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Title: In a Glass Darkly, v. 2/3
Author: Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan, 1814-1873
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.

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IN A GLASS DARKLY.

BY

J. SHERIDAN LE FANU,

AUTHOR OF "UNCLE SILAS", &C.

IN THREE VOLUMES.

VOL. II.


LONDON:

R. BENTLEY & SON, NEW BURLINGTON STREET.

1872.



In a Glass Darkly.


THE ROOM

IN

THE DRAGON VOLANT.


VOL. II.



PROLOGUE.


The curious case which I am about to place before you, is
referred to, very pointedly, and more than once, in the
extraordinary Essay upon the drugs of the Dark and the Middle
Ages, from the pen of Doctor Hesselius.

This Essay he entitles "Mortis Imago," and he, therein, discusses
the _Vinum letiferum_, the _Beatifica_, the _Somnus Angelorum_,
the _Hypnus Sagarum_, the _Aqua Thessalliæ_, and about twenty
other infusions and distillations, well known to the sages of
eight hundred years ago, and two of which are still, he alleges,
known to the fraternity of thieves, and, among them, as
police-office inquiries sometimes disclose to this day, in
practical use.

The Essay, _Mortis Imago_, will occupy as nearly as I can, at
present, calculate, two volumes, the ninth and tenth, of the
collected papers of Doctor Martin Hesselius.

This Essay, I may remark, in conclusion, is very curiously
enriched by citations, in great abundance, from mediæval verse
and prose romance, some of the most valuable of which, strange to
say, are Egyptian.

I have selected this particular statement from among many cases
equally striking, but hardly, I think, so effective as mere
narratives, in this irregular form of publication, it is simply
as a story that I present it.



CHAPTER I.

ON THE ROAD.


In the eventful year, 1815, I was exactly three-and-twenty, and
had just succeeded to a very large sum in consols, and other
securities. The first fall of Napoleon had thrown the continent
open to English excursionists, anxious, let us suppose, to
improve their minds by foreign travel; and I--the slight check of
the 'hundred days' removed, by the genius of Wellington, on the
field of Waterloo--was now added to the philosophic throng.

I was posting up to Paris from Bruxelles, following, I presume,
the route that the allied army had pursued but a few weeks
before--more carriages than you could believe were pursuing the
same line. You could not look back or forward, without seeing
into far perspective the clouds of dust which marked the line of
the long series of vehicles. We were, perpetually, passing relays
of return-horses, on their way, jaded and dusty, to the inns from
which they had been taken. They were arduous times for those
patient public servants. The whole world seemed posting up to
Paris.

I ought to have noted it more particularly, but my head was so
full of Paris and the future, that I passed the intervening
scenery with little patience and less attention; I think,
however, that it was about four miles to the frontier side of a
rather picturesque little town, the name of which, as of many
more important places through which I posted in my hurried
journey, I forget, and about two hours before sunset, that we
came up with a carriage in distress.

It was not quite an upset. But the two leaders were lying flat.
The booted postillions had got down, and two servants who seemed
very much at sea in such matters, were by way of assisting them.
A pretty little bonnet and head were popped out of the window of
the carriage in distress. Its _tournure_, and that of the
shoulders that also appeared for a moment, was captivating: I
resolved to play the part of a good Samaritan; stopped my chaise,
jumped out, and with my servant lent a very willing hand in the
emergency. Alas! the lady with the pretty bonnet, wore a very
thick, black veil. I could see nothing but the pattern of the
Bruxelles lace, as she drew back.

A lean old gentleman, almost at the same time, stuck his head
out of the window. An invalid he seemed, for although the day was
hot, he wore a black muffler which came up to his ears and nose,
quite covering the lower part of his face, an arrangement which
he disturbed by pulling it down for a moment, and poured forth a
torrent of French thanks, as he uncovered his black wig, and
gesticulated with grateful animation.

One of my very few accomplishments besides boxing, which was
cultivated by all Englishmen at that time, was French; and I
replied, I hope and believe, grammatically. Many bows being
exchanged, the old gentleman's head went in again, and the
demure, pretty little bonnet once more appeared.

The lady must have heard me speak to my servant, for she framed
her little speech in such pretty, broken English, and in a voice
so sweet, that I more than ever cursed the black veil that
baulked my romantic curiosity.

The arms that were emblazoned on the panel were peculiar; I
remember especially, one device, it was the figure of a stork,
painted in carmine, upon what the heralds call a 'field or.' The
bird was standing upon one leg, and in the other claw held a
stone. This is, I believe, the emblem of vigilance. Its oddity
struck me, and remained impressed upon my memory. There were
supporters besides, but I forget what they were.

The courtly manners of these people, the style of their servants,
the elegance of their travelling carriage, and the supporters to
their arms, satisfied me that they were noble.

The lady, you may be sure, was not the less interesting on that account.
What a fascination a title exercises upon the imagination! I do not mean
on that of snobs or moral flunkies. Superiority of rank is a powerful
and genuine influence in love. The idea of superior refinement is
associated with it. The careless notice of the squire tells more upon
the heart of the pretty milkmaid, than years of honest Dobbin's manly
devotion, and so on and up. It is an unjust world!

But in this case there was something more. I was conscious of
being good-looking. I really believe I was; and there could be no
mistake about my being nearly six feet high. Why need this lady
have thanked me? Had not her husband, for such I assumed him to
be, thanked me quite enough, and for both? I was instinctively
aware that the lady was looking on me with no unwilling eyes;
and, through her veil, I felt the power of her gaze.

She was now rolling away, with a train of dust behind her wheels,
in the golden sunlight, and a wise young gentleman followed her
with ardent eyes, and sighed profoundly as the distance
increased.

I told the postillions on no account to pass the carriage, but to keep
it steadily in view, and to pull up at whatever posting-house it should
stop at. We were soon in the little town, and the carriage we followed
drew up at the Belle Etoile, a comfortable old inn. They got out of the
carriage and entered the house.

At a leisurely pace we followed. I got down, and mounted the
steps listlessly, like a man quite apathetic and careless.

Audacious as I was, I did not care to inquire in what room I
should find them. I peeped into the apartment to my right, and
then into that on my left. _My_ people were not there.

I ascended the stairs. A drawing-room door stood open. I entered
with the most innocent air in the world. It was a spacious room,
and, beside myself, contained but one living figure--a very
pretty and lady-like one. There was the very bonnet with which I
had fallen in love. The lady stood with her back toward me. I
could not tell whether the envious veil was raised; she was
reading a letter.

I stood for a minute in fixed attention, gazing upon her, in the
vague hope that she might turn about, and give me an opportunity
of seeing her features. She did not; but with a step or two she
placed herself before a little cabriole-table, which stood
against the wall, from which rose a tall mirror, in a tarnished
frame.

I might, indeed, have mistaken it for a picture; for it now
reflected a half-length portrait of a singularly beautiful woman.

She was looking down upon a letter which she held in her slender
fingers, and in which she seemed absorbed.

The face was oval, melancholy, sweet. It had in it, nevertheless,
a faint and undefinably sensual quality also. Nothing could
exceed the delicacy of its features, or the brilliancy of its
tints. The eyes, indeed, were lowered, so that I could not see
their colour; nothing but their long lashes, and delicate
eyebrows. She continued reading. She must have been deeply
interested; I never saw a living form so motionless--I gazed on a
tinted statue.

Being at that time blessed with long and keen vision, I saw this
beautiful face with perfect distinctness. I saw even the blue
veins that traced their wanderings on the whiteness of her full
throat.

I ought to have retreated as noiselessly as I came in, before my
presence was detected. But I was too much interested to move from
the spot, for a few moments longer; and while they were passing,
she raised her eyes. Those eyes were large, and of that hue which
modern poets term "violet."

These splendid melancholy eyes were turned upon me from the
glass, with a haughty stare, and hastily the lady lowered her
black veil, and turned about.

I fancied that she hoped I had not seen her. I was watching every
look and movement, the minutest, with an attention as intense as
if an ordeal involving my life depended on them.



CHAPTER II.

THE INN-YARD OF THE BELLE ETOILE.


The face was, indeed, one to fall in love with at first sight.
Those sentiments that take such sudden possession of young men
were now dominating my curiosity. My audacity faltered before
her; and I felt that my presence in this room was probably an
impertinence. This point she quickly settled, for the same very
sweet voice I had heard before, now said coldly, and this time in
French, "Monsieur cannot be aware that this apartment is not
public."

I bowed very low, faltered some apologies, and backed to the
door.

I suppose I looked penitent and embarrassed. I certainly felt so;
for the lady said, by way it seemed of softening matters, "I am
happy, however, to have an opportunity of again thanking Monsieur
for the assistance, so prompt and effectual, which he had the
goodness to render us to-day."

It was more the altered tone in which it was spoken, than the
speech itself that encouraged me. It was also true that she need
not have recognized me; and even if she had, she certainly was
not obliged to thank me over again.

All this was indescribably flattering, and all the more so that
it followed so quickly on her slight reproof.

The tone in which she spoke had become low and timid, and I
observed that she turned her head quickly towards a second door
of the room, I fancied that the gentleman in the black wig, a
jealous husband, perhaps, might reappear through it. Almost at
the same moment, a voice at once reedy and nasal, was heard
snarling some directions to a servant, and evidently approaching.
It was the voice that had thanked me so profusely, from the
carriage windows, about an hour before.

"Monsieur will have the goodness to retire," said the lady, in a
tone that resembled entreaty, at the same time gently waving her
hand toward the door through which I had entered. Bowing again
very low, I stepped back, and closed the door.

I ran down the stairs, very much elated. I saw the host of the
Belle Etoile which, as I said, was the sign and designation of my
inn.

I described the apartment I had just quitted, said I liked it,
and asked whether I could have it.

He was extremely troubled, but that apartment and two adjoining
rooms were engaged--

"By whom?"

"People of distinction."

"But who are they? They must have names, or titles."

"Undoubtedly, Monsieur, but such a stream is rolling into Paris,
that we have ceased to inquire the names or titles of our
guests--we designate them simply by the rooms they occupy."

"What stay do they make?"

"Even that, Monsieur, I cannot answer. It does not interest us.
Our rooms, while this continues, can never be, for a moment,
disengaged."

"I should have liked those rooms so much! Is one of them a
sleeping apartment?"

"Yes, sir, and Monsieur will observe that people do not usually
engage bed-rooms, unless they mean to stay the night."

"Well, I can, I suppose, have some rooms, any, I don't care in
what part of the house?"

"Certainly, Monsieur can have two apartments. They are the last
at present disengaged."

I took them instantly.

It was plain these people meant to make a stay here; at least
they would not go till morning. I began to feel that I was all
but engaged in an adventure.

I took possession of my rooms, and looked out of the window,
which I found commanded the inn-yard. Many horses were being
liberated from the traces, hot and weary, and others fresh from
the stables, being put to. A great many vehicles--some private
carriages, others, like mine, of that public class, which is
equivalent to our old English post-chaise, were standing on the
pavement, waiting their turn for relays. Fussy servants were
to-ing and fro-ing, and idle ones lounging or laughing, and the
scene, on the whole, was animated and amusing.

Among these objects, I thought I recognized the travelling
carriage, and one of the servants of the "persons of distinction"
about whom I was, just then, so profoundly interested.

I therefore ran down the stairs, made my way to the back door;
and so, behold me, in a moment, upon the uneven pavement, among
all these sights and sounds which in such a place attend upon a
period of extraordinary crush and traffic.

By this time the sun was near its setting, and threw its golden
beams on the red brick chimneys of the offices, and made the two
barrels, that figured as pigeon-houses, on the tops of poles,
look as if they were on fire. Everything in this light becomes
picturesque; and things interest us which, in the sober grey of
morning, are dull enough.

After a little search, I lighted upon the very carriage, of which
I was in quest. A servant was locking one of the doors, for it
was made with the security of lock and key. I paused near,
looking at the panel of the door.

"A very pretty device that red stork!" I observed, pointing to
the shield on the door, "and no doubt indicates a distinguished
family?"

The servant looked at me, for a moment, as he placed the little
key in his pocket, and said with a slightly sarcastic bow and
smile, "Monsieur is at liberty to conjecture."

Nothing daunted, I forthwith administered that laxative which, on
occasion, acts so happily upon the tongue--I mean a "tip."

The servant looked at the Napoleon in his hand, and then, in my
face, with a sincere expression of surprise.

"Monsieur is very generous!"

"Not worth mentioning--who are the lady and gentleman who came
here, in this carriage, and whom, you may remember, I and my
servant assisted to-day in an emergency, when their horses had
come to the ground?"

"They are the Count, and the young lady we call the Countess--but
I know not, she may be his daughter."

"Can you tell me where they live?"

"Upon my honour, Monsieur, I am unable--I know not."

"Not know where your master lives! Surely you know something more
about him than his name?"

"Nothing worth relating, Monsieur; in fact, I was hired in
Bruxelles, on the very day they started. Monsieur Picard, my
fellow-servant, Monsieur the Comte's gentleman, he has been years
in his service and knows everything; but he never speaks except
to communicate an order. From him I have learned nothing. We are
going to Paris, however, and there I shall speedily pick up all
about them. At present I am as ignorant of all that as Monsieur
himself."

"And where is Monsieur Picard?"

"He has gone to the cutler's to get his razors set. But I do not
think he will tell anything."

This was a poor harvest for my golden sowing. The man, I think,
spoke truth, and would honestly have betrayed the secrets of the
family, if he had possessed any. I took my leave politely; and
mounting the stairs, again I found myself once more in my room.

Forthwith I summoned my servant. Though I had brought him with me
from England, he was a native of France--a useful fellow, sharp,
bustling, and, of course, quite familiar with the ways and
tricks of his countrymen.

"St. Clair, shut the door; come here. I can't rest till I have
made out something about those people of rank who have got the
apartments under mine. Here are fifteen francs; make out the
servants we assisted to-day; have them to a _petit souper_, and
come back and tell me their entire history. I have, this moment,
seen one of them who knows nothing, and has communicated it. The
other, whose name I forget, is the unknown nobleman's valet, and
knows everything. Him you must pump. It is, of course, the
venerable peer, and not the young lady who accompanies him, that
interests me--you understand? Begone! fly! and return with all
the details I sigh for, and every circumstance that can possibly
interest me."

It was a commission which admirably suited the tastes and spirits
of my worthy St. Clair, to whom, you will have observed, I had
accustomed myself to talk with the peculiar familiarity which the
old French comedy establishes between master and valet.

I am sure he laughed at me in secret; but nothing could be more,
polite and deferential.

With several wise looks, nods and shrugs, he withdrew; and
looking down from my window, I saw him, with incredible
quickness, enter the yard, where I soon lost sight of him among
the carriages.



CHAPTER III.

DEATH AND LOVE TOGETHER MATED.


When the day drags, when a man is solitary, and in a fever of
impatience and suspense; when the minute-hand of his watch
travels as slowly as the hour-hand used to do, and the hour-hand
has lost all appreciable motion; when he yawns, and beats the
devil's tatto, and flattens his handsome nose against the window,
and whistles tunes he hates, and, in short, does not know what to
do with himself, it is deeply to be regretted that he cannot make
a solemn dinner of three courses more than once in a day. The
laws of matter, to which we are slaves, deny us that resource.

But in the times I speak of, supper was still a substantial meal, and
its hour was approaching. This was consolatory. Three-quarters of an
hour, however, still interposed. How was I to dispose of that interval?

I had two or three idle books, it is true, as
travelling-companions; but there are many moods in which one
cannot read. My novel lay with my rug and walking-stick on the
sofa, and I did not care if the heroine and the hero were both
drowned together in the water-barrel that I saw in the inn-yard
under my window.

I took a turn or two up and down my room, and sighed, looking at myself
in the glass, adjusted my great white "choker," folded and tied after
Brummel, the immortal "Beau," put on a buff waistcoat and my blue
swallow-tailed coat with gilt buttons; I deluged my pocket handkerchief
with Eau-de-Cologne (we had not then the variety of bouquets with which
the genius of perfumery has since blessed us); I arranged my hair, on
which I piqued myself, and which I loved to groom in those days. That
dark-brown _chevelure_, with a natural curl, is now represented by a few
dozen perfectly white hairs, and its place--a smooth, bald, pink
head--knows it no more. But let us forget these mortifications. It was
then rich, thick, and dark-brown. I was making a very careful toilet. I
took my unexceptionable hat from its case, and placed it lightly on my
wise head, as nearly as memory and practice enabled me to do so, at that
very slight inclination which the immortal person I have mentioned was
wont to give to his. A pair of light French gloves and a rather
club-like knotted walking-stick, such as just then came into vogue, for
a year or two again in England, in the phraseology of Sir Walter Scott's
romances, "completed my equipment."

All this attention to effect, preparatory to a mere lounge in the
yard, or on the steps of the Belle Etoile, was a simple act of
devotion to the wonderful eyes which I had that evening beheld
for the first time, and never, never could forget! In plain
terms, it was all done in the vague, very vague hope that those
eyes might behold the unexceptionable get-up of a melancholy
slave, and retain the image, not altogether without secret
approbation.

As I completed my preparations the light failed me; the last
level streak of sunlight disappeared, and a fading twilight only
remained. I sighed in unison with the pensive hour, and threw
open the window, intending to look out for a moment before going
downstairs. I perceived instantly that the window underneath mine
was also open, for I heard two voices in conversation, although I
could not distinguish what they were saying.

The male voice was peculiar; it was, as I told you, reedy and
nasal. I knew it, of course, instantly. The answering voice spoke
in those sweet tones which I recognised only too easily. The
dialogue was only for a minute; the repulsive male voice laughed,
I fancied, with a kind of devilish satire, and retired from the
window, so that I almost ceased to hear it.

The other voice remained nearer the window, but not so near as at
first.

It was not an altercation; there was evidently nothing the least
exciting in the colloquy. What would I not have given that it had
been a quarrel--a violent one--and I the redresser of wrongs, and
the defender of insulted beauty! Alas! so far as I could
pronounce upon the character of the tones I heard, they might be
as tranquil a pair as any in existence. In a moment more the lady
began to sing an odd little _chanson_. I need not remind you how
much farther the voice is heard _singing_ than speaking. I could
distinguish the words. The voice was of that exquisitely sweet
kind which is called, I believe, a semi-contralto; it had
something pathetic, and something, I fancied, a little mocking in
its tones. I venture a clumsy, but adequate translation of the
words:--

     "Death and Love, together mated,
        Watch and wait in ambuscade;
      At early morn, or else belated.
        They meet and mark the man or maid.

     "Burning sigh, or breath that freezes,
        Numbs or maddens man or maid;
      Death or Love the victim seizes,
        Breathing from their ambuscade."

"Enough, Madame!" said the old voice, with sudden severity. "We
do not desire, I believe, to amuse the grooms and hostlers in the
yard with our music."

The lady's voice laughed gaily.

"You desire to quarrel, Madame!" And the old man, I presume, shut
down the window. Down it went, at all events, with a rattle that
might easily have broken the glass.

Of all thin partitions, glass is the most effectual excluder of
sound. I heard no more, not even the subdued hum of the colloquy.

What a charming voice this Countess had! How it melted, swelled,
and trembled! How it moved, and even agitated me! What a pity
that a hoarse old jackdaw should have power to crow down such a
Philomel! "Alas! what a life it is!" I moralized, wisely. "That
beautiful Countess, with the patience of an angel and the beauty
of a Venus and the accomplishments of all the Muses, a slave! She
knows perfectly who occupies the apartments over hers; she heard
me raise my window. One may conjecture pretty well for whom that
music was intended--ay, old gentleman, and for whom you suspected
it to be intended."

In a very agreeable flutter I left my room, and descending the
stairs, passed the Count's door very much at my leisure. There
was just a chance that the beautiful songstress might emerge. I
dropped my stick on the lobby, near their door, and you may be
sure it took me some little time to pick it up! Fortune,
nevertheless, did not favour me. I could not stay on the lobby
all night picking up my stick, so I went down to the hall.

I consulted the clock, and found that there remained but a
quarter of an hour to the moment of supper.

Every one was roughing it now, every inn in confusion; people
might do at such a juncture what they never did before. Was it
just possible that, for once, the Count and Countess would take
their chairs at the table-d'hôte?



CHAPTER IV.

MONSIEUR DROQVILLE.


Full of this exciting hope, I sauntered out, upon the steps of
the Belle Etoile. It was now night, and a pleasant moonlight over
everything. I had entered more into my romance since my arrival,
and this poetic light heightened the sentiment. What a drama, if
she turned out to be the Count's daughter, and in love with me!
What a delightful--_tragedy_, if she turned out to be the Count's
wife!

In this luxurious mood, I was accosted by a tall and very
elegantly-made gentleman, who appeared to be about fifty. His air
was courtly and graceful, and there was in his whole manner and
appearance something so distinguished, that it was impossible not
to suspect him of being a person of rank.

He had been standing upon the steps, looking out, like me, upon
the moonlight effects that transformed, as it were, the objects
and buildings in the little street. He accosted me, I say, with
the politeness, at once easy and lofty, of a French nobleman of
the old school. He asked me if I were not Mr. Beckett? I
assented; and he immediately introduced himself as the Marquis
d'Harmonville (this information he gave me in a low tone), and
asked leave to present me with a letter from Lord R----, who knew
my father slightly, and had once done me, also, a trifling
kindness.

This English peer, I may mention, stood very high in the
political world, and was named as the most probable successor to
the distinguished post of English Minister at Paris.

I received it with a low bow, and read:


"MY DEAR BECKETT,

"I beg to introduce my very dear friend, the Marquis
d'Harmonville, who will explain to you the nature of the services
it may be in your power to render him and us."

He went on to speak of the Marquis as a man whose great wealth,
whose intimate relations with the old families, and whose
legitimate influence with the court rendered him the fittest
possible person for those friendly offices which, at the desire
of his own sovereign, and of our government, he has so obligingly
undertaken.

It added a great deal to my perplexity, when I read, further--

"By-the-bye, Walton was here yesterday, and told me that your seat was
likely to be attacked; something, he says, is unquestionably going on at
Domwell. You know there is an awkwardness in my meddling ever so
cautiously. But I advise, if it is not very officious, your making
Haxton look after it, and report immediately. I fear it is serious. I
ought to have mentioned that, for reasons that you will see, when you
have talked with him for five minutes, the Marquis--with the concurrence
of all our friends--drops his title, for a few weeks, and is at present
plain Monsieur Droqville.

"I am this moment going to town, and can say no more.

          "Yours faithfully,
            "R----."

I was utterly puzzled. I could scarcely boast of Lord ----'s
acquaintance. I knew no one named Haxton, and, except my hatter,
no one called Walton; and this peer wrote as if we were intimate
friends! I looked at the back of the letter, and the mystery was
solved. And now, to my consternation--for I was plain Richard
Beckett--I read--

    "_To George Stanhope Beckett, Esq., M.P._"

I looked with consternation in the face of the Marquis.

"What apology can I offer to Monsieur the Mar--to Monsieur
Droqville? It is true my name is Beckett--it is true I am known,
though very slightly to Lord R----; but the letter was not
intended for me. My name is Richard Beckett--this is to Mr.
Stanhope Beckett, the member for Shillingsworth. What can I say,
or do, in this unfortunate situation? I can only give you my
honour as a gentleman, that, for me, the letter, which I now
return, shall remain as unviolated a secret as before I opened
it. I am so shocked and grieved that such a mistake should have
occurred!"

I dare say my honest vexation and good faith were pretty legibly
written in my countenance; for the look of gloomy embarrassment
which had for a moment settled on the face of the Marquis,
brightened; he smiled, kindly, and extended his hand.

"I have not the least doubt that Monsieur Beckett will respect my
little secret. As a mistake was destined to occur, I have reason
to thank my good stars that it should have been with a gentleman
of honour. Monsieur Beckett will permit me, I hope, to place his
name among those of my friends?"

I thanked the Marquis very much for his kind expressions. He went
on to say--

"If, Monsieur, I can persuade you to visit me at Claironville,
in Normandy, where I hope to see, on the 15th of August, a great
many friends, whose acquaintance it might interest you to make, I
shall be too happy."

I thanked him, of course, very gratefully for his hospitality. He
continued:

"I cannot, for the present, see my friends, for reasons which you
may surmise, at my house in Paris. But Monsieur will be so good
as to let me know the hotel he means to stay at in Paris; and he
will find that although the Marquis d'Harmonville is not in town,
that Monsieur Droqville will not lose sight of him."

With many acknowledgments I gave him the information he desired.

"And in the meantime," he continued, "if you think of any way in
which Monsieur Droqville can be of use to you, our communication
shall not be interrupted, and I shall so manage matters that you
can easily let me know."

I was very much flattered. The Marquis had, as we say, taken a
fancy to me. Such likings at first sight often ripen into lasting
friendships. To be sure it was just possible that the Marquis
might think it prudent to keep the involuntary depository of a
political secret, even so vague a one, in good humour.

Very graciously the Marquis took his leave, going up the stairs
of the Belle Etoile.

I remained upon the steps, for a minute lost in speculation upon
this new theme of interest. But the wonderful eyes, the thrilling
voice, the exquisite figure of the beautiful lady who had taken
possession of my imagination, quickly reasserted their influence.
I was again gazing at the sympathetic moon, and descending the
steps, I loitered along the pavements among strange objects, and
houses that were antique and picturesque, in a dreamy state,
thinking.

In a little while, I turned into the inn-yard again. There had
come a lull. Instead of the noisy place it was, an hour or two
before, the yard was perfectly still and empty, except for the
carriages that stood here and there. Perhaps there was a
servants' table-d'hôte just then. I was rather pleased to find
solitude; and undisturbed I found out my lady-love's carriage, in
the moonlight. I mused, I walked round it; I was as utterly
foolish and maudlin as very young men, in my situation, usually
are. The blinds were down, the doors, I suppose, locked. The
brilliant moonlight revealed everything, and cast sharp, black
shadows of wheel, and bar, and spring, on the pavement. I stood
before the escutcheon painted on the door, which I had examined
in the daylight. I wondered how often her eyes had rested on the
same object. I pondered in a charming dream. A harsh, loud voice,
over my shoulder, said suddenly,

"A red stork--good! The stork is a bird of prey; it is vigilant,
greedy, and catches gudgeons. Red, too!--blood red! Ha! ha! the
symbol is appropriate."

I had turned about, and beheld the palest face I ever saw. It was
broad, ugly, and malignant. The figure was that of a French
officer, in undress, and was six feet high. Across the nose and
eyebrow there was a deep scar, which made the repulsive face
grimmer.

The officer elevated his chin and his eyebrows, with a scoffing
chuckle, and said,--"I have shot a stork, with a rifle bullet,
when he thought himself safe in the clouds, for mere sport!" (He
shrugged, and laughed malignantly). "See, Monsieur; when a man
like me--a man of energy, you understand, a man with all his wits
about him, a man who has made the tour of Europe under canvas,
and, _parbleu!_ often without it--resolves to discover a secret,
expose a crime, catch a thief, spit a robber on the point of his
sword, it is odd if he does not succeed. Ha! ha! ha! Adieu,
Monsieur!"

He turned with an angry whisk on his heel, and swaggered with
long strides out of the gate.



CHAPTER V.

SUPPER AT THE BELLE ETOILE.


The French army were in a rather savage temper, just then. The
English, especially, had but scant courtesy to expect at their
hands. It was plain, however, that the cadaverous gentleman who
had just apostrophized the heraldry of the Count's carriage, with
such mysterious acrimony, had not intended any of his malevolence
for me. He was stung by some old recollection, and had marched
off, seething with fury.

I had received one of those unacknowledged shocks which startle
us, when fancying ourselves perfectly alone, we discover on a
sudden, that our antics have been watched by a spectator, almost
at our elbow. In this case, the effect was enhanced by the
extreme repulsiveness of the face, and, I may add, its proximity,
for, as I think, it almost touched mine. The enigmatical harangue
of this person, so full of hatred and implied denunciation, was
still in my ears. Here at all events was new matter for the
industrious fancy of a lover to work upon.

It was time now to go to the table-d'hôte. Who could tell what
lights the gossip of the supper-table might throw upon the
subject that interested me so powerfully!

I stepped into the room, my eyes searching the little assembly,
about thirty people, for the persons who specially interested me.

It was not easy to induce people, so hurried and overworked as
those of the Belle Etoile just now, to send meals up to one's
private apartments, in the midst of this unparalleled confusion;
and, therefore, many people who did not like it, might find
themselves reduced to the alternative of supping at the
table-d'hôte, or starving.

The Count was not there, nor his beautiful companion; but the
Marquis d'Harmonville, whom I hardly expected to see in so public
a place, signed, with a significant smile, to a vacant chair
beside himself. I secured it, and he seemed pleased, and almost
immediately entered into conversation with me.

"This is, probably, your first visit to France?" he said.

I told him it was, and he said:

"You must not think me very curious and impertinent; but Paris is
about the most dangerous capital a high-spirited and generous
young gentleman could visit without a Mentor. If you have not an
experienced friend as a companion during your visit--" He
paused.

I told him I was not so provided, but that I had my wits about
me; that I had seen a good deal of life in England, and that, I
fancied, human nature was pretty much the same in all parts of
the world. The Marquis shook his head, smiling.

"You will find very marked differences, notwithstanding," he
said. "Peculiarities of intellect and peculiarities of character,
undoubtedly, do pervade different nations; and this results,
among the criminal classes, in a style of villainy no less
peculiar. In Paris, the class who live by their wits, is three or
four times as great as in London; and they live much better; some
of them even splendidly. They are more ingenious than the London
rogues; they have more animation, and invention, and the dramatic
faculty, in which your countrymen are deficient, is everywhere.
These invaluable attributes place them upon a totally different
level. They can affect the manners and enjoy the luxuries of
people of distinction. They live, many of them, by play."

"So do many of our London rogues."

"Yes, but in a totally different way. They are the _habitués_ of
certain gaming-tables, billiard-rooms, and other places,
including your races, where high play goes on; and by superior
knowledge of chances, by masking their play, by means of
confederates, by means of bribery, and other artifices, varying
with the subject of their imposture, they rob the unwary. But
here it is more elaborately done, and with a really exquisite
_finesse_. There are people whose manners, style, conversation,
are unexceptionable, living in handsome houses in the best
situations, with everything about them in the most refined taste,
and exquisitely luxurious, who impose even upon the Parisian
bourgeois, who believe them to be, in good faith, people of rank
and fashion, because their habits are expensive and refined, and
their houses are frequented by foreigners of distinction, and, to
a degree, by foolish young Frenchmen of rank. At all these houses
play goes on. The ostensible host and hostess seldom join in it;
they provide it simply to plunder their guests, by means of their
accomplices, and thus wealthy strangers are inveigled and
robbed."

"But I have heard of a young Englishman, a son of Lord Rooksbury,
who broke two Parisian gaming-tables only last year."

"I see," he said, laughing, "you are come here to do likewise. I,
myself, at about your age, undertook the same spirited enterprise. I
raised no less a sum than five hundred thousand francs to begin with; I
expected to carry all before me by the simple expedient of going on
doubling my stakes. I had heard of it, and I fancied that the sharpers,
who kept the table, knew nothing of the matter. I found, however, that
they not only knew all about it, but had provided against the
possibility of any such experiments; and I was pulled up before I had
well begun, by a rule which forbids the doubling of an original stake
more than four times, consecutively."

"And is that rule in force still?" I inquired, chap-fallen.

He laughed and shrugged, "Of course it is, my young friend.
People who live by an art, always understand it better than an
amateur. I see you had formed the same plan, and no doubt came
provided."

I confessed I had prepared for conquest upon a still grander
scale. I had arrived with a purse of thirty thousand pounds
sterling.

"Any acquaintance of my very dear friend, Lord R----, interests
me; and, besides my regard for him, I am charmed with you; so you
will pardon all my, perhaps, too officious questions and advice."

I thanked him most earnestly for his valuable counsel, and begged
that he would have the goodness to give me all the advice in his
power.

"Then if you take my advice," said he, "you will leave your money in the
bank where it lies. Never risk a Napoleon in a gaming-house. The night I
went to break the bank, I lost between seven and eight thousand pounds
sterling of your English money; and my next adventure, I had obtained an
introduction to one of those elegant gaming-houses which affect to be
the private mansions of persons of distinction, and was saved from ruin
by a gentleman, whom, ever since, I have regarded with increasing
respect and friendship. It oddly happens he is in this house at this
moment. I recognized his servant, and made him a visit in his apartments
here, and found him the same brave, kind, honourable man I always knew
him. But that he is living so entirely out of the world, now, I should
have made a point of introducing you. Fifteen years ago he would have
been the man of all others to consult. The gentleman I speak of is the
Comte de St. Alyre. He represents a very old family. He is the very soul
of honour, and the most sensible man in the world, except in one
particular."

"And that particular?" I hesitated. I was now deeply interested.

"Is that he has married a charming creature, at least
five-and-forty years younger than himself, and is, of course,
although I believe absolutely without cause, horribly jealous."

"And the lady?"

"The Countess is, I believe, in every way worthy of so good a
man," he answered, a little drily.

"I think I heard her sing this evening."

"Yes, I daresay; she is very accomplished." After a few moments'
silence he continued.

"I must not lose sight of you, for I should be sorry, when next
you meet my friend Lord R----, that you had to tell him you had
been pigeoned in Paris. A rich Englishman as you are, with so
large a sum at his Paris bankers, young, gay, generous, a
thousand ghouls and harpies will be contending who shall be first
to seize and devour you."

At this moment I received something like a jerk from the elbow of
the gentleman at my right. It was an accidental jog, as he turned
in his seat.

"On the honour of a soldier, there is no man's flesh in this
company heals so fast as mine."

The tone in which this was spoken was harsh and stentorian, and
almost made me bounce. I looked round and recognised the officer,
whose large white face had half scared me in the inn-yard, wiping
his mouth furiously, and then with a gulp of Maçon, he went on--

"_No_ one! It's not blood; it is ichor! it's miracle! Set aside
stature, thew, bone, and muscle--set aside courage, and by all
the angels of death, I'd fight a lion naked and dash his teeth
down his jaws with my fist, and flog him to death with his own
tail! Set aside, I say, all those attributes, which I am allowed
to possess, and I am worth six men in any campaign; for that one
quality of healing as I do--rip me up; punch me through, tear me
to tatters with bomb-shells, and nature has me whole again, while
your tailor would fine-draw an old-coat. _Parbleu!_ gentlemen,
if you saw me naked, you would laugh? Look at my hand, a
sabre-cut across the palm, to the bone, to save my head, taken up
with three stitches, and five days afterwards I was playing ball
with an English general, a prisoner in Madrid, against the wall
of the convent of the Santa Maria de la Castita! At Arcola, by
the great devil himself! that was an action. Every man there,
gentlemen, swallowed as much smoke in five minutes as would
smother you all, in this room! I received, at the same moment,
two musket balls in the thighs, a grape shot through the calf of
my leg, a lance through my left shoulder, a piece of a shrapnel
in the left deltoid, a bayonet through the cartilage of my right
ribs, a sabre-cut that carried away a pound of flesh from my
chest, and the better part of a congreve rocket on my forehead.
Pretty well, ha, ha! and all while you'd say _bah!_ and in eight
days and a half I was making a forced march, without shoes, and
only one gaiter, the life and soul of my company, and as sound as
a roach!"

"Bravo! Bravissimo! Per Bacco! un gallant uomo!" exclaimed, in a
martial ecstacy, a fat little Italian, who manufactured
tooth-picks and wicker cradles on the island of Notre Dame; "your
exploits shall resound through Europe! and the history of those
wars should be written in your blood!"

"Never mind! a trifle!" exclaimed the soldier. "At Ligny, the
other day, where we smashed the Prussians into ten hundred
thousand milliards of atoms, a bit of a shell cut me across the
leg and opened an artery. It was spouting as high as the chimney,
and in half a minute I had lost enough to fill a pitcher. I must
have expired in another minute, if I had not whipped off my sash
like a flash of lightning, tied it round my leg above the wound,
whipt a bayonet out of the back of a dead Prussian, and passing
it under, made a tournequet of it with a couple of twists, and so
stayed the hemorrhage, and saved my life. But, _sacré bleu!_
gentlemen, I lost so much blood, I have been as pale as the
bottom of a plate ever since. No matter. A trifle. Blood well
spent, gentlemen." He applied himself now to his bottle of _vin
ordinaire_.

The Marquis had closed his eyes, and looked resigned and
disgusted, while all this was going on.

"_Garçon_" said the officer, for the first time, speaking in a
low tone over the back of his chair to the waiter; "who came in
that travelling carriage, dark yellow and black, that stands in
the middle of the yard, with arms and supporters emblazoned on
the door, and a red stork, as red as my facings?"

The waiter could not say.

The eye of the eccentric officer, who had suddenly grown grim and
serious, and seemed to have abandoned the general conversation to
other people, lighted, as it were, accidentally, on me.

"Pardon me, Monsieur," he said. "Did I not see you examining the
panel of that carriage at the same time that I did so, this
evening? Can you tell me who arrived in it?"

"I rather think the Count and Countess de St. Alyre."

"And are they here, in the Belle Etoile?" he asked.

"They have got apartments upstairs," I answered.

He started up, and half pushed his chair from the table. He
quickly sat down again, and I could hear him _sacré_-ing and
muttering to himself, and grinning and scowling. I could not tell
whether he was alarmed or furious.

I turned to say a word or two to the Marquis, but he was gone.
Several other people had dropped out also, and the supper party
soon broke up.

Two or three substantial pieces of wood smouldered on the hearth,
for the night had turned out chilly. I sat down by the fire in a
great arm-chair, of carved oak, with a marvellously high back,
that looked as old as the days of Henry IV.

"_Garçon_," said I, "do you happen to know who that officer is?"

"That is Colonel Gaillarde, Monsieur."

"Has he been often here?"

"Once before, Monsieur, for a week; it is a year since."

"He is the palest man I ever saw."

"That is true, Monsieur; he has been often taken for a
_revenant_."

"Can you give me a bottle of really good Burgundy?"

"The best in France, Monsieur."

"Place it, and a glass by my side, on this table, if you please.
I may sit here for half an hour?"

"Certainly, Monsieur."

I was very comfortable, the wine excellent, and my thoughts
glowing and serene. "Beautiful Countess! Beautiful Countess!
shall we ever be better acquainted."



CHAPTER VI.

THE NAKED SWORD.


A man who has been posting all day long, and changing the air he
breathes every half hour, who is well pleased with himself, and
has nothing on earth to trouble him, and who sits alone by a fire
in a comfortable chair after having eaten a hearty supper, may be
pardoned if he takes an accidental nap.

I had filled my fourth glass when I fell asleep. My head, I
daresay, hung uncomfortably; and it is admitted, that a variety
of French dishes is not the most favourable precursor to pleasant
dreams.

I had a dream as I took mine ease in mine inn on this occasion. I
fancied myself in a huge cathedral, without light, except from
four tapers that stood at the corners of a raised platform hung
with black, on which lay, draped also in black, what seemed to me
the dead body of the Countess de St. Alyre. The place seemed
empty, it was cold, and I could see only (in the halo of the
candles) a little way round.

The little I saw bore the character of Gothic gloom, and helped
my fancy to shape and furnish the black void that yawned all
round me. I heard a sound like the slow tread of two persons
walking up the flagged aisle. A faint echo told of the vastness
of the place. An awful sense of expectation was upon me, and I
was horribly frightened when the body that lay on the catafalque
said (without stirring), in a whisper that froze me, "They come
to place me in the grave alive; save me."

I found that I could neither speak nor move. I was horribly
frightened.

The two people who approached now emerged from the darkness. One,
the Count de St. Alyre glided to the head of the figure and
placed his long thin hands under it. The white-faced Colonel,
with the scar across his face, and a look of infernal triumph,
placed his hands under her feet, and they began to raise her.

With an indescribable effort I broke the spell that bound me, and
started to my feet with a gasp.

I was wide awake, but the broad, wicked face of Colonel Gaillarde
was staring, white as death, at me, from the other side of the
hearth. "Where is she?" I shuddered.

"That depends on who she is, Monsieur," replied the Colonel,
curtly.

"Good heavens!" I gasped, looking about me.

The Colonel, who was eyeing me sarcastically, had had his
_demi-tasse_ of _café noir_, and now drank his _tasse_, diffusing
a pleasant perfume of brandy.

"I fell asleep and was dreaming," I said, least any strong
language, founded on the _rôle_ he played in my dream, should
have escaped me. "I did not know for some moments where I was."

"You are the young gentleman who has the apartments over the
Count and Countess de St. Alyre?" he said, winking one eye, close
in meditation, and glaring at me with the other.

"I believe so--yes," I answered.

"Well, younker, take care you have not worse dreams than that
some night," he said, enigmatically, and wagged his head with a
chuckle. "Worse dreams," he repeated.

"What does Monsieur the Colonel mean?" I inquired.

"I am trying to find that out myself," said the Colonel; "and I think I
shall. When _I_ get the first inch of the thread fast between my finger
and thumb, it goes hard but I follow it up, bit by bit, little by
little, tracing it this way and that, and up and down, and round about,
until the whole clue is wound up on my thumb, and the end, and its
secret, fast in my fingers. Ingenious! Crafty as five foxes! wide awake
as a weazel! _Parbleu!_ if I had descended to that occupation I should
have made my fortune as a spy. Good wine here?" he glanced
interrogatively at my bottle.

"Very good," said I, "Will Monsieur the Colonel try a glass?"

He took the largest he could find, and filled it, raised it with
a bow, and drank it slowly. "Ah! ah! Bah! That is not it," he
exclaimed, with some disgust, filling it again. "You ought to
have told _me_ to order your Burgundy, and they would not have
brought you that stuff."

I got away from this man as soon as I civilly could, and, putting
on my hat, I walked out with no other company than my sturdy
walking stick. I visited the inn-yard, and looked up to the
windows of the Countess's apartments. They were closed, however,
and I had not even the unsubstantial consolation of contemplating
the light in which that beautiful lady was at that moment
writing, or reading, or sitting and thinking of--any one you
please.

I bore this serious privation as well as I could, and took a
little saunter through the town. I shan't bore you with moonlight
effects, nor with the maunderings of a man who has fallen in
love at first sight with a beautiful face. My ramble, it is
enough to say, occupied about half-an-hour, and, returning by a
slight _détour_, I found myself in a little square, with about
two high gabled houses on each side, and a rude stone statue,
worn by centuries of rain, on a pedestal in the centre of the
pavement. Looking at this statue was a slight and rather tall
man, whom I instantly recognized as the Marquis d'Harmonville: he
knew me almost as quickly. He walked a step towards me, shrugged
and laughed:

"You are surprised to find Monsieur Droqville staring at that old
stone figure by moonlight. Anything to pass the time. You, I see,
suffer from _ennui_, as I do. These little provincial towns!
Heavens! what an effort it is to live in them! If I could regret
having formed in early life a friendship that does me honour, I
think its condemning me to a sojourn in such a place would make
me do so. You go on towards Paris, I suppose, in the morning?"

"I have ordered horses."

"As for me I await a letter, or an arrival, either would
emancipate me; but I can't say how soon either event will
happen."

"Can I be of any use in this matter?" I began.

"None, Monsieur, I thank you a thousand times. No, this is a
piece in which every _rôle_ is already cast. I am but an amateur,
and induced, solely by friendship, to take a part."

So he talked on, for a time, as we walked slowly toward the Belle
Etoile, and then came a silence, which I broke by asking him if
he knew anything of Colonel Gaillarde.

"Oh! yes, to be sure. He is a little mad; he has had some bad
injuries of the head. He used to plague the people in the War
Office to death. He has always some delusion. They contrived some
employment for him--not regimental, of course--but in this
campaign Napoleon, who could spare nobody, placed him in command
of a regiment. He was always a desperate fighter, and such men
were more than ever needed."

There is, or was, a second inn, in this town, called l'Ecu de
France. At its door the Marquis stopped, bade me a mysterious
good-night, and disappeared.

As I walked slowly toward my inn, I met, in the shadow of a row
of poplars, the _garçon_ who had brought me my Burgundy a little
time ago. I was thinking of Colonel Gaillarde, and I stopped the
little waiter as he passed me.

"You said, I think, that Colonel Gaillarde was at the Belle
Etoile for a week at one time."

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Is he perfectly in his right mind?"

The waiter stared. "Perfectly, Monsieur."

"Has he been suspected at any time of being out of his mind?"

"Never, Monsieur; he is a little noisy, but a very shrewd man."

"What is a fellow to think?" I muttered, as I walked on.

I was soon within sight of the lights of the Belle Etoile. A
carriage, with four horses, stood in the moonlight at the door,
and a furious altercation was going on in the hall, in which the
yell of Colonel Gaillarde out-topped all other sounds.

Most young men like, at least, to witness a row. But,
intuitively, I felt that this would interest me in a very special
manner. I had only fifty yards to run, when I found myself in the
hall of the old inn. The principal actor in this strange drama
was, indeed, the Colonel, who stood facing the old Count de St.
Alyre, who, in his travelling costume, with his black silk scarf
covering the lower part of his face, confronted him; he had
evidently been intercepted in an endeavour to reach his carriage.
A little in the rear of the Count stood the Countess, also in
travelling costume, with her thick black veil down, and holding
in her delicate fingers a white rose. You can't conceive a more
diabolical effigy of hate and fury than the Colonel; the knotted
veins stood out on his forehead, his eyes were leaping from their
sockets, he was grinding his teeth, and froth was on his lips.
His sword was drawn, in his hand, and he accompanied his yelling
denunciations with stamps upon the floor and flourishes of his
weapon in the air.

The host of the Belle Etoile was talking to the Colonel in
soothing terms utterly thrown away. Two waiters, pale with fear,
stared uselessly from behind. The Colonel screamed, and
thundered, and whirled his sword. "I was not sure of your red
birds of prey; I could not believe you would have the audacity to
travel on high roads, and to stop at honest inns, and lie under
the same roof with honest men. You! _you! both_--vampires,
wolves, ghouls. Summon the _gendarmes_, I say. By St. Peter and
all the devils, if either of you try to get out of that door I'll
take your heads off."

For a moment I had stood aghast. Here was a situation! I walked
up to the lady; she laid her hand wildly upon my arm. "Oh!
Monsieur," she whispered, in great agitation, "that dreadful
madman! What are we to do? He won't let us pass; he will kill my
husband."

"Fear nothing, Madame," I answered, with romantic devotion, and
stepping between the Count and Gaillarde, as he shrieked his
invective, "Hold your tongue, and clear the way, you ruffian,
you bully, you coward!" I roared.

A faint cry escaped the lady, which more than repaid the risk I
ran, as the sword of the frantic soldier, after a moment's
astonished pause, flashed in the air to cut me down.



CHAPTER VII.

THE WHITE ROSE.


I was too quick for Colonel Gaillarde. As he raised his sword,
reckless of all consequences but my condign punishment, and quite
resolved to cleave me to the teeth, I struck him across the side
of his head, with my heavy stick; and while he staggered back, I
struck him another blow, nearly in the same place, that felled
him to the floor, where he lay as if dead.

I did not care one of his own regimental buttons, whether he was
dead or not; I was, at that moment, carried away by such a
tumult of delightful and diabolical emotions!

I broke his sword under my foot, and flung the pieces across the
street. The old Count de St. Alyre skipped nimbly without looking
to the right or left, or thanking anybody, over the floor, out of
the door, down the steps, and into his carriage. Instantly I was
at the side of the beautiful Countess, thus left to shift for
herself; I offered her my arm, which she took, and I led her to
her carriage. She entered, and I shut the door. All this without
a word.

I was about to ask if there were any commands with which she
would honour me--my hand was laid upon the lower edge of the
window, which was open.

The lady's hand was laid upon mine timidly and excitedly. Her
lips almost touched my cheek as she whispered hurriedly.

"I may never see you more, and, oh! that I could forget you.
Go--farewell--for God's sake, go!"

I pressed her hand for a moment. She withdrew it, but tremblingly
pressed into mine the rose which she had held in her fingers
during the agitating scene she had just passed through.

All this took place while the Count was commanding, entreating,
cursing his servants, tipsy, and out of the way during the
crisis, my conscience afterwards insinuated, by my clever
contrivance. They now mounted to their places with the agility of
alarm. The postillions' whips cracked, the horses scrambled into
a trot, and away rolled the carriage, with its precious
freightage, along the quaint main street, in the moonlight,
toward Paris.

I stood on the pavement, till it was quite lost to eye and ear in
the distance.

With a deep sigh, I then turned, my white rose folded in my
handkerchief--the little parting _gage_--the

     "Favour secret, sweet, and precious;"

which no mortal eye but hers and mine had seen conveyed to me.

The care of the host of the Belle Etoile, and his assistants, had
raised the wounded hero of a hundred fights partly against the
wall, and propped him at each side with portmanteaus and pillows,
and poured a glass of brandy, which was duly placed to his
account, into his big mouth, where, for the first time, such a
Godsend remained unswallowed.

A bald-headed little military surgeon of sixty, with spectacles,
who had cut off eighty-seven legs and arms to his own share,
after the battle of Eylau, having retired with his sword and his
saw, his laurels and his sticking-plaster to this, his native
town, was called in, and rather thought the gallant Colonel's
skull was fractured, at all events there was concussion of the
seat of thought, and quite enough work for his remarkable
self-healing powers, to occupy him for a fortnight.

I began to grow a little uneasy. A disagreeable surprise, if my
excursion, in which I was to break banks and hearts, and, as you
see, heads, should end upon the gallows or the guillotine. I was
not clear, in those times of political oscillation, which was the
established apparatus.

The Colonel was conveyed, snorting apoplectically to his room.

I saw my host in the apartment in which we had supped. Wherever
you employ a force of any sort, to carry a point of real
importance, reject all nice calculations of economy. Better to be
a thousand per cent, over the mark, than the smallest fraction of
a unit under it. I instinctively felt this.

I ordered a bottle of my landlord's very best wine; made him
partake with me, in the proportion of two glasses to one; and
then told him that he must not decline a trifling _souvenir_ from
a guest who had been so charmed with all he had seen of the
renowned Belle Etoile. Thus saying, I placed five-and-thirty
Napoleons in his hand. At touch of which his countenance, by no
means encouraging before, grew sunny, his manners thawed, and it
was plain, as he dropped the coins hastily into his pocket, that
benevolent relations had been established between us.

I immediately placed the Colonel's broken head upon the _tapis_.
We both agreed that if I had not given him that rather smart tap
of my walking-cane, he would have beheaded half the inmates of
the Belle Etoile. There was not a waiter in the house who would
not verify that statement on oath.

The reader may suppose that I had other motives, beside the
desire to escape the tedious inquisition of the law, for desiring
to recommence my journey to Paris with the least possible delay.
Judge what was my horror then to learn, that for love or money,
horses were nowhere to be had that night. The last pair in the
town had been obtained from the Ecu de France, by a gentleman who
dined and supped at the Belle Etoile, and was obliged to proceed
to Paris that night.

Who was the gentleman? Had he actually gone? Could he possibly be
induced to wait till morning?

The gentleman was now upstairs getting his things together, and
his name was Monsieur Droqville.

I ran upstairs. I found my servant St. Clair in my room. At sight
of him, for a moment, my thoughts were turned into a different
channel.

"Well, St. Clair, tell me this moment who the lady is?" I
demanded.

"The lady is the daughter or wife, it matters not which, of the
Count de St. Alyre;--the old gentleman who was so near being
sliced like a cucumber to-night, I am informed, by the sword of
the general whom Monsieur, by a turn of fortune, has put to bed
of an apoplexy."

"Hold your tongue, fool! The man's beastly drunk--he's
sulking--he could talk if he liked--who cares? Pack up my things.
Which are Monsieur Droqville's apartments?"

He knew, of course; he always knew everything.

Half an hour later Monsieur Droqville and I were travelling
towards Paris, in my carriage, and with his horses. I ventured to
ask the Marquis d'Harmonville, in a little while, whether the
lady, who accompanied the Count, was certainly the Countess.
"Has he not a daughter?"

"Yes;--I believe a very beautiful and charming young lady--I
cannot say--it may have been she, his daughter by an earlier
marriage. I saw only the Count himself to-day."

The Marquis was growing a little sleepy and, in a little while,
he actually fell asleep in his corner. I dozed and nodded; but
the Marquis slept like a top. He awoke only for a minute or two
at the next posting-house, where he had fortunately secured
horses by sending on his man, he told me.

"You will excuse my being so dull a companion," he said, "but
till to-night I have had but two hours' sleep, for more than
sixty hours. I shall have a cup of coffee here; I have had my
nap. Permit me to recommend you to do likewise. Their coffee is
really excellent." He ordered two cups of _café noir_, and
waited, with his head from the window. "We will keep the cups,"
he said, as he received them from the waiter, "and the tray.
Thank you."

There was a little delay as he paid for these things; and then he
took in the little tray, and handed me a cup of coffee.

I declined the tray; so he placed it on his own knees, to act as
a miniature table.

"I can't endure being waited for and hurried," he said, "I like
to sip my coffee at leisure."

I agreed. It really _was_ the very perfection of coffee.

"I, like Monsieur le Marquis, have slept very little for the last
two or three nights; and find it difficult to keep awake. This
coffee will do wonders for me; it refreshes one so."

Before we had half done, the carriage was again in motion.

For a time our coffee made us chatty, and our conversation was
animated.

The Marquis was extremely good-natured, as well as clever, and
gave me a brilliant and amusing account of Parisian life,
schemes, and dangers, all put so as to furnish me with practical
warnings of the most valuable kind.

In spite of the amusing and curious stories which the Marquis
related, with so much point and colour, I felt myself again
becoming gradually drowsy and dreamy.

Perceiving this, no doubt, the Marquis good-naturedly suffered
our conversation to subside into silence. The window next him was
open. He threw his cup out of it; and did the same kind office
for mine, and finally the little tray flew after, and I heard it
clank on the road; a valuable waif, no doubt, for some early
wayfarer in wooden shoes.

I leaned back in my corner; I had my beloved _souvenir_--my
white rose--close to my heart, folded, now, in white paper. It
inspired all manner of romantic dreams. I began to grow more and
more sleepy. But actual slumber did not come. I was still
viewing, with my half-closed eyes, from my corner, diagonally,
the interior of the carriage.

I wished for sleep; but the barrier between waking and sleeping
seemed absolutely insurmountable; and instead, I entered into a
state of novel and indescribable indolence.

The Marquis lifted his despatch-box from the floor, placed it on
his knees, unlocked it, and took out what proved to be a lamp,
which he hung with two hooks, attached to it, to the window
opposite to him. He lighted it with a match, put on his
spectacles, and taking out a bundle of letters, began to read
them carefully.

We were making way very slowly. My impatience had hitherto
employed four horses from stage to stage. We were in this
emergency, only too happy to have secured two. But the difference
in pace was depressing.

I grew tired of the monotony of seeing the spectacled Marquis
reading, folding, and docketing, letter after letter. I wished to
shut out the image which wearied me, but something prevented my
being able to shut my eyes. I tried again and again; but,
positively, I had lost the power of closing them.

I would have rubbed my eyes, but I could not stir my hand, my
will no longer acted on my body--I found that I could not move
one joint, or muscle, no more than I could, by an effort of my
will, have turned the carriage about.

Up to this I had experienced no sense of horror. Whatever it was,
simple nightmare was not the cause. I was awfully frightened!
Was I in a fit?

It was horrible to see my good-natured companion pursue his
occupation so serenely, when he might have dissipated my horrors
by a single shake.

I made a stupendous exertion to call out but in vain; I repeated
the effort again and again, with no result.

My companion now tied up his letters, and looked out of the
window, humming an air from an opera. He drew back his head, and
said, turning to me--

"Yes, I see the lights; we shall be there in two or three
minutes."

He looked more closely at me, and with a kind smile, and a little
shrug, he said, "Poor child! how fatigued he must have been--how
profoundly he sleeps! when the carriage stops he will waken."

He then replaced his letters in the despatch-box, locked it, put
his spectacles in his pocket, and again looked out of the window.

We had entered a little town. I suppose it was past two o'clock
by this time. The carriage drew up, I saw an inn-door open, and a
light issuing from it.

"Here we are!" said my companion, turning gaily to me. But I did
not awake.

"Yes, how tired he must have been!" he exclaimed, after he had
waited for an answer.

My servant was at the carriage door, and opened it.

"Your master sleeps soundly, he is so fatigued! It would be cruel
to disturb him. You and I will go in, while they change the
horses, and take some refreshment, and choose something that
Monsieur Beckett will like to take in the carriage, for when he
awakes by-and-by, he will, I am sure, be hungry."

He trimmed his lamp, poured in some oil; and taking care not to
disturb me, with another kind smile, and another word or caution
to my servant, he got out, and I heard him talking to St. Clair,
as they entered the inn-door, and I was left in my corner, in the
carriage, in the same state.



CHAPTER VIII.

A THREE MINUTES' VISIT.


I have suffered extreme and protracted bodily pain, at different
periods of my life, but anything like that misery, thank God, I
never endured before or since. I earnestly hope it may not
resemble any type of death, to which we are liable. I was,
indeed, a spirit in prison; and unspeakable was my dumb and
unmoving agony.

The power of thought remained clear and active. Dull terror
filled my mind. How would this end? Was it actual death?

You will understand that my faculty of observing was unimpaired.
I could hear and see anything as distinctly as ever I did in my
life. It was simply that my will had, as it were, lost its hold
of my body.

I told you that the Marquis d'Harmonville had not extinguished
his carriage lamp on going into this village inn. I was listening
intently, longing for his return, which might result, by some
lucky accident, in awaking me from my catalepsy.

Without any sound of steps approaching, to announce an arrival,
the carriage-door suddenly opened, and a total stranger got in
silently, and shut the door.

The lamp gave about as strong a light as a wax-candle, so I could
see the intruder perfectly. He was a young man, with a dark grey,
loose surtout, made with a sort of hood, which was pulled over
his head. I thought, as he moved, that I saw the gold band of a
military undress cap under it; and I certainly saw the lace and
buttons of a uniform, on the cuffs of the coat that were visible
under the wide sleeves of his outside wrapper.

This young man had thick moustaches, and an imperial, and I
observed that he had a red scar running upward from his lip
across his cheek.

He entered, shut the door softly, and sat down beside me. It was
all done in a moment; leaning toward me, and shading his eyes
with his gloved hand, he examined my face closely, for a few
seconds.

This man had come as noiselessly as a ghost; and everything he
did was accomplished with the rapidity and decision, that
indicated a well defined and prearranged plan. His designs were
evidently sinister. I thought he was going to rob, and, perhaps,
murder me. I lay, nevertheless, like a corpse under his hands.
He inserted his hand in my breast pocket, from which he took my
precious white rose and all the letters it contained, among which
was a paper of some consequence to me.

My letters he glanced at. They were plainly not what he wanted.
My precious rose, too, he laid aside with them. It was evidently
about the paper I have mentioned, that he was concerned; for the
moment he opened it, he began with a pencil, in a small
pocket-book, to make rapid notes of its contents.

This man seemed to glide through his work with a noiseless and
cool celerity which argued, I thought, the training of the
police-department.

He re-arranged the papers, possibly in the very order in which he
had found them, replaced them in my breast-pocket, and was gone.

His visit, I think, did not quite last three minutes. Very soon
after his disappearance, I heard the voice of the Marquis once
more. He got in, and I saw him look at me, and smile, half
envying me, I fancied, my sound repose. If he had but known all!

He resumed his reading and docketing, by the light of the little
lamp which had just subserved the purposes of a spy.

We were now out of the town, pursuing our journey at the same
moderate pace. We had left the scene of my police visit, as I
should have termed it, now two leagues behind us, when I suddenly
felt a strange throbbing in one ear, and a sensation as if air
passed through it into my throat. It seemed as if a bubble of
air, formed deep in my ear, swelled, and burst there. The
indescribable tension of my brain seemed all at once to give way;
there was an odd humming in my head, and a sort of vibration
through every nerve of my body, such as I have experienced in a
limb that has been, in popular phraseology, asleep. I uttered a
cry and half rose from my seat, and then fell back trembling, and
with a sense of mortal faintness.

The Marquis stared at me, took my hand, and earnestly asked if I
was ill. I could answer only with a deep groan.

Gradually the process of restoration was completed; and I was
able, though very faintly, to tell him how very ill I had been;
and then to describe the violation of my letters, during the time
of his absence from the carriage.

"Good heaven!" he exclaimed, "the miscreant did not get at my
dispatch-box?"

I satisfied him, so far as I had observed, on that point. He
placed the box on the seat beside him, and opened and examined
its contents very minutely.

"Yes, undisturbed; all safe, thank heaven!" he murmured. "There
are half-a-dozen letters here, that I would not have some people
read, for a great deal."

He now asked with a very kind anxiety all about the illness I
complained of. When he had heard me, he said--

"A friend of mine once had an attack as like yours as possible.
It was on board-ship, and followed a state of high excitement. He
was a brave man like you; and was called on to exert both his
strength and his courage suddenly. An hour or two after, fatigue
overpowered him, and he appeared to fall into a sound sleep. He
really sank into a state which he afterwards described so, that I
think it must have been precisely the same affection as yours."

"I am happy to think that my attack was not unique. Did he ever
experience a return of it."

"I knew him for years after, and never heard of any such thing.
What strikes me is a parallel in the predisposing causes of each
attack. Your unexpected, and gallant hand-to-hand encounter, at
such desperate odds, with an experienced swordsman, like that
insane colonel of dragoons, your fatigue, and, finally, your
composing yourself, as my other friend did, to sleep."

"I wish," he resumed, "one could make out who that _coquin_ was,
who examined your letters. It is not worth turning back, however,
because we should learn nothing. Those people always manage so
adroitly. I am satisfied, however, that he must have been an
agent of the police. A rogue of any other kind would have robbed
you."

I talked very little, being ill and exhausted, but the Marquis
talked on agreeably.

"We grow so intimate," said he, at last, "that I must remind you
that I am not, for the present, the Marquis d'Harmonville, but
only Monsieur Droqville; nevertheless, when we get to Paris,
although I cannot see you often, I may be of use. I shall ask you
to name to me the hotel at which you mean to put up; because the
Marquis being, as you are aware, on his travels, the Hotel
d'Harmonville is, for the present, tenanted only by two or three
old servants, who must not even see Monsieur Droqville. That
gentleman will, nevertheless, contrive to get you access to the
box of Monsieur le Marquis, at the Opera; as well, possibly, as
to other places more difficult; and so soon as the diplomatic
office of the Marquis d'Harmonville is ended, and he at liberty
to declare himself, he will not excuse his friend, Monsieur
Beckett, from fulfilling his promise to visit him this autumn at
the Château d'Harmonville."

You may be sure I thanked the Marquis.

The nearer we got to Paris, the more I valued his protection. The
countenance of a great man on the spot, just then, taking so kind
an interest in the stranger whom he had, as it were, blundered
upon, might make my visit ever so many degrees more delightful
than I had anticipated.

Nothing could be more gracious than the manner and looks of the
Marquis; and, as I still thanked him, the carriage suddenly
stopped in front of the place where a relay of horses awaited us,
and where, as it turned out, we were to part.



CHAPTER IX.

GOSSIP AND COUNSEL.


My eventful journey was over, at last. I sat in my hotel window
looking out upon brilliant Paris, which had, in a moment,
recovered all its gaiety, and more than its accustomed bustle.
Every one has read of the kind of excitement that followed the
catastrophe of Napoleon, and the second restoration of the
Bourbons. I need not, therefore, even if, at this distance, I
could, recall and describe my experiences and impressions of the
peculiar aspect of Paris, in those strange times. It was, to be
sure, my first visit. But, often as I have seen it since, I don't
think I ever saw that delightful capital in a state, pleasurably,
so excited and exciting.

I had been two days in Paris, and had seen all sorts of sights,
and experienced none of that rudeness and insolence of which
others complained, from the exasperated officers of the defeated
French army.

I must say this, also. My romance had taken complete possession
of me; and the chance of seeing the object of my dream, gave a
secret and delightful interest to my rambles and drives in the
streets and environs, and my visits to the galleries and other
sights of the metropolis.

I had neither seen nor heard of Count or Countess, nor had the
Marquis d'Harmonville made any sign. I had quite recovered the
strange indisposition under which I had suffered during my night
journey.

It was now evening, and I was beginning to fear that my patrician
acquaintance had quite forgotten me, when the waiter presented me
the card of 'Monsieur Droqville;' and, with no small elation and
hurry, I desired him to show the gentleman up.

In came the Marquis d'Harmonville, kind and gracious as ever.

"I am a night-bird at present," said he, so soon as we had
exchanged the little speeches which are usual. "I keep in the
shade, during the daytime, and even now I hardly ventured to come
in a close carriage. The friends for whom I have undertaken a
rather critical service, have so ordained it. They think all is
lost, if I am known to be in Paris. First let me present you with
these orders for my box. I am so vexed that I cannot command it
oftener during the next fortnight; during my absence, I had
directed my secretary to give it for any night to the first of my
friends who might apply, and the result is, that I find next to
nothing left at my disposal."

I thanked him very much.

"And now, a word, in my office of Mentor. You have not come here,
of course, without introductions?"

I produced half-a-dozen letters, the addresses of which he looked
at.

"Don't mind these letters," he said. "I will introduce you. I
will take you myself from house to house. One friend at your side
is worth many letters. Make no intimacies, no acquaintances,
until then. You young men like best to exhaust the public
amusements of a great city, before embarrassing yourself with the
engagements of society. Go to all these. It will occupy you, day
and night, for at least three weeks. When this is over, I shall
be at liberty, and will myself introduce you to the brilliant but
comparatively quiet routine of society. Place yourself in my
hands; and in Paris remember, when once in society, you are
always there."

I thanked him very much, and promised to follow his counsels
implicitly.

He seemed pleased, and said--

"I shall now tell you some of the places you ought to go to. Take
your map, and write letters or numbers upon the points I will
indicate, and we will make out a little list. All the places that
I shall mention to you are worth seeing."

In this methodical way, and with a great deal of amusing and scandalous
anecdote, he furnished me with a catalogue and a guide, which, to a
seeker of novelty and pleasure, was invaluable.

"In a fortnight, perhaps in a week," he said, "I shall be at
leisure to be of real use to you. In the meantime, be on your
guard. You must not play; you will be robbed if you do. Remember,
you are surrounded, here, by plausible swindlers and villains of
all kinds, who subsist by devouring strangers. Trust no one but
those you know."

I thanked him again, and promised to profit by his advice. But my
heart was too full of the beautiful lady of the Belle Etoile, to
allow our interview to close without an effort to learn something
about her. I therefore asked for the Count and Countess de St.
Alyre, whom I had had the good fortune to extricate from an
extremely unpleasant row in the hall of the inn.

Alas! he had not seen them since. He did not know where they were
staying. They had a fine old house only a few leagues from Paris;
but he thought it probable that they would remain, for a few days
at least, in the city, as preparations would, no doubt, be
necessary, after so long an absence, for their reception at home.

"How long have they been away?"

"About eight months, I think."

"They are poor, I think you said?"

"What _you_ would consider poor. But, Monsieur, the Count has an
income which affords them the comforts, and even the elegancies
of life, living as they do, in a very quiet and retired way, in
this cheap country."

"Then they are very happy?"

"One would say they _ought_ to be happy."

"And what prevents?"

"He is jealous."

"But his wife--she gives him no cause?"

"I am afraid she does."

"How, Monsieur?"

"I always thought she was a little too--a _great deal_ too--"

"Too _what_, Monsieur?"

"Too handsome. But although she has remarkably fine eyes,
exquisite features, and the most delicate complexion in the
world, I believe that she is a woman of probity. You have never
seen her?"

"There was a lady, muffled up in a cloak, with a very thick veil
on, the other night, in the hall of the Belle Etoile, when I
broke that fellow's head who was bullying the old Count. But her
veil was so thick I could not see a feature through it." My
answer was diplomatic, you observe. "She may have been the
Count's daughter. Do they quarrel?"

"Who, he and his wife?"

"Yes."

"A little."

"Oh! and what do they quarrel about?" "It is a long story; about
the lady's diamonds. They are valuable--they are worth. La
Perelleuse says, about a million of francs. The Count wishes them
sold and turned into revenue, which he offers to settle as she
pleases. The Countess, whose they are, resists, and for a reason
which, I rather think, she can't disclose to him."

"And pray what is that?" I asked, my curiosity a good deal
piqued.

"She is thinking, I conjecture, how well she will look in them
when she marries her second husband."

"Oh?--yes, to be sure. But the Count de St. Alyre is a good man?"

"Admirable, and extremely intelligent."

"I should wish so much to be presented to the Count: you tell me
he's so--"

"So agreeably married. But they are living quite out of the
world. He takes her now and then to the Opera, or to a public
entertainment; but that is all."

"And he must remember so much of the old _régime_, and so many
of the scenes of the revolution!"

"Yes, the very man for a philosopher, like you! And he falls
asleep after dinner; and his wife don't. But, seriously, he has
retired from the gay and the great world, and has grown
apathetic; and so has his wife; and nothing seems to interest her
now, not even--her husband!"

The Marquis stood up to take his leave.

"Don't risk your money," said he. "You will soon have an
opportunity of laying out some of it to great advantage. Several
collections of really good pictures, belonging to persons who
have mixed themselves up in this Bonapartist restoration, must
come within a few weeks to the hammer. You can do wonders when
these sales commence. There will be startling bargains! Reserve
yourself for them. I shall let you know all about it. By-the-by,"
he said, stopping short as he approached the door, "I was so
near forgetting. There is to be, next week, the very thing you
would enjoy so much, because you see so little of it in
England--I mean a _bal masqué_, conducted, it is said, with more
than usual splendour. It takes place at Versailles--all the world
will be there; there is such a rush for cards! But I think I may
promise you one. Good-night! Adieu!"



CHAPTER X.

THE BLACK VEIL.


Speaking the language fluently and with unlimited money, there
was nothing to prevent my enjoying all that was enjoyable in the
French capital. You may easily suppose how two days were passed.
At the end of that time, and at about the same hour, Monsieur
Droqville called again.

Courtly, good-natured, gay, as usual, he told me that the
masquerade ball was fixed for the next Wednesday, and that he had
applied for a card for me.

How awfully unlucky. I was so afraid I should not be able to go.

He stared at me for a moment with a suspicious and menacing look
which I did not understand, in silence, and then inquired, rather
sharply.

"And will Monsieur Beckett be good enough to say, why not?"

I was a little surprised, but answered the simple truth: I had
made an engagement for that evening with two or three English
friends, and did not see how I could.

"Just so! You English, wherever you are, always look out for your
English boors, your beer and '_bifstek_'; and when you come here,
instead of trying to learn something of the people you visit, and
pretend to study, you are guzzling, and swearing, and smoking
with one another, and no wiser or more polished at the end of
your travels than if you had been all the time carousing in a
booth at Greenwich."

He laughed sarcastically, and looked as if he could have poisoned
me.

"There it is," said he, throwing the card on the table. "Take it
or leave it, just as you please. I suppose I shall have my
trouble for my pains; but it is not usual when a man, such as I,
takes trouble, asks a favour, and secures a privilege for an
acquaintance, to treat him so."

This was astonishingly impertinent!

I was shocked, offended, penitent. I had possibly committed
unwittingly a breach of good-breeding, according to French ideas,
which almost justified the brusque severity of the Marquis's
undignified rebuke.

In a confusion, therefore, of many feelings, I hastened to make
my apologies, and to propitiate the chance friend who had showed
me so much disinterested kindness.

I told him that I would, at any cost, break through the
engagement in which I had unluckily entangled myself; that I had
spoken with too little reflection, and that I certainly had not
thanked him at all in proportion to his kindness and to my real
estimate of it.

"Pray say not a word more; my vexation was entirely on your
account; and I expressed it, I am only too conscious, in terms a
great deal too strong, which, I am sure, your goodnature will
pardon. Those who know me a little better are aware that I
sometimes say a good deal more than I intend; and am always sorry
when I do. Monsieur Beckett will forget that his old friend,
Monsieur Droqville, has lost his temper in his cause, for a
moment, and--we are as good friends as before."

He smiled like the Monsieur Droqville of the Belle Etoile, and
extended his hand, which I took very respectfully and cordially.

Our momentary quarrel had left us only better friends.

The Marquis then told me I had better secure a bed in some hotel
at Versailles, as a rush would be made to take them; and advised
my going down next morning for the purpose.

I ordered horses accordingly for eleven o'clock; and, after a
little more conversation, the Marquis d'Harmonville bid me
good-night, and ran down the stairs with his handkerchief to his
mouth and nose, and, as I saw from my window, jumped into his
close carriage again and drove away.

Next day I was at Versailles. As I approached the door of the
Hotel de France, it was plain that I was not a moment too soon,
if, indeed, I were not already too late.

A crowd of carriages were drawn up about the entrance, so that I
had no chance of approaching except by dismounting and pushing
my way among the horses. The hall was full of servants and
gentlemen screaming to the proprietor, who, in a state of polite
distraction, was assuring them, one and all, that there was not a
room or a closet disengaged in his entire house.

I slipped out again, leaving the hall to those who were shouting,
expostulating, wheedling, in the delusion that the host might, if
he pleased, manage something for them. I jumped into my carriage
and drove, at my horses' best pace, to the Hotel du Reservoir.
The blockade about this door was as complete as the other. The
result was the same. It was very provoking, but what was to be
done? My postillion had, a little officiously, while I was in the
hall talking with the hotel authorities, got his horses, bit by
bit, as other carriages moved away, to the very steps of the inn
door.

This arrangement was very convenient so far as getting in again
was concerned. But, this accomplished, how were we to get on?
There were carriages in front, and carriages behind, and no less
than four rows of carriages, of all sorts, outside.

I had at this time remarkably long and clear sight, and if I had
been impatient before, guess what my feelings were when I saw an
open carriage pass along the narrow strip of roadway left open at
the other side, a barouche in which I was certain I recognized
the veiled Countess and her husband. This carriage had been
brought to a walk by a cart which occupied the whole breadth of
the narrow way, and was moving with the customary tardiness of
such vehicles.

I should have done more wisely if I had jumped down on the
_trottoir_, and run round the block of carriages in front of the
barouche. But, unfortunately, I was more of a Murat than a
Moltke, and preferred a direct charge upon my object to relying
on _tactique_. I dashed across the back seat of a carriage which
was next mine, I don't know how; tumbled through a sort of gig,
in which an old gentleman and a dog were dozing; stepped with an
incoherent apology over the side of an open carriage, in which
were four gentlemen engaged in a hot dispute; tripped at the far
side in getting out, and fell flat across the backs of a pair of
horses, who instantly began plunging and threw me head foremost
in the dust.

To those who observed my reckless charge without being in the
secret of my object I must have appeared demented. Fortunately,
the interesting barouche had passed before the catastrophe, and
covered as I was with dust, and my hat blocked, you may be sure I
did not care to present myself before the object of my Quixotic
devotion.

I stood for a while amid a storm of _sacré_-ing, tempered disagreeably
with laughter; and in the midst of these, while endeavouring to beat the
dust from my clothes with my handkerchief, I heard a voice with which I
was acquainted call, "Monsieur Beckett."

I looked and saw the Marquis peeping from a carriage-window. It
was a welcome sight. In a moment I was at his carriage side.

"You may as well leave Versailles," he said; "you have learned,
no doubt, that there is not a bed to hire in either of the
hotels; and I can add that there is not a room to let in the
whole town. But I have managed something for you that will answer
just as well. Tell your servant to follow us, and get in here and
sit beside me."

Fortunately an opening in the closely-packed carriages had just
occurred, and mine was approaching.

I directed the servant to follow us; and the Marquis having said
a word to his driver, we were immediately in motion.

"I will bring you to a comfortable place, the very existence of
which is known to but few Parisians, where, knowing how things
were here, I secured a room for you. It is only a mile away, and
an old comfortable inn, called Le Dragon Volant. It was fortunate
for you that my tiresome business called me to this place so
early."

I think we had driven about a mile-and-a-half to the further side
of the palace when we found ourselves upon a narrow old road,
with the woods of Versailles on one side, and much older trees,
of a size seldom seen in France, on the other.

We pulled up before an antique and solid inn, built of Caen
stone, in a fashion richer and more florid than was ever usual in
such houses, and which indicated that it was originally designed
for the private mansion of some person of wealth, and probably,
as the wall bore many carved shields and supporters, of
distinction also. A kind of porch, less ancient than the rest,
projected hospitably with a wide and florid arch, over which, cut
in high relief in stone, and painted and gilded, was the sign of
the inn. This was the Flying Dragon, with wings of brilliant red
and gold, expanded, and its tail, pale green and gold, twisted
and knotted into ever so many rings, and ending in a burnished
point barbed like the dart of death.

"I shan't go in--but you will find it a comfortable place; at all
events better than nothing. I would go in with you, but my
incognito forbids. You will, I daresay, be all the better pleased
to learn that the inn is haunted--I should have been, in my young
days, I know. But don't allude to that awful fact in hearing of
your host, for I believe it is a sore subject. Adieu. If you
want to enjoy yourself at the ball take my advice, and go in a
domino. I think I shall look in; and certainly, if I do, in the
same costume. How shall we recognize one another? Let me see,
something held in the fingers--a flower won't do, so many people
will have flowers. Suppose you get a red cross a couple of inches
long--you're an Englishman--stitched or pinned on the breast of
your domino, and I a white one? Yes, that will do very well; and
whatever room you go into keep near the door till we meet. I
shall look for you at all the doors I pass; and you, in the same
way, for me; and we _must_ find each other soon. So that is
understood. I can't enjoy a thing of that kind with any but a
young person; a man of my age requires the contagion of young
spirits and the companionship of some one who enjoys everything
spontaneously. Farewell; we meet to-night."

By this time I was standing _on_ the road; I shut the
carriage-door; bid him good-bye; and away he drove.



CHAPTER XI.

THE DRAGON VOLANT.


I took one look about me.

The building was picturesque; the trees made it more so. The
antique and sequestered character of the scene, contrasted
strangely with the glare and bustle of the Parisian life, to
which my eye and ear had become accustomed.

Then I examined the gorgeous old sign for a minute or two. Next I
surveyed the exterior of the house more carefully. It was large
and solid, and squared more with my ideas of an ancient English
hostelrie, such as the Canterbury pilgrims might have put up at,
than a French house of entertainment. Except, indeed, for a round
turret, that rose at the left flank of the house, and terminated
in the extinguisher-shaped roof that suggests a French château.

I entered and announced myself as Monsieur Beckett, for whom a
room had been taken. I was received with all the consideration
due to an English milord, with, of course, an unfathomable purse.

My host conducted me to my apartment. It was a large room, a little
sombre, panelled with dark wainscoting, and furnished in a stately and
sombre style, long out of date. There was a wide hearth, and a heavy
mantelpiece, carved with shields, in which I might, had I been curious
enough, have discovered a correspondence with the heraldry on the outer
walls. There was something interesting, melancholy, and even depressing
in all this. I went to the stone-shafted window, and looked out upon a
small park, with a thick wood, forming the background of a château,
which presented a cluster of such conical-topped turrets as I have just
now mentioned.

The wood and château were melancholy objects. They showed signs
of neglect, and almost of decay; and the gloom of fallen
grandeur, and a certain air of desertion hung oppressively over
the scene.

I asked my host the name of the château.

"That, Monsieur, is the Château de la Carque," he answered.

"It is a pity it is so neglected," I observed. "I should say,
perhaps, a pity that its proprietor is not more wealthy?"

"Perhaps so, Monsieur."

"_Perhaps_?"--I repeated, and looked at him. "Then I suppose he
is not very popular."

"Neither one thing nor the other, Monsieur," he answered; "I
meant only that we could not tell what use he might make of
riches."

"And who is he?" I inquired.

"The Count de St. Alyre."

"Oh! The Count! You are quite sure?" I asked, very eagerly.

It was now the innkeeper's turn to look at me.

"_Quite_ sure, Monsieur, the Count de St. Alyre."

"Do you see much of him in this part of the world?"

"Not a great deal, Monsieur; he is often absent for a
considerable time."

"And is he poor?" I inquired.

"I pay rent to him for this house. It is not much; but I find he
cannot wait long for it," he replied, smiling satirically.

"From what I have heard, however, I should think he cannot be
very poor?" I continued.

"They say, Monsieur, he plays. I know not. He certainly is not
rich. About seven months ago, a relation of his died in a distant
place. His body was sent to the Count's house here, and by him
buried in Père la Chaise, as the poor gentleman had desired. The
Count was in profound affliction; although he got a handsome
legacy, they say, by that death. But money never seems to do him
good for any time."

"He is old, I believe?"

"Old? we call him the 'Wandering Jew,' except, indeed, that he
has not always the five _sous_ in his pocket. Yet, Monsieur, his
courage does not fail him. He has taken a young and handsome
wife."

"And, she?" I urged--

"Is the Countess de St. Alyre."

"Yes; but I fancy we may say something more? She has attributes?"

"Three, Monsieur, three, at least most amiable."

"Ah! And what are they?"

"Youth, beauty, and--diamonds."

I laughed. The sly old gentleman was foiling my curiosity.

"I see, my friend," said I, "you are reluctant--"

"To quarrel with the Count," he concluded. "True. You see,
Monsieur, he could vex me in two or three ways; so could I him.
But, on the whole, it is better each to mind his business, and to
maintain peaceful relations; you understand."

It was, therefore, no use trying, at least for the present.
Perhaps he had nothing to relate. Should I think differently,
by-and-by, I could try the effect of a few Napoleons. Possibly
he meant to extract them.

The host of the Dragon Volant was an elderly man, thin, bronzed,
intelligent, and with an air of decision, perfectly military. I
learned afterwards that he had served under Napoleon in his early
Italian campaigns.

"One question, I think you may answer," I said, "without risking
a quarrel. Is the Count at home?"

"He has many homes, I conjecture," said the host evasively.
"But--but I think I may say, Monsieur, that he is, I believe, at
present staying at the Château de la Carque."

I looked out of the window, more interested than ever, across the
undulating grounds to the château, with its gloomy background of
foliage.

"I saw him to-day, in his carriage at Versailles," I said.

"Very natural."

"Then his carriage and horses and servants are at the château?"

"The carriage he puts up here, Monsieur, and the servants are
hired for the occasion. There is but one who sleeps at the
château. Such a life must be terrifying for Madame the Countess,"
he replied.

"The old screw!" I thought. "By this torture, he hopes to extract
her diamonds. What a life! What fiends to contend with--jealousy
and extortion!"

The knight having made this speech to himself, cast his eyes once
more upon the enchanter's castle, and heaved a gentle sigh--a
sigh of longing, of resolution, and of love.

What a fool I was! and yet, in the sight of angels, are we any
wiser as we grow older? It seems to me, only, that our illusions
change as we go on; but, still, we are madmen all the same.

"Well, St. Clair," said I, as my servant entered, and began to
arrange my things. "You have got a bed?"

"In the cock-loft, Monsieur, among the spiders, and, _par ma
foi_! the cats and the owls. But we agree very well. _Vive la
bagatelle_!"

"I had no idea it was so full."

"Chiefly the servants, Monsieur, of those persons who were
fortunate enough to get apartments at Versailles."

"And what do you think of the Dragon Volant?"

"The Dragon Volant! Monsieur; the old fiery dragon! The devil
himself, if all is true! On the faith of a Christian, Monsieur,
they say that diabolical miracles have taken place in this
house."

"What do you mean? _Revenants_?"

"Not at all, sir; I wish it was no worse. _Revenants_? No! People
who have _never_ returned--who vanished, before the eyes of
half-a-dozen men, all looking at them."

"What do you mean, St. Clair? Let us hear the story, or miracle,
or whatever it is."

"It is only this, Monsieur, that an ex-master-of-the-horse of the
late king, who lost his head--Monsieur will have the goodness to
recollect, in the revolution--being permitted by the Emperor to
return to France, lived here in this hotel, for a month, and at
the end of that time vanished, visibly, as I told you, before the
faces of half-a-dozen credible witnesses! The other was a Russian
nobleman, six feet high and upwards, who, standing in the centre
of the room, downstairs, describing to seven gentlemen of
unquestionable veracity, the last moments of Peter the Great, and
having a glass of _eau de vie_ in his left hand, and his _tasse
de café_, nearly finished, in his right, in like manner vanished.
His boots were found on the floor where he had been standing;
and the gentleman at his right, found, to his astonishment, his
cup of coffee in his fingers, and the gentleman at his left, his
glass of _eau de vie_--"

"Which he swallowed in his confusion," I suggested.

"Which was preserved for three years among the curious articles
of this house, and was broken by the _curé_ while conversing with
Mademoiselle Fidone in the housekeeper's room; but of the Russian
nobleman himself, nothing more was ever seen or heard! _Parbleu!_
when _we_ go out of the Dragon Volant, I hope it may be by the
door. I heard all this, Monsieur, from the postillion who drove
us."

"Then it _must_ be true!" said I, jocularly: but I was beginning
to feel the gloom of the view, and of the chamber in which I
stood; there had stolen over me, I know not how, a presentiment
of evil; and my joke was with an effort, and my spirit flagged.



CHAPTER XII.

THE MAGICIAN.


No more brilliant spectacle than this masked ball could be
imagined. Among other _salons_ and galleries, thrown open, was
the enormous perspective of the "Grande Galerie des Glaces,"
lighted up on that occasion with no less than four thousand wax
candles, reflected and repeated by all the mirrors, so that the
effect was almost dazzling. The grand suite of _salons_ was
thronged with masques, in every conceivable costume. There was
not a single room deserted. Every place was animated with music,
voices, brilliant colours, flashing jewels, the hilarity of
extemporized comedy, and all the spirited incidents of a cleverly
sustained masquerade. I had never seen before anything, in the
least, comparable to this magnificent _fête_. I moved along,
indolently, in my domino and mask, loitering, now and then, to
enjoy a clever dialogue, a farcical song, or an amusing
monologue, but, at the same time, keeping my eyes about me, lest
my friend in the black domino, with the little white cross on his
breast, should pass me by.

I had delayed and looked about me, specially, at every door I
passed, as the Marquis and I had agreed; but he had not yet
appeared.

While I was thus employed, in the very luxury of lazy amusement,
I saw a gilded sedan chair, or, rather, a Chinese palanquin,
exhibiting the fantastic exuberance of "Celestial" decoration,
borne forward on gilded poles by four richly-dressed Chinese; one
with a wand in his hand marched in front, and another behind; and
a slight and solemn man, with a long black beard, a tall fez,
such as a dervish is represented as wearing, walked close to its
side. A strangely-embroidered robe fell over his shoulders,
covered with hieroglyphic symbols; the embroidery was in black
and gold, upon a variegated ground of brilliant colours. The robe
was bound about his waist with a broad belt of gold, with
cabalistic devices traced on it, in dark red and black; red
stockings, and shoes embroidered with gold, and pointed and
curved upward at the toes, in Oriental fashion, appeared below
the skirt of the robe. The man's face was dark, fixed, and
solemn, and his eyebrows black, and enormously heavy--he carried
a singular-looking book under his arm, a wand of polished black
wood in his other hand, and walked with his chin sunk on his
breast, and his eyes fixed upon the floor. The man in front waved
his wand right and left to clear the way for the advancing
palanquin, the curtains of which were closed; and there was
something so singular, strange, and solemn about the whole thing,
that I felt at once interested.

I was very well pleased when I saw the bearers set down their
burthen within a few yards of the spot on which I stood.

The bearers and the men with the gilded wands forthwith clapped
their hands, and in silence danced round the palanquin a curious
and half frantic dance, which was yet, as to figures and
postures, perfectly methodical. This was soon accompanied by a
clapping of hands and a ha-ha-ing, rhythmically delivered.

While the dance was going on a hand was lightly laid on my arm,
and, looking round, a black domino with a white cross stood
beside me.

"I am so glad I have found you," said the Marquis; "and at this
moment. This is the best group in the rooms. _You_ must speak to
the wizard. About an hour ago I lighted upon them, in another
_salon_, and consulted the oracle, by putting questions. I never
was more amazed. Although his answers were a little disguised it
was soon perfectly plain that he knew every detail about the
business, which no one on earth had heard of but myself, and two
or three other men, about the most cautious persons in France. I
shall never forget that shock. I saw other people who consulted
him, evidently as much surprised, and more frightened than I. I
came with the Count St. Alyre and the Countess."

He nodded toward a thin figure, also in a domino. It was the
Count.

"Come," he said to me, "I'll introduce you."

I followed, you may suppose, readily enough.

The Marquis presented me, with a very prettily-turned allusion to
my fortunate intervention in his favour at the Belle Etoile; and
the Count overwhelmed me with polite speeches, and ended by
saying, what pleased me better still:

"The Countess is near us, in the next _salon_ but one, chatting with her
old friend the Duchesse d'Argensaque; I shall go for her in a few
minutes; and when I bring her here, she shall make your acquaintance;
and thank you, also, for your assistance, rendered with so much courage
when we were so very disagreeably interrupted."

"You must, positively, speak with the magician," said the Marquis
to the Count de St. Alyre, "you will be so much amused. _I_ did
so; and, I assure you, I could not have anticipated such answers!
I don't know what to believe."

"Really! Then, by all means, let us try," he replied.

We three approached, together, the side of the palanquin, at
which the black-bearded magician stood.

A young man, in a Spanish dress, who, with a friend at his side,
had just conferred with the conjuror, was saying, as he passed us
by:

"Ingenious mystification! Who is that in the palanquin. He seems
to know everybody."

The Count, in his mask and domino, moved along, stiffly, with us,
toward the palanquin. A clear circle was maintained by the
Chinese attendants, and the spectators crowded round in a ring.

One of these men--he who with a gilded wand had preceded the
procession--advanced, extending his empty hand, palm upward.

"Money?" inquired the Count.

"Gold," replied the usher.

The Count placed a piece of money in his hand; and I and the
Marquis were each called on in turn to do likewise as we entered
the circle. We paid accordingly.

The conjuror stood beside the palanquin, its silk curtain in his
hand; his chin sunk, with its long, jet-black beard, on his
chest; the outer hand grasping the black wand, on which he
leaned; his eyes were lowered, as before, to the ground; his face
looked absolutely lifeless. Indeed, I never saw face or figure so
moveless, except in death.

The first question the Count put, was--

"Am I married, or unmarried?"

The conjuror drew back the curtain quickly, and placed his ear
toward a richly-dressed Chinese, who sat in the litter; withdrew
his head, and closed the curtain again; and then answered--

"Yes."

The same preliminary was observed each time, so that the man with
the black wand presented himself, not as a prophet, but as a
medium; and answered, as it seemed, in the words of a greater
than himself.

Two or three questions followed, the answers to which seemed to
amuse the Marquis very much; but the point of which I could not
see, for I knew next to nothing of the Count's peculiarities and
adventures.

"Does my wife love me?" asked he, playfully.

"As well as you deserve."

"Whom do I love best in the world?"

"Self."

"Oh! That I fancy is pretty much the case with every one. But,
putting myself out of the question, do I love anything on earth
better than my wife?"

"Her diamonds."

"Oh!" said the Count.

The Marquis, I could see, laughed.

"Is it true," said the Count, changing the conversation
peremptorily, "that there has been a battle in Naples?"

"No; in France."

"Indeed," said the Count, satirically, with a glance round. "And
may I inquire between what powers, and on what particular
quarrel?"

"Between the Count and Countess de St. Alyre, and about a
document they subscribed on the 25th July, 1811."

The Marquis afterwards told me that this was the date of their
marriage settlement.

The Count stood stock-still for a minute or so; and one could
fancy that they saw his face flushing through his mask.

Nobody, but we two, knew that the inquirer was the Count de St.
Alyre.

I thought he was puzzled to find a subject for his next question;
and, perhaps, repented having entangled himself in such a
colloquy. If so, he was relieved; for the Marquis, touching his
arm, whispered--

"Look to your right, and see who is coming."

I looked in the direction indicated by the Marquis, and I saw a
gaunt figure stalking toward us. It was not a masque. The face
was broad, scarred, and white. In a word, it was the ugly face of
Colonel Gaillarde, who, in the costume of a corporal of the
Imperial Guard, with his left arm so adjusted as to look like a
stump, leaving the lower part of the coat-sleeve empty, and
pinned up to the breast. There were strips of very real
sticking-plaster across his eyebrow and temple, where my stick
had left its mark, to score, hereafter, among the more honourable
scars of war.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE ORACLE TELLS ME WONDERS.


I forgot for a moment how impervious my mask and domino were to
the hard stare of the old campaigner, and was preparing for an
animated scuffle. It was only for a moment, of course; but the
Count cautiously drew a little back as the gasconading corporal,
in blue uniform, white vest, and white gaiters--for my friend
Gaillarde was as loud and swaggering in his assumed character as
in his real one of a colonel of dragoons--drew near. He had
already twice all but got himself turned out of doors for
vaunting the exploits of Napoleon le Grand, in terrific
mock-heroics, and had very nearly come to hand-grips with a
Prussian hussar. In fact, he would have been involved in several
sanguinary rows already, had not his discretion reminded him that
the object of his coming there at all, namely, to arrange a
meeting with an affluent widow, on whom he believed he had made a
tender impression, would not have been promoted by his premature
removal from the festive scene, of which he was an ornament, in
charge of a couple of gendarmes.

"Money! Gold! Bah! What money can a wounded soldier like your
humble servant have amassed, with but his sword-hand left, which,
being necessarily occupied, places not a finger at his command
with which to scrape together the spoils of a routed enemy?"

"No gold from him," said the magician. "His scars frank him."

"Bravo, Monsieur le prophète! Bravissimo! Here I am. Shall I
begin, mon _sorcier_, without further loss of time, to question
your--"

Without waiting for an answer, he commenced, in Stentorian tones.

After half-a-dozen questions and answers, he asked--

"Whom do I pursue at present?"

"Two persons."

"Ha! Two? Well, who are they?"

"An Englishman, whom, if you catch, he will kill you; and a
French widow, whom if you find, she will spit in your face."

"Monsieur le magicien calls a spade a spade, and knows that his
cloth protects him. No matter! Why do I pursue them?"

"The widow has inflicted a wound on your heart, and the
Englishman a wound on your head. They are each separately too
strong for you; take care your pursuit does not unite them."

"Bah! How could that be?"

"The Englishman protects ladies. He has got that fact into your
head. The widow, if she sees, will marry him. It takes some time,
she will reflect, to become a colonel, and the Englishman is
unquestionably young."

"I will cut his cock's-comb for him," he ejaculated with an oath
and a grin; and in a softer tone he asked, "Where is she?"

"Near enough to be offended if you fail."

"So she ought, by my faith. You are right, Monsieur le prophète!
A hundred thousand thanks! Farewell!" And staring about him, and
stretching his lank neck as high as he could, he strode away with
his scars, and white waistcoat and gaiters, and his bearskin
shako.

I had been trying to see the person who sat in the palanquin. I
had only once an opportunity of a tolerably steady peep. What I
saw was singular. The oracle was dressed, as I have said, very
richly, in the Chinese fashion. He was a figure altogether on a
larger scale than the interpreter, who stood outside. The
features seemed to me large and heavy, and the head was carried
with a downward inclination! the eyes were closed, and the chin
rested on the breast of his embroidered pelisse. The face seemed
fixed, and the very image of apathy. Its character and _pose_
seemed an exaggerated repetition of the immobility of the figure
who communicated with the noisy outer world. This face looked
blood-red; but that was caused, I concluded, by the light
entering through the red silk curtains. All this struck me almost
at a glance; I had not many seconds in which to make my
observation. The ground was now clear, and the Marquis said, "Go
forward, my friend."

I did so. When I reached the magician, as we called the man with
the black wand, I glanced over my shoulder to see whether the
Count was near.

No, he was some yards behind; and he and the Marquis, whose
curiosity seemed to be, by this time, satisfied, were now
conversing generally upon some subject of course quite different.

I was relieved, for the sage seemed to blurt out secrets in an
unexpected way; and some of mine might not have amused the Count.

I thought for a moment. I wished to test the prophet. A
Church-of-England man was a _rara avis_ in Paris.

"What is my religion?" I asked.

"A beautiful heresy," answered the oracle instantly.

"A heresy?--and pray how is it named?"

"Love."

"Oh! Then I suppose I am a polytheist, and love a great many?"

"One."

"But, seriously," I asked, intending to turn the course of our
colloquy a little out of an embarrassing channel, "have I ever
learned any words of devotion by heart?"

"Yes."

"Can you repeat them?"

"Approach."

I did, and lowered my ear.

The man with the black wand closed the curtains, and whispered,
slowly and distinctly, these words, which, I need scarcely tell
you, I instantly recognized:


_I may never see you more; and, oh! that I could forget you!
go--farewell--for God's sake, go!_


I started as I heard them. They were, you know, the last words
whispered to me by the Countess.

Good Heaven! How miraculous! Words heard, most assuredly, by no
ear on earth but my own and the lady's who uttered them, till
now!

I looked at the impassive face of the spokesman with the wand.
There was no trace of meaning, or even of a consciousness that
the words he had uttered could possibly interest me.

"What do I most long for?" I asked, scarcely knowing what I said.

"Paradise."

"And what prevents my reaching it?"

"A black veil."

Stronger and stronger! The answers seemed to me to indicate the
minutest acquaintance with every detail of my little romance, of
which not even the Marquis knew anything! And I, the questioner,
masked and robed so that my own brother could not have known me!

"You said I loved some one. Am I loved in return?" I asked.

"Try."

I was speaking lower than before, and stood near the dark man
with the beard, to prevent the necessity of his speaking in a
loud key.

"Does any one love me?" I repeated.

"Secretly," was the answer.

"Much or little?" I inquired.

"Too well."

"How long will that love last?"

"Till the rose casts its leaves."

"The rose--another allusion!"

"Then--darkness!" I sighed. "But till then I live in light."

"The light of violet eyes."

Love, if not a religion, as the oracle had just pronounced it,
is, at least, a superstition. How it exalts the imagination! How
it enervates the reason! How credulous it makes us!

All this which, in the case of another, I should have laughed at,
most powerfully affected me in my own. It inflamed my ardour, and
half crazed my brain, and even influenced my conduct.

The spokesman of this wonderful trick--if trick it were--now
waved me backward with his wand, and as I withdrew, my eyes still
fixed upon the group, by this time encircled with an aura of
mystery in my fancy; backing toward the ring of spectators, I saw
him raise his hand suddenly, with a gesture of command, as a
signal to the usher who carried the golden wand in front.

The usher struck his wand on the ground, and, in a shrill voice,
proclaimed; "The great Confu is silent for an hour."

Instantly the bearers pulled down a sort of blind of bamboo,
which descended with a sharp clatter, and secured it at the
bottom; and then the man in the tall fez, with the black beard
and wand, began a sort of dervish dance. In this the men with the
gold wands joined, and finally, in an outer ring, the bearers,
the palanquin being the centre of the circles described by these
solemn dancers, whose pace, little by little, quickened, whose
gestures grew sudden, strange, frantic, as the motion became
swifter and swifter, until at length the whirl became so rapid
that the dancers seemed to fly by with the speed of a mill-wheel,
and amid a general clapping of hands, and universal wonder, these
strange performers mingled with the crowd, and the exhibition,
for the time at least, ended.

The Marquis d'Harmonville was standing not far away, looking on
the ground, as one could judge by his attitude and musing. I
approached, and he said:

"The Count has just gone away to look for his wife. It is a pity
she was not here to consult the prophet; it would have been
amusing, I daresay, to see how the Count bore it. Suppose we
follow him. I have asked him to introduce you."

With a beating heart, I accompanied the Marquis d'Harmonville.



CHAPTER XIV.

MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIÈRE.


We wandered through the salons, the Marquis and I. It was no easy
matter to find a friend in rooms so crowded.

"Stay here," said the Marquis, "I have thought of a way of
finding him. Besides, his jealousy may have warned him that there
is no particular advantage to be gained by presenting you to his
wife, I had better go and reason with him; as you seem to wish an
introduction so very much."

This occurred in the room that is now called the "Salon
d'Apollon." The paintings remained in my memory, and my adventure
of that evening was destined to occur there.

I sat down upon a sofa; and looked about me. Three or four
persons beside myself were seated on this roomy piece of gilded
furniture. They were chatting all very gaily; all--except the
person who sat next me, and she was a lady. Hardly two feet
interposed between us. The lady sat apparently in a reverie.
Nothing could be more graceful. She wore the costume perpetuated
in Collignan's full-length portrait of Mademoiselle de la
Vallière. It is, as you know, not only rich, but elegant. Her
hair was powdered, but one could perceive that it was naturally a
dark brown. One pretty little foot appeared, and could anything
be more exquisite than her hand?

It was extremely provoking that this lady wore her mask, and did
not, as many did, hold it for a time in her hand.

I was convinced that she was pretty. Availing myself of the
privilege of a masquerade, a microcosm in which it is impossible,
except by voice and allusion, to distinguish friend from foe, I
spoke--

"It is not easy, Mademoiselle, to deceive me," I began.

"So much the better for Monsieur," answered the mask, quietly.

"I mean," I said, determined to tell my fib, "that beauty is a
gift more difficult to conceal than Mademoiselle supposes."

"Yet Monsieur has succeeded very well," she said in the same
sweet and careless tones.

"I see the costume of this, the beautiful Mademoiselle de la
Vallière, upon a form that surpasses her own; I raise my eyes,
and I behold a mask, and yet I recognise the lady; beauty is
like that precious stone in the 'Arabian Nights,' which emits, no
matter how concealed, a light that betrays it."

"I know the story," said the young lady. "The light betrayed it,
not in the sun, but in darkness. Is there so little light in
these rooms, Monsieur, that a poor glowworm can show so brightly.
I thought we were in a luminous atmosphere, wherever a certain
countess moved?"

Here was an awkward speech! How was I to answer? This lady might
be, as they say some ladies are, a lover of mischief, or an
intimate of the Countess de St. Alyre. Cautiously, therefore, I
inquired,

"What countess?"

"If you know me, you must know that she is my dearest friend. Is
she not beautiful?"

"How can I answer, there are so many countesses."

"Every one who knows me, knows who my best beloved friend is. You
don't know me?"

"That is cruel. I can scarcely believe I am mistaken."

"With whom were you walking, just now?" she asked.

"A gentleman, a friend," I answered.

"I saw him, of course, a friend; but I think I know him, and
should like to be certain. Is he not a certain marquis?"

Here was another question that was extremely awkward.

"There are so many people here, and one may walk, at one time,
with one, and at another with a different one, that--"

"That an unscrupulous person has no difficulty in evading a
simple question like mine. Know then, once for all, that nothing
disgusts a person of spirit so much as suspicion. You, Monsieur,
are a gentleman of discretion. I shall respect you accordingly."

"Mademoiselle would despise me, were I to violate a confidence."

"But you don't deceive me. You imitate your friend's diplomacy. I
hate diplomacy. It means fraud and cowardice. Don't you think I
know him. The gentleman with the cross of white ribbon on his
breast. I know the Marquis d'Harmonville perfectly. You see to
what good purpose your ingenuity has been expended."

"To that conjecture I can answer neither yes nor no."

"You need not. But what was your motive in mortifying a lady?"

"It is the last thing on earth I should do."

"You affected to know me, and you don't; through caprice or
listlessness or curiosity you wished to converse, not with a
lady, but with a costume. You admired, and you pretend to
mistake me for another. But who is quite perfect? Is truth any
longer to be found on earth?"

"Mademoiselle has formed a mistaken opinion of me."

"And you also of me; you find me less foolish than you supposed.
I know perfectly whom you intend amusing with compliments and
melancholy declamation, and whom, with that amiable purpose, you
have been seeking."

"Tell me whom you mean," I entreated.

"Upon one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you will confess if I name the lady."

"You describe my object unfairly." I objected. "I can't admit
that I proposed speaking to any lady in the tone you describe."

"Well, I shan't insist on that; only if I name the lady, you
will promise to admit that I am right."

"_Must_ I promise?"

"Certainly not, there is no compulsion; but your promise is the
only condition on which I will speak to you again."

I hesitated for a moment; but how could she possibly tell? The
Countess would scarcely have admitted this little romance to any
one; and the mask in the La Vallière costume could not possibly
know who the masked domino beside her was.

"I consent," I said, "I promise."

"You must promise on the honour of a gentleman."

"Well, I do; on the honour of a gentleman."

"Then this lady is the Countess de St. Alyre." I was unspeakably
surprised; I was disconcerted; but I remembered my promise, and
said--

"The Countess de St. Alyre _is_, unquestionably, the lady to whom
I hoped for an introduction to-night; but I beg to assure you
also on the honour of a gentleman, that she has not the faintest
imaginable suspicion that I was seeking such an honour, nor, in
all probability, does she remember that such a person as I
exists. I had the honour to render her and the Count a trifling
service, too trifling, I fear, to have earned more than an hour's
recollection."

"The world is not so ungrateful as you suppose; or if it be,
there are, nevertheless, a few hearts that redeem it. I can
answer for the Countess de St. Alyre, she never forgets a
kindness. She does not show all she feels; for she is unhappy,
and cannot."

"Unhappy! I feared, indeed, that might be. But for all the rest
that you are good enough to suppose, it is but a flattering
dream."

"I told you that I am the Countess's friend, and being so I must
know something of her character; also, there are confidences
between us, and I may know more than you think, of those trifling
services of which you suppose the recollection is so transitory."

I was becoming more and more interested. I was as wicked as other
young men, and the heinousness of such a pursuit was as nothing,
now that self-love and all the passions that mingle in such a
romance, were roused. The image of the beautiful Countess had now
again quite superseded the pretty counterpart of La Vallière, who
was before me. I would have given a great deal to hear, in solemn
earnest, that she did remember the champion who, for her sake,
had thrown himself before the sabre of an enraged dragoon, with
only a cudgel in his hand, and conquered.

"You say the Countess is unhappy," said I. "What causes her
unhappiness?"

"Many things. Her husband is old, jealous, and tyrannical. Is not
that enough? Even when relieved from his society, she is lonely."

"But you are her friend?" I suggested.

"And you think one friend enough?" she answered; "she has one
alone, to whom she can open her heart."

"Is there room for another friend?"

"Try."

"How can I find a way?"

"She will aid you."

"How?"

She answered by a question. "Have you secured rooms in either of
the hotels of Versailles?"

"No, I could not. I am lodged in the Dragon Volant, which stands
at the verge of the grounds of the Château de la Carque."

"That is better still. I need not ask if you have courage for an
adventure. I need not ask if you are a man of honour. A lady may
trust herself to you, and fear nothing. There are few men to whom
the interview, such as I shall arrange, could be granted with
safety. You shall meet her at two o'clock this morning in the
Park of the Château de la Carque. What room do you occupy in the
Dragon Volant?"

I was amazed at the audacity and decision of this girl. Was she,
as we say in England, hoaxing me?

"I can describe that accurately," said I. "As I look from the
rear of the house, in which my apartment is, I am at the extreme
right, next the angle; and one pair of stairs up, from the hall."

"Very well; you must have observed, if you looked into the park,
two or three clumps of chestnut and lime-trees, growing so close
together as to form a small grove. You must return to your hotel,
change your dress, and, preserving a scrupulous secrecy, as to
why or where you go, leave the Dragon Volant, and climb the
park-wall, unseen; you will easily recognize the grove I have
mentioned; there you will meet the Countess, who will grant you
an audience of a few minutes, who will expect the most scrupulous
reserve on your part, and who will explain to you, in a few
words, a great deal which _I_ could not so well tell you here."

I cannot describe the feeling with which I heard these words. I
was astounded. Doubt succeeded. I could not believe these
agitating words.

"Mademoiselle will believe that if I only dared assure myself
that so great a happiness and honour were really intended for me,
my gratitude would be as lasting as my life. But how dare I
believe that Mademoiselle does not speak, rather from her own
sympathy or goodness, than from a certainty that the Countess de
St. Alyre would concede so great an honour?"

"Monsieur believes either that I am not, as I pretend to be, in
the secret which he hitherto supposed to be shared by no one but
the Countess and himself, or else that I am cruelly mystifying
him. That I am in her confidence, I swear by all that is dear in
a whispered farewell. By the last companion of this flower!" and
she took for a moment in her fingers the nodding head of a white
rosebud that was nestled in her bouquet. "By my own good star,
and hers--or shall I call it our '_belle_ étoile?' Have I said
enough?"

"Enough?" I repeated, "more than enough--a thousand thanks."

"And being thus in her confidence, I am clearly her friend; and
being a friend would it be friendly to use her dear name so; and
all for sake of practising a vulgar trick upon you--a stranger?"

"Mademoiselle will forgive me. Remember how very precious is the
hope of seeing, and speaking to the Countess. Is it wonderful,
then, that I should falter in my belief? You have convinced me,
however, and will forgive my hesitation."

"You will be at the place I have described, then, at two
o'clock?"

"Assuredly," I answered.

"And Monsieur, I know, will not fail, through fear. No, he need
not assure me; his courage is already proved."

"No danger, in such a case, will be unwelcome to me."

"Had you not better go now, Monsieur, and rejoin your friend?"

"I promised to wait here for my friend's return. The Count de St.
Alyre said that he intended to introduce me to the Countess."

"And Monsieur is so simple as to believe him?"

"Why should I not?"

"Because he is jealous and cunning. You will see. He will never
introduce you to his wife. He will come here and say he cannot
find her, and promise another time."

"I think I see him approaching, with my friend. No--there is no
lady with him."

"I told you so. You will wait a long time for that happiness, if
it is never to reach you except through his hands. In the
meantime, you had better not let him see you so near me. He will
suspect that we have been talking of his wife; and that will whet
his jealousy and his vigilance."

I thanked my unknown friend in the mask, and withdrawing a few
steps, came, by a little "circumbendibus," upon the flank of the
Count.

I smiled under my mask, as he assured me that the Duchesse de la
Roqueme had changed her place, and taken the Countess with her;
but he hoped, at some very early time, to have an opportunity of
enabling her to make my acquaintance.

I avoided the Marquis d'Harmonville, who was following the Count.
I was afraid he might propose accompanying me home, and had no
wish to be forced to make an explanation.

I lost myself quickly, therefore, in the crowd, and moved, as
rapidly as it would allow me, toward the Galerie des Glaces,
which lay in the direction opposite to that in which I saw the
Count and my friend the Marquis moving.



CHAPTER XV.

STRANGE STORY OF THE DRAGON VOLANT.


These _fêtes_ were earlier in those days, and in France, than our
modern balls are in London. I consulted my watch. It was a little
past twelve.

It was a still and sultry night; the magnificent suite of rooms,
vast as some of them were, could not be kept at a temperature
less than oppressive, especially to people with masks on. In some
places the crowd was inconvenient, and the profusion of lights
added to the heat. I removed my mask, therefore, as I saw some
other people do, who were as careless of mystery as I. I had
hardly done so, and began to breathe more comfortably, when I
heard a friendly English voice call me by my name. It was Tom
Whistlewick, of the --th Dragoons. He had unmasked, with a very
flushed face, as I did. He was one of those Waterloo heroes, new
from the mint of glory, whom, as a body, all the world, except
France, revered; and the only thing I knew against him, was a
habit of allaying his thirst, which was excessive, at balls,
_fêtes_, musical parties, and all gatherings, where it was to be
had, with champagne; and, as he introduced me to his friend,
Monsieur Carmaignac, I observed that he spoke a little thick.
Monsieur Carmaignac was little, lean, and as straight as a
ramrod. He was bald, took snuff, and wore spectacles; and, as I
soon learned, held an official position.

Tom was facetious, sly, and rather difficult to understand, in
his present pleasant mood. He was elevating his eyebrows and
screwing his lips oddly, and fanning himself vaguely with his
mask.

After some agreeable conversation, I was glad to observe that he
preferred silence, and was satisfied with the _rôle_ of listener,
as I and Monsieur Carmaignac chatted; and he seated himself, with
extraordinary caution and indecision, upon a bench, beside us,
and seemed very soon to find a difficulty in keeping his eyes
open.

"I heard you mention," said the French gentleman, "that you had
engaged an apartment in the Dragon Volant, about half a league
from this. When I was in a different police department, about
four years ago, two very strange cases were connected with that
house. One was of a wealthy _émigré_, permitted to return to
France, by the Em--by Napoleon. He vanished. The other--equally
strange--was the case of a Russian of rank and wealth. He
disappeared just as mysteriously."

"My servant," I said, "gave me a confused account of some
occurrences, and, as well as I recollect he described the same
persons--I mean a returned French nobleman, and a Russian
gentleman. But he made the whole story so marvellous--I mean in
the supernatural sense--that, I confess, I did not believe a word
of it."

"No, there was nothing supernatural; but a great deal
inexplicable," said the French gentleman. "Of course there may be
theories; but the thing was never explained, nor, so far as I
know, was a ray of light ever thrown upon it."

"Pray let me hear the story," I said. "I think I have a claim, as
it affects my quarters. You don't suspect the people of the
house?"

"Oh! it has changed hands since then. But there seemed to be a
fatality about a particular room."

"Could you describe that room?"

"Certainly. It is a spacious, panelled bed-room, up one pair of
stairs, in the back of the house, and at the extreme right, as
you look from its windows."

"Ho! Really? Why, then, I have got the very room!" I said,
beginning to be more interested--perhaps the least bit in the
world, disagreeably. "Did the people die, or were they actually
spirited away?"

"No, they did not die--they disappeared very oddly. I'll tell you
the particulars--I happen to know them exactly, because I made an
official visit, on the first occasion, to the house, to collect
evidence; and although I did not go down there, upon the second,
the papers came before me, and I dictated the official letter
despatched to the relations of the people who had disappeared;
they had applied to the government to investigate, the affair. We
had letters from the same relations more than two years later,
from which we learned that the missing men had never turned up."

He took a pinch of snuff, and looked steadily at me.

"Never! I shall relate all that happened, so far as we could
discover. The French noble, who was the Chevalier Chateau
Blassemare, unlike most _émigrés_, had taken the matter in time,
sold a large portion of his property before the revolution had
proceeded so far as to render that next to impossible, and
retired with a large sum. He brought with him about half a
million of francs, the greater part of which he invested in the
French funds; a much larger sum remained in Austrian land and
securities. You will observe then that this gentleman was rich,
and there was no allegation of his having lost money, or being,
in any way, embarrassed. You see?"

I assented.

"This gentleman's habits were not expensive in proportion to his
means. He had suitable lodgings in Paris; and for a time,
society, the theatres, and other reasonable amusements, engrossed
him. He did not play. He was a middle-aged man, affecting youth,
with the vanities which are usual in such persons; but, for the
rest, he was a gentle and polite person, who disturbed nobody--a
person, you see, not likely to provoke an enmity."

"Certainly not," I agreed.

"Early in the summer of 1811, he got an order permitting him to
copy a picture in one of these _salons_, and came down here, to
Versailles, for the purpose. His work was getting on slowly.
After a time he left his hotel, here, and went, by way of
change, to the Dragon Volant: there he took, by special choice,
the bed-room which has fallen to you by chance. From this time,
it appeared, he painted little; and seldom visited his apartments
in Paris. One night he saw the host of the Dragon Volant, and
told him that he was going into Paris, to remain for a day or
two, on very particular business; that his servant would
accompany him, but that he would retain his apartments at the
Dragon Volant, and return in a few days. He left some clothes
there, but packed a portmanteau, took his dressing-case, and the
rest, and, with his servant behind his carriage, drove into
Paris. You observe all this, Monsieur?"

"Most attentively," I answered.

"Well, Monsieur, as soon as they were approaching his lodgings,
he stopped the carriage on a sudden, told his servant that he had
changed his mind; that he would sleep elsewhere that night, that
he had very particular business in the north of France, not far
from Rouen, that he would set out before daylight on his journey,
and return in a fortnight. He called a _fiacre_, took in his hand
a leather bag which, the servant said, was just large enough to
hold a few shirts and a coat, but that it was enormously heavy,
as he could testify, for he held it in his hand, while his master
took out his purse to count thirty-six Napoleons, for which the
servant was to account when he should return. He then sent him
on, in the carriage; and he, with the bag I have mentioned, got
into the _fiacre_. Up to that, you see, the narrative is quite
clear."

"Perfectly," I agreed.

"Now comes the mystery," said Monsieur Carmaignac. "After that,
the Count Chateau Blassemare was never more seen, so far as we
can make out, by acquaintance or friend. We learned that the day
before the Count's stockbroker had, by his direction, sold all
his stock in the French funds, and handed him the cash it
realized. The reason he gave him for this measure tallied with
what he said to his servant. He told him that he was going to the
north of France to settle some claims, and did not know exactly
how much might be required. The bag, which had puzzled the
servant by its weight, contained, no doubt, a large sum in gold.
Will Monsieur try my snuff?"

He politely tendered his open snuff-box, of which I partook,
experimentally.

"A reward was offered," he continued, "when the inquiry was instituted,
for any information tending to throw a light upon the mystery, which
might be afforded by the driver of the _fiacre_ 'employed on the night
of' (so-and-so), 'at about the hour of half-past ten, by a gentleman,
with a black-leather travelling-bag in his hand, who descended from a
private carriage, and gave his servant some money, which he counted
twice over.' About a hundred-and-fifty drivers applied, but not one of
them was the right man. We did, however, elicit a curious and unexpected
piece of evidence in quite another quarter. What a racket that plaguey
harlequin makes with his sword!"

"Intolerable!" I chimed in.

The harlequin was soon gone, and he resumed.

"The evidence I speak of, came from a boy, about twelve years
old, who knew the appearance of the Count perfectly, having been
often employed by him as a messenger. He stated that about
half-past twelve o'clock, on the same night--upon which you are
to observe, there was a brilliant moon--he was sent, his mother
having been suddenly taken ill, for the _sage femme_ who lived
within a stone's throw of the Dragon Volant. His father's house,
from which he started, was a mile away, or more, from that inn,
in order to reach which he had to pass round the park of the
Château de la Carque, at the site most remote from the point to
which he was going. It passes the old churchyard of St. Aubin,
which is separated from the road only by a very low fence, and
two or three enormous old trees. The boy was a little nervous as
he approached this ancient cemetery; and, under the bright
moonlight, he saw a man whom he distinctly recognised as the
Count, whom they designated by a soubriquet which means 'the man
of smiles.' He was looking rueful enough now, and was seated on
the side of a tombstone, on which he had laid a pistol, while he
was ramming home the charge of another.

"The boy got cautiously by, on tip-toe, with his eyes all the
time on the Count Chateau Blassemare, or the man he mistook for
him; his dress was not what he usually wore, but the witness
swore that he could not be mistaken as to his identity. He said
his face looked grave and stern; but though he did not smile, it
was the same face he knew so well. Nothing would make him swerve
from that. If that were he, it was the last time he was seen. He
has never been heard of since. Nothing could be heard of him in
the neighbourhood of Rouen. There has been no evidence of his
death; and there is no sign that he is living."

"That certainly is a most singular case," I replied; and was
about to ask a question or two, when Tom Whistlewick who, without
my observing it, had been taking a ramble, returned, a great deal
more awake, and a great deal less tipsy.

"I say, Carmaignac, it is getting late, and I must go; I really
must, for the reason I told you--and, Beckett, we must soon meet
again."

"I regret very much, Monsieur, my not being able at present to
relate to you the other case, that of another tenant of the very
same room--a case more mysterious and sinister than the last--and
which occurred in the autumn of the same year."

"Will you both do a very good-natured thing, and come and dine
with me at the Dragon Volant to-morrow?"

So, as we pursued our way along the Galerie des Glaces, I
extracted their promise.

"By Jove!" said Whistlewick, when this was done; "look at that
pagoda, or sedan chair, or whatever it is, just where those
fellows set it down, and not one of them near it! I can't imagine
how they tell fortunes so devilish well. Jack Nuffles--I met him
here to-night--says they are gipsies--where are they, I wonder?
I'll go over and have a peep at the prophet."

I saw him plucking at the blinds, which were constructed
something on the principle of Venetian blinds; the red curtains
were inside; but they did not yield, and he could only peep under
one that did not come quite down.

When he rejoined us, he related: "I could scarcely see the old
fellow, it's so dark. He is covered with gold and red, and has an
embroidered hat on like a mandarin's; he's fast asleep; and, by
Jove, he smells like a pole-cat! It's worth going over only to
have it to say. Fiew! pooh! oh! It _is_ a perfume. Faugh!"

Not caring to accept this tempting invitation, we got along
slowly toward the door. I bid them good-night, reminding them of
their promise. And so found my way at last to my carriage; and
was soon rolling slowly toward the Dragon Volant, on the
loneliest of roads, under old trees, and the soft moonlight.

What a number of things had happened within the last two hours!
what a variety of strange and vivid pictures were crowded
together in that brief space! What an adventure was before me!

The silent, moonlighted, solitary road, how it contrasted with
the many-eddied whirl of pleasure from whose roar and music,
lights, diamonds and colours, I had just extricated myself.

The sight of lonely Nature at such an hour, acts like a sudden
sedative. The madness and guilt of my pursuit struck me with a
momentary compunction and horror. I wished I had never entered
the labyrinth which was leading me, I knew not whither. It was
too late to think of that now; but the bitter was already
stealing into my cup; and vague anticipations lay, for a few
minutes, heavy on my heart. It would not have taken much to make
me disclose my unmanly state of mind to my lively friend, Alfred
Ogle, nor even to the milder ridicule of the agreeable Tom
Whistlewick.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PARC OF THE CHATEAU DE LA CARQUE.


There was no danger of the Dragon Volant's closing its doors on
that occasion till three or four in the morning. There were
quartered there many servants of great people, whose masters
would not leave the ball till the last moment, and who could not
return to their corners in the Dragon Volant, till their last
services had been rendered.

I knew, therefore, I should have ample time for my mysterious
excursion without exciting curiosity by being shut out.

And now we pulled up under the canopy of boughs, before the sign
of the Dragon Volant, and the light that shone from its
hall-door.

I dismissed my carriage, ran up the broad staircase, mask in
hand, with my domino fluttering about me, and entered the large
bed-room. The black wainscoting and stately furniture, with the
dark curtains of the very tall bed, made the night there more
sombre.

An oblique patch of moonlight was thrown upon the floor from the
window to which I hastened. I looked out upon the landscape
slumbering in those silvery beams. There stood the outline of the
Château de la Carque, its chimneys, and many turrets with their
extinguisher-shaped roofs black against the soft grey sky. There,
also, more in the foreground, about midway between the window
where I stood, and the château, but a little to the left, I
traced the tufted masses of the grove which the lady in the mask
had appointed as the trysting-place, where I and the beautiful
Countess were to meet that night.

I took "the bearings" of this gloomy bit of wood, whose foliage
glimmered softly at top in the light of the moon.

You may guess with what a strange interest and swelling of the
heart I gazed on the unknown scene of my coming adventure.

But time was flying, and the hour already near. I threw my robe
upon a sofa; I groped out a pair of boots, which I substituted
for those thin heelless shoes, in those days called "pumps,"
without which a gentleman could not attend an evening party. I
put on my hat, and lastly, I took a pair of loaded pistols which
I had been advised were satisfactory companions in the then
unsettled state of French society: swarms of disbanded soldiers,
some of them alleged to be desperate characters, being everywhere
to be met with. These preparations made, I confess I took a
looking-glass to the window to see how I looked in the moonlight;
and being satisfied, I replaced it, and ran downstairs.

In the hall I called for my servant.

"St. Clair," said I; "I mean to take a little moonlight ramble,
only ten minutes or so. You must not go to bed until I return. If
the night is very beautiful, I may possibly extend my ramble a
little."

So down the steps I lounged, looking first over my right, and
then over my left shoulder, like a man uncertain which direction
to take, and I sauntered up the road, gazing now at the moon, and
now at the thin white clouds in the opposite direction,
whistling, all the time, an air which I had picked up at one of
the theatres.

When I had got a couple of hundred yards away from the Dragon
Volant, my minstrelsy totally ceased; and I turned about, and
glanced sharply down the road that looked as white as hoar-frost
under the moon, and saw the gable of the old inn, and a window,
partly concealed by the foliage, with a dusky light shining from
it.

No sound of footstep was stirring; no sign of human figure in
sight. I consulted my watch, which the light was sufficiently
strong to enable me to do. It now wanted but eight minutes of the
appointed hour. A thick mantle of ivy at this point covered the
wall and rose in a clustering head at top.

It afforded me facilities for scaling the wall, and a partial
screen for my operations, if any eye should chance to be looking
that way. And now it was done. I was in the park of the Château
de la Carque, as nefarious a poacher as ever trespassed on the
grounds of unsuspicious lord!

Before me rose the appointed grove, which looked as black as a
clump of gigantic hearse-plumes. It seemed to tower higher and
higher at every step; and cast a broader and blacker shadow
toward my feet. On I marched, and was glad when I plunged into
the shadow which concealed me. Now I was among the grand old lime
and chestnut trees--my heart beat fast with expectation.

This grove opened, a little, near the middle; and in the space
thus cleared, there stood with a surrounding flight of steps, a
small Greek temple or shrine, with a statue in the centre. It was
built of white marble with fluted Corinthian columns, and the
crevices were tufted with grass; moss had shown itself on
pedestal and cornice, and signs of long neglect and decay were
apparent in its discoloured and weather-worn marble. A few feet
in front of the steps a fountain, fed from the great ponds at the
other side of the château, was making a constant tinkle and
plashing in a wide marble basin, and the jet of water glimmered
like a shower of diamonds in the broken moonlight. The very
neglect and half-ruinous state of all this made it only the
prettier, as well as sadder. I was too intently watching for the
arrival of the lady, in the direction of the château, to study
these things; but the half-noted effect of them was romantic, and
suggested somehow the grotto and the fountain, and the apparition
of Egeria.

As I watched a voice spoke to me, a little behind my left
shoulder. I turned, almost with a start, and the masque, in the
costume of Mademoiselle de la Vallière stood there.

"The Countess will be here presently," she said. The lady stood
upon the open space, and the moonlight fell unbroken upon her.
Nothing could be more becoming; her figure looked more graceful
and elegant than ever. "In the meantime I shall tell you some
peculiarities of her situation. She is unhappy; miserable in an
ill-assorted marriage, with a jealous tyrant who now would
constrain her to sell her diamonds, which are--"

"Worth thirty thousand pounds sterling. I heard all that from a
friend. Can I aid the Countess in her unequal struggle? Say but
how, and the greater the danger or the sacrifice, the happier
will it make me. _Can_ I aid her?"

"If you despise a danger--which, yet, is not a danger; if you
despise, as she does, the tyrannical canons of the world; and, if
you are chivalrous enough to devote yourself to a lady's cause,
with no reward but her poor gratitude; if you can do these things
you can aid her, and earn a foremost place, not in her gratitude
only, but in her friendship."

At those words the lady in the mask turned away, and seemed to
weep.

I vowed myself the willing slave of the Countess. "But," I added,
"you told me she would soon be here."

"That is, if nothing unforeseen should happen; but with the eye
of the Count de St. Alyre in the house, and open, it is seldom
safe to stir."

"Does she wish to see me?" I asked, with a tender hesitation.

"First, say have you really thought of _her_, more than once,
since the adventure of the Belle Etoile."

"She never leaves my thoughts; day and night her beautiful eyes
haunt me; her sweet voice is always in my ear."

"Mine is said to resemble hers," said the mask.

"So it does," I answered. "But it is only a resemblance."

"Oh! then mine is better?"

"Pardon me, Mademoiselle, I did not say _that_. Yours is a sweet
voice, but I fancy a little higher."

"A little shriller, you would say," answered the De la Vallière,
I fancied a good deal vexed.

"No, not shriller: your voice is not shrill, it is beautifully
sweet; but not so pathetically sweet as her."

"That is prejudice, Monsieur; it is not true."

I bowed; I could not contradict a lady.

"I see, Monsieur, you laugh at me; you think me vain, because I
claim in some points to be equal to the Countess de St. Alyre. I
challenge you to say, my hand, at least, is less beautiful than
hers." As she thus spoke, she drew her glove off, and extended
her hand, back upward, in the moonlight.

The lady seemed really nettled. It was undignified and
irritating; for in this uninteresting competition the precious
moments were flying, and my interview leading apparently to
nothing.

"You will admit, then, that my hand is as beautiful as hers?"

"I cannot admit it, Mademoiselle," said I, with the honesty of
irritation. "I will not enter into comparisons, but the Countess
de St. Alyre is, in all respects, the most beautiful lady I ever
beheld."

The masque laughed coldly, and then, more and more softly, said,
with a sigh, "I will prove all I say." And as she spoke she
removed the mask: and the Countess de St. Alyre, smiling,
confused, bashful, more beautiful than ever, stood before me!

"Good Heavens!" I exclaimed. "How monstrously stupid I have been.
And it was to Madame la Comtesse that I spoke for so long in the
_salon_!" I gazed on her in silence. And with a low sweet laugh
of goodnature she extended her hand. I took it, and carried it to
my lips.

"No, you must not do that," she said, quietly, "we are not old
enough friends yet. I find, although you were mistaken, that you
do remember the Countess of the Belle Etoile, and that you are a
champion true and fearless. Had you yielded to the claims just
now pressed upon you by the rivalry of Mademoiselle de la
Vallière, in her mask, the Countess de St. Alyre should never
have trusted or seen you more. I now am sure that you are true,
as well as brave. You now know that I have not forgotten you;
and, also, that if you would risk your life for me, I, too, would
brave some danger, rather than lose my friend for ever. I have
but a few moments more. Will you come here again to-morrow night,
at a quarter past eleven? I will be here at that moment; you must
exercise the most scrupulous care to prevent suspicion that you
have come here, Monsieur. _You owe that to me._"

She spoke these last words with the most solemn entreaty.

I vowed again and again, that I would die rather than permit the
least rashness to endanger the secret which made all the interest
and value of my life.

She was looking, I thought, more and more beautiful every moment.
My enthusiasm expanded in proportion.

"You must come to-morrow night by a different route," she said;
"and if you come again, we can change it once more. At the other
side of the château there is a little churchyard, with a ruined
chapel. The neighbours are afraid to pass it by night. The road
is deserted there, and a stile opens a way into these grounds.
Cross it and you can find a covert of thickets, to within fifty
steps of this spot."

I promised, of course, to observe her instructions implicitly.

"I have lived for more than a year in an agony of irresolution. I
have decided at last. I have lived a melancholy life; a lonelier
life than is passed in the cloister. I have had no one to confide
in; no one to advise me; no one to save me from the horrors of my
existence. I have found a brave and prompt friend at last. Shall
I ever forget the heroic tableau of the hall of the Belle Etoile?
Have you--have you really kept the rose I gave you, as we parted?
Yes--you swear it. You need not; I trust you. Richard, how often
have I in solitude repeated your name, learned from my servant.
Richard, my hero! Oh! Richard! Oh, my king! I love you."

I would have folded her to my heart--thrown myself at her feet.
But this beautiful and--shall I say it--inconsistent woman
repelled me.

"No, we must not waste our moments in extravagances. Understand
my case. There is no such thing as indifference in the married
state. Not to love one's husband," she continued, "is to hate
him. The Count, ridiculous in all else, is formidable in his
jealousy. In mercy, then, to me, observe caution. Affect to all
you speak to, the most complete ignorance of all the people in
the Château de la Carque; and, if any one in your presence
mentions the Count or Countess de St. Alyre, be sure you say you
never saw either. I shall have more to say to you to-morrow
night. I have reasons that I cannot now explain, for all I do,
and all I postpone. Farewell. Go! Leave me."

She waved me back, peremptorily. I echoed her "farewell," and
obeyed.

This interview had not lasted, I think, more than ten minutes. I
scaled the park-wall again, and reached the Dragon Volant before
its doors were closed.

I lay awake in my bed, in a fever of elation. I saw, till the
dawn broke, and chased the vision, the beautiful Countess de St.
Alyre, always in the dark, before me.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE TENANT OF THE PALANQUIN.


The Marquis called on me next day. My late breakfast was still
upon the table.

He had come, he said, to ask a favour. An accident had happened
to his carriage in the crowd on leaving the ball, and he begged,
if I were going into Paris, a seat in mine--I was going in, and
was extremely glad of his company. He came with me to my hotel;
we went up to my rooms. I was surprised to see a man seated in an
easy chair, with his back towards us, reading a newspaper. He
rose. It was the Count de St. Alyre, his gold spectacles on his
nose; his black wig, in oily curls, lying close to his narrow
head, and showing, like carved ebony over a repulsive visage of
boxwood. His black muffler had been pulled down. His right arm
was in a sling. I don't know whether there was anything unusual
in his countenance that day, or whether it was but the effect of
prejudice arising from all I had heard in my mysterious interview
in his park, but I thought his countenance was more strikingly
forbidding than I had seen it before.

I was not callous enough in the ways of sin to meet this man,
injured at least in intent, thus suddenly, without a momentary
disturbance.

He smiled.

"I called, Monsieur Beckett, in the hope of finding you here,"
he croaked, "and I meditated, I fear, taking a great liberty, but
my friend the Marquis d'Harmonville, on whom I have perhaps some
claim, will perhaps give me the assistance I require so much."

"With great pleasure," said the Marquis, "but not till after six
o'clock. I must go this moment to a meeting of three or four
people, whom I cannot disappoint, and I know, perfectly, we
cannot break up earlier."

"What am I to do?" exclaimed the Count, "an hour would have done
it all. Was ever _contre-temps_ so unlucky!"

"I'll give you an hour, with pleasure," said I.

"How very good of you, Monsieur, I hardly dare to hope it. The
business, for so gay and charming a man as Monsieur Beckett, is a
little _funeste_. Pray read this note which reached me this
morning."

It certainly was not cheerful. It was a note stating that the
body of his, the Count's cousin, Monsieur de St. Amand, who had
died at his house, the Château Clery, had been, in accordance
with his written directions, sent for burial at Père La Chaise,
and, with the permission of the Count de St. Alyre, would reach
his house (the Château de la Carque), at about ten o'clock on the
night following, to be conveyed thence in a hearse, with any
member of the family who might wish to attend the obsequies.

"I did not see the poor gentleman twice in my life," said the
Count, "but this office, as he has no other kinsman, disagreeable
as it is, I could scarcely decline, and so I want to attend at
the office to have the book signed, and the order entered. But
here is another misery. By ill luck, I have sprained my thumb,
and can't sign my name for a week to come. However, one name
answers as well as another. Yours as well as mine. And as you
are so good as to come with me, all will go right."

Away, we drove. The Count gave me a memorandum of the christian
and surnames of the deceased, his age, the complaint he died of,
and the usual particulars; also a note of the exact position in
which a grave, the dimensions of which were described, of the
ordinary simple kind, was to be dug, between two vaults belonging
to the family of St. Amand. The funeral, it was stated, would
arrive at half-past one o'clock A.M. (the next night but one);
and he handed me the money, with extra fees, for a burial by
night. It was a good deal; and I asked him, as he entrusted the
whole affair to me, in whose name I should take the receipt.

"Not in mine, my good friend. They wanted me to become an
executor, which I, yesterday, wrote to decline; and I am informed
that if the receipt were in my name it would constitute me an
executor in the eye of the law, and fix me in that position. Take
it, pray, if you have no objection, in your own name."

This, accordingly, I did.

"You will see, by-and-by, why I am obliged to mention all these
particulars."

The Count, meanwhile, was leaning back in the carriage, with his
black silk muffler up to his nose, and his hat shading his eyes,
while he dozed in his corner; in which state I found him on my
return.

Paris had lost its charm for me. I hurried through the little
business I had to do, longed once more for my quiet room in the
Dragon Volant, the melancholy woods of the Château de la Carque,
and the tumultuous and thrilling influence of proximity to the
object of my wild but wicked romance.

I was delayed some time by my stockbroker. I had a very large
sum, as I told you, at my banker's, uninvested. I cared very
little for a few days' interest--very little for the entire sum,
compared with the image that occupied my thoughts, and beckoned
me with a white arm, through the dark, toward the spreading
lime-trees and chestnuts of the Château de la Carque. But I had
fixed this day to meet him, and was relieved when he told me that
I had better let it lie in my banker's hands for a few days
longer, as the funds would certainly fall immediately. This
accident, too, was not without its immediate bearing on my
subsequent adventures.

When I reached the Dragon Volant, I found, in my sitting-room, a
good deal to my chagrin, my two guests, whom I had quite
forgotten. I inwardly cursed my own stupidity for having
embarrassed myself with their agreeable society. It could not be
helped now, however, and a word to the waiters put all things in
train for dinner.

Tom Whistlewick was in great force; and he commenced almost
immediately with a very odd story.

He told me that not only Versailles, but all Paris, was in a
ferment, in consequence of a revolting, and all but sacrilegious,
practical joke, played off on the night before.

The pagoda, as he persisted in calling the palanquin, had been
left standing on the spot where we last saw it. Neither conjuror,
nor usher, nor bearers had ever returned. When the ball closed,
and the company at length retired, the servants who attended to
put out the lights, and secure the doors, found it still there.

It was determined, however, to let it stand where it was until
next morning, by which time, it was conjectured, its owners would
send messengers to remove it.

None arrived. The servants were then ordered to take it away; and
its extraordinary weight, for the first time, reminded them of
its forgotten human occupant. Its door was forced; and, judge
what was their disgust, when they discovered, not a living man,
but a corpse! Three or four days must have passed since the death
of the burly man in the Chinese tunic and painted cap. Some
people thought it was a trick designed to insult the Allies, in
whose honour the ball was got up. Others were of opinion that it
was nothing worse than a daring and cynical jocularity which,
shocking as it was, might yet be forgiven to the high spirits and
irrepressible buffoonery of youth. Others, again, fewer in
number, and mystically given, insisted that the corpse was _bonâ
fide_ necessary to the exhibition, and that the disclosures and
allusions which had astonished so many people were distinctly due
to necromancy.

"The matter, however, is now in the hands of the police,"
observed Monsieur Carmaignac, "and we are not the body they were
two or three months ago, if the offenders against propriety and
public feeling are not traced, and convicted, unless, indeed,
they have been a great deal more cunning than such fools
generally are."

I was thinking within myself how utterly inexplicable was my
colloquy with the conjuror, so cavalierly dismissed by Monsieur
Carmaignac as a "fool;" and the more I thought the more
marvellous it seemed.

"It certainly was an original joke, though not a very clear one,"
said Whistlewick.

"Not even original," said Carmaignac. "Very nearly the same thing
was done, a hundred years ago or more, at a state ball in Paris;
and the rascals who played the trick were never found out."

In this Monsieur Carmaignac, as I afterwards discovered, spoke
truly; for, among my books of French anecdote and memoirs, the
very incident is marked, by my own hand.

While we were thus talking, the waiter told us that dinner was
served; and we withdrew accordingly; my guests more than making
amends for my comparative taciturnity.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE CHURCH-YARD.


Our dinner was really good, so were the wines; better, perhaps,
at this out-of-the-way inn, than at some of the more pretentious
hotels in Paris. The moral effect of a really good dinner is
immense--we all felt it. The serenity and goodnature that follow
are more solid and comfortable than the tumultuous benevolences
of Bacchus.

My friends were happy, therefore, and very chatty; which latter
relieved me of the trouble of talking, and prompted them to
entertain me and one another incessantly with agreeable stories
and conversation, of which, until suddenly a subject emerged,
which interested me powerfully, I confess, so much were my
thoughts engaged elsewhere, I heard next to nothing.

"Yes," said Carmaignac, continuing a conversation which had
escaped me, "there was another case, beside that Russian
nobleman, odder still. I remembered it this morning, but cannot
recall the name. He was a tenant of the very same room.
By-the-by, Monsieur, might it not be as well," he added, turning
to me, with a laugh, half joke whole earnest, as they say, "if
you were to get into another apartment, now that the house is no
longer crowded? that is, if you mean to make any stay here."

"A thousand thanks! no. I'm thinking of changing my hotel; and I
can run into town so easily at night; and though I stay here,
for this night, at least, I don't expect to vanish like those
others. But you say there is another adventure, of the same kind,
connected with the same room. Do let us hear it. But take some
wine first."

The story he told was curious.

"It happened," said Carmaignac, "as well as I recollect, before
either of the other cases. A French gentleman--I wish I could
remember his name--the son of a merchant, came to this inn (the
Dragon Volant), and was put by the landlord into the same room of
which we have been speaking. _Your_ apartment, Monsieur. He was
by no means young--past forty--and very far from good-looking.
The people here said that he was the ugliest man, and the most
good-natured, that ever lived. He played on the fiddle, sang, and
wrote poetry. His habits were odd and desultory. He would
sometimes sit all day in his room writing, singing, and
fiddling, and go out at night for a walk. An eccentric man! He
was by no means a millionaire, but he had a _modicum bonum_ you
understand--a trifle more than half a million of francs. He
consulted his stockbroker about investing this money in foreign
stocks, and drew the entire sum from his banker. You now have the
situation of affairs when the catastrophe occurred."

"Pray fill your glass," I said.

"Dutch courage, Monsieur, to face the catastrophe!" said
Whistlewick, filling his own.

"Now, that was the last that ever was heard of his money,"
resumed Carmaignac. "You shall hear about himself. The night
after this financial operation, he was seized with a poetic
frenzy; he sent for the then landlord of this house, and told him
that he long meditated an epic, and meant to commence that
night, and that he was on no account to be disturbed until nine
o'clock in the morning. He had two pairs of wax candles, a little
cold supper on a side-table, his desk open, paper enough upon it
to contain the entire Henriade, and a proportionate store of pens
and ink.

"Seated at this desk he was seen by the waiter who brought him a
cup of coffee at nine o'clock, at which time the intruder said he
was writing fast enough to set fire to the paper--that was his
phrase; he did not look up, he appeared too much engrossed. But,
when the waiter came back, half an hour afterwards, the door was
locked; and the poet, from within, answered, that he must not be
disturbed.

"Away went the _garçon_; and next morning at nine o'clock knocked
at his door, and receiving no answer, looked through the
key-hole; the lights were still burning, the window-shutters
were closed as he had left them; he renewed his knocking, knocked
louder, no answer came. He reported this continued and alarming
silence to the inn-keeper, who, finding that his guest had not
left his key in the lock, succeeded in finding another that
opened it. The candles were just giving up the ghost in their
sockets, but there was light enough to ascertain that the tenant
of the room was gone! The bed had not been disturbed; the
window-shutter was barred. He must have let himself out, and,
locking the door on the outside, put the key in his pocket, and
so made his way out of the house. Here, however, was another
difficulty, the Dragon Volant shut its doors and made all fast at
twelve o'clock; after that hour no one could leave the house,
except by obtaining the key and letting himself out, and of
necessity leaving the door unsecured, or else by collusion and
aid of some person in the house.

"Now it happened that, some time after the doors were secured, at
half-past twelve, a servant who had not been apprized of his
order to be left undisturbed, seeing a light shine through the
key-hole, knocked at the door to inquire whether the poet wanted
anything. He was very little obliged to his disturber, and
dismissed him with a renewed charge that he was not to be
interrupted again during the night. This incident established the
fact that he was in the house after the doors had been locked and
barred. The inn-keeper himself kept the keys, and swore that he
found them hung on the wall above his head, in his bed, in their
usual place, in the morning; and that nobody could have taken
them away without awakening him. That was all we could discover.
The Count de St. Alyre, to whom this house belongs, was very
active and very much chagrined. But nothing was discovered."

"And nothing heard since of the epic poet?" I asked.

"Nothing--not the slightest clue--he never turned up again. I
suppose he is dead; if he is not, he must have got into some
devilish bad scrape, of which we have heard nothing, that
compelled him to abscond with all the secresy and expedition in
his power. All that we know for certain is that, having occupied
the room in which you sleep, he vanished, nobody ever knew how,
and never was heard of since."

"You have now mentioned three cases," I said, "and all from the
same room."

"Three. Yes, all equally unintelligible. When men are murdered,
the great and immediate difficulty the assassins encounter is how
to conceal the body. It is very hard to believe that three
persons should have been consecutively murdered, in the same
room, and their bodies so effectually disposed of that no trace
of them was ever discovered."

From this we passed to other topics, and the grave Monsieur
Carmaignac amused us with a perfectly prodigious collection of
scandalous anecdote, which his opportunities in the police
department had enabled him to accumulate.

My guests happily had engagements in Paris, and left me about
ten.

I went up to my room, and looked out upon the grounds of the
Château de la Carque. The moonlight was broken by clouds, and the
view of the park in this desultory light, acquired a melancholy
and fantastic character.

The strange anecdotes recounted of the room in which I stood, by
Monsieur Carmaignac, returned vaguely upon my mind, drowning in
sudden shadows the gaiety of the more frivolous stories with
which he had followed them. I looked round me on the room that
lay in ominous gloom, with an almost disagreeable sensation. I
took my pistols now with an undefined apprehension that they
might be really needed before my return to-night. This feeling,
be it understood, in nowise chilled my ardour. Never had my
enthusiasm mounted higher. My adventure absorbed and carried me
away; but it added a strange and stern excitement to the
expedition.

I loitered for a time in my room. I had ascertained the exact
point at which the little churchyard lay. It was about a mile
away; I did not wish to reach it earlier than necessary.

I stole quietly out, and sauntered along the road to my left, and
thence entered a narrower track, still to my left, which,
skirting the park wall, and describing a circuitous route, all
the way, under grand old trees, passes the ancient cemetery. That
cemetery is embowered in trees, and occupies little more than
half an acre of ground, to the left of the road, interposing
between it and the park of the Château de la Carque.

Here, at this haunted spot, I paused and listened. The place was
utterly silent. A thick cloud had darkened the moon, so that I
could distinguish little more than the outlines of near objects,
and that vaguely enough; and sometimes, as it were, floating in
black fog, the white surface of a tombstone emerged.

Among the forms that met my eye against the iron-grey of the
horizon, were some of those shrubs or trees that grow like our
junipers, some six feet high, in form like a miniature poplar,
with the darker foliage of the yew. I do not know the name of
the plant, but I have often seen it in such funereal places.

Knowing that I was a little too early, I sat down upon the edge
of a tombstone to wait, as, for aught I knew, the beautiful
Countess might have wise reasons for not caring that I should
enter the grounds of the château earlier than she had appointed.
In the listless state induced by waiting, I sat there, with my
eyes on the object straight before me, which chanced to be that
faint black outline I have described. It was right before me,
about half-a-dozen steps away.

The moon now began to escape from under the skirt of the cloud
that had hid her face for so long; and, as the light gradually
improved, the tree on which I had been lazily staring began to
take a new shape. It was no longer a tree, but a man standing
motionless. Brighter and brighter grew the moonlight, clearer
and clearer the image became, and at last stood out perfectly
distinctly. It was Colonel Gaillarde.

Luckily, he was not looking toward me. I could only see him in
profile; but there was no mistaking the white moustache, the
_farouche_ visage, and the gaunt six-foot stature. There he was,
his shoulder toward me, listening and watching, plainly, for some
signal or person expected, straight in front of him.

If he were, by chance, to turn his eyes in my direction, I knew
that I must reckon upon an instantaneous renewal of the combat
only commenced in the hall of the Belle Etoile. In any case,
could malignant fortune have posted, at this place and hour, a
more dangerous watcher? What ecstasy to him, by a single
discovery, to hit me so hard, and blast the Countess de St.
Alyre, whom he seemed to hate.

He raised his arm; he whistled softly; I heard an answering
whistle as low; and, to my relief, the Colonel advanced in the
direction of this sound, widening the distance between us at
every step; and immediately I heard talking, but in a low and
cautious key.

I recognized, I thought, even so, the peculiar voice of
Gaillarde.

I stole softly forward in the direction in which those sounds
were audible. In doing so, I had, of course, to use the extremest
caution.

I thought I saw a hat above a jagged piece of ruined wall, and
then a second--yes, I saw two hats conversing; the voices came
from under them. They moved off, not in the direction of the
park, but of the road, and I lay along the grass, peeping over a
grave, as a skirmisher might, observing the enemy. One after the
other, the figures emerged full into view as they mounted the
stile at the road-side. The Colonel, who was last, stood on the
wall for awhile, looking about him, and then jumped down on the
road. I heard their steps and talk as they moved away together,
with their backs toward me, in the direction which led them
farther and farther from the Dragon Volant.

I waited until these sounds were quite lost in distance before I
entered the park. I followed the instructions I had received from
the Countess de St. Alyre, and made my way among brushwood and
thickets to the point nearest the ruinous temple, and crossed the
short intervening space of open ground rapidly.

I was now once more under the gigantic boughs of the old lime and
chestnut trees; softly, and with a heart throbbing fast, I
approached the little structure.

The moon was now shining steadily, pouring down its radiance on
the soft foliage, and here and there mottling the verdure under
my feet.

I reached the steps; I was among its worn marble shafts. She was
not there, nor in the inner sanctuary, the arched windows of
which were screened almost entirely by masses of ivy. The lady
had not yet arrived.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE KEY.


I stood now upon the steps, watching and listening. In a minute
or two I heard the crackle of withered sticks trod upon, and,
looking in the direction, I saw a figure approaching among the
trees, wrapped in a mantle.

I advanced eagerly. It was the Countess. She did not speak, but
gave me her hand, and I led her to the scene of our last
interview. She repressed the ardour of my impassioned greeting
with a gentle but peremptory firmness. She removed her hood,
shook back her beautiful hair, and, gazing on me with sad and
glowing eyes, sighed deeply. Some awful thought seemed to weigh
upon her.

"Richard, I must speak plainly. The crisis of my life has come. I
am sure you would defend me. I think you pity me; perhaps you
even love me."

At these words I became eloquent, as young madmen in my plight
do. She silenced me, however, with the same melancholy firmness.

"Listen, dear friend, and then say whether you can aid me. How
madly I am trusting you; and yet my heart tells me how wisely! To
meet you here as I do--what insanity it seems! How poorly you
must think of me! But when you know all, you will judge me
fairly. Without your aid I cannot accomplish my purpose. That
purpose unaccomplished, I must die. I am chained to a man whom I
despise--whom I abhor. I have resolved to fly. I have jewels,
principally diamonds, for which I am offered thirty thousand
pounds of your English money. They are my separate property by my
marriage settlement; I will take them with me. You are a judge,
no doubt, of jewels. I was counting mine when the hour came, and
brought this in my hand to show you. Look."

"It is magnificent!" I exclaimed, as a collar of diamonds
twinkled and flashed in the moonlight, suspended from her pretty
fingers. I thought, even at that tragic moment, that she
prolonged the show, with a feminine delight in these brilliant
toys.

"Yes," she said, "I shall part with them all. I will turn them
into money, and break, for ever, the unnatural and wicked bonds
that tied me, in the name of a sacrament, to a tyrant. A man
young, handsome, generous, brave as you, can hardly be rich.
Richard, you say you love me; you shall share all this with me.
We will fly together to Switzerland; we will evade pursuit; my
powerful friends will intervene and arrange a separation; and I
shall, at length, be happy and reward my hero."

You may suppose the style, florid and vehement, in which I poured
forth my gratitude, vowed the devotion of my life, and placed
myself absolutely at her disposal.

"To-morrow night," she said, "my husband will attend the remains
of his cousin, Monsieur de St. Amand, to Père la Chaise. The
hearse, he says, will leave this at half-past nine. You must be
here, where we stand, at nine o'clock."

I promised punctual obedience.

"I will not meet you here; but you see a red light in the window
of the tower at that angle of the château?"

I assented.

"I placed it there, that, to-morrow night, when it comes, you may
recognize it. So soon as that rose-coloured light appears at that
window, it will be a signal to you that the funeral has left the
château, and that you may approach safely. Come, then, to that
window; I will open it, and admit you. Five minutes after a
travelling-carriage, with four horses, shall stand ready in the
_porte-cochère_. I will place my diamonds in your hands; and so
soon as we enter the carriage, our flight commences. We shall
have at least five hours' start; and with energy, stratagem, and
resource, I fear nothing. Are you ready to undertake all this for
my sake?"

Again I vowed myself her slave.

"My only difficulty," she said, "is how we shall quickly enough
convert my diamonds into money; I dare not remove them while my
husband is in the house."

Here was the opportunity I wished for. I now told her that I had
in my banker's hands no less a sum than thirty thousand pounds,
with which, in the shape of gold and notes, I should come
furnished, and thus the risk and loss of disposing of her
diamonds in too much haste would be avoided.

"Good heaven!" she exclaimed, with a kind of disappointment. "You
are rich, then? and I have lost the felicity of making my
generous friend more happy. Be it so! since so it must be. Let us
contribute, each, in equal shares, to our common fund. Bring you,
your money; I, my jewels. There is a happiness to me even in
mingling my resources with yours."

On this there followed a romantic colloquy, all poetry and
passion, such as I should, in vain, endeavour to reproduce.

Then came a very special instruction.

"I have come provided, too, with a key, the use of which I must
explain."

It was a double key--a long, slender stem, with a key at each
end--one about the size which opens an ordinary room door; the
other, as small, almost, as the key of a dressing-case.

"You cannot employ too much caution to-morrow night. An
interruption would murder all my hopes. I have learned that you
occupy the haunted room in the Dragon Volant. It is the very room
I would have wished you in. I will tell you why--there is a story
of a man who, having shut himself up in that room one night,
disappeared before morning. The truth is, he wanted, I believe,
to escape from creditors; and the host of the Dragon Volant, at
that time, being a rogue, aided him in absconding. My husband
investigated the matter, and discovered how his escape was made.
It was by means of this key. Here is a memorandum and a plan
describing how they are to be applied. I have taken them from the
Count's escritoire. And now, once more I must leave to your
ingenuity how to mystify the people at the Dragon Volant. Be sure
you try the keys first, to see that the locks turn freely. I will
have my jewels ready. You, whatever we divide, had better bring
your money, because it may be many months before you can revisit
Paris, or disclose our place of residence to any one; and our
passports--arrange all that; in what names, and whither, you
please. And now, dear Richard" (she leaned her arm fondly on my
shoulder, and looked with ineffable passion in my eyes, with her
other hand clasped in mine), "my very life is in your hands; I
have staked all on your fidelity."

As she spoke the last word, she, on a sudden, grew deadly pale,
and gasped, "Good God! who is here?"

At the same moment she receded through the door in the marble
screen, close to which she stood, and behind which was a small
roofless chamber, as small as the shrine, the window of which was
darkened by a clustering mass of ivy so dense that hardly a gleam
of light came through the leaves.

I stood upon the threshold which she had just crossed, looking in
the direction in which she had thrown that one terrified glance.
No wonder she was frightened. Quite close upon us, not twenty
yards away, and approaching at a quick step, very distinctly
lighted by the moon, Colonel Gaillarde and his companion were
coming. The shadow of the cornice and a piece of wall were upon
me. Unconscious of this, I was expecting the moment when, with
one of his frantic yells, he should spring forward to assail me.

I made a step backward, drew one of my pistols from my pocket,
and cocked it. It was obvious he had not seen me.

I stood, with my finger on the trigger, determined to shoot him
dead if he should attempt to enter the place where the Countess
was. It would, no doubt, have been a murder; but, in my mind, I
had no question or qualm about it. When once we engage in secret
and guilty practices we are nearer other and greater crimes than
we at all suspect.

"There's the statue," said the Colonel, in his brief discordant
tones. "That's the figure."

"Alluded to in the stanzas?" inquired his companion.

"The very thing. We shall see more next time. Forward, Monsieur;
let us march."

And, much to my relief, the gallant Colonel turned on his heel,
and marched through the trees, with his back toward the château,
striding over the grass, as I quickly saw, to the park wall,
which they crossed not far from the gables of the Dragon Volant.

I found the Countess trembling in no affected, but a very real
terror. She would not hear of my accompanying her toward the
château. But I told her that I would prevent the return of the
mad Colonel; and upon that point, at least, that she need fear
nothing. She quickly recovered, again bid me a fond and lingering
good-night, and left me, gazing after her, with the key in my
hand, and such a phantasmagoria floating in my brain as amounted
very nearly to madness.

There was I, ready to brave all dangers, all right and reason,
plunge into murder itself, on the first summons, and entangle
myself in consequences inextricable and horrible (what cared I?)
for a woman of whom I knew nothing, but that she was beautiful
and reckless!

I have often thanked heaven for its mercy in conducting me
through the labyrinths in which I had all but lost myself.



CHAPTER XX.

A HIGH-CAULD CAP.


I was now upon the road, within two or three hundred yards of the
Dragon Volant. I had undertaken an adventure with a vengeance!
And by way of prelude, there not improbably awaited me, at my
inn, another encounter, perhaps, this time, not so lucky, with
the grotesque sabreur.

I was glad I had my pistols. I certainly was bound by no law to
allow a ruffian to cut me down, unresisting.

Stooping boughs from the old park, gigantic poplars on the other
side, and the moonlight over all, made the narrow road to the
inn-door picturesque.

I could not think very clearly just now; events were succeeding
one another so rapidly, and I, involved in the action of a drama
so extravagant and guilty, hardly knew myself or believed my own
story, as I slowly paced towards the still open door of the
Flying Dragon.

No sign of the Colonel, visible or audible, was there. In the
hall I inquired. No gentleman had arrived at the inn for the last
half hour. I looked into the public room. It was deserted. The
clock struck twelve, and I heard the servant barring the great
door. I took my candle. The lights in this rural hostelry were by
this time out, and the house had the air of one that had settled
to slumber for many hours. The cold moonlight streamed in at the
window on the landing, as I ascended the broad staircase; and I
paused for a moment to look oyer the wooded grounds to the
turreted château, to me, so full of interest. I bethought me,
however, that prying eyes might read a meaning in this midnight
gazing, and possibly the Count himself might, in his jealous
mood, surmise a signal in this unwonted light in the stair-window
of the Dragon Volant.

On opening my room door, with a little start, I met an extremely
old woman with the longest face I ever saw; she had what used to
be termed, a high-cauld-cap, on, the white border of which
contrasted with her brown and yellow skin, and made her wrinkled
face more ugly. She raised her curved shoulders, and looked up in
my face, with eyes unnaturally black and bright.

"I have lighted a little wood, Monsieur, because the night is
chill."

I thanked her, but she did not go. She stood with her candle in
her tremulous fingers.

"Excuse an old woman. Monsieur," she said; "but what on earth can
a young English _milord_, with all Paris at his feet, find to
amuse him in the Dragon Volant?"

Had I been at the age of fairy tales, and in daily intercourse
with the delightful Countess d'Aulnois, I should have seen in
this withered apparition, the _genius loci_, the malignant fairy,
at the stamp of whose foot, the ill-fated tenants of this very
room had, from time to time, vanished. I was past that, however;
but the old woman's dark eyes were fixed on mine, with a steady
meaning that plainly told me that my secret was known. I was
embarrassed and alarmed; I never thought of asking her what
business that was of hers.

"These old eyes saw you in the park of the château to-night."

"_I!_" I began, with all the scornful surprise I could affect.

"It avails nothing, Monsieur; I know why you stay here; and I
tell you to begone. Leave this house to-morrow morning, and never
come again."

She lifted her disengaged hand, as she looked at me with intense
horror in her eyes.

"There is nothing on earth--I don't know what you mean," I
answered; "and why should you care about me?"

"I don't care about you, Monsieur--I care about the honour of an
ancient family, whom I served in their happier days, when to be
noble, was to be honoured. But my words are thrown away,
Monsieur; you are insolent. I will keep my secret, and you,
yours; that is all. You will soon find it hard enough to divulge
it."

The old woman went slowly from the room and shut the door, before
I had made up my mind to say anything. I was standing where she
had left me, nearly five minutes later. The jealousy of Monsieur
the Count, I assumed, appears to this old creature about the most
terrible thing in creation. Whatever contempt I might entertain
for the dangers which this old lady so darkly intimated, it was
by no means pleasant, you may suppose, that a secret so dangerous
should be so much as suspected by a stranger, and that stranger a
partisan of the Count de St. Alyre.

Ought I not, at all risks, to apprize the Countess, who had
trusted me so generously, or, as she said herself, so madly, of
the fact that our secret was, at least, suspected by another? But
was there not greater danger in attempting to communicate? What
did the beldame mean by saying, "Keep your secret, and I'll keep
mine?"

I had a thousand distracting questions before me. My progress
seemed like a journey through the Spessart, where at every step
some new goblin or monster starts from the ground or steps from
behind a tree.

Peremptorily I dismissed these harassing and frightful doubts. I
secured my door, sat myself down at my table, and with a candle
at each side, placed before me the piece of vellum which
contained the drawings and notes on which I was to rely for full
instructions as to how to use the key.

When I had studied this for awhile, I made my investigation. The
angle of the room at the right side of the window was cut off by
an oblique turn in the wainscot. I examined this carefully, and,
on pressure, a small bit of the frame of the woodwork slid aside,
and disclosed a keyhole. On removing my finger, it shot back to
its place again, with a spring. So far I had interpreted my
instructions successfully. A similar search, next the door, and
directly under this, was rewarded by a like discovery. The small
end of the key fitted this, as it had the upper keyhole; and now,
with two or three hard jerks at the key, a door in the panel
opened, showing a strip of the bare wall, and a narrow, arched
doorway, piercing the thickness of the wall; and within which I
saw a screw-staircase of stone.

Candle in hand I stepped in. I do not know whether the quality of air,
long undisturbed, is peculiar; to me it has always seemed so, and the
damp smell of the old masonry hung in this atmosphere. My candle faintly
lighted the bare stone wall that enclosed the stair, the foot of which I
could not see. Down I went, and a few turns brought me to the stone
floor. Here was another door, of the simple, old, oak kind, deep sunk in
the thickness of the wall. The large end of the key fitted this. The
lock was stiff; I set the candle down upon the stair, and applied both
hands; it turned with difficulty, and as it revolved, uttered a shriek
that alarmed me for my secret.

For some minutes I did not move. In a little time, however, I
took courage, and opened the door. The night-air floating in,
puffed out the candle. There was a thicket of holly and
underwood, as dense as a jungle, close about the door. I should
have been in pitch-darkness, were it not that through the topmost
leaves, there twinkled, here and there, a glimmer of moonshine.

Softly, lest any one should have opened his window, at the sound
of the rusty bolt, I struggled through this, till I gained a view
of the open grounds. Here I found that the brushwood spread a
good way up the park, uniting with the wood that approached the
little temple I have described.

A general could not have chosen a more effectually-covered
approach from the Dragon Volant to the trysting-place where
hitherto I had conferred with the idol of my lawless adoration.

Looking back upon the old inn, I discovered that the stair I
descended, was enclosed in one of those slender turrets that
decorate such buildings. It was placed at that angle which
corresponded with the part of the paneling of my room indicated
in the plan I had been studying.

Thoroughly satisfied with my experiment, I made my way back to
the door, with some little difficulty, re-mounted to my room,
locked my secret door again; kissed the mysterious key that her
hand had pressed that night, and placed it under my pillow, upon
which, very soon after, my giddy head was laid, not, for some
time, to sleep soundly.



CHAPTER XXI.

I SEE THREE MEN IN A MIRROR.


I awoke very early next morning, and was too excited to sleep
again. As soon as I could, without exciting remark, I saw my
host. I told him that I was going into town that night, and
thence to ----, where I had to see some people on business, and
requested him to mention my being there to any friend who might
call. That I expected to be back in about a week, and that in the
meantime my servant, St. Clair, would keep the key of my room,
and look after my things.

Having prepared this mystification for my landlord, I drove into
Paris, and there transacted the financial part of the affair. The
problem was to reduce my balance, nearly thirty thousand pounds,
to a shape in which it would be not only easily portable, but
available, wherever I might go, without involving correspondence,
or any other incident which would disclose my place of residence,
for the time being. All these points were as nearly provided for
as they could be. I need not trouble you about my arrangements
for passports. It is enough to say that the point I selected for
our flight was, in the spirit of romance, one of the most
beautiful and sequestered nooks in Switzerland.

Luggage, I should start with none. The first considerable town we
reached next morning, would supply an extemporized wardrobe. It
was now two o'clock; _only_ two! How on earth was I to dispose of
the remainder of the day?

I had not yet seen the cathedral of Notre Dame; and thither I drove. I
spent an hour or more there; and then to the Conciergerie, the Palais de
Justice, and the beautiful Sainte Chapelle. Still there remained some
time to get rid of, and I strolled into the narrow streets adjoining the
cathedral. I recollect seeing, in one of them, an old house with a mural
inscription stating that it had been the residence of Canon Fulbert, the
uncle of Abelard's Eloise. I don't know whether these curious old
streets, in which I observed fragments of ancient gothic churches fitted
up as warehouses, are still extant. I lighted, among other dingy and
eccentric shops, upon one that seemed that of a broker of all sorts of
old decorations, armour, china, furniture. I entered the shop; it was
dark, dusty, and low. The proprietor was busy scouring a piece of inlaid
armour, and allowed me to poke about his shop, and examine the curious
things accumulated there, just as I pleased. Gradually I made my way to
the farther end of it, where there was but one window with many panes,
each with a bull's-eye in it, and in the dirtiest possible state. When I
reached this window, I turned about, and in a recess, standing at right
angles with the side wall of the shop, was a large mirror in an
old-fashioned dingy frame. Reflected in this I saw, what in old houses I
have heard termed an "alcove," in which, among lumber, and various dusty
articles hanging on the wall, there stood a table, at which three
persons were seated, as it seemed to me, in earnest conversation. Two of
these persons I instantly recognized; one was Colonel Gaillarde, the
other was the Marquis d'Harmonville. The third, who was fiddling with a
pen, was a lean, pale man, pitted with the small-pox, with lank black
hair, and about as mean-looking a person as I had ever seen in my life.
The Marquis looked up, and his glance was instantaneously followed by
his two companions. For a moment I hesitated what to do. But it was
plain that I was not recognized, as indeed I could hardly have been, the
light from the window being behind me, and the portion of the shop
immediately before me, being very dark indeed.

Perceiving this, I had presence of mind to affect being entirely
engrossed by the objects before me, and strolled slowly down the
shop again. I paused for a moment to hear whether I was followed,
and was relieved when I heard no step. You may be sure I did not
waste more time in that shop, where I had just made a discovery
so curious and so unexpected.

It was no business of mine to inquire what brought Colonel
Gaillarde and the Marquis together, in so shabby, and even dirty
a place, or who the mean person, biting the feather end of his
pen, might be. Such employments as the Marquis had accepted
sometimes make strange bed-fellows.

I was glad to get away, and just as the sun set, I had reached the steps
of the Dragon Volant, and dismissed the vehicle in which I arrived,
carrying in my hand a strong box, of marvellously small dimensions
considering all it contained, strapped in a leather cover, which
disguised its real character.

When I got to my room, I summoned St. Clair. I told him nearly
the same story, I had already told my host. I gave him fifty
pounds, with orders to expend whatever was necessary on himself,
and in payment for my rooms till my return. I then eat a slight
and hasty dinner. My eyes were often upon the solemn old clock
over the chimney-piece, which was my sole accomplice in keeping
tryste in this iniquitous venture. The sky favoured my design,
and darkened all things with a sea of clouds.

The innkeeper met me in the hall, to ask whether I should want a
vehicle to Paris? I was prepared for this question, and instantly
answered that I meant to walk to Versailles, and take a carriage
there. I called St. Clair.

"Go," said I, "and drink a bottle of wine with your friends. I
shall call you if I should want anything; in the meantime, here
is the key of my room; I shall be writing some notes, so don't
allow any one to disturb me, for at least half an hour. At the
end of that time you will probably find that I have left this for
Versailles; and should you not find me in the room, you may take
that for granted; and you take charge of everything, and lock the
door, you understand?"

St. Clair took his leave, wishing me all happiness and no doubt
promising himself some little amusement with my money. With my
candle in my hand, I hastened upstairs. It wanted now but five
minutes to the appointed time. I do not think there is anything
of the coward in my nature; but I confess, as the crisis
approached, I felt something of the suspense and awe of a soldier
going into action. Would I have receded? Not for all this earth
could offer.

I bolted my door, put on my great coat, and placed my pistols,
one in each pocket. I now applied my key to the secret locks;
drew the wainscot-door a little open, took my strong box under my
arm, extinguished my candle, unbolted my door, listened at it
for a few moments to be sure that no one was approaching, and
then crossed the floor of my room swiftly, entered the secret
door, and closed the spring lock after me. I was upon the
screw-stair in total darkness, the key in my fingers. Thus far
the undertaking was successful.



CHAPTER XXII.

RAPTURE.


Down the screw-stair I went in utter darkness; and having reached
the stone floor, I discerned the door and groped out the
key-hole. With more caution, and less noise than upon the night
before, I opened the door, and stepped out into the thick
brushwood. It was almost as dark in this jungle.

Having secured the door, I slowly pushed my way through the
bushes, which soon became less dense. Then, with more ease, but
still under thick cover, I pursued in the track of the wood,
keeping near its edge.

At length, in the darkened air, about fifty yards away, the
shafts of the marble temple rose like phantoms before me, seen
through the trunks of the old trees. Everything favoured my
enterprise. I had effectually mystified my servant and the people
of the Dragon Volant, and so dark was the night, that even had I
alarmed the suspicions of all the tenants of the inn, I might
safely defy their united curiosity, though posted at every window
of the house.

Through the trunks, over the roots of the old trees, I reached
the appointed place of observation. I laid my treasure, in its
leathern case, in the embrasure, and leaning my arms upon it,
looked steadily in the direction of the château. The outline of
the building was scarcely discernible, blending dimly, as it did,
with the sky. No light in any window was visible. I was plainly
to wait; but for how long?

Leaning on my box of treasure, gazing toward the massive shadow
that represented the château, in the midst of my ardent and
elated longings, there came upon me an odd thought, which you
will think might well have struck me long before. It seemed on a
sudden, as it came, that the darkness deepened, and a chill stole
into the air around me.

Suppose I were to disappear finally, like those other men whose
stories I had listened to! Had I not been at all the pains that
mortal could, to obliterate every trace of my real proceedings,
and to mislead every one to whom I spoke as to the direction in
which I had gone?

This icy, snake-light thought stole through my mind, and was
gone.

It was with me the full-blooded season of youth, conscious
strength, rashness, passion, pursuit, the adventure! Here were a
pair of double-barrelled pistols, four lives in my hands? What
could possibly happen? The Count--except for the sake of my
dulcinea, what was it to me whether the old coward whom I had
seen, in an ague of terror before the brawling Colonel,
interposed or not? I was assuming the worst that could happen.
But with an ally so clever and courageous as my beautiful
Countess, could any such misadventure befall? Bah! I laughed at
all such fancies.

As I thus communed with myself, the signal light sprang up. The
rose-coloured light, _couleur de rose_, emblem of sanguine hope,
and the dawn of a happy day.

Clear, soft, and steady, glowed the light from the window. The
stone shafts showed black against it. Murmuring words of
passionate love as I gazed upon the signal, I grasped my strong
box under my arm, and with rapid strides approached the Château
de la Carque. No sign of light or life, no human voice, no tread
of foot, no bark of dog, indicated a chance of interruption. A
blind was down; and as I came close to the tall window, I found
that half-a-dozen steps led up to it, and that a large lattice,
answering for a door, lay open.

A shadow from within fell upon the blind; it was drawn aside, and
as I ascended the steps, a soft voice murmured--"Richard, dearest
Richard, come, oh! come! how I have longed for this moment?"

Never did she look so beautiful. My love rose to passionate
enthusiasm. I only wished there were some real danger in the
adventure worthy of such a creature. When the first tumultuous
greeting was over, she made me sit beside her on a sofa. There we
talked for a minute or two. She told me that the Count had gone,
and was by that time more than a mile on his way, with the
funeral, to Père la Chaise. Here were her diamonds. She
exhibited, hastily, an open casket containing a profusion of the
largest brilliants.

"What is this?" she asked.

"A box containing money to the amount of thirty thousand pounds,"
I answered.

"What! all that money?" she exclaimed.

"Every _sou_."

"Was it not unnecessary to bring so much, seeing all these," she
said, touching her diamonds. "It would have been kind of you, to
allow me to provide for both for a time, at least. It would have
made me happier even than I am."

"Dearest, generous angel!" Such was my extravagant declamation.
"You forget that it may be necessary, for a long time, to observe
silence as to where we are, and impossible to communicate safely
with any one."

"You have then here this great sum--are you certain; have you
counted it?"

"Yes, certainly; I received it to-day," I answered, perhaps
showing a little surprise in my face, "I counted it, of course,
on drawing it from my bankers."

"It makes me feel a little nervous, travelling with so much
money; but these jewels make as great a danger; _that_ can add
but little to it. Place them side by side; you shall take off
your great coat when we are ready to go, and with it manage to
conceal these boxes. I should not like the drivers to suspect
that we were conveying such a treasure. I must ask you now to
close the curtains of that window, and bar the shutters."

I had hardly done this when a knock was heard at the room-door.

"I know who this is," she said, in a whisper to me.

I saw that she was not alarmed. She went softly to the door, and
a whispered conversation for a minute followed.

"My trusty maid, who is coming with us. She says we cannot safely
go sooner than ten minutes. She is bringing some coffee to the
next room."

She opened the door and looked in.

"I must tell her not to take too much luggage. She is so odd!
Don't follow--stay where you are--it is better that she should
not see you."

She left the room with a gesture of caution.

A change had come over the manner of this beautiful woman. For
the last few minutes a shadow had been stealing over her, an air
of abstraction, a look bordering on suspicion. Why was she pale?
Why had there come that dark look in her eyes? Why had her very
voice become changed? Had anything gone suddenly wrong? Did some
danger threaten?

This doubt, however, speedily quieted itself. If there had been
anything of the kind, she would, of course, have told me. It was
only natural that, as the crisis approached, she should become
more and more nervous. She did not return quite so soon as I had
expected. To a man in my situation absolute quietude is next to
impossible. I moved restlessly about the room. It was a small
one. There was a door at the other end. I opened it, rashly
enough. I listened, it was perfectly silent. I was in an excited,
eager state, and every faculty engrossed about what was coming,
and in so far detached from the immediate present. I can't
account, in any other way, for my having done so many foolish
things that night, for I was, naturally, by no means deficient
in cunning. About the most stupid of those was, that instead of
immediately closing that door, which I never ought to have
opened, I actually took a candle and walked into the room.

There I made, quite unexpectedly, a rather startling discovery.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A CUP OF COFFEE.


The room was carpetless. On the floor were a quantity of
shavings, and some score of bricks. Beyond these, on a narrow
table, lay an object, which I could hardly believe I saw aright.

I approached and drew from it a sheet which had very slightly
disguised its shape. There was no mistake about it. It was a
coffin; and on the lid was a plate, with the inscription in
French:

      PIERRE DE LA ROCHE ST. AMAND.

            AGÉE DE XXIII ANS.

I drew back with a double shock. So, then, the funeral after all
had not yet left! Here lay the body. I had been deceived. This,
no doubt, accounted for the embarrassment so manifest in the
Countess's manner. She would have done more wisely had she told
me the true state of the case.

I drew back from this melancholy room, and closed the door. Her
distrust of me was the worst rashness she could have committed.
There is nothing more dangerous than misapplied caution. In
entire ignorance of the fact I had entered the room, and there I
might have lighted upon some of the very persons it was our
special anxiety that I should avoid.

These reflections were interrupted, almost as soon as begun, by
the return of the Countess de St. Alyre. I saw at a glance that
she detected in my face some evidence of what had happened, for
she threw a hasty look towards the door.

"Have you seen anything--anything to disturb you, dear Richard?
Have you been out of this room?"

I answered promptly, "Yes," and told her frankly what had
happened.

"Well, I did not like to make you more uneasy than necessary.
Besides, it is disgusting and horrible. The body _is_ there; but
the Count had departed a quarter of an hour before I lighted the
coloured lamp, and prepared to receive you. The body did not
arrive till eight or ten minutes after he had set out. He was
afraid lest the people at Père la Chaise should suppose that the
funeral was postponed. He knew that the remains of poor Pierre
would certainly reach this to-night although an unexpected delay
has occurred; and there are reasons why he wishes the funeral
completed before to-morrow. The hearse with the body must leave
this in ten minutes. So soon as it is gone, we shall be free to
set out upon our wild and happy journey. The horses are to the
carriage in the _porte-cochère_. As for this _funeste_ horror
(she shuddered very prettily), let us think of it no more."

She bolted the door of communication, and when she turned, it was
with such a pretty penitence in her face and attitude, that I was
ready to throw myself at her feet.

"It is the last time," she said, in a sweet sad little pleading,
"I shall ever practise a deception on my brave and beautiful
Richard--my hero? Am I forgiven."

Here was another scene of passionate effusion, and lovers'
raptures and declamations, but only murmured, lest the ears of
listeners should be busy.

At length, on a sudden, she raised her hand, as if to prevent my
stirring, her eyes fixed on me, and her ear toward the door of
the room in which the coffin was placed, and remained breathless
in that attitude for a few moments. Then, with a little nod
towards me, she moved on tip-toe to the door, and listened,
extending her hand backward as if to warn me against advancing;
and, after a little time, she returned, still on tip-toe, and
whispered to me, "They are removing the coffin--come with me."

I accompanied her into the room from which her maid, as she told
me, had spoken to her. Coffee and some old china cups, which
appeared to me quite beautiful, stood on a silver tray; and some
liqueur glasses, with a flask, which turned out to be noyeau, on
a salver beside it.

"I shall attend you. I'm to be your servant here; I am to have my
own way; I shall not think myself forgiven by my darling if he
refuses to indulge me in anything." She filled a cup with
coffee, and handed it to me with her left hand, her right arm she
fondly, passed over my shoulder, and with her fingers through my
curls caressingly, she whispered, "Take this, I shall take some
just now."

It was excellent; and when I had done she handed me the liqueur,
which I also drank.

"Come back, dearest, to the next room," she said. "By this time
those terrible people must have gone away, and we shall be safer
there, for the present, than here."

"You shall direct, and I obey; you shall command me, not only
now, but always, and in all things, my beautiful queen!" I
murmured.

My heroics were unconsciously, I daresay, founded upon my ideal
of the French school of lovemaking. I am, even now, ashamed as I
recall the bombast to which I treated the Countess de St. Alyre.

"There, you shall have another miniature glass--a fairy glass--of
noyeau," she said, gaily. In this volatile creature, the funereal
gloom of the moment before, and the suspense of an adventure on
which all her future was staked, disappeared in a moment. She ran
and returned with another tiny glass, which, with an eloquent or
tender little speech, I placed to my lips and sipped.

I kissed her hand, I kissed her lips, I gazed in her beautiful
eyes, and kissed her again unresisting.

"You call me Richard, by what name am I to call my beautiful
divinity?" I asked.

"You call me Eugenie, it is my name. Let us be quite real; that
is, if you love as entirely as I do."

"Eugenie!" I exclaimed, and broke into a new rapture upon the
name.

It ended by my telling her how impatient I was to set out upon
our journey; and, as I spoke, suddenly an odd sensation overcame
me. It was not in the slightest degree like faintness. I can find
no phrase to describe it, but a sudden constraint of the brain;
it was as if the membrane in which it lies, if there be such a
thing, contracted, and became inflexible.

"Dear Richard! what is the matter?" she exclaimed, with terror in
her looks. "Good Heavens! are you ill. I conjure you, sit down;
sit in this chair." She almost forced me into one; I was in no
condition to offer the least resistance. I recognised but too
truly the sensations that supervened. I was lying back in the
chair in which I sat without the power, by this time, of uttering
a syllable, of closing my eyelids, of moving my eyes, of stirring
a muscle. I had in a few seconds glided into precisely the state
in which I had passed so many appalling hours when approaching
Paris, in my night-drive with the Marquis d'Harmonville.

Great and loud was the lady's agony. She seemed to have lost all
sense of fear. She called me by my name, shook me by the
shoulder, raised my arm and let it fall, all the time imploring
of me, in distracting sentences, to make the slightest sign of
life, and vowing that if I did not, she would make away with
herself.

These ejaculations, after a minute or two, suddenly subsided. The
lady was perfectly silent and cool. In a very business-like way
she took a candle and stood before me, pale indeed, very pale,
but with an expression only of intense scrutiny with a dash of
horror in it. She moved the candle before my eyes slowly,
evidently watching the effect. She then set it down, and rang a
hand-bell two or three times sharply. She placed the two cases (I
mean hers containing the jewels) and my strong box, side by side
on the table; and I saw her carefully lock the door that gave
access to the room in which I had just now sipped my coffee.

END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.





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