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Title: A Night on the Borders of the Black Forest
Author: Edwards, Amelia Ann Blanford, 1831-1892
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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A NIGHT ON THE BORDERS OF THE BLACK FOREST

BY AMELIA B. EDWARDS

AUTHOR OF "BARBARA'S HISTORY," "DEBENHAM'S VOW," ETC.


NEW YORK
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
1890



CONTENTS.


A NIGHT ON THE BORDERS OF THE BLACK FOREST
THE STORY OF SALOME
IN THE CONFESSIONAL
THE TRAGEDY IN THE PALAZZO BORDELLO
THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS
SISTER JOHANNA'S STORY
ALL-SAINTS' EVE



A NIGHT ON THE BORDERS OF THE BLACK FOREST.


My story (if story it can be called, being an episode in my own early
life) carries me back to a time when the world and I were better friends
than we are likely, perhaps, ever to be again. I was young then. I had
good health, good spirits, and tolerably good looks. I had lately come
into a snug little patrimony, which I have long since dissipated; and I
was in love, or fancied myself in love, with a charming coquette, who
afterwards threw me over for a West-country baronet with seven thousand
a year.

So much for myself. The subject is not one that I particularly care to
dwell upon; but as I happen to be the hero of my own narrative, some
sort of self-introduction is, I suppose, necessary.

To begin then--Time: seventeen years ago.

Hour:--three o'clock p.m., on a broiling, cloudless September afternoon.

Scene:--a long, straight, dusty road, bordered with young trees; a
far-stretching, undulating plain, yellow for the most part with
corn-stubble; singularly barren of wood and water; sprinkled here and
there with vineyards, farmsteads, and hamlets; and bounded in the
extreme distance by a low chain of purple hills.

Place--a certain dull, unfrequented district in the little kingdom of
Würtemberg, about twelve miles north of Heilbronn, and six south-east of
the Neckar.

Dramatis Personæ:--myself, tall, sunburnt, dusty; in grey suit, straw
hat, knapsack and gaiters. In the distance, a broad-backed pedestrian
wielding a long stick like an old English quarter-staff.

Now, not being sure that I took the right turning at the cross-roads a
mile or two back, and having plodded on alone all day, I resolved to
overtake this same pedestrian, and increased my pace accordingly. He,
meanwhile, unconscious of the vicinity of another traveller, kept on at
an easy "sling-trot," his head well up, his staff swinging idly in his
hand--a practised pedestrian, evidently, and one not easily out-walked
through a long day.

I gained upon him, however, at every step, and could have passed him
easily; but as I drew near he suddenly came to a halt, disencumbered
himself of his wallet, and stretched himself at full length under a tree
by the wayside.

I saw now that he was a fine, florid, handsome fellow of about
twenty-eight or thirty years of age--a thorough German to look at;
frank, smiling, blue-eyed; dressed in a light holland blouse and loose
grey trousers, and wearing on his head a little crimson cap with a gold
tassel, such as the students wear at Heidelberg university. He lifted
it, with the customary "_Guten Abend_" as I came up, and when I stopped
to speak, sprang to his feet with ready politeness, and remained
standing.

"Niedersdorf, mein Herr?" said he, in answer to my inquiry. "About four
miles farther on. You have but to keep straight forward."

"Many thanks," I said. "You were resting. I am sorry to have disturbed
you."

He put up his hand with a deprecating gesture.

"It is nothing," he said. "I have walked far, and the day is warm."

"I have only walked from Heilbronn, and yet I am tired. Pray don't let
me keep you standing."

"Will you also sit, mein Herr?" he asked with a pleasant smile. "There
is shade for both."

So I sat down, and we fell into conversation. I began by offering him a
cigar; but he pulled out his pipe--a great dangling German pipe, with a
flexible tube and a painted china bowl like a small coffee-cup.

"A thousand thanks," he said; "but I prefer this old pipe to all the
cigars that ever came out of Havannah. It was given to me eight years
ago, when I was a student; and my friend who gave it to me is dead."

"You were at Heidelberg?" I said interrogatively.

"Yes; and Fritz (that was my friend) was at Heidelberg also. He was a
wonderful fellow; a linguist, a mathematician, a botanist, a geologist.
He was only five-and-twenty when the government appointed him
naturalist to an African exploring party; and in Africa he died."

"Such a man," said I, "was a loss to the world."

"Ah, yes," he replied simply; "but a greater loss to me."

To this I could answer nothing; and for some minutes we smoked in
silence.

"I was not clever like Fritz," he went on presently. "When I left
Heidelberg, I went into business, I am a brewer, and I live at
Stuttgart. My name is Gustav Bergheim--what is yours?"

"Hamilton," I replied; "Chandos Hamilton."

He repeated the name after me.

"You are an Englishman?" he said.

I nodded.

"Good. I like the English. There was an Englishman at Heidelberg--such a
good fellow! his name was Smith. Do you know him?"

I explained that, in these fortunate islands, there were probably some
thirty thousand persons named Smith, of whom, however, I did not know
one.

"And are you a milord, and a Member of Parliament?"

I laughed, and shook my head.

"No, indeed," I replied; "neither. I read for the bar; but I do not
practise. I am an idle man--of very little use to myself, and of none to
my country."

"You are travelling for your amusement?"

"I am. I have just been through the Tyrol and as far as the Italian
lakes--on foot, as you see me. But tell me about yourself. That is far
more interesting."

"About myself?" he said smiling. "Ah, mein Herr, there is not much to
tell. I have told you that I live at Stuttgart. Well, at this time of
the year, I allow myself a few weeks' holiday, and I am now on my way to
Frankfort, to see my Mädchen, who lives there with her parents."

"Then I may congratulate you on the certainty of a pleasant time."

"Indeed, yes. We love each other well, my Mädchen and I. Her name is
Frederika, and her father is a rich banker and wine merchant. They live
in the Neue Mainzer Strasse near the Taunus Gate; but the Herr Hamilton
does not, perhaps, know Frankfort?"

I replied that I knew Frankfort very well, and that the Neue Mainzer
Strasse was, to my thinking, the pleasantest situation in the city. And
then I ventured to ask if the Fräulein Frederika was pretty.

"_I_ think her so," he said with his boyish smile; "but then, you see,
my eyes are in love. You shall judge, however, for yourself."

And with this, he disengaged a locket from his watch-chain, opened it,
and showed me the portrait of a golden-haired girl, who, without being
actually handsome, had a face as pleasant to look upon as his own.

"Well?" he said anxiously. "What do you say?"

"I say that she has a charming expression," I replied.

"But you do not think her pretty?"

"Nay, she is better than pretty. She has the beauty of real goodness."

His face glowed with pleasure.

"It is true," he said, kissing the portrait, and replacing it upon his
chain. "She is an angel! We are to be married in the Spring."

Just at this moment, a sturdy peasant came trudging up from the
direction of Niedersdorf, under the shade of a huge red cotton umbrella.
He had taken his coat off; probably for coolness, or it might be for
economy, and was carrying it, neatly folded up, in a large, new wooden
bucket. He saluted us with the usual "Guten Abend" as he approached.

To which Bergheim laughingly replied by asking if the bucket was a
love-token from his sweetheart.

"Nein, nein," he answered stolidly; "I bought it at the Kermess [A fair]
up yonder."

"So! there is a Kermess at Niedersdorf?"

"Ach, Himmel!--a famous Kermess. All the world is there to-day."

And with a nod, he passed on his way.

My new friend indulged in a long and dismal whistle.

"Der Teufel!" he said, "this is awkward. I'll be bound, now, there won't
be a vacant room at any inn in the town. And I had intended to sleep at
Niedersdorf to-night. Had you?"

"Well, I should have been guided by circumstances. I should perhaps
have put up at Niedersdorf, if I had found myself tired and the place
comfortable; or I might have dined there, and after dinner taken some
kind of light vehicle as far as Rotheskirche."

"Rotheskirche!" he repeated. "Where is that?"

"It is a village on the Neckar. My guide-book mentions it as a good
starting-point for pedestrians, and I am going to walk from there to
Heidelberg."

"But have you not been coming out of your way?"

"No; I have only taken a short cut inland, and avoided the dull part of
the river. You know the Neckar, of course?"

"Only as far as Neckargemünd; but I have heard that higher up it is
almost as fine as the Rhine."

"Hadn't you better join me?" I said, as we adjusted our knapsacks and
prepared to resume our journey.

He shook his head, smiling.

"Nay," he replied, "my route leads me by Buchen and Darmstadt. I have no
business to go round by Heidelberg."

"It would be worth the _détour_."

"Ah, yes; but it would throw me two days later."

"Not if you made up for lost time by taking the train from Heidelberg."

He hesitated.

"I should like it," he said.

"Then why not do it?"

"Well--yes--I will do it. I will go with you. There! let us shake hands
on it, and be friends."

So we shook hands, and it was settled.

The shadows were now beginning to lengthen; but the sun still blazed in
the heavens with unabated intensity. Bergheim, however, strode on as
lightly, and chatted as gaily, as if his day's work was only just
beginning. Never was there so simple, so open-hearted a fellow. He wore
his heart literally upon his sleeve, and, as we went along, told me all
his little history; how, for instance, his elder sister, having been
betrothed to his friend Fritz, had kept single ever since for his sake;
how he was himself an only son, and the idol of his mother, now a widow;
how he had resolved never to leave either her or his maiden sister; but
intended when he married to take a larger house, and bring his wife into
their common home; how Frederika's father had at first opposed their
engagement for that reason; how Frederika (being, as he had already
said, an angel) had won the father's consent last New Year's Day; and
how happy he was now; and how happy they should be in the good time
coming; together with much more to the same effect.

To all this I listened, and smiled, and assented, putting in a word here
and there, as occasion offered, and encouraging him to talk on to his
heart's content.

And now with every mile that brought us nearer to Niedersdorf, the signs
of fair-time increased and multiplied. First came straggling groups of
homeward-bound peasants--old men and women tottering under the burden of
newly-purchased household goods; little children laden with gingerbread
and toys; young men and women in their holiday-best--the latter with
garlands of oak-leaves bound about their hats. Then came an open cart
full of laughing girls; then more pedestrians; then an old man driving a
particularly unwilling pig; then a roystering party of foot-soldiers;
and so on, till not only the road, but the fields on either side and
every path in sight, swarmed with a double stream of wayfarers--the one
coming from the fair--the other setting towards it.

Presently, through the clouds of dust and tobacco-smoke that fouled the
air, a steeple and cottages became visible; and then, quite suddenly, we
found ourselves in the midst of the fair.

Here a compact, noisy, smoking, staring, laughing, steaming crowd
circulated among the booths; some pushing one way, some another--some
intent on buying--some on eating and drinking--some on love-making and
dancing. In one place we came upon rows of little open stalls for the
sale of every commodity under heaven. In another, we peeped into a great
restaurant-booth full of country folks demolishing pyramids of German
sausage and seas of Bairisch beer. Yonder, on a raised stage in front of
a temporary theatre, strutted a party of strolling players in their
gaudy tinsels and ballet-dresses. The noise, the smells, the elbowing,
the braying of brass bands, the insufferable heat and clamour, made us
glad to push our way through as fast as possible, and take refuge in the
village inn. But even here we could scarcely get a moment's attention.
There were parties dining and drinking in every room in the house--even
in the bedrooms; while the passages, the bar, and the little gardens,
front and back, were all full of soldiers, freeshooters, and farmers.

Having with difficulty succeeded in capturing a couple of platters of
bread and meat and a measure of beer, we went round to the stable-yard,
which was crowded with charrettes, ein-spänner, and country carts of all
kinds. The drivers of some of these were asleep in their vehicles;
others were gambling for kreutzers on the ground; none were willing
to put their horses to for the purpose of driving us to
Rotheskirche-on-the-Neckar.

"Ach, Herr Gott!" said one, "I brought my folks from Frühlingsfeld--near
upon ten stunden--and shall have to take them back by and by. That's as
much as my beasts can do in one day, and they shouldn't do more for the
king!"

"I've just refused five florins to go less than half that distance,"
said another.

At length one fellow, being somewhat less impracticable than the rest,
consented to drive us as far as a certain point where four roads met, on
condition that we shared his vehicle with two other travellers, and that
the two other travellers consented to let us do so.

"And even so," he added, "I shall have to take them two miles out of
their way--but, perhaps, being fair-time, they won't mind that."

As it happened, they were not in a condition to mind that or anything
very much, being a couple of freeshooters from the Black Forest, wild
with fun and frolic, and somewhat the worse for many potations of
Lager-bier. One of them, it seemed, had won a prize at some
shooting-match that same morning, and they had been celebrating this
triumph all day. Having kept us waiting, with the horses in, for at
least three-quarters of an hour, they came, escorted by a troop of their
comrades, all laughing, talking, and wound up to the highest pitch of
excitement. Then followed a scene of last health-drinkings, last
hand-shakings, last embracements. Finally, we drove off just as it was
getting dusk, followed by many huzzahs, and much waving of grey and
green caps.

For the first quarter of an hour they were both very noisy, exchanging
boisterous greetings with every passer-by, singing snatches of songs,
and laughing incessantly. Then, as the dusk deepened and we left the
last stragglers behind, they sank into a tipsy stupor, and ended by
falling fast asleep.

Meanwhile, the driver lit his pipe and let his tired horses choose their
own pace; the stars came out one by one overhead; and the road, leaving
the dead level of the plain, wound upwards through a district that
became more hilly with every mile.

Then I also fell asleep--I cannot tell for how long--to be waked
by-and-by by the stopping of the charrette, and the voice of the driver,
saying:--

"This is the nearest point to which I can take these Herren. Will they
be pleased to alight?"

I sat up and rubbed my eyes. It was bright starlight. Bergheim was
already leaning out, and opening the door. Our fellow-travellers were
still sound asleep. We were in the midst of a wild, hilly country,
black with bristling pine-woods; and had drawn up at an elevated point
where four roads meet.

"Which of these are we to take?" asked Bergheim, as he pulled out his
purse and counted the stipulated number of florins into the palm of the
driver.

The man pointed with his whip in a direction at right angles to the road
by which he was himself driving.

"And how far shall we have to walk?"

"To Rotheskirche?"

"Yes--to Rotheskirche."

He grunted doubtfully. "Ugh!" he said, "I can't be certain to a mile or
so. It may be twelve or fourteen."

"A good road?"

"Yes--a good road; but hilly. These Herren have only to keep straight
forward. They cannot miss the way."

And so he drives off, and leaves us standing in the road. The moon is
now rising behind a slope of dark trees--the air is chill--an owl close
by utters its tremulous, melancholy cry. Place and hour considered, the
prospect of twelve or fourteen miles of a strange road, in a strange
country, is anything but exhilarating. We push on, however, briskly; and
Bergheim, whose good spirits are invincible, whistles and chatters, and
laughs away as gaily as if we were just starting on a brilliant May
morning.

"I wonder if you were ever tired in your life!" I exclaim by and by,
half peevishly.

"Tired!" he echoes. "Why, I am as tired at this moment as a dog; and
would gladly lie down by the roadside, curl myself up under a tree, and
sleep till morning. I wonder, by the way, what o'clock it is."

I pulled out my fusee-box, struck a light, and looked at my watch. It
was only ten o'clock.

"We have been walking," said Bergheim, "about half an hour, and I don't
believe we have done two miles in the time. Well, it can't go on uphill
like this all the way!"

"Impossible," I replied. "Rotheskirche is on the level of the river. We
must sooner or later begin descending towards the valley of the Neckar."

"I wish it might be sooner, then," laughed my companion, "for I had done
a good twenty miles to-day before you overtook me."

"Well, perhaps we may come upon some place half way. If so, I vote that
we put up for the night, and leave Rotheskirche till the morning."

"Ay, that would be capital!" said he. "If it wasn't that I am as hungry
as a wolf, I wouldn't say no to the hut of a charcoal-burner to-night."

And now, plodding on more and more silently as our fatigue increased, we
found the pine-forests gradually drawing nearer, till by and by they
enclosed us on every side, and our road lay through the midst of them.
Here in the wood, all was dark--all was silent--not a breath stirred.
The moon was rising fast; but the shadows of the pines lay long and
dense upon the road, with only a sharp silvery patch breaking through
here and there. By and by we came upon a broad space of clearing,
dotted over with stacks of brushwood and great symmetrical piles of
barked trunks. Then followed another tract of close forest. Then our
road suddenly emerged into the full moonlight, and sometimes descending
abruptly, sometimes keeping at a dead level for half a mile together,
continued to skirt the forest on the left.

"I see a group of buildings down yonder," said Bergheim, pointing to a
spot deep in the shadow of the hillside.

I could see nothing resembling buildings, but he stuck to his opinion.

"That they are buildings," he said, "I am positive. More I cannot tell
by this uncertain light. It may be a mere cluster of cottages, or it may
be a farmhouse, with stacks and sheds close by. I think it is the
latter."

Animated by this hope, we now pushed on more rapidly. For some minutes
our road carried us out of sight of the spot; but when we next saw it, a
long, low, white-fronted house and some other smaller buildings were
distinctly visible.

"A mountain farmstead, by all the gods of Olympus!" exclaimed Bergheim,
joyously. "This is good fortune! And they are not gone to bed yet,
either."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Because I saw a light."

"But suppose they do not wish to take us in?" I suggested.

"Suppose an impossibility! Who ever heard of inhospitality among our
Black Forest folk?"

"Black Forest!" I repeated. "Do you call this the Black Forest?"

"Undoubtedly. All these wooded hills south of Heidelberg and the
Odenwald are outlying spurs and patches of the old legendary
Schwarzwald--now dwindling year by year. Hark! the dogs have found us
out already!"

As he spoke, a dog barked loudly in the direction of the farm; and then
another, and another. Bergheim answered them with a shout. Suddenly a
bright light flashed across the darkness--flitted vaguely for a moment
to and fro, and then came steadily towards us; resolving itself
presently into a lanthorn carried by a man.

We hurried eagerly to meet him--at all, square-built, heavy-browed
peasant, about forty years of age.

"Who goes there?" he said, holding the lanthorn high above his head, and
shading his eyes with his hand.

"Travellers," replied my companion. "Travellers wanting food and shelter
for the night."

The man looked at us for a moment in silence.

"You travel late," he said, at length.

"Ay--and we must have gone on still later, if we had not come upon your
house. We were bound for Rotheskirche. Can you take us in."

"Yes," he said sullenly. "I suppose so. This way."

And, swinging the lanthorn as he went, he turned on his heel abruptly,
and led the way back to the house.

"A boorish fellow enough!" said I, as we followed.

"Nay--a mere peasant!" replied Bergheim. "A mere peasant--rough, but
kindly."

As we drew near the house, two large mastiff pups came rushing out from
a yard somewhere at the back, and a huge, tawny dog chained up in an
open shed close by, strained at his collar and yelled savagely.

"Down, Caspar! Down, Schwartz!" growled our conductor, with an oath.

And immediately the pups slunk back into the yard, and the dog in the
shed dropped into a low snarl, eyeing us fiercely as we passed.

The house-door opened straight upon a large, low, raftered kitchen, with
a cavernous fire-place at the further end, flanked on each side by a
high-backed settle. The settles, the long table in the middle of the
room, the stools and chairs ranged round the walls, the heavy beams
overhead, from which hung strings of dried herbs, ropes of onions, hams,
and the like, were all of old, dark oak. The ceiling was black with the
smoke of at least a century. An oak dresser laden with rough blue and
grey ware and rows of metal-lidded drinking mugs; an old blunderbuss and
a horn-handled riding-whip over the chimney-piece; a couple of hatchets,
a spade, and a fishing-rod behind the door; and a Swiss clock in the
corner, completed the furniture of the room. A couple of half-charred
logs smouldered on the hearth. An oil-lamp flared upon the middle of the
table, at one corner of which sat two men with a stone jug and a couple
of beer-mugs between them, playing at cards, and a third man looking on.
The third man rose as we entered, and came forward. He was so like the
one who had come out to meet us, that I saw at once they must be
brothers.

"Two travellers," said our conductor, setting down his lanthorn, and
shutting the door behind us.

The players laid down their greasy cards to stare at us. The second
brother, a trifle more civil than the first, asked if we wished for
anything before going to bed.

Bergheim unslung his wallet, flung himself wearily into a corner of the
settle, and said:--

"Heavens and earth! yes. We are almost starving. We have been on the
road all day, and have had no regular dinner. Is this a farmhouse or an
inn?"

"Both."

"What have you in the house?"

"Ham--eggs--voorst--cheese--wine--beer--coffee."

"Then bring us the best you have, and plenty of it, and as fast as you
can. We'll begin on the voorst and a bottle of your best wine, while the
ham and eggs are frying; and we'll have the coffee to finish."

The man nodded; went to a door at the other end of the room--repeated
the order to some one out of sight; and came back again, his hands in
his pockets. The first brother, meanwhile, was lounging against the
table, looking on at the players.

"It's a long game," he said.

"Ay--but it's just ended," replied one of the men, putting down his card
with an air of triumph.

His adversary pondered, threw down his hand, and, with a round oath,
owned himself beaten.

Then they divided the remaining contents of the stone jug, drained their
mugs, and rose to go. The loser pulled out a handful of small coin, and
paid the reckoning for both.

"We've sat late," said he, with a glance at the clock. "Good night,
Karl--good night, Friedrich."

The first brother, whom I judged to be Karl, nodded sulkily. The second
muttered a gruff sort of good night. The countrymen lit their pipes,
took another long stare at Bergheim and myself, touched their hats, and
went away.

The first brother, Karl, who was evidently the master, went out with
them, shutting the door with a tremendous bang. The younger, Friedrich,
cleared the board, opened a cupboard under the dresser, brought out a
loaf of black bread, a lump of voorst, and part of a goat's milk cheese,
and then went to fetch the wine. Meanwhile we each drew a chair to the
table, and fell to vigorously. When Friedrich returned with the wine, a
pleasant smell of broiling ham came in with him through the door.

"You are hungry," he said, looking down at us from under his black
brows.

"Ay, and thirsty," replied Gustav, reaching out his hand for the bottle.
"Is your wine good?"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"Drink and judge for yourself," he answered. "It's the best we have."

"Then drink with us," said my companion, good-humouredly, filling a
glass and pushing it towards him across the table.

But he shook his head with an ungracious "Nein, nein," and again left
the room. The next moment we heard his heavy footfall going to and fro
overhead.

"He is preparing our beds," I said. "Are there no women, I wonder, about
the place?"

"Well, yes--this looks like one," laughed Bergheim, as the door leading
to the inner kitchen again opened, and a big stolid-looking peasant girl
came in with a smoking dish of ham and eggs, which she set down before
us on the table. "Stop! stop!" he exclaimed, as she turned away. "Don't
be in such a hurry, my girl. What is your name?"

She stopped with a bewildered look, but said nothing. Bergheim repeated
the question.

"My--my name?" she stammered. "Annchen."

"Good. Then, Annchen" (filling a bumper and draining it at a draught),
"I drink to thy health. Wilt thou drink to mine?" And he pointed to the
glass poured out for the landlord's brother.

But she only looked at him in the same scared, stupid way, and kept
edging away towards the door.

"Let her go," I said. "She is evidently half an idiot."

"She's no idiot to refuse that wine," replied Bergheim, as the door
closed after her. "It's the most abominable mixture I ever put inside my
lips. Have you tasted it?"

I had not tasted it as yet, and now I would not; so, the elder brother
coming back just at that moment, we called for beer.

"Don't you like the wine?" he said, scowling.

"No," replied Bergheim. "Do you? If so you're welcome to the rest of
it."

The landlord took up the bottle and held it between his eyes and the
lamp.

"Bad as it is," he said, "you've drunk half of it."

"Not I--only one glass, thanks be to Bacchus! There stands the other.
Let us have a Schoppen of your best beer--and I hope it will be better
than your best wine."

The landlord looked from Bergheim to the glass--from the glass to the
bottle. He seemed to be measuring with his eye how much had really been
drunk. Then he went to the inner door; called to Friedrich to bring a
Schoppen of the Bairisch, and went away, shutting the door after him.
From the sound of his footsteps, it seemed to us as if he also was gone
upstairs, but into some more distant part of the house. Presently the
younger brother reappeared with the beer, placed it before us in
silence, and went away as before.

"The most forbidding, disagreeable, uncivil pair I ever saw in my life!"
said I.

"They're not fascinating, I admit," said Bergheim, leaning back in his
chair with the air of a man whose appetite is somewhat appeased. "I
don't know which is the worst--their wine or their manners."

And then he yawned tremendously, and pushed out his plate, which I
heaped afresh with ham and eggs. When he had swallowed a few mouthfuls,
he leaned his head upon his hand, and declared he was too tired to eat
more.

"And yet," he added, "I am still hungry."

"Nonsense!" I said; "eat enough now you are about it. How is the beer?"

He took a pull at the Schoppen.

"Capital," he said. "Now I can go on again."

The next instant he was nodding over his plate.

"I am ashamed to be so stupid," he said, rousing himself presently; "but
I am overpowered with fatigue. Let us have the coffee; it will wake me
up a bit."

But he had no sooner said this than his chin dropped on his breast, and
he was sound asleep.

I did not call for the coffee immediately. I let him sleep, and went on
quietly with my supper. Just as I had done, however, the brothers came
back together, Friedrich bringing the coffee--two large cups on a tray.
The elder, standing by the table, looked down at Bergheim with his
unfriendly frown.

"Your friend is tired," he said.

"Yes, he has walked far to-day--much farther than I have."

"Humph! you will be glad to go to bed."

"Indeed we shall. Are our rooms ready?"

"Yes."

I took one of the cups, and put the other beside Bergheim's plate.

"Here, Bergheim," I said, "wake up; the coffee is waiting."

But he slept on, and never heard me.

I then lifted my own cup to my lips--paused--set it down untasted. It
had an odd, pungent smell that I did not like.

"What is the matter with it?" I said, "it does not smell like pure
coffee."

The brothers exchanged a rapid glance.

"It is the Kirschenwasser," said Karl. "We always put it in our black
coffee."

I tasted it, but the flavour of the coffee was quite drowned in that of
the coarse, fiery spirit.

"Do you not like it?" asked the younger brother.

"It is very strong," I said.

"But it is very good," replied he; "real Black Forest Kirsch--the best
thing in the world, if one is tired after a journey. Drink it off, mein
Herr; it is of no use to sip it. It will make you sleep."

This was the longest speech either of them had yet made.

"Thanks," I said, pulling out my cigar-case, "but this stuff is too
powerful to be drunk at a draught. I shall make it last out a cigar or
two."

"And your friend?"

"He is better without the Kirsch, and may sleep till I am ready to go to
bed."

Again they looked at each other.

"You need not sit up," I said impatiently; for it annoyed me, somehow,
to have them standing there, one at each side of the table, alternately
looking at me and at each other. "I will call the Mädchen to show us to
our rooms when we are ready."

"Good," said the elder brother, after a moment's hesitation. "Come,
Friedrich."

Friedrich turned at once to follow him, and they both left the room.

I listened. I heard them for awhile moving to and fro in the inner
kitchen; then the sound of their double footsteps going up the stairs;
then the murmur of their voices somewhere above, yet not exactly
overhead; then silence.

I felt more comfortable, now that they were fairly gone, and not likely
to return. I breathed more freely. I had disliked the brothers from the
first. I had felt uneasy from the moment I crossed their threshold.
Nothing, I told myself, should induce me at any time, or under any
circumstances, to put up under their roof again.

Pondering thus, I smoked on, and took another sip of the coffee. It was
not so hot now, and some of the strength of the spirit had gone off; but
under the flavour of the Kirschenwasser I could (or fancied I could)
detect another flavour, pungent and bitter--a flavour, in short, just
corresponding to the smell that I had at first noticed.

This startled me. I scarcely knew why, but it did startle me, and
somewhat unpleasantly. At the same instant I observed that Bergheim, in
the heaviness and helplessness of sleep, had swayed over on one side,
and was hanging very uncomfortably across one arm of his chair.

"Come, come," I said, "wake up, Herr fellow-traveller. This sort of
dozing will do you no good. Wake up, and come to bed."

And with this I took him by the arm, and tried to rouse him. Then for
the first time I observed that his face was deadly white--that his teeth
were fast clenched--that his breathing was unnatural and laboured.

I sprang to my feet. I dragged him into an upright posture; I tore open
his neckcloth; I was on the point of rushing to the door to call for
help, when a suspicion--one of those terrible suspicions which are
suspicion and conviction in one--flashed suddenly upon me.

The rejected glass of wine was still standing on the table. I smelt
it--tasted it. My dread was confirmed. It had the same pungent odour,
the same bitter flavour as the coffee.

In a moment I measured all the horror of my position; alone--unarmed--my
unconscious fellow-traveller drugged and helpless on my hands--the
murderers overhead, biding their time--the silence and darkness of
night--the unfrequented road--the solitary house--the improbability of
help from without--the imminence of the danger from within.... I saw it
all! What could I do? Was there any way, any chance, any hope?

I turned cold and dizzy. I leaned against the table for support. Was I
also drugged, and was my turn coming? I looked round for water, but
there was none upon the table. I did not dare to touch the beer, lest it
also should be doctored.

At that instant I heard a faint sound outside, like the creaking of a
stair. My presence of mind had not as yet for a moment deserted me, and
now my strength came back at the approach of danger. I cast a rapid
glance round the room. There was the blunderbuss over the
chimney-piece--there were the two hatchets in the corner. I moved a
chair loudly, and hummed some snatches of songs.

They should know that I was awake--this might at least keep them off a
little longer. The scraps of songs covered the sound of my footsteps as
I stole across the room and secured the hatchets. One of these I laid
before me on the table; the other I hid among the wood in the
wood-basket beside the hearth-singing, as it were to myself; all the
time.

Then I listened breathlessly.

All was silent.

Then I clinked my tea-spoon in my cup--feigned a long yawn--under cover
of the yawn took down the blunderbuss from its hook--and listened
again.

Still all was silent--silent as death--save only the loud ticking of the
clock in the corner, and the heavy beating of my heart.

Then, after a few seconds that dragged past like hours, I distinctly
heard a muffled tread stealing softly across the floor overhead, and
another very faint retreating creak or two upon the stairs.

To examine the blunderbuss, find it loaded with a heavy charge of slugs,
test the dryness of the powder, cock it, and place it ready for use
beside the hatchet on the table, was but the work of a moment.

And now my course was taken. My spirits rose with the possession of a
certain means of defence, and I prepared to sell my own life, and the
life of the poor fellow beside me, as dearly as might be.

I must turn the kitchen into a fortress, and defend my fortress as long
as defence was possible. If I could hold it till daylight came to my
aid, bringing with it the chances of traffic, of passers-by, of
farm-labourers coming to their daily work--then I felt we should be
comparatively safe. If, however, I could not keep the enemy out so long,
then I had another resource.... But of this there was no time to think
at present. First of all, I must barricade my fortress.

The windows were already shuttered-up and barred on the inside. The key
of the house-door was in the lock, and only needed turning. The heavy
iron bolt, in like manner, had only to be shot into its place. To do
this, however, would make too much noise just now. First and most
important was the door communicating with the inner kitchen and the
stairs. This, above all, I must secure; and this, as I found to my
dismay, had no bolts or locks whatever on the inside--nothing but a
clumsy wooden latch!

To pile against it every moveable in the room was my obvious course; but
then it was one that, by the mere noise it must make, would at once
alarm the enemy. No! I must secure that door--but secure it silently--at
all events for the next few minutes.

Inspired by dread necessity, I became fertile in expedients. With a
couple of iron forks snatched from the table, I pinned the latch down,
forcing the prongs by sheer strength of hand deep into the woodwork of
the door. This done, I tore down one of the old rusty bits from its nail
above the mantel-shelf, and, linking it firmly over the thump-piece of
the latch on one side, and over the clumsy catch on the other, I
improvised a door-chain that would at least act as a momentary check in
case the door was forced from without. Lastly, by means of some
half-charred splinters from the hearth, I contrived to wedge up the
bottom of the door in such a manner that, the more it was pushed
inwards, the more firmly fixed it must become.

So far my work had been noiseless, but now the time was come when it
could be so no longer. The house-door must be secured at all costs; and
I knew beforehand that I could not move those heavy fastenings unheard.
Nor did I. The key, despite all my efforts, grated loudly in the lock,
and the bolt resisted the rusty staples. I got it in, however, and the
next moment heard rapid footsteps overhead.

I knew now that the crisis was coming, and from this moment prepared for
open resistance.

Regardless of noise, I dragged out first one heavy oaken settle, and
then the other--placed them against the inner door--piled them with
chairs, stools, firewood, every heavy thing I could lay hands
upon--raked the slumbering embers, and threw more wood upon the hearth,
so as to bar that avenue, if any attempt was made by way of the
chimney--and hastily ransacked every drawer in the dresser, in the hope
of finding something in the shape of ammunition.

Meanwhile, the brothers had taken alarm, and having tried the inner
door, had now gone round to the front, where I heard them try first the
house-door and then the windows.

"Open! open, I say!" shouted the elder--(I knew him by his voice). "What
is the matter within?"

"The matter is that I choose to spend the night in this room," I shouted
in reply.

"It is a public room--you have no right to shut the doors!" he said,
with a thundering blow upon the lock.

"Right or no right," I answered, "I shoot dead the first man who forces
his way in!"

There was a momentary silence, and I heard them muttering together
outside.

I had by this time found, at the back of one of the drawers, a handful
of small shot screwed up in a bit of newspaper, and a battered old
powder-flask containing about three charges of powder. Little as it was,
it helped to give me confidence.

Then the parleying began afresh.

"Once more, accursed Englishman will you open the door?"

"No."

A torrent of savage oaths--then a pause.

"Force us to break it open, and it will be the worse for you!"

"Try."

All this time I had been wrenching out the hooks from the dresser, and
the nails, wherever I could find any, from the walls. Already I had
enough to reload the blunderbuss three times, with my three charges of
powder. If only Bergheim were himself now!...

I still heard the murmuring of the brothers' voices outside--then the
sound of their retreating footsteps--then an outburst of barking and
yelping at the back, which showed they had let loose the dogs. Then all
was silent.

Where were they gone? How would they begin the attack? In what way would
it all end? I glanced at my watch. It was just twenty minutes past one.
In two hours and at half, or three hours, it would be dawn. Three hours!
Great Heavens! what an eternity!

I looked round to see if there was anything I could still do for
defence; but it seemed to me that I had already done what little it was
possible to do with the material at hand. I could only wait.

All at once I heard their footsteps in the house again. They were going
rapidly to and fro overhead; then up and down the stairs; then overhead
again; and presently I heard a couple of bolts shot, and apparently a
heavy wooden bar put up, on the other side of the inner kitchen-door
which I had just been at so much pains to barricade. This done, they
seemed to go away. A distant door banged heavily; and again there was
silence.

Five minutes, ten minutes, went by. Bergheim still slept heavily; but
his breathing, I fancied, was less stertorous, and his countenance less
rigid, than when I first discovered his condition. I had no water with
which to bathe his head; but I rubbed his forehead and the palms of his
hands with beer, and did what I could to keep his body upright.

Then I heard the enemy coming back to the front, slowly, and with heavy
footfalls. They paused for a moment at the front door, seemed to set
something down, and then retreated quickly. After an interval of about
three minutes, they returned in the same way; stopped at the same place;
and hurried off as before. This they did several times in succession.
Listening with suspended breath and my ear against the keyhole, I
distinctly heard them deposit some kind of burden each time--evidently a
weighty burden, from the way in which they carried it; and yet, strange
to say, one that, despite its weight, made scarcely any noise in the
setting down.

Just at this moment, when all my senses were concentrated in the one act
of listening, Bergheim stirred for the first time, and began muttering.

"The man!" he said, in a low, suppressed tone. "The man under the
hearth!"

I flew to him at the first sound of his voice. He was recovering. Heaven
be thanked, he was recovering! In a few minutes we should be two--two
against two--right and might on our side--both ready for the defence of
our lives!

"One man under the hearth," he went on, in the same unnatural tone.
"Four men at the bottom of the pond--all murdered--foully murdered!"

I had scarcely heeded his first words; but now, as their sense broke
upon me, that great rush of exultation and thankfulness was suddenly
arrested. My heart stood still; I trembled; I turned cold with horror.

Then the veins swelled on his forehead; his face became purple; and he
struck out blindly, as one oppressed with some horrible nightmare.

"Blood!" he gasped. "Everywhere blood--don't touch it. God's
vengeance--help!"...

And so, struggling violently in my arms, he opened his eyes, stared
wildly round, and made an effort to get upon his feet.

"What is the matter?" he said, sinking back again, and trembling from
head to foot. "Was I asleep?"

I rubbed his hands and forehead again with beer. I tasted it, and
finding no ill flavour upon it, put a tiny drop to his lips.

"You are all right now," I said. "You were very tired, and you fell
asleep after supper. Don't you remember?"

He put his hand to his head. "Ah, yes," he said, "I remember. I have
been dreaming"....

He looked round the room in a bewildered way; then, struck all at once
by the strange disorder of the furniture, asked what was the matter.

I told him in the least alarming way, and with the fewest words I could
muster, but before I could get to the end of my explanation he was up,
ready for resistance, and apparently himself again.

"Where are they?" he said. "What are they doing now? Outside, do you
say? Why, good heavens! man, they're blocking us in. Listen!--don't you
hear?--it is the rustling of straw. Bring the blunderbuss! quick!--to
the window.... God grant we may not be too late!"

We both rushed to the window; Bergheim to undo the shutter, and I to
shoot down the first man in sight.

"Look there!" he said, and pointed to the door.

A thin stream of smoke was oozing under the threshold and stealing
upward in a filmy cloud that already dimmed the atmosphere of the room.

"They are going to burn us out!" I exclaimed.

"No, they are going to burn us alive," replied Bergheim, between his
clenched teeth. "We know too much, and they are determined to silence us
at all costs, though they burn the house down over our heads. Now hold
your breath, for I am going to open the window, and the smoke will rush
in like a torrent."

He opened it, but very little came in--for this reason, that the outside
was densely blocked with straw, which had not yet ignited.

In a moment we had dragged the table under the window--put our weapons
aside ready for use--and set to work to cut our way out.

Bergheim, standing on the table, wrenched away the straw in great
armfuls. I caught it, and hurled it into the middle of the room. We
laboured at the work like giants. In a few moments the pile had mounted
to the height of the table. Then Bergheim cried out that the straw under
his hands was taking fire, and that he dared throw it back into the room
no longer!

I sprang to his aid with the two hatchets. I gave him one--I fell to
work with the other. The smoke and flame rushed in our faces, as we
hewed down the burning straw.

Meanwhile, the room behind us was full of smoke, and above the noise of
our own frantic labour we heard a mighty crackling and hissing, as of a
great conflagration.

"Take the blunderbuss--quick!" cried Bergheim, hoarsely. "There is
nothing but smoke outside now, and burning straw below. Follow me! Jump
as far out as you can, and shoot the first you see!"

And with this, he leaped out into the smoke, and was gone!

I only waited to grope out the blunderbuss; then, holding it high above
my head, I shut my eyes and sprang after him, clearing the worst of the
fire, and falling on my hands and knees among a heap of smouldering
straw and ashes beyond. At the same instant that I touched the ground, I
heard the sharp crack of a rifle, and saw two figures rush past me.

To dash out in pursuit without casting one backward glance at the
burning house behind me--to see a tall figure vanishing among the trees,
and two others in full chase--to cover the foremost of these two and
bring him down as one would bring down a wolf in the open, was for me
but the work of a second.

I saw him fall. I saw the other hesitate, look back, throw up his hands
with a wild gesture, and fly towards the hills.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rest of my story is soon told. The one I had shot was Friedrich, the
younger brother. He died in about half an hour, and never spoke again.
The elder escaped into the forest, and there succeeded in hiding himself
for several weeks among the charcoal-burners. Being hunted down,
however, at last, he was tried at Heilbronn, and there executed.

The pair, it seemed, were practised murderers. The pond, when dragged,
was found to contain four of their victims; and when the crumbling ruins
of the homestead were cleared for the purpose, the mortal remains of a
fifth were discovered under the hearth, in that kitchen which had so
nearly proved our grave. A store of money, clothes, and two or three
watches, was also found secreted in a granary near the house; and these
things served to identify three out of the five corpses thus
providentially brought to light.

My friend, Gustav Bergheim (now the friend of seventeen years) is well
and prosperous; married to his "Mädchen;" and the happy father of a
numerous family. He often tells the tale of our terrible night on the
borders of the Black Forest, and avers that in that awful dream in which
his senses came back to him, he distinctly saw, as in a vision, the
mouldering form beneath the hearth, and the others under the sluggish
waters of the pond.



THE STORY OF SALOME.


A few years ago, no matter how many, I, Harcourt Blunt, was travelling
with my friend Coventry Turnour, and it was on the steps of our hotel
that I received from him the announcement that he was again in love.

"I tell you, Blunt," said my fellow-traveller, "she's the loveliest
creature I ever beheld in my life."

I laughed outright.

"My dear fellow," I replied, "you've so often seen the loveliest
creature you ever beheld in your life."

"Ay, but I am in earnest now for the first time."

"And you have so often been in earnest for the first time! Remember the
innkeeper's daughter at Cologne."

"A pretty housemaid, whom no training could have made presentable."

"Then there was the beautiful American at Interlaken."

"Yes; but--"

"And the bella Marchesa at Prince Torlonia's ball."

"Not one of them worthy to be named in the same breath with my imperial
Venetian. Come with me to the Merceria and be convinced. By taking a
gondola to St. Mark's Place we shall be there in a quarter of an hour."

I went, and he raved of his new flame all the way. She was a Jewess--he
would convert her. Her father kept a shop in the Merceria--what of that?
He dealt only in costliest Oriental merchandise, and was as rich as a
Rothschild. As for any probable injury to his own prospects, why need he
hesitate on that account? What were "prospects" when weighed against the
happiness of one's whole life? Besides, he was not ambitious. He didn't
care to go into Parliament. If his uncle, Sir Geoffrey, cut him off with
a shilling, what then? He had a moderate independence of which no one
living could deprive him, and what more could any reasonable man desire?

I listened, smiled, and was silent. I knew Coventry Turnour too well to
attach the smallest degree of importance to anything that he might say
or do in a matter of this kind. To be distractedly in love was his
normal condition. We had been friends from boyhood; and since the time
when he used to cherish a hopeless attachment to the young lady behind
the counter of the tart-shop at Harrow, I had never known him
"fancy-free" for more than a few weeks at a time. He had gone through
every phase of no less than three _grandes passions_ during the five
months that we had now been travelling together; and having left Rome
about eleven weeks before with every hope laid waste, and a heart so
broken that it could never by any possibility be put together again, he
was now, according to the natural course of events, just ready to fall
in love again.

We landed at the traghetto San Marco. It was a cloudless morning towards
the middle of April, just ten years ago. The Ducal Palace glowed in the
hot sunshine; the boatmen were clustered, gossiping, about the quay; the
orange-vendors were busy under the arches of the piazzetta; the
_flâneurs_ were already eating ices and smoking cigarettes outside the
cafés. There was an Austrian military band, strapped, buckled,
moustachioed, and white-coated, playing just in front of St. Mark's; and
the shadow of the great bell-tower slept all across the square.

Passing under the low round archway leading to the Merceria, we plunged
at once into that cool labyrinth of narrow, intricate, and picturesque
streets, where the sun never penetrates--where no wheels are heard, and
no beast of burden is seen--where every house is a shop, and every
shop-front is open to the ground, as in an Oriental bazaar--where the
upper balconies seem almost to meet overhead, and are separated by only
a strip of burning sky--and where more than three people cannot march
abreast in any part. Pushing our way as best we might through the motley
crowd that here chatters, cheapens, buys, sells, and perpetually jostles
to and fro, we came presently to a shop for the sale of Eastern goods. A
few glass jars, filled with spices and some pieces of stuff, untidily
strewed the counter next the street; but within, dark and narrow though
it seemed, the place was crammed with costliest merchandise. Cases of
gorgeous Oriental jewelry; embroideries and fringes of massive gold and
silver bullion; precious drugs and spices; exquisite toys in filigree;
miracles of carving in ivory, sandal-wood, and amber; jewelled
yataghans; scimitars of state, rich with "barbaric pearl and gold,"
bales of Cashmere shawls, China silks, India muslins, gauzes, and the
like, filled every inch of available space from floor to ceiling,
leaving only a narrow lane from the door to the counter, and a still
narrower passage to the rooms beyond the shop.

We went in. A young woman who was sitting reading on a low seat behind
the counter, laid aside her book, and rose slowly. She was dressed
wholly in black. I cannot describe the fashion of her garments. I only
know that they fell about her in long, soft, trailing folds, leaving a
narrow band Of fine cambric visible at the throat and wrists; and that,
however graceful and unusual this dress may have been, I scarcely
observed it, so entirely was I taken up with admiration of her beauty.

For she was indeed very beautiful--beautiful in a way I had not
anticipated Coventry Turnour, with all his enthusiasm, had failed to do
her justice. He had raved of her eyes--her large, lustrous, melancholy
eyes,--of the transparent paleness of her complexion, of the faultless
delicacy of her features; but he had not prepared me for the
unconscious dignity, the perfect nobleness and refinement, that
informed her every look and gesture. My friend requested to see a
bracelet at which he had been looking the day before. Proud, stately,
silent, she unlocked the case in which it was kept, and laid it before
him on the counter. He asked permission to take it over to the light.
She bent her head, but answered not a word. It was like being waited
upon by a young Empress.

Turnour took the bracelet to the door and affected to examine it. It
consisted of a double row of gold coins linked together at intervals by
a bean-shaped ornament studded with pink coral and diamonds. Coming back
into the shop he asked me if I thought it would please his sister, to
whom he had promised a remembrance of Venice.

"It is a pretty trifle," I replied; "but surely a remembrance of Venice
should be of Venetian manufacture. This, I suppose, is Turkish."

The beautiful Jewess looked up. We spoke in English; but she understood,
and replied.

"_E Greco, signore_," she said coldly.

At this moment an old man came suddenly forward from some dark
counting-house at the back--a grizzled, bearded, eager-eyed Shylock,
with a pen behind his ear.

"Go in, Salome--go in, my daughter," he said hurriedly. "I will serve
these gentlemen."

She lifted her eyes to his for one moment--then moved silently away, and
vanished in the gloom of the room beyond.

We saw her no more. We lingered awhile looking over the contents of the
jewel-cases; but in vain. Then Turnour bought his bracelet, and we went
out again into the narrow streets, and back to the open daylight of the
Gran' Piazza.

"Well," he said breathlessly, "what do you think of her?"

"She is very lovely."

"Lovelier than you expected?"

"Much lovelier. But--"

"But what?"

"The sooner you succeed in forgetting her the better."

He vowed, of course, that he never would and never could forget her. He
would hear of no incompatibilities, listen to no objections, believe in
no obstacles. That the beautiful Salome was herself not only unconscious
of his passion and indifferent to his person, but ignorant of his very
name and station, were facts not even to be admitted on the list of
difficulties. Finding him thus deaf to reason, I said no more.

It was all over, however, before the week was out.

"Look here, Blunt," he said, coming up to me one morning in the
coffee-room of our hotel just as I was sitting down to answer a pile of
home-letters; "would you like to go on to Trieste to-morrow? There,
don't look at me like that--you can guess how it is with me. I was a
fool ever to suppose she would care for me--a stranger, a foreigner, a
Christian. Well, I'm horribly out of sorts, anyhow--and--and I wish I
was a thousand miles off at this moment!"

       *       *       *       *       *

We travelled on together to Athens, and there parted, Turnour being
bound for England, and I for the East. My own tour lasted many months
longer. I went first to Egypt and the Holy Land; then joined an
exploring party on the Euphrates; and at length, after just twelve
months of Oriental life, found myself back again at Trieste about the
middle of April in the year following that during which occurred the
events I have just narrated. There I found that batch of letters and
papers to which I had been looking forward for many weeks past; and
amongst the former, one from Coventry Turnour. This time he was not only
irrecoverably in love, but on the eve of matrimony. The letter was
rapturous and extravagant enough. The writer was the happiest of men;
his destined bride the loveliest and most amiable of her sex; the future
a paradise; the past a melancholy series of mistakes. As for love, he
had never, of course, known what it was till now.

And what of the beautiful Salome?

Not one word of her from beginning to end. He had forgotten her as
utterly as if she had never existed. And yet how desperately in love and
how desperately in despair he was "one little year ago!" Ah, yes; but
then it _was_ "one little year ago;" and who that had ever known
Coventry Turnour would expect him to remember _la plus grande des
grandes passions_ for even half that time?

I slept that night at Trieste and went on next day to Venice. Somehow I
could not get Turnour and his love-affairs out of my head. I remembered
our visit to the Merceria. I was haunted by the image of the beautiful
Jewess. Was she still so lovely? Did she still sit reading in her wonted
seat by the open counter, with the gloomy shop reaching away behind, and
the cases of rich robes and jewels all around?

An irresistible impulse prompted me to go to the Merceria and see her
once again. I went. It had been a busy morning with me, and I did not
get there till between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. The
place was crowded. I passed up the well-remembered street, looking out
on both sides for the gloomy little shop with its unattractive counter;
but in vain. When I had gone so far that I thought I must have passed
it, I turned back. House by house I retraced my steps to the very
entrance, and still could not find it. Then, concluding I had not gone
far enough at first, I turned back again till I reached a spot where
several streets diverged. Here I came to a stand-still, for beyond this
point I knew I had not passed before.

It was now evident that the Jew no longer occupied his former shop in
the Merceria, and that my chance of discovering his whereabouts was
exceedingly slender. I could not inquire of his successor, because I
could not identify the house. I found it impossible even to remember
what trades were carried on by his neighbours on either side. I was
ignorant of his very name. Convinced, therefore, of the inutility of
making any further effort, I gave up the search, and comforted myself by
reflecting that my own heart was not made of adamant, and that it was,
perhaps, better for my peace not to see the beautiful Salome again. I
was destined to see her again, however, and that ere many days had
passed over my head.

A year of more than ordinarily fatiguing Eastern travel had left me in
need of rest, and I had resolved to allow myself a month's sketching in
Venice and its neighbourhood before turning my face homeward.

As, therefore, it is manifestly the first object of a sketcher to select
his points of view, and as no more luxurious machine than a Venetian
gondola was ever invented for the use of man, I proceeded to employ the
first days of my stay in endless boatings to and fro; now exploring all
manner of canals and canaletti; now rowing out in the direction of
Murano; now making for the islands beyond San Pietro Castello, and in
the course of these pilgrimages noting down an infinite number of
picturesque sites, and smoking an infinite number of cigarettes.

It was, I think, about the fourth or fifth day of this pleasant work,
when my gondolier proposed to take me as far as the Lido. It wanted
about two hours to sunset, and the great sandbank lay not more than
three or four miles away; so I gave the word, and in another moment we
had changed our route and were gliding farther and farther from Venice
at each dip of the oar.

Then the long, dull, distant ridge that had all day bounded the shallow
horizon rose gradually above the placid level of the Lagune; assumed a
more broken outline; resolved itself into hillocks and hollows of tawny
sand; showed here and there a patch of parched grass and tangled brake;
and looked like the coasts of some inhospitable desert beyond which no
traveller might penetrate. My boatman made straight for a spot where
some stakes at the water's edge gave token of a landing-place; and here,
though with some difficulty, for the tide was low, ran the gondola
aground. I landed. My first step was among graves.

"_E'l Cimiterio Giudaico, signore_," said my gondolier, with a touch of
his cap.

The Jewish cemetery! The _ghetto_ of the dead! I remembered now to have
read or heard long since how the Venetian Jews, cut off in death as in
life from the neighbourhood of their Christian rulers, had been buried
from immemorial time upon this desolate waste. I stooped to examine the
headstone at my feet. It was but a shattered fragment, crusted over with
yellow lichens, and eaten away by the salt sea air. I passed on to the
next, and the next.

Some were completely matted over with weeds and brambles; some were
half-buried in the drifting sand; of some only a corner remained above
the surface. Here and there a name, a date, a fragment of emblematic
carving or part of a Hebrew inscription, was yet legible; but all were
more or less broken and effaced.

Wandering on thus among graves and hillocks, ascending at every step,
and passing some three or four glassy pools overgrown with gaunt-looking
reeds, I presently found that I had reached the central and most
elevated part of the Lido, and that I commanded an uninterrupted view on
every side. On the one hand lay the broad, silent Lagune bounded by
Venice and the Euganean hills--on the other, stealing up in long, lazy
folds, and breaking noiselessly against the endless shore, the blue
Adriatic. An old man gathering shells on the seaward side, a distant
gondola on the Lagune, were the only signs of life for miles around.

Standing on the upper ridge of this narrow barrier, looking upon both
waters, and watching the gradual approach of what promised to be a
gorgeous sunset, I fell into one of those wandering trains of thought in
which the real and unreal succeed each other as capriciously as in a
dream.

I remembered how Goethe here conceived his vertebral theory of the
skull--how Byron, too lame to walk, kept his horse on the Lido, and here
rode daily to and fro--how Shelley loved the wild solitude of the place,
wrote of it in _Julian and Maddalo_, and listened perhaps from this very
spot, to the mad-house bell on the island of San Giorgio. Then I
wondered if Titian used sometimes to come hither from his gloomy house
on the other side of Venice, to study the gold and purple of these
western skies--if Othello had walked here with Desdemona--if Shylock was
buried yonder, and Leah whom he loved "when he was a bachelor."

And then in the midst of my reverie, I came suddenly upon another Jewish
cemetery.

Was it indeed another, or but an outlying portion of the first? It was
evidently another, and a more modern one. The ground was better kept.
The monuments were newer. Such dates as I had succeeded in deciphering
on the broken sepulchres lower down were all of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries; but the inscriptions upon these bore reference to
quite recent interments.

I went on a few steps farther. I stopped to copy a quaint Italian
couplet on one tomb--to gather a wild forget-me-not from the foot of
another--to put aside a bramble that trailed across a third--and then I
became aware for the first time of a lady sitting beside a grave not a
dozen yards from the spot on which I stood.

I had believed myself so utterly alone, and was so taken by surprise,
that for the first moment I could almost have persuaded myself that she
also was "of the stuff that dreams are made of." She was dressed from
head to foot in deepest mourning; her face turned from me, looking
towards the sunset; her cheek resting in the palm of her hand. The grave
by which she sat was obviously recent. The scant herbage round about had
been lately disturbed, and the marble headstone looked as if it had not
yet undergone a week's exposure to wind and weather.

Persuaded that she had not observed me, I lingered for an instant
looking at her. Something in the grace and sorrow of her attitude,
something in the turn of her head and the flow of her sable draperies,
arrested my attention. Was she young? I fancied so. Did she mourn a
husband?--a lover?--a parent? I glanced towards the headstone. It was
covered with Hebrew characters; so that, had I even been nearer, it
could have told me nothing.

But I felt that I had no right to stand there, a spectator of her
sorrow, an intruder on her privacy. I proceeded to move noiselessly
away. At that moment she turned and looked at me.

It was Salome.

Salome, pale and worn as from some deep and wasting grief, but more
beautiful, if that could be, than ever. Beautiful, with a still more
spiritual beauty than of old; with cheeks so wan, and eyes so
unutterably bright and solemn, that my very heart seemed to stand still
as I looked upon them. For one second I paused, half fancying, half
hoping that there was recognition in her glance; then, not daring to
look or linger longer, turned away. When I had gone far enough to do so
without discourtesy, I stopped and looked back. She had resumed her
former attitude, and was gazing over towards Venice and the setting sun.
The stone by which she watched was not more motionless.

The sun went down in glory. The last flush faded from the domes and
bell-towers of Venice; the northward peaks changed from rose to purple,
from gold to grey; a scarcely perceptible film of mist became all at
once visible upon the surface of the Lagune; and overhead, the first
star trembled into light. I waited and watched till the shadows had so
deepened that I could no longer distinguish one distant object from
another. Was that the spot? Was she still there? Was she moving? Was she
gone? I could not tell. The more I looked, the more uncertain I became.
Then, fearing to miss my way in the fast-gathering twilight, I struck
down towards the water's edge and made for the point at which I had
landed.

I found my gondolier fast asleep, with his head on a cushion and his bit
of gondola-carpet thrown over him for a counterpane. I asked if he had
seen any other boat put off from the Lido since I left? He rubbed his
eyes, started up, and was awake in a moment.

"_Per Bacco_, _signore_, I have been asleep," he said apologetically; "I
have seen nothing."

"Did you observe any other boat moored hereabouts when we landed?"

"None, signore."

"And you have seen nothing of a lady in black?"

He laughed and shook his head.

"_Consolatevi, signore_," he said, archly; "she will come to-morrow."

Then, seeing me look grave, he touched his cap, and with a gentle
"_Scusate, signore_," took his place at the stern, and there waited. I
bade him row to my hotel; and then, leaning dreamily back, folded my
arms, closed my eyes, and thought of Salome.

How lovely she was! How infinitely more lovely than even my first
remembrance of her! How was it that I had not admired her more that day
in the Merceria? Was I blind, or had she become indeed more beautiful?
It was a sad and strange place in which to meet her again. By whose
grave was she watching? By her father's? Yes, surely by her father's. He
was an old man when I saw him, and in the course of nature had not long
to live. He was dead: hence my unavailing search in the Merceria. He was
dead. His shop was let to another occupant. His stock-in-trade was sold
and dispersed.

And Salome--was she left alone? Had she no mother?--no brother?--no
lover? Would her eyes have had that look of speechless woe in them if
she had any very near or dear tie left on earth? Then I thought of
Coventry Turnour, and his approaching marriage. Had he ever really loved
her? I doubted it. "True love," saith an old song, "can ne'er forget;"
but he had forgotten, as though the past had been a dream. And yet he
was in earnest while it lasted--would have risked all for her sake, if
she would have listened to him. Ah, if she _had_ listened to him!

And then I remembered that he had never told me the particulars of that
affair. Did she herself reject him, or did he lay his suit before her
father? And was he rejected only because he was a Christian? I had never
cared to ask these things while we were together; but now I would have
given the best hunter in my stables to know every minute detail
connected with the matter.

Pondering thus, travelling over the same ground again and again,
wondering whether she remembered me, whether she was poor, whether she
was, indeed, alone in the world, how long the old man had been dead, and
a hundred other things of the same kind,--I scarcely noticed how the
watery miles glided past, or how the night closed in. One question,
however, recurred oftener than any other: How was I to see her again?

I arrived at my hotel; I dined at the _table d'hôte_; I strolled out
after dinner to my favourite café in the piazza; I dropped in for half
an hour at the Fenice, and heard one act of an extremely poor opera; I
came home restless, uneasy, wakeful; and sitting for hours before my
bedroom fire, asked myself the same perpetual question--How was I to see
her again?

Fairly tired out at last, I fell asleep in my chair, and when I awoke
the sun was shining upon my window.

I started to my feet. I had it now. It flashed upon me, as if it came
with the sunlight. I had but to go again to the cemetery, copy the
inscription upon the old man's tomb, ask my learned friend, Professor
Nicolai of Padua, to translate it for me, and then, once in possession
of names and dates, the rest would be easy.

In less than an hour, I was once more on my way to the Lido.

I took a rubbing of the stone. It was the quickest way, and the surest;
for I knew that in Hebrew everything depended on the pointing of the
characters, and I feared to trust my own untutored skill.

This done, I hastened back, wrote my letter to the professor, and
despatched both letter and rubbing by the mid-day train.

The professor was not a prompt man. On the contrary, he was a
pre-eminently slow man; dreamy, indolent, buried in Oriental lore. From
any other correspondent one might have looked for a reply in the course
of the morrow, but from Nicolai of Padua it would have been folly to
expect one under two or three days. And in the meanwhile? Well, in the
meanwhile there were churches and palaces to be seen, sketches to be
made, letters of introduction to be delivered. It was, at all events, of
no use to be impatient.

And yet I was impatient--so impatient that I could neither sketch, nor
read, nor sit still for ten minutes together. Possessed by an
uncontrollable restlessness, I wandered from gallery to gallery, from
palace to palace, from church to church. The imprisonment of even a
gondola was irksome to me. I was, as it were, impelled to be moving and
doing; and even so, the day seemed endless.

The next was even worse. There was just the possibility of a reply from
Padua, and the knowledge of that possibility unsettled me for the day.
Having watched and waited for every post from eight to four, I went down
to the traghetto of St. Mark's, and was there hailed by my accustomed
gondolier.

He touched his cap and waited for orders.

"Where to, signore?" he asked, finding that I remained silent.

"To the Lido."

It was an irresistible temptation, and I yielded to it; but I yielded in
opposition to my judgment. I knew that I ought not to haunt the place. I
had resolved that I would not. And yet I went.

Going along, I told myself that I had only come to reconnoitre. It was
not unlikely that she might be going to the same spot about the same
hour as before; and in that case I might overtake her gondola by the
way, or find it moored somewhere along the shore. At all events, I was
determined not to land. But we met no gondola beyond San Pietro
Castello; saw no sign of one along the shore. The afternoon was far
advanced; the sun was near going down; we had the Lagune and the Lido to
ourselves.

My boatman made for the same landing-place, and moored his gondola to
the same stake as before. He took it for granted that I meant to land;
and I landed. After all, however, it was evident that Salome could not
be there, in which case I was guilty of no intrusion. I might stroll in
the direction of the cemetery, taking care to avoid her, if she were
anywhere about, and keeping well away from that part where I had last
seen her. So I broke another resolve, and went up towards the top of the
Lido. Again I came to the salt pools and the reeds; again stood with the
sea upon my left hand and the Lagune upon my right, and the endless
sandbank reaching on for miles between the two. Yonder lay the new
cemetery. Standing thus I overlooked every foot of the ground. I could
even distinguish the headstone of which I had taken a rubbing the
morning before. There was no living thing in sight. I was, to all
appearance, as utterly alone as Enoch Arden on his desert island.

Then I strolled on a little nearer and a little nearer still; and then,
contrary to all my determinations, I found myself standing upon the very
spot, beside the very grave, which I had made up my mind on no account
to approach.

The sun was now just going down--had gone down, indeed, behind a bank of
golden-edged cumuli--and was flooding earth, sea, and sky with crimson.
It was at this hour that I saw her. It was upon this spot that she was
sitting. A few scant blades of grass had sprung up here and there upon
the grave. Her dress must have touched them as she sat there--her
dress--perhaps her hand. I gathered one, and laid it carefully between
the leaves of my note-book.

At last I turned to go, and, turning, met her face to face!

She was distant about six yards, and advancing slowly towards the spot
on which I was standing. Her head drooped slightly forward; her hands
were clasped together; her eyes were fixed upon the ground. It was the
attitude of a nun. Startled, confused, scarcely knowing what I did, I
took off my hat, and drew aside to let her pass.

She looked up--hesitated--stood still--gazed at me with a strange,
steadfast, mournful expression--then dropped her eyes again, passed me
without another glance, and resumed her former place and attitude beside
her father's grave.

I turned away. I would have given worlds to speak to her; but I had not
dared, and the opportunity was gone. Yet I might have spoken. She looked
at me--looked at me with so strange and piteous an expression in her
eyes--continued looking at me as long as one might have counted five....
I might have spoken. I surely might have spoken! And now--ah! now it was
impossible. She had fallen into the old thoughtful attitude, with her
cheek resting on her hand. Her thoughts were far away. She had forgotten
my very presence.

I went back to the shore, more disturbed and uneasy than ever. I spent
all the remaining daylight in rowing up and down the margin of the Lido,
looking for her gondola--hoping, at all events, to see her put off--to
follow her, perhaps, across the waste of waters. But the dusk came
quickly on, and then darkness; and I left at last without having seen
any farther sign or token of her presence.

Lying awake that night, tossing uneasily upon my bed, and thinking over
the incidents of the last few days, I found myself perpetually recurring
to that long, steady, sorrowful gaze which she fixed upon me in the
cemetery. The more I thought of it, the more I seemed to feel that there
was in it some deeper meaning than I, in my confusion, had observed at
the time. It was such a strange look--a look almost of entreaty, of
asking for help or sympathy; like the dumb appeal in the eyes of a sick
animal. Could this really be? What, after all, more possible than that,
left alone in the world--with, perhaps, not a single male relation to
advise her--she found herself in some position of present difficulty,
and knew not where to turn for help? All this might well be. She had
even, perhaps, some instinctive feeling that she might trust me. Ah! if
she would indeed trust me....

I had hoped to receive my Paduan letter by the morning delivery; but
morning and afternoon went by as before, and still no letter came. As
the day began to decline, I was again on my way to the Lido; this time
for the purpose, and with the intention, of speaking to her. I landed,
and went direct to the cemetery. It had been a dull day. Lagune and sky
were both one uniform leaden grey, and a mist hung over Venice.

I saw her from the moment I reached the upper ridge. She was walking to
and fro among the graves, like a stately shadow. I had felt confident,
somehow, that she would be there; and now, for some reason that I could
not have defined for my life, I felt equally confident that she expected
me.

Trembling and eager, yet half dreading the moment when she should
discover my presence, I hastened on, printing the loose sand at every
noiseless step. A few moments more, and I should overtake her, speak to
her, hear the music of her voice--that music which I remembered so well,
though a year had gone by since I last heard it. But how should I
address her? What had I to say? I knew not. I had no time to think. I
could only hurry on till within some ten feet of her trailing garments;
stand still when she turned, and uncover before her as if she were a
queen.

She paused and looked at me, just as she had paused and looked at me the
evening before. With the same sorrowful meaning in her eyes; with even
more than the same entreating expression. But she waited for me to
speak.

I did speak. I cannot recall what I said; I only know that I faltered
something of an apology--mentioned that I had had the honour of meeting
her before, many months ago; and, trying to say more--trying to express
how thankfully and proudly I would devote myself to any service however
humble, however laborious, I failed both in voice and words, and broke
down utterly.

Having come to a stop, I looked up and found her eyes still fixed upon
me.

"You are a Christian?" she said.

A trembling came upon me at the first sound of her voice. It was the
same voice; distinct, melodious, scarce louder than a whisper--and yet
it was not quite the same. There was a melancholy in the music, and if I
may use a word which, after all, fails to express my meaning, a
_remoteness_, that fell upon my ear like the plaintive cadence in an
autumnal wind.

I bent my head, and answered that I was.

She pointed to the headstone of which I had taken a rubbing a day or two
before.

"A Christian soul lies there," she said, "laid in earth without one
Christian prayer--with Hebrew rites--in a Hebrew sanctuary. Will you,
stranger, perform an act of piety towards the dead?"

"The Signora has but to speak," I said. "All that she wishes shall be
done."

"Read one prayer over this grave; and trace a cross upon this stone."

"I will."

She thanked me with a gesture, slightly bowed her head, drew her outer
garment more closely round her, and moved away to a rising ground at
some little distance. I was dismissed. I had no excuse for lingering--no
right to prolong the interview--no business to remain there one moment
longer. So I left her there, nor once looked back till I had reached the
last point from which I knew I should be able to see her. But when I
turned for that last look, she was no longer in sight.

I had resolved to speak to her, and this was the result. A stranger
interview never, surely, fell to the lot of man! I had said nothing that
I meant to say--had learnt nothing that I sought to know. With regard to
her circumstances, her place of residence, her very name, I was no wiser
than before. And yet I had, perhaps, no reason to be dissatisfied. She
had honoured me with her confidence, and entrusted to me a task of some
difficulty and importance. It now only remained for me to execute that
task as thoroughly and as quickly as possible. That done, I might fairly
hope to win some place in her remembrance--by and by, perhaps, in her
esteem.

Meanwhile, the old question rose again--whose grave could it be? I had
settled this matter so conclusively in my own mind from the first, that
I could scarcely believe even now that it was not her father's. Yet that
he should have died a secret convert to Christianity was incredible.
Whose grave could it be? A lover's? A Christian lover's? Alas! it might
be. Or a sister's? In either of these cases, it was more than probable
that Salome was herself a convert. But I had no time to waste in
conjecture. I must act, and act promptly.

I hastened back to Venice as fast as my gondolier could row me; and as
we went along I promised myself that all her wishes should be carried
out before she visited the spot again. To secure at once the services of
a clergyman who would go with me to the Lido at early dawn and there
read some portion, at least, of the burial service; and at the same time
to engage a stonemason to cut the cross;--to have all done before she,
or anyone, should have approached the place next day, was my especial
object. And that object I was resolved to carry out, though I had to
search Venice through before I laid my head upon my pillow.

I found a clergyman without difficulty. He was a young man occupying
rooms in the same hotel, and on the same floor as myself. I had met him
each day at the _table d'hôte_, and conversed with him once or twice in
the reading-room. He was a North-countryman, had not long since taken
orders, and was both gentlemanly and obliging. He promised in the
readiest manner to do all that I required, and to breakfast with me at
six next morning, in order that we might reach the cemetery by eight.

To find my stonemason, however, was not so easy; and yet I went to work
methodically enough. I began with the Venetian Directory; then copied a
list of stonemasons' names and addresses; then took a gondola _a due
remi_ and started upon my voyage of discovery.

But a night's voyage of discovery among the intricate back _canaletti_
of Venice is no very easy and no very safe enterprise. Narrow, tortuous,
densely populated, often blocked by huge hay, wood, and provision
barges, almost wholly unlighted, and so perplexingly alike that no mere
novice in Venetian topography need ever hope to distinguish one from
another, they baffle the very gondoliers, and are a _terra incognita_ to
all but the dwellers therein.

I succeeded, however, in finding three of the places entered on my list.
At the first I was told that the workman of whom I was in quest was
working by the week somewhere over by Murano, and would not be back
again till Saturday night. At the second and third, I found the men at
home, supping with their wives and children at the end of the day's
work; but neither would consent to undertake my commission. One, after a
whispered consultation with his son, declined reluctantly. The other
told me plainly that he dared not do it, and that he did not believe I
should find a stonemason in Venice who would be bolder than himself.

The Jews, he said, were rich and powerful; no longer an oppressed
people; no longer to be insulted even in Venice with impunity. To cut a
Christian cross upon a Jewish headstone in the Jewish Cemetery, would be
"a sort of sacrilege," and punishable, no doubt, by the law. This
sounded like truth; so, finding that my rowers were by no means
confident of their way, and that the _canaletti_ were dark as the
catacombs, I prevailed upon the stonemason to sell me a small mallet and
a couple of chisels, and made up my mind to commit the sacrilege myself.

With this single exception, all was done next morning as I had planned
to do it. My new acquaintance breakfasted with me, accompanied me to the
Lido, read such portions of the burial service as seemed proper to him,
and then, having business in Venice, left me to my task. It was by no
means an easy one. To a skilled hand it would have been, perhaps, the
work of half-an-hour; but it was my first effort, and rude as the thing
was--a mere grooved attempt at a Latin cross, about two inches and a
half in length, cut close down at the bottom of the stone, where it
could be easily concealed by a little piling of the sand--it took me
nearly four hours to complete. While I was at work, the dull grey
morning grew duller and greyer; a thick sea-fog drove up from the
Adriatic; and a low moaning wind came and went like the echo of a
distant requiem. More than once I started, believing that she had
surprised me there--fancying I saw the passing of a shadow--heard the
rustling of a garment--the breathing of a sigh. But no. The mists and
the moaning wind deceived me. I was alone.

When at length I got back to my hotel, it was just two o'clock. The
hall-porter put a letter into my hand as I passed through. One glance at
that crabbed superscription was enough. It was from Padua. I hastened to
my room, tore open the envelope, and read these words:--

     "CARO SIGNORE,--The rubbing you send is neither ancient nor
     curious, as I fear you suppose it to be. It is a thing of
     yesterday. It merely records that one Salome, the only and
     beloved child of a certain Isaac Da Costa, died last Autumn on
     the eighteenth of October, aged twenty-one years, and that by
     the said Isaac Da Costa this monument is erected to the memory
     of her virtues and his grief.

     "I pray you, _caro signore_, to receive the assurance of my
     sincere esteem.

     "NICOLO NICOLAI."

The letter dropped from my hand. I seemed to have read without
understanding it. I picked it up; went through it again, word by word;
sat down; rose up; took a turn across the room; felt confused,
bewildered, incredulous.

Could there, then, be two Salomes? or was there some radical and
extraordinary mistake?

I hesitated; I knew not what to do. Should I go down to the Merceria,
and see whether the name of Da Costa was known in the _quartier_? Or
find out the registrar of births and deaths for the Jewish district? Or
call upon the principal rabbi, and learn from him who this second Salome
had been, and in what degree of relationship she stood towards the
Salome whom I knew? I decided upon the last course. The chief rabbi's
address was easily obtained. He lived in an ancient house on the
Giudecca, and there I found him--a grave, stately old man, with a
grizzled beard reaching nearly to his waist.

I introduced myself and stated my business. I came to ask if he could
give me any information respecting the late Salome da Costa who died on
the 18th of October last, and was buried on the Lido.

The rabbi replied that he had no doubt he could give me any information
I desired, for he had known the lady personally, and was the intimate
friend of her father.

"Can you tell me," I asked, "whether she had any dear friend or female
relative of the same name--Salome?"

The rabbi shook his head.

"I think not," he said. "I remember no other maiden of that name."

"Pardon me, but I know there was another," I replied. "There was a very
beautiful Salome living in the Merceria when I was last in Venice, just
this time last year."

"Salome da Costa was very fair," said the rabbi; "and she dwelt with her
father in the Merceria. Since her death, he hath removed to the
neighbourhood of the Rialto."

"This Salome's father was a dealer in Oriental goods," I said, hastily.

"Isaac da Costa is a dealer in Oriental goods," replied the old man very
gently. "We are speaking, my son, of the same persons."

"Impossible!"

He shook his head again.

"But she lives!" I exclaimed, becoming greatly agitated. "She lives. I
have seen her. I have spoken to her. I saw her only last evening."

"Nay," he said, compassionately, "this is some dream. She of whom you
speak is indeed no more."

"I saw her only last evening," I repeated.

"Where did you suppose you beheld her?"

"On the Lido."

"On the Lido?"

"And she spoke to me. I heard her voice--heard it as distinctly as I
hear my own at this moment."

The rabbi stroked his beard thoughtfully, and looked at me. "You think
you heard her voice!" he ejaculated. "That is strange. What said she?"

I was about to answer. I checked myself--a sudden thought flashed upon
me--I trembled from head to foot.

"Have you--have you any reason for supposing that she died a Christian?"
I faltered.

The old man started and changed colour.

"I--I--that is a strange question," he stammered. "Why do you ask it?"

"Yes or no?" I cried wildly. "Yes or no?"

He frowned, looked down, hesitated.

"I admit," he said, after a moment or two,--"I admit that I may have
heard something tending that way. It may be that the maiden cherished
some secret doubt. Yet she was no professed Christian."

"_Laid in earth without one Christian prayer; with Hebrew rites; in a
Hebrew sanctuary!_" I repeated to myself.

"But I marvel how you come to have heard of this," continued the rabbi.
"It was known only to her father and myself."

"Sir," I said solemnly, "I know now that Salome da Costa is dead; I have
seen her spirit thrice, haunting the spot where...."

My voice broke. I could not utter the words.

"Last evening at sunset," I resumed, "was the third time. Never doubting
that--that I indeed beheld her in the flesh, I spoke to her. She
answered me. She--she told me this."

The rabbi covered his face with his hands, and so remained for some
time, lost in meditation. "Young man," he said at length, "your story is
strange, and you bring strange evidence to bear upon it. It may be as
you say; it may be that you are the dupe of some waking dream--I know
not."

He knew not; but I.... Ah! I knew only too well. I knew now why she had
appeared to me clothed with such unearthly beauty. I understood now that
look of dumb entreaty in her eyes--that tone of strange remoteness in
her voice. The sweet soul could not rest amid the dust of its kinsfolk,
"unhousel'd, unanointed, unanealed," lacking even "one Christian prayer"
above its grave. And now--was it all over? Should I never see her more?

Never--ah! never. How I haunted the Lido at sunset for many a month,
till Spring had blossomed into Autumn, and Autumn had ripened into
Summer; how I wandered back to Venice year after year at the same
season, while yet any vestige of that wild hope remained alive; how my
heart has never throbbed, my pulse never leaped, for love of mortal
woman since that time--are details into which I need not enter here.
Enough that I watched and waited; but that her gracious spirit appeared
to me no more. I wait still, but I watch no longer. I know now that our
place of meeting will not be here.



IN THE CONFESSIONAL.


The things of which I write befell--let me see, some fifteen or eighteen
years ago. I was not young then; I am not old now. Perhaps I was about
thirty-two; but I do not know my age very exactly, and I cannot be
certain to a year or two one way or the other.

My manner of life at that time was desultory and unsettled. I had a
sorrow--no matter of what kind--and I took to rambling about Europe; not
certainly in the hope of forgetting it, for I had no wish to forget, but
because of the restlessness that made one place after another _triste_
and intolerable to me.

It was change of place, however, and not excitement, that I sought. I
kept almost entirely aloof from great cities, Spas, and beaten tracks,
and preferred for the most part to explore districts where travellers
and foreigners rarely penetrated.

Such a district at that time was the Upper Rhine. I was traversing it
that particular Summer for the first time, and on foot; and I had set
myself to trace the course of the river from its source in the great
Rhine glacier to its fall at Schaffhausen. Having done this, however, I
was unwilling to part company with the noble river; so I decided to
follow it yet a few miles farther--perhaps as far as Mayence, but at all
events as far as Basle.

And now began, if not the finest, certainly not the least charming part
of my journey. Here, it is true, were neither Alps, nor glaciers, nor
ruined castles perched on inaccessible crags; but my way lay through a
smiling country, studded with picturesque hamlets, and beside a bright
river, hurrying along over swirling rapids, and under the dark arches of
antique covered bridges, and between hillsides garlanded with vines.

It was towards the middle of a long day's walk among such scenes as
these that I came to Rheinfelden, a small place on the left bank of the
river, about fourteen miles above Basle.

As I came down the white road in the blinding sunshine, with the vines
on either hand, I saw the town lying low on the opposite bank of the
Rhine. It was an old walled town, enclosed on the land side and open to
the river, the houses going sheer down to the water's edge, with flights
of slimy steps worn smooth by the wash of the current, and over-hanging
eaves, and little built-out rooms with penthouse roofs, supported from
below by jutting piles black with age and tapestried with water-weeds.
The stunted towers of a couple of churches stood up from amid the brown
and tawny roofs within the walls.

Beyond the town, height above height, stretched a distance of wooded
hills. The old covered bridge, divided by a bit of rocky island in the
middle of the stream, led from bank to bank--from Germany to
Switzerland. The town was in Switzerland; I, looking towards it from the
road, stood on Baden territory; the river ran sparkling and foaming
between.

I crossed, and found the place all alive in anticipation of a Kermess,
or fair, that was to be held there the next day but one. The townsfolk
were all out in the streets or standing about their doors; and there
were carpenters hard at work knocking up rows of wooden stands and
stalls the whole length of the principal thoroughfare. Shop-signs in
open-work of wrought iron hung over the doors. A runlet of sparkling
water babbled down a stone channel in the middle of the street. At
almost every other house (to judge by the rows of tarnished watches
hanging in the dingy parlour windows), there lived a watchmaker; and
presently I came to a fountain--a regular Swiss fountain, spouting water
from four ornamental pipes, and surmounted by the usual armed knight in
old grey stone.

As I rambled on thus (looking for an inn, but seeing none), I suddenly
found that I had reached the end of the street, and with it the limit of
the town on this side. Before me rose a lofty, picturesque old
gate-tower, with a tiled roof and a little window over the archway; and
there was a peep of green grass and golden sunshine beyond. The town
walls (sixty or seventy feet in height, and curiously roofed with a sort
of projecting shed on the inner side) curved away to right and left,
unchanged since the Middle Ages. A rude wain, laden with clover and
drawn by mild-eyed, cream-coloured oxen, stood close by in the shade.

I passed out through the gloom of the archway into the sunny space
beyond. The moat outside the walls was bridged over and filled in--a
green ravine of grasses and wild-flowers. A stork had built its nest on
the roof of the gate-tower. The cicalas shrilled in the grass. The
shadows lay sleeping under the trees, and a family of cocks and hens
went plodding inquisitively to and fro among the cabbages in the
adjacent field. Just beyond the moat, with only this field between,
stood a little solitary church--a church with a wooden porch, and a
quaint, bright-red steeple, and a churchyard like a rose-garden, full of
colour and perfume, and scattered over with iron crosses wreathed with
immortelles.

The churchyard gate and the church door stood open. I went in. All was
clean, and simple, and very poor. The walls were whitewashed; the floor
was laid with red bricks; the roof raftered. A tiny confessional like a
sentry-box stood in one corner; the font was covered with a lid like a
wooden steeple; and over the altar, upon which stood a pair of battered
brass candlesticks and two vases of artificial flowers, hung a daub of
the Holy Family, in oils.

All here was so cool, so quiet, that I sat down for a few moments and
rested. Presently an old peasant woman trudged up the church-path with a
basket of vegetables on her head. Having set this down in the porch,
she came in, knelt before the altar, said her simple prayers, and went
her way.

Was it not time for me also to go my way? I looked at my watch. It was
past four o'clock, and I had not yet found a lodging for the night.

I got up, somewhat unwillingly; but, attracted by a tablet near the
altar, crossed over to look at it before leaving the church. It was a
very small slab, and bore a very brief German inscription to this
effect:--

    TO THE SACRED MEMORY
    OF
    THE REVEREND PÈRE CHESSEZ,

    For twenty years the beloved Pastor of this Parish.

    Died April 16th, 1825. Aged 44.

    HE LIVED A SAINT; HE DIED A MARTYR.

I read it over twice, wondering idly what story was wrapped up in the
concluding line. Then, prompted by a childish curiosity, I went up to
examine the confessional.

It was, as I have said, about the size of a sentry-box, and was painted
to imitate old dark oak. On the one side was a narrow door with a black
handle, on the other a little opening like a ticket-taker's window,
closed on the inside by a faded green curtain.

I know not what foolish fancy possessed me, but, almost without
considering what I was doing, I turned the handle and opened the door.
Opened it--peeped in--found the priest sitting in his place--started
back as if I had been shot--and stammered an unintelligible apology.

"I--I beg a thousand pardons," I exclaimed. "I had no idea--seeing the
church empty----"

He was sitting with averted face, and clasped hands lying idly in his
lap--a tall, gaunt man, dressed in a black soutane. When I paused, and
not till then, he slowly, very slowly, turned his head, and looked me in
the face.

The light inside the confessional was so dim that I could not see his
features very plainly. I only observed that his eyes were large, and
bright, and wild-looking, like the eyes of some fierce animal, and that
his face, with the reflection of the green curtain upon it, looked
lividly pale.

For a moment we remained thus, gazing at each other, as if fascinated.
Then, finding that he made no reply, but only stared at me with those
strange eyes, I stepped hastily back, shut the door without another
word, and hurried out of the church.

I was very much disturbed by this little incident; more disturbed, in
truth, than seemed reasonable, for my nerves for the moment were shaken.
Never, I told myself, never while I lived could I forget that fixed
attitude and stony face, or the glare of those terrible eyes. What was
the man's history? Of what secret despair, of what life-long remorse, of
what wild unsatisfied longings was he the victim? I felt I could not
rest till I had learned something of his past life.

Full of these thoughts, I went on quickly into the town, half running
across the field, and never looking back. Once past the gateway and
inside the walls, I breathed more freely. The wain was still standing in
the shade, but the oxen were gone now, and two men were busy forking out
the clover into a little yard close by. Having inquired of one of these
regarding an inn, and being directed to the Krone, "over against the
Frauenkirche," I made my way to the upper part of the town, and there,
at one corner of a forlorn, weed-grown market-place, I found my
hostelry.

The landlord, a sedate, bald man in spectacles, who, as I presently
discovered, was not only an innkeeper but a clock-maker, came out from
an inner room to receive me. His wife, a plump, pleasant body, took my
orders for dinner. His pretty daughter showed me to my room. It was a
large, low, whitewashed room, with two lattice windows overlooking the
market-place, two little beds, covered with puffy red eiderdowns at the
farther end, and an army of clocks and ornamental timepieces arranged
along every shelf, table, and chest of drawers in the room. Being left
here to my meditations, I sat down and counted these companions of my
solitude.

Taking little and big together, Dutch clocks, cuckoo clocks, _châlet_
clocks, skeleton clocks, and _pendules_ in ormolu, bronze, marble,
ebony, and alabaster cases, there were exactly thirty-two. Twenty-eight
were going merrily. As no two among them were of the same opinion as
regarded the time, and as several struck the quarters as well as the
hours, the consequence was that one or other gave tongue about every
five minutes. Now, for a light and nervous sleeper such as I was at that
time, here was a lively prospect for the night!

Going down-stairs presently with the hope of getting my landlady to
assign me a quieter room, I passed two eight-day clocks on the landing,
and a third at the foot of the stairs. The public room was equally
well-stocked. It literally bristled with clocks, one of which played a
spasmodic version of Gentle Zitella with variations every quarter of an
hour. Here I found a little table prepared by the open window, and a
dish of trout and a flask of country wine awaiting me. The pretty
daughter waited upon me; her mother bustled to and fro with the dishes;
the landlord stood by, and beamed upon me through his spectacles.

"The trout were caught this morning, about two miles from here," he
said, complacently.

"They are excellent," I replied, filling him out a glass of wine, and
helping myself to another. "Your health, Herr Wirth."

"Thanks, mein Herr--yours."

Just at this moment two clocks struck at opposite ends of the room--one
twelve, and the other seven. I ventured to suggest that mine host was
tolerably well reminded of the flight of time; whereupon he explained
that his work lay chiefly in the repairing and regulating line, and that
at that present moment he had no less than one hundred and eighteen
clocks of various sorts and sizes on the premises.

"Perhaps the Herr Engländer is a light sleeper," said his quick-witted
wife, detecting my dismay. "If so, we can get him a bedroom elsewhere.
Not, perhaps, in the town, for I know no place where he would be as
comfortable as with ourselves; but just outside the Friedrich's Thor,
not five minutes' walk from our door."

I accepted the offer gratefully.

"So long," I said, "as I ensure cleanliness and quiet, I do not care how
homely my lodgings may be."

"Ah, you'll have both, mein Herr, if you go where my wife is thinking
of," said the landlord. "It is at the house of our pastor--the Père
Chessez."

"The Père Chessez!" I exclaimed. "What, the pastor of the little church
out yonder?"

"The same, mein Herr."

"But--but surely the Père Chessez is dead! I saw a tablet to his memory
in the chancel."

"Nay, that was our pastor's elder brother," replied the landlord,
looking grave. "He has been gone these thirty years and more. His was a
tragical ending."

But I was thinking too much of the younger brother just then to feel any
curiosity about the elder; and I told myself that I would put up with
the companionship of any number of clocks, rather than sleep under the
same roof with that terrible face and those unearthly eyes.

"I saw your pastor just now in the church," I said, with apparent
indifference. "He is a singular-looking man."

"He is too good for this world," said the landlady.

"He is a saint upon earth!" added the pretty Fräulein.

"He is one of the best of men," said, more soberly, the husband and
father. "I only wish he was less of a saint. He fasts, and prays, and
works beyond his strength. A little more beef and a little less devotion
would be all the better for him."

"I should like to hear something more about the life of so good a man,"
said I, having by this time come to the end of my simple dinner. "Come,
Herr Wirth, let us have a bottle of your best, and then sit down and
tell me your pastor's history!"

The landlord sent his daughter for a bottle of the "green seal," and,
taking a chair, said:--

"Ach Himmel! mein Herr, there is no history to tell. The good father has
lived here all his life. He is one of us. His father, Johann Chessez,
was a native of Rheinfelden and kept this very inn. He was a wealthy
farmer and vine-grower. He had only those two sons--Nicholas, who took
to the church and became pastor of Feldkirche; and this one, Matthias,
who was intended to inherit the business; but who also entered religion
after the death of his elder brother, and is now pastor of the same
parish."

"But why did he 'enter religion?'" I asked. "Was he in any way to blame
for the accident (if it was an accident) that caused the death of his
elder brother?"

"Ah Heavens! no!" exclaimed the landlady, leaning on the back of her
husband's chair. "It was the shock--the shock that told so terribly upon
his poor nerves! He was but a lad at that time, and as sensitive as a
girl--but the Herr Engländer does not know the story. Go on, my
husband."

So the landlord, after a sip of the "green seal," continued:--

"At the time my wife alludes to, mein Herr, Johann Chessez was still
living. Nicholas, the elder son, was in holy orders and established in
the parish of Feldkirche, outside the walls; and Matthias, the younger,
was a lad of about fourteen years old, and lived with his father. He was
an amiable good boy--pious and thoughtful--fonder of his books than of
the business. The neighbour-folk used to say even then that Matthias was
cut out for a priest, like his elder brother. As for Nicholas, he was
neither more nor less than a saint. Well, mein Herr, at this time there
lived on the other side of Rheinfelden, about a mile beyond the Basel
Thor, a farmer named Caspar Rufenacht and his wife Margaret. Now Caspar
Rufenacht was a jealous, quarrelsome fellow; and the Frau Margaret was
pretty; and he led her a devil of a life. It was said that he used to
beat her when he had been drinking, and that sometimes, when he went to
fair or market, he would lock her up for the whole day in a room at the
top of the house. Well, this poor, ill-used Frau Margaret--"

"Tut, tut, my man," interrupted the landlady. "The Frau Margaret was a
light one!"

"Peace, wife! Shall we speak hard words of the dead? The Frau Margaret
was young and pretty, and a flirt; and she had a bad husband, who left
her too much alone."

The landlady pursed up her lips and shook her head, as the best of women
will do when the character of another woman is under discussion. The
innkeeper went on.

"Well, mein Herr, to cut a long story short, after having been jealous
first of one and then of another, Caspar Rufenacht became furious about
a certain German, a Badener named Schmidt, living on the opposite bank
of the Rhine. I remember the man quite well--a handsome, merry fellow,
and no saint; just the sort to make mischief between man and wife. Well,
Caspar Rufenacht swore a great oath that, cost what it might, he would
come at the truth about his wife and Schmidt; so he laid all manner of
plots to surprise them--waylaid the Frau Margaret in her walks; followed
her at a distance when she went to church; came home at unexpected
hours; and played the spy as if he had been brought up to the trade. But
his spying was all in vain. Either the Frau Margaret was too clever for
him, or there was really nothing to discover; but still he was not
satisfied. So he cast about for some way to attain his end, and, by the
help of the Evil One, he found it."

Here the innkeeper's wife and daughter, who had doubtless heard the
story a hundred times over, drew near and listened breathlessly.

"What, think you," continued the landlord, "does this black-souled
Caspar do? Does he punish the poor woman within an inch of her life,
till she confesses? No. Does he charge Schmidt with having tempted her
from her duty, and light it out with him like a man? No. What else then?
I will tell you. He waits till the vigil of St. Margaret--her saint's
day--when he knows the poor sinful soul is going to confession; and he
marches straight to the house of the Père Chessez--the very house where
our own Père Chessez is now living--and he finds the good priest at his
devotions in his little study, and he says to him:

"'Father Chessez, my wife is coming to the church this afternoon to make
her confession to you.'

"'She is,' replies the priest.

"'I want you to tell me all she tells you,' says Caspar; 'and I will
wait here till you come back from the church, that I may hear it. Will
you do so?'

"'Certainly not,' replies the Père Chessez. 'You must surely know,
Caspar, that we priests are forbidden to reveal the secrets of the
confessional.'

"'That is nothing to me,' says Caspar, with an oath. 'I am resolved to
know whether my wife is guilty or innocent; and know it I will, by fair
means or foul.'

"'You shall never know it from me, Caspar,' says the Père Chessez, very
quietly.

"'Then, by Heavens!' says Caspar, 'I'll learn it for myself.' And with
that he pulls out a heavy horse-pistol from his pocket, and with the
butt-end of it deals the Père Chessez a tremendous blow upon the head,
and then another, and another, till the poor young man lay senseless at
his feet. Then Caspar, thinking he had quite killed him, dressed himself
in the priest's own soutane and hat; locked the door; put the key in his
pocket; and stealing round the back way into the church, shut himself up
in the Confessional."

"Then the priest died!" I exclaimed, remembering the epitaph upon the
tablet.

"Ay, mein Herr--the Père Chessez died; but not before he had told the
story of his assassination, and identified his murderer."

"And Caspar Rufenacht, I hope, was hanged?"

"Wait a bit, mein Herr, we have not come to that yet. We left Caspar in
the confessional, waiting for his wife."

"And she came?"

"Yes, poor soul! she came."

"And made her confession?"

"And made her confession, mein Herr."

"What did she confess?"

The innkeeper shook his head.

"That no one ever knew, save the good God and her murderer."

"Her murderer!" I exclaimed.

"Ay, just that. Whatever it was that she confessed, she paid for it with
her life. He heard her out, at all events, without discovering himself,
and let her go home believing that she had received absolution for her
sins. Those who met her that afternoon said she seemed unusually bright
and happy. As she passed through the town, she went into the shop in the
Mongarten Strasse, and bought some ribbons. About half an hour later, my
own father met her outside the Basel Thor, walking briskly homewards. He
was the last who saw her alive.

"That evening (it was in October, and the days were short), some
travellers coming that way into the town heard shrill cries, as of a
woman screaming, in the direction of Caspar's farm. But the night was
very dark, and the house lay back a little way from the road; so they
told themselves it was only some drunken peasant quarrelling with his
wife, and passed on. Next morning Caspar Rufenacht came to Rheinfelden,
walked very quietly into the Polizei, and gave himself up to justice.

"'I have killed my wife,' said he. 'I have killed the Père Chessez. And
I have committed sacrilege.'

"And so, indeed, it was. As for the Frau Margaret, they found her body
in an upper chamber, well-nigh hacked to pieces, and the hatchet with
which the murder was committed lying beside her on the floor. He had
pursued her, apparently, from room to room; for there were pools of
blood and handfuls of long light hair, and marks of bloody hands along
the walls, all the way from the kitchen to the spot where she lay
dead."

"And so he was hanged?" said I, coming back to my original question.

"Yes, yes," replied the innkeeper and his womankind in chorus. "He was
hanged--of course he was hanged."

"And it was the shock of this double tragedy that drove the younger
Chessez into the church?"

"Just so, mein Herr."

"Well, he carries it in his face. He looks like a most unhappy man."

"Nay, he is not that, mein Herr!" exclaimed the landlady. "He is
melancholy, but not unhappy."

"Well, then, austere."

"Nor is he austere, except towards himself."

"True, wife," said the innkeeper; "but, as I said, he carries that sort
of thing too far. You understand, mein Herr," he added, touching his
forehead with his forefinger, "the good pastor has let his mind dwell
too much upon the past. He is nervous--too nervous, and too low."

I saw it all now. That terrible light in his eyes was the light of
insanity. That stony look in his face was the fixed, hopeless melancholy
of a mind diseased.

"Does he know that he is mad?" I asked, as the landlord rose to go.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked doubtful.

"I have not said that the Père Chessez is _mad_, mein Herr," he replied.
"He has strange fancies sometimes, and takes his fancies for facts--that
is all. But I am quite sure that he does not believe himself to be less
sane than his neighbours."

So the innkeeper left me, and I (my head full of the story I had just
heard) put on my hat, went out into the market-place, asked my way to
the Basel Thor, and set off to explore the scene of the Frau Margaret's
murder.

I found it without difficulty--a long, low-fronted, beetle-browed
farmhouse, lying back a meadow's length from the road. There were
children playing upon the threshold, a flock of turkeys gobbling about
the barn-door, and a big dog sleeping outside his kennel close by. The
chimneys, too, were smoking merrily. Seeing these signs of life and
cheerfulness, I abandoned all idea of asking to go over the house. I
felt that I had no right to carry my morbid curiosity into this peaceful
home; so I turned away, and retraced my steps towards Rheinfelden.

It was not yet seven, and the sun had still an hour's course to run. I
re-entered the town, strolled back through the street, and presently
came again to the Friedrich's Thor and the path leading to the church.
An irresistible impulse seemed to drag me back to the place.

Shudderingly, and with a sort of dread that was half longing, I pushed
open the churchyard gate and went in. The doors were closed; a goat was
browsing among the graves; and the rushing of the Rhine, some three
hundred yards away, was distinctly audible in the silence. I looked
round for the priest's house--the scene of the first murder; but from
this side, at all events, no house was visible. Going round, however, to
the back of the church, I saw a gate, a box-bordered path, and, peeping
through some trees, a chimney and the roof of a little brown-tiled
house.

This, then, was the path along which Caspar Rufenacht, with the priest's
blood upon his hands and the priest's gown upon his shoulders, had taken
his guilty way to the confessional! How quiet it all looked in the
golden evening light! How like the church-path of an English parsonage!

I wished I could have seen something more of the house than that bit of
roof and that one chimney. There must, I told myself, be some other
entrance--some way round by the road! Musing and lingering thus, I was
startled by a quiet voice close against my shoulder, saying:--

"A pleasant evening, mein Herr!"

I turned, and found the priest at my elbow. He had come noiselessly
across the grass, and was standing between me and the sunset, like a
shadow.

"I--I beg your pardon," I stammered, moving away from the gate. "I was
looking--"

I stopped in some surprise, and indeed with some sense of relief, for it
was not the same priest that I had seen in the morning. No two, indeed,
could well be more unlike, for this man was small, white-haired,
gentle-looking, with a soft, sad smile inexpressibly sweet and winning.

"You were looking at my arbutus?" he said.

I had scarcely observed the arbutus till now, but I bowed and said
something to the effect that it was an unusually fine tree.

"Yes," he replied; "but I have a rhododendron round at the front that is
still finer. Will you come in and see it?"

I said I should be pleased to do so. He led the way, and I followed.

"I hope you like this part of our Rhine-country?" he said, as we took
the path through the shrubbery.

"I like it so well," I replied, "that if I were to live anywhere on the
banks of the Rhine, I should certainly choose some spot on the Upper
Rhine between Schaffhausen and Basle."

"And you would be right," he said. "Nowhere is the river so beautiful.
Nearer the glaciers it is milky and turbid--beyond Basle it soon becomes
muddy. Here we have it blue as the sky--sparkling as champagne. Here is
my rhododendron. It stands twelve feet high, and measures as many in
diameter. I had more than two hundred blooms upon it last Spring."

When I had duly admired this giant shrub, he took me to a little arbour
on a bit of steep green bank overlooking the river, where he invited me
to sit down and rest. From hence I could see the porch and part of the
front of his little house; but it was all so closely planted round with
trees and shrubs that no clear view of it seemed obtainable in any
direction. Here we sat for some time chatting about the weather, the
approaching vintage, and so forth, and watching the sunset. Then I rose
to take my leave.

"I heard of you this evening at the Krone, mein Herr," he said. "You
were out, or I should have called upon you. I am glad that chance has
made us acquainted. Do you remain over to-morrow?"

"No; I must go on to-morrow to Basle," I answered. And then, hesitating
a little, I added:--"you heard of me, also, I fear, in the church."

"In the church?" he repeated.

"Seeing the door open, I went in--from curiosity--as a traveller; just
to look round for a moment and rest."

"Naturally."

"I--I had no idea, however, that I was not alone there. I would not for
the world have intruded--"

"I do not understand," he said, seeing me hesitate. "The church stands
open all day long. It is free to every one."

"Ah! I see he has not told you!"

The priest smiled but looked puzzled.

"He? Whom do you mean?"

"The other priest, mon père--your colleague. I regret to have broken in
upon his meditations; but I had been so long in the church, and it was
all so still and quiet, that it never occurred to me that there might be
some one in the confessional."

The priest looked at me in a strange, startled way.

"In the confessional!" he repeated, with a catching of his breath. "You
saw some one--in the confessional?"

"I am ashamed to say that, having thoughtlessly opened the door--"

"You saw--what did you see?"

"A priest, mon père."

"A priest! Can you describe him? Should you know him again? Was he pale,
and tall, and gaunt, with long black hair?"

"The same, undoubtedly."

"And his eyes--did you observe anything particular about his eyes?"

"Yes; they were large, wild-looking, dark eyes, with a look in them--a
look I cannot describe."

"A look of terror!" cried the pastor, now greatly agitated. "A look of
terror--of remorse--of despair!"

"Yes, it was a look that might mean all that," I replied, my
astonishment increasing at every word. "You seem troubled. Who is he?"

But instead of answering my question, the pastor took off his hat,
looked up with a radiant, awe-struck face, and said:--

"All-merciful God, I thank Thee! I thank Thee that I am not mad, and
that Thou hast sent this stranger to be my assurance and my comfort!"

Having said these words, he bowed his head, and his lips moved in silent
prayer. When he looked up again, his eyes were full of tears.

"My son," he said, laying his trembling hand upon my arm, "I owe you an
explanation; but I cannot give it to you now. It must wait till I can
speak more calmly--till to-morrow, when I must see you again. It
involves a terrible story--a story peculiarly painful to myself--enough
now if I tell you that I have seen the Thing you describe--seen It many
times; and yet, because It has been visible to my eyes alone, I have
doubted the evidence of my senses. The good people here believe that
much sorrow and meditation have touched my brain. I have half believed
it myself till now. But you--you have proved to me that I am the victim
of no illusion."

"But in Heaven's name," I exclaimed, "what do you suppose I saw in the
confessional?"

"You saw the likeness of one who, guilty also of a double murder,
committed the deadly sin of sacrilege in that very spot, more than
thirty years ago," replied the Père Chessez, solemnly.

"Caspar Rufenacht!"

"Ah! you have heard the story? Then I am spared the pain of telling it
to you. That is well."

I bent my head in silence. We walked together without another word to
the wicket, and thence round to the churchyard gate. It was now
twilight, and the first stars were out.

"Good-night, my son," said the pastor, giving me his hand. "Peace be
with you."

As he spoke the words his grasp tightened--his eyes dilated--his whole
countenance became rigid.

"Look!" he whispered. "Look where it goes!"

I followed the direction of his eyes, and there, with a freezing horror
which I have no words to describe, I saw--distinctly saw through the
deepening gloom--a tall, dark figure in a priest's soutane and
broad-brimmed hat, moving slowly across the path leading from the
parsonage to the church. For a moment it seemed to pause--then passed on
to the deeper shade, and disappeared.

"You saw it?" said the pastor.

"Yes--plainly."

He drew a deep breath; crossed himself devoutly; and leaned upon the
gate, as if exhausted.

"This is the third time I have seen it this year," he said. "Again I
thank God for the certainty that I see a visible thing, and that His
great gift of reason is mine unimpaired. But I would that He were
graciously pleased to release me from the sight--the horror of it is
sometimes more than I know how to bear. Good night."

With this he again touched my hand; and so, seeing that he wished to be
alone, I silently left him. At the Friedrich's Thor I turned and looked
back. He was still standing by the churchyard gate, just visible through
the gloom of the fast deepening twilight.

       *       *       *       *       *

I never saw the Père Chessez again. Save his own old servant, I was the
last who spoke with him in this world. He died that night--died in his
bed, where he was found next morning with his hands crossed upon his
breast, and with a placid smile upon his lips, as if he had fallen
asleep in the act of prayer.

As the news spread from house to house, the whole town rang with
lamentations. The church-bells tolled; the carpenters left their work in
the streets; the children, dismissed from school, went home weeping.

"'Twill be the saddest Kermess in Rheinfelden to-morrow, mein Herr!"
said my good host of the Krone, as I shook hands with him at parting.
"We have lost the best of pastors and of friends. He was a saint. If you
had come but one day later, you would not have seen him!"

And with this he brushed his sleeve across his eyes, and turned away.

Every shutter was up, every blind down, every door closed, as I passed
along the Friedrich's Strasse about mid-day on my way to Basle; and the
few townsfolk I met looked grave and downcast. Then I crossed the bridge
and, having shown my passport to the German sentry on the Baden side, I
took one long, last farewell look at the little walled town as it lay
sleeping in the sunshine by the river--knowing that I should see it no
more.



THE TRAGEDY IN THE PALAZZO BARDELLO.

[The scene of this story is laid in the Rome of fifteen years ago, when
the old Pontifical régime was yet in full force, and Victor Emanuel was
still King of Sardinia.]


CHAPTER I.

The sun had been up for the best part of an hour; the golden haze in the
East was slowly melting away; the sluggish tide of bullock trucks had
fairly set in along the Via Sacra; and a faint, universal stir of
awakening life was to be felt rather than heard in the pleasant morning
air, when a certain Englishman, Hugh Girdlestone by name, rose from his
lounging attitude against the parapet of the Tower of the Capitol, and
prepared to be gone. He had been standing there in the same spot, in the
same attitude, since the first grey of the dawn. He had seen the last
star fade from the sky. He had seen the shadowy Sabine peaks uplift
themselves one by one, and the Campagna emerge, like a troubled sea,
from the mystery of the twilight.

Rome with its multitudinous domes and bell-towers, its history, its
poetry, its fable, lay at his feet--yonder the Coliseum, brown, vast,
indistinct against the light, with the blue day piercing its topmost
arches; to the left the shapeless ruins of the Palace of the Cæsars; to
the right, faintly visible above the mist, the pyramid of Caius Cestius,
beside which, amid a wilderness of sweet wild violets, lie the ashes of
John Keats; nearer still, the sullen Tiber eddying over the fast
vanishing piers of the Pons Emilius; nearest of all, the Forum, with its
excavations, its columns, its triumphal arches, its scanty turf, its
stunted acacias, its indescribable air of repose and desolation; and
beyond and around all, the brown and broken Campagna, bounded on the one
hand by long chains of snow-streaked Apennines, and on the other by a
shining zone of sea. A marvellous panorama! Perhaps, taking it for all
in all, the most marvellous panorama that Europe has to show. Hugh
Girdlestone knew every feature of it by heart. He was familiar with
every crumbling tower and modern campanile, with every space of open
piazza, with every green enclosure, with the site of every famous ruin
and the outline of every famous hill. It was his favourite haunt--the
one pageant of which his eyes and his imagination were never weary. He
had seen the sun rise and set upon that scene many and many a time, both
now and in years past. He might, in all probability, stand in the same
spot and witness the same gorgeous spectacle to-morrow; and yet he
lingered there as fondly as if this visit were his first, and left as
reluctantly as if it were destined to be his last.

Slowly and thoughtfully he went his way, out through the spacious
courtyard, past the bronze horse and his imperial rider, down the great
steps, and along the Via Ara Coeli. Passing the church of the Jesuits,
he paused for a moment to listen to the chanting. As he did so, a
Campagna drover in a rough sheepskin jacket stopped his truck to kneel
for a moment on the lowest step and then trudge on again; and presently
an Albano woman lifted the ponderous leather curtain and came out,
bringing with her a momentary rush of rolling harmonies. The Englishman
listened and lingered, made as if he would go in, and then, with
something of a smile upon his lip, turned hastily away. Going straight
on, with his head a little thrown forward and his hat pulled somewhat
low upon his brow, he then pushed on at a swift, swinging stride,
proceeding direct to the post-office, and passing the Pantheon without
so much as a glance.

Manly, well-born, well-educated, gifted with a more than ordinary amount
of brains, and, perhaps, with a more than ordinary share of insular
stubbornness, Hugh Girdlestone was just one of those men whom it does
one good to meet in the streets of a continental city. He was an
Englishman through and through; and he was precisely that type of
Englishman who commands the respect, though seldom the liking, of
foreigners. He expressed and held to his opinions with a decision that
they disliked intensely. His voice had a ring of authority that grated
upon their ears. His very walk had in it something characteristic and
resolute that offended their prejudices. For his appearance, it was as
insular as his gait or his accent. He was tall, strongly made, somewhat
gaunt and swift-looking about the limbs, with a slight stoop in the
shoulders, and a trick of swinging his gloves in his right hand as he
went along. In complexion and feature he was not unlike the earlier
portraits of Charles II. The lines of his face were less harsh, and his
skin was less swarthy; but there was the same sarcastic play of lip, and
now and then a flash of the same restless fire in the eye.

Nor did the resemblance end here. It came out strongest of all in a mere
passing shadow of expression--that expression of saturnine foreboding
which Walpole aptly defined as the "fatality of air" common to the line
of the Stuarts. The look was one which came to his face but rarely--so
rarely that many of his intimate acquaintances had never seen it there;
but it started to the surface sometimes, like a hidden writing, and
sometimes settled like a darkness on his brow.

The main facts of his story up to the morning of this day--this 13th day
of February, 1857--may be told in a few lines.

He was the son of a wealthy Derbyshire squire, had taken honours at
Cambridge, and had been called to the bar some four or five years back.
As yet he could scarcely be said to have entered actively upon his
professional life. He had written an able treatise on the law of
International Copyright, and edited an important digest of Chancery
practice. He had also been for years in the habit of contributing to the
best periodical literature of the day. Within the last four months,
after a prolonged opposition on the part of her nearest relatives, he
had happily married a young lady of ancient Roman Catholic family and
moderate fortune, to whom he had been attached from boyhood. They were
spending a long honeymoon in Rome, and were perfectly happy as a pair of
lovers in a fairy tale. When it is added that she was just twenty-two
and he thirty-four years of age, the outline of their little history is
made out with sufficient clearness for all the purposes of this
narrative.

Pushing on, then, at his eager pace, Hugh Girdlestone came presently to
the post-office and inquired for his letters. There was but one--a
square, blue-looking, ill-favoured sort of document, sealed with a big
office seal and addressed in a trim business hand. He had to show his
passport before the clerk would trust it beyond the bars of the little
cage in which he sat, and then it was overweight, and he was called upon
to pay forty-six bajocchi for extra postage. This done--and it seemed to
him that the clerk was wilfully and maliciously slow about it--Hugh
Girdlestone crushed the letter into an inner breast-pocket, and turned
away. At the door he hesitated, looked at his watch, crossed over,
withdrew into the shade of a neighbouring _porte-cochère_, took his
letter out again, and tore it open.

It contained two enclosures; the one a note from his publishers, the
other a letter of credit upon a great Roman banking-house. He drew a
deep breath of satisfaction. He had been expecting this remittance for
several days past, not altogether with anxiety, for he was in no
immediate need of money, but with some degree of impatience; for the
fate of more than one project was involved in the sum which this letter
of credit might chance to represent. The extension of their tour as far
as Naples, the purchase of certain bronzes and cameos, and the date of
their return to England, were all dependent upon it. It was no wonder,
then, that Hugh Girdlestone's brow cleared at sight of the amount for
which he found himself entitled to draw upon the princely establishment
in the Piazza Venezia. It exceeded his expectations by nearly one-half,
and made him a rich man for the next three months.

Having read the letter and folded the enclosure carefully away in his
pocket-book, he then struck off in a north-easterly direction towards
some of those narrow thoroughfares that lie between the Tiber, the
Corso, and the Piazza di Spagna.

The streets were now beginning to be alive with passengers. The
shop-keepers were busy arranging their windows; the vetturini were
ranging themselves in their accustomed ranks; the beggars were lazily
setting about their professional avocations for the day; and the French
regiments were turning out, as usual, for morning parade on the Pincio.
Here and there a long-haired student might be seen with his colour-box
under his arm, trudging away to his work of reproduction in some
neighbouring gallery; or a Guarda Nobile, _cigarette en bouche_, riding
leisurely towards the Vatican. Here and there, too, on the steps of the
churches and at the corners of the streets, were gathered little knots
of priests and mendicant friars, deep in pious gossip, and redolent
less of sanctity than of garlic.

But to Hugh Girdlestone these sights and sounds were all too familiar to
claim even passing attention. He went on his way, preoccupied and
unobservant, with a face of happy thoughtfulness and a head full of
joyous hopes and projects. Life had, perhaps, never seemed so bright for
him as at that moment. The happy present was his own, and the future
with all its possible rewards and blessings lay, as it were, unfolded
before him. It was not often that he was visited by a holiday mood such
as this; and, English as he was, he could scarcely forbear smiling to
himself as he went along. Coming presently, however, into a long
picturesque street lined with shops on both sides from end to end, he
slackened his pace, shook off his reverie, and began loitering before
the windows with the air of a purchaser.

Pausing now at a cameo-cutters, now at a mosaicist's, now at a
jeweller's, hesitating between the bronze medals in this window and the
antique gems in that, he came presently to one of those shops for the
sale of devotional articles, one or more of which are to be found in
almost every street of Rome. Here were exquisitely carved rosaries in
cedar and coral and precious stones, votive offerings in silver and wax,
consecrated palms, coloured prints of saints and martyrs in emblematic
frames, missals, crosses, holy water vessels, and wreaths of
immortelles. Here also, occupying the centre of the window and relieved
against a stand of crimson cloth, stood an ivory crucifixion designed
after the famous Vandyck at Antwerp, and measuring about ten inches in
height. It was a little gem in its way--a tiny masterpiece of rare and
delicate workmanship.

Hugh Girdlestone had seen and admired it many a time before, but never
till now with any thought of purchase. To-day, however, the aspect of
affairs was changed. His letter of credit troubled his peace of mind and
oppressed him with an uneasy sense of wealth. He longed to buy something
for his little bride at home, and he knew that he could find nothing in
all Rome which she would prefer to this. She would appreciate it as a
piece of art, and prize it as a most precious adjunct to her devotions.
She would love it, too, for his dear sake, and her eyes would rest upon
it when she prayed for him in her orisons. Dear, pious, tender little
heart! it should be hers, cost what it might. He would take it home to
her this very morning. What pleasure to see the glad wonder in her eyes!
What pleasure to give her back smile for smile, and kiss for kiss, when
she should fly into his arms to thank him for the gift!

So Hugh Girdlestone went in and bought it, reckless of the breach it
made in his purse, and caring for nothing but the delight of gratifying
what he so dearly loved.

That he, an ultra-liberal thinker in all matters religious and
political, should select such a gift for his wife, was just one of those
characteristic traits that essentially marked the man. Setting but
slight value on all forms of creeds, and ranking that of the Romanist
at a lower level than most, he could yet feel a sort of indulgent
admiration for the graceful side of Roman Catholic worship. The flowers,
the music, the sculpture, the paintings, the perfumes, the gorgeous
costumes, gratified his sense of beauty; and, regarding these things
from a purely æsthetic point of view, he was willing to admit that it
was a pretty, poetical sort of religion enough--for a woman.

Carrying the ivory carving carefully packed in a little oblong box under
his arm, Hugh Girdlestone then hastened homewards with his purchase. It
was now ten o'clock, and all Rome was as full of stir and life as at
mid-day. His way lay through the Piazza di Spagna, up the great steps,
and on through the Via Sistina, to a certain by-street near the Quattro
Fontane, where he and his little wife occupied an upper floor in a small
palazzo situated upon one of the loftiest and healthiest points of the
Quirinal Hill. As he neared the spot, a sense of pleasurable excitement
came upon him. He smiled, unconsciously to himself, and, scarcely
knowing that he did so, quickened his pace at every step. To the
accustomed beggar at the corner he flung a double dole in the joyousness
of his heart; to a lean dog prowling round the _cortile_, a biscuit that
chanced to be in his pocket. Happiness disposes some people to
benevolence, and Hugh Girdlestone was one of that number.

Up he went--up the broad stone staircase which served as a general
thoroughfare to the dwellers in the Palazzo Bardello; past the first
landing, with its English footman, insolently discontent, lolling
against the half-opened door; past the second landing, fragrant with
flowers, the temporary home of a wealthy American family; past the
third, where, in an atmosphere of stormy solfeggi, lived an Italian
tenor and his wife; and on, two steps at a time, to the fourth, where
all that he loved best in life awaited his coming! There he paused. His
own visiting card was nailed upon the door, and under his name, in a
delicate female hand, was written that of his wife. Happy Hugh
Girdlestone! There was not a lighter heart in Rome at that moment when,
having delayed an instant to take breath before going in, he pulled out
his latch-key, opened the gates of his paradise, and passed into the
shady little vestibule beyond.

At the door of the salon he was met by Margherita, their Roman
servant--a glorious creature who looked as if she might have been the
mother of the Gracchi, but who was married, instead, to an honest
water-carrier down by the Ripetta, and was thankful to go out to service
for some months every year.

"Hush!" she whispered, with her finger on her lip. "She sleeps still."

The breakfast lay on the table, untouched and ready; the morning
sunshine flamed in at the windows; the flowers on the balcony filled the
air of the room with a voluptuous perfume. It was a day of days--a day
when to be still in bed seemed almost like a sacrilege--a day when,
above all others, one should be up, and doing, and revelling in the
spring-time of the glad new year.

Hugh Girdlestone could scarcely believe that Margherita was in earnest.

"Sleeps!" he repeated. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that the Signora has not yet rung her bell."

"But is she still in bed?"

"Still in bed, Signore, and sleeping soundly. I stole in about
half-an-hour ago, and she never heard me. I would not wake her. Sleep is
a blessed thing--the good God sends it."

The Englishman laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"One may have too much, even of a blessing, my good Margherita," he
said. "_I_ shall wake her, at all events, and she will thank me for
doing so. See--I have something here worth the opening of one's eyes to
look upon!"

Margherita clasped her hands in an ecstasy of devotional admiration.

"_Cielo!_" she exclaimed. "How beautiful!"

He placed the carving on a stand of red cloth, and then, going over to
the balcony, gathered a handful of orange blossoms and crimson azalias.

"We must decorate our altar with flowers, Margherita," he said, smiling.
"Fetch me those two white vases from the chimney-piece in the anteroom."

The vases were brought, and he arranged his bouquets as tenderly and
gracefully as a woman might have arranged them. This done, he stole to
the bedroom door, opened it noiselessly, and peeped in.

All within was wrapt in a delicious, dreamy dusk. The jalousies were
closed and the inner blinds drawn down; but one window stood a few
inches open, admitting a soft breath of morning air, and now and then a
faint echo from the world beyond. He advanced very cautiously. He held
his breath--he stole on a step at a time--he would not have roused her
for the world till all was ready. At the dressing-table he paused and
looked round. He could just see the dim outline of her form in the bed.
He could just see how one little hand rested on the coverlet, and how
her hair lay like a lustrous cloud upon the pillow. Very carefully he
then removed her dressing-case and desk from a tiny table close by,
carried it to the side of the bed, and placed it where her eyes must
first meet it on waking. He next crept back to the salon for the ivory
carving; then for the flowers; and then arranged them on the table like
the decorations of a miniature shrine.

And all this time she neither woke nor stirred.

At last, his pretty little preparations being all complete, the young
husband, careful even now not to startle her too rudely, gently unclosed
the jalousies, drew aside the blinds, and filled the room with sunshine.

"Ethel," he said. "Ethel, do you know how late it is?"

But Ethel still slept on.

He moved a step nearer. Her face was turned to the pillow; but he could
see the rounded outline of her cheek, and it struck him that she looked
strangely pale. His heart gave a great throb; his breath came short; a
nameless terror--a terror of he knew not what--fell suddenly upon him.

"Ethel!" he repeated. "My darling--my darling!"

He sprang to the bedside--he hung over her--he touched her hand, her
cheek, her neck--then uttered one wild, despairing cry, and staggered
back against the wall.

She was dead.

Not fainting. No; not even in the first horror of that moment did he
deceive himself with so vain a hope. She was dead, and he knew that she
was dead. He knew it with as full and fixed a sense of conviction as if
he had been prepared for it by months of anxiety. He did not ask himself
why it was so. He did not ask himself by what swift and cruel
disease--by what mysterious accident, this dread thing had come to pass.
He only knew that she was dead; and that all the joy, the hope, the
glory of life was gone from him for ever.

A long time, or what seemed like a long time, went by thus; he leaning
up against the wall, voiceless, tearless, paralysed, unable to think, or
move, or do anything but stare in a blank, lost way at the bed on which
lay the wreck of his happiness.

By-and-by--it might have been half an hour or an hour later--he became
dimly conscious of a sound of lamentation; of the presence of many
persons in the room; of being led away like a child, and placed in a
chair beside an open window; and of Margherita kneeling at his feet and
covering his hands with tears. Then, as one who has been stunned by some
murderous blow, he recovered by degrees from his stupor.

"Salimbeni," he said, hoarsely.

It was the first word he had spoken.

"We have sent for him, Signore," sobbed Margherita. "But--but--"

He lifted his hand, and turned his face aside.

"Hush!" he replied. "I know it."

Signor Salimbeni was a famous Florentine surgeon who lived close by in
the Piazza Barberini, and with whom Hugh Girdlestone had been on terms
of intimacy for the last four or five months. Almost as his name was
being uttered, he arrived;--a tall, dark, bright-eyed man of about forty
years of age, with something of a military bearing. His first step was
to clear the place of intruders--of the English family from the first
floor, of the Americans from the second, of the Italian tenor and his
wife, and of the servants who had crowded up _en masse_ from every part
of the house. He expelled them all, civilly but firmly; locked the door
behind the last; and went alone into the chamber of death. Hugh
Girdlestone followed him, dull-eyed, tongue-tied, bewildered, like a man
half roused from sleep.

The surgeon bent silently over the corpse; turned the poor white face to
the light; held a mirror to the lips; touched the passive hand; lifted
first one eyelid, then the other; and felt for the last lingering spark
of vital heat on the crown of the head. Then he shook his head.

"It is quite hopeless, my friend," he said gently. "Life has been
extinct for some two hours or more."

"But the cause?"

Signor Salimbeni slightly shrugged his shoulders.

"Impossible to tell," he replied, "without a proper examination."

The widower buried his face in his hands and groaned aloud.

"Whether the seat of this mischief be in the brain," continued Signor
Salimbeni, "or whether, as I am more inclined to suspect, it should be
sought in the heart...."

He broke off abruptly--so abruptly, and with such a change of voice,
that Hugh Girdlestone was startled from his apathy. He looked up, and
saw the surgeon staring down with a face of ashy horror at the corpse
upon the bed.

"_Dio!_" he faltered. "What is this?"

He had laid back the collar of the nightdress and bared the beautiful
white bosom beneath; and there, just above the region of the heart, like
a mere speck upon a surface of pure marble, was visible a tiny
puncture--a spot so small, so insignificant, that but for a pale violet
discoloration spreading round it like a halo, it would perhaps have
escaped observation altogether.

"What is this?" he repeated. "What does it mean?"

Hugh Girdlestone answered never a word, but stood in stony silence with
his eyes fixed on the fatal spot. Then he stooped, looked into it more
narrowly, shuddered, rose once again to his full height, and less with
his breath than by the motion of his lips, shaped out the one word:--

"_Murdered._"


CHAPTER II.

It was the most mysterious crime that had been committed in Rome since
the famous murder in the Coliseum about seven years before. The whole
city rang with it. Even the wretched little local newspapers, the
_Giornale di Roma_, the _Diario Romano_, and the _Vero Amico del
Popolo_, made space, amid the more pressing claims of Church festivals,
provincial miracles, and the reporting of homilies, to detail some few
scanty particulars of the "_tragedia deplorabile_" in the Palazzo
Bardello. Each, too, hinted its own solution to the enigma. The _Diario_
inclined to the suicidal point of view; the _Giornale_, more politically
wise than its contemporaries, pointed a significant finger towards
Sardinia; the _Vero Amico_, under cover of a cloud of fine phrases,
insinuated a suspicion of Hugh Girdlestone himself. At every
table-d'hôte and every artist's club, at the public reading rooms, in
the studios, in the cafés, and at every evening party throughout Rome,
it was the universal topic.

In the meanwhile such feeble efforts as it is in the nature of a
Pontifical Government to make were put forward for the discovery of the
murderer. A post-mortem examination was appointed; official
consultations were held; official depositions were drawn up; pompous
gendarmes clanked perpetually up and down the staircase and courtyard
of the Palazzo Bardello; and every one about the place who could
possibly be supposed to have anything to say upon the subject was
summoned to give evidence. But in vain. Days went by, weeks went by, and
the mystery remained impenetrable as ever. Passing shadows of suspicion
fell here and there--on Margherita, on a Corsican courier in the service
of the American family, on Hugh Girdlestone; but they rested scarcely at
all, and vanished away as a breath from a surface of polished steel.

In the meanwhile, Ethel Girdlestone was laid to rest in a quiet little
Roman Catholic cemetery beyond the walls--a lonely, picturesque spot,
overlooking the valley of the Tiber and the mountains about Fidenæ. A
plain marble cross and a wreath of immortelles marked the place of her
grave. For a week or two the freshly-turned mould looked drear and
desolate under the Spring sunshine; but the grass soon sprang up again,
and the wild crocuses struck root and blossomed over it; and by that
time Rome had found some fresh subject for gossip, and the fate of Ethel
Girdlestone was well nigh forgotten.

There was one, however, who forgot nothing--who, the first torpor of
despair once past, lived only to remember and avenge. He offered an
enormous reward for the apprehension of the unknown murderer. He papered
Rome with placards. He gave himself up, body and brain, to the task of
discovery, and felt that for this, and this only, he could continue to
bear the burden of life. As the chances of success seemed to grow daily
more and more uncertain, his purpose but became the more assured. He
would have justice; meaning by justice, blood for blood, a life for a
life. And this at all costs, at all risks, at all sacrifices. He took a
solemn oath to devote, if need be, all the best years of his life, all
the vigour of his mind, all the strength of his manhood, to this one
desperate end. For it he was ready to endure any privation, or to incur
any personal danger. For it, could his purpose have been thereby
assured, he would have gladly died at any hour of the day or night. As
it was, he trained himself to the work with a patience that was never
wearied.

He studied to acquire the dialects, and to familiarise himself with the
habits, of the lowest quarters of Rome. He frequented the small
wine-shops of the Trastevere and the Rione St. Angelo. He mastered the
intricacies of the Ghetto. He haunted the street fountains, the
puppet-shows, and the quays of Ripa Grande. Wherever, in short, the
Roman people were to be found _in fra di loro_, whether gossiping,
gaming, quarrelling, or holiday-making, there Hugh Girdlestone made his
way, mingled with them, listened, observed, and waited like a trapper
for his prey. It was a task of untold peril and difficulty, made all the
more perilous and difficult by the fact of his being a foreigner. Fluent
Italian as he was, it was still not possible that he should perfectly
master all the slang of the Rione, play at morra and zecchinetta as one
to the manner born, or be at all times equal to the part which he had
undertaken. He was liable at any moment to betray himself, and to be
poniarded for a spy. He knew each time he ventured into certain quarters
of the city that his body might be floating down towards Ostia before
daybreak, or that he might quite probably disappear from that moment,
and never be seen or heard of more. Yet, strong in his purpose and
reckless of his life, he went, and came, and went again, penetrating
into haunts where the police dared not set foot, and assuming in these
excursions the dress and dialect of a Roman "rough" of the lowest order.

Thus disguised, and armed with a deadly patience that knew neither
weariness nor discouragement, Hugh Girdlestone pursued his quest. How,
despite every precaution, he contrived to escape detection was matter
for daily wonder, even to himself. He owed his safety, however, in great
measure to a sullen manner and a silent tongue--perhaps in some degree
to his southern complexion; to his black beard and swarthy skin, and the
lowering fire in his eyes.

Thus the Spring passed away, the Summer heats came on, and the wealthier
quarters of Rome were, as usual, emptied of their inhabitants. The
foreign visitors went first; then the Italian nobility; and then all
those among the professional and commercial classes who could afford the
healthful luxury of villeggiatura. Meanwhile, Hugh Girdlestone was the
only remaining lodger in the Palazzo Bardello. Day by day he lingered on
in the deserted city, wandering through the burning streets and piazzas,
and down by the river-side, where the very air was heavy with malaria.

Night after night he perilled life and limb in the wine-shops of the
Trastevere; and still in vain. Still the murderer remained undiscovered
and the murdered unavenged; still no clue, nor vestige of a clue, turned
up. The police, having grown more and more languid in the work of
investigation, ceased, at last, from further efforts. The placards
became defaced, or were pasted over with fresh ones. By-and-by the whole
story faded from people's memories; and save by one who, sleeping or
waking, knew no other thought, the famous "_tragedia deplorabile_" was
quite forgotten.

Thus the glowing Summer and sultry Autumn dragged slowly by. The popular
festivals on Monte Testaccio were celebrated and over; the harvest was
gathered in; the virulence of the malaria abated; the artists flocked
back to their studios, the middleclass Romans to their homes, the nobles
to their palaces. Then the Pope returned from Castel Gondolfo, and the
annual tide of English and American visitors set in. By the first Sunday
in Advent, Rome was already tolerably well filled; and on the evening of
that same Sunday an event took place which threw the whole city into
confusion, and caused a clamour of dismay even louder than that which
followed the murder of Ethel Girdlestone ten months before.


CHAPTER III.

A knot of loungers stood, talking eagerly, round the stove in Piale's
reading-room. It was on the Monday morning following the first Sunday in
Advent, and still quite early. None were reading, or attempting to read.
The newspapers lay unopened on the tables. Even the last _Times_
contained nothing so exciting as the topic then under discussion.

"It is to be hoped and expected that the Government will bestir itself
in earnest this time," said a bald-headed Englishman, standing with his
back to the stove.

"Hope is one thing, my dear sir, and expectation is another," replied
his nearest neighbour. "When you have lived in Rome as long as myself,
you will cease to expect anything but indifference from the bureaucracy
of the Papal States."

"But a crime of this enormity..."

"Is more easily hushed up than investigated, especially when the
sufferers are in a humble station of life, and cannot offer a large
reward to the police."

"Mr. Somerville puts the question quite fairly," observed another
gentleman. "There is nothing like public spirit to be found throughout
the length and breadth of His Holiness's dominions."

"Nor justice either, it would seem, unless one can pay for it
handsomely," added another.

"Nay, your long purse is not always your short cut to justice, even in
Rome," said Mr. Somerville. "There was that case of the young bride who
was murdered last Winter in the Palazzo Bardello. Her husband offered an
immense reward--a thousand guineas English, I believe--and yet the
mystery was never cleared up."

"Ay, that Palazzo Bardello murder was a tragic affair," said the
bald-headed Englishman; "more tragic, on the whole, than ..."

A sudden change of expression swept over his face, and he broke off in
the midst of his sentence.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I feel as if I were on the brink of a
discovery."

"Plunge away, then, my dear fellow," laughed Somerville. "What is it?"

"Well, then--what if both these murders had been committed by the same
hand?"

"Most unlikely, I should think," said one.

"Altogether improbable," added another.

"Do you opine that Othello smothered the princes in the Tower?" asked a
third.

"Listen to my premises before you laugh at my conclusions," said he of
the bald head, obviously nettled by the general incredulity. "Look at
the details: they are almost identical. In each case the victim is
stabbed to the heart; in each case the wound is almost imperceptibly
small. There is no effusion of blood; no robbery is committed; and no
trace of the assassin remains. I'd stake my head upon it that these are
not purely accidental coincidences!"

"I beg your pardon," said a gentleman, who till now had been standing by
a window at the further end of the room with his back to the speakers;
"but will you have the goodness to inform me in what part of Rome
this--this murder has been committed?"

"Down, I believe, in one of the narrow lanes near the theatre of
Marcellus."

"And the victim is a Roman subject?"

"The child of Roman parents."

"A child!"

"A child, sir; a little fellow of only eleven years of age, and the son
of a baker named Tommaseo."

The stranger took out his note-book.

"Near the theatre of Marcellus," he said, scribbling a rapid entry.

"Just so--a most shocking and mysterious affair!"

"And the name, Tommaseo. Many thanks. Good morning."

With this he lifted his hat, strode from the room, and vanished without
another word.

"Humph! an abrupt sort of fellow," said the first speaker. "I wonder who
he is?"

"He looks horribly ill," said another.

"I've met him before," mused Somerville. "I remember the face quite
well, but the name has altogether escaped my memory. Good heavens! it
is Mr. Girdlestone--the husband of that very lady who was murdered in
the Palazzo Bardello!"

In the meanwhile Hugh Girdlestone was swinging along at his tremendous
pace towards that quarter where the murder had been perpetrated. He
found the house without difficulty, at the end of a narrow Vicolo about
half-way between the Portico of Octavia and the Theatre of Marcellus.
There was a crowd before the door, and a dismounted dragoon pacing up
and down with his sabre under his arm. Over the shop window was
suspended a board, on which were inscribed, in faded red letters, the
words "ANTICO FORNO;" and at this window, where still lay unsold some
three or four stale rolls of Saturday's baking, an old woman every now
and then made her appearance, and addressed wild lamentations to the
bystanders.

"Alas! alas!" she cried, tossing her arms aloft like a withered
Cassandra. "He was the light of our eyes! He was our darling, our
sunshine, our pride! He was as good as an angel. He never told a lie in
his life. Everybody loved him! At this hour yesterday his laugh made
music in the house, and our hearts leaped for joy to hear it. We shall
never hear that voice again--never, never more, till we hear it in
heaven! He is dead! He is dead, and the blessed Virgin has him in her
care. But his murderer lives. Oh _Dio_, hear it! Hear it, O blessed
mother of God! Hear it, thou blessed Saint Stefano! Overtake him with
your vengeance! Let his tongue wither, and his eyes melt away in blood!
Let his hands and feet rot upon his body! Let his flesh drop piece-meal
from his bones! Let him die unconfessed and unabsolved, and give him
over to the everlasting fire!"

"No stranger is allowed to pass, Signore," said the dragoon, interposing
his person between the Englishman and the door.

But Hugh Girdlestone had only to open his pocket-book and show a certain
slip of paper signed by the chief of the police. It was at magical
document, and admitted him to all kinds of forbidden places.

He went in. In the outer room, or shop, he found some eight or ten
persons assembled, apparently relatives and friends of the family; in a
darkened room beyond, the body of a young child was laid out upon a
narrow pallet strewn with immortelles and set round with lighted
candles. The father, a sickly-looking man, with eyes red and swollen
from weeping, was sitting upon a low stool, in a farther corner of the
room, his elbows resting on his knees, and his chin upon his hands,
smoking drearily. The mother lay crouched on the floor beside the bed,
in a stupor of misery.

Hugh Girdlestone apologised for his intrusion with a word or two of
explanation and sympathy. The woman never stirred. The man took his pipe
from his mouth, rose respectfully, and replied to such questions as his
visitor thought fit to put to him.

The child's name, he said, was Stefano--Stefanino, they used to call
him. He was their only child, and would have been eleven years of age in
the course of a few more days. He was a particularly good boy, and as
clever as he was good. He was a great favourite with the Padre
Lorenzo--the famous Padre Lorenzo of whom the Signore had doubtless
heard. This Padre Lorenzo had taken an especial affection for the little
Stefanino, and had himself prepared the boy for his first communion. And
he took it only yesterday morning--took it at the church of Il Gesù,
from the hands of Monsignore di Montalto. It was a long ceremony. There
were six hundred children present, and their Stefanino was among the
last who went up. When it was over they came home and dined, and after
dinner they went for a walk on the Monte Pincio. Coming back they hired
a vettura, for the child was very tired; and as soon as they reached
home his mother gave him a cup of soup and a piece of bread, and put him
to bed. This was about half-past six o'clock.

A little later in the evening--perhaps about a quarter past seven--he
and his wife and his wife's mother went over to see a neighbour in the
Via Fiumara close by. They left the child asleep. They had often left
him so before, especially on Sunday evenings, and no harm had come of
it. The wife of the shoemaker who occupied the first floor had promised
to listen if he should wake or call for anything; and she was a good
soul, and had children of her own. _Ebbene_, they stayed out somewhat
late--later than usual, for the neighbour in the Via Fiumara had her
married daughter spending the evening with her, and they stayed
gossiping till past ten o'clock. Then they came home. The Shoemaker and
his family were gone to bed; but the house-door was left, as usual, on
the latch, and the matches and candle were in their accustomed corner in
the passage. So they lit the candle, and fastened the door, and stole in
very softly; for little Stefanino was a light sleeper, and apt to lie
awake for hours if accidentally roused.

However, this time, although the grandmother stumbled over the
_scaldino_ on first going into the room, he never turned or stirred. He
slept in a little crib beside their own bed, and after a few minutes
they went to look at him. He was very pale; but then he had gone through
a day of great fatigue and excitement, and was unusually tired. They
never dreamed, at first sight, that all was not well with him. It was
his mother who discovered it. She first saw that no breath parted his
dear lips--she first touched his cheek, and found it cold!

When he reached this point in his narrative, the poor baker fairly broke
down, and covered his face with his hands.

"_Eccolo_, Signore," he sobbed. "He was our only little one!"

"He is with God," said Hugh Girdlestone.

He could think of nothing else to say. He was not a religious man. He
was, on the contrary, a worldly, a careless, perhaps even a somewhat
hard man; and he had no words of ready comfort and sympathy at command.
But he was moved, and his emotion showed itself in his voice.

"Alas! God did not want him so much as we wanted him," was the naïve
reply.

The mother, who till now had lain huddled on the floor, apparently
unconscious of all that was going forward, here suddenly lifted up her
head.

"The good God and our Blessed Lady had him always," she said, hoarsely.
"He was in their hands from the hour when I brought him into the world,
and he is not more theirs in heaven than he was theirs on earth. But
they did not call him from us. It is not God but man who has bereaved
us, and left us desolate. Behold!"

And with this she rose to her feet, turned down the sheet, and uncovered
the wound--just such a tiny puncture, with just such a ghastly halo
spreading round it, as Hugh Girdlestone had awful cause to remember.

He could not bear to look upon it. He shuddered and turned his face
aside.

"Is there--is there anyone whom you suspect?" he faltered.

"No one."

"Have you an enemy?"

The baker shook his head.

"I think not," he replied. "I am at peace with all my neighbours."

"Was no one seen to enter the house in your absence?"

"No one, Signore."

"Did the shoemaker's wife hear no sound?"

"None whatever."

"And you have been robbed of nothing?"

"Not to the value of a _quattrino_."

The Englishman's heart sank within him. He felt profoundly discouraged.
The double mystery seemed doubly impenetrable, and his double task
doubly hopeless. He turned again to the little bed, and took one long,
last look at the waxen figure with its folded hands and funeral
chaplets.

"What is this?" he asked, pointing to a white silk scarf fringed with
gold which lay folded across the feet of the corpse.

The mother snatched it up, and covered it with passionate kisses.

"It is the scarf he wore yesterday when he went up to take his first
communion," she replied. "The Padre Lorenzo gave it to him. Alas! alas!
how beautiful he looked, dressed in all his best, with new buckles in
his shoes and this scarf tied over one shoulder! The little angels
painted over the altar did not look more beautiful!"

"The Padre Lorenzo!" repeated Hugh Girdlestone. "He taught the child,
you say, and loved him. Does he know this?"

"Yes, he knows it."

It was the man who replied. The woman had sunk down again upon the
floor, and hidden her face.

"Has he been to see you since?"

"He sent a priest this morning to pray for the repose of our little
one's soul."

"Humph!"

Tommaseo's quick Italian ear detected the shade of disapproval in his
visitor's voice.

"The Padre Lorenzo is a saint," he said, eagerly. "All Rome flocks to
hear him preach."

"Where is he to be found, _amico_?"

"At the convent of the Gesuiti close by."

"So!--a Jesuit?"

"A Jesuit, Signore; so eloquent, so learned, so holy, and yet so
young--so young! A holier man does not live. Though his body still walks
upon earth, his soul already lives in heaven."

"I should like to see him," mused the Englishman. "He might suggest
something--these Jesuits are keen and far-sighted; at all events, it is
worth the effort. I will go round to the Gesuiti, _amico_, to hear if
your good padre can help us."

"Our blessed Lady and all the saints reward you, dear Signore!"
exclaimed the poor father, humbly attempting to kiss the hand which Hugh
Girdlestone extended to him at parting.

But the Englishman snatched it hastily away.

"Nay, nay," he said, roughly. "I have my own motive--my own wrong. No
thanks--no thanks!"

And with a quick gesture, half deprecation, half farewell, he was gone.


CHAPTER IV.

Vast, sombre, dimly lighted, splendid with precious marbles and rich in
famous altar-pieces, the church of Il Gesù wore that day an aspect of
even gloomier grandeur than usual. Before the chapel of Saint Ignazio, a
considerable crowd was assembled. All were listening devoutly. The
dropping of a pin might have been heard among them. There had been no
service. There was no music. No perfume of incense lingered on the air.
It was simply a week-day discourse that was in process of delivery, and
the preacher was Padre Lorenzo.

As Hugh Girdlestone went up the steps and lifted the heavy leathern
portière, he suddenly remembered how, on that other fatal morning of the
thirteenth of February last, he had paused upon those very steps,
listening to the chanting and half-disposed to enter. Why had he not
followed that impulse? He could not tell. Why need the coincidence
startle him now? He could not tell that, either. It was but a
coincidence, commonplace and natural enough--and yet it troubled him.

He went in.

The chapel was small and held but few seats, and the crowd spread far
out into the body of the church, so that the new comer had to take up
his position on the outskirts of the congregation. From this place he
could hear, but not see the preacher. Finding it impossible, however, to
work his way nearer without disturbing others, he contented himself with
listening.

The voice of the preacher was low and clear, and sounded like the voice
of a young man; but it rose every now and then to a higher key, and that
higher key jarred somewhat harshly upon the ear. The subject of his
discourse was death. He held it up to his hearers from every point of
view--as a terror; as a reward; as a punishment; as a hope beside which
all other hopes were but as the shadows of shadows. He compared the last
moments of the just man with those of the sinner. He showed under what
circumstances death was robbed of its sting and the grave of its
victory. To the soldier falling on the field, to the martyr consuming at
the stake, death was glory; to the sick and the heartbroken it was
peace; to the philosopher, infinite knowledge; to the poor, infinite
wealth; to all faithful Christians, joy everlasting. Happy, he said,
were those who died young, for they had not lived to accumulate the full
burden of human sin; happier still those who died penitent, since for
them was reserved the special mercy of Heaven.

"But what," he said--and here his voice rose to a strange pitch of
tremulous exaltation--"but what shall we say to this event which is
to-day on every man's tongue? What shall we say to the death of this
little child--this little child who but yesterday partook of his first
communion in this very church, and whose fate is even now moving all
hearts to indignation and pity? Was ever pity so mistaken? Was ever
death so happily timed? In the first bloom of his innocence, in the very
moment of his solemn reception into the bosom of our holy Church,
sinless, consecrated, absolved, he passed, pure as an angel, into the
presence of his Maker. Had he lived but one day longer, he had been less
pure. Had he lived to his full term of years, who shall say with what
crimes his soul might not have been blackened? He might have lived to
become a heretic, an atheist, a blasphemer. He might have died with all
his sins upon his head, an outcast upon earth, and an outcast from
heaven! Who then shall dare to pity him? Which among us shall not envy
him? Has he not gone from earth to heaven, clothed in a wedding garment,
like a guest to the banquet of the saints? Has he not gone with the
chaplet on his brow, the ring upon his finger, the perfume of the
incense yet clinging to his hair, the wine of Christ yet fresh upon his
lips? Silence, then, Oh ye of little faith! Why grieve that another
voice is given to the heavenly choir? Why lament that another martyr is
added to the noble army of the Lord? Let us rejoice rather than weep.
Let our requiems be changed for songs of praise and thanksgiving. Shall
we pity him that he is beyond the reach of sorrow? Shall we shudder at
the fate that has given him to Paradise? Shall we even dare to curse the
hand that sent him thither? May not that very hand have been consecrated
to the task?--have been guided by the finger of God?--have been
inspired by a strength ... a wisdom ... no murderer; but a priest ... a
priest of the tabernacle ... it was the voice of God ... a voice from
Heaven ... saying...." He faltered--became inarticulate--stopped.

A sudden confusion fell upon the congregation; a sudden murmur rose and
filled the church. In an instant all were moving, speaking,
gesticulating; in an instant Hugh Girdlestone was pushing his way
towards the chapel.

And the preacher? Tall, slender, wild-eyed, looking utterly helpless and
bewildered, he stood before his hearers, unable, as it seemed, to speak
or think. He looked quite young--about twenty-eight, or it might be
thirty years, of age--but worn and haggard, as one that had prayed and
fasted overmuch. Seeing Hugh Girdlestone push through the crowd and
stand suddenly before him, he shrank back like a hunted creature, and
began trembling violently.

"At last! at last!" gasped the Englishman. "Confess it, murderer;
confess it, before I strike you dead with my own hands!"

The priest put his hand to his head. His lips moved, but no utterance
came.

"Do you know who I am?" continued Hugh, in a deep, hoarse voice that
trembled with hatred. "Do you know who I am? I am the husband of Ethel
Girdlestone--that Ethel Girdlestone who used to come to this very church
to confess to you--to you, who slew her in her bed as you yesterday
slew a little child that loved you. Devil! I remember you now. Why did
I not suspect you sooner?"

"Hush!" said a grave voice in his ear. "Does the Signore forget in Whose
house we are?"

It was another priest of the order, who had just come upon the scene.

"I forget nothing," replied the Englishman. "Bear witness, all present,
that I charge this man with murder!"

The new comer turned to the congregation.

"And bear witness, all present," he added solemnly, with uplifted hand,
"that the Padre Lorenzo is responsible for neither his words nor his
deeds. He is mad."

       *       *       *       *       *

And so it was. Young, eloquent, learned, an impassioned orator, and one
of the most brilliant ornaments of his order, the Padre Lorenzo had for
more than two years betrayed symptoms of insanity. He had committed some
few extravagancies from time to time, and had broken down once or twice
in a discourse; but it had never been supposed that his eccentricity had
danger in it. Of the murder of Ethel Girdlestone no one had ever for one
moment dreamed that he was guilty. With the instinctive cunning of
madness he had kept his first secret well. But he could not keep the
second. Having ventured on the perilous subject, he betrayed himself.

From that hour he became a raving maniac, and disappeared for ever from
the world. By what motive his distempered brain had been moved to the
commission of these crimes, and where he had obtained the long slender
dagger, scarcely thicker than a needle, with which they were
perpetrated, were secrets never discovered; but it was thought by some
of those who knew him best that he had slain the child to save his soul
from possible sin and send him straight to Heaven. As for Ethel
Girdlestone, it was probable that he had murdered her from some similar
motive--most likely to preserve her against the danger of perversion by
a heretic husband.

Hugh Girdlestone lives, famous and prosperous, learned in the law, and
not unlikely, it is said, to attain the woolsack by-and-by. But he lives
a solitary life, and the gloom that fell upon his youth overshadows all
his prosperity. He will never marry again.



THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS.


CHAPTER I.

The events which I am about to relate took place between nine and ten
years ago. Sebastopol had fallen in the early Spring; the peace of Paris
had been concluded since March; our commercial relations with the
Russian empire were but recently renewed; and I, returning home after my
first northward journey since the war, was well pleased with the
prospect of spending the month of December under the hospitable and
thoroughly English roof of my excellent friend Jonathan Jelf, Esquire,
of Dumbleton Manor, Clayborough, East Anglia. Travelling in the
interests of the well-known firm in which it is my lot to be a junior
partner, I had been called upon to visit not only the capitals of Russia
and Poland, but had found it also necessary to pass some weeks among the
trading ports of the Baltic; whence it came that the year was already
far spent before I again set foot on English soil, and that instead of
shooting pheasants with him, as I had hoped, in October, I came to be my
friend's guest during the more genial Christmastide.

My voyage over, and a few days given up to business in Liverpool and
London, I hastened down to Clayborough with all the delight of a
schoolboy whose holidays are at hand. My way lay by the Great East
Anglian line as far as Clayborough station, where I was to be met by one
of the Dumbleton carriages and conveyed across the remaining nine miles
of country. It was a foggy afternoon, singularly warm for the fourth of
December, and I had arranged to leave London by the 4.15 express. The
early darkness of Winter had already closed in; the lamps were lighted
in the carriages; a clinging damp dimmed the windows, adhered to the
door-handles, and pervaded all the atmosphere; while the gas jets at the
neighbouring bookstand diffused a luminous haze that only served to make
the gloom of the terminus more visible. Having arrived some seven
minutes before the starting of the train, and, by the connivance of the
guard, taken sole possession of an empty compartment, I lighted my
travelling lamp, made myself particularly snug, and settled down to the
undisturbed enjoyment of a book and a cigar. Great, therefore, was my
disappointment when, at the last moment, a gentleman came hurrying along
the platform, glanced into my carriage, opened the locked door with a
private key, and stepped in.

It struck me at the first glance that I had seen him before--a tall,
spare man, thin-lipped, light-eyed, with an ungraceful stoop in the
shoulders, and scant grey hair worn somewhat long upon the collar. He
carried a light water-proof coat, an umbrella, and a large brown
japanned deed-box, which last he placed under the seat. This done, he
felt carefully in his breast-pocket, as if to make certain of the safety
of his purse or pocket-book; laid his umbrella in the netting overhead;
spread the water-proof across his knees; and exchanged his hat for a
travelling cap of some Scotch material. By this time the train was
moving out of the station, and into the faint grey of the wintry
twilight beyond.

I now recognized my companion. I recognized him from the moment when he
removed his hat and uncovered the lofty, furrowed and somewhat narrow
brow beneath. I had met him, as I distinctly remembered, some three
years before, at the very house for which, in all probability, he was
now bound like myself. His name was Dwerrihouse; he was a lawyer by
profession; and, if I was not greatly mistaken, was first cousin to the
wife of my host. I knew also that he was a man eminently "well to do,"
both as regarded his professional and private means. The Jelfs
entertained him with that sort of observant courtesy which falls to the
lot of the rich relation; the children made much of him; and the old
butler, albeit somewhat surly "to the general," treated him with
deference. I thought, observing him by the vague mixture of lamplight
and twilight, that Mrs. Jelf's cousin looked all the worse for the three
years' wear and tear which had gone over his head since our last
meeting. He was very pale, and had a restless light in his eye that I
did not remember to have observed before. The anxious lines, too, about
his mouth were deepened, and there was a cavernous hollow look about his
cheeks and temples which seemed to speak of sickness or sorrow. He had
glanced at me as he came in, but without any gleam of recognition in his
face. Now he glanced again, as I fancied, somewhat doubtfully. When he
did so for the third or fourth time, I ventured to address him.

"Mr. John Dwerrihouse, I think?"

"That is my name," he replied.

"I had the pleasure of meeting you at Dumbleton about three years ago."

Mr. Dwerrihouse bowed.

"I thought I knew your face," he said. "But your name, I regret to
say--"

"Langford--William Langford. I have known Jonathan Jelf since we were
boys together at Merchant Taylor's, and I generally spend a few weeks at
Dumbleton in the shooting season. I suppose we are bound for the same
destination?"

"Not if you are on your way to the Manor," he replied. "I am travelling
upon business--rather troublesome business, too--whilst you, doubtless,
have only pleasure in view."

"Just so. I am in the habit of looking forward to this visit as to the
brightest three weeks in all the year."

"It is a pleasant house," said Mr. Dwerrihouse.

"The pleasantest I know."

"And Jelf is thoroughly hospitable."

"The best and kindest fellow in the world!"

"They have invited me to spend Christmas week with them," pursued Mr.
Dwerrihouse, after a moment's pause.

"And you are coming?"

"I cannot tell. It must depend on the issue of this business which I
have in hand. You have heard, perhaps, that we were about to construct a
branch line from Blackwater to Stockbridge."

I explained that I had been for some months away from England and had
therefore heard nothing of the contemplated improvement.

Mr. Dwerrihouse smiled complacently.

"It _will_ be an improvement," he said; "a great improvement.
Stockbridge is a flourishing town, and only needs a more direct railway
communication with the metropolis to become an important centre of
commerce. This branch was my own idea. I brought the project before the
board, and have myself superintended the execution of it up to the
present time."

"You are an East Anglian director, I presume?"

"My interest in the company," replied Mr. Dwerrihouse, "is threefold. I
am a director; I am a considerable shareholder; and, as head of the firm
of Dwerrihouse, Dwerrihouse, and Craik, I am the company's principal
solicitor."

Loquacious, self-important, full of his pet project, and apparently
unable to talk on any other subject, Mr. Dwerrihouse then went on to
tell of the opposition he had encountered and the obstacles he had
overcome in the cause of the Stockbridge branch. I was entertained with
a multitude of local details and local grievances. The rapacity of one
squire; the impracticability of another; the indignation of the rector
whose glebe was threatened; the culpable indifference of the Stockbridge
townspeople, who could _not_ be brought to see that their most vital
interests hinged upon a junction with the Great East Anglian line; the
spite of the local newspaper; and the unheard-of difficulties attending
the Common question, were each and all laid before me with a
circumstantiality that possessed the deepest interest for my excellent
fellow-traveller, but none whatever for myself. From these, to my
despair, he went on to more intricate matters: to the approximate
expenses of construction per mile; to the estimates sent in by different
contractors; to the probable traffic returns of the new line: to the
provisional clauses of the new Act as enumerated in Schedule D of the
company's last half-yearly report; and so on, and on, and on till my
head ached, and my attention flagged, and my eyes kept closing in spite
of every effort that I made to keep them open. At length I was roused by
these words:--

"Seventy-five thousand pounds, cash down."

"Seventy-live thousand pounds, cash down," I repeated, in the liveliest
tone I could assume. "That is a heavy sum."

"A heavy sum to carry here," replied Mr. Dwerrihouse, pointing
significantly to his breast-pocket; "but a mere fraction of what we
shall ultimately have to pay."

"You do not mean to say that you have seventy-five thousand pounds at
this moment upon your person?" I exclaimed.

"My good Sir, have I not been telling you so for the last half hour?"
said Mr. Dwerrihouse, testily. "That money has to be paid over at
half-past eight o'clock this evening, at the office of Sir Thomas's
solicitors, on completion of the deed of sale."

"But how will you get across by night from Blackwater to Stockbridge
with seventy-five thousand pounds in your pocket?"

"To Stockbridge!" echoed the lawyer. "I find I have made myself very
imperfectly understood. I thought I had explained how this sum carries
our new line only as far as Mallingford--this first stage, as it were,
of our journey--and how our route from Blackwater to Mallingford lies
entirely through Sir Thomas Liddell's property."

"I beg your pardon," I stammered. "I fear my thoughts were wandering. So
you only go as far as Mallingford to-night?"

"Precisely. I shall get a conveyance from the 'Blackwater Arms.' And
you?"

"Oh, Jelf sends a trap to meet me at Clayborough. Can I be the bearer of
any message from you?"

"You may say if you please, Mr. Langford, that I wished I could have
been your companion all the way, and that I will come over if possible
before Christmas."

"Nothing more?"

Mr. Dwerrihouse smiled grimly.

"Well," he said, "you may tell my cousin that she need not burn the hall
down in my honour _this_ time, and that I shall be obliged if she will
order the blue-room chimney to be swept before I arrive."

"That sounds tragic. Had you a conflagration on the occasion of your
last visit to Dumbleton?"

"Something like it. There had been no fire lighted in my bedroom since
the spring, the flue was foul, and the rooks had built in it; so when I
went up to dress for dinner, I found the room full of smoke, and the
chimney on fire. Are we already at Blackwater?"

The train had gradually come to a pause while Mr. Dwerrihouse was
speaking, and on putting my head out of the window, I could see the
station some few hundred yards ahead. There was another train before us
blocking the way, and the ticket-taker was making use of the delay to
collect the Blackwater tickets. I had scarcely ascertained our position,
when the ruddy-faced official appeared at our carriage door.

"Ticket, Sir!" said he.

"I am for Clayborough," I replied, holding out the tiny pink card.

He took it; glanced at it by the light of his little lantern; gave it
back; looked, as I fancied, somewhat sharply at my fellow-traveller, and
disappeared.

"He did not ask for yours," I said with some surprise.

"They never do," replied Mr. Dwerrihouse. "They all know me; and of
course, I travel free."

"Blackwater! Blackwater!" cried the porter, running along the platform
beside us, as we glided into the station.

Mr. Dwerrihouse pulled out his deed box, put his travelling-cap in his
pocket, resumed his hat, took down his umbrella, and prepared to be
gone.

"Many thanks, Mr. Langford, for your society," he said, with
old-fashioned courtesy. "I wish you a good evening."

"Good evening," I replied, putting out my hand.

But he either did not see it, or did not choose to see it, and, slightly
lifting his hat, stepped out upon the platform. Having done this, he
moved slowly away, and mingled with the departing crowd.

Leaning forward to watch him out of sight, I trod upon something which
proved to be a cigar-case. It had fallen, no doubt, from the pocket of
his water-proof coat, and was made of dark morocco leather, with a
silver monogram upon the side. I sprang out of the carriage just as the
guard came up to lock me in.

"Is there one minute to spare?" I asked eagerly. "The gentleman who
travelled down with me from town has dropped his cigar-case--he is not
yet out of the station!"

"Just a minute and a half, Sir," replied the guard. "You must be quick."

I dashed along the platform as fast as my feet could carry me. It was a
large station, and Mr. Dwerrihouse had by this time got more than
half-way to the farther end.

I, however, saw him distinctly, moving slowly with the stream. Then, as
I drew nearer, I saw that he had met some friend--that they were talking
as they walked--that they presently fell back somewhat from the crowd,
and stood aside in earnest conversation, I made straight for the spot
where they were waiting. There was a vivid gas-jet just above their
heads, and the light fell full upon their faces. I saw both
distinctly--the face of Mr. Dwerrihouse and the face of his companion.
Running, breathless, eager as I was, getting in the way of porters and
passengers, and fearful every instant lest I should see the train going
on without me, I yet observed that the new-comer was considerably
younger and shorter than the director, that he was sandy-haired,
mustachioed, small-featured, and dressed in a close-cut suit of Scotch
tweed. I was now within a few yards of them. I ran against a stout
gentleman--I was nearly knocked down by a luggage-truck--I stumbled over
a carpet-bag--I gained the spot just as the driver's whistle warned me
to return.

To my utter stupefaction they were no longer there. I had seen them but
two seconds before--and they were gone! I stood still. I looked to right
and left. I saw no sign of them in any direction. It was as if the
platform had gaped and swallowed them.

"There were two gentlemen standing here a moment ago," I said to a
porter at my elbow; "which way can they have gone?"

"I saw no gentlemen, Sir," replied the man.

The whistle shrilled out again. The guard, far up the platform, held up
his arm, and shouted to me to "Come on!"

"If you're going on by this train, Sir," said the porter, "you must run
for it."

I did run for it--just gained the carriage as the train began to
move--was shoved in by the guard, and left breathless and bewildered,
with Mr. Dwerrihouse's cigar-case still in my hand.

It was the strangest disappearance in the world. It was like a
transformation trick in a pantomime. They were there one
moment--palpably there--talking--with the gaslight full upon their
faces; and the next moment they were gone. There was no door near--no
window--no staircase. It was a mere slip of barren platform, tapestried
with big advertisements. Could anything be more mysterious?

It was not worth thinking about; and yet, for my life, I could not help
pondering upon it--pondering, wondering, conjecturing, turning it over
and over in my mind, and beating my brains for a solution of the enigma.
I thought of it all the way from Blackwater to Clayborough. I thought of
it all the way from Clayborough to Dumbleton, as I rattled along the
smooth highway in a trim dog-cart drawn by a splendid black mare, and
driven by the silentest and dapperest of East Anglian grooms.

We did the nine miles in something less than an hour, and pulled up
before the lodge-gates just as the church clock was striking half-past
seven. A couple of minutes more, and the warm glow of the lighted hall
was flooding out upon the gravel; a hearty grasp was on my hand; and a
clear jovial voice was bidding me "Welcome to Dumbleton."

"And now, my dear fellow," said my host, when the first greeting was
over, "you have no time to spare. We dine at eight, and there are people
coming to meet you; so you must just get the dressing business over as
quickly as may be. By the way, you will meet some acquaintances. The
Biddulphs are coming, and Prendergast (Prendergast, of the Skirmishers)
is staying in the house. Adieu! Mrs. Jelf will be expecting you in the
drawing-room."

I was ushered to my room--not the blue room, of which Mr. Dwerrihouse
had made disagreeable experience, but a pretty little bachelor's
chamber, hung with a delicate chintz, and made cheerful by a blazing
fire. I unlocked my portmanteau. I tried to be expeditious; but the
memory of my railway adventure haunted me. I could not get free of it. I
could not shake it off. It impeded me--it worried me--it tripped me
up--it caused me to mislay my studs--to mistie my cravat--to wrench the
buttons off my gloves. Worst of all, it made me so late that the party
had all assembled before I reached the drawing-room. I had scarcely paid
my respects to Mrs. Jelf when dinner was announced, and we paired off,
some eight or ten couples strong, into the dining-room.

I am not going to describe either the guests or the dinner. All
provincial parties bear the strictest family resemblance, and I am not
aware that an East Anglian banquet offers any exception to the rule.
There was the usual country baronet and his wife; there were the usual
country parsons and their wives; there was the sempiternal turkey and
haunch of venison. _Vanitas vanitatum._ There is nothing new under the
sun.

I was placed about midway down the table. I had taken one rector's wife
down to dinner, and I had another at my left hand. They talked across
me, and their talk was about babies. It was dreadfully dull. At length
there came a pause. The entrées had just been removed, and the turkey
had come upon the scene. The conversation had all along been of the
languidest, but at this moment it happened to have stagnated altogether.
Jelf was carving the turkey. Mrs. Jelf looked as if she was trying to
think of something to say. Everybody else was silent. Moved by an
unlucky impulse, I thought I would relate my adventure.

"By the way, Jelf," I began, "I came down part of the way to-day with a
friend of yours."

"Indeed!" said the master of the feast, slicing scientifically into the
breast of the turkey. "With whom, pray?"

"With one who bade me tell you that he should, if possible, pay you a
visit before Christmas."

"I cannot think who that could be," said my friend, smiling.

"It must be Major Thorp," suggested Mrs. Jelf.

I shook my head.

"It was not Major Thorp," I replied. "It was a near relation of your
own, Mrs. Jelf."

"Then I am more puzzled than ever," replied my hostess. "Pray tell me
who it was."

"It was no less a person than your Cousin, Mr. John Dwerrihouse."

Jonathan Jelf laid down his knife and fork. Mrs. Jelf looked at me in a
strange, startled way, and said never a word.

"And he desired me to tell you, my dear madam, that you need not take
the trouble to burn the Hall down in his honour this time; but only to
have the chimney of the blue room swept before his arrival."

Before I had reached the end of my sentence, I became aware of something
ominous in the faces of the guests. I felt I had said something which I
had better have left unsaid, and that for some unexplained reason my
words had evoked a general consternation. I sat confounded, not daring
to utter another syllable, and for at least two whole minutes there was
dead silence round the table.

Then Captain Prendergast came to the rescue.

"You have been abroad for some months, have you not, Mr. Langford?" he
said, with the desperation of one who flings himself into the breach. "I
heard you had been to Russia. Surely you have something to tell us of
the state and temper of the country after the war?"

I was heartily grateful to the gallant Skirmisher for this diversion in
my favour. I answered him, I fear, somewhat lamely; but he kept the
conversation up, and presently one or two others joined in, and so the
difficulty, whatever it might have been, was bridged over. Bridged over,
but not repaired. A something, an awkwardness, a visible constraint
remained. The guests hitherto had been simply dull; but now they were
evidently uncomfortable and embarrassed.

The dessert had scarcely been placed upon the table when the ladies left
the room. I seized the opportunity to drop into a vacant chair next
Captain Prendergast.

"In Heaven's name," I whispered, "what was the matter just now? What had
I said?"

"You mentioned the name of John Dwerrihouse."

"What of that? I had seen him not two hours before."

"It is a most astounding circumstance that you should have seen him,"
said Captain Prendergast. "Are you sure it was he?"

"As sure as of my own identity. We were talking all the way between
London and Blackwater. But why does that surprise you?"

"_Because_," replied Captain Prendergast, dropping his voice to the
lowest whisper--"_because John Dwerrihouse absconded three months ago,
with seventy-five thousand pounds of the Company's money, and has never
been heard of since_."


CHAPTER II.

John Dwerrihouse had absconded three months ago--and I had seen him only
a few hours back. John Dwerrihouse had embezzled seventy-five thousand
pounds of the Company's money--yet told me that he carried that sum upon
his person. Were ever facts so strangely incongruous, so difficult to
reconcile? How should he have ventured again into the light of day? How
dared he show himself along the line? Above all, what had he been doing
throughout those mysterious three months of disappearance?

Perplexing questions these. Questions which at once suggested themselves
to the minds of all concerned, but which admitted of no easy solution. I
could find no reply to them. Captain Prendergast had not even a
suggestion to offer. Jonathan Jelf, who seized the first opportunity of
drawing me aside and learning all that I had to tell, was more amazed
and bewildered than either of us. He came to my room that night when all
the guests were gone, and we talked the thing over from every point of
view--without, it must be confessed, arriving at any kind of conclusion.

"I do not ask you," he said, "whether you can have mistaken your man.
That is impossible."

"As impossible as that I should mistake some stranger for yourself."

"It is not a question of looks or voice, but of facts. That he should
have alluded to the fire in the blue room is proof enough of John
Dwerrihouse's identity. How did he look?"

"Older, I thought. Considerably older, paler, and more anxious."

"He has had enough to make him look anxious, anyhow," said my friend,
gloomily; "be he innocent or guilty."

"I am inclined to believe he is innocent," I replied. "He showed no
embarrassment when I addressed him, and no uneasiness when the guard
came round. His conversation was open to a fault. I might almost say
that he talked too freely of the business which he had in hand."

"That again is strange; for I know no one more reticent on such
subjects. He actually told you that he had the seventy-five thousand
pounds in his pocket?"

"He did."

"Humph! My wife has an idea about it, and she may be right--"

"What idea?"

"Well, she fancies--women are so clever, you know, at putting themselves
inside people's motives--she fancies that he was tempted; that he did
actually take the money; and that he has been concealing himself these
three months in some wild part of the country--struggling possibly with
his conscience all the time, and daring neither to abscond with his
booty, nor to come back and restore it."

"But now that he has come back?"

"That is the point. She conceives that he has probably thrown himself
upon the Company's mercy; made restitution of the money; and, being
forgiven, is permitted to carry the business through as if nothing
whatever had happened."

"The last," I replied, "is an impossible case. Mrs. Jelf thinks like a
generous and delicate-minded woman; but not in the least like a board of
railway directors. They would never carry forgiveness so far."

"I fear not; and yet it is the only conjecture that bears a semblance of
likelihood. However, we can run over to Clayborough to-morrow, and see
if anything is to be learned. By the way, Prendergast tells me you
picked up his cigar-case."

"I did--and here it is."

Jelf took the cigar-case, examined it, and said at once that it was
beyond doubt Mr. Dwerrihouse's property, and that he remembered to have
seen him use it.

"Here, too, is his monogram on the side," he added. "A big J transfixing
a capital D. He used to carry the same on his note paper."

"It proves, at all events, that I was not dreaming."

"Ay; but it is time you were asleep and dreaming now. I am ashamed to
have kept you so long. Good night."

"Good night, and remember that I am more than ready to go with you to
Clayborough, or Blackwater, or London, or anywhere, if I can be of the
least service."

"Thanks! I know you mean it, old friend, and it may be that I shall put
you to the test. Once more, good night."

So we parted for that night, and met again in the breakfast-room at
half-past eight next morning. It was a hurried, silent, uncomfortable
meal. None of us had slept well, and all were thinking of the same
subject. Mrs. Jelf had evidently been crying; Jelf was impatient to be
off; and both Captain Prendergast and myself felt ourselves to be in the
painful position of outsiders, who are involuntarily brought into a
domestic trouble. Within twenty minutes after we had left the
breakfast-table, the dog-cart was brought round, and my friend and I
were on the road to Clayborough.

"Tell you what it is, Langford," he said, as we sped along between the
wintry hedges, "I do not much fancy bringing up Dwerrihouse's name at
Clayborough. All the officials know that he is my wife's relation, and
the subject just now is hardly a pleasant one. If you don't much mind,
we will take the 11.10 train to Blackwater. It's an important station,
and we shall stand a far better chance of picking up information there
than at Clayborough."

So we took the 11.10, which happened to be an express, and, arriving at
Blackwater about a quarter before twelve, proceeded at once to prosecute
our inquiry.

We began by asking for the station-master--a big, blunt, business-like
person, who at once averred that he knew Mr. John Dwerrihouse perfectly
well, and that there was no director on the line whom he had seen and
spoken to so frequently.

"He used to be down here two or three times a-week, about three months
ago," said he, "when the new line was first set afoot; but since then,
you know, gentlemen----"

He paused, significantly.

Jelf flushed scarlet.

"Yes, yes," he said hurriedly, "we know all about that. The point now to
be ascertained is whether anything has been seen or heard of him
lately."

"Not to my knowledge," replied the station-master.

"He is not known to have been down the line any time yesterday, for
instance?"

The station-master shook his head.

"The East Anglian, sir," said he, "is about the last place where he
would dare to show himself. Why, there isn't a station-master, there
isn't a guard, there isn't a porter, who doesn't know Mr. Dwerrihouse by
sight as well as he knows his own face in the looking-glass; or who
wouldn't telegraph for the police as soon as he had set eyes on him at
any point along the line. Bless you, sir! there's been a standing order
out against him ever since the twenty-fifth of September last."

"And yet," pursued my friend, "a gentleman who travelled down yesterday
from London to Clayborough by the afternoon express, testifies that he
saw Mr. Dwerrihouse in the train, and that Mr. Dwerrihouse alighted at
Blackwater station."

"Quite impossible, sir," replied the station-master, promptly.

"Why impossible?"

"Because there is no station along the line where he is so well known,
or where he would run so great a risk. It would be just running his head
into the lion's mouth. He would have been mad to come nigh Blackwater
station; and if he had come, he would have been arrested before he left
the platform."

"Can you tell me who took the Blackwater tickets of that train?"

"I can, sir. It was the guard--Benjamin Somers."

"And where can I find him?"

"You can find him, sir, by staying here, if you please, till one
o'clock. He will be coming through with the up Express from Crampton,
which stays at Blackwater for ten minutes."

We waited for the up Express, beguiling the time as best we could by
strolling along the Blackwater road till we came almost to the outskirts
of the town, from which the station was distant nearly a couple of
miles. By one o'clock we were back again upon the platform, and waiting
for the train. It came punctually, and I at once recognized the
ruddy-faced guard who had gone down with my train the evening before.

"The gentlemen want to ask you something about Mr. Dwerrihouse,
Somers," said the station-master, by way of introduction.

The guard flashed a keen glance from my face to Jelf's, and back again
to mine.

"Mr. John Dwerrihouse, the late director?" said he, interrogatively.

"The same," replied my friend. "Should you know him if you saw him?"

"Anywhere, sir."

"Do you know if he was in the 4.15 Express yesterday afternoon?"

"He was not, sir."

"How can you answer so positively?"

"Because I looked into every carriage, and saw every face in that train,
and I could take my oath that Mr. Dwerrihouse was not in it. This
gentleman was," he added, turning sharply upon me. "I don't know that I
ever saw him before in my life, but I remember _his_ face perfectly. You
nearly missed taking your seat in time at this station, sir, and you got
out at Clayborough."

"Quite true," I replied; "but do you not also remember the face of the
gentleman who travelled down in the same carriage with me as far as
here?"

"It was my impression, sir, that you travelled down alone," said Somers,
with a look of some surprise.

"By no means. I had a fellow-traveller as far as Blackwater, and it was
in trying to restore him the cigar-case which he had dropped in the
carriage, that I so nearly let you go on without me."

"I remember your saying something about a cigar-case, certainly,"
replied the guard, "but----"

"You asked for my ticket just before we entered the station."

"I did, sir."

"Then you must have seen him. He sat in the corner next the very door to
which you came."

"No, indeed. I saw no one."

I looked at Jelf. I began to think the guard was in the ex-director's
confidence, and paid for his silence.

"If I had seen another traveller I should have asked for his ticket,"
added Somers. "Did you see me ask for his ticket, sir?"

"I observed that you did not ask for it, but he explained that by
saying----"

I hesitated. I feared I might be telling too much, and so broke off
abruptly.

The guard and the station-master exchanged glances. The former looked
impatiently at his watch.

"I am obliged to go in four minutes more, sir," he said.

"One last question, then," interposed Jelf, with a sort of desperation.
"If this gentleman's fellow-traveller had been Mr. John Dwerrihouse, and
he had been sitting in the corner next the door by which you took the
tickets, could you have failed to see and recognize him?"

"No, sir; it would have been quite impossible."

"And you are certain you did _not_ see him?"

"As I said before, sir, I could take my oath I did not see him. And if
it wasn't that I don't like to contradict a gentleman, I would say I
could also take my oath that this gentleman was quite alone in the
carriage the whole way from London to Clayborough. Why, sir," he added,
dropping his voice so as to be inaudible to the station-master, who had
been called away to speak to some person close by, "you expressly asked
me to give you a compartment to yourself, and I did so. I locked you in,
and you were so good as to give me something for myself."

"Yes; but Mr. Dwerrihouse had a key of his own."

"I never saw him, sir; I saw no one in the compartment but yourself. Beg
pardon, sir, my time's up."

And with this the ruddy guard touched his cap and was gone. In another
minute the heavy panting of the engine began afresh, and the train
glided slowly out of the station.

We looked at each other for some moments in silence. I was the first to
speak.

"Mr. Benjamin Somers knows more than he chooses to tell," I said.

"Humph! do you think so?"

"It must be. He could not have come to the door without seeing him. It's
impossible."

"There is one thing not impossible, my dear fellow."

"What is that?"

"That you may have fallen asleep, and dreamt the whole thing."

"Could I dream of a branch line that I had never heard of? Could I dream
of a hundred and one business details that had no kind of interest for
me? Could I dream of the seventy-five thousand pounds?"

"Perhaps you might have seen, or heard, some vague account of the affair
while you were abroad. It might have made no impression upon you at the
time, and might have come back to you in your dreams--recalled, perhaps,
by the mere names of the stations on the line."

"What about the fire in the chimney of the blue room--should I have
heard of that during my journey?"

"Well, no; I admit there is a difficulty about that point."

"And what about the cigar-case?"

"Ay, by Jove! there is the cigar-case. That _is_ a stubborn fact. Well,
it's a mysterious affair, and it will need a better detective than
myself, I fancy, to clear it up. I suppose we may as well go home."


CHAPTER III.

A week had not gone by when I received a letter from the Secretary of
the East Anglian Railway Company, requesting the favour of my attendance
at a special board meeting, not then many days distant. No reasons were
alleged, and no apologies offered, for this demand upon my time; but
they had heard, it was clear, of my inquiries about the missing
director, and had a mind to put me through some sort of official
examination upon the subject. Being still a guest at Dumbleton Hall, I
had to go up to London for the purpose, and Jonathan Jelf accompanied
me. I found the direction of the Great East Anglian line represented by
a party of some twelve or fourteen gentlemen seated in solemn conclave
round a huge green-baize table in a gloomy Board-room adjoining the
London terminus.

Being courteously received by the chairman (who at once began by saying
that certain statements of mine respecting Mr. John Dwerrihouse had come
to the knowledge of the direction, and that they in consequence desired
to confer with me on those points), we were placed at the table, and the
inquiry proceeded in due form.

I was first asked if I knew Mr. John Dwerrihouse, how long I had been
acquainted with him, and whether I could identify him at sight. I was
then asked when I had seen him last. To which I replied, "On the fourth
of this present month, December, eighteen hundred and fifty-six."

Then came the inquiry of where I had seen him on that fourth day of
December; to which I replied that I met him in a first-class compartment
of the 4.15 down-Express; that he got in just as the train was leaving
the London terminus, and that he alighted at Blackwater station. The
chairman then inquired whether I had held any communication with my
fellow-traveller; whereupon I related, as I could remember it, the whole
bulk and substance of Mr. John Dwerrihouse's diffuse information
respecting the new branch line.

To all this the board listened with profound attention, while the
chairman presided and the secretary took notes. I then produced the
cigar-case. It was passed from hand to hand, and recognised by all.
There was not a man present who did not remember that plain cigar-case
with its silver monogram, or to whom it seemed anything less than
entirely corroborative of my evidence.

When, at length, I had told all that I had to tell, the chairman
whispered something to the secretary; the secretary touched a silver
hand-bell; and the guard, Benjamin Somers, was ushered into the room. He
was then examined as carefully as myself. He declared that he knew Mr.
John Dwerrihouse perfectly well; that he could not be mistaken in him;
that he remembered going down with the 4.15 Express on the afternoon in
question; that he remembered me; and that, there being one or two empty
first-class compartments on that especial afternoon, he had, in
compliance with my request, placed me in a carriage by myself. He was
positive that I remained alone all the way in that compartment from
London to Clayborough. He was ready to take his oath that Mr.
Dwerrihouse was neither in that carriage with me, nor in any compartment
of that train. He remembered distinctly to have examined my ticket at
Blackwater; was certain that there was no one else at that time in the
carriage; could not have failed to observe a second person, if there had
been one; had that second person been Mr. John Dwerrihouse, should have
quietly double-locked the door of carriage, and have given information
to the Blackwater station-master. So clear, so decisive, so ready, was
Somers with this testimony, that the board looked fairly puzzled.

"You hear this person's statement, Mr. Langford," said the chairman. "It
contradicts yours in every particular. What have you to say in reply?"

"I can only repeat what I said before. I am quite as positive of the
truth of my own assertions as Mr. Somers can be of the truth of his."

"You say that Mr. Dwerrihouse alighted at Blackwater, and that he was in
possession of a private key. Are you sure that he had not alighted by
means of that key before the guard came round for the tickets?"

"I am quite positive that he did not leave the carriage till the train
had fairly entered the station and the other Blackwater passengers
alighted. I even saw that he was met there by a friend."

"Indeed! Did you see that person distinctly?"

"Quite distinctly."

"Can you describe his appearance?"

"I think so. He was short and very slight, sandy-haired, with a bushy
moustache and beard, and he wore a closely-fitting suit of grey tweed.
His age I should take to be about thirty-eight or forty."

"Did Mr. Dwerrihouse leave the station in this person's company?"

"I cannot tell. I saw them walking together down the platform, and then
I saw them standing aside under a gas-jet, talking earnestly. After that
I lost sight of them quite suddenly; and just then my train went on, and
I with it."

The chairman and secretary conferred together in an undertone. The
directors whispered to each other. One or two looked suspiciously at the
guard. I could see that my evidence remained unshaken, and that, like
myself, they suspected some complicity between the guard and the
defaulter.

"How far did you conduct that 4.15 express on the day in question,
Somers?" asked the chairman.

"All through, sir," replied the guard; "from London to Crampton."

"How was it that you were not relieved at Clayborough? I thought there
was always a change of guards at Clayborough."

"There used to be, sir, till the new regulations came in force last
Midsummer; since when, the guards in charge of Express trains go the
whole way through."

The chairman turned to the secretary.

"I think it would be as well," he said, "if we had the day-book to refer
to upon this point."

Again the secretary touched the silver hand-bell, and desired the porter
in attendance to summon Mr. Raikes. From a word or two dropped by
another of the directors, I gathered that Mr. Raikes was one of the
under-secretaries.

He came--a small, slight, sandy-haired, keen-eyed man, with an eager,
nervous manner, and a forest of light beard and moustache. He just
showed himself at the door of the board-room, and being requested to
bring a certain day-book from a certain shelf in a certain room, bowed
and vanished.

He was there such a moment, and the surprise of seeing him was so great
and sudden, that it was not till the door had closed upon him that I
found voice to speak. He was no sooner gone, however, than I sprang to
my feet.

"That person," I said, "is the same who met Mr. Dwerrihouse upon the
platform at Blackwater!"

There was a general movement of surprise. The chairman looked grave, and
somewhat agitated.

"Take care, Mr. Langford," he said, "take care what you say!"

"I am as positive of his identity as of my own."

"Do you consider the consequences of your words? Do you consider that
you are bringing a charge of the gravest character against one of the
company's servants?"

"I am willing to be put upon my oath, if necessary. The man who came to
that door a minute since is the same whom I saw talking with Mr.
Dwerrihouse on the Blackwater platform. Were he twenty times the
company's servant, I could say neither more nor less."

The chairman turned again to the guard.

"Did you see Mr. Raikes in the train, or on the platform?" he asked.

Somers shook his head.

"I am confident Mr. Raikes was not in the train," he said; "and I
certainly did not see him on the platform."

The chairman turned next to the secretary.

"Mr. Raikes is in your office, Mr. Hunter," he said. "Can you remember
if he was absent on the fourth instant?"

"I do not think he was," replied the secretary; "but I am not prepared
to speak positively. I have been away most afternoons myself lately, and
Mr. Raikes might easily have absented himself if he had been disposed."

At this moment the under-secretary returned with the day-book under his
arm.

"Be pleased to refer, Mr. Raikes," said the chairman, "to the entries of
the fourth instant, and see what Benjamin Somers' duties were on that
day."

Mr. Raikes threw open the cumbrous volume, and ran a practised eye and
finger down some three or four successive columns of entries. Stopping
suddenly at the foot of a page, he then read aloud that Benjamin Somers
had on that day conducted the 4.15 express from London to Crampton.

The chairman leaned forward in his seat, looked the under-secretary full
in the face, and said, quite sharply and suddenly:--

"Where were _you_, Mr. Raikes, on the same afternoon?"

"_I_, sir?"

"You, Mr. Raikes. Where were you on the afternoon and evening of the
fourth of the present month?"

"Here, sir--in Mr. Hunter's office. Where else should I be?"

There was a dash of trepidation in the under-secretary's voice as he
said this; but his look of surprise was natural enough.

"We have some reason for believing, Mr. Raikes, that you were absent
that afternoon without leave. Was this the case?"

"Certainly not, sir. I have not had a day's holiday since September. Mr.
Hunter will bear me out in this."

Mr. Hunter repeated what he had previously said on the subject, but
added that the clerks in the adjoining office would be certain to know.
Whereupon the senior clerk, a grave, middle-aged person, in green
glasses, was summoned and interrogated.

His testimony cleared the under-secretary at once. He declared that Mr.
Raikes had in no instance, to his knowledge, been absent during office
hours since his return from his annual holiday in September.

I was confounded.

The chairman turned to me with a smile, in which a shade of covert
annoyance was scarcely apparent.

"You hear, Mr. Langford?" he said.

"I hear, sir; but my conviction remains unshaken."

"I fear, Mr. Langford, that your convictions are very insufficiently
based," replied the chairman, with a doubtful cough. "I fear that you
'dream dreams,' and mistake them for actual occurrences. It is a
dangerous habit of mind, and might lead to dangerous results. Mr. Raikes
here would have found himself in an unpleasant position, had he not
proved so satisfactory an _alibi_."

I was about to reply, but he gave me no time.

"I think, gentlemen," he went on to say, addressing the board, "that we
should be wasting time to push this inquiry farther. Mr. Langford's
evidence would seem to be of an equal value throughout. The testimony of
Benjamin Somers disproves his first statement, and the testimony of the
last witness disproves his second. I think we may conclude that Mr.
Langford fell asleep in the train on the occasion of his journey to
Clayborough, and dreamt an unusually vivid and circumstantial dream--of
which, however, we have now heard quite enough."

There are few things more annoying than to find one's positive
convictions met with incredulity. I could not help feeling impatience at
the turn that affairs had taken. I was not proof against the civil
sarcasm of the chairman's manner. Most intolerable of all, however, was
the quiet smile lurking about the corners of Benjamin Somers' mouth, and
the half-triumphant, half-malicious gleam in the eyes of the
under-secretary. The man was evidently puzzled, and somewhat alarmed.
His looks seemed furtively to interrogate me. Who was I? What did I
want? Why had I come there to do him an ill turn with his employers?
What was it to me whether or not he was absent without leave?

Seeing all this, and perhaps more irritated by it than the thing
deserved, I begged leave to detain the attention of the board for a
moment longer. Jelf plucked me impatiently by the sleeve.

"Better let the thing drop," he whispered. "The chairman's right enough.
You dreamt it; and the less said now, the better."

I was not to be silenced, however, in this fashion. I had yet something
to say, and I would say it. It was to this effect:--That dreams were not
usually productive of tangible results, and that I requested to know in
what way the chairman conceived I had evolved from my dream so
substantial and well-made a delusion as the cigar-case which I had had
the honour to place before him at the commencement of our interview.

"The cigar-case, I admit, Mr. Langford," the chairman replied, "is a
very strong point in your evidence. It is your _only_ strong point,
however, and there is just a possibility that we may all be misled by a
mere accidental resemblance. Will you permit me to see the case again?"

"It is unlikely," I said, as I handed it to him, "that any other should
bear precisely this monogram, and also be in all other particulars
exactly similar."

The chairman examined it for a moment in silence, and then passed it to
Mr. Hunter. Mr. Hunter turned it over and over, and shook his head.

"This is no mere resemblance," he said. "It is John Dwerrihouse's
cigar-case to a certainty. I remember it perfectly. I have seen it a
hundred times."

"I believe I may say the same," added the chairman. "Yet how shall we
account for the way in which Mr. Langford asserts that it came into his
possession?"

"I can only repeat," I replied, "that I found it on the floor of the
carriage after Mr. Dwerrihouse had alighted. It was in leaning out to
look after him that I trod upon it; and it was in running after him for
the purpose of restoring it that I saw--or believed I saw--Mr. Raikes
standing aside with him in earnest conversation."

Again I felt Jonathan Jelf plucking at my sleeve.

"Look at Raikes," he whispered. "Look at Raikes!"

I turned to where the under-secretary had been standing a moment before,
and saw him, white as death, with lips trembling and livid, stealing
towards the door.

To conceive a sudden, strange, and indefinite suspicion; to fling myself
in his way; to take him by the shoulders as if he were a child, and turn
his Craven face, perforce, towards the board, was with me the work of an
instant.

"Look at him!" I exclaimed. "Look at his face! I ask no better witness
to the truth of my words."

The chairman's brow darkened.

"Mr. Raikes," he said, sternly, "if you know anything, you had better
speak."

Vainly trying to wrench himself from my grasp, the under-secretary
stammered out an incoherent denial.

"Let me go!" he said. "I know nothing--you have no right to detain
me--let me go!"

"Did you, or did you not, meet Mr. John Dwerrihouse at Blackwater
Station? The charge brought against you is either true or false. If
true, you will do well to throw yourself upon the mercy of the board,
and make full confession of all that you know."

The under-secretary wrung his hands in an agony of helpless terror.

"I was away," he cried. "I was two hundred miles away at the time! I
know nothing about it--I have nothing to confess--I am innocent--I call
God to witness I am innocent!"

"Two hundred miles away!" echoed the chairman. "What do you mean?"

"I was in Devonshire. I had three weeks' leave of absence--I appeal to
Mr. Hunter--Mr. Hunter knows I had three weeks' leave of absence! I was
in Devonshire all the time--I can prove I was in Devonshire!"

Seeing him so abject, so incoherent, so wild with apprehension, the
directors began to whisper gravely among themselves; while one got
quietly up, and called the porter to guard the door.

"What has your being in Devonshire to do with the matter?" said the
chairman. "When were you in Devonshire?"

"Mr. Raikes took his leave in September," said the secretary; "about the
time when Mr. Dwerrihouse disappeared."

"I never even heard that he had disappeared till I came back!"

"That must remain to be proved," said the chairman. "I shall at once put
this matter in the hands of the police. In the meanwhile, Mr. Raikes,
being myself a magistrate, and used to deal with these cases, I advise
you to offer no resistance; but to confess while confession may yet do
you service. As for your accomplice...."

The frightened wretch fell upon his knees.

"I had no accomplice!" he cried. "Only have mercy upon me--only spare my
life, and I will confess all! I didn't mean to harm him--I didn't mean
to hurt a hair of his head! Only have mercy upon me, and let me go!"

The chairman rose in his place, pale and agitated.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "what horrible mystery is this? What does
it mean?"

"As sure as there is a God in heaven," said Jonathan Jelf, "it means
that murder has been done."

"No--no--no!" shrieked Raikes, still upon his knees, and cowering like a
beaten hound. "Not murder! No jury that ever sat could bring it in
murder. I thought I had only stunned him--I never meant to do more than
stun him! Manslaughter--manslaughter--not murder!"

Overcome by the horror of this unexpected revelation, the chairman
covered his face with his hand, and for a moment or two remained silent.

"Miserable man," he said at length, "you have betrayed yourself."

"You bade me confess! You urged me to throw myself upon the mercy of the
board!"

"You have confessed to a crime which no one suspected you of having
committed," replied the chairman, "and which this board has no power
either to punish or forgive. All that I can do for you is to advise you
to submit to the law, to plead guilty, and to conceal nothing. When did
you do this deed?"

The guilty man rose to his feet, and leaned heavily against the table.
His answer came reluctantly, like the speech of one dreaming.

"On the twenty-second of September!"

On the twenty-second of September! I looked in Jonathan Jelf's face, and
he in mine. I felt my own paling with a strange sense of wonder and
dread. I saw his blench suddenly, even to the lips.

"Merciful heaven!" he whispered, "_what was It, then, that you saw in
the train?_"

What was it that I saw in the train? That question remains unanswered to
this day. I have never been able to reply to it. I only know that it
bore the living likeness of the murdered man, whose body had been lying
some ten weeks under a rough pile of branches, and brambles, and rotting
leaves, at the bottom of a deserted chalk-pit about half way between
Blackwater and Mallingford. I know that it spoke, and moved, and looked
as that man spoke, and moved, and looked in life; that I heard, or
seemed to hear, things related which I could never otherwise have
learned; that I was guided, as it were, by that vision on the platform
to the identification of the murderer; and that, a passive instrument
myself, I was destined, by means of these mysterious teachings, to bring
about the ends of justice. For these things I have never been able to
account.

As for that matter of the cigar-case, it proved, on inquiry, that the
carriage in which I travelled down that afternoon to Clayborough had not
been in use for several weeks, and was, in point of fact, the same in
which poor John Dwerrihouse had performed his last journey. The case
had, doubtless, been dropped by him, and had lain unnoticed till I found
it.

Upon the details of the murder I have no need to dwell. Those who desire
more ample particulars may find them, and the written confession of
Augustus Raikes, in the files of the "Times" for 1856. Enough that the
under-secretary, knowing the history of the new line, and following the
negotiation step by step through all its stages, determined to waylay
Mr. Dwerrihouse, rob him of the seventy-five thousand pounds, and escape
to America with his booty.

In order to effect these ends he obtained leave of absence a few days
before the time appointed for the payment of the money; secured his
passage across the Atlantic in a steamer advertised to start on the
twenty-third; provided himself with a heavily-loaded "life-preserver,"
and went down to Blackwater to await the arrival of his victim. How he
met him on the platform with a pretended message from the board; how he
offered to conduct him by a short cut across the fields to Mallingford;
how, having brought him to a lonely place, he struck him down with the
life-preserver, and so killed him; and how, finding what he had done, he
dragged the body to the verge of an out-of-the-way chalk-pit, and there
flung it in, and piled it over with branches and brambles, are facts
still fresh in the memories of those who, like the connoisseurs in De
Quincey's famous essay, regard murder as a fine art. Strangely enough,
the murderer, having done his work, was afraid to leave the country. He
declared that he had not intended to take the director's life, but only
to stun and rob him; and that finding the blow had killed, he dared not
fly for fear of drawing down suspicion upon his own head. As a mere
robber he would have been safe in the States, but as a murderer he would
inevitably have been pursued, and given up to justice. So he forfeited
his passage, returned to the office as usual at the end of his leave,
and locked up his ill-gotten thousands till a more convenient
opportunity. In the meanwhile he had the satisfaction of finding that
Mr. Dwerrihouse was universally believed to have absconded with the
money, no one knew how or whither.

Whether he meant murder or not, however, Mr. Augustus Raikes paid the
full penalty of his crime, and was hanged at the Old Bailey in the
second week in January, 1857. Those who desire to make his further
acquaintance may see him any day (admirably done in wax) in the Chamber
of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's exhibition in Baker Street. He is there
to be found in the midst of a select society of ladies and gentlemen of
atrocious memory, dressed in the close-cut tweed suit which he wore on
the evening of the murder, and holding in his hand the identical
life-preserver with which he committed it.



SISTER JOHANNA'S STORY.


If you have ever heard of the Grödner Thal, then you will also have
heard of the village of St. Ulrich, of which I, Johanna Roederer, am a
native. And if, as is more likely, you have never heard of either, then
still, though without knowing it, many of you have, even from your
earliest childhood, been familiar with the work by which, for many
generations, we have lived and prospered. Your rocking-horse, your
Noah's ark, your first doll, came from St. Ulrich--for the Grödner Thal
is the children's paradise, and supplies the little ones of all Europe
with toys. In every house throughout the village--I might almost say in
every house throughout the valley--you will find wood-carving, painting,
or gilding perpetually going on; except only in the hay-making and
harvest-time, when all the world goes up to the hills to mow and reap,
and breathe the mountain air. Nor do our carvers carve only grotesque
toys. All the crucifixes that you see by the wayside, all the carved
stalls and tabernacles, all the painted and gilded saints decorating
screens and side altars in our Tyrolean churches, are the work of their
hands.

After what I have said, you will no doubt have guessed that ours was a
family of wood-carvers. My father, who died when my sister and I were
quite little children, was a wood-carver. My mother was also a
wood-carver, as were her mother and grandmother before her; and Katrine
and I were of course brought up by her to the same calling. But, as it
was necessary that one should look after the home duties, and as Katrine
was always more delicate than myself, I gradually came to work less and
less at the business; till at last, what with cooking, washing, mending,
making, spinning, gardening, and so forth, I almost left it off
altogether. Nor did Katrine work very hard at it, either; for, being so
delicate, and so pretty, and so much younger than myself, she came, of
course, to be a great deal spoiled and to have her own way in
everything. Besides, she grew tired, naturally, of cutting nothing but
cocks, hens, dogs, cats, cows, and goats; which were all our mother had
been taught to make, and, consequently, all she could teach to her
children.

"If I could carve saints and angels, like Ulrich, next door," Katrine
used sometimes to say; "or if I might invent new beasts out of my own
head, or if I might cut caricature nutcrackers of the Herr Pürger and
Don Wian, I shouldn't care if I worked hard all day; but I hate the
cocks and hens, and I hate the dogs and cats, and I hate all the birds
and beasts that ever went into the ark--and I only wish they had all
been drowned in the Deluge, and not one left for a pattern!"

And then she would fling her tools away, and dance about the room like
a wild creature, and mimic the Herr Pürger, who was the great wholesale
buyer of all our St. Ulrich ware, till even our mother, grave and sober
woman as she was, could not help laughing, till the tears ran down her
cheeks.

Now the Ulrich next door, of whom our little Katrine used to speak, was
the elder of two brothers named Finazzer, and he lived in the house
adjoining our own; for at St. Ulrich, as in some of the neighbouring
villages, one frequently sees two houses built together under one roof,
with gardens and orchards surrounded by a common fence. Such a house was
the Finazzer's and ours; or I should rather say both houses were theirs,
for they were our landlords, and we rented our cottage from them by the
year.

Ulrich, named after the patron saint of our village, was a tall, brown,
stalwart man, very grave, very reserved, very religious, and the finest
wood-sculptor in all the Grödner Thal. No Madonnas, no angels, could
compare with his for heavenly grace and tenderness; and as for his
Christs, a great foreign critic who came to St. Ulrich some ten or
twelve years ago said that no other modern artist with whose works he
was acquainted could treat that subject with anything like the same
dignity and pathos. But then, perhaps, no other modern artist went to
his work in the same spirit, or threw into it, not only the whole force
of a very noble and upright character, but all the loftiest aspirations
of a profoundly religious nature.

His younger brother, Alois, was a painter--fairhaired, light-hearted,
pleasure-loving; as unlike Ulrich, both in appearance and disposition,
as it is possible to conceive. At the time of which I am telling you, he
was a student in Venice and had already been three years away from home.
I used to dream dreams, and weave foolish romances about Alois and my
little Katrine, picturing to myself how he would some day come home, in
the flush, perhaps, of his first success, and finding her so beautiful
and a woman grown, fall in love with her at first sight, and she with
him; and the thought of this possibility became at last such a happy
certainty in my mind, that when things began to work round in quite the
other way, I could not bring myself to believe it. Yet so it was, and,
much as I loved my darling, and quick-sighted as I had always been in
everything that could possibly concern her, there was not a gossip in
St. Ulrich who did not see what was coming before I even suspected it.

When, therefore, my little Katrine came to me one evening in the orchard
and told me, half laughing, half crying, that Ulrich Finazzer had that
day asked her to be his wife, I was utterly taken by surprise.

"I never dreamed that he would think of me, dear," she said, with her
head upon my bosom. "He is so much too good and too clever for such a
foolish birdie as poor little Katrine."

"But--but my birdie loves him?" I said, kissing her bright hair.

She half lifted her head, half laughed through her tears, and said with
some hesitation:--

"Oh, yes, I love him. I--I think I love him--and then I am quite sure
he loves me, and that is more than enough."

"But, Katrine----"

She kissed me, to stop the words upon my lips.

"But you know quite well, dear, that I never could love any lover half
as much as I love you; and he knows it, too, for I told him so just now,
and now please don't look grave, for I want to be very happy to-night,
and I can't bear it."

And I also wanted her to be very happy, so I said all the loving things
I could think of, and when we went in to supper we found Ulrich Finazzer
waiting for us.

"Dear Johanna," he said, taking me by both hands, "you are to be my
sister now."

And then he kissed me on the forehead. The words were few; but he had
never spoken to me or looked at me so kindly before, and somehow my
heart seemed to come into my throat, and I could not answer a word.

It was now the early summer time, and they were to be married in the
autumn. Ulrich, meanwhile, had his hands full of work, as usual, and
there was, besides, one important task which he wanted to complete
before his wedding. This task was a Christ, larger than life, which he
designed as a gift to our parish church, then undergoing complete
restoration. The committee of management had invited him in the first
instance to undertake the work as an order, but Ulrich would not accept
a price for it. He preferred to give it as a freewill offering, and he
meant it to be the best piece of wood-sculpture that had ever yet left
his hand. He had made innumerable designs for it both in clay and on
paper, and separate studies from life for the limbs, hands, and feet. In
short, it was to be no ordinary piece of mere conventional Grödner Thal
work, but a work of art in the true sense of the word. In the meanwhile,
he allowed no one to see the figure in progress--not even Katrine; but
worked upon it with closed doors, and kept it covered with a linen cloth
whenever his workshop was open.

So the Summer time wore on, and the roses bloomed abundantly in our
little garden, and the corn yellowed slowly on the hillsides, and the
wild white strawberry-blossoms turned to tiny strawberries, ruby-red, on
every mossy bank among the fir-forests of the Seisser Alp. And still
Ulrich laboured on at his great work, and sculptured many a gracious
saint besides; and still the one object of his earthly worship was our
little laughing Katrine.

Whether it was that, being so grave himself, and she so gay, he loved
her the better for the contrast, I cannot tell; but his affection for
her seemed to deepen daily. I watched it as one might watch the growth
of some rare flower, and I wondered sometimes if she prized it as she
ought. Yet I scarcely know how, child that she was, she should ever have
risen to the heights or sounded the depths of such a nature as his. That
she could not appreciate him, however, would have mattered little, if
she had loved him more. There was the pity of it. She had accepted him,
as many a very young girl accepts her first lover, simply because he was
her first. She was proud of his genius--proud of his preference--proud
of the house, and the lands, and the worldly goods that were soon to be
hers; but for that far greater wealth of love, she held it all too
lightly.

Seeing this day after day, with the knowledge that nothing I could say
would make things better, I fell, without being conscious of it, into a
sad and silent way that arose solely out of my deep love for them both,
and had no root of selfishness in it, as my own heart told me then, and
tells me to this day.

In the midst of this time, so full of happiness for Ulrich, so full of
anxiety for me, Alois Finazzer came home suddenly. We had been expecting
him in a vague way ever since the Spring, but the surprise when he
walked in unannounced was as great as if we had not expected him at all.

He kissed us all on both cheeks, and sat down as if he had not been away
for a day.

"What a rich fellow I am!" he said, joyously. "I left only a grave elder
brother behind when I went to Venice, and I come back finding two dear
little sisters to welcome me home again."

And then he told us that he had just taken the gold medal at the
Academy, that he had sold his prize-picture for two hundred florins, and
that he had a pocketful of presents for us all--a necklace for Katrine,
a spectacle-case for our mother, and a housewife for myself. When he put
the necklace round my darling's neck he kissed her again, and praised
her eyes, and said he should some day put his pretty little sister into
one of his pictures.

He was greatly changed. He went away a curly-headed lad of eighteen; he
came back a man, bearded and self-confident.

Three years, at certain turning-points on the road of life, work with us
more powerfully, whether for better or worse, than would ten years at
any other period. I thought I liked Alois Finazzer better when he was
those three years younger.

Not so Katrine, however--not so our mother--not so the St. Ulrich folk,
all of whom were loud in his praise. Handsome, successful, gay,
generous, he treated the men, laughed with the girls, and carried all
before him.

As for Ulrich, he put his work aside, and cleared his brow, and made
holiday for two whole days, going round with his brother from house to
house, and telling everyone how Alois had taken the great gold medal in
Venice. Proud and happy as he was, however, he was prouder and happier
still when, some three or four days later, at a meeting of the Church
Committee of management, the Commune formally invited Alois to paint an
altar-piece for the altar of San Marco at the price of three hundred
florins.

That evening Ulrich invited us to supper, and we drank Alois's health in
a bottle of good Barbera wine. He was to stay at home now, instead of
going back to Venice, and he was to have a large room at the back of
Ulrich's workshop for a studio.

"I'll bring your patron saint into my picture if you will sit for her
portrait, Katrine," said Alois, laughingly.

And Katrine blushed and said, "Yes;" and Ulrich was delighted; and Alois
pulled out his pocket-book, and began sketching her head on the spot.

"Only you must try to think of serious things, and not laugh when you
are sitting for a saint, my little Mädchen," said Ulrich, tenderly;
whereupon Katrine blushed still more deeply, and Alois, without looking
up from his drawing, promised that they would both be as grave as judges
whenever the sittings were going on.

And now there began for me a period of such misery that even at this
distance of time I can scarcely bear to speak or think of it. There, day
after day, was Alois painting in his new studio, and Katrine sitting to
him for Santa Catarina, while Ulrich, unselfish, faithful, trustful,
worked on in the next room, absorbed in his art, and not only
unconscious of treachery, but incapable of conceiving it as a
possibility. How I tried to watch over her, and would fain have watched
over her still more closely if I could, is known to myself alone. My
object was to be with her throughout all those fatal sittings; Alois's
object was to make the appointments for hours when my household duties
compelled me to remain at home. He soon found out that my eyes were
opened. From that moment it was a silent, unacknowledged fight between
us, and we were always fighting it.

And now, as his work drew nearer to completion, Ulrich seemed every day
to live less for the people and things about him, and more for his art.
Always somewhat over-silent and reserved, he now seemed scarcely
conscious, at times, of even the presence of others. He spoke and moved
as in a dream; went to early mass every morning at four; fasted three
days out of seven; and, having wrought himself up to a certain pitch of
religious and artistic excitement, lived in a world of his own creation,
from which even Katrine was for the time excluded. Things being thus,
what could I do but hold my peace? To speak to Ulrich would have been
impossible at any time; to speak to my darling (she being, perhaps,
wholly unconscious) might be to create the very peril I dreaded; to
appeal to Alois, I felt beforehand, would be worse than useless. So I
kept my trouble to myself, and prayed that the weeks might pass quickly,
and bring their wedding-day.

Now, just about this time of which I am telling (that is towards the
middle of August) came round the great annual fête, or Sagro, as we call
it, at Botzen; and to this fête Katrine and I had for some years been in
the habit of going--walking to Atzwang the first day by way of
Castelruth; sleeping near Atzwang in the house of our aunt, Maria
Bernhard, whose husband kept the Gasthaus called the Schwarze Adler;
taking the railway next morning from Atzwang to Botzen, and there
spending the day of the Sagro; and returning in the same order as we
came. This year, however, having the dread of Alois before my eyes, and
knowing that Ulrich would not leave his work, I set my face against the
Botzen expedition, and begged my little sister, since she could not have
the protection of her betrothed husband, to give it up. And so I think
she would have done at first, but that Alois was resolute to have us go;
and at last even Ulrich urged it upon us, saying that he would not have
his little Mädchen balked of her festa simply because he was too busy to
take her there himself. Would not Johanna be there to take care of her,
Alois to take care of them both? So my protest was silenced, and we
went.

It is a long day's walk from St. Ulrich to Atzwang, and we did not reach
our aunt's house till nearly supper-time; so that it was quite late
before we went up to our room. And now my darling, after being in wild
spirits all day, became suddenly silent, and instead of going to bed,
stayed by the window, looking at the moon.

"What is my birdie thinking of?" I said, putting my arm about her waist.

"I am thinking," she said, softly, "how the moon is shining now at St.
Ulrich on our mother's bedroom window, and on our father's grave."

And with this she laid her head down upon my shoulder, and cried as if
her heart would break.

I have reproached myself since for letting that moment pass as I did. I
believe I might have had her confidence if I had tried, and then what a
world of sorrow might have been averted from us all!

We reached Botzen next morning in time for the six o'clock mass; went
to high mass again at nine; and strolled among the booths between the
services. Here Alois, us usual, was very free with his money, buying
ribbons and trinkets for Katrine, and behaving in every way as if he,
and not Ulrich, were her acknowledged lover. At eleven, having met some
of our St. Ulrich neighbours, we made a party and dined all together at
a Gasthaus in the Silbergasse; and after dinner the young men proposed
to take us to see an exhibition of rope-dancers and tumblers. Now I knew
that Ulrich would not approve of this, and I entreated my darling for
his sake, if not for mine, to stay away. But she would not listen to me.

"Ulrich, Ulrich!" she repeated, pettishly. "Don't tease me about Ulrich;
I am tired of his very name!"

The next moment she had taken Alois's arm, and we were in the midst of
the crowd.

Finding she would go, I of course went also, though sorely against my
inclination; and one of our St. Ulrich friends gave me his arm, and got
me through. The crowd, however, was so great that I lost sight somehow
of Alois and Katrine, and found myself landed presently inside the booth
and sitting on a front seat next to the orchestra, alone with the St.
Ulrich people. We kept seats for them as long as we could, and stood
upon the bench to look for them, till at last the curtain rose, and we
had to sit down without them.

I saw nothing of the performance. To this day I have no idea how long it
lasted, or what it consisted of. I remember nothing but the anxiety
with which I kept looking towards the door, and the deadly sinking at my
heart as the minutes dragged by. To go in search of them was impossible,
for the entrance was choked, and there was no standing-room in any part
of the booth, so that even when the curtain fell we were fully another
ten minutes getting out.

You have guessed it, perhaps, before I tell you. They were not in the
market-place; they were not at the Gasthaus; they were not in the
Cathedral.

"The tall young man in a grey and green coat, and the pretty girl with a
white rose in her hair?" said a bystander. "Tush, my dear, don't be
uneasy. They are gone home; I saw them running towards the station more
than half an hour ago."

So we flew to the station, and there one of the porters, who was an
Atzwang man and knew us both, confirmed the dreadful truth. They were
gone indeed, but they were not gone home. Just in time to catch the
Express, they had taken their tickets through to Venice, and were at
this moment speeding southwards.

How I got home--not stopping at all at Atzwang, but going straight away
on foot in the broiling afternoon sun--never resting till I reached
Castelruth, a little after dusk--lying down outside my bed and sobbing
all the night--getting up at the first glimmer of grey dawn and going on
again before the sun was up--how I did all this, faint for want of food,
yet unable to eat; weary for want of rest, yet unable to sleep--I know
not. But I did it, and was home again at St. Ulrich, kneeling beside
our mother's chair, and comforting her as best I could, by seven.

"How is Ulrich to be told?"

It was her first question. It was the question I had been asking myself
all the way home. I knew well, however, that I must be the one to break
it to him. It was a terrible task, and I put it from me as long as
possible.

When at last I did go, it was past mid-day. The workshop door stood
open--the Christ, just showing a vague outline through the folds, was
covered with a sheet, and standing up against the wall--and Ulrich was
working on the drapery of a St. Francis, the splinters from which were
flying off rapidly in every direction.

Seeing me on the threshold, he looked up and smiled.

"So soon back, liebe Johanna?" he said. "We did not expect you till
evening."

Then, finding I made no answer, he paused in his work, and said,
quickly:--

"What is the matter? Is she ill?"

I shook my head.

"No," I said, "she is not ill."

"Where is she, then?"

"She is not ill," I said, again, "but--she is not here."

And then I told him.

He heard me out in dead silence, never moving so much as a finger, only
growing whiter as I went on. Then, when I had done, he went over to the
window, and remained standing with his back towards me for some minutes.

"And you?" he said, presently, still without turning his head. "And
you--through all these weeks--you never saw or suspected anything?"

"I feared--I was not sure--"

He turned upon me with a terrible pale anger in his face.

"You feared--you were not sure!" he said, slowly. "That is to say, you
saw it going on, and let it go on, and would not put out your hand to
save us all! False! false! false!--all false together--false love, false
brother, false friend!"

"You are not just to me, Ulrich," I said; for to be called false by him
was more than I could bear.

"Am I not just? Then I pray that God will be more just to you, and to
them, than I can ever be; and that His justice may be the justice of
vengeance--swift, and terrible, and without mercy."

And saying this he laid his hand on the veiled Christ, and cursed us all
three with a terrible, passionate curse, like the curse of a prophet of
old.

For one moment my heart stood still, and I felt as if there was nothing
left for me but to die--but it was only for that one moment; for I knew,
even before he had done speaking, that no words of his could harm either
my poor little erring Katrine or myself. And then, having said so as
gently as I could, I formally forgave him in her name and mine, and went
away.

That night Ulrich Finazzer shut up his house and disappeared, no one
knew whither. When I questioned the old woman who lived with him as
servant, she said that he had paid and dismissed her a little before
dusk; that she then thought he was looking very ill, and that she had
observed how, instead of being as usual hard at work all day in the
workshop, he had fetched his gun out of the kitchen about two o'clock,
and carried it up to his bedroom, where, she believed, he had spent
nearly all the afternoon cleaning it. This was all she had to tell; but
it was more than enough to add to the burden of my terrors.

Oh, the weary, weary time that followed--the long, sad, solitary
days--the days that became weeks--the weeks that became months--the
Autumn that chilled and paled as it wore on towards Winter--the changing
wood--the withering leaves--the snow that whitened daily on the great
peaks round about! Thus September and October passed away, and the last
of the harvest was gathered in, and November came with bitter winds and
rain; and save a few hurried lines from Katrine, posted in Perugia, I
knew nothing of the fate of all whom I had loved and lost.

"We were married," she wrote, "in Venice, and Alois talks of spending
the Winter in Rome. I should be perfectly happy if I knew that you and
Ulrich had forgiven us."

This was all. She gave me no address; but I wrote to her at the Poste
Restante Perugia, and again to the Poste Restante, Rome; both of which
letters, I presume, lay unclaimed till destroyed by the authorities, for
she never replied to either.

And now the Winter came on in earnest, as Winter always comes in our
high valleys, and Christmas-time drew round again; and on the eve of St.
Thomas, Ulrich Finazzer returned to his house as suddenly and silently
as he had left it.

Next door neighbours as we were, we should not have known of his return
but for the trampled snow upon the path, and the smoke going up from the
workshop chimney. No other sign of life or occupation was to be seen.
The shutters remained unopened. The doors, both front and back, remained
fast locked. If any neighbour knocked, he was left to knock unanswered.
Even the old woman who used to be his servant, was turned away by a
stern voice from within, bidding her begone and leave him at peace.

That he was at work was certain; for we could hear him in the workshop
by night as well as by day. But he could work there as in a tomb, for
the room was lighted by a window in the roof.

Thus St. Thomas's Day, and the next day which was the fourth Sunday in
Advent, went by; and still he who had ever been so constant at mass
showed no sign of coming out amongst us. On Monday our good curé walked
down, all through the fresh snow (for there had been a heavy fall in the
night), on purpose to ask if we were sure that Ulrich was really in his
house; if we had yet seen him; and if we knew what he did for food,
being shut in there quite alone. But to these questions we could give
no satisfactory reply.

That day when we had dined, I put some bread and meat in a basket and
left it at his door; but it lay there untouched all through the day and
night, and in the morning I fetched it back again, with the food still
in it.

This was the fourth day since his return. It was very dreadful--I cannot
tell you how dreadful--to know that he was so near, yet never even to
see his shadow on a blind. As the day wore on my suspense became
intolerable. To-night, I told myself, would be Christmas Eve; to-morrow
Christmas Day. Was it possible that his heart would not soften if he
remembered our Happy Christmas of only last year, when he and Katrine
were not yet betrothed; how he supped with us, and how we all roasted
nuts upon the hearth and sang part-songs after supper? Then, again, it
seemed incredible that he should not go to church on Christmas Day.

Thus the day went by, and the evening dusk came on, and the village
choir came round singing carols from house to house, and still he made
no sign.

Now what with the suspense of knowing him to be so near, and the thought
of my little Katrine far away in Rome, and the remembrance of how he--he
whom I had honoured and admired above all the world my whole life
long--had called down curses on us both the very last time that he and I
stood face to face--what with all this, I say, and what with the season
and its associations, I had such a great restlessness and anguish upon
me that I sat up trying to read my Bible long after mother had gone to
bed. But my thoughts wandered continually from the text, and at last the
restlessness so gained upon me that I could sit still no longer, and so
got up and walked about the room.

And now suddenly, while I was pacing to and fro, I heard, or fancied I
heard, a voice in the garden calling to me by name. I stopped--I
listened--I trembled. My very heart stood still! Then, hearing no more,
I opened the window and outer shutters, and instantly there rushed in a
torrent of icy cold air and a flood of brilliant moonlight, and there,
on the shining snow below, stood Ulrich Finazzer.

Himself, and yet so changed! Worn, haggard, grey.

I saw him, I tell you, as plainly as I see my own hand at this moment.
He was standing close, quite close, under the window, with the moonlight
full upon him.

"Ulrich!" I said, and my own voice sounded strange to me, somehow, in
the dead waste and silence of the night--"Ulrich, are you come to tell
me we are friends again?"

But instead of answering me he pointed to a mark on his forehead--a
small dark mark, that looked at this distance and by this light like a
bruise--cried aloud with a strange wild cry, less like a human voice
than a far-off echo, "The brand of Cain! The brand of Cain!" and so
flung up his arms with a despairing gesture, and fled away into the
night.

The rest of my story may be told in a few words--the fewer the better.
Insane with the desire of vengeance, Ulrich Finazzer had tracked the
fugitives from place to place, and slain his brother at mid-day in the
streets of Rome. He escaped unmolested, and was well nigh over the
Austrian border before the authorities began to inquire into the
particulars of the murder. He then, as was proved by a comparison of
dates, must have come straight home by way of Mantua, Verona, and
Botzen, with no other object, apparently, than to finish the statue that
he had designed for an offering to the church. He worked upon it,
accordingly, as I have said, for four days and nights incessantly,
completed it to the last degree of finish, and then, being in who can
tell how terrible a condition of remorse, and horror, and despair,
sought to expiate his crime with his blood. They found him shot through
the head by his own hand, lying quite dead at the feet of the statue
upon which he had been working, probably, up to the last moment; his
tools lying close by; the pistol still fast in his clenched hand, and
the divine pitying face of the Redeemer whose law he had outraged,
bending over him as if in sorrow and forgiveness.

Our mother has now been dead some years; strangers occupy the house in
which Ulrich Finazzer came to his dreadful death, and already the double
tragedy is almost forgotten. In the sad, faded woman, prematurely grey,
who lives with me, ever working silently, steadily, patiently, from
morning till night at our hereditary trade, few who had known her in the
freshness of her youth would now recognise my beautiful Katrine. Thus
from day to day, from year to year, we journey on together, nearing the
end.

Did I indeed see Ulrich Finazzer that night of his self-murder? If I did
so with my bodily eyes and it was no illusion of the senses, then most
surely I saw him not in life, for that dark mark which looked to me in
the moonlight like a bruise was the bullet-hole in his brow.

But did I see him? It is a question I ask myself again and again, and
have asked myself for years. Ah! who can answer it?



ALL-SAINTS' EVE.

A STORY OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.

[This story, written some seventeen or eighteen years ago, was founded,
to the best of my recollection, on the particulars of a French trial
that I read in some old volume of _Causes Celèbres_, or _Causes
Judiciaires_, the title of which I have now forgotten. I no longer
remember how much of it is fact, or how much fiction; or even whether
the names and dates are retained unaltered.]


CHAPTER I.

The Mountaineers.

It was a sultry day in the month of August, A.D. 1710. The place was
wild and solitary enough--a narrow ledge of rock jutting out from a
precipitous mountain-side in the department of the Haute Auvergne. The
mountain was volcanic--bare and blackened towards the west; grassy to
the east and south; clothed with thick chestnut-woods about the base. A
sea of dusky peaks stretched all around. The deep blue sky burned
overhead. All was repose; all was silence--silence in the grass, in the
air, on the mountain-side.

Upon this shelf of rock lay three men, sound asleep; with their heads in
the shade, their feet in the sun, and the remains of a brown loaf and a
big cheese lying beside them on the grass.

The air up here was as still to-day, and as languid, as down in the
green valleys below. Towards the south, a faint white mist dulled the
distance; but in the direction of Clermont, on the north, every summit
rose clear and keen against the sky. Most conspicuous amongst these was
the long-toothed ridge of the Mont Dor; and loftiest of all, though
apparently farthest, the solitary summit of the Puy de Dome. Here and
there a few scattered sheep or cows might be seen as mere moving specks
on some green slope of high level pasture. Now and then, the faint
bleating of a stray lamb, or the bark of a herdsman's dog, or the piping
of some distant shepherd boy "piping as though he should never grow
old," just stirred the silence. But for these vague sounds and the low
humming of insects in the grass, all was so profoundly still that it
seemed as if Nature herself were holding her breath, and as if the very
perfumes were asleep in the hearts of the wild flowers.

Suddenly, in the midst of this charmed silence, the prolonged blast of a
huntsman's horn, and the deep baying of many hounds, came sweeping up
the ravine below. The sleepers sprang to their feet, rubbed their eyes,
and peered over the brink of the precipice.

"'Tis Madame la Comtesse out with the hounds!" said the elder of the
three--a big, burly, sun-browned mountaineer of some fifty-five or sixty
years of age.

"_Peste!_ It is my luck never to be in the way when she rides!"
exclaimed one of the two younger herdsmen. "Here is the third time our
new mistress has hunted of late, and I have never yet seen her."

The horns rang out again, but this time farther away and more faintly.
Once more, and it was but a breath upon the breeze. Then all was silent
as before.

"They have gone round by the Gorge des Loups," said the elder of the
trio.

Then, looking round the horizon, he added:--

"There is a storm brewing somewhere--and the shadows are lengthening.
'Tis time we went down to the Buron, lads, and saw to the milking."

Now these three constituted the usual triumvirate of the Haute
Auvergne--the _vacher_, or cowkeeper, (sometimes called the _buronnier_)
who makes the cheeses which form the principal revenue of the landowners
in this part of France; the _boutilier_ who makes the butter; and the
_pâtre_, or herdsman, who looks after the cows, and keeps the Buron and
dairy in order. The distinctions of rank among these three are strictly
observed.

The _varher_ is a person of authority, "a wise fellow, and, what is
more, an officer" the _boutilier_ comes next in dignity; and the _pâtre_
is under both. The Buron, or little wooden hut, in which they live
during the six Summer months, in Switzerland would be called a châlet.
It is generally built of wood, and divided into three chambers, the
first of which is for living and cooking in, and is provided with a rude
fire-place and chimney; the second is for the cheese-making, and
contains milk-pails, churns, and other implements; the third serves for
a cheese-room, store-room, and sleeping-room. A small kitchen-garden, a
stable, a pigsty, and an enclosure in which the cattle take refuge in
rough weather, completes the establishment.

The Buron to which the three herdsmen now took their way stood on a
green slope surrounded by oaks, about six hundred feet below the spot on
which they had been sleeping. As they went along, the cows came to their
call and followed them, knowing that milking-time was come. Every
cow--and there were fifty in all--was branded on the flank with a
coronet and an initial P, thus showing them to be the property of the
Countess de Peyrelade, a young and wealthy widow whose estates extended
for many miles to the eastward of the Plomb de Cantal. Other herds,
other Burons, other dependents, she had scattered about the neighbouring
hillsides, all portioned off in the same way--namely, fifty cows and
three men to each district.

"Tell us, Père Jacques," said the _boutilier_ when, the milking being
done, the men sat outside the Buron door, smoking and chatting, "tell us
what our new lady is like."

"Like!" repeated the cowkeeper. "Eh, _mon garçon_, it would take a more
skilful tongue than mine to describe her! She is more beautiful than the
Madonna in the Cathedral of St. Flour."

"When did you see her, Père Jacques, and where?" asked the _pâtre_.

"_Mon enfant_, I have seen her from near by and from afar off. I have
seen her as a child, a demoiselle, a bride, a widow. I have carried her
in my arms, and danced her on my knee, many and many a time. Ah! that
surprises you; but the snow has fallen for many a Winter on the summit
of Mount Cantal since that time."

"Then it was a great many years ago, Father Jacques. How old is Madame
la Comtesse?"

"Twenty-five years at the most, come September," replied Jacques. "And
she's so fresh and beautiful that she does not yet look above eighteen.
We always used to call her the little Queen Marguerite; and sure, if a
young girl were to be made a queen for her beauty, Marguerite would have
been crowned ten years ago. Ah, when she married the old Comte de
Peyrelade and went away to the King's court, there was not a soul in the
province but missed her. It was a blessing even to look upon her; she
was so fair, so smiling, so gracious! From everybody you heard, 'Well,
have you been told the news? The little Queen Marguerite is gone!' And
all the men sighed, and the women cried; and it was a sad day for the
poor folks. Well, nine years have gone by since then. She has at last
come back to us; the old Count is dead; and our little Queen will live
with us once more, till the end of her days!"

"Perhaps," said the _boutilier_, who had hitherto been silent.

"Why perhaps?" said Père Jacques, knitting his grey brows, "why
perhaps?"

"Is not Madame young and beautiful?" asked the _boutilier_. "Is she not
rich? Why, then, should she bury herself for life in an old château?
What will you bet that she does not go back to court before twelve
months are over, and there marry some rich and handsome lord?"

"Hush! Pierre," replied Jacques, in a moody voice; "I tell you she will
neither marry nor leave us. She has made a vow to that effect."

"Do ladies keep those vows?" asked the incredulous Pierre.

"She will. Listen, and I will tell you all that passed nine years ago in
the Château de Pradines, the home of our little Queen Marguerite before
her marriage."

The two lads drew nearer, and the cowkeeper thus began:--

"The handsomest and noblest among all Marguerite's lovers was M. le
Chevalier de Fontane. She preferred him; and though he was but a younger
son, with a lieutenant's commission, the old Baron de Pradines consented
to the marriage for love of his daughter. The wedding day was fixed.
Then news came that Monsieur George, the brother of Mademoiselle
Marguerite, was to have leave of absence from his regiment; and M. le
Baron deferred the marriage till his arrival--and sorely he repented of
it afterwards! Monsieur George was as much disliked as his father and
sister were beloved in the province; and the day when he had first left
it was a day of rejoicing amongst us. It was late one evening when he
arrived at the château, bringing with him an old gentleman. This
gentleman was the Count de Peyrelade. As soon as supper was over,
Monsieur George went to his father's chamber, and there remained with
him for a long time in conversation. No one ever knew what passed
between them; but the night was far spent when he came out, and the next
day M. le Baron, who had been full of life and health before the
arrival of his son, was confined to his bed in the extremity of illness.
A priest was sent for, and the last sacraments were administered; and
then the poor old gentleman summoned all the household to take his
farewell.

"'Marguerite,' said he to his daughter, who was crying
bitterly--'Marguerite, I have but a few moments to live, and before I
leave thee I have a prayer to address to thee.' And as Mademoiselle
kissed his hands without being able to speak a word, he added, 'My
daughter, promise me to marry M. de Peyrelade!'

"At these words the poor young lady gave a great cry, and fell on her
knees at the foot of her father's bed. Then the Baron turned to the late
Count:--

"'Monsieur,' said he, 'I know my daughter; she will obey my commands.
Promise me to make her happy.'

"The Count, greatly moved, promised to devote his life to her; and the
poor dear master fell back quite dead!

"It was exactly twenty-four hours after his son's arrival that M. le
Baron breathed his last. What a terrible night it was, boys! The rain
and snow had never ceased falling since that fatal return. M. le
Chevalier de Fontane, who knew nothing of what had passed, came riding
into the courtyard about an hour after the Baron had died. I ran out to
him, for I was a stableman in the château, and I told him all that had
happened. As he listened to me, he became as pale as a corpse, and I saw
him reel in his saddle. Then he plunged his spurs into his horse's
flanks, and fled away like a madman into the storm. From that time he
was never seen or heard of again; but, as he took the road to the
mountains, it was supposed that he fell, with his horse, into some
chasm, and was buried in the snow. Every year, on the anniversary of
that day, his family have a mass said for the repose of his soul."

Here the cowkeeper crossed himself devoutly, and his companions followed
his example.

After a few minutes' silence, "Well, Pierre," he said, "now do you
understand why Madame la Comtesse de Peyrelade has retired at the age of
twenty-five to live in a ruinous old Château of Auvergne, and why she
should never marry a second time?"

The _boutilier_ was so concerned that he had not the heart to say a
word; but the herdsman, who was excessively curious, returned to the
charge.

"You have not told us, Père Jacques," said he, "why the Baron desired
his daughter to marry the late Count instead of the Chevalier de
Fontane."

"I can only tell you the reports," replied Jacques; "for nobody knows
the truth of it. They said that M. George owed more money to the Count
de Peyrelade than his father could pay, and that he had sold the hand of
his sister to defray the debt. Every one knows that the Count was very
much in love with her, and that she had refused him several times
already."

"Alas!" exclaimed Pierre, "I don't wonder at the poor lady's
determination. It is not her old husband that she grieves for, but her
father and her lover; is it not, Père Jacques?"

"Ay," replied the cowkeeper, "and it is not only past troubles that the
gentle soul has to bear, but present troubles also! 'Tis not much peace,
I fear, that she will find in Auvergne."

"Why so, friend?" said a deep voice behind the speakers, and a man of
about thirty-eight or forty years of age, with a pale face, a stooping
figure, and a melancholy expression of countenance came suddenly into
the midst of them. The mountaineer and the ecclesiastic were oddly
combined in his attire; for with the cassock and band he wore leathern
gaiters, a powder-pouch and a cartridge-box; while across his shoulders
was slung a double-barrelled musket. A _couteau de chasse_ was thrust in
his leathern belt, and a magnificent mountain-dog walked leisurely at
his side.

"Good day, Monsieur le Curé," said the cowkeeper, respectfully. "Welcome
to the Buron. Have you had good sport?"

"Not very, my good friend, not very," replied the priest.

"You are tired, Monsieur le Curé; come and rest awhile in the Buron. We
can give you fresh milk and bread, and new cheese. Ah _dame_! you will
not find such refreshments here as at the château, but they are heartily
at your service."

"I will sit here with you, friends, and willingly accept a draught of
milk," said the priest, as he took his place beside them on the grass;
"but upon one condition; namely, that you will continue the subject of
your conversation as freely as if I were not amongst you."

Père Jacques was abashed and confounded. He looked uneasily to the
right, and then to the left; and at last, having no other resource, "_Eh
bien!_" he exclaimed, "I will e'en speak the truth, Monsieur le Curé,
because it is wicked to tell a lie, and because you are a holy man and
will not be offended with me. We were talking of Madame and M. George,
the present Baron de Pradines. He is actually living here in the
château, and here he is going to remain--M. George, the spendthrift
brother of Madame, to whom, through your intercession, Monsieur le Curé,
she is lately reconciled."

"Hush! Jacques," said the priest, gravely. "M. de Pradines was wild in
his youth; but he has repented. It was he who made the first advances
towards a reconciliation with Madame."

"I know that, M. le Curé," said the mountaineer, "I know that; but the
Baron is poor, and knows how to look after his own interests. He is here
for no good, and no good will come of his return. It is certain that the
old well in the courtyard of the château, which was dry for years, has
refilled these last few days; and you know _that_ to be a sure sign of
some misfortune to the family."

"It is true," said the Curé superstitiously, "it is true, Jacques."

And he grew thoughtful.

The mountaineers were silent; suddenly the priest's dog started and
pricked up his ears. At the same moment the report of a gun echoed
through the glen, and a white partridge, such as is sometimes to be seen
in the mountains after a severe Winter, fell fluttering at the feet of
the Curé. Then followed a crashing of underwood and a sound of rapid
footsteps, and in another moment a gentleman appeared, parting the
bushes and escorting a young lady who held the train of her
hunting-habit thrown across her arm. The gentleman was laughing loudly,
but the lady looked pale and distressed, and running towards the group
under the chestnut-trees, took up the wounded bird and kissed it
tenderly, exclaiming:--

"Ah, M. le Curé, _you_ would not have killed the pretty creature if I
had begged its life, would you?"

The priest coloured crimson.

"Madame," said he, falteringly, "this partridge is wounded in the wing,
but is not dead. Who shot it?"

The young lady looked reproachfully at the gentleman; the gentleman
shrugged his shoulders and laughed again, but less heartily than before.

"Oh, _mea culpa_!" he said, lightly. "I am the culprit, Monsieur
l'Abbé."


CHAPTER II.

The Storm.

The Baron de Pradines, late of the Royal Musketeers and now captain in
the Auvergne Dragoons, was small and fair, like his sister, and about
thirty-five years of age. He looked, however, some years older, pale,
_ennuyé_, and languid--as might be expected in a man who had spent a
dissipated youth in the gayest court of Europe.

Madame de Peyrelade, on the contrary, was scarcely changed since Jacques
had last seen her. She was then sixteen; she was now five-and-twenty;
and, save in a more melancholy expression, a sadder smile, and a bearing
more dignified and self-possessed, the good herdsman told himself that
nine years had left no trace of their flight over the head of "_la belle
Marguerite_." The Countess, being still in mourning, wore a riding-dress
of grey cloth ornamented with black velvet, with a hat and plume of the
same colours. Thus attired, she so strongly resembled the portraits of
her namesake, the beautiful Marguerite de Navarre, that one might almost
have fancied she had just stepped out of the canvas upon that wild
precipice amidst a group of still wilder mountaineers, such as Salvator
loved to paint.

There were some minutes of uneasy silence. The wondering herdsmen had
retreated into a little knot; the captain bit his glove, and glanced at
his sister under his eyelashes; the Countess tapped her little foot
impatiently upon the ground; and the Curé of St. Saturnin, with an
awkward assumption of indifference, bent his sallow face over the
wounded partridge, which was nestled within the folds of his black serge
cassock.

"_Mordieu!_ sister," exclaimed the Baron, with his unpleasant laugh,
"are we all struck dumb at this woeful catastrophe--this woodland
tragedy? Being the culprit, I am, however, ready to throw myself at your
feet. You prayed to me for mercy just now, for a white partridge, and I
denied it. I now entreat it for myself, having offended you."

The Countess, smiling somewhat sadly, held out her hand, which the
dragoon kissed with an air of profound respect.

"George," she said, "I am foolishly superstitious about these white
partridges. A person who was very dear to me gave me once upon a time a
white partridge. One day it escaped. Was it an evil omen? I know not;
but I never saw that person again."

The young man frowned impatiently, and, changing the conversation,
exclaimed, with a disdainful movement of the head:--

"We have the honour, Madame, to be the object of your herdsmen's
curiosity all this time. The fellows, I should imagine, would be more
fitly occupied among their cows. Or is it the custom on your estates,
my amiable sister, that these people should pass their time in idleness.
A word to the steward would not, methinks, be altogether out of place on
this subject."

The herdsmen shrank back at these words, which, though uttered in the
purest French of Versailles, were sufficiently intelligible to their
ears; but the Countess, with a kindly smile, and a quick glance towards
the priest, undertook their defence.

It was holiday, she said, doubtless in consequence of his own arrival in
Auvergne; and besides, did he not see that M. the good Curé has been
delivering to them some pious exhortation, as was his wont?

The priest blushed and bowed, and made an inward resolution of penance
that same night, for participation in that innocent falsehood. It was
his first sin against truth.

At this moment the lady, looking towards the little group of men,
recognized Père Jacques.

"If I do not mistake," she exclaimed, making use of the mountain
_patois_, "I see one of my oldest friends yonder--a herdsman who used to
be in my father's service! Père Jacques, is it really you?"

The herdsman stepped forward eagerly.

"Ah, Mam'selle Marguerite," he stammered, "is it possible that--that you
remember me?"

And he scarcely dared to touch with his lips the gloved hand that his
mistress gave him to kiss.

"George," said the Countess, "do you not remember Père Jacques?"

"Ah!--yes," replied the Baron, carelessly; adding, half aloud, "my dear
sister, do not let us stay here talking with these boors."

"Nay, brother, this place is not Versailles, _Dieu merci!_ Let me talk a
little with my old friend--he reminds me of the days when I was so
happy."

"And so poor," muttered the dragoon between his teeth, as he turned away
and began talking _chasse_ with the Curé of St. Saturnin.

"And now tell me, Père Jacques," said the young Countess, seating
herself at the foot of a chestnut-tree, "why have you left the château
de Pradines?"

"You were there no longer, Madame," said the mountaineer, standing
before her in a respectful attitude.

"But I was not here either."

"True; but Madame might, some day, grow weary of the court; and I knew
that sooner or later she would come to Auvergne. Besides, here I worked
on Madame's property, and ate of her bread."

"Poor Père Jacques! you also think sometimes of the old days at
Pradines?"

"Sometimes!--it seems as if it were but yesterday, Mam'selle, that I
carried you in my arms, and ran beside you when you rode Fifine, the
black pony, and heard your laugh in the courtyard and your foot in the
garden! Ah, Madame, those were the happy times, when the hunt came
round, and Monsieur your father, and yourself, and Monsieur the
Chevalier de Fon----. Oh, pardon, Madame! pardon!--what have I said!"

And the herdsmen stopped, terrified and remorseful; for at that name the
lady had turned deathly white.

"Hush, my good friend," she said, falteringly. "It is nothing." Then,
after at brief pause and a rapid glance towards her brother and the
priest, "Come nearer, Jacques," she said, in a subdued tone. "One
word--_Was the body ever discovered?_"

"No, Madame."

She shaded her face with her hand, and so remained for some moments
without speaking. She then resumed in a low voice:--

"A terrible death, Jacques! He must have fallen down some precipice."

"Alas! Madame, it may have been so."

"Do you remember the last day that we all hunted together at Pradines?
The anniversary of that day comes round again to-morrow. Poor Eugène!...
Take my purse, Père Jacques, and share its contents with your
companions--but reserve a louis to purchase some masses for the repose
of his soul. Say that they are for your friend and benefactor--for he
was always good to you. He has often spoken of you to me. Will you
promise me this, Père Jacques?"

The herdsman was yet assuring her of his obedience, when the priest and
her brother came forward and interrupted them.

"My dear sister," said M. de Pradines, "the sun is fast going down, and
we have but another hour of daylight. Our friend here, M. le Curé,
apprehends a storm. It were best we rejoined our huntsmen, and began to
return."

"A storm, _mon frère_," said Madame de Peyrelade with surprise.
"Impossible! The sky is perfectly clear. Besides, it is so delightful
under these old trees--I should like to remain a short time longer."

"It might be imprudent, Madame la Comtesse," said the Curé timidly, as
he cast a hurried glance along the horizon. "Do you not see those light
vapours about the summit of Mont Cantal, and that low bank of clouds
behind the forest? I greatly mistake if we have not a heavy storm before
an hour, and I should counsel you to take the road for the château
without delay."

"Come hither, Père Jacques," said the lady, smiling, "you used to be my
oracle at Pradines. Will there be a storm to-night?"

The old mountaineer raised his head, and snuffed the breeze like a
stag-hound.

"M. le Curé is right," he said. "The night-wind is rising, and there is
a tempest close at hand. See the cows, how they are coming up the valley
for shelter in the stalls! They know what this wind says."

"To horse! to horse!" cried the dragoon, as he raised his silver horn
and blew a prolonged blast. "We have no time to lose; the roads are long
and difficult."

A clear blast from the valley instantly echoed to his summons, and the
next moment a group of men and dogs were seen hurrying up the slope.

"Farewell, my friends," said the Countess; "farewell, Père Jacques! M.
le Curé, you will return and dine with us?"

"Madame, I thank you; but--but this is a fast-day with me."

"Well, to-morrow. You will come to-morrow? I will sing you some of those
old songs you are so fond of! Say yes, M. le Curé."

"Madame la Comtesse will graciously excuse me. I must catechise the
children of the district to-morrow."

"But my brother returns to-morrow to his regiment--you will come to bid
him farewell?"

"Monsieur de Pradines has already accepted my good wishes and
compliments."

"The day after to-morrow, then, M. le Curé?"

"Madame, I will endeavour."

"But you promise nothing. Ah, monsieur, for some time past you have been
very sparing of your visits. Have I offended you that you will no longer
honour me with your company?"

"Offended me!--oh Madame!"

These words were uttered with an accent and an expression so peculiar
that the young lady looked up in surprise, and saw that the priest's
eyes were full of tears.

For at moment she was silent; then, affecting an air of gaiety, "Adieu,
M. le Curé," she cried as she turned away; "be more neighbourly in
future."

Then, seeing that he still held the wounded partridge, "Alas! that poor
bird," she exclaimed; "it is trembling still!"

"Ah, Madame la Comtesse," said Père Jacques. "I'll engage that, if M. le
Curé opened his hand, that cunning partridge would be a mile away in
half a minute!"

"Do you think it will live? Well, Père Jacques, take care of it for my
sake. Feed it for two or three days, and then give the poor bird its
liberty."

"Sister!" said the dragoon, in a tone of impatience, "the storm is
coming on."

"Adieu all!" were the last words of the Countess, as she took her
brother's arm, and went down the rough pathway leading to the valley.

In a few minutes more they had mounted their horses and set off at a
quick gallop towards the turreted château that peeped above the trees
three miles away. The priest and the herdsmen stood watching them in
silence till they disappeared round an angle of rock, and listened till
the faint echo of the horns died away in the distance.

"Dear little Queen Marguerite!" exclaimed Père Jacques, when all was
silent. "Dear little Queen Marguerite, how good and kind she is!"

"And how beautiful!" murmured the priest.

Then taking a little leathern purse from his breast, he slipped an _écu_
into the mountaineer's hand.

"Good Jacques," said he, "I will take care of the partridge; but say
nothing to the Countess when you see her again. Good evening, friends,
and thanks for your hospitality!"

And the Curé threw his gun across his shoulder, whistled to his dog,
and turned towards the pathway.

At the same moment a gathering peal of thunder rolled over the distant
mountains; and the summit of Mont Cantal, visible a few moments since,
was covered with thick black clouds.

"Monsieur le Curé!" cried the herdsmen, with one voice, "come back! the
storm is beginning. Come back, and take shelter in the Buron!"

"The storm!" replied the priest, raising his eyes to the heavens.
"Thanks, my friends, thanks! God sends the storm. Pray to Him!"

While he spoke, there came a flash of lightning that seemed to rend open
the heavens. The herdsmen crossed themselves devoutly. But the Curé of
St. Saturnin had disappeared already down the pathway.

The storm came on more swiftly than they had expected. All that evening
the mountains, which here extend for more than three leagues in one
unbroken chain, echoed back the thunder. Sturdy oaks and mountain pines
that had weathered every storm for fifty years, were torn up from their
firm rootage. Huge fragments of rock, white and tempest-scarred from
long exposure on bleak mountain-heights, were shivered by the lightning,
and fell like fierce avalanches into the depths below.

All was darkness. The rain came down in pitiless floods; the thunder
never seemed to cease, for before the doubling echoes had half died
away, fresh peals renewed and mocked them. Every flash of lightning
revealed for an instant the desolate landscape, the rocking trees, the
swollen torrents rushing in floods to the valley. It was scarcely like
lightning, but seemed as if the whole sky opened and blinded the world
with fire.

Meanwhile the Countess and her brother arrived safely at the Château de
Peyrelade; and, having changed their wet garments, were sitting before a
blazing log-fire, in the big _salon_ overlooking the valley. Both were
silent. Their reconciliation had not been, as yet, of long duration.
Marguerite could not forget her wrongs, and the Baron felt embarrassed
in her presence. It is true that he endeavoured to conceal his
embarrassment under an excess of courteous respect; but his smiles
looked false, and his attentions always appeared, to his sister at
least, to wear an air of mockery. And so they sat in the great _salon_
and listened to the storm.

It was a gloomy place at all times, but gloomier now than ever, with the
winds howling round it and the rain dashing blindly against the windows.
Great oaken panellings and frowning ancestral portraits adorned the
walls, with here and there a stand of arms, a rusty helmet and sword, or
a tattered flag that shivered when the storm swept by. Old cabinets
inlaid with tortoiseshell and tarnished _ormolu_ were placed between the
heavy crimson draperies that hung before the windows; a long oaken table
stood in the centre of the room; and above the fire-place the ghastly
skull and antlers of a royal deer seemed to nod spectrally in the
flickering light of the wood-fire.

At length the Baron broke silence:--

"What _are_ you thinking about so intently, Madame?" said he.

"I am wondering," replied the lady, "if any hapless travellers are out
in this heavy storm. If so, heaven have mercy on them!"

"Ah, truly," replied the brother, carelessly. "By the way, that poor
devil of a Curé, who would not come to dinner, I wonder if he got safely
back to his den at Saturnin. Do you know, Marguerite, 'tis my belief
that the holy man is smitten with your beautiful eyes!"

"_Monsieur mon frère!_" exclaimed the lady indignantly, "if you forget
your own position and mine, I must beg you at least to remember the
profession of the holy man whom you calumniate. He is ill repaid for his
goodness towards you by language such as this! But for his intercessions
you would not now be my guest at Peyrelade."

"I beg a thousand pardons, my dear sister," said the Baron lightly.
"Pray do not attach such importance to a mere jest. _Ce cher Curé!_ he
has not at better friend in the world than myself. By-the-by, has he
happened to mention to you the dilapidated state of the chapel at
Pradines? It should be put into proper repair, and would cost a mere
trifle--three hundred louis--which sum, however, I really cannot at
present command. Now, my dear sister, you are so kind...."

"George," said the Countess, gravely, "M. le Curé has not spoken to me
of anything of the kind. I will not, however, refuse this sum to you;
but do not deceive me. Shall you really put the money to this use? Have
you quite given up play?"

"_Au diable la morale!_" muttered the dragoon between his teeth. Then he
added, aloud, "If I ask it for any other use, I wish I may be--"

"No more, M. le Baron," interrupted the lady. "To-morrow morning you
shall have the three hundred louis."

As she spoke these last words, a loud knocking was heard at the outer
gates of the château.

"Bravo!" cried the Baron, delighted at this interruption to the
conversation. "Here is a visitor. Yet, no; for what visitor in his
senses would come out on such a night? It must be a message from the
king."

It was neither, for in a few moments a servant entered, saying that an
accident had occurred to a traveller a short distance from the château.
His horse, taking fright at the fall of a large fragment of rock, had
become unmanageable, and had flung himself and his rider over a steep
bank. Happily, some bushes had served to break the force of their fall,
or they must inevitably have been much injured. As it was, however, the
gentleman was a good deal hurt, and his servant entreated shelter within
the walls of the château.

The Countess desired that the traveller should be brought into the
_salon_, and a horseman be despatched to the nearest town for a
surgeon.

"Ah, brother," said she, "I had a presentiment of evil this night! Alas,
the unfortunate gentleman! Throw on more logs, I beseech you, and draw
this couch nearer to the fire, that we may lay him upon it."

The door was again opened, and the stranger's groom, assisted by the
people of the château, brought in the wounded traveller, whom they laid
upon the couch beside the fire. He was a young man of twenty-eight or
thirty, slightly made, and dressed in a foreign military uniform.

The Countess, who had advanced to render some assistance, suddenly
retreated and became very pale.

"What is the matter, Marguerite? What ails you?" cried her brother.

She made no reply, but leaned heavily upon his arm. At this moment the
traveller, who began to recover when placed near the warmth, raised his
head feebly, and looked around him. All at once his vague and wandering
glance rested on Marguerite. Instantly a look of recognition flashed
into his eyes. Then he raised himself by a convulsive effort, and fell
back again, insensible as before.

The Baron de Pradines, who had attentively observed this scene, turned
to the stranger's groom, and asked him in a low voice the name of his
master.

He could not repress a start when the man replied--"My master, Monsieur,
is called the Chevalier de Fontane."

"Ah!" said the ex-captain of Royal Musketeers, as he rent one of his
lace ruffles into tiny shreds that fell upon the floor, "I will not
leave to-morrow!"


CHAPTER III.

The Parsonage.

André Bernard, Curé of the parish of St. Saturnin, was sitting in the
little parlour which served him for breakfast-room, dining-room, and
study. He had just said mass in the tiny chapel adjoining his garden;
and now the peasants were dispersing towards their various homes, or
clustering in little knots beneath the roadside trees, discussing the
weather, the harvest, or the arrival of their lady the Countess in her
château at Auvergne.

The pastor had hastened back to his cottage, and was already seated in
his great leathern armchair, busily cleaning his gun, which was laid
across his knees; but at the same time, in order that mind and body
should be equally employed, he was devoutly reading an office from the
breviary which lay open on a stool beside him. His dog lay at his feet,
sleeping. His modest array of books filled a couple of shelves behind
his chair; the open window looked upon the mountain-country beyond, and
admitted a sweet breath from the clustering Provence roses that hung
like a frame-work round the casement. The floor was sanded. A few
coloured prints of the Virgin and various saints upon the walls; a small
black crucifix above the fire-place; a clock, and an old oak press
behind the door, make up the list of furniture in the Curé's _salon de
compagnie_.

Opposite to her master, seated in a second high-backed leathern chair,
the very brother to his own, an old woman who played the important part
of housekeeper in the parsonage, sat silently spinning flax and
superintending the progress of a meagre _potage_ that was "simmering" on
the fire. Not a sound was heard in the chamber save the monotonous
rattle of the spindle, and the heavy breathing of the dog; save now and
then when the priest turned a leaf of his breviary. The old woman cast
frequent glances at her master through her large tortoiseshell
spectacles, and seemed several times about to address him, but as often
checked herself in respect to his holy employment.

At last she could keep silence no longer.

"Monsieur le Curé," she exclaimed, in that shrill tone which age and
long familiarity appears to authorise in old servants, "Monsieur le
Curé, will you never have finished reading your breviary?"

The Abbé, who did not seem to hear her in the least, went on
mechanically rubbing his gun, and murmuring words of the Latin office.

The old lady repeated her question--this time with more effect; for
André Bernard slowly raised his head, fixed his eyes vacantly upon her,
and resting the butt-end of his musket on the floor, made the sign of
the cross, and reverently closed the book.

"Jeannette," said he, gravely, "here is a screw in the gun-barrel that
will not hold any longer; fetch me the box of nails and screws, that I
may fit it with a fresh one."

Having said these words, he opened the breviary in a fresh place, and
resumed his orisons.

"Here, Monsieur le Curé," said the good housekeeper, somewhat testily,
bringing out a little box of gunsmith's tools from a corner cupboard,
"here is what you asked for; but I think there must be some spell on
your musket if it wants mending with the little use you make of it!
There is no danger of your ever wanting a new one, I'm certain. Then
your powder--it never diminishes! I have not filled your pouch for the
last three weeks. Truly we should starve but for the eggs and
vegetables; and the saints know that our larder has been empty for a
long time!"

"What is the matter, my poor Jeannette?" said the priest, kindly, as he
again looked up from his breviary. "I do not know how it is, but the
game has fled from me lately."

"Say rather, Monsieur le Curé, that it is you who fly from the game! The
other day M. Gaspard, the schoolmaster, told me that he met you on the
mountains, and that a great hare ran past you at a yard's distance, and
you only looked at it as if it had been a Christian!"

"The schoolmaster must have mistaken, Jeannette."

"Oh, no, Monsieur le Curé; Gaspard's eyes are excellent! Then your
breviary--it is frightful to see you reading from morning till night,
from night till morning, instead of being out in the fresh air, and
bringing back a good store of game for ourselves and our neighbours. How
shall we live? If you will not kill, you must buy--and your money all
goes in charity. Ah, Monsieur, you must indeed be more industrious with
your gun!"

"Well, Jeannette, I promise to reform," said the priest, smiling; "I
will go out this afternoon, and try to be more successful."

"Indeed I should advise it, Monsieur le Curé; and above all do not come
back, as you did yesterday, wet to the skin, and bringing what,
forsooth?--nothing but a miserable partridge!"

"Ah! but I do not mean to make a supper of that partridge, my good
Jeannette: I mean to keep it."

"To keep it--holy Virgin! Keep a partridge! A live partridge! Why,
Monsieur, it would devour our corn, and cost as much as twenty canaries.
If you do these things, Monsieur, instead of giving alms you will have
to beg."

"Be calm, Jeannette, my good Jeannette; we shall never be ruined by a
partridge. Besides, it is a rare bird. Bring it here to me."

"Rare, Monsieur le Curé! I have seen them over and over again after a
severe winter."

"Well, Jeannette, for my sake take care of this poor little bird, for I
value it greatly. Bring it here; I wish to feed it myself."

The good housekeeper looked uneasily at her master through her great
spectacles, and began glancing from right to left in evident
tribulation. She did not offer, however, to rise from her seat.

"Are you dreaming, Jeannette?" said the priest, with much surprise; "did
you hear me?"

"Oh, yes, Monsieur le Curé. The--the partridge...."

"Well?"

"Well--that is, Monsieur le Curé, you will be a little vexed, I
fear--perhaps--but the partridge--"

"Will you speak, Jeannette?"

"There--Monsieur le Curé--there was nothing in the house for supper,
Monsieur le Curé--and--and so I--"

"Wretch! have you killed it?"

And the priest sprang from his seat, pale with anger, and advanced
towards the terrified housekeeper, who fell upon her knees, and clasped
her hands in a speechless appeal for mercy.

Even the dog ran trembling under the table, and uttered a low
deprecatory howl.

Recalled to himself by the panic of his household, André Bernard threw
himself back into his chair, and covered his face with his hands. Could
one have removed those fingers, they would have seen large tears upon
his sunken cheeks.

At this moment the door was opened quickly, and a man entered the room.
The priest rose precipitately from his chair, for in the intruder he saw
no less a person than the Baron de Pradines.

"Excuse my intrusion, Monsieur le Curé," said the gentleman, whose
features wore an expression of peculiar anxiety. "I wish to speak with
you in private." And he glanced towards the still-kneeling Jeannette.
"You see I have not yet returned to my regiment. I have, for the
present, changed my plans. Pray who is this woman?"

"She is my housekeeper, Monsieur le Baron: she--she was in prayer when
you entered," said André Bernard, telling another falsehood to account
for the strange position of Jeannette.

Poor Abbé! he blushed and faltered, and mentally vowed another penance
for his sin.

"Jeannette," he said, "you may go, I will hear the rest of your
confession in the evening."

The Baron smiled furtively as the old lady rose and left the room--he
had, unfortunately heard the latter part of the pretended confession.

"Now, Monsieur le Curé," said he, "I have come to consult you on a very
grave and important subject. You are renowned in all this district for
your piety and learning; tell me, do you consider vows to be sacred and
indissoluble?"

The priest was surprised to hear these words from the lips of a
gentleman whose reputation for light morals and free views was so
extensively known; but after a few moments' consideration--

"There are several kinds of vows, Monsieur le Baron," he replied; "there
are vows by which we bind ourselves to the service of God, and those
never must be broken. Then there are vows rashly uttered in times of
mental excitement, by which people engage themselves to perform acts of
sacrifice or penance."

"Ah, it is of such that I would speak!" said the captain. "What of
those? Think well, M. le Curé, before you answer me."

"It is doubtless a great sin," replied the priest, "not to fulfil such
vows; but still I do not think that the good God in His mercy would
desire to chastise eternally an erring creature who had thus offended
him; especially if the vow were made under the strong influence of human
passion."

The dragoon bit his lips angrily.

"I am no churchman, Monsieur le Curé," said he roughly, "but I cannot
agree with you there. Do you forget that God commanded Abraham to
sacrifice Isaac his son?"

"Yes, but I also remember that He sent an angel to arrest the father's
hand."

"Possibly," said the Baron, with a bitter laugh; "but I do not believe
anything of the kind myself!"

André Bernard raised his eyes to the ceiling, in pious horror.

After a moment, George de Pradines drew his chair beside the priest, and
continued:--

"And yet, Monsieur le Curé, I have something to tell you that I think
will change your opinion in the matter of vows."

"Proceed," murmured the priest, who was already troubled with a
presentiment of evil.

"Since we parted last night, strange things have happened at the
château. A wounded traveller has arrived--a traveller whom we believed
long since dead. He lives. _Eh bien_, Monsieur le Curé, can you guess
who he is?"

"Monsieur le Baron--I--I know not," murmured the priest; and for the
third time André Bernard uttered an untruth.

"I am really surprised, Monsieur le Curé at your want of penetration.
Well, it is the Chevalier de Fontane."

At this name the priest turned pale and trembled. He looked silently
upon the ground.

"Listen, Monsieur le Curé," cried the young man determinedly;
"dissimulation avails nothing. My sister is a rich widow, and I shall be
ruined if she breaks her solemn vow never to marry a second time. I have
already procured large sums of money upon the reversion of her estate,
when she either dies or adopts a conventual life. I am not a man who
could pass his days agreeably at the galleys. My future depends solely
on her vow, and she _must not_ marry a second time."

"But, Monsieur le Baron, it seems to me that you leap at too hasty a
conclusion. Your fears may be without foundation. Madame may not wish to
be absolved from her vow--Monsieur le Chevalier may no longer be
desirous...."

"Bah!" interrupted the Baron, savagely, "what else is he here for? His
servant has told me all. He has been for eight or nine years serving in
the Prussian army; during all that time he kept a strict watch upon
France. At length he heard of the death of the late Count de Peyrelade:
he obtained leave of absence when a decent time had elapsed. Loving and
hoping more ardently than ever, he set off for Auvergne; he met with
this accident at the very gates of the château, (would that it had
killed him!); and there he is!"

The priest was silent.

"You see, Monsieur le Curé, there is but one way to prevent this
marriage. My sister is pious, and rests every faith in your sanctity.
She will sigh--perhaps she will weep; but is it for a priest, a minister
of the church, to be swayed by trifles of this kind? No! it is for the
sake of religion and heaven, Monsieur le Curé, that you will be firm and
faithful to your trust. It is nothing to you if my fortunes fail or
prosper--if a young woman weeps or smiles--_you_ must fulfil the
disinterested duties of your sacred calling--_you_ must maintain the
sanctity of vows--_you_ must rescue my sister from the abyss of crime
into which she is falling!"

"It is quite true," said the poor Abbé, tremulously.

"Then you will render your utmost assistance?" said the Baron eagerly.

"Yes," murmured the priest.

"Monsieur le Curé, you are a holy man, and you have my esteem."

The Abbé blushed and accepted the proffered hand of the dragoon. At that
moment some one knocked at the door.

"Who is there?" said the Abbé, starting like a guilty man.

"It is I," replied old Jeannette. "A servant from the château presents
the compliments of Madame la Comtesse, and requests M. le Curé to pay
her a visit directly on urgent business."

"You see," said the Baron, "my sister has her scruples already. Go
quickly, my dear Abbé, and do not forget that the interests of the
church are in your hands. It is a holy mission!"

"A holy mission!" repeated the priest, as he turned to leave the room.
"A holy mission! _O mon Dieu, mon Dieu!_ do not forsake thy servant!"


CHAPTER IV.

The Vow.

André Bernard arrived at the Château de Peyrelade like a man walking in
his sleep. He found that he had been ushered into the Countess's
boudoir, and that he was sitting there awaiting her arrival, without
having the faintest remembrance of the forest through which he must have
come, the gates through which he must have passed, or the staircase
which he must have ascended. Truly the Abbé Bernard had been asleep, and
his sleep had lasted for two months. Now he was slowly awaking, and it
was the stern reality of his position that so bewildered him.

The charm which spread itself round the young and beautiful Countess had
not been unfelt by this lonely priest, whose calm and passionless
existence had hitherto been passed in the society of an aged
housekeeper, or of a simple and untaught peasantry. Seeing nothing for
long years beyond the narrow limits of his own little world--his
parsonage, his chapel, or his parishioners; familiar only with the
savage grandeur of the mountains, or the cool stillnesses of the
valleys, is it to be wondered at that the presence of an accomplished
and graceful woman should blind the reason of a simple Curé?

Even at this moment, the perfumed atmosphere of the boudoir intoxicated
him. Exotics of exquisite shape and colour, with long drooping leaves
and heavy white and purple blossoms, were piled against the windows; a
Persian carpet, gorgeous with eastern dyes--

     "Orange and azure deep'ning into gold,"

was spread beneath his feet. Yonder was her lute; here were some of her
favourite books; all around, draperies of pink silk fell from the
ceiling, and curtained round the boudoir like a tent.

The Abbé laid his head upon his hand, and groaned aloud.

When he again looked up, the Countess was standing beside him, with an
unwonted trouble in her face--a trouble that might have been pity, or
anxiety, or shame, or a mingling of all three.

She began to speak; she hesitated; her voice trembled, and her words
were indistinct.

André Bernard was suddenly aroused from his dream. The lover, not the
priest, was awakened.

He rose abruptly.

"Madame la Comtesse," he said, sternly, "spare yourself useless and
sinful words. I know why you have sent for me to-day, and I tell you
that the All-Powerful who has received your vow, commands you by my lips
to observe its sanctity."

The young woman cast a terrified glance at the gloomy countenance of the
priest, and hid her face in her hands.

"Then, Monsieur le Curé, the All-Powerful bids me die!"

"No, you will not die," replied the Abbé, in the same profound and
steady voice--"you will not die. Heaven, which gave you strength to bear
the first separation, will enable you to sustain the second."

"Alas! alas!" cried the Countess, in a piercing tone, "I had thought to
be so happy!"

The priest dug his nails into the palms of his clenched hands. A
convulsive tremor shook him from head to foot, and he gasped for breath.
Before he had seen her, he had prepared a host of holy consolations for
the wounded heart; but now that he had it before him, trembling and
bleeding like the stricken bird which had nestled in his breast the
night before, he had not a word of comfort or pity to soothe her
anguish. Every tear that forced its way between her slender fingers,
fell like a burning coal upon the conscience of the good Curé. In this
cruel perplexity he murmured a brief prayer for strength and guidance.

"Alas, Madame," he faltered, "do you then love him so deeply?"

"I have loved him all my life!" she cried despairingly.

The priest was silent. He threw open the window, and suffered the
evening breeze to cool his brow and lift his long black hair.

Then he returned.

"Marguerite," he said, in a broken voice, "be it as you will. In the
name of the living God, I release you from your vow; and if in this a
wrong should be committed, henceforth I take that sin upon my soul."

Powerfully moved, glowing with excitement, elevated for the moment by a
rapture of generosity--feeling, perhaps, as the martyrs of old, when
they went triumphant to their deaths, and sealed their faith with
blood--so André Bernard stood in the glory of the setting sun, rapt,
illumined, glorified. And Marguerite de Peyrelade, dimly conscious of
the dark struggle that had passed through his soul and the divine
victory which he had achieved, fell on her knees as to a deity, calling
upon him as her saviour, her benefactor!

"Not unto me, Marguerite, but unto Him," said André, releasing his hand
gently from her lips, and pointing upwards. "It is not I who give you
happiness. _C'est Dieu qui l'envoie. Priez Dieu!_" And he pointed to a
crucifix against the wall.

The young woman bowed before the sacred emblem in speechless gratitude,
and when she rose from her knees the priest was gone.

In an hour from this time, two persons were sitting together on the
terrace, upon which opened the Countess's boudoir. One was a young man,
pale, but with a light of joy in his countenance that replaced the bloom
of health. He was seated in an easy chair, and wrapped in a large
military cloak. The other was a woman, young and beautiful, who sat on a
low stool at his feet, with her cheek resting on his hand. They spoke at
intervals in low caressing tones, and seemed calmly, speechlessly
happy.

Far around them extended range beyond range of purple mountains, quiet
valleys, and long, dark masses of foliage tinted with all the hues of
autumn and golden in the sun. No traces of the late storm were visible,
save that here and there a tree lay prostrate, and one or two brawling
streams that but yesterday were tiny rivulets, dashed foaming through
the valleys.

Presently the red disc of the sun disappeared slowly behind the
tree-tops; the gathered clouds faded into grey; the mountain summits
grew darker, and their outline more minutely distinct; a mist came over
the valley; and a star gleamed out above.

The lady wrapped his cloak more closely round her lover, to protect him
from the evening air, and then resumed her lowly seat. And so they sat,
looking at the stars and into one another's eyes, listening to the
distant sheep-bell, or the lowing of the herds as they were driven home
to their stalls.

"Methinks, sweet one," said the gentleman, as he looked down at the dear
head laid against his hand--"methinks, that in an hour such as this,
with thee beside me, I should love to die!"

But the lady kissed his hand, and then his brow, and looked at him with
eyes that were filled only with life and love.

That night the Baron de Pradines set off to join his regiment.


CHAPTER V.

The Supper of All-Saints' Eve.

Two months quickly passed away in the Château de Peyrelade, during which
the Chevalier de Fontane had recovered from his accident, and the
Countess from her melancholy. Preparations had been making for the last
three weeks for the celebration of their marriage. Workmen from Paris
had been decorating the rooms; a dignitary of the church was invited to
perform the ceremony; and all the nobility for miles around were invited
to the _fête_. Even the Baron de Pradines, mortally offended as he was
by the whole business, had at last consented to be friends, and had
accepted an invitation to the wedding. In a word, the contract was to be
signed on the evening of All-Saints' Day, and the marriage was to take
place the following morning.

At length All-Saints' Day arrived, a grey, cold, snowing morning. Autumn
is wintry enough, sometimes, in the Haute Auvergne. The earth looks bare
and hard, the chestnut-trees are all stripped of their thick foliage,
and the snow has encroached half-way down the sides of the mountains.
The raw north-east wind rushes howling through the passes and along the
valley, carrying with it at sunrise and sunset drifting sleet and fine
snow, Soon it will come down thick and fast, and bury all the bushes in
its white mantle. Now the herdsmen's huts are empty, and the cows are
transferred to the warm stabling of the château.

Marguerite de Peyrelade, sitting in her _salon_, surrounded by a gay and
noble company, is ill at ease, thinking of the dark night, of the
falling snow, of the howling wolves, and of the Chevalier de Fontane,
who has been out since morning and is momentarily expected at the
château. He has been to the notary's in the neighbouring town respecting
the marriage-settlements, and has promised to return in time for the
great supper of All-Saints' Eve. The Baron de Pradines is also to arrive
to-night to be present at the signing of the contract; and the young
Countess, whose heart is overflowing with love and charity, is even a
little concerned for the safety of her ungracious brother.

Parisian workmen have effected wondrous changes in the great dark
_salon_ of the Château de Peyrelade. Who would recognize, in the
brilliantly lighted reception-room blazing with chandeliers and mirrors,
furnished with exquisite taste, garlanded with evergreens, and crowded
with all the rank and pride of Auvergne, the gloomy, cavernous hall with
the rusty armour and ghostly antlers of two months since?

Uniforms and glittering orders were abundant. There was the Marquis de
Florac, gorgeous with the ribbon and decoration of St. John of
Jerusalem; the Count de Saint Flour, in his uniform as Colonel of the
St. Flour cavalry; the Commander de Fontane, cousin of the bridegroom,
in a rich court dress redolent of Versailles; the Lieutenant of Police;
the Seigneur de Rochevert, who owned the adjoining estate; several
officers, a cabinet minister, some diplomatic gentlemen, and one or two
younger sons from the colleges and the Polytechnique. The gentlemen were
gathered in little knots, playing at ombre and piquet: the ladies were
assembled round _la belle reine Marguerite_.

But the queen of the fête was anxious and abstracted, and her thoughts
wandered away to the Chevalier de Fontane and his lonely journey. The
time-piece in the ante-chamber struck nine. No one heard it but
Marguerite. Neither laughter, nor music, nor the sound of many voices
could drown that silvery reverberation, however, for her listening ears.
Her impatience became intolerable, for the Chevalier should have
returned full three hours before. At last she rose and slipped quietly
out of the room, through the ante-chamber, along the corridor, and so
into her little quiet boudoir, far away from the jarring merriment of
her guests. There she wrapped herself in a great cloak lined with
sables, opened the window, and stepped out on the terrace.

It was a gloomy night. The moon shone fitfully through masses of black
cloud. There was snow upon the terrace; snow in the garden beneath; snow
in the valley; snow on the distant mountains. The silence was profound;
not a sound was audible from the noisy _salon_; not a sound from the
distant forest. All around lay deep shadow and spectral moonlight; and
upon all the scene a stillness as of death. Suddenly, in the midst of
the silence, Marguerite de Peyrelade heard the sharp, clear report of a
distant musket shot. She listened, trembling and terrified. It was
instantly followed by another.

"_Oh, mon Dieu!_" murmured the young woman, leaning for support against
the window-frame; "what Christian hunts at such an hour as this? Heaven
protect Eugène!"

And now another sound almost as deadly--a prolonged howling of wolves
startled in their lair--came up from the valley. Then the moon became
obscured by heavy clouds, and snow began to fall.

The Countess re-entered her boudoir, closed the windows hastily, and was
glad once more to find herself in the noisy _salon_.

"Our hostess looks very pale," whispered the Marquis de Morac to his
partner at ombre. "She is anxious, I suppose, for the arrival of M. de
Fontane."

"Very likely," said his companion--"I play the king."

"Is Madame unwell?" asked a young Colonel of Hussars, going up to her
with a profound salutation. "Madame appears much agitated."

"I have heard something very strange," stammered the Countess, as she
sank into a chair: "the report of a gun!"

"Indeed, Madame!" said the Lieutenant of Police. "That is somewhat
strange at this hour of the evening!"

"And it was followed by--by a second," said the Countess.

"Stranger still!" muttered the Lieutenant.

"Pooh! nothing but the fall of some fragment of rock up in the mountains
yonder," said the Commander de Fontane, with a gay laugh. "The days of
banditti are past. Do not be alarmed, _chère petite cousine_; Eugène is
safe enough, and knows how to take care of himself."

"He should have been here some hours ago, Monsieur," replied the lady.

At this moment the door of the _salon_ was thrown open, and the
Majordomo announced that supper was served.

"But the two principal guests are not yet here," cried the Marquis de
Florac. "Monsieur le Chevalier de Fontane, and Monsieur le Baron de
Pradines!"

"Three are wanting, M. le Marquis," said the Countess, forcing a smile.
"Our good Abbé Bernard, the Curé of St. Saturnin, has not yet arrived;
and how could we take our places at table without his presence on
All-Saints' Eve? We must wait awhile for the three missing guests. I am
surprised at the absence of M. le Curé, for he has the shortest road to
travel; not more than a quarter of a league."

"A quarter of a league, did you say?" exclaimed the Commander: "is that
all? Why, with a good horse it would not take more than five minutes to
go and return. If you command it, Madame, I will fly to M. le Curé, and
bring him to your feet dead or alive!"

"Monsieur, I thank you," said the Countess, smiling; "but here is our
worthy Abbé!"

At the same instant the Curé of St. Saturnin was ushered into the
_salon_. He looked strangely white and wan; his teeth chattered; his
hands were damp and cold.

"At last, Monsieur le Curé!" said the Countess, as she advanced to meet
him.

"At last, Monsieur le Curé!" repeated several voices.

"Five minutes later, Monsieur le Curé, and I protest that Madame's _chef
de cuisine_ would have committed suicide for grief at the ruin of the
_ragoûts_, and you would have had murder on your conscience!" exclaimed
the Commander.

"Murder!" echoed André Bernard in a hollow voice, staring round him upon
the company--"who speaks here of murder?"

"For shame, Monsieur le Commandeur! you alarm our good Abbé," said
Madame de Peyrelade. "Come to the fire, Monsieur le Curé; you are
trembling from cold."

"The supper is served," said the Majordomo for the second time, with an
appealing look towards his mistress.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we will wait no longer for Monsieur de Fontane or
my brother," said the Countess, rising. "The former will doubtless be
here before supper is over; and the Baron de Pradines is possibly
detained at court, and may not arrive till to-morrow. We will defer
supper no longer. Your arm, Monsieur de Florac."

The supper was laid out in the great hall of the château. Wine and jests
went round. Even the Countess recovered her spirits, and joined in the
gaiety of her guests.

"Remove those two covers," said she. "We will tell these gentlemen, if
they arrive, that they shall have no supper by way of penance."

"No, no," exclaimed the Commander; "I protest against the sentence! They
will be here soon, and deserve pity rather than reproof. Who knows?
Perhaps my cousin and the Baron have agreed to surprise us at the
supper-table, and will both be in the midst of us in a few minutes."

"Both!" ejaculated the priest, casting a terrified glance at the vacant
chairs.

"And why not, Monsieur le Curé? I remember, when I was some twelve years
younger, being invited to sup with a party of friends at ten leagues'
distance. It was a pouring night, but there was a pretty girl in
question, and so I rode through the rain, and arrived just at the right
time, but wet to the skin. These gentlemen would either of them
undertake a similar expedition, and I will answer for it they will both
be here before supper is over. Come, I bet a hundred crowns! Who will
take it? Will you, Monsieur le Curé?"

"I? Heaven forbid!" cried the priest.

"Well, you will not refuse to drink their healths?" said the Commander,
as he filled the priest's glass and his own. "The health of Messieurs le
Baron de Pradines and le Chevalier de Fontane!"

"Thanks cousin, for the honour!" cried a voice from the farther end of
the hall. "When I am a little thawed, I shall be happy to return the
compliment!"

And the Chevalier de Fontane, flushed from riding, and radiant with
happiness, came hastening up to kiss the hand of his betrothed.

"_Mon dieu_, Monsieur de Fontane, what has happened?" cried the lady
beside whom he took his seat; "your neckcloth and ruffles are covered
with blood!"

"A mere trifle, Madame de Rochevert," laughed the young officer, holding
up his hand, round which a handkerchief was bound; "a tussle with a
wolf, who would fain have supped off of your humble servant, instead of
suffering him to occupy this chair by your side--_voilà tout!_"

"How horrible!" exclaimed several ladies.

Madame de Peyrelade turned pale, and murmured a prayer of thanks to
Heaven.

Healths went round again. Everyone drank to the Chevalier, and
congratulated him upon his victory. Then the conversation turned upon
the Baron de Pradines.

"It is now too late to hope for his arrival," said Marguerite. "I trust
_he_ has met with no wolves on the road."

"Let us drink to him," said the Commander, "and perhaps, like my cousin
Eugène, he may come upon us at the very moment. The health of M. le
Baron de Pradines!"

"The health of M. le Baron de Pradines!" cried all the voices.

"I denounce M. l'Abbé of high treason," exclaimed a lady. "He never
opened his lips, and put down his glass untasted!"

The Curé was dumb with consternation.

"For shame, M. le Curé!" cried the merry-makers. "We can have no
abstinence to-night. Do penance and drink the health alone."

"To the health of M. le Baron de Pradines!" said the priest in a hollow
voice, and emptied his glass at a draught.

"Bravo! bravo, M. le Curé!" cried the gentlemen, rattling their glasses,
by way of applause. "Nothing like the _amende honorable_!"

At this moment, a succession of thundering blows upon the outer gate
startled the revellers into a momentary silence.

"The Baron de Pradines, for a hundred crowns!" cried the Marquis de
Florac.

André Bernard turned paler than before.

"Who comes?" asked the Countess. "Go, Pierre," she said to a servant
behind her chair, "go and see if it be M. de Pradines."

In a moment the valet returned, pale and speechless. A confused murmur
was heard without.

"Who is there?" asked the Countess.

"Doubtless," said the Curé, in a hoarse wandering voice, "doubtless it
is one of the guests who has arrived in time for the dessert."

At these words everyone rose from table, struck by a fatal presentiment.

The door opened, and Père Jacques appeared, followed by his two
assistants. They carried the body of a man wrapped in a military cloak.
The Countess recognising the body of her brother, uttered a piercing cry
and hid her face in her hands. Silent and terror-stricken, the company
stood looking at each other. The Curé clasped his hands as if in prayer;
the Lieutenant of Police went over and examined the body.

"This is not the work of a robber," said he, "for the jewels and purse
of the Baron are untouched. He has been shot in the temple. Does any
person here present know anything of this murder?"

No one spoke.

"Where was the body found?"

"We discovered it near the foot of Mont Cantal, with M. le Baron's horse
standing beside it, M. le Lieutenant," replied Père Jacques.

"Does any person know of any enemy whom M. le Baron may have had in this
neighbourhood?" pursued the officer of police.

"Alas, Monsieur," replied the cowkeeper, bluntly, "the Baron de Pradines
had very few friends in these parts, but no enemy, I think, who would
serve him a turn like this."

"Does any person know if M. le Baron had any difference or quarrel
lately with any person?"

There was a profound silence; but more than one glance was directed
towards the Chevalier de Fontane.

The Lieutenant of Police repeated the inquiry. "I--I know of only one
person, Monsieur," stammered the _boutillier_, "and--and----"

He was silent: a stern look from Père Jacques arrested the words upon
his lips, and he said no more.

"And that person?"

"Pardon, M. le Lieutenant, but--but I will not say."

"Answer, I command you," said the officer, "in the name of the King."

"It is--M. le Chevalier de Fontanel!" gasped the terrified peasant.

"You hear this, Monsieur," said the Lieutenant. "What answer do you
make? Have you had a quarrel with the late Baron?"

"I acknowledge--that is--I----" faltered the young man in evident
confusion and dismay.

"Enough, Monsieur. Appearances, I regret to say, are against you. You
arrive late; your dress is disordered; your apparel is blood-stained,
and your hand is wounded. I am grieved beyond measure; but I am
compelled to arrest you on the charge of murder."


CHAPTER VI.

The Lieutenant of Police.

When misfortune falls upon a house in the midst of feasting and revelry,
the guests, of late so friendly and familiar, shun the presence of their
entertainers as if there were contagion in the very air. It is as if the
plague had broken out within the walls, and as if the black flag were
alone needed to complete the resemblance.

So it was in the Château de Peyrelade after the arrival of the body of
the Baron de Pradines. Some few of the guests who lived in the immediate
neighbourhood, mounted their horses and hastened home that very night.
Others, not caring for the night-journey through a mountain-country in
fast-falling snow, waited courageously for the dawn. All, however, rose
so early next morning and contrived so well that, by the time the sun
poured his full radiance into the disordered apartments, not a soul
remained in the château beyond its usual inhabitants. The kitchens that
had been so busy with cooks and servants, the _salon_ that had been
thronged with visitors, the supper-room that had of late been the scene
of festivity and mirth--all were deserted; and on the supper-table lay
the body of the murdered man, covered with a sheet.

We have said that all the guests were gone; but this was not strictly
true, for two remained at the château--the Commandeur de Fontane, cousin
to the prisoner, and the Lieutenant of Police. The former had stayed to
stand by his kinsman; the latter, in the prosecution of his duties.
Determined to investigate the matter to the utmost, he had already
despatched two of his servants to the town of St. Flour, to command the
instant attendance of a detachment of _gendarmerie_. Father Jacques, and
the unfortunate _boutillier_, who had (through sheer terror and
excitement) betrayed the hostility existing between the Baron and the
Chevalier, were placed with loaded muskets before the door of the
wretched bridegroom's chamber. The public crier was sent round the
parish of St. Saturnin to proclaim rewards for information tending to
throw light upon the murder of the high and puissant George, Baron de
Pradines, and, during life, Captain of the Auvergne Light Dragoons.

In short, Monsieur the Lieutenant of Police was an active and
intelligent officer, and before noon on the day following the event, had
done all that was in the power of man towards discovering the
particulars of the dreadful deed, and securing the person of the
supposed offender.

Having discharged these duties, the worthy Lieutenant found himself
altogether unemployed. Nothing more could be done till the arrival of
the _gendarmerie_ from St. Flour; so he resolved to go into the
supper-room and examine the body of the Baron de Pradines.

The Countess de Peyrelade, veiled and in deep mourning, was kneeling at
the foot of the table, absorbed in prayer. He signified by a gesture
that he had no intention of disturbing her orisons; and as she once more
resumed her attitude of devotion, he turned down the sheet, and
attentively contemplated the body. M. le Lieutenant was a man eminently
skilful in his profession, and he was not ignorant of the importance of
slight indications. He knew how frequently the weightiest discoveries
lie concealed beneath a veil of the commonest circumstances.

George de Pradines was yet dressed in the clothes which he had worn at
the moment of his fall. His features, even in death, preserved their
habitually proud and sarcastic expression; nay, it even seemed as if the
haughty lip were curved more mockingly than ever. The bullet-hole on his
temple proved that he was face to face with the murderer when attacked.
This circumstance precluded, at least, all suspicion of a cowardly
ambush. What if he could be shown to have fallen in a duel!

The Lieutenant of Police took up the musket lying beside the body. It
was loaded. He then examined the pistols which were in the belt around
the dead man's waist. They were loaded likewise. Strange! Had he not
even defended himself, though facing his murderer's weapon? And then had
not Madame de Peyrelade, returning to the _salon_ pale and terrified,
told the assembled company in evident terror that she had distinctly
heard _two_ reports of a gun in the direction of the mountains?

Presently Madame de Peyrelade rose from her knees, and burst into tears.

"He is not guilty, Monsieur le Lieutenant!" she cried, sobbing. "Eugène
is not guilty! Why have you accused him of this fearful crime? Why have
you brought this misery upon us? Was it not enough," she said, pointing
to the body, "was it not enough that my brother should be assassinated,
but that _you_--the guest under my roof--should seek to fix the guilt
upon my betrothed husband?"

"Madame la Comtesse," replied the Lieutenant, with severe courtesy, "you
forget that I am but fulfilling my duty to the state. It is not I who
act, but the law in my person. I do not say that Monsieur de Fontane is
guilty. It is for the Judge to decide that point. Appearances are
strongly against him: public opinion accused him before I did: the
suspicions of your friends and dependents were directed to him at once.
Madame, be just."

Marguerite's gentle heart was touched.

"Monsieur le Lieutenant," she said, "I was in the wrong. Forgive me."

"Madame," replied the gentleman, kindly, as he held the door for her to
pass, "retire now to your chamber, and take some rest. I fear that it
will be our painful duty, ere night, to remove the body of the Baron de
Pradines to St. Flour. Should such commands arrive from the judicial
authorities, I regret to say that it will be imperative upon me to
include yourself, some of your people, and the Chevalier de Fontane
among our party. Fear nothing, Madame, and hope for the best.
Perseverance alone can aid us now; and the stricter are our
investigations, the more completely shall we, I hope, prove the
innocence of Monsieur de Fontane."

The lady retired, and the Lieutenant of Police returned to his
contemplation of the corpse.

He was not wrong. Before night a party of soldiers arrived, bringing
with them a paper of instructions from the authorities both military and
civil. Before daybreak on the following morning the gloomy
procession--including the Countess, two of her women-servants, the
Chevalier de Fontane, Father Jacques, and his assistants--set off for
St. Flour. The body of the murdered officer, in a plain black coffin
borne upon the shoulders of six _gendarmes_, brought up the rear.

From the moment of his arrest the Chevalier had scarcely spoken, except
to utter broken ejaculations of grief and horror. The mountaineers who
guarded the door of his chamber had heard him restlessly pacing to and
fro all that dreadful night.

Food had been twice or thrice brought to him, but there it still lay
untouched, untasted. Being summoned to the carriage that was to convey
him to St. Flour, he went quite silently and submissively, between a
couple of guards.

In the hall they passed the coffin. For a moment the young man paused.
He turned very pale, took off his hat, crossed himself devoutly, and
passed on.

Only once he was seen to give way to emotion. It was when the Lieutenant
of Police stepped into the carriage and took his seat opposite to him.

"Monsieur," he exclaimed, passionately, "one word, for mercy's sake!
Does she believe that I am guilty?"

"Monsieur de Fontane," replied the Lieutenant, briefly but kindly,
"Madame la Comtesse entertains no doubt of your innocence."

The prisoner's whole countenance brightened. He bent his head
gratefully, and spoke no more during the rest of the journey.


CHAPTER VII.

The Trial.

The court-house was crowded in every part. The judge in gloomy state,
the robed lawyers, the busy _avocats_, the imperious ushers--all were
there. It was a dark, wintry day. The great chandeliers were lighted in
the hall. The windows were closed; but a little patch of daylight
streamed in at the _oeil-de-boeuf_ overhead, and made the murky
atmosphere still darker by contrast.

All Madame de Peyrelade's dear friends, who had fled so precipitately
the evening of the murder, might have been seen in various parts of the
court-house, chattering to each other with the most lively interest, and
now and then affecting a tone of profound compassion for "_ce pauvre_
Baron," or "_cette charmante_ Madame la Comtesse." They, however, agreed
unanimously in condemning the unfortunate Chevalier. All had discovered
that his countenance wore a very cruel and sinister expression. One had
never liked him from a boy: another had mistrusted him from the first: a
third said it was rumoured that he had been much disliked in Prussia,
and even dismissed the service: a fourth would not be in the least
surprised to hear that this assassination was not the first of which he
had been guilty.

The object of these charitable remarks sat, however, pale and composed,
in the space railed off for the prisoner. Not the soldiers who stood
behind his chair were more completely unmoved. He looked worn and
sorrowful, but neither desponding nor abashed. He was dressed in a suit
of complete mourning. His lawyer sat at a table near him, with far the
more troubled countenance of the two. In a room set apart for the
witnesses at the farther end of the Justice Hall might have been
observed the three herdsmen who discovered the body, the Chevalier's
servant, some _gendarmes_, and several strangers.

Near the bench, on a raised platform, sat a veiled lady in deep
mourning, surrounded by a party of her friends. This was Madame de
Peyrelade. Near her stood the Commandeur de Fontane, the Lieutenant of
Police, and some other gentlemen of the Province.

A dense crowd of townspeople, Auvergne peasants, and country gentry
filled the court-house to the very passages and ante-rooms.

The proceedings opened with a short address from the Advocate-General,
of which not one syllable was to be heard above the incessant hum of
voices. Then he sat down, and Père Jacques was placed in the
witness-box.

The noise instantly subsided; the interest of the assembled multitude
was excited; and the business of the day began in earnest.

The honest cowkeeper gave his testimony in a straightforward,
unhesitating voice. He had been to high mass at the chapel of St.
Saturnin with his two companions--Pierre, the _boutillier_, and Henri,
the herdsman. They were returning from thence to the Château de
Peyrelade, where Madame had invited all her dependents to supper in the
servant's hall, while she gave a grand entertainment in the state-rooms
to all the gentry of the province. He (Jacques) and his friends were
walking leisurely along, laughing and talking, and thinking of nothing
but the wedding which was to take place on the morrow. When they had
turned the foot of the Rocher Rouge, which lies between the chapel and
the Château, and were coming down into the valley, Henri, who was a
little in advance, gave a great cry, and shouted "Murder!" And sure
enough, when he (Jacques) came up, there was a man lying upon his face
under a tree, with his horse standing beside him, trembling all over and
covered with foam. They lifted the body, and found that it was the Baron
de Pradines. Then they wrapped it in his cloak, and picked up the
musket, which had fallen beside him on the grass. There was no one in
sight, and there were no signs of any struggle. He (Jacques) felt the
body: the Baron was quite dead, but not yet cold. He had no more to say.

_M. le Lieutenant de Police._ "At what hour of the evening did this
occur?"

_Jacques._ "As near as I can guess, M. le Lieutenant, about nine, or a
quarter past."

_Lieut._ "Was it dark at the time?"

_Jacques._ "It was neither dark nor light, Monsieur. The moon kept going
in and out, and the snow began to come down just after we had found the
body."

_Lieut._ "Did you hear any shots fired?"

_Jacques._ "No, M. le Lieutenant."

_Lieut._ "But if the body was not cold, the shots could not have been
fired very long before you discovered it?"

_Jacques._ "That might be, too, M. le Lieutenant; for the wind set the
other way, towards the Château, and would have carried the noise away
from us."

_Lieut._ "At what time did the mass begin?"

_Jacques._ "At seven o'clock, Monsieur le Lieutenant."

Pierre and Henri were next examined.

These witnesses corroborated the testimony of Father Jacques. The first
in a nervous and confused manner, the second in a bold and steady voice.
Pierre looked several times in a contrite and supplicating manner
towards the Chevalier de Fontane and Madame de Peyrelade; but neither
observed him.

He was very penitent and unhappy. He felt that it was through his
indiscretion that the betrothed lover of his mistress was placed in this
position of peril; and he would have given the world to be far enough
away in the desolate _Buron_.

Henri stated that, after finding the body, he climbed the high tree
beneath which it lay, for the purpose of reconnoitring; but no person
was in sight.

The Lieutenant of Police next examined the _boutillier_ Pierre.

_Lieut._ "Repeat what you said of the quarrel between Monsieur le
Chevalier and the Baron de Pradines."

_Pierre._ [in great confusion]: "I know nothing, Monsieur, beyond what
the poor people say about the village."

_Lieut._ "Well, and what do the poor people say about the village?"

_Pierre._ "Indeed, Monsieur, I know nothing."

_Lieut._ "You must speak. You must not trifle with the law."

_Pierre._ "_Mon Dieu!_ they only said that Monsieur le Baron wanted
Madame's money and estates himself, and that he hated Monsieur le
Chevalier, because Monsieur le Chevalier loved Madame and Madame loved
him."

_Lieut._ "And from whom did you hear these reports?"

_Pierre._ "From Père Jacques, Monsieur le Lieutenant."

_Lieut._ [cross-examining Jacques the cowkeeper] "What did _you_ know,
witness, of the difference between these gentlemen?"

_Jacques._ "Nothing, M. le Lieutenant."

_Lieut._ "Did you ever hear of any such quarrel?"

_Jacques._ "I don't deny to have heard it talked about, Monsieur."

_Lieut._ "Whom did you hear talk about it?"

_Jacques._ "I have heard Gustave, Monsieur le Chevalier's valet, say so
many times."

_Lieut._ [examining Gustave] "Relate all you know or have heard
respecting the differences that are said to have arisen between your
master and the late Baron de Pradines."

_Gustave._ "I came with my master, the Chevalier de Fontane, from
Prussia, about ten weeks ago. As soon as we got near the Château de
Peyrelade, my master met with an accident. We got him into the house,
where he stayed some weeks, till he had quite recovered. The Countess
and my master were old lovers, and very glad to meet each other again.
They made up the match between themselves the very next day, and Madame
sent for a priest, who absolved her of a vow that she had made, never to
marry again. After the priest was gone, M. le Baron, who had been out
since the morning, came home, and Madame informed him that she was
betrothed to the Chevalier, and that the marriage would take place in a
few weeks. M. le Baron was furious. He swore at Madame, and at M. de
Fontane, and even at the priest. He asked Madame if she had no respect
for her vow or her soul, and he called M. le Chevalier a villain and a
coward to his face. M. le Chevalier was too ill and weak to pay any
attention to him; but Madame was very indignant, and told her brother
that it was himself who was the coward, so to insult a woman and a sick
man. In a word, Madame said that, if he could not conduct himself more
like a gentleman, he had better leave the house. And so M. le Baron did
leave the house that very night, and set off for his regiment. But it
did not end here. M. le Baron had been gone only a very few days when
he sent abusive and violent letters to Madame, and to Monsieur le
Chevalier; and I heard that he had also the audacity to send one to the
holy priest; but this I cannot be sure of. Madame had no sooner read
hers than she burnt it; but Monsieur le Chevalier only laughed, and
threw his into his writing-case. He said that the writer deserved a good
thrashing, but did not seem at all angry. In a few days there came
another letter to M. le Chevalier, and this time the Baron threatened to
bring the matter before Holy Church on account of Madame's broken vow,
as he called it; for he would not hear of the absolution granted by M.
le Curé. This letter vexed M. le Chevalier a good deal, for he could not
bear the idea of Madame's name being brought into a court of
ecclesiastical law; and so he wrote back a very sharp answer to M. le
Baron, representing the odium which it would bring both upon himself and
the family, and telling him how perfectly useless such a step would be,
since Madame was altogether absolved from her rash engagement. Well, the
Baron never wrote any reply to this letter; but about a week before All
Saints' Day, Madame sent a very kind and loving letter to her brother
(at least so I overheard her telling Monsieur le Chevalier), and invited
him to the wedding. Whether it was that M. le Baron thought it would be
no use holding out; or whether he really was sorry for having been so
unkind; or whether he only intended to spoil the festivities by being
disagreeable to everybody, I cannot tell; but at all events he wrote
back, accepting Madame's invitation, and saying he hoped she would be
happy, and that she and Monsieur would forget the past, and receive him
as a brother. You may be sure that Madame was delighted; and Monsieur le
Chevalier declared that for his part he was quite ready to shake hands
with him. No more letters passed, and I never saw M. de Pradines again
till he was brought in dead on the evening of All Saints' Day."

Here the judge desired that the writing-case of M. de Fontane should be
brought into court; and a small black folio was accordingly laid upon
the table by one of the attendants. It was found to contain, among
various unimportant papers, two letters from the deceased addressed to
M. le Chevalier. Both were corroborative of the depositions of the last
witness, and were couched in violent and abusive language.

The Lieutenant of Police, cross-examining the servant of M. de Fontane,
then continued:--

"Where was M. de Fontane on All-Saints' Day?"

_Gustave._ "My master left the Château early in the morning for Murat,
where the notary resided to whom he had confided the drawing up of the
contract and settlements. Monsieur was to have returned by six o'clock,
bringing the papers with him; but he did not arrive till between nine
and ten o'clock."

_Lieut._ "Let the notary be called."

M. François, notary and _avocat_ of Murat, was then called to the
witness-box.

_Lieut._ "At what hour did the Chevalier de Fontane leave your offices
at Murat?"

_M. François._ "At about six o'clock: the papers were not ready, and he
waited for them."

_Lieut._ "How long would it take a man to ride from Murat to the
Château?"

_M. François._ "About two hours."

_Lieut._ "He should then have reached Peyrelade about eight?"

_M. François._ "I suppose so, Monsieur."

_Lieut._ "Did the Chevalier appear at all excited or out of humour?"

_M. François._ "He appeared excited, and in the highest spirits; but not
in the least out of humour."

Marguerite de Peyrelade, _née_ Pradines, was then summoned by the crier.
She rose from her chair with difficulty, leaning on the arm of the
Commandeur, and was about to proceed to the witness-box, but the judge
begged her to remain seated.

A sympathetic murmur ran through the court. She raised her veil and
looked steadily at the Lieutenant, never once glancing towards the
prisoner, who, pale and trembling, was observing her every movement.

"Madame de Peyrelade," said the Lieutenant, "do you remember to have
heard M. de Fontane utter any hostile expressions on receipt of either
of the letters lately examined?"

Madame had nothing to say beyond what had been stated by Gustave,
Monsieur de Fontane's servant.

"Did Madame think that Monsieur de Fontane thoroughly pardoned the
imprudent language of M. de Pradines?"

The lady said that she believed it from her heart.

"Did not Madame, on the night of her _fête_, leave the _salon_ and go
out a little after nine o'clock on the terrace at the west side of the
Château?"

She answered in the affirmative.

"Did not Madame aver that she then heard two shots fired, at a
considerable distance from the Château?"

She did, and was greatly terrified.

"Could Madame have been mistaken as to the second report? Is Madame
certain that she distinguished more than one?"

The Countess said that she undoubtedly heard a second.

"Still, might not Madame have been deceived--by an echo, for instance?"

The lady was convinced of the accuracy of her statement.

Here there was a pause of some minutes, during which the lawyers
whispered together, and the Lieutenant of Police conferred with the
Judge.

He then went on with the examination.

"How long an interval elapsed, Madame, between the two reports?"

"Scarcely a minute, I should think," replied the Countess.

There was another pause. Then the Lieutenant of Police thanked her for
her information, and intimated that, for the present, she would not be
troubled farther.

Some _gendarmes_ were then summoned, and gave their evidence as
follows:--

_Paul Dubourg, gendarme_ in the _Baillage_ of St. Flour. "I have
examined the body and firearms of the late Baron, in the presence of M.
le Lieutenant of Police. A musket was found lying beside the body, and a
brace of pistols were in his riding-belt. None of these had been
discharged. All the pieces were loaded."

_Lieut._ "Should you suppose that the Baron had made any defence?"

_P. Dubourg._ "Evidently none, Monsieur."

_Michel Perrin, gendarme_ in the _Baillage_ of St. Flour, corroborated
the testimony of Paul Dubourg.

_Monsieur Berthet_, Surgeon, was then called for. He testified that the
Baron de Pradines had died of a fracture of the skull caused by a wound
in the temple. The wound was given by a musket-ball, which had struck
him three-quarters of an inch above the eyebrow, and entered the brain,
He (M. Berthet) had extracted the ball, which he now laid before the
Court. From the wound being inflicted in the front of the head, witness
concluded that he must have been face to face with the assassin. At the
same time, the fact of none of his own weapons being used countenanced
the probability of a surprise. Could not conceive how it was possible
that _two_ shots should have been fired without the Baron's offering any
resistance. Had the first taken effect, there was then no need of a
second: whereas, if the first failed, the Baron would surely have
defended himself against a second. Had no more to say, and left the
witness-box.

_Louis Masson_, groom to Madame de Peyrelade, was next examined.

_Lieut. of Police._ "You were in the stables when Monsieur de Fontane
returned on the evening of All Saints' Day?"

_L. Masson._ "I was, Monsieur le Lieutenant."

_Lieut._ "In what condition was his horse when he arrived?"

_L. Masson._ "The horse was covered with sweat, and appeared to have
been ridden fast. It trembled a good deal likewise, as if it had been
frightened, and there were some spots of blood on the chest and knees.
The saddle was also spotted with blood."

_Lieut._ "How did M. de Fontane seem when he rode in?"

_L. Masson._ "He seemed very much excited, M. le Lieutenant. His
neckcloth and waistcoat were stained with blood, and his hand was tied
in a handkerchief."

_Lieut._ "Did he make any remarks to you about it?"

_L. Masson._ "Yes, Monsieur, he laughed a good deal, in a wild sort of
way, and said he had been settling a wolf among the mountains."

There was a movement of horror throughout the Court.

_Lieut._ "A wolf? Did you believe him?"

_L. Masson._ "Why, yes, Monsieur; none of us doubted him, for he's a
brave young gentleman, and has killed many a noted wolf in the woods
about Pradines, in the old Baron's time. To be sure, when M. le Baron
was brought in, soon after, we could not help recollecting the
disagreement which they had lately had, and we did think that M. le
Chevalier had indeed settled a wolf; but one of another sort. However, I
said nothing till Pierre the _boutillier_ spoke out to your worship in
the hall."

_Lieut._ "Bring into court the clothes worn by the Chevalier de Fontane
and the firearms that he carried about his person on the evening in
question."

A servant here laid some clothes, a musket, and a pair of holsters on
the table. The clothes were then carefully examined, The waistcoat,
cravat, and shirt-front were spotted in several places with blood. The
lawyers shook their heads, and the prisoner's advocate, who had not yet
spoken, looked grave and uneasy.

The Lieutenant took up the musket.

"This weapon has been discharged," he said, as he passed it to the Judge
for inspection.

He then drew the pistols from the holsters, and examined the priming of
both.

"Neither of these pistols has been used," he said, as he passed them on.
"Both are loaded."

_No second shot, therefore, had been fired._

The Countess clasped her hands, and uttered an exclamation of
thankfulness.

"Nay, Madame," whispered the Lieutenant kindly, "we must not begin to
hope too soon. This one ambiguous circumstance will not alone be
sufficient to clear our friend. We must have patience and fortitude."

The Prosecutor for the Crown then rose, and summed up the evidence. The
substance of his speech was this:--"That the body of George, Baron de
Pradines, had been discovered by three servants of the Countess de
Peyrelade, lying dead in the valley known as the Val du Rocher Rouge, on
the evening of All Saints' Day. It was known that M. de Fontane had had
some misunderstanding with the deceased, and had received from him
letters of a threatening nature. M. de Fontane had been out all day at
Murat, and in returning thence must pass through that valley. Monsieur
de Fontane left Murat at six o'clock, and did not reach the Château de
Peyrelade till between nine and ten. The journey need not occupy longer
than two hours. What had the Chevalier done with the surplus time? He
arrives at the Château in an excited state, with his clothes
blood-stained, and his horse trembling as if from terror and hard
riding. His voice is wild, and he says he has killed 'a wolf.' When the
body is brought to the Château and he is interrogated by M. le
Lieutenant, he betrays manifest confusion and alarm. Even the grooms and
herdsmen attach suspicion to him; and, as if to cherish the lingering
rancour which he entertained against M. de Pradines, both the letters
sent to him by that gentleman are found preserved in his writing-case.
Madame la Comtesse affirms that she heard _two_ shots fired on the
night of the murder, and only _one_ of M. de Fontane's weapons has been
discharged. He felt bound to say that this circumstance tended to the
advantage of the prisoner; but, at the same time, everyone knew that, to
a lady in the naturally anxious state of mind of Madame de Peyrelade,
every sight and sound becomes magnified. What more likely than that the
second shot should be a mere trick of the distempered imagination? The
examination of the weapons proved that one shot only could have been
fired. Out of four pistols and two muskets--six firearms in all--one
only had been discharged; and that was the musket of M. de Fontane. He
believed that nothing farther could be said on the subject."

The Judge then asked the prisoner if he had anything to reply.

M. de Fontane rose, pale and self-possessed. He bowed to the Judge, to
the Procureur du Roi, and to the Lieutenant of Police.

"My Lord," he said calmly, "I have little to urge in my defence, except
to assever my innocence. I left Murat at six, and set off briskly for
the Château de Peyrelade. Before half-an-hour had elapsed, the evening
became quite dark. Much snow had already fallen, and by the time I
entered upon the road across the mountains, the way was not only dark,
but slippery for my horse. I dismounted, and led him up the first steep
ascent. I thus lost considerable time. When I came down at the opposite
side and arrived at the open space whence five different ways branch off
in five different directions, I found myself altogether at fault. I had
not travelled this country for many years--the snow had changed the
general features of the place, and it was just then quite dark. I
thought it best to leave all to the sagacity of the horse, and,
remounting, dropped the reins upon his neck, and let him choose his way.
He was as much perplexed as myself. Twice he turned towards the road on
our left; then, after a momentary pause, chose a road straight before
us. So we went on. The farther we went, however, the more I became
convinced that the horse had taken a wrong direction. At last I found
that we were entering a thick wood, and as I knew there should be
nothing of the kind on the way to the Château, I turned the horse's
head, and began to retrace our steps. Scarcely had I proceeded a dozen
yards on the way back, when I heard a distant howl. The horse stopped
instinctively, and we both listened. Again that sound, and nearer! I
needed no spur to urge my steed on his flight--that ominous cry was
enough. Away he started with me, as if we had not gone a mile that day!
It was of little use; for the wolf gained on us, and at last I descried
him about a quarter of a mile behind, coming with savage speed along the
snow. I now saw that there was nothing for it but a mortal combat with
the brute. So I alighted quietly, and waited for him, a clasp-knife open
and ready in my belt, and my gun on the cock. I did not tie the horse to
a tree, for I thought if the wolf conquered, the poor animal might at
least have the chance of escape. The beast was up in less time too than
I take to tell it. When within a couple of yards, he stopped, seeing me
prepared to receive him. His eyes were red and bright as coals--his
sides gaunt--his tongue lolling from his mouth. His hot breath smoked in
the frosty air. So we stood for a second or two, face to face--the wolf
and I. Then he gave a low howl, and as he sprang towards me, I fired! I
hit him--lamed one of his fore-legs; but that only made him more
furious, for he was on me again directly, like a tiger! I tried in vain
to beat him off with my gun, but he was too strong for me; so I threw it
down, got my knife from my belt, and held it between my teeth. As I did
so, he snapped at my hand and nearly tore my fingers off. Then I threw
my arms round the brute, and fell upon him. It was my last resource--he
was under, and if I could only keep him there, and strangle him, or cut
his throat, I was safe. It was a frightful moment. My head swam--my
breath failed--then I gathered up all my remaining strength, and plunged
the knife in his throat! He moaned, his head fell back--the struggle was
over--he was dead! I then mounted my horse, who had never once offered
to leave me, though he stood trembling all over with terror. I cheered
him on--I shouted--I laughed--I sang! I rode like a madman at full
speed, and when I reached the Château I had not yet recovered from the
excitement of the contest. I came out of a death-fight to a brilliant
company--from a wolf to a bride, and I was just about to relate my
adventure--when--when, my Lord, the corpse of the Baron de Pradines was
brought into the room, and I heard myself accused of being his
murderer! I have no more to say. I have stated the whole truth. I lost
my way, and almost my life. I am innocent, and God will judge me
rightly, however my fellow-men may decide against me."

The young man sat down, flushed with the relation of his combat, and
confident in the justice of his cause.

A loud murmur of sympathy and satisfaction ran through the Court, and
the prisoner was rewarded for all his sufferings by one glad and loving
glance from Marguerite de Peyrelade. Her mind was now relieved of every
doubt; and, indeed, with the exception of the lawyers, there was not a
soul in the hall who doubted his innocence.

When the murmur had subsided, more witnesses were called.

Antoine Guinot and Elie Blainval, two _gendarmes_, next gave evidence.

_Lieut. of Police._ "Antoine Guinot--you went by my orders to inspect
the roads among the mountains."

_A. Guinot._ "Yes, M. le Lieutenant."

_Lieut._ "Did you there discover the body of a dead wolf, or any signs
of blood on the snow?"

_A. Guinot._ "No, M. le Lieutenant."

_Lieut._ "Did you thoroughly search the Val du Rocher Rouge?"

_A. Guinot._ "Yes, Monsieur. There was no dead wolf to be seen in any
part. Snow had been falling for two days and nights before we got there,
so there would have been nothing but the carcase of the beast to guide
us; but there was no such carcase anywhere about."

Elie Blainval was next examined. Went with the last witness. Saw no
carcase. Snow was deep on the ground, and of course no stains or other
marks could be distinguished. Would swear there was no dead wolf
anywhere on the mountain roads. Corroborated the statement of his
companion in every particular.

On this the Prosecutor for the Crown again addressed the Court, but very
briefly. The jury, he said, had heard the statements of the last
witnesses. M. the Lieutenant of Police had despatched them on the day
following the murder, as soon as they arrived from St. Flour, in order
that the prisoner's statement might be thoroughly investigated. No
carcase of any description had been found. It was not his (the
Prosecutor's) desire to prejudice his hearers against the prisoner; but
he felt it his duty to remind them that his defence was unsupported by
any kind of proof. They had before them a strong case of circumstantial
evidence on the one side, and on the other the bare assertion of a man
whose only chance for life depended on the plausibility of his defence
and the credulity of his auditors. He begged now to leave the matter in
the hands of the Jury.

After an address from the judge, in which he summed up the evidence in a
very similar manner to the Prosecutor for the Crown, and in which he
exhorted them to lay any doubts which they might entertain to the side
of mercy, the jury retired.

Then the chorus of laughter and loud talking, so long hushed, broke
forth again. By this time night had come on, and the patch of daylight
seen through the _oeil-de-boeuf_ had long since disappeared. The young
men made bets with each other on the verdict. All the ladies took the
part of the prisoner; and, to do them justice, most of the gentlemen
likewise. The peasants pulled out lumps of brown bread and country
cheese, and began to eat.

Time went on. Two hours passed away without the return of the jury. Then
another hour. Ten o'clock struck by the great clock over the entrance,
and the audience grew silent and weary. Still the twelve came not. The
judge nodded on the bench. Madame de Peyrelade sat, statue-like, in the
same spot. The Chevalier de Fontane paced the dock in an agony of
suspense.

Then eleven struck; and ere the last stroke had died away, the jury
returned and took their places.

"Gentlemen of the jury," said his lordship waking up, "are you all
agreed?"

"Yes, my Lord," said the foreman slowly and distinctly.

The silence was intense throughout the court. Every breath was held;
every eye turned towards him.

"Do you find the prisoner guilty, or not guilty?"

"_Guilty._"

A loud murmur broke from all parts of the hall. The prisoner--a shade
paler than before--folded his arms across his breast, and looked calmly
round him. The Countess de Peyrelade was carried fainting from the
court.

The judge then pronounced sentence of death. Not a word was audible; but
his lips were seen to move, and he shed tears.

The Chevalier was then conducted from the dock; the judge and jury
retired; and the great mass of spectators, undulating and noisy,
gradually dispersed; thankful to exchange the thick, steaming atmosphere
of the densely-crowded Justice Hall, for the cold night-air, with the
keen stars overhead.

The trial had lasted fourteen hours. They had begun at nine A.M., and it
now wanted less than an hour to midnight. All was over--the hope, the
fear, the suspense. The Chevalier de Fontane was condemned to die within
twenty-four hours.


CHAPTER VIII.

The Scaffold and the Confession.

It is night. The air is cold and biting; the stars are bright in the
clear sky; and the moon is slowly sinking behind the Cathedral of St.
Flour. Snow lies on the ground and on the house-tops, and everything
looks pale in the blue moonlight. A gloomy platform hung with black
cloth and surrounded by horse-soldiers, each with a torch in his left
hand and a drawn sword in his right, stands in the midst of the public
square. A vast multitude is assembled outside the barriers that surround
the scaffold. The houses blaze with lights, and all the windows are
crowded with curious spectators. Huge and sombre, the prison rises on
one side of the square, and the church upon the other. A low unquiet
sound comes from the indistinct mass all around, as it heaves and sways
from side to side in ever-restless undulation.

Now the great Cathedral clock strikes the first stroke of ten. Scarcely
has it begun when the iron tongues of all the churches in the town
reply. They clash--they mingle--they are still. Then the gates of the
gaol swing apart, and a procession comes slowly forth. First, soldiers;
then the sheriff and the governor of the gaol; then more soldiers; then
the bishop of the diocese; then the prisoner; then more soldiers to
bring up the rear.

They pass slowly through a double file of horse-soldiery till they reach
the scaffold. They ascend; and the sheriff, with his black wand in one
hand, advances with a parchment roll in the other, and reads aloud the
dreadful formula:--

     "He whom we have brought hither is Eugène Fontane, formerly
     called Chevalier de Fontane, and ex-Captain of Hussars in the
     military service of His Majesty the King of Prussia. The said
     Eugène de Fontane is brought hither to suffer death, being
     condemned thereto by the criminal court of this town. He will
     now be broken on the wheel, being charged and convicted of the
     crime of homicide on the person of the very noble, puissant,
     and excellent Seigneur George, Baron de Pradines, and, during
     life, Captain of the Auvergne Light Dragoons. Pray to God for
     the repose of their souls!"

Eugène is pale, but resigned. He has not long since taken leave of
Marguerite, and, despite the agony of that parting, he is comforted, for
she believes him innocent. His step is firm, his head erect, his eye
bright and fearless. His right hand is hidden in the breast of his coat,
closely pressed against his heart. It holds a lock of her hair.

Now the bishop addresses to him the last words which a prisoner hears on
earth.

"Eugène de Fontane," he says, solemnly, "if you will speak the truth and
declare yourself guilty of the crime for which you are condemned, I am
here, in the name of God, to give you absolution; and when you are
stretched upon the wheel the executioner will give you the _coup de
grace_, in order to spare you the sufferings which you would otherwise
endure. Reflect, for the sake of both body and soul. Do you yet persist
in saying that you are innocent?"

The young man cast a glance of horror at the hideous apparatus. His lip
quivered, and for a moment his resolution seemed to fail. Then he fell
upon his knees and prayed silently.

When he rose, he was calm and stedfast as before.

"Let the executioner do his office," he said, firmly. "I will not die
with a lie upon my tongue. I _am_ innocent, and Heaven knows it."

The Chevalier then draws at ring from his finger and gives it to the
executioner, in token of pardon. And now he takes off his coat and
waistcoat and holds out his arms to be bound; and now, suddenly, a cry
is heard on the outskirts of the crowd--a shrill, piercing, despairing
cry.

"Stop! stop! let me pass! I am the murderer!--he is innocent! I am the
murderer of the Baron de Pradines!"

And a mounted man, pale, breathless, disordered, is seen pressing wildly
through the crowd. He gains the foot of the scaffold--he rushes eagerly
up the steps--falls fainting at the feet of the condemned!

It is the priest--it is André Bernard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once again the Justice Hall is thronged. Once again we see the former
crowd; the same faces; the same peasants; the same lawyers; the same
mass of spectators, noble and plebeian; the same judge; the same jury.

Yet there is one great and material difference; there is not the same
prisoner. André Bernard is in the dock, and the Chevalier de Fontane is
nowhere present.

Madame de Peyrelade and servants are also absent. Otherwise the Court
House looks as it did a week since, when an innocent man was there
condemned to die.

"Prisoner," says the Judge, "the Court is prepared to listen to your
confession."

The Abbé rose. A profound silence reigned throughout the hall. In a
voice broken with emotion, he began as follows:--

"About three months since, I was visited by the Baron de Pradines in my
parsonage at St. Saturnin. He had not been on good terms with his
sister, Madame de Peyrelade, for some years, and he now desired a
reconciliation. He was a man of violent temper and dissolute habits; but
he professed repentance for his former courses, and ardently entreated
my intercession with Madame. I believed him, and became the bearer of
his penitent messages. Owing to my representations, the lady believed
him also, and he was received into the Château. A fortnight had scarcely
elapsed, when M. de Fontane arrived at the Château; and on a due
consideration of--of all the previous events" (here the prisoner's
voice faltered), "I absolved Madame from a rash vow which she had too
hastily contracted. Now M. de Pradines had hoped to inherit the estates
and fortune of his sister; he was therefore much enraged on finding that
the said vow was made null and void. He departed at once to join his
regiment, and in the course of a few days I received from him an abusive
letter. Of this I took no notice, and I may say that it caused me no
anger. I destroyed and forgot it. In about two months' time from the
date of his departure, the marriage of his sister with M. de Fontane was
appointed to take place. The Baron, seeing the uselessness of further
hostilities, then yielded to the entreaties of Madame and accepted her
invitation, appointing the Fête of All-Saints as the day of his arrival,
that he might be present at the ceremony of betrothal. On that day I
said mass in the morning at my chapel, and high mass at seven o'clock in
the afternoon. I was invited to the Château that evening, and nine was
the hour appointed. Mass would not be over till half-past eight--I had
therefore half an hour only to reach the Château; and, as soon as I had
pronounced the benediction, I hastened from the chapel by the side-door,
and was some distance on the road before my congregation dispersed. The
moon shone out at times, and at times was overcast. I had my gun with
me; for after night-fall at this season, the wolves are savage, and
often come down from the heights, I had not gone far when I heard a
horse coming along at full speed behind me. I drew on one side to let
the rider pass. The moon just then shone out, and I recognised the
Baron de Pradines. He knew me also; and though he had been galloping
before, he now reigned up his horse and stood quite still.

"'Good evening, most reverend Abbé,' said he in a mocking voice. 'Will
you favour me with a piece of godly information; for I am but a poor
sinner, and need enlightening. Pray how much have you been paid by M. le
Chevalier for patching up this marriage?'

"I felt my blood boil and my cheeks burn at this insult, but I affected
to treat it as a jest."

"'You are facetious, Monsieur le Baron,' I replied.

"'Not at all,' he said, with a bitter laugh. 'Gentlemen in your
profession, M. le Curé, have their prices for everything; from the
absolution for a vow to the absolution for a murder.'

"'Monsieur,' I replied, 'your expressions exceed the limits of
pleasantry.'

"'Not at all, Monsieur le Curé,' he repeated again, 'not at all. And,
withal, you are a very noble, and meek, and self-sacrificing gentleman,
M. le Curé. _You love my sister_, most holy sir; and yet you sell the
absolution which enables her to marry another. It is really difficult to
tell, M. le Curé, which of your admirable qualities predominates--your
Avarice, or your Love. Both, at least, are equally respectable in a
priest who is vowed to poverty and celibacy.'

"'_And peace_, M. le Baron,' I added. 'You are aware, Monsieur, that my
profession forbids me to chastise you as you deserve, and therefore you
insult me. Pass on, and interfere with me no more.'

"'Indeed I shall not pass on, M. le Curé,' he continued, 'I must stay
and compliment you as you deserve. It is a pity, is it not, M. le Curé,
that your vows prevent you from marrying my sister yourself?'

"'If you will not pass me, M. le Baron,' I said, for I was trembling
with suppressed rage, 'I must pass you, for I will bear this no longer.'

"The passage was narrow, and he intentionally barred the way. I seized
his horse's reins and turned his head, when--my lord--the Baron raised
his whip and struck me on the face! My fowling-piece was in my hand--I
was mad--I was furious. I know not to this moment how it was done, but I
fired--fired _both_ barrels of my gun, and the next moment--_Oh, mon
Dieu!_--he was lying at my feet dead and bleeding--I was a murderer!"

The priest paused in his narrative, and hid his face in his hands. A
murmur ran through the court. After a few moments, however, he raised
his head and continued:--

"I saw him but for an instant, and then turned and fled. I cannot
remember where I went, or what I did in that terrible interval; but at
last I found myself before the gates of the Château de Peyrelade. A
dreadful terror possessed me--I feared the night, and the woods, and the
mountains, and the pale moonlight. I thought to find refuge in the crowd
of human beings--refuge from that terrible thought--refuge from that
hideous sight. But it pursued me! They brought him in, ghastly and
blood-stained, wrapt in the cloak in which he lay upon the grass; and on
his pale forehead was the mark of my--of my.... That night I was mad. I
remember nothing--neither how I got home--nor how I left the
Château--nor when I entered my own door. For days I walked and lived in
a dream of horror. Then I heard of the trial and condemnation of an
innocent man. I mounted my horse--I flew--I feared that I should be too
late; but I had resolved to kill myself on the scaffold if he was
already dead! I was in time, thank God! and now I am ready to take his
place. This is my confession, and, before Heaven, I declare it full and
true. I entreat all here present to pray for me."

When the agitation that followed this confession had somewhat subsided,
and the jury had conferred for a moment in their places, the foreman
pronounced the prisoner guilty, but recommended him to mercy. Then the
judge, in a speech interrupted more than once by emotion, passed
sentence of death; but concluded by an intimation that the case should
be reported to the King as one deserving his royal clemency.

The Royal Pardon, thus solicited, followed as a matter of course, and in
less than a week André Bernard was free. The Chevalier de Fontane
himself brought the precious parchment from Versailles, and fetched a
carriage to convey the priest from prison.

"Come back to us, dear friend," he said. "Come back to your chapel and
your flock. Forget the past, and resume the useful life in which you
used to find your greatest happiness."

But the priest shook his head.

"I cannot," he said. "The King has pardoned me, but I have yet to earn
the pardon of Heaven. I go hence to la Trappe, there to pass the
remainder of my days in prayer and penance. Hush!--to remonstrate is
useless. I deserve a far heavier punishment. I have more sins than one
upon my soul. God sees my heart, and He knows all my guilt. I must
go--far, far away. I shall pray for your happiness--and hers. Heaven
bless you, and have mercy on me! Farewell."

THE END.

PRINTING OFFICE OF THE PUBLISHER.





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