will not bite you--maybe.'

"The street door to the house was open; I pushed it back, groped my
way along a narrow hall and climbed a flight of winding stairs. She
was waiting for me on the balcony, lovelier, close up, if that were
possible, than when I'd seen her from the sidewalk. Her gown was China
silk, so sheer and clinging that the shadow of her charming figure
showed against its rippling folds like a lovely silhouette; the sash
which bound it was a six-foot length of rainbow ribbon tied
coquettishly beneath her shoulders and trailing in fringed ends almost
to her dress-hem at the back; her feet were stockingless and shod with
sandals fastened with cross-straps of purple grosgrain laced about the
ankles. Save for the small gold rings that scintillated in her ears,
she wore no ornaments of any kind.

"'_Mon fleur, m'sieur_,' she ordered haughtily, stretching out her
hand; then her eyes lighted with sudden laughter and she turned her
back to me, bending her head forward. 'But no, it fell into your
hands; it is that you must put in its place again,' she ordered,
pointing to a curl where she wished the flower set. 'Come, _m'sieur_,
I wait upon you.'

"On the settee by the wall a guitar lay. She picked it up and ran her
slim, pale fingers twice across the strings, sounding a soft,
melancholy chord. When she began to sing, her words were slurred and
languorous, and I had trouble understanding them; for the song was
ancient when Bienville turned the first spadeful of earth that marked
the ramparts of New Orleans:

    _O knights of gay Toulouse
       And sweet Beaucaire,
     Greet me my own true love
       And speak him fair_....

"Her voice had the throaty, velvety quality one hears in people of the
Southern countries, and the words of the song seemed fairly to yearn
with the sadness and passionate longing of the love-bereft. But she
smiled as she put by her instrument, a curious smile, which heightened
the mystery of her face, and her wide eyes seemed suddenly half
questing, half drowsy, as she asked, 'Would you ride off upon your
grim, pale horse and leave poor little Julie d'Ayen famishing for
love, _m'sieur_?'

"'Ride off from you?' I answered gallantly. 'How can you ask?' A verse
from Burns came to me:

    _Then fare thee well, my bonny lass,
       And fare thee well awhile,
     And I will come to thee again
       An it were ten thousand mile._

"There was something avid in the look she gave me. Something more than
mere gratified vanity shone in her eyes as she turned her face up to
me in the moonlight. 'You mean it?' she demanded in a quivering,
breathless voice.

"'Of course,' I bantered. 'How could you doubt it?'

"'Then swear it--seal the oath with blood!'

"Her eyes were almost closed, and her lips were lightly parted as she
leant toward me. I could see the thin, white line of tiny, gleaming
teeth behind the lush red of her lips; the tip of a pink tongue swept
across her mouth, leaving it warmer, moister, redder than before; in
her throat a small pulse throbbed palpitatingly. Her lips were smooth
and soft as the flower-petals in her hair, but as they crushed on mine
they seemed to creep about them as though endowed with a volition of
their own. I could feel them gliding almost stealthily, searching
greedily, it seemed, until they covered my entire mouth. Then came a
sudden searing burn of pain which passed as quickly as it flashed
across my lips, and she seemed inhaling deeply, desperately, as though
to pump the last faint gasp of breath up from my lungs. A humming
sounded in my ears; everything went dark around me as if I had been
plunged in some abysmal flood; a spell of dreamy lassitude was
stealing over me when she pushed me from her so abruptly that I
staggered back against the iron railing of the gallery.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I gasped and fought for breath like a winded swimmer coming from the
water, but the half-recaptured breath seemed suddenly to catch itself
unbidden in my throat, and a tingling chill went rippling up my spine.
The girl had dropped down to her knees, staring at the door which let
into the house, and as I looked I saw a shadow writhe across the
little pool of moonlight which lay upon the sill. Three feet or so in
length it was, thick through as a man's wrist, the faint light shining
dully on its scaly armor and disclosing the forked lightning of its
darting tongue. It was a cottonmouth--a water moccasin--deadly as a
rattlesnake, but more dangerous, for it sounds no warning before
striking, and can strike when only half coiled. How it came there on
the second-story gallery of a house so far from any swampland I had no
means of knowing, but there it lay, bent in the design of a double S,
its wedge-shaped head swaying on up-reared neck a scant six inches
from the girl's soft bosom, its forked tongue darting deathly menace.
Half paralyzed with fear and loathing, I stood there in a perfect
ecstasy of horror, not daring to move hand or foot lest I aggravate
the reptile into striking. But my terror changed to stark amazement as
my senses slowly registered the scene. The girl was talking to the
snake and--it listened as a person might have done!

"'_Non, non, grand'tante; halte là!_' she whispered. '_Cela est à
moi--il est dévoué!_'

"The serpent seemed to pause uncertainly, grudgingly, as though but
half convinced, then shook its head from side to side, much as an aged
person might when only half persuaded by a youngster's argument.
Finally, silently as a shadow, it slithered back again into the
darkness of the house.

"Julie bounded to her feet and put her hands upon my shoulders.

"'You mus' go, my friend,' she whispered fiercely. 'Quickly, ere she
comes again. It was not easy to convince her; she is old and very
doubting. O, I am afraid--afraid!'

"She hid her face against my arm, and I could feel the throbbing of
her heart against me. Her hands stole upward to my cheeks and pressed
them between palms as cold as graveyard clay as she whispered, 'Look
at me, _mon beau_.' Her eyes were closed, her lips were slightly
parted, and beneath the arc of her long lashes I could see the glimmer
of fast-forming tears. '_Embrasse moi_', she commanded in a trembling
breath. 'Kiss me and go quickly, but _O mon chèr_, do not forget poor
little foolish Julie d'Ayen who has put her trust in you. Come to me
again tomorrow night!'

"I was reeling as from vertigo as I walked back to the Greenwald, and
the bartender looked at me suspiciously when I ordered a sazarac.
They've a strict rule against serving drunken men at that hotel. The
liquor stung my lips like liquid flame, and I put the cocktail down
half finished. When I set the fan to going and switched the light on
in my room I looked into the mirror and saw two little beads of fresh,
bright blood upon my lips. 'Good Lord!' I murmured stupidly as I
brushed the blood away; 'she bit me!'

"It all seemed so incredible that if I had not seen the blood upon my
mouth I'd have thought I suffered from some lunatic hallucination, or
one too many frappés at the Absinthe House. Julie was as quaint and
out of time as a Directoire print, even in a city where time stands
still as it does in old New Orleans. Her costume, her half-shy
boldness, her--this was simply madness, nothing less!--her
conversation with that snake!

"What was it she had said? My French was none too good, and in the
circumstances it was hardly possible to pay attention to her words,
but if I'd understood her, she'd declared, 'He's mine; he has
dedicated himself to me!' And she'd addressed that crawling horror as
'_grand'tante_--great-aunt!'

"'Feller, you're as crazy as a cockroach!' I admonished my reflection
in the mirror. 'But I know what'll cure you. You're taking the first
train north tomorrow morning, and if I ever catch you in the _Vieux
Carré_ again, I'll----'

"A sibilating hiss, no louder than the noise made by steam escaping
from a kettle-spout, sounded close beside my foot. There on the rug,
coiled in readiness to strike, was a three-foot cottonmouth, head
swaying viciously from side to side, wicked eyes shining in the bright
light from the chandelier. I saw the muscles in the creature's
fore-part swell, and in a sort of horror-trance I watched its head
dart forward, but, miraculously, it stopped its stroke half-way, and
drew its head back, turning to glance menacingly at me first from one
eye, then the other. Somehow, it seemed to me, the thing was playing
with me as a cat might play a mouse, threatening, intimidating,
letting me know it was master of the situation and could kill me any
time it wished, but deliberately refraining from the death-stroke.

"With one leap I was in the middle of my bed, and when a squad of
bellboys came running in response to the frantic call for help I
telephoned, they found me crouched against the headboard, almost wild
with fear.

"They turned the room completely inside out, rolling back the rugs,
probing into chairs and sofa, emptying the bureau drawers, even taking
down the towels from the bathroom rack, but nowhere was there any sign
of the water moccasin that had terrified me. At the end of fifteen
minutes' search they accepted half a dollar each and went grinning
from the room. I knew it would be useless to appeal for help again,
for I heard one whisper to another as they paused outside my door: 'It
ain't right to let them Yankees loose in N'Orleans; they don't know
how to hold their licker.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"I didn't take a train next morning. Somehow, I'd an idea--crazy as it
seemed--that my promise to myself and the sudden, inexplicable
appearance of the snake beside my foot were related in some way. Just
after luncheon I thought I'd put the theory to a test.

"'Well,' I said aloud, 'I guess I might as well start packing. Don't
want to let the sun go down and find me here----'

"My theory was right. I hadn't finished speaking when I heard the
warning hiss, and there, poised ready for the stroke, the snake was
coiled before the door. And it was no phantom, either, no figment of
an overwrought imagination. It lay upon a rug the hotel management had
placed before the door to take the wear of constant passage from the
carpet, and I could see the high pile of the rug crushed down beneath
its weight. It was flesh and scales--and fangs!--and it coiled and
threatened me in my twelfth-floor room in the bright sunlight of the
afternoon.

"Little chills of terror chased each other up my back, and I could
feel the short hairs on my neck grow stiff and scratch against my
collar, but I kept myself in hand. Pretending to ignore the loathsome
thing, I flung myself upon the bed.

"'Oh, well,' I said aloud, 'there really isn't any need of hurrying. I
promised Julie that I'd come to her tonight, and I mustn't disappoint
her." Half a minute later I roused myself upon my elbow and glanced
toward the door. The snake was gone.

"'Here's a letter for you, Mr. Minton,' said the desk clerk as I
paused to leave my key. The note was on gray paper edged with
silver-gilt, and very highly scented. The penmanship was tiny, stilted
and ill-formed, as though the author were unused to writing, but I
could make it out:

     _Adoré

       Meet me in St. Denis Cemetery at sunset
         À vous de coeur pour l'éternité_

                                          JULIE

"I stuffed the note back in my pocket. The more I thought about the
whole affair the less I liked it. The flirtation had begun harmlessly
enough, and Julie was as lovely and appealing as a figure in a
fairy-tale, but there are unpleasant aspects to most fairy-tales, and
this was no exception. That scene last night when she had seemed to
argue with a full-grown cottonmouth, and the mysterious appearance of
the snake whenever I spoke of breaking my promise to go back to
her--there was something too much like black magic in it. Now she
addressed me as her adored and signed herself for eternity; finally
named a graveyard as our rendezvous. Things had become a little bit
too thick.

"I was standing at the corner of Canal and Baronne Streets, and crowds
of office workers and late shoppers elbowed past me. 'I'll be damned
if I'll meet her in a cemetery, or anywhere else,' I muttered. 'I've
had enough of all this nonsense----'

"A woman's shrill scream, echoed by a man's hoarse shout of terror,
interrupted me. On the marble pavement of Canal Street, with half a
thousand people bustling by, lay coiled a three-foot water moccasin.
Here was proof. I'd seen it twice in my room at the hotel, but I'd
been alone each time. Some form of weird hypnosis might have made me
think I saw it, but the screaming woman and the shouting man, these
panic-stricken people in Canal Street, couldn't all be victims of a
spell which had been cast on me. 'All right, I'll go,' I almost
shouted, and instantly, as though it been but a puff of smoke, the
snake was gone, the half-fainting woman and a crowd of curious
bystanders asking what was wrong left to prove I had not been the
victim of some strange delusion.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Old Saint Denis Cemetery lay drowsing in the blue, faint twilight. It
has no graves as we know them, for when the city was laid out it was
below sea-level and bodies were stored away in crypts set row on row
like lines of pigeon-holes in walls as thick as those of mediæval
castles. Grass-grown aisles run between the rows of vaults, and the
effect is a true city of the dead with narrow streets shut in by
close-set houses. The rattle of a trolley car in Rampart Street came
to me faintly as I walked between the rows of tombs; from the river
came the mellow-throated bellow of a steamer's whistle, but both
sounds were muted as though heard from a great distance. The
tomb-lined bastions of Saint Denis hold the present out as firmly as
they hold the memories of the past within.

"Down one aisle and up another I walked, the close-clipped turf
deadening my footfalls so I might have been a ghost come back to haunt
the ancient burial ground, but nowhere was there sign or trace of
Julie. I made the circuit of the labyrinth and finally paused before
one of the more pretentious tombs.

"'Looks as if she'd stood me up,' I murmured. 'If she has, I have a
good excuse to----'

"'But _non, mon coeur_, I have not disappointed you!' a soft voice
whispered in my ear. 'See, I am here.'

"I think I must have jumped at sound of her greeting, for she clapped
her hands delightedly before she put them on my shoulders and turned
her face up for a kiss. 'Silly one,' she chided, 'did you think your
Julie was unfaithful?'

"I put her hands away as gently as I could, for her utter
self-surrender was embarrassing. 'Where were you?' I asked, striving
to make neutral conversation. 'I've been prowling round this graveyard
for the last half-hour, and came through this aisle not a minute ago,
but I didn't see you----'

"'Ah, but I saw you, _chéri_; I have watched you as you made your
solemn rounds like a watchman of the night. _Ohé_, but it was hard to
wait until the sun went down to greet you, _mon petit_!'

"She laughed again, and her mirth was mellowly musical as the gurgle
of cool water poured from a silver vase.

"'How could you have seen me?' I demanded. 'Where were you all this
time?'

"But here, of course,' she answered naïvely, resting one hand against
the graystone slab that sealed the tomb.

"I shook my head bewilderedly. The tomb, like all the others in the
deeply recessed wall, was of rough cement incrusted with small
seashells, and its sides were straight and blank without a spear of
ivy clinging to them. A sparrow could not have found cover there,
yet....

"Julie raised herself on tiptoe and stretched her arms out right and
left while she looked at me through half-closed, smiling eyes. '_Je
suis engourdie_--I am stiff with sleep,' she told me, stifling a yawn.
'But now that you are come, _mon cher_, I am wakeful as the pussy-cat
that rouses at the scampering of the mouse. Come, let us walk in this
garden of mine.' She linked her arm through mine and started down the
grassy, grave-lined path.

"Tiny shivers--not of cold--were flickering through my cheeks and down
my neck beneath my ears. I _had_ to have an explanation ... the snake,
her declaration that she watched me as I searched the cemetery--and
from a tomb where a beetle could not have found a hiding-place--her
announcement she was still stiff from sleeping, now her reference to
a half-forgotten graveyard as her garden.

"'See here, I want to know----' I started, but she laid her hand
across my lips.

"'Do not ask to know too soon, _mon coeur_,' she bade. 'Look at me, am
I not veritably _élégante_?' She stood back a step, gathered up her
skirts and swept me a deep curtsy.

"There was no denying she was beautiful. Her tightly curling hair had
been combed high and tied back with a fillet of bright violet tissue
which bound her brows like a diadem and at the front of which an
aigret plume was set. In her ears were hung two beautifully matched
cameos, outlined in gold and seed-pearls, and almost large as silver
dollars; a necklace of antique dull-gold hung round her throat, and
its pendant was a duplicate of her ear-cameos, while a bracelet of
matt-gold set with a fourth matched anaglyph was clasped about her
left arm just above the elbow. Her gown was sheer white muslin, low
cut at front and back, with little puff-sleeves at the shoulders,
fitted tightly at the bodice and flaring sharply from a high-set
waist. Over it she wore a narrow scarf of violet silk, hung behind her
neck and dropping down on either side in front like a clergyman's
stole. Her sandals were gilt leather, heel-less as a ballet dancer's
shoes and laced with violet ribbons. Her lovely, pearl-white hands
were bare of rings, but on the second toe of her right foot there
showed a little cameo which matched the others which she wore.

"I could feel my heart begin to pound and my breath come quicker as I
looked at her, but:

"'You look as if you're going to a masquerade,' I said.

"A look of hurt surprize showed in her eyes. 'A masquerade?' she
echoed. 'But no, it is my best, my very finest, that I wear for you
tonight, _mon adoré_. Do not you like it; do you not love me,
Édouard?'

"'No,' I answered shortly, 'I do not. We might as well understand each
other, Julie. I'm not in love with you and I never was. It's been a
pretty flirtation, nothing more. I'm going home tomorrow, and----'

"'But you will come again? Surely you will come again?' she pleaded,
'You cannot mean it when you say you do not love me, Édouard. Tell me
that you spoke so but to tease me----'

"A warning hiss sounded in the grass beside my foot, but I was too
angry to be frightened. 'Go ahead, set your devilish snake on me,' I
taunted. 'Let it bite me. I'd as soon be dead as----'

"The snake was quick, but Julie quicker. In the split-second required
for the thing to drive at me she leaped across the grass-grown aisle
and pushed me back. So violent was the shove she gave me that I fell
against the tomb, struck my head against a small projecting stone and
stumbled to my knees. As I fought for footing on the slippery grass I
saw the deadly, wedge-shaped head strike full against the girl's bare
ankle and heard her gasp with pain. The snake recoiled and swung its
head toward me, but Julie dropped down to her knees and spread her
arms protectingly about me.

"'_Non, non, grand'tante!_' she screamed; 'not this one! Let me----'
Her voice broke on a little gasp and with a retching hiccup she sank
limply to the grass.

"I tried to rise, but my foot slipped on the grass and I fell back
heavily against the tomb, crashing my brow against its shell-set
cement wall. I saw Julie lying in a little huddled heap of white
against the blackness of the sward, and, shadowy but clearly visible,
an aged, wrinkled Negress with turbaned head and cambric apron
bending over her, nursing her head against her bosom and rocking back
and forth grotesquely while she crooned a wordless threnody. Where had
she come from? I wondered idly. Where had the snake gone? Why did the
moonlight seem to fade and flicker like a dying lamp? Once more I
tried to rise, but slipped back to the grass before the tomb as
everything went black before me.

"The lavender light of early morning was streaming over the tomb-walls
of the cemetery when I waked. I lay quiet for a little while,
wondering sleepily how I came there. Then, just as the first rays of
the sun shot through the thinning shadows, I remembered. Julie! The
snake had bitten her when she flung herself before me. She was gone;
the old Negress--where had _she_ come from?--was gone, too, and I was
utterly alone in the old graveyard.

"Stiff from lying on the ground, I got myself up awkwardly, grasping
at the flower-shelf projecting from the tomb. As my eyes came level
with the slab that sealed the crypt I felt the breath catch in my
throat. The crypt, like all its fellows, looked for all the world like
an old oven let into a brick wall overlaid with peeling plaster. The
sealing-stone was probably once white, but years had stained it to a
dirty gray, and time had all but rubbed its legend out. Still, I could
see the faint inscription carved in quaint, old-fashioned letters, and
disbelief gave way to incredulity, which was replaced by panic terror
as I read:

          _Ici repose malheureusement
           Julie Amelie Marie d'Ayen
            Nationale de Paris France
              Née le 29 Aout 1788
       Décédée a la N O le 2 Juillet 1807_

"Julie! Little Julie whom I'd held in my arms, whose mouth had lain on
mine in eager kisses, was a corpse! Dead and in her grave more than a
century!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The silence lengthened. Ned stared miserably before him, his outward
eyes unseeing, but his mind's eye turned upon that scene in old Saint
Denis Cemetery. De Grandin tugged and tugged again at the ends of his
mustache till I thought he'd drag the hairs out by the roots. I could
think of nothing which might ease the tension till:

"Of course, the name cut on the tombstone was a piece of pure
coincidence," I hazarded. "Most likely the young woman deliberately
assumed it to mislead you----"

"And the snake which threatened our young friend, he was an
assumption, also, one infers?" de Grandin interrupted.

"N-o, but it could have been a trick. Ned saw an aged Negress in the
cemetery, and those old Southern darkies have strange powers----"

"I damn think that you hit the thumb upon the nail that time, my
friend," the little Frenchman nodded, "though you do not realize how
accurate your diagnosis is." To Ned:

"Have you seen this snake again since coming North?"

"Yes," Ned replied. "I have. I was too stunned to speak when I read
the epitaph, and I wandered back to the hotel in a sort of daze and
packed my bags in silence. Possibly that's why there was no further
visitation there. I don't know. I do know nothing further happened,
though, and when several months had passed with nothing but my
memories to remind me of the incident, I began to think I'd suffered
from some sort of walking nightmare. Nella and I went ahead with
preparations for our wedding, but three weeks ago the postman brought
me this----"

He reached into an inner pocket and drew out an envelope. It was of
soft gray paper, edged with silver-gilt, and the address was in tiny,
almost unreadable script:

  M. Édouard Minton,
     30 Rue Carteret 30,
        Harrisonville, N. J.

"U'm?" de Grandin commented as he inspected it. "It is addressed à la
française. And the letter, may one read it?"

"Of course," Ned answered. "I'd like you to."

Across de Grandin's shoulder I made out the hastily-scrawled missive:

     _Adoré_

     _Remember your promise and the kiss of blood that sealed it.
      Soon I shall call and you must come._

        _Pour le temps et pour l'éternité_,

                                           JULIE.

"You recognize the writing?" de Grandin asked. "It is----"

"Oh, yes," Ned answered bitterly, "I recognize it; it's the same the
other note was written in."

"And then?"

The boy smiled bleakly. "I crushed the thing into a ball and threw it
on the floor and stamped on it. Swore I'd die before I'd keep another
rendezvous with her, and----" He broke off, and put trembling hands up
to his face.

"The so mysterious serpent came again, one may assume?" de Grandin
prompted.

"But it's only a phantom snake," I interjected. "At worst it's nothing
more than a terrifying vision----"

"Think so?" Ned broke in. "D'ye remember Rowdy, my airedale terrier?"

I nodded.

"He was in the room when I opened this letter, and when the
cottonmouth appeared beside me on the floor he made a dash for it.
Whether it would have struck me I don't know, but it struck at him as
he leaped and caught him squarely in the throat. He thrashed and
fought, and the thing held on with locked jaws till I grabbed a
fire-shovel and made for it; then, before I could strike, it vanished.

"But its venom didn't. Poor old Rowdy was dead before I could get him
out of the house, but I took his corpse to Doctor Kirchoff, the
veterinary, and told him Rowdy died suddenly and I wanted him to make
an autopsy. He went back to his operating-room and stayed there half
an hour. When he came back to the office he was wiping his glasses and
wore the most astonished look I've ever seen on a human face. 'You say
your dog died suddenly--in the house?' he asked.

"'Yes,' I told him; 'just rolled over and died.'

"'Well, bless my soul, that's the most amazing thing I ever heard!' he
answered. 'I can't account for it. That dog died from snake-bite;
copperhead, I'd say, and the marks of the fangs show plainly on his
throat.'"

"But I thought you said it was a water moccasin," I objected. "Now
Doctor Kirchoff says it was a copperhead----"

"_Ah hah_!" de Grandin laughed a thought unpleasantly. "Did no one
ever tell you that the copperhead and moccasin are of close kind, my
friend? Have not you heard some ophiologists maintain the moccasin is
but a dark variety of copperhead?" He did not pause for my reply, but
turned again to Ned:

"One understands your chivalry, _Monsieur_. For yourself you have no
fear, since after all at times life can be bought too dearly, but the
death of your small dog has put a different aspect on the matter. If
this never-to-be-sufficiently-anathematized serpent which comes and
goes like the _boîte à surprise_--the how do you call him? Jack from
the box?--is enough a ghost thing to appear at any time and place it
wills, but sufficiently physical to exude venom which will kill a
strong and healthy terrier, you have the fear for Mademoiselle Nella,
_n'est-ce-pas_?"

"Precisely, you----"

"And you are well advised to have the caution, my young friend. We
face a serious condition."

"What do you advise?"

The Frenchman teased his needlepoint mustache-tip with a thoughtful
thumb and forefinger. "For the present, nothing," he replied at
length. "Let me look this situation over; let me view it from all
angles. Whatever I might tell you now would probably be wrong. Suppose
we meet again one week from now. By that time I should have my data
well in hand."

"And in the meantime----"

"Continue to be coy with Mademoiselle Nella. Perhaps it would be well
if you recalled important business which requires that you leave town
till you hear from me again. There is no need to put her life in peril
at this time."

       *       *       *       *       *

"If it weren't for Kirchoff's testimony I'd say Ned Minton had gone
raving crazy," I declared as the door closed on our visitors. "The
whole thing's wilder than an opium smoker's dream--that meeting with
the girl in New Orleans, the snake that comes and disappears, the
assignation in the cemetery--it's all too preposterous. But I know
Kirchoff. He's as unimaginative as a side of sole-leather, and as
efficient as he is unimaginative. If he says Minton's dog died of
snake-bite that's what it died of, but the whole affair's so utterly
fantastic----"

"Agreed," de Grandin nodded; "but what is fantasy but the appearance
of mental images as such, severed from ordinary relations? The
'ordinary relations' of images are those to which we are accustomed,
which conform to our experience. The wider that experience, the more
ordinary will we find extraordinary relations. By example, take
yourself: You sit in a dark auditorium and see a railway train come
rushing at you. Now, it is not at all in ordinary experience for a
locomotive to come dashing in a theater filled with people, it is
quite otherwise; but you keep your seat, you do not flinch, you are
not frightened. It is nothing but a motion picture, which you
understand. But if you were a savage from New Guinea you would rise
and fly in panic from this steaming, shrieking iron monster which
bears down on you. _Tiens_, it is a matter of experience, you see. To
you it is an everyday event, to the savage it would be a new and
terrifying thing.

"Or, perhaps, you are at the hospital. You place a patient between you
and the Crookes' tube of an X-ray, you turn on the current, you
observe him through the fluoroscope and _pouf_! his flesh all melts
away and his bones spring out in sharp relief. Three hundred years ago
you would have howled like a stoned dog at the sight, and prayed to be
delivered from the witchcraft which produced it. Today you curse and
swear like twenty drunken pirates if the Röntgenologist is but thirty
seconds late in setting up the apparatus. These things are
'scientific,' you understand their underlying formulæ, therefore they
seem natural. But mention what you please to call the occult, and you
scoff, and that is but admitting that you are opposed to something
which you do not understand. The credible and believable is that to
which we are accustomed, the fantastic and incredible is what we
cannot explain in terms of previous experience. _Voilà, c'est très
simple, n'est-ce-pas?_"

"You mean to say you understand all this?"

"Not at all by any means; I am clever, me, but not that clever. No, my
friend, I am as much in the dark as you, only I do not refuse to
credit what our young friend tells us. I believe the things he has
related happened, exactly as he has recounted them. I do not
understand, but I believe. Accordingly, I must probe, I must sift, I
must examine this matter. We see it now as a group of unrelated and
irrelevant occurrences, but somewhere lies the key which will enable
us to make harmony from this discord, to gather these stray, tangled
threads into an ordered pattern. I go to seek that key."

"Where?"

"To New Orleans, of course. Tonight I pack my portmanteaux, tomorrow I
entrain. Just now"--he smothered a tremendous yawn--"now I do what
every wise man does as often as he can. I take a drink."

       *       *       *       *       *

Seven evenings later we gathered in my study, de Grandin, Ned and I,
and from the little Frenchman's shining eyes I knew his quest had been
productive of results.

"My friends," he told us solemnly, "I am a clever person, and a lucky
one, as well. The morning after my arrival at New Orleans I enjoyed
three Ramos fizzes, then went to sit in City Park by the old
Dueling-Oak and wished with all my heart that I had taken four. And
while I sat in self-reproachful thought, sorrowing for the drink that
I had missed, behold, one passed by whom I recognized. He was my old
schoolfellow, Paul Dubois, now a priest in holy orders and attached to
the Cathedral of Saint Louis.

[Illustration: DR. DE GRANDIN.]

"He took me to his quarters, that good, pious man, and gave me
luncheon. It was Friday and a fast day, so we fasted. _Mon Dieu_, but
we did fast! On créole gumbo and oysters à la Rockefeller, and baked
pompano and little shrimp fried crisp in olive oil and chicory salad
and seven different kinds of cheese and wine. When we were so filled
with fasting that we could not eat another morsel my old friend took
me to another priest, a native of New Orleans whose stock of local
lore was second only to his marvelous capacity for fine champagne.
_Morbleu_, how I admire that one! And now, attend me very carefully,
my friends. What he disclosed to me makes many hidden mysteries all
clear:

"In New Orleans there lived a wealthy family named d'Ayen. They
possessed much gold and land, a thousand slaves or more, and one fair
daughter by the name of Julie. When this country bought the Louisiana
Territory from Napoléon and your army came to occupy the forts, this
young girl fell in love with a young officer, a Lieutenant Philip
Merriwell. _Tenez_, army love in those times was no different than it
is today, it seems. This gay young lieutenant, he came, he wooed, he
won, he rode away, and little Julie wept and sighed and finally died
of heartbreak. In her lovesick illness she had for constant company a
slave, an old mulatress known to most as Maman Dragonne, but to Julie
simply as _grand'tante_, great-aunt. She had nursed our little Julie
at the breast, and all her life she fostered and attended her. To her
little white '_mamselle_' she was all gentleness and kindness, but to
others she was fierce and frightful, for she was a 'conjon woman,'
adept at obeah, the black magic of the Congo, and among the blacks she
ruled as queen by force of fear, while the whites were wont to treat
her with respect and, it was more than merely whispered, retain her
services upon occasion. She could sell protection to the duelist, and
he who bore her charm would surely conquer on the field of honor; she
brewed love-drafts which turned the hearts and heads of the most
capricious coquettes or the most constant wives, as occasion
warranted; by merely staring fixedly at someone she could cause him to
take sick and die, and--here we commence to tread upon our own
terrain--she was said to have the power of changing to a snake at
will.

"Very good. You follow? When poor young Julie died of heartbreak it
was old Maman Dragonne--the little white one's _grand'tante_--who
watched beside her bed. It is said she stood beside her mistress'
coffin and called a curse upon the fickle lover; swore he would come
back and die beside the body of the sweetheart he deserted. She also
made a prophecy. Julie should have many loves, but her body should not
know corruption nor her spirit rest until she could find one to keep
his promise and return to her with words of love upon his lips. Those
who failed her should die horribly, but he who kept his pledge would
bring her rest and peace. This augury she made while she stood beside
her mistress' coffin just before they sealed it in the tomb in old
Saint Denis Cemetery. Then she disappeared."

"You mean she ran away?" I asked.

"I mean she disappeared, vanished, evanesced, evaporated. She was
never seen again, not even by the people who stood next to her when
she pronounced her prophecy."

"But----"

"No buts, my friend, if you will be so kind. Years later, when the
British stormed New Orleans, Lieutenant Merriwell was there with
General Andrew Jackson. He survived the battle like a man whose life
is charmed, though all around him comrades fell and three horses were
shot under him. Then, when the strife was done, he went to the grand
banquet tendered to the victors. While gayety was at its height he
abruptly left the table. Next morning he was found upon the grass
before the tomb of Julie d'Ayen. He was dead. He died from snake-bite.

"The years marched on and stories spread about the town, stories of a
strange and lovely _belle dame sans merci_, a modern Circe who lured
young gallants to their doom. Time and again some gay young blade of
New Orleans would boast a conquest. Passing late at night through
Royal Street, he would have a flower dropped to him as he walked
underneath a balcony. He would meet a lovely girl dressed in the early
Empire style, and be surprized at the ease with which he pushed his
suit; then--upon the trees in Chartres Street appeared his funeral
notices. He was dead, invariably he was dead of snake-bite. _Parbleu_,
it got to be a saying that he who died mysteriously must have met the
Lady of the Moonlight as he walked through Royal Street!"

He paused and poured a thimbleful of brandy in his coffee. "You see?"
he asked.

"No, I'm shot if I do!" I answered. "I can't see the connection
between----"

"Night and breaking dawn, perhaps?" he asked sarcastically. "If two
and two make four, my friend, and even you will not deny they do, then
these things I have told you give an explanation of our young friend's
trouble. This girl he met was most indubitably Julie, poor little
Julie d'Ayen on whose tombstone it is carved: '_Ici repose
malheureusement_--here lies unhappily.' The so mysterious snake which
menaces young Monsieur Minton is none other than the aged Maman
Dragonne--_grand'tante_, as Julie called her."

"But Ned's already failed to keep his tryst," I objected. "Why didn't
this snake-woman sting him in the hotel, or----"

"Do you recall what Julie said when first the snake appeared?" he
interrupted. "'Not this one, _grand'tante_!' And again, in the old
cemetery when the serpent actually struck at him, she threw herself
before him and received the blow. It could not permanently injure her;
to earthly injuries the dead are proof, but the shock of it caused her
to swoon, it seems. _Monsieur_," he bowed to Ned, "you are more
fortunate than any of those others. Several times you have been close
to death, but each time you escaped. You have been given chance and
chance again to keep your pledged word to the dead, a thing no other
faithless lover of the little Julie ever had. It seems, Monsieur, this
dead girl truly loves you."

"How horrible!" I muttered.

"You said it, Doctor Trowbridge!" Ned seconded. "It looks as if I'm in
a spot, all right."

"_Mais non_," de Grandin contradicted. "Escape is obvious, my friend."

"How, in heaven's name?"

"Keep your promised word; go back to her."

"Good Lord, I can't do that! Go back to a corpse, take her in my
arms--kiss her?"

"_Certainement_, why not?"

"Why--why, she's _dead_!"

"Is she not beautiful?"

"She's lovely and alluring as a siren's song. I think she's the most
exquisite thing I've ever seen, but----" he rose and walked unsteadily
across the room. "If it weren't for Nella," he said slowly, "I might
not find it hard to follow your advice. Julie's sweet and beautiful,
and artless and affectionate as a child; kind, too, the way she stood
between me and that awful snake-thing, but--oh, it's out of the
question!"

"Then we must expand the question to accommodate it, my friend. For
the safety of the living--for Mademoiselle Nella's sake--and for the
repose of the dead, you must keep the oath you swore to little Julie
d'Ayen. You must go back to New Orleans and keep your rendezvous."

       *       *       *       *       *

The dead of old Saint Denis lay in dreamless sleep beneath the palely
argent rays of the fast-waxing moon. The oven-like tombs were gay with
hardly-wilted flowers; for two days before was All Saints' Day, and no
grave in all New Orleans is so lowly, no dead so long interred, that
pious hands do not bear blossoms of remembrance to them on that feast
of memories.

De Grandin had been busily engaged all afternoon, making mysterious
trips to the old Negro quarter in company with a patriarchal scion of
Indian and Negro ancestry who professed ability to guide him to the
city's foremost practitioner of voodoo; returning to the hotel only
to dash out again to consult his friend at the Cathedral; coming back
to stare with thoughtful eyes upon the changing panorama of Canal
Street while Ned, nervous as a race-horse at the barrier, tramped up
and down the room lighting cigarette from cigarette and drinking
absinthe frappés alternating with sharp, bitter sazarac cocktails till
I wondered that he did not fall in utter alcoholic collapse. By
evening I had that eery feeling that the sane experience when alone
with mad folk. I was ready to shriek at any unexpected noise or turn
and run at sight of a strange shadow.

"My friend," de Grandin ordered as we reached the grass-paved corridor
of tombs where Ned had told us the d'Ayen vaults were, "I suggest that
you drink this." From an inner pocket he drew out a tiny flask of ruby
glass and snapped its stopper loose. A strong and slightly acrid scent
came to me, sweet and spicy, faintly reminiscent of the odor of the
aromatic herbs one smells about a mummy's wrappings.

"Thanks, I've had enough to drink already," Ned said shortly.

"You are informing me, _mon vieux_?" the little Frenchman answered
with a smile. "It is for that I brought this draft along. It will help
you draw yourself together. You have need of all your faculties this
time, believe me."

Ned put the bottle to his lips, drained its contents, hiccuped
lightly, then braced his shoulders. "That _is_ a pick-up," he
complimented. "Too bad you didn't let me have it sooner, sir. I think
I can go through the ordeal now."

"One is sure you can," the Frenchman answered confidently. "Walk
slowly toward the spot where you last saw Julie, if you please. We
shall await you here, in easy call if we are needed."

The aisle of tombs was empty as Ned left us. The turf had been
fresh-mown for the day of visitation and was as smooth and short as a
lawn tennis court. A field-mouse could not have run across the pathway
without our seeing it. This much I noticed idly as Ned trudged away
from us, walking more like a man on his way to the gallows than one
who went to keep a lovers' rendezvous ... and suddenly he was not
alone. There was another with him, a girl dressed in a clinging robe
of sheer white muslin cut in the charming fashion of the First Empire,
girdled high beneath the bosom with a sash of light-blue ribbon. A
wreath of pale gardenias lay upon her bright, fair hair; her slender
arms were pearl-white in the moonlight. As she stepped toward Ned I
thought involuntarily of a line from Sir John Suckling:

     "Her feet ... like little mice stole in and out."

"_Édouard, chêri! O, coeur de mon coeur, c'est véritablement toi?_
Thou hast come willingly, unasked, _petit amant_?"

"I'm here," Ned answered steadily, "but only----" He paused and drew a
sudden gasping breath, as though a hand had been laid on his throat.

"_Chèri_," the girl asked in a trembling voice, "you are cold to me;
do not you love me, then--you are not here because your heart heard my
heart calling? O heart of my heart's heart, if you but knew how I have
longed and waited! It has been _triste, mon Édouard_, lying in my
narrow bed alone while winter rains and summer suns beat down,
listening for your footfall. I could have gone out at my pleasure
whenever moonlight made the nights all bright with silver; I could
have sought for other lovers, but I would not. You held release for me
within your hands, and if I might not have it from you I would forfeit
it for ever. Do not you bring release for me, my Édouard? Say that it
is so!"

An odd look came into the boy's face. He might have seen her for the
first time, and been dazzled by her beauty and the winsome sweetness
of her voice.

"Julie!" he whispered softly. "Poor, patient, faithful little Julie!"

In a single stride he crossed the intervening turf and was on his
knees before her, kissing her hands, the hem of her gown, her sandaled
feet, and babbling half-coherent, broken words of love.

She put her hands upon his head as if in benediction, then turned
them, holding them palm-forward to his lips, finally crooked her
fingers underneath his chin and raised his face. "Nay, love, sweet
love, art thou a worshipper and I a saint that thou should kneel to
me?" she asked him tenderly. "See, my lips are famishing for thine,
and wilt thou waste thy kisses on my hands and feet and garment? Make
haste, my heart, we have but little time, and I would know the kisses
of redemption ere----"

They clung together in the moonlight, her white-robed, lissome form
and his somberly-clad body seemed to melt and merge in one while her
hands reached up to clasp his cheeks and draw his face down to her
yearning, scarlet mouth.

De Grandin was reciting something in a mumbling monotone; his words
were scarcely audible, but I caught a phrase occasionally: "... rest
eternal grant to her, O Lord ... let light eternal shine upon her ...
from the gates of hell her soul deliver.... _Kyrie eleison_...."

"Julie!" we heard Ned's despairing cry, and:

"_Ha_, it comes, it has begun; it finishes!" de Grandin whispered
gratingly.

The girl had sunk down to the grass as though she swooned; one arm had
fallen limply from Ned's shoulder, but the other still was clasped
about his neck as we raced toward them. "_Adieu, mon amoureux; adieu
pour ce monde, adieu pour l'autre; adieu pour l'éternité!_" we heard
her sob. When we reached him, Ned knelt empty-armed before the tomb.
Of Julie there was neither sign nor trace.

"So, assist him, if you will, my friend," de Grandin bade, motioning
me to take Ned's elbow. "Help him to the gate. I follow quickly, but
first I have a task to do."

As I led Ned, staggering like a drunken man, toward the cemetery exit,
I heard the clang of metal striking metal at the tomb behind us.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What did you stop behind to do?" I asked as we prepared for bed at
the hotel.

He flashed his quick, infectious smile at me, and tweaked his mustache
ends, for all the world like a self-satisfied tomcat furbishing his
whiskers after finishing a bowl of cream. "There was an alteration to
that epitaph I had to make. You recall it read, '_Ici repose
malheureusement_--here lies unhappily Julie d'Ayen'? That is no longer
true. I chiseled off the _malheureusement_. Thanks to Monsieur
Édouard's courage and my cleverness the old one's prophecy was
fulfilled tonight; and poor, small Julie has found rest at last.
Tomorrow morning they celebrate the first of a series of masses I have
arranged for her at the Cathedral."

"What was that drink you gave Ned just before he left us?" I asked
curiously. "It smelled like----"

"_Le bon Dieu_ and the devil know--not I," he answered with a grin.
"It was a voodoo love-potion. I found the realization that she had
been dead a century and more so greatly troubled our young friend that
he swore he could not be affectionate to our poor Julie; so I went
down to the Negro quarter in the afternoon and arranged to have a
philtre brewed. _Eh bien_, that aged black one who concocted it
assured me that she could inspire love for the image of a crocodile in
the heart of anyone who looked upon it after taking but a drop of her
decoction, and she charged me twenty dollars for it. But I think I had
my money's worth. Did it not work marvelously?"

"Then Julie's really gone? Ned's coming back released her from the
spell----"

"Not wholly gone," he corrected. "Her little body now is but a small
handful of dust, her spirit is no longer earth-bound, and the familiar
demon who in life was old Maman Dragonne has left the earth with her,
as well. No longer will she metamorphosize into a snake and kill the
faithless ones who kiss her little mistress and then forswear their
troth, but--_non_, my friend, Julie is not gone entirely, I think. In
the years to come when Ned and Nella have long been joined in wedded
bliss, there will be minutes when Julie's face and Julie's voice and
the touch of Julie's little hands will haunt his memory. There will
always be one little corner of his heart which never will belong to
Madame Nella Minton, for it will be for ever Julie's. Yes, I think
that it is so."

Slowly, deliberately, almost ritualistically, he poured a glass of
wine and raised it. "To you, my little poor one," he said softly as he
looked across the sleeping city toward old Saint Denis Cemetery. "You
quit earth with a kiss upon your lips; may you sleep serene in
Paradise until another kiss shall waken you."

       *       *       *       *       *





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