Honore de Balzac ~ The Elixir of Life


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In a sumptuous palace of Ferrara, one winter evening, Don Juan Belvidéro was entertaining a prince of the house of Este. In those days a banquet was a marvelous affair, which demanded princely riches or the power of a nobleman. Seven pleasure-loving women chatted gaily around a table lighted by perfumed candles, surrounded by admirable works of art whose white marble stood out against the walls of red stucco and contrasted with the rich Turkey carpets. Clad in satin, glittering with gold and laden with gems which sparkled only less brilliantly than their eyes, they all told of passions, intense, but of various styles, like their beauty. They differed neither in their words nor their ideas; but an expression, a look, a motion or an emphasis served as a commentary, unrestrained, licentious, melancholy or bantering, to their words.

One seemed to say: “My beauty has power to rekindle the frozen heart of age.” Another: “I love to repose on soft cushions and think with rapture of my adorers.” A third, a novice at these fêtes, was inclined to blush. “At the bottom of my heart I feel compunction,” she seemed to say. “I am a Catholic and I fear hell; but I love you so—ah, so dearly—that I would sacrifice eternity to you!” The fourth, emptying a cup of Chian wine, cried: “Hurrah, for pleasure! I begin a new existence with each dawn. Forgetful of the past, still intoxicated with the violence of yesterday’s pleasures, I embrace a new life of happiness, a life filled with love.”

The woman sitting next to Belvidéro looked at him with flashing eyes. She was silent. “I should have no need to call on a bravo to kill my lover if he abandoned me.” Then she had laughed; but a comfit dish of marvelous workmanship was shattered between her nervous fingers.

“When are you to be grand duke?” asked the sixth of the prince, with an expression of murderous glee on her lips and a look of Bacchanalian frenzy in her eyes.

“And when is your father going to die?” said the seventh, laughing and throwing her bouquet to Don Juan with maddening coquetry. She was an innocent young girl who was accustomed to play with sacred things.

“Oh, don’t speak of it!” cried the young and handsome Don Juan. “There is only one immortal father in the world, and unfortunately he is mine!”

The seven women of Ferrara, the friends of Don Juan, and the prince himself gave an exclamation of horror. Two hundred years later, under Louis XV, well-bred persons would have laughed at this sally. But perhaps at the beginning of an orgy the mind had still an unusual degree of lucidity. Despite the heat of the candles, the intensity of the emotions, the gold and silver vases, the fumes of wine, despite the vision of ravishing women, perhaps there still lurked in the depths of the heart a little of that respect for things human and divine which struggles until the revel has drowned it in floods of sparkling wine. Nevertheless, the flowers were already crushed, the eyes were steeped with drink, and intoxication, to quote Rabelais, had reached even to the sandals. In the pause that followed a door opened, and, as at the feast of Balthazar, God manifested himself. He seemed to command recognition now in the person of an old, white-haired servant with unsteady gait and drawn brows; he entered with gloomy mien and his look seemed to blight the garlands, the ruby cups, the pyramids of fruits, the brightness of the feast, the glow of the astonished faces and the colors of the cushions dented by the white arms of the women; then he cast a pall over this folly by saying, in a hollow voice, the solemn words: “Sir, your father is dying!”

Don Juan rose, making a gesture to his guests, which might be translated: “Excuse me, this does not happen every day.”

Does not the death of a parent often overtake young people thus in the fulness of life, in the wild enjoyment of an orgy? Death is as unexpected in her caprices as a woman in her fancies, but more faithful—Death has never duped any one.

When Don Juan had closed the door of the banquet hall and walked down the long corridor, which was both cold and dark, he compelled himself to assume a mask, for, in thinking of his rôle of son, he had cast off his merriment as he threw down his napkin. The night was black. The silent servant who conducted the young man to the death chamber, lighted the way so insufficiently that Death, aided by the cold, the silence, the gloom, perhaps by a reaction of intoxication, was able to force some reflections into the soul of the spendthrift; he examined his life, and became thoughtful, like a man involved in a lawsuit when he sets out for the court of justice.

Bartholomeo Belvidéro, the father of Don Juan, was an old man of ninety, who had devoted the greater part of his life to business. Having traveled much in Oriental countries he had acquired there great wealth and learning more precious, he said, than gold or diamonds, to which he no longer gave more than a passing thought. “I value a tooth more than a ruby,” he used to say, smiling, “and power more than knowledge.” This good father loved to hear Don Juan relate his youthful adventures, and would say, banteringly, as he lavished money upon him: “Only amuse yourself, my dear child!” Never did an old man find such pleasure in watching a young man. Paternal love robbed age of its terrors in the delight of contemplating so brilliant a life.

At the age of sixty, Belvidéro had become enamored of an angel of peace and beauty. Don Juan was the sole fruit of this late love. For fifteen years the good man had mourned the loss of his dear Juana. His many servants and his son attributed the strange habits he had contracted to this grief. Bartholomeo lodged himself in the most uncomfortable wing of his palace and rarely went out, and even Don Juan could not intrude into his father’s apartment without first obtaining permission. If this voluntary recluse came or went in the palace or in the streets of Ferrara he seemed to be searching for something which he could not find. He walked dreamily, undecidedly, preoccupied like a man battling with an idea or with a memory. While the young man gave magnificent entertainments and the palace re-echoed his mirth, while the horses pawed the ground in the courtyard and the pages quarreled at their game of dice on the stairs, Bartholomeo ate seven ounces of bread a day and drank water. If he asked for a little poultry it was merely that he might give the bones to a black spaniel, his faithful companion. He never complained of the noise. During his illness if the blast of horns or the barking of dogs interrupted his sleep, he only said: “Ah, Don Juan has come home.” Never before was so untroublesome and indulgent a father to be found on this earth; consequently young Belvidéro, accustomed to treat him without ceremony, had all the faults of a spoiled child. His attitude toward Bartholomeo was like that of a capricious woman toward an elderly lover, passing off an impertinence with a smile, selling his good humor and submitting to be loved. In calling up the picture of his youth, Don Juan recognized that it would be difficult to find an instance in which his father’s goodness had failed him. He felt a newborn remorse while he traversed the corridor, and he very nearly forgave his father for having lived so long. He reverted to feelings of filial piety, as a thief returns to honesty in the prospect of enjoying a well-stolen million.

Soon the young man passed into the high, chill rooms of his father’s apartment. After feeling a moist atmosphere and breathing the heavy air and the musty odor which is given forth by old tapestries and furniture covered with dust, he found himself in the antique room of the old man, in front of a sick bed and near a dying fire. A lamp standing on a table of Gothic shape shed its streams of uneven light sometimes more, sometimes less strongly upon the bed and showed the form of the old man in ever-varying aspects. The cold air whistled through the insecure windows, and the snow beat with a dull sound against the panes.

This scene formed so striking a contrast to the one which Don Juan had just left that he could not help shuddering. He felt cold when, on approaching the bed, a sudden flare of light, caused by a gust of wind, illumined his father’s face. The features were distorted; the skin, clinging tightly to the bones, had a greenish tint, which was made the more horrible by the whiteness of the pillows on which the old man rested; drawn with pain, the mouth, gaping and toothless, gave breath to sighs which the howling of the tempest took Tip and drew out into a dismal wail. In spite of these signs of dissolution an incredible expression of power shone in the face. The eyes, hallowed by disease, retained a singular steadiness. A superior spirit was fighting there with death. It seemed as if Bartholomeo sought to kill with his dying look some enemy seated at the foot of his bed. This gaze, fixed and cold, was made the more appalling by the immobility of the head, which was like a skull standing on a doctor’s table. The body, clearly outlined by the coverlet, showed that the dying man’s limbs preserved the same rigidity. All was dead, except the eyes. There was something mechanical in the sounds which came from the mouth. Don Juan felt a certain shame at having come to the deathbed of his father with a courtesan’s bouquet on his breast, bringing with him the odors of a banquet and the fumes of wine.

“You were enjoying yourself!” cried the old man, on seeing his son.

At the same moment the pure, high voice of a singer who entertained the guests, strengthened by the chords of the viol by which she was accompanied, rose above the roar of the storm and penetrated the chamber of death. Don Juan would gladly have shut out this barbarous confirmation of his father’s words.

Bartholomeo said: “I do not grudge you your pleasure, my child.”

These words, full of tenderness, pained Don Juan, who could not forgive his father for such goodness.

“What, sorrow for me, father!” he cried.

“Poor Juanino,” answered the dying man, “I have always been so gentle toward you that you could not wish for my death?”

“Oh!” cried Don Juan, “if it were possible to preserve your life by giving you a part of mine!” (“One can always say such things,” thought the spendthrift; “it is as if I offered the world to my mistress.”)

The thought had scarcely passed through his mind when the old spaniel whined. This intelligent voice made Don Juan tremble. He believed that the dog understood him.

“I knew that I could count on you, my son,” said the dying man. “There, you shall be satisfied. I shall live, but without depriving you of a single day of your life.”

“He raves,” said Don Juan to himself.

Then he said, aloud: “Yes, my dearest father, you will indeed live as long as I do, for your image will be always in my heart.”

“It is not a question of that sort of life,” said the old nobleman, gathering all his strength to raise himself to a sitting posture, for he was stirred by one of those suspicions which are only born at the bedside of the dying. “Listen, my son,” he continued in a voice weakened by this last effort. “I have no more desire to die than you have to give up your lady loves, wine, horses, falcons, hounds and money——”

“I can well believe it,” thought his son, kneeling beside the pillow and kissing one of Bartholomeo’s cadaverous hands. “But, father,” he said aloud, “my dear father, we must submit to the will of God!”

“God! I am also God!” growled the old man.

“Do not blaspheme!” cried the young man, seeing the menacing expression which was overspreading his father’s features. “Be careful what you say, for you have received extreme unction and I should never be consoled if you were to die in a state of sin.”

“Are you going to listen to me?” cried the dying man, gnashing his toothless jaws.

Don Juan held his peace. A horrible silence reigned. Through the dull wail of the snowstorm came again the melody of the viol and the heavenly voice, faint as the dawning day.

The dying man smiled.

“I thank you for having brought singers and music! A banquet, young and beautiful women, with dark locks, all the pleasures of life. Let them remain. I am about to be born again.”

“The delirium is at its height,” said Don Juan to himself.

“I have discovered a means of resuscitation. There, look in the drawer of the table—you open it by pressing a hidden spring near the griffin.”

“I have it, father.”

“Good! Now take out a little flask of rock crystal.”

“Here it is.”

“I have spent twenty years in——”

At this point the old man felt his end approaching, and collected all his energy to say:

“As soon as I have drawn my last breath rub me with this water and I shall come to life again.”

“There is very little of it,” replied the young man.

Bartholomeo was no longer able to speak, but he could still hear and see. At these words he turned his head toward Don Juan with a violent wrench. His neck remained twisted like that of a marble statue doomed by the sculptor’s whim to look forever sideways, his staring eyes assumed a hideous fixity. He was dead, dead in the act of losing his only, his last illusion. In seeking a shelter in his son’s heart he had found a tomb more hollow than those which men dig for their dead. His hair, too, had risen with horror and his tense gaze seemed still to speak. It was a father rising in wrath from his sepulchre to demand vengeance of God.

“There, the good man is done for!” exclaimed Don Juan.

Intent upon taking the magic crystal to the light of the lamp, as a drinker examines his bottle at the end of a repast, he had not seen his father’s eye pale. The cowering dog looked alternately at his dead master and at the elixir, as Don Juan regarded by turns his father and the phial. The lamp threw out fitful waves of light. The silence was profound, the viol was mute. Belvidéro thought he saw his father move, and he trembled. Frightened by the tense expression of the accusing eyes, he closed them, just as he would have pushed down a window-blind on an autumn night. He stood motionless, lost in a world of thought.

Suddenly a sharp creak, like that of a rusty spring, broke the silence. Don Juan, in his surprise, almost dropped the flask. A perspiration, colder than the steel of a dagger, oozed out from his pores. A cock of painted wood came forth from a clock and crowed three times. It was one of those ingenious inventions by which the savants of that time were awakened at the hour fixed for their work. Already the daybreak reddened the casement. The old timepiece was more faithful in its master’s service than Don Juan had been in his duty to Bartholomeo. This instrument was composed of wood, pulleys, cords and wheels, while he had that mechanism peculiar to man, called a heart.

In order to run no further risk of losing the mysterious liquid the skeptical Don Juan replaced it in the drawer of the little Gothic table. At this solemn moment he heard a tumult in the corridor. There were confused voices, stifled laughter, light footsteps, the rustle of silk, in short, the noise of a merry troop trying to collect itself in some sort of order. The door opened and the prince, the seven women, the friends of Don Juan and the singers, appeared, in the fantastic disorder of dancers overtaken by the morning, when the sun disputes the paling light of the candles. They came to offer the young heir the conventional condolences.

“Oh, oh, is poor Don Juan really taking this death seriously?” said the prince in la Brambilla’s ear.

“Well, his father was a very good man,” she replied.

Nevertheless, Don Juan’s nocturnal meditations had printed so striking an expression upon his face that it commanded silence. The men stopped, motionless. The women, whose lips had been parched with wine, threw themselves on their knees and began to pray. Don Juan could not help shuddering as he saw this splendor, this joy, laughter, song, beauty, life personified, doing homage thus to Death. But in this adorable Italy religion and revelry were on such good terms that religion was a sort of debauch and debauch religion. The prince pressed Don Juan’s hand affectionately, then all the figures having given expression to the same look, half-sympathy, half-indifference, the phantasmagoria disappeared, leaving the chamber empty. It was, indeed, a faithful image of life! Going down the stairs the prince said to la Rivabarella:

“Heigho! who would have thought Don Juan a mere boaster of impiety? He loved his father, after all!”

“Did you notice the black dog?” asked la Brambilla.

“He is immensely rich now,” sighed Bianca Cavatolini.

“What is that to me?” cried the proud Veronese, she who had broken the comfit dish.

“What is that to you?” exclaimed the duke. “With his ducats he is as much a prince as I am!”

At first Don Juan, swayed by a thousand thoughts, wavered toward many different resolutions. After having ascertained the amount of the wealth amassed by his father, he returned in the evening to the death chamber, his soul puffed up with a horrible egoism. In the apartment he found all the servants of the household busied in collecting the ornaments for the bed of state on which “feu monseigneur” would lie to-morrow—a curious spectacle which all Ferrara would come to admire. Don Juan made a sign and the servants stopped at once, speechless and trembling.

“Leave me alone,” he said in an altered voice, “and do not return until I go out again.”

When the steps of the old servant, who was the last to leave, had died away on the stone flooring, Don Juan locked the door hastily, and, sure that he was alone, exclaimed:

“Now, let us try!”

The body of Bartholomeo lay on a long table. To hide the revolting spectacle of a corpse whose extreme decrepitude and thinness made it look like a skeleton, the embalmers had drawn a sheet over the body, which covered all but the head. This mummy-like figure was laid out in the middle of the room, and the linen, naturally clinging, outlined the form vaguely, but showing its stiff, bony thinness. The face already had large purple spots, which showed the urgency of completing the embalming. Despite the skepticism with which Don Juan was armed, he trembled as he uncorked the magic phial of crystal. When he stood close to the head he shook so that he was obliged to pause for a moment. But this young man had allowed himself to be corrupted by the customs of a dissolute court. An idea worthy of the Duke of Urbino came to him, and gave him a courage which was spurred on by lively curiosity. It seemed as if the demon had whispered the words which resounded in his heart: “Bathe an eye!” He took a piece of linen and, after having moistened it sparingly with the precious liquid, he passed it gently over the right eyelid of the corpse. The eye opened!

“Ah!” said Don Juan, gripping the flask in his hand as we clutch in our dreams the branch by which we are suspended over a precipice.

He saw an eye full of life, a child’s eye in a death’s head, the liquid eye of youth, in which the light trembled. Protected by beautiful black lashes, it scintillated like one of those solitary lights which travelers see in lonely places on winter evenings. It seemed as if the glowing eye would pierce Don Juan. It thought, accused, condemned, threatened, judged, spoke—it cried, it snapped at him! There was the most tender supplication, a royal anger, then the love of a young girl imploring mercy of her executioners. Finally, the awful look that a man casts upon his fellow-men on his way to the scaffold. So much life shone in this fragment of life that Don Juan recoiled in terror. He walked up and down the room, not daring to look at the eye, which stared back at him from the ceiling and from the hangings. The room was sown with points full of fire, of life, of intelligence. Everywhere gleamed eyes which shrieked at him.

“He might have lived a hundred years longer!” he cried involuntarily when, led in front of his father by some diabolical influence, he contemplated the luminous spark.

Suddenly the intelligent eye closed, and then opened again abruptly, as if assenting. If a voice had cried, “Yes,” Don Juan could not have been more startled.

“What is to be done?” he thought

He had the courage to try to close this white eyelid, but his efforts were in vain.

“Shall I crush it out? Perhaps that would be parricide?” he asked himself.

“Yes,” said the eye, by means of an ironical wink.

“Ah!” cried Don Juan, “there is sorcery in it!”

He approached the eye to crush it. A large tear rolled down the hollow cheek of the corpse and fell on Belvidéro’s hand.

“It is scalding!” he cried, sitting down.

This struggle had exhausted him, as if, like Jacob, he had battled with an angel.

At last he arose, saying: “So long as there is no blood—”

Then, collecting all the courage needed for the cowardly act, he crushed out the eye, pressing it in with the linen without looking at it. A deep moan, startling and terrible, was heard. It was the poor spaniel, who died with a howl.

“Could he have been in the secret?” Don Juan wondered, surveying the faithful animal.

Don Juan was considered a dutiful son. He raised a monument of white marble over his father’s tomb, and employed the most prominent artists of the time to carve the figures. He was not altogether at ease until the statue of his father, kneeling before Religion, imposed its enormous weight on the grave, in which he had buried the only regret that had ever touched his heart, and that only in moments of physical depression.

On making an inventory of the immense wealth amassed by the old Orientalist, Don Juan became avaricious. Had he not two human lives in which he should need money? His deep, searching gaze penetrated the principles of social life, and he understood the world all the better because he viewed it across a tomb. He analyzed men and things that he might have done at once with the past, represented by history, with the present, expressed by the law, and with the future revealed by religion. He took soul and matter, threw them into a crucible, and found nothing there, and from that time forth he became Don Juan.

Master of the illusions of life he threw himself—young and beautiful—into life; despising the world, but seizing the world. His happiness could never be of that bourgeois type which is satisfied by boiled beef, by a welcome warming-pan in winter, a lamp at night and new slippers at each quarter. He grasped existence as a monkey seizes a nut, peeling off the coarse shell to enjoy the savory kernel. The poetry and sublime transports of human passion touched no higher than his instep. He never made the mistake of those strong men who, imagining that little Souls believe in the great, venture to exchange noble thoughts of the future for the small coin of our ideas of life. He might, like them, have walked with his feet on earth and his head among the clouds, but he preferred to sit at his ease and sear with his kisses the lips of more than one tender, fresh and sweet woman. Like Death, wherever he passed, he devoured all without scruple, demanding a passionate, Oriental love and easily won pleasure. Loving only woman in women, his soul found its natural trend in irony.

When his inamoratas mounted to the skies in an ecstasy of bliss, Don Juan followed, serious, unreserved, sincere as a German student. But he said “I” while his lady love, in her folly, said “we.” He knew admirably how to yield himself to a woman’s influence. He was always clever enough to make her believe that he trembled like a college youth who asks his first partner at a ball: “Do you like dancing?” But he could also be terrible when necessary; he could draw his sword and destroy skilled soldiers. There was banter in his simplicity and laughter in his tears, for he could weep as well as any woman who says to her husband: “Give me a carriage or I shall pine to death.”

For merchants the world means a bale of goods or a quantity of circulating notes; for most young men it is a woman; for some women it is a man; for certain natures it is society, a set of people, a position, a city; for Don Juan the universe was himself! Noble, fascinating and a model of grace, he fastened his bark to every bank; but he allowed himself to be carried only where he wished to go. The more he saw the more skeptical he became. Probing human nature he soon guessed that courage was rashness; prudence, cowardice; generosity, shrewd calculation; justice, a crime; delicacy, pusillanimity; honesty, policy; and by a singular fatality he perceived that the persons who were really honest, delicate, just, generous, prudent and courageous received no consideration at the hands of their fellows.

“What a cheerless jest!” he cried. “It does not come from a god!”

And then, renouncing a better world, he showed no mark of respect to holy things and regarded the marble saints in the churches merely as works of art. He understood the mechanism of human society, and never offended too much against the current prejudices, for the executioners had more power than he; but he bent the social laws to his will with the grace and wit that are so well displayed in his scene with M. Dimanche. He was, in short, the embodiment of Molière’s Don Juan, Goethe’s Faust, Byron’s Manfred, and Maturin’s Melmoth—grand pictures drawn by the greatest geniuses of Europe, and to which neither the harmonies of Mozart nor the lyric strains of Rossini are lacking. Terrible pictures in which the power of evil existing in man is immortalized, and which are repeated from one century to another, whether the type come to parley with mankind by incarnating itself in Mirabeau, or be content to work in silence, like Bonaparte; or to goad on the universe by sarcasm, like the divine Rabelais; or again, to laugh at men instead of insulting things, like Maréchal de Richelieu; or, still better, perhaps, if it mock both men and things, like our most celebrated ambassador.

But the deep genius of Don Juan incorporated in advance all these. He played with everything. His life was a mockery, which embraced men, things, institutions, ideas. As for eternity, he had chatted for half an hour with Pope Julius II., and at the end of the conversation he said, laughing:

“If it were absolutely necessary to choose, I should rather believe in God than in the devil; power combined with goodness has always more possibilities than the spirit of evil.”

“Yes; but God wants one to do penance in this world.”

“Are you always thinking of your indulgences?” replied Belvidéro. “Well, I have a whole existence in reserve to repent the faults of my first life.”

“Oh, if that is your idea of old age,” cried the Pope, “you are in danger of being canonized.”

“After your elevation to the papacy, one may expect anything.”

And then they went to watch the workmen engaged in building the huge basilica consecrated to St. Peter.

“St. Peter is the genius who gave us our double power,” said the Pope to Don Juan, “and he deserves this monument. But sometimes at night I fancy that a deluge will pass a sponge over all this, and it will need to be begun over again.”

Don Juan and the Pope laughed. They understood each other. A fool would have gone next day to amuse himself with Julius II at Raphael’s house or in the delightful Villa Madama; but Belvidéro went to see him officiate in his pontifical capacity, in order to convince himself of his suspicions. Under the influence of wine della Rovere would have been capable of forgetting himself and criticising the Apocalypse.

When Don Juan reached the age of sixty he went to live in Spain. There, in his old age, he married a young and charming Andalusian. But he was intentionally neither a good father nor a good husband. He had observed that we are never so tenderly loved as by the women to whom we scarcely give a thought. Doña Elvira, piously reared by an old aunt in the heart of Andalusia in a castle several leagues from San Lucas, was all devotion and meekness. Don Juan saw that this young girl was a woman to make a long fight with a passion before yielding to it, so he hoped to keep from her any love but his until after his death. It was a serious jest, a game of chess which he had reserved for his old age.

Warned by his father’s mistakes, he determined to make the most trifling acts of his old age contribute to the success of the drama which was to take place at his deathbed. Therefore, the greater part of his wealth lay buried in the cellars of his palace at Ferrara, whither he seldom went. The rest of his fortune was invested in a life annuity, so that his wife and children might be interested in keeping him alive. This was a species of cleverness which his father should have practiced; but this Machiavellian scheme was unnecessary in his case. Young Philippe Belvidéro, his son, grew up a Spaniard as conscientiously religious as his father was impious, on the principle of the proverb: “A miserly father, a spendthrift son.”

The Abbot of San Lucas was selected by Don Juan to direct the consciences of the Duchess of Belvidéro and of Philippe. This ecclesiastic was a holy man, of fine carriage, well proportioned, with beautiful black eyes and a head like Tiberius. He was wearied with fasting, pale and worn, and continually battling with temptation, like all recluses. The old nobleman still hoped perhaps to be able to kill a monk before finishing his first lease of life. But, whether the Abbot was as clever as Don Juan, or whether Doña Elvira had more prudence or virtue than Spain usually accords to women, Don Juan was obliged to pass his last days like a country parson, without scandal. Sometimes he took pleasure in finding his wife and son remiss in their religious duties, and insisted imperiously that they should fulfil all the obligations imposed upon the faithful by the court of Rome. He was never so happy as when listening to the gallant Abbot of San Lucas, Doña Elvira and Philippe engaged in arguing a case of conscience.

Nevertheless, despite the great care which the lord of Belvidéro bestowed upon his person, the days of decrepitude arrived. With this age of pain came cries of helplessness, cries made the more piteous by the remembrance of his impetuous youth and his ripe maturity. This man, for whom the last jest in the farce was to make others believe in the laws and principles at which he scoffed, was compelled to close his eyes at night upon an uncertainty. This model of good breeding, this duke spirited in an orgy, this brilliant courtier, gracious toward women, whose hearts he had wrung as a peasant bends a willow wand, this man of genius, had an obstinate cough, a troublesome sciatica and a cruel gout. He saw his teeth leave him, as, at the end of an evening, the fairest, best dressed women depart one by one, leaving the ballroom deserted and empty. His bold hands trembled, his graceful limbs tottered, and then one night apoplexy turned its hooked and icy fingers around his throat. From this fateful day he became morose and harsh. He accused his wife and son of being insincere in their devotion, charging that their touching and gentle care was showered upon him so tenderly only because his money was all invested. Elvira and Philippe shed bitter tears, and redoubled their caresses to this malicious old man, whose broken voice would become affectionate to say:

“My friends, my dear wife, you will forgive me, will you not? I torment you sometimes. Ah, great God, how canst Thou make use of me thus to prove these two angelic creatures! I, who should be their joy, am their bane!”

It was thus that he held them at his bedside, making them forget whole months of impatience and cruelty by one hour in which he displayed to them the new treasures of his favor and a false tenderness. It was a paternal system which succeeded infinitely better than that which his father had formerly employed toward him. Finally he reached such a state of illness that manoeuvres like those of a small boat entering a dangerous canal were necessary in order to pus him to bed.

Then the day of death came. This brilliant and skeptical man, whose intellect only was left unimpaired by the general decay, lived between a doctor and a confessor, his two antipathies. But he was jovial with them. Was there not a bright light burning for him behind the veil of the future? Over this veil, leaden and impenetrable to others, transparent to him, the delicate and bewitching delights of youth played like shadows.

It was on a beautiful summer evening that Don Juan felt the approach of death. The Spanish sky was gloriously clear, the orange trees perfumed the air and the stars cast a fresh glowing light. Nature seemed to give pledges of his resurrection. A pious and obedient son regarded him with love and respect. About eleven o’clock he signified his wish to be left alone with this sincere being.

“Philippe,” he began, in a voice so tender and affectionate that the young man trembled and wept with happiness, for his father had never said “Philippe” like this before. “Listen to me, my son,” continued the dying man. “I have been a great sinner, and all my life I have thought about death. Formerly I was the friend of the great Pope Julius II. This illustrious pontiff feared that the excessive excitability of my feelings would cause me to commit some deadly sin at the moment of my death, after I had received the blessed ointment. He made me a present of a flask of holy water that gushed forth from a rock in the desert. I kept the secret of the theft of the Church’s treasure, but I am authorized to reveal the mystery to my son ‘in articulo mortis.’ You will find the flask in the drawer of the Gothic table which always stands at my bedside. The precious crystals may be of service to you also, my dearest Philippe. Will you swear to me by your eternal salvation that you will carry out my orders faithfully?”

Philippe looked at his father. Don Juan was too well versed in human expression not to know that he could die peacefully in perfect faith in such a look, as his father had died in despair at his own expression.

“You deserve a different father,” continued Don Juan. “I must acknowledge that when the estimable Abbot of San Lucas was administering the viaticum’ I was thinking of the incompatibility of two so wide-spreading powers as that of the devil and that of God.”

“Oh, father!”

“And I said to myself that when Satan makes his peace he will be a great idiot if he does not bargain for the pardon of his followers. This thought haunted me. So, my child, I shall go to hell if you do not carry out my wishes.”

“Oh, tell them to me at once, father!”

“As soon as I have closed my eyes,” replied Don Juan, “and that may be in a few minutes, you must take my body, still warm, and lay it on a table in the middle of the room. Then put out the lamp—the light of the stars will be sufficient. You must take off my clothes, and while you recite ‘Paters’ and ‘Aves’ and uplift your soul to God, you must moisten my eyes, my lips, all my head first, and then my body, with this holy water. But, my dear son, the power of God is great. You must not be astonished at anything.”

At this point Don Juan, feeling the approach of death, added in a terrible voice: “Be careful of the flask!”

Then he died gently in the arms of his son, whose tears fell upon his ironical and sallow face.

It was nearly midnight when Don Philippe Belvidéro placed his father’s corpse on the table. After kissing the stern forehead and the gray hair he put out the lamp. The soft rays of the moonlight which cast fantastic reflections over the scenery allowed the pious Philippe to discern his father’s body dimly, as something white in the midst of the darkness. The young man moistened a cloth in the liquid and then, deep in prayer, he faithfully anointed the revered head. The silence was intense. Then he heard indescribable rustlings, but he attributed them to the wind among the tree-tops. When he had bathed the right arm he felt himself rudely seized at the back of the neck by an arm, young and vigorous—the arm of his father! He gave a piercing cry, and dropped the phial, which fell on the floor and broke. The liquid flowed out.

The whole household rushed in, bearing torches. The cry had aroused and frightened them as if the trumpet of the last judgment had shaken the world. The room was crowded with people. The trembling throng saw Don Philippe, fainting, but held up by the powerful arm of his father, which clutched his neck. Then they saw a supernatural sight, the head of Don Juan, young and beautiful as an Antinoüs, a head with black hair, brilliant eyes and crimson lips, a head that moved in a blood-curdling manner without being able to stir the skeleton to which it belonged.

An old servant cried: “A miracle!”

And all the Spaniards repeated: “A miracle!”

Too pious to admit the possibility of magic, Doña Elvira sent for the Abbot of San Lucas. When the priest saw the miracle with his own eyes he resolved to profit by it, like a man of sense, and like an abbot who asked nothing better than to increase his revenues. Declaring that Don Juan must inevitably be canonized, he appointed his monastery for the ceremony of the apotheosis. The monastery, he said, should henceforth be called “San Juan de Lucas.” At these words the head made a facetious grimace.

The taste of the Spaniards for this sort of solemnities is so well known that it should not be difficult to imagine the religious spectacle with which the abbey of San Lucas celebrated the translation of “the blessed Don Juan Belvidéro” in its church. A few days after the death of this illustrious nobleman, the miracle of his partial resurrection had been so thoroughly spread from village to village throughout a circle of more than fifty leagues round San Lucas that it was as good as a play to see the curious people on the road. They came from all sides, drawn by the prospect of a “Te Deum” chanted by the light of burning torches. The ancient mosque of the monastery of San Lucas, a wonderful building, erected by the Moors, which for three hundred years had resounded with the name of Jesus Christ instead of Allah, could not hold the crowd which was gathered to view the ceremony. Packed together like ants, the hidalgos in velvet mantles and armed with their good swords stood round the pillars, unable to find room to bend their knees, which they never bent elsewhere. Charming peasant women, whose dresses set off the beautiful lines of their figures, gave their arms to white-haired old men. Youths with glowing eyes found themselves beside old women decked out in gala dress. There were couples trembling with pleasure, curious-fiancées, led thither by their sweethearts, newly married couples and frightened children, holding one another by the hand. All this throng was there, rich in colors, brilliant in contrast, laden with flowers, making a soft tumult in the silence of the night. The great doors of the church opened.

Those who, having come too late, were obliged to stay outside, saw in the distance, through the three open doors, a scene of which the tawdry decorations of our modern operas can give but a faint idea. Devotees and sinners, intent upon winning the favor of a new saint, lighted thousands of candles in his honor inside the vast church, and these scintillating lights gave a magical aspect to the edifice. The black arcades, the columns with their capitals, the recessed chapels glittering with gold and silver, the galleries, the Moorish fretwork, the most delicate features of this delicate carving, were all revealed in the dazzling brightness like the fantastic figures which are formed in a glowing fire. It was a sea of light, surmounted at the end of the church by the gilded choir, where the high altar rose in glory, which rivaled the rising sun. But the magnificence of the golden lamps, the silver candlesticks, the banners, the tassels, the saints and the “ex voto” paled before the reliquary in which Don Juan lay. The body of the blasphemer was resplendent with gems, flowers, crystals, diamonds, gold, and plumes as white as the wings of a seraphim; it replaced a picture of Christ on the altar. Around him burned wax candles, which threw out waves of light. The good Abbot of San Lucas, clad in his pontifical robes, with his jeweled mitre, his surplice and his golden crozier reclined, king of the choir, in a large armchair, amid all his clergy, who were impassive men with silver hair, and who surrounded him like the confessing saints whom the painters group round the Lord. The precentor and the dignitaries of the order, decorated with the glittering insignia of their ecclesiastical vanities, came and went among the clouds of incense like planets revolving in the firmament.

When the hour of triumph was come the chimes awoke the echoes of the countryside, and this immense assembly raised its voice to God in the first cry of praise which begins the “Te Deum.”

Sublime exultation! There were voices pure and high, ecstatic women’s voices, blended with the deep sonorous tones of the men, thousands of voices so powerful that they drowned the organ in spite of the bellowing of its pipes. The shrill notes of the choir-boys and the powerful rhythm of the basses inspired pretty thoughts of the combination of childhood and strength in this delightful concert of human voices blended in an outpouring of love.

“Te Deum laudamus!”

In the midst of this cathedral, black with kneeling men and women, the chant burst forth like a light which gleams suddenly in the night, and the silence was broken as by a peal of thunder. The voices rose with the clouds of incense which threw diaphanous, bluish veils over the quaint marvels of the architecture. All was richness, perfume, light and melody.

At the moment at which this symphony of love and gratitude rolled toward the altar, Don Juan, too polite not to express his thanks and too witty not to appreciate a jest, responded by a frightful laugh, and straightened up in his reliquary. But, the devil having given him a hint of the danger he ran of being taken for an ordinary man, for a saint, a Boniface or a Pantaléon, he interrupted this harmony of love by a shriek in which the thousand voices of hell joined. Earth lauded, heaven condemned. The church trembled on its ancient foundations.

“Te Deum laudamus!” sang the crowd.

“Go to the devil, brute beasts that you are! ‘Carajos demonios!’ Beasts! what idiots you are with your God!”

And a torrent of curses rolled forth like a stream of burning lava at an eruption of Vesuvius.

“‘Deus sabaoth! sabaoth’!” cried the Christians.

Then the living arm was thrust out of the reliquary and waved threateningly over the assembly with a gesture full of despair and irony.

“The saint is blessing us!” said the credulous old women, the children and the young maids.

It is thus that we are often deceived in our adorations. The superior man mocks those who compliment him, and compliments those whom he mocks in the depths of his heart.

When the Abbot, bowing low before the altar, chanted: “‘Sancte Johannes, ora pro nobis’!” he heard distinctly: “‘O coglione’!”

“What is happening up there?” cried the superior, seeing the reliquary move.

“The saint is playing devil!” replied the Abbot.

At this the living head tore itself violently away from the dead body and fell upon the yellow pate of the priest.

“Remember, Doña Elvira!” cried the head, fastening its teeth in the head of the Abbot.

The latter gave a terrible shriek, which threw the crowd into a panic. The priests rushed to the assistance of their chief.

“Imbecile! Now say that there is a God!” cried the voice, just as the Abbot expired.

bouquinistes 1

Gerard Sarnat ~ Too Tough To Chew

“Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.”
— Lillian Hellman, Pentimento

Good son I was though often I wonder.
Father loved schnitzel, pepperoni with peppers pizza
and pastrami on rye plus pickles, so physician
to physician every Monday for lunch I provisioned

them to the TV tray next to his nursery bed.
The pies’ potassium poisoned his heart rhythm
and the meat’s sodium flooded his lungs —
which set off overwhelmingly uncomfortable

Cancer and blood clots and bleeding problems
plus toxic deli subdued Dad with enough diseases
to slay a metropolis. Once near the end he caught

my scheme red-handed. Soon afterwards I asked
the takes-one-to-know-one stoic control freak,
“When’ll you know to call it quits?” “Gerry, my dear,
that is all beyond me now. I’m becoming an infant again.

Actually your infant.” Rolling his translucent skin over
to change catheter and cull belly button lint, I looked
Pops in the eye, “Are you scared – and what happens
afterwards?” Face arranged in a pose of composure,

he deadpanned, “After my turkey button pops, Time’s up
— you decide when — surgery journal cover stories
and portraits will likely be my best legacy.” Then Daddy
added wryly, “Is that how you think you’ll remember?”


Gerard Sarnat has established and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised and been a CEO of healthcare organizations and Stanford Medical School professor. Gerry’s work is published in over a hundred magazines. He is the author of three critically acclaimed collections: HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man (2010), Disputes (2012), and 17s (2014). For Huffington Postreviews, reading dates, publications and more visit Gerard Sarnat.com. His books are available at select bookstores and on Amazon; his work appears in literary journals stocked by Barnes and Noble among other distributors. So far in 2015, Gerard’s features and honoraria have included Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, Avocet A Journal of Nature Poems, LEVELER, tNY, StepAway and Bywords. Gargoyle has accepted a piece for its fortieth anniversary issue due out in September 2016.

Read more of Gerard’s poetry in

bouquiniste 9 sur-les-quais-de-Paris

H. G. Wells ~ The Stolen Body


DGG fur DMdJ
Mr. Bessel was the senior partner in the firm of Bessel, Hart, and Brown, of St. Paul’s Churchyard, and for many years he was well known among those interested in psychical research as a liberal-minded and conscientious investigator. He was an unmarried man, and instead of living in the suburbs, after the fashion of his class, he occupied rooms in the Albany, near Piccadilly. He was particularly interested in the questions of thought transference and of apparitions of the living, and in November, 1896, he commenced a series of experiments in conjunction with Mr. Vincey, of Staple Inn, in order to test the alleged possibility of projecting an apparition of one’s self by force of will through space.

Their experiments were conducted in the following manner: At a prearranged hour Mr. Bessel shut himself in one of his rooms in the Albany and Mr. Vincey in his sitting-room in Staple Inn, and each then fixed his mind as resolutely as possible on the other. Mr. Bessel had acquired the art of self-hypnotism, and, so far as he could, he attempted first to hypnotise himself and then to project himself as a “phantom of the living” across the intervening space of nearly two miles into Mr. Vincey’s apartment. On several evenings this was tried without any satisfactory result, but on the fifth or sixth occasion Mr. Vincey did actually see or imagine he saw an apparition of Mr. Bessel standing in his room. He states that the appearance, although brief, was very vivid and real. He noticed that Mr. Bessel’s face was white and his expression anxious, and, moreover, that his hair was disordered. For a moment Mr. Vincey, in spite of his state of expectation, was too surprised to speak or move, and in that moment it seemed to him as though the figure glanced over its shoulder and incontinently vanished.

It had been arranged that an attempt should be made to photograph any phantasm seen, but Mr. Vincey had not the instant presence of mind to snap the camera that lay ready on the table beside him, and when he did so he was too late. Greatly elated, however, even by this partial success, he made a note of the exact time, and at once took a cab to the Albany to inform Mr. Bessel of this result.

He was surprised to find Mr. Bessel’s outer door standing open to the night, and the inner apartments lit and in an extraordinary disorder. An empty champagne magnum lay smashed upon the floor; its neck had been broken off against the inkpot on the bureau and lay beside it. An octagonal occasional table, which carried a bronze statuette and a number of choice books, had been rudely overturned, and down the primrose paper of the wall inky fingers had been drawn, as it seemed, for the mere pleasure of defilement. One of the delicate chintz curtains had been violently torn from its rings and thrust upon the fire, so that the smell of its smouldering filled the room. Indeed the whole place was disarranged in the strangest fashion. For a few minutes Mr. Vincey, who had entered sure of finding Mr. Bessel in his easy chair awaiting him, could scarcely believe his eyes, and stood staring helplessly at these unanticipated things.

Then, full of a vague sense of calamity, he sought the porter at the entrance lodge. “Where is Mr. Bessel?” he asked. “Do you know that all the furniture is broken in Mr. Bessel’s room?” The porter said nothing, but, obeying his gestures, came at once to Mr. Bessel’s apartment to see the state of affairs. “This settles it,” he said, surveying the lunatic confusion. “I didn’t know of this. Mr. Bessel’s gone off. He’s mad!”

He then proceeded to tell Mr. Vincey that about half an hour previously, that is to say, at about the time of Mr. Bessel’s apparition in Mr. Vincey’s rooms, the missing gentleman had rushed out of the gates of the Albany into Vigo Street, hatless and with disordered hair, and had vanished into the direction of Bond Street. “And as he went past me,” said the porter, “he laughed—a sort of gasping laugh, with his mouth open and his eyes glaring—I tell you, sir, he fair scared me!—like this.”

According to his imitation it was anything but a pleasant laugh. “He waved his hand, with all his fingers crooked and clawing—like that. And he said, in a sort of fierce whisper, ‘Life!’ Just that one word, ‘Life!'”

“Dear me,” said Mr. Vincey. “Tut, tut,” and “Dear me!” He could think of nothing else to say. He was naturally very much surprised. He turned from the room to the porter and from the porter to the room in the gravest perplexity. Beyond his suggestion that probably Mr. Bessel would come back presently and explain what had happened, their conversation was unable to proceed. “It might be a sudden toothache,” said the porter, “a very sudden and violent toothache, jumping on him suddenly-like and driving him wild. I’ve broken things myself before now in such a case…” He thought. “If it was, why should he say ‘life’ to me as he went past?”

Mr. Vincey did not know. Mr. Bessel did not return, and at last Mr. Vincey, having done some more helpless staring, and having addressed a note of brief inquiry and left it in a conspicuous position on the bureau, returned in a very perplexed frame of mind to his own premises in Staple Inn. This affair had given him a shock. He was at a loss to account for Mr. Bessel’s conduct on any sane hypothesis. He tried to read, but he could not do so; he went for a short walk, and was so preoccupied that he narrowly escaped a cab at the top of Chancery Lane; and at last—a full hour before his usual time—he went to bed. For a considerable time he could not sleep because of his memory of the silent confusion of Mr. Bessel’s apartment, and when at length he did attain an uneasy slumber it was at once disturbed by a very vivid and distressing dream of Mr. Bessel.

He saw Mr. Bessel gesticulating wildly, and with his face white and contorted. And, inexplicably mingled with his appearance, suggested perhaps by his gestures, was an intense fear, an urgency to act. He even believes that he heard the voice of his fellow experimenter calling distressfully to him, though at the time he considered this to be an illusion. The vivid impression remained though Mr. Vincey awoke. For a space he lay awake and trembling in the darkness, possessed with that vague, unaccountable terror of unknown possibilities that comes out of dreams upon even the bravest men. But at last he roused himself, and turned over and went to sleep again, only for the dream to return with enhanced vividness.

He awoke with such a strong conviction that Mr. Bessel was in overwhelming distress and need of help that sleep was no longer possible. He was persuaded that his friend had rushed out to some dire calamity. For a time he lay reasoning vainly against this belief, but at last he gave way to it. He arose, against all reason, lit his gas, and dressed, and set out through the deserted streets—deserted, save for a noiseless policeman or so and the early news carts—towards Vigo Street to inquire if Mr. Bessel had returned.

But he never got there. As he was going down Long Acre some unaccountable impulse turned him aside out of that street towards Covent Garden, which was just waking to its nocturnal activities. He saw the market in front of him—a queer effect of glowing yellow lights and busy black figures. He became aware of a shouting, and perceived a figure turn the corner by the hotel and run swiftly towards him. He knew at once that it was Mr. Bessel. But it was Mr. Bessel transfigured. He was hatless and dishevelled, his collar was torn open, he grasped a bone-handled walking-cane near the ferrule end, and his mouth was pulled awry. And he ran, with agile strides, very rapidly. Their encounter was the affair of an instant. “Bessel!” cried Vincey.

The running man gave no sign of recognition either of Mr. Vincey or of his own name. Instead, he cut at his friend savagely with the stick, hitting him in the face within an inch of the eye. Mr. Vincey, stunned and astonished, staggered back, lost his footing, and fell heavily on the pavement. It seemed to him that Mr. Bessel leapt over him as he fell. When he looked again Mr. Bessel had vanished, and a policeman and a number of garden porters and salesmen were rushing past towards Long Acre in hot pursuit.

With the assistance of several passers-by—for the whole street was speedily alive with running people—Mr. Vincey struggled to his feet. He at once became the centre of a crowd greedy to see his injury. A multitude of voices competed to reassure him of his safety, and then to tell him of the behaviour of the madman, as they regarded Mr. Bessel. He had suddenly appeared in the middle of the market screaming “Life! Life!” striking left and right with a blood-stained walking-stick, and dancing and shouting with laughter at each successful blow. A lad and two women had broken heads, and he had smashed a man’s wrist; a little child had been knocked insensible, and for a time he had driven every one before him, so furious and resolute had his behaviour been. Then he made a raid upon a coffee stall, hurled its paraffin flare through the window of the post office, and fled laughing, after stunning the foremost of the two policemen who had the pluck to charge him.

Mr. Vincey’s first impulse was naturally to join in the pursuit of his friend, in order if possible to save him from the violence of the indignant people. But his action was slow, the blow had half stunned him, and while this was still no more than a resolution came the news, shouted through the crowd, that Mr. Bessel had eluded his pursuers. At first Mr. Vincey could scarcely credit this, but the universality of the report, and presently the dignified return of two futile policemen, convinced him. After some aimless inquiries he returned towards Staple Inn, padding a handkerchief to a now very painful nose.

He was angry and astonished and perplexed. It appeared to him indisputable that Mr. Bessel must have gone violently mad in the midst of his experiment in thought transference, but why that should make him appear with a sad white face in Mr. Vincey’s dreams seemed a problem beyond solution. He racked his brains in vain to explain this. It seemed to him at last that not simply Mr. Bessel, but the order of things must be insane. But he could think of nothing to do. He shut himself carefully into his room, lit his fire—it was a gas fire with asbestos bricks—and, fearing fresh dreams if he went to bed, remained bathing his injured face, or holding up books in a vain attempt to read, until dawn. Throughout that vigil he had a curious persuasion that Mr. Bessel was endeavouring to speak to him, but he would not let himself attend to any such belief.

About dawn, his physical fatigue asserted itself, and he went to bed and slept at last in spite of dreaming. He rose late, unrested and anxious, and in considerable facial pain. The morning papers had no news of Mr. Bessel’s aberration—it had come too late for them. Mr. Vincey’s perplexities, to which the fever of his bruise added fresh irritation, became at last intolerable, and, after a fruitless visit to the Albany, he went down to St. Paul’s Churchyard to Mr. Hart, Mr. Bessel’s partner, and, so far as Mr. Vincey knew, his nearest friend.

He was surprised to learn that Mr. Hart, although he knew nothing of the outbreak, had also been disturbed by a vision, the very vision that Mr. Vincey had seen—Mr. Bessel, white and dishevelled, pleading earnestly by his gestures for help. That was his impression of the import of his signs. “I was just going to look him up in the Albany when you arrived,” said Mr. Hart. “I was so sure of something being wrong with him.”

As the outcome of their consultation the two gentlemen decided to inquire at Scotland Yard for news of their missing friend. “He is bound to be laid by the heels,” said Mr. Hart. “He can’t go on at that pace for long.” But the police authorities had not laid Mr. Bessel by the heels. They confirmed Mr. Vincey’s overnight experiences and added fresh circumstances, some of an even graver character than those he knew—a list of smashed glass along the upper half of Tottenham Court Road, an attack upon a policeman in Hampstead Road, and an atrocious assault upon a woman. All these outrages were committed between half-past twelve and a quarter to two in the morning, and between those hours—and, indeed, from the very moment of Mr. Bessel’s first rush from his rooms at half-past nine in the evening—they could trace the deepening violence of his fantastic career. For the last hour, at least from before one, that is, until a quarter to two, he had run amuck through London, eluding with amazing agility every effort to stop or capture him.

But after a quarter to two he had vanished. Up to that hour witnesses were multitudinous. Dozens of people had seen him, fled from him or pursued him, and then things suddenly came to an end. At a quarter to two he had been seen running down the Euston Road towards Baker Street, flourishing a can of burning colza oil and jerking splashes of flame therefrom at the windows of the houses he passed. But none of the policemen on Euston Road beyond the Waxwork Exhibition, nor any of those in the side streets down which he must have passed had he left the Euston Road, had seen anything of him. Abruptly he disappeared. Nothing of his subsequent doings came to light in spite of the keenest inquiry.

Here was a fresh astonishment for Mr. Vincey. He had found considerable comfort in Mr. Hart’s conviction: “He is bound to be laid by the heels before long,” and in that assurance he had been able to suspend his mental perplexities. But any fresh development seemed destined to add new impossibilities to a pile already heaped beyond the powers of his acceptance. He found himself doubting whether his memory might not have played him some grotesque trick, debating whether any of these things could possibly have happened; and in the afternoon he hunted up Mr. Hart again to share the intolerable weight on his mind. He found Mr. Hart engaged with a well-known private detective, but as that gentleman accomplished nothing in this case, we need not enlarge upon his proceedings.

All that day Mr. Bessel’s whereabouts eluded an unceasingly active inquiry, and all that night. And all that day there was a persuasion in the back of Mr. Vincey’s mind that Mr. Bessel sought his attention, and all through the night Mr. Bessel with a tear-stained face of anguish pursued him through his dreams. And whenever he saw Mr. Bessel in his dreams he also saw a number of other faces, vague but malignant, that seemed to be pursuing Mr. Bessel.

It was on the following day, Sunday, that Mr. Vincey recalled certain remarkable stories of Mrs. Bullock, the medium, who was then attracting attention for the first time in London. He determined to consult her. She was staying at the house of that well-known inquirer, Dr. Wilson Paget, and Mr. Vincey, although he had never met that gentleman before, repaired to him forthwith with the intention of invoking her help. But scarcely had he mentioned the name of Bessel when Doctor Paget interrupted him. “Last night—just at the end,” he said, “we had a communication.”

He left the room, and returned with a slate on which were certain words written in a handwriting, shaky indeed, but indisputably the handwriting of Mr. Bessel!

“How did you get this?” said Mr. Vincey. “Do you mean—?”

“We got it last night,” said Doctor Paget. With numerous interruptions from Mr. Vincey, he proceeded to explain how the writing had been obtained. It appears that in her séances, Mrs. Bullock passes into a condition of trance, her eyes rolling up in a strange way under her eyelids, and her body becoming rigid. She then begins to talk very rapidly, usually in voices other than her own. At the same time one or both of her hands may become active, and if slates and pencils are provided they will then write messages simultaneously with and quite independently of the flow of words from her mouth. By many she is considered an even more remarkable medium than the celebrated Mrs. Piper. It was one of these messages, the one written by her left hand, that Mr. Vincey now had before him. It consisted of eight words written disconnectedly: “George Bessel … trial excavn … Baker Street … help … starvation.” Curiously enough, neither Doctor Paget nor the two other inquirers who were present had heard of the disappearance of Mr. Bessel—the news of it appeared only in the evening papers of Saturday—and they had put the message aside with many others of a vague and enigmatical sort that Mrs. Bullock has from time to time delivered.

When Doctor Paget heard Mr. Vincey’s story, he gave himself at once with great energy to the pursuit of this clue to the discovery of Mr. Bessel. It would serve no useful purpose here to describe the inquiries of Mr. Vincey and himself; suffice it that the clue was a genuine one, and that Mr. Bessel was actually discovered by its aid.

He was found at the bottom of a detached shaft which had been sunk and abandoned at the commencement of the work for the new electric railway near Baker Street Station. His arm and leg and two ribs were broken. The shaft is protected by a hoarding nearly 20 feet high, and over this, incredible as it seems, Mr. Bessel, a stout, middle-aged gentleman, must have scrambled in order to fall down the shaft. He was saturated in colza oil, and the smashed tin lay beside him, but luckily the flame had been extinguished by his fall. And his madness had passed from him altogether. But he was, of course, terribly enfeebled, and at the sight of his rescuers he gave way to hysterical weeping.

In view of the deplorable state of his flat, he was taken to the house of Dr. Hatton in Upper Baker Street. Here he was subjected to a sedative treatment, and anything that might recall the violent crisis through which he had passed was carefully avoided. But on the second day he volunteered a statement.

Since that occasion Mr. Bessel has several times repeated this statement—to myself among other people—varying the details as the narrator of real experiences always does, but never by any chance contradicting himself in any particular. And the statement he makes is in substance as follows.

In order to understand it clearly it is necessary to go back to his experiments with Mr. Vincey before his remarkable attack. Mr. Bessel’s first attempts at self-projection, in his experiments with Mr. Vincey, were, as the reader will remember, unsuccessful. But through all of them he was concentrating all his power and will upon getting out of the body—”willing it with all my might,” he says. At last, almost against expectation, came success. And Mr. Bessel asserts that he, being alive, did actually, by an effort of will, leave his body and pass into some place or state outside this world.

The release was, he asserts, instantaneous. “At one moment I was seated in my chair, with my eyes tightly shut, my hands gripping the arms of the chair, doing all I could to concentrate my mind on Vincey, and then I perceived myself outside my body—saw my body near me, but certainly not containing me, with the hands relaxing and the head drooping forward on the breast.”

Nothing shakes him in his assurance of that release. He describes in a quiet, matter-of-fact way the new sensation he experienced. He felt he had become impalpable—so much he had expected, but he had not expected to find himself enormously large. So, however, it would seem he became. “I was a great cloud—if I may express it that way—anchored to my body. It appeared to me, at first, as if I had discovered a greater self of which the conscious being in my brain was only a little part. I saw the Albany and Piccadilly and Regent Street and all the rooms and places in the houses, very minute and very bright and distinct, spread out below me like a little city seen from a balloon. Every now and then vague shapes like drifting wreaths of smoke made the vision a little indistinct, but at first I paid little heed to them. The thing that astonished me most, and which astonishes me still, is that I saw quite distinctly the insides of the houses as well as the streets, saw little people dining and talking in the private houses, men and women dining, playing billiards, and drinking in restaurants and hotels, and several places of entertainment crammed with people. It was like watching the affairs of a glass hive.”

Such were Mr. Bessel’s exact words as I took them down when he told me the story. Quite forgetful of Mr. Vincey, he remained for a space observing these things. Impelled by curiosity, he says, he stooped down, and, with the shadowy arm he found himself possessed of, attempted to touch a man walking along Vigo Street. But he could not do so, though his finger seemed to pass through the man. Something prevented his doing this, but what it was he finds it hard to describe. He compares the obstacle to a sheet of glass.

“I felt as a kitten may feel,” he said, “when it goes for the first time to pat its reflection in a mirror.” Again and again, on the occasion when I heard him tell this story, Mr. Bessel returned to that comparison of the sheet of glass. Yet it was not altogether a precise comparison, because, as the reader will speedily see, there were interruptions of this generally impermeable resistance, means of getting through the barrier to the material world again. But, naturally, there is a very great difficulty in expressing these unprecedented impressions in the language of everyday experience.

A thing that impressed him instantly, and which weighed upon him throughout all this experience, was the stillness of this place—he was in a world without sound.

At first Mr. Bessel’s mental state was an unemotional wonder. His thought chiefly concerned itself with where he might be. He was out of the body—out of his material body, at any rate—but that was not all. He believes, and I for one believe also, that he was somewhere out of space, as we understand it, altogether. By a strenuous effort of will he had passed out of his body into a world beyond this world, a world undreamt of, yet lying so close to it and so strangely situated with regard to it that all things on this earth are clearly visible both from without and from within in this other world about us. For a long time, as it seemed to him, this realisation occupied his mind to the exclusion of all other matters, and then he recalled the engagement with Mr. Vincey, to which this astonishing experience was, after all, but a prelude.

He turned his mind to locomotion in this new body in which he found himself. For a time he was unable to shift himself from his attachment to his earthly carcass. For a time this new strange cloud body of his simply swayed, contracted, expanded, coiled, and writhed with his efforts to free himself, and then quite suddenly the link that bound him snapped. For a moment everything was hidden by what appeared to be whirling spheres of dark vapour, and then through a momentary gap he saw his drooping body collapse limply, saw his lifeless head drop sideways, and found he was driving along like a huge cloud in a strange place of shadowy clouds that had the luminous intricacy of London spread like a model below.

But now he was aware that the fluctuating vapour about him was something more than vapour, and the temerarious excitement of his first essay was shot with fear. For he perceived, at first indistinctly, and then suddenly very clearly, that he was surrounded by faces! that each roll and coil of the seeming cloud-stuff was a face. And such faces! Faces of thin shadow, faces of gaseous tenuity. Faces like those faces that glare with intolerable strangeness upon the sleeper in the evil hours of his dreams. Evil, greedy eyes that were full of a covetous curiosity, faces with knit brows and snarling, smiling lips; their vague hands clutched at Mr. Bessel as he passed, and the rest of their bodies was but an elusive streak of trailing darkness. Never a word they said, never a sound from the mouths that seemed to gibber. All about him they pressed in that dreamy silence, passing freely through the dim mistiness that was his body, gathering ever more numerously about him. And the shadowy Mr. Bessel, now suddenly fear-stricken, drove through the silent, active multitude of eyes and clutching hands.

So inhuman were these faces, so malignant their staring eyes, and shadowy, clawing gestures, that it did not occur to Mr. Bessel to attempt intercourse with these drifting creatures. Idiot phantoms, they seemed, children of vain desire, beings unborn and forbidden the boon of being, whose only expressions and gestures told of the envy and craving for life that was their one link with existence.

It says much for his resolution that, amidst the swarming cloud of these noiseless spirits of evil, he could still think of Mr. Vincey. He made a violent effort of will and found himself, he knew not how, stooping towards Staple Inn, saw Vincey sitting attentive and alert in his arm-chair by the fire.

And clustering also about him, as they clustered ever about all that lives and breathes, was another multitude of these vain voiceless shadows, longing, desiring, seeking some loophole into life.

For a space Mr. Bessel sought ineffectually to attract his friend’s attention. He tried to get in front of his eyes, to move the objects in his room, to touch him. But Mr. Vincey remained unaffected, ignorant of the being that was so close to his own. The strange something that Mr. Bessel has compared to a sheet of glass separated them impermeably.

And at last Mr. Bessel did a desperate thing. I have told how that in some strange way he could see not only the outside of a man as we see him, but within. He extended his shadowy hand and thrust his vague black fingers, as it seemed, through the heedless brain.

Then, suddenly, Mr. Vincey started like a man who recalls his attention from wandering thoughts, and it seemed to Mr. Bessel that a little dark-red body situated in the middle of Mr. Vincey’s brain swelled and glowed as he did so. Since that experience he has been shown anatomical figures of the brain, and he knows now that this is that useless structure, as doctors call it, the pineal eye. For, strange as it will seem to many, we have, deep in our brains—where it cannot possibly see any earthly light—an eye! At the time this, with the rest of the internal anatomy of the brain, was quite new to him. At the sight of its changed appearance, however, he thrust forth his finger, and, rather fearful still of the consequences, touched this little spot. And instantly Mr. Vincey started, and Mr. Bessel knew that he was seen.

And at that instant it came to Mr. Bessel that evil had happened to his body, and behold! a great wind blew through all that world of shadows and tore him away. So strong was this persuasion that he thought no more of Mr. Vincey, but turned about forthwith, and all the countless faces drove back with him like leaves before a gale. But he returned too late. In an instant he saw the body that he had left inert and collapsed—lying, indeed, like the body of a man just dead—had arisen, had arisen by virtue of some strength and will beyond his own. It stood with staring eyes, stretching its limbs in dubious fashion.

For a moment he watched it in wild dismay, and then he stooped towards it. But the pane of glass had closed against him again, and he was foiled. He beat himself passionately against this, and all about him the spirits of evil grinned and pointed and mocked. He gave way to furious anger. He compares himself to a bird that has fluttered heedlessly into a room and is beating at the window-pane that holds it back from freedom.

And behold! the little body that had once been his was now dancing with delight. He saw it shouting, though he could not hear its shouts; he saw the violence of its movements grow. He watched it fling his cherished furniture about in the mad delight of existence, rend his books apart, smash bottles, drink heedlessly from the jagged fragments, leap and smite in a passionate acceptance of living. He watched these actions in paralysed astonishment. Then once more he hurled himself against the impassable barrier, and then with all that crew of mocking ghosts about him, hurried back in dire confusion to Vincey to tell him of the outrage that had come upon him.

But the brain of Vincey was now closed against apparitions, and the disembodied Mr. Bessel pursued him in vain as he hurried out into Holborn to call a cab. Foiled and terror-stricken, Mr. Bessel swept back again, to find his desecrated body whooping in a glorious frenzy down the Burlington Arcade….

And now the attentive reader begins to understand Mr. Bessel’s interpretation of the first part of this strange story. The being whose frantic rush through London had inflicted so much injury and disaster had indeed Mr. Bessel’s body, but it was not Mr. Bessel. It was an evil spirit out of that strange world beyond existence, into which Mr. Bessel had so rashly ventured. For twenty hours it held possession of him, and for all those twenty hours the dispossessed spirit-body of Mr. Bessel was going to and fro in that unheard-of middle world of shadows seeking help in vain. He spent many hours beating at the minds of Mr. Vincey and of his friend Mr. Hart. Each, as we know, he roused by his efforts. But the language that might convey his situation to these helpers across the gulf he did not know; his feeble fingers groped vainly and powerlessly in their brains. Once, indeed, as we have already told, he was able to turn Mr. Vincey aside from his path so that he encountered the stolen body in its career, but he could not make him understand the thing that had happened: he was unable to draw any help from that encounter….

All through those hours the persuasion was overwhelming in Mr. Bessel’s mind that presently his body would be killed by his furious tenant, and he would have to remain in this shadow-land for evermore. So that those long hours were a growing agony of fear. And ever as he hurried to and fro in his ineffectual excitement, innumerable spirits of that world about him mobbed him and confused his mind. And ever an envious applauding multitude poured after their successful fellow as he went upon his glorious career.

For that, it would seem, must be the life of these bodiless things of this world that is the shadow of our world. Ever they watch, coveting a way into a mortal body, in order that they may descend, as furies and frenzies, as violent lusts and mad, strange impulses, rejoicing in the body they have won. For Mr. Bessel was not the only human soul in that place. Witness the fact that he met first one, and afterwards several shadows of men, men like himself, it seemed, who had lost their bodies even it may be as he had lost his, and wandered, despairingly, in that lost world that is neither life nor death. They could not speak because that world is silent, yet he knew them for men because of their dim human bodies, and because of the sadness of their faces.

But how they had come into that world he could not tell, nor where the bodies they had lost might be, whether they still raved about the earth, or whether they were closed forever in death against return. That they were the spirits of the dead neither he nor I believe. But Doctor Wilson Paget thinks they are the rational souls of men who are lost in madness on the earth.

At last Mr. Bessel chanced upon a place where a little crowd of such disembodied silent creatures was gathered, and thrusting through them he saw below a brightly-lit room, and four or five quiet gentlemen and a woman, a stoutish woman dressed in black bombazine and sitting awkwardly in a chair with her head thrown back. He knew her from her portraits to be Mrs. Bullock, the medium. And he perceived that tracts and structures in her brain glowed and stirred as he had seen the pineal eye in the brain of Mr. Vincey glow. The light was very fitful; sometimes it was a broad illumination, and sometimes merely a faint twilight spot, and it shifted slowly about her brain. She kept on talking and writing with one hand. And Mr. Bessel saw that the crowding shadows of men about him, and a great multitude of the shadow spirits of that shadowland, were all striving and thrusting to touch the lighted regions of her brain. As one gained her brain or another was thrust away, her voice and the writing of her hand changed. So that what she said was disorderly and confused for the most part; now a fragment of one soul’s message, and now a fragment of another’s, and now she babbled the insane fancies of the spirits of vain desire. Then Mr. Bessel understood that she spoke for the spirit that had touch of her, and he began to struggle very furiously towards her. But he was on the outside of the crowd and at that time he could not reach her, and at last, growing anxious, he went away to find what had happened meanwhile to his body.

For a long time he went to and fro seeking it in vain and fearing that it must have been killed, and then he found it at the bottom of the shaft in Baker Street, writhing furiously and cursing with pain. Its leg and an arm and two ribs had been broken by its fall. Moreover, the evil spirit was angry because his time had been so short and because of the pain—making violent movements and casting his body about.

And at that Mr. Bessel returned with redoubled earnestness to the room where the séance was going on, and so soon as he had thrust himself within sight of the place he saw one of the men who stood about the medium looking at his watch as if he meant that the séance should presently end. At that a great number of the shadows who had been striving turned away with gestures of despair. But the thought that the séance was almost over only made Mr. Bessel the more earnest, and he struggled so stoutly with his will against the others that presently he gained the woman’s brain. It chanced that just at that moment it glowed very brightly, and in that instant she wrote the message that Doctor Wilson Paget preserved. And then the other shadows and the cloud of evil spirits about him had thrust Mr. Bessel away from her, and for all the rest of the séance he could regain her no more.

So he went back and watched through the long hours at the bottom of the shaft where the evil spirit lay in the stolen body it had maimed, writhing and cursing, and weeping and groaning, and learning the lesson of pain. And towards dawn the thing he had waited for happened, the brain glowed brightly and the evil spirit came out, and Mr. Bessel entered the body he had feared he should never enter again. As he did so, the silence—the brooding silence—ended; he heard the tumult of traffic and the voices of people overhead, and that strange world that is the shadow of our world—the dark and silent shadows of ineffectual desire and the shadows of lost men—vanished clean away.

He lay there for the space of about three hours before he was found. And in spite of the pain and suffering of his wounds, and of the dim damp place in which he lay; in spite of the tears—wrung from him by his physical distress—his heart was full of gladness to know that he was nevertheless back once more in the kindly world of men.

bouquinistes 3 PUBLICITE

The Pipe


DGG fur DMdJ

“MY DEAR PUGH—I hope you will like the pipe which I send with this. It is rather a curious example of a certain school of Indian carving. And is a present from

“Yours truly, Joseph Tress.”

It was really very handsome of Tress—very handsome! The more especially as I was aware that to give presents was not exactly in Tress’s line. The truth is that when I saw what manner of pipe it was I was amazed. It was contained in a sandalwood box, which was itself illustrated with some remarkable specimens of carving. I use the word “remarkable” advisedly, because, although the workmanship was undoubtedly, in its way, artistic, the result could not be described as beautiful. The carver had thought proper to ornament the box with some of the ugliest figures I remember to have seen. They appeared to me to be devils. Or perhaps they were intended to represent deities appertaining to some mythological system with which, thank goodness, I am unacquainted. The pipe itself was worthy of the case in which it was contained. It was of meerschaum, with an amber mouthpiece. It was rather too large for ordinary smoking. But then, of course, one doesn’t smoke a pipe like that. There are pipes in my collection which I should as soon think of smoking as I should of eating. Ask a china maniac to let you have afternoon tea out of his Old Chelsea, and you will learn some home truths as to the durability of human friendships. The glory of the pipe, as Tress had suggested, lay in its carving. Not that I claim that it was beautiful, any more than I make such a claim for the carving on the box, but, as Tress said in his note, it was curious.

The stem and the bowl were quite plain, but on the edge of the bowl was perched some kind of lizard. I told myself it was an octopus when I first saw it, but I have since had reason to believe that it was some almost unique member of the lizard tribe. The creature was represented as climbing over the edge of the bowl down toward the stem, and its legs, or feelers, or tentacula, or whatever the things are called, were, if I may use a vulgarism, sprawling about “all over the place.” For instance, two or three of them were twined about the bowl, two or three of them were twisted round the stem, and one, a particularly horrible one, was uplifted in the air, so that if you put the pipe in your mouth the thing was pointing straight at your nose.

Not the least agreeable feature about the creature was that it was hideously lifelike. It appeared to have been carved in amber, but some coloring matter must have been introduced, for inside the amber the creature was of a peculiarly ghastly green. The more I examined the pipe the more amazed I was at Tress’s generosity. He and I are rival collectors. I am not going to say, in so many words, that his collection of pipes contains nothing but rubbish, because, as a matter of fact, he has two or three rather decent specimens. But to compare his collection to mine would be absurd. Tress is conscious of this, and he resents it. He resents it to such an extent that he has been known, at least on one occasion, to declare that one single pipe of his—I believe he alluded to the Brummagem relic preposterously attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh—was worth the whole of my collection put together. Although I have forgiven this, as I hope I always shall forgive remarks made when envious passions get the better of our nobler nature, even of a Joseph Tress, it is not to be supposed that I have forgotten it. He was, therefore, not at all the sort of person from whom I expected to receive a present. And such a present! I do not believe that he himself had a finer pipe in his collection. And to have given it to me! I had misjudged the man. I wondered where he had got it from. I had seen his pipes; I knew them off by heart—and some nice trumpery he has among them, too! but I had never seen that pipe before. The more I looked at it, the more my amazement grew. The beast perched upon the edge of the bowl was so lifelike. Its two bead-like eyes seemed to gleam at me with positively human intelligence. The pipe fascinated me to such an extent that I actually resolved to—smoke it!

I filled it with Perique. Ordinarily I use Birdseye, but on those very rare occasions on which I use a specimen I smoke Perique. I lit up with quite a small sensation of excitement. As I did so I kept my eyes perforce fixed upon the beast. The beast pointed its upraised tentacle directly at me. As I inhaled the pungent tobacco that tentacle impressed me with a feeling of actual uncanniness. It was broad daylight, and I was smoking in front of the window, yet to such an extent was I affected that it seemed to me that the tentacle was not only vibrating, which, owing to the peculiarity of its position, was quite within the range of probability, but actually moving, elongating—stretching forward, that is, farther toward me, and toward the tip of my nose. So impressed was I by this idea that I took the pipe out of my mouth and minutely examined the beast. Really, the delusion was excusable. So cunningly had the artist wrought that he succeeded in producing a creature which, such was its uncanniness, I could only hope had no original in nature.

Replacing the pipe between my lips I took several whiffs. Never had smoking had such an effect on me before. Either the pipe, or the creature on it, exercised some singular fascination. I seemed, without an instant’s warning, to be passing into some land of dreams. I saw the beast, which was perched upon the bowl, writhe and twist. I saw it lift itself bodily from the meerschaum.


“Feeling better now?”

I looked up. Joseph Tress was speaking.

“What’s the matter? Have I been ill?”

“You appear to have been in some kind of swoon.”

Tress’s tone was peculiar, even a little dry.

“Swoon! I never was guilty of such a thing in my life.”

“Nor was I, until I smoked that pipe.”

I sat up. The act of sitting up made me conscious of the fact that I had been lying down. Conscious, too, that I was feeling more than a little dazed. It seemed as though I was waking out of some strange, lethargic sleep—a kind of feeling which I have read of and heard about, but never before experienced.

“Where am I?”

“You’re on the couch in your own room. You were on the floor; but I thought it would be better to pick you up and place you on the couch—though no one performed the same kind office to me when I was on the floor.”

Again Tress’s tone was distinctly dry.

“How came you here?”

“Ah, that’s the question.” He rubbed his chin—a habit of his which has annoyed me more than once before. “Do you think you’re sufficiently recovered to enable you to understand a little simple explanation?” I stared at him, amazed. He went on stroking his chin. “The truth is that when I sent you the pipe I made a slight omission.”

“An omission?”

“I omitted to advise you not to smoke it.”

“And why?”

“Because—well, I’ve reason to believe the thing is drugged.”


“Or poisoned.”

“Poisoned!” I was wide awake enough then. I jumped off the couch with a celerity which proved it.

“It is this way. I became its owner in rather a singular manner.” He paused, as if for me to make a remark; but I was silent. “It is not often that I smoke a specimen, but, for some reason, I did smoke this. I commenced to smoke it, that is. How long I continued to smoke it is more than I can say. It had on me the same peculiar effect which it appears to have had on you. When I recovered consciousness I was lying on the floor.”

“On the floor?”

“On the floor. In about as uncomfortable a position as you can easily conceive. I was lying face downward, with my legs bent under me. I was never so surprised in my life as I was when I found myself where I was. At first I supposed that I had had a stroke. But by degrees it dawned upon me that I didn’t feel as though I had had a stroke.” Tress, by the way, has been an army surgeon. “I was conscious of distinct nausea. Looking about, I saw the pipe. With me it had fallen on to the floor. I took it for granted, considering the delicacy of the carving, that the fall had broken it. But when I picked it up I found it quite uninjured. While I was examining it a thought flashed to my brain. Might it not be answerable for what had happened to me? Suppose, for instance, it was drugged? I had heard of such things. Besides, in my case were present all the symptoms of drug poisoning, though what drug had been used I couldn’t in the least conceive. I resolved that I would give the pipe another trial.”

“On yourself? or on another party, meaning me?”

“On myself, my dear Pugh—on myself! At that point of my investigations I had not begun to think of you. I lit up and had another smoke.”

“With what result?”

“Well, that depends on the standpoint from which you regard the thing. From one point of view the result was wholly satisfactory—I proved that the thing was drugged, and more.”

“Did you have another fall?”

“I did. And something else besides.”

“On that account, I presume, you resolved to pass the treasure on to me?”

“Partly on that account, and partly on another.”

“On my word, I appreciate your generosity. You might have labeled the thing as poison.”

“Exactly. But then you must remember how often you have told me that you never smoke your specimens.”

“That was no reason why you shouldn’t have given me a hint that the thing was more dangerous than dynamite.”

“That did occur to me afterwards. Therefore I called to supply the slight omission.”

“Slight omission, you call it! I wonder what you would have called it if you had found me dead.”

“If I had known that you intended smoking it I should not have been at all surprised if I had.”

“Really, Tress, I appreciate your kindness more and more! And where is this example of your splendid benevolence? Have you pocketed it, regretting your lapse into the unaccustomed paths of generosity? Or is it smashed to atoms?”

“Neither the one nor the other. You will find the pipe upon the table. I neither desire its restoration nor is it in any way injured. It is merely an expression of personal opinion when I say that I don’t believe that it could be injured. Of course, having discovered its deleterious properties, you will not want to smoke it again. You will therefore be able to enjoy the consciousness of being the possessor of what I honestly believe to be the most remarkable pipe in existence. Good day, Pugh.”

He was gone before I could say a word. I immediately concluded, from the precipitancy of his flight, that the pipe was injured. But when I subjected it to close examination I could discover no signs of damage. While I was still eying it with jealous scrutiny the door reopened, and Tress came in again.

“By the way, Pugh, there is one thing I might mention, especially as I know it won’t make any difference to you.”

“That depends on what it is. If you have changed your mind, and want the pipe back again, I tell you frankly that it won’t. In my opinion, a thing once given is given for good.”

“Quite so; I don’t want it back again. You may make your mind easy on that point. I merely wanted to tell you why I gave it you.”

“You have told me that already.”

“Only partly, my dear Pugh—only partly. You don’t suppose I should have given you such a pipe as that merely because it happened to be drugged? Scarcely! I gave it you because I discovered from indisputable evidence, and to my cost, that it was haunted.”


“Yes, haunted. Good day.”

He was gone again. I ran out of the room, and shouted after him down the stairs. He was already at the bottom of the flight.

“Tress! Come back! What do you mean by talking such nonsense?”

“Of course it’s only nonsense. We know that that sort of thing always is nonsense. But if you should have reason to suppose that there is something in it besides nonsense, you may think it worth your while to make inquiries of me. But I won’t have that pipe back again in my possession on any terms—mind that!”

The bang of the front door told me that he had gone out into the street. I let him go. I laughed to myself as I reëntered the room. Haunted! That was not a bad idea of his. I saw the whole position at a glance. The truth of the matter was that he did regret his generosity, and he was ready to go any lengths if he could only succeed in cajoling me into restoring his gift. He was aware that I have views upon certain matters which are not wholly in accordance with those which are popularly supposed to be the views of the day, and particularly that on the question of what are commonly called supernatural visitations I have a standpoint of my own. Therefore, it was not a bad move on his part to try to make me believe that about the pipe on which he knew I had set my heart there was something which could not be accounted for by ordinary laws. Yet, as his own sense would have told him it would do, if he had only allowed himself to reflect for a moment, the move failed. Because I am not yet so far gone as to suppose that a pipe, a thing of meerschaum and of amber, in the sense in which I understand the word, could be haunted—a pipe, a mere pipe.

“Hollo! I thought the creature’s legs were twined right round the bowl!”

I was holding the pipe in my hand, regarding it with the affectionate eyes with which a connoisseur does regard a curio, when I was induced to make this exclamation. I was certainly under the impression that, when I first took the pipe out of the box, two, if not three of the feelers had been twined about the bowl—twined tightly, so that you could not see daylight between them and it. Now they were almost entirely detached, only the tips touching the meerschaum, and those particular feelers were gathered up as though the creature were in the act of taking a spring. Of course I was under a misapprehension: the feelers couldn’t have been twined; a moment before I should have been ready to bet a thousand to one that they were. Still, one does make mistakes, and very egregious mistakes, at times. At the same time, I confess that when I saw that dreadful-looking animal poised on the extreme edge of the bowl, for all the world as though it were just going to spring at me, I was a little startled. I remembered that when I was smoking the pipe I did think I saw the uplifted tentacle moving, as though it were reaching out to me. And I had a clear recollection that just as I had been sinking into that strange state of unconsciousness, I had been under the impression that the creature was writhing and twisting, as though it had suddenly become instinct with life. Under the circumstances, these reflections were not pleasant. I wished Tress had not talked that nonsense about the thing being haunted. It was surely sufficient to know that it was drugged and poisonous, without anything else.

I replaced it in the sandalwood box. I locked the box in a cabinet. Quite apart from the question as to whether that pipe was or was not haunted, I know it haunted me. It was with me in a figurative—which was worse than actual—sense all the day. Still worse, it was with me all the night. It was with me in my dreams. Such dreams! Possibly I had not yet wholly recovered from the effects of that insidious drug, but, whether or no, it was very wrong of Tress to set my thoughts into such a channel. He knows that I am of a highly imaginative temperament, and that it is easier to get morbid thoughts into my mind than to get them out again. Before that night was through I wished very heartily that I had never seen the pipe! I woke from one nightmare to fall into another. One dreadful dream was with me all the time—of a hideous, green reptile which advanced toward me out of some awful darkness, slowly, inch by inch, until it clutched me round the neck, and, gluing its lips to mine, sucked the life’s blood out of my veins as it embraced me with a slimy kiss. Such dreams are not restful. I woke anything but refreshed when the morning came. And when I got up and dressed I felt that, on the whole, it would perhaps have been better if I never had gone to bed. My nerves were unstrung, and I had that generally tremulous feeling which is, I believe, an inseparable companion of the more advanced stages of dipsomania. I ate no breakfast. I am no breakfast eater as a rule, but that morning I ate absolutely nothing.

“If this sort of thing is to continue, I will let Tress have his pipe again. He may have the laugh of me, but anything is better than this.”

It was with almost funereal forebodings that I went to the cabinet in which I had placed the sandalwood box. But when I opened it my feelings of gloom partially vanished. Of what phantasies had I been guilty! It must have been an entire delusion on my part to have supposed that those tentacula had ever been twined about the bowl. The creature was in exactly the same position in which I had left it the day before—as, of course, I knew it would be—poised, as if about to spring. I was telling myself how foolish I had been to allow myself to dwell for a moment on Tress’s words, when Martin Brasher was shown in.

Brasher is an old friend of mine. We have a common ground—ghosts. Only we approach them from different points of view. He takes the scientific—psychological—inquiry side. He is always anxious to hear of a ghost, so that he may have an opportunity of “showing it up.”

“I’ve something in your line here,” I observed, as he came in.

“In my line? How so? I’m not pipe mad.”

“No; but you’re ghost mad. And this is a haunted pipe.”

“A haunted pipe! I think you’re rather more mad about ghosts, my dear Pugh, than I am.”

Then I told him all about it. He was deeply interested, especially when I told him that the pipe was drugged. But when I repeated Tress’s words about its being haunted, and mentioned my own delusion about the creature moving, he took a more serious view of the case than I had expected he would do.

“I propose that we act on Tress’s suggestion, and go and make inquiries of him.”

“But you don’t really think that there is anything in it?”

“On these subjects I never allow myself to think at all. There are Tress’s words, and there is your story. It is agreed on all hands that the pipe has peculiar properties. It seems to me that there is a sufficient case here to merit inquiry.”

He persuaded me. I went with him. The pipe, in the sandalwood box, went too. Tress received us with a grin—a grin which was accentuated when I placed the sandalwood box on the table.

“You understand,” he said, “that a gift is a gift. On no terms will I consent to receive that pipe back in my possession.”

I was rather nettled by his tone.

“You need be under no alarm. I have no intention of suggesting anything of the kind.”

“Our business here,” began Brasher—I must own that his manner is a little ponderous—”is of a scientific, I may say also, and at the same time, of a judicial nature. Our object is the Pursuit of Truth and the Advancement of Inquiry.”

“Have you been trying another smoke?” inquired Tress, nodding his head toward me.

Before I had time to answer, Brasher went droning on:

“Our friend here tells me that you say this pipe is haunted.”

“I say it is haunted because it is haunted.”

I looked at Tress. I half suspected that he was poking fun at us. But he appeared to be serious enough.

“In these matters,” remarked Brasher, as though he were giving utterance to a new and important truth, “there is a scientific and nonscientific method of inquiry. The scientific method is to begin at the beginning. May I ask how this pipe came into your possession?”

Tress paused before he answered.

“You may ask.” He paused again. “Oh, you certainly may ask. But it doesn’t follow that I shall tell you.”

“Surely your object, like ours, can be but the Spreading About of the Truth?”

“I don’t see it at all. It is possible to imagine a case in which the spreading about of the truth might make me look a little awkward.”

“Indeed!” Brasher pursed up his lips. “Your words would almost lead one to suppose that there was something about your method of acquiring the pipe which you have good and weighty reasons for concealing.”

“I don’t know why I should conceal the thing from you. I don’t suppose either of you is any better than I am. I don’t mind telling you how I got the pipe. I stole it.”

“Stole it!”

Brasher seemed both amazed and shocked. But I, who had previous experience of Tress’s methods of adding to his collection, was not at all surprised. Some of the pipes which he calls his, if only the whole truth about them were publicly known, would send him to jail.

“That’s nothing!” he continued. “All collectors steal! The eighth commandment was not intended to apply to them. Why, Pugh there has ‘conveyed’ three fourths of the pipes which he flatters himself are his.”

I was so dumfoundered by the charge that it took my breath away. I sat in astounded silence. Tress went raving on:

“I was so shy of this particular pipe when I had obtained it, that I put it away for quite three months. When I took it out to have a look at it something about the thing so tickled me that I resolved to smoke it. Owing to peculiar circumstances attending the manner in which the thing came into my possession, and on which I need not dwell—you don’t like to dwell on those sort of things, do you, Pugh?—I knew really nothing about the pipe. As was the case with Pugh, one peculiarity I learned from actual experience. It was also from actual experience that I learned that the thing was—well, I said haunted, but you may use any other word you like.”

“Tell us, as briefly as possible, what it was you really did discover.”

“Take the pipe out of the box!” Brasher took the pipe out of the box and held it in his hand. “You see that creature on it. Well, when I first had it it was underneath the pipe.”

“How do you mean that it was underneath the pipe?”

“It was bunched together underneath the stem, just at the end of the mouthpiece, in the same way in which a fly might be suspended from the ceiling. When I began to smoke the pipe I saw the creature move.”

“But I thought that unconsciousness immediately followed.”

“It did follow, but not before I saw that the thing was moving. It was because I thought that I had been, in a way, a victim of delirium that I tried the second smoke. Suspecting that the thing was drugged I swallowed what I believed would prove a powerful antidote. It enabled me to resist the influence of the narcotic much longer than before, and while I still retained my senses I saw the creature crawl along under the stem and over the bowl. It was that sight, I believe, as much as anything else, which sent me silly. When I came to I then and there decided to present the pipe to Pugh. There is one more thing I would remark. When the pipe left me the creature’s legs were twined about the bowl. Now they are withdrawn. Possibly you, Pugh, are able to cap my story with a little one which is all your own.”

“I certainly did imagine that I saw the creature move. But I supposed that while I was under the influence of the drug imagination had played me a trick.”

“Not a bit of it! Depend upon it, the beast is bewitched. Even to my eye it looks as though it were, and to a trained eye like yours, Pugh! You’ve been looking for the devil a long time, and you’ve got him at last.”

“I—I wish you wouldn’t make those remarks, Tress. They jar on me.”

“I confess,” interpolated Brasher—I noticed that he had put the pipe down on the table as though he were tired of holding it—”that, to my thinking, such remarks are not appropriate. At the same time what you have told us is, I am bound to allow, a little curious. But of course what I require is ocular demonstration. I haven’t seen the movement myself.”

“No, but you very soon will do if you care to have a pull at the pipe on your own account. Do, Brasher, to oblige me! There’s a dear!”

“It appears, then, that the movement is only observable when the pipe is smoked. We have at least arrived at step No. 1.”

“Here’s a match, Brasher! Light up, and we shall have arrived at step No. 2.”

Tress lit a match and held it out to Brasher. Brasher retreated from its neighborhood.

“Thank you, Mr. Tress, I am no smoker, as you are aware. And I have no desire to acquire the art of smoking by means of a poisoned pipe.”

Tress laughed. He blew out the match and threw it into the grate.

“Then I tell you what I’ll do—I’ll have up Bob.”

“Bob—why Bob?”

“Bob”—whose real name was Robert Haines, though I should think he must have forgotten the fact, so seldom was he addressed by it—was Tress’s servant. He had been an old soldier, and had accompanied his master when he left the service. He was as depraved a character as Tress himself. I am not sure even that he was not worse than his master. I shall never forget how he once behaved toward myself. He actually had the assurance to accuse me of attempting to steal the Wardour Street relic which Tress fondly deludes himself was once the property of Sir Walter Raleigh. The truth is that I had slipped it with my handkerchief into my pocket in a fit of absence of mind. A man who could accuse me of such a thing would be guilty of anything. I was therefore quite at one with Brasher when he asked what Bob could possibly be wanted for. Tress explained.

“I’ll get him to smoke the pipe,” he said.

Brasher and I exchanged glances, but we refrained from speech.

“It won’t do him any harm,” said Tress.

“What—not a poisoned pipe?” asked Brasher.

“It’s not poisoned—it’s only drugged.”

“Only drugged!”

“Nothing hurts Bob. He is like an ostrich. He has digestive organs which are peculiarly his own. It will only serve him as it served me—and Pugh—it will knock him over. It is all done in the Pursuit of Truth and for the Advancement of Inquiry.”

I could see that Brasher did not altogether like the tone in which Tress repeated his words. As for me, it was not to be supposed that I should put myself out in a matter which in no way concerned me. If Tress chose to poison the man, it was his affair, not mine. He went to the door and shouted:

“Bob! Come here, you scoundrel!”

That is the way in which he speaks to him. No really decent servant would stand it. I shouldn’t care to address Nalder, my servant, in such a way. He would give me notice on the spot. Bob came in. He is a great hulking fellow who is always on the grin. Tress had a decanter of brandy in his hand. He filled a tumbler with the neat spirit.

“Bob, what would you say to a glassful of brandy—the real thing—my boy?”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And what would you say to a pull at a pipe when the brandy is drunk!”

“A pipe?” The fellow is sharp enough when he likes. I saw him look at the pipe upon the table, and then at us, and then a gleam of intelligence came into his eyes. “I’d do it for a dollar, sir.”

“A dollar, you thief?”

“I meant ten shillings, sir.”

“Ten shillings, you brazen vagabond?”

“I should have said a pound.”

“A pound! Was ever the like of that! Do I understand you to ask a pound for taking a pull at your master’s pipe?”

“I’m thinking that I’ll have to make it two.”

“The deuce you are! Here, Pugh, lend me a pound.”

“I’m afraid I’ve left my purse behind.”

“Then lend me ten shillings—Ananias!”

“I doubt if I have more than five.”

“Then give me the five. And, Brasher, lend me the other fifteen.”

Brasher lent him the fifteen. I doubt if we shall either of us ever see our money again. He handed the pound to Bob.

“Here’s the brandy—drink it up!” Bob drank it without a word, draining the glass of every drop. “And here’s the pipe.”

“Is it poisoned, sir?”

“Poisoned, you villain! What do you mean?”

“It isn’t the first time I’ve seen your tricks, sir—is it now? And you’re not the one to give a pound for nothing at all. If it kills me you’ll send my body to my mother—she’d like to know that I was dead.”

“Send your body to your grandmother! You idiot, sit down and smoke!”

Bob sat down. Tress had filled the pipe, and handed it, with a lighted match, to Bob. The fellow declined the match. He handled the pipe very gingerly, turning it over and over, eying it with all his eyes.

“Thank you, sir—I’ll light up myself if it’s the same to you. I carry matches of my own. It’s a beautiful pipe, entirely. I never see the like of it for ugliness. And what’s the slimy-looking varmint that looks as though it would like to have my life? Is it living, or is it dead?”

“Come, we don’t want to sit here all day, my man!”

“Well, sir, the look of this here pipe has quite upset my stomach. I’d like another drop of liquor, if it’s the same to you.”

“Another drop! Why, you’ve had a tumblerful already! Here’s another tumblerful to put on top of that. You won’t want the pipe to kill you—you’ll be killed before you get to it.”

“And isn’t it better to die a natural death?”

Bob emptied the second tumbler of brandy as though it were water. I believe he would empty a hogshead without turning a hair! Then he gave another look at the pipe. Then, taking a match from his waistcoat pocket, he drew a long breath, as though he were resigning himself to fate. Striking the match on the seat of his trousers, while, shaded by his hand, the flame was gathering strength, he looked at each of us in turn. When he looked at Tress I distinctly saw him wink his eye. What my feelings would have been if a servant of mine had winked his eye at me I am unable to imagine! The match was applied to the tobacco, a puff of smoke came through his lips—the pipe was alight!

During this process of lighting the pipe we had sat—I do not wish to use exaggerated language, but we had sat and watched that alcoholic scamp’s proceedings as though we were witnessing an action which would leave its mark upon the age. When we saw the pipe was lighted we gave a simultaneous start. Brasher put his hands under his coat tails and gave a kind of hop. I raised myself a good six inches from my chair, and Tress rubbed his palms together with a chuckle. Bob alone was calm.

“Now,” cried Tress, “you’ll see the devil moving.”

Bob took the pipe from between his lips.

“See what?” he said.

“Bob, you rascal, put that pipe back into your mouth, and smoke it for your life!”

Bob was eying the pipe askance.

“I dare say, but what I want to know is whether this here varmint’s dead or whether he isn’t. I don’t want to have him flying at my nose—and he looks vicious enough for anything.”

“Give me back that pound, you thief, and get out of my house, and bundle.”

“I ain’t going to give you back no pound.”

“Then smoke that pipe!”

“I am smoking it, ain’t I?”

With the utmost deliberation Bob returned the pipe to his mouth. He emitted another whiff or two of smoke.

“Now—now!” cried Tress, all excitement, and wagging his hand in the air.

We gathered round. As we did so Bob again withdrew the pipe.

“What is the meaning of all this here? I ain’t going to have you playing none of your larks on me. I know there’s something up, but I ain’t going to throw my life away for twenty shillings—not quite I ain’t.”

Tress, whose temper is not at any time one of the best, was seized with quite a spasm of rage.

“As I live, my lad, if you try to cheat me by taking that pipe from between your lips until I tell you, you leave this room that instant, never again to be a servant of mine.”

I presume the fellow knew from long experience when his master meant what he said, and when he didn’t. Without an attempt at remonstrance he replaced the pipe. He continued stolidly to puff away. Tress caught me by the arm.

“What did I tell you? There—there! That tentacle is moving.”

The uplifted tentacle was moving. It was doing what I had seen it do, as I supposed, in my distorted imagination—it was reaching forward. Undoubtedly Bob saw what it was doing; but, whether in obedience to his master’s commands, or whether because the drug was already beginning to take effect, he made no movement to withdraw the pipe. He watched the slowly advancing tentacle, coming closer and closer toward his nose, with an expression of such intense horror on his countenance that it became quite shocking. Farther and farther the creature reached forward, until on a sudden, with a sort of jerk, the movement assumed a downward direction, and the tentacle was slowly lowered until the tip rested on the stem of the pipe. For a moment the creature remained motionless. I was quieting my nerves with the reflection that this thing was but some trick of the carver’s art, and that what we had seen we had seen in a sort of nightmare, when the whole hideous reptile was seized with what seemed to be a fit of convulsive shuddering. It seemed to be in agony. It trembled so violently that I expected to see it loosen its hold of the stem and fall to the ground. I was sufficiently master of myself to steal a glance at Bob. We had had an inkling of what might happen. He was wholly unprepared. As he saw that dreadful, human-looking creature, coming to life, as it seemed, within an inch or two of his nose, his eyes dilated to twice their usual size. I hoped, for his sake, that unconsciousness would supervene, through the action of the drug, before through sheer fright his senses left him. Perhaps mechanically he puffed steadily on.

The creature’s shuddering became more violent. It appeared to swell before our eyes. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the shuddering ceased. There was another instant of quiescence. Then the creature began to crawl along the stem of the pipe! It moved with marvelous caution, the merest fraction of an inch at a time. But still it moved! Our eyes were riveted on it with a fascination which was absolutely nauseous. I am unpleasantly affected even as I think of it now. My dreams of the night before had been nothing to this.

Slowly, slowly, it went, nearer and nearer to the smoker’s nose. Its mode of progression was in the highest degree unsightly. It glided, never, so far as I could see, removing its tentacles from the stem of the pipe. It slipped its hindmost feelers onward until they came up to those which were in advance. Then, in their turn, it advanced those which were in front. It seemed, too, to move with the utmost labor, shuddering as though it were in pain.

We were all, for our parts, speechless. I was momentarily hoping that the drug would take effect on Bob. Either his constitution enabled him to offer a strong resistance to narcotics, or else the large quantity of neat spirit which he had drunk acted—as Tress had malevolently intended that it should—as an antidote. It seemed to me that he would never succumb. On went the creature—on, and on, in its infinitesimal progression. I was spellbound. I would have given the world to scream, to have been able to utter a sound. I could do nothing else but watch.

The creature had reached the end of the stem. It had gained the amber mouthpiece. It was within an inch of the smoker’s nose. Still on it went. It seemed to move with greater freedom on the amber. It increased its rate of progress. It was actually touching the foremost feature on the smoker’s countenance. I expected to see it grip the wretched Bob, when it began to oscillate from side to side. Its oscillations increased in violence. It fell to the floor. That same instant the narcotic prevailed. Bob slipped sideways from the chair, the pipe still held tightly between his rigid jaws.

We were silent. There lay Bob. Close beside him lay the creature. A few more inches to the left, and he would have fallen on and squashed it flat. It had fallen on its back. Its feelers were extended upward. They were writhing and twisting and turning in the air.

Tress was the first to speak.

“I think a little brandy won’t be amiss.” Emptying the remainder of the brandy into a glass, he swallowed it at a draught. “Now for a closer examination of our friend.” Taking a pair of tongs from the grate he nipped the creature between them. He deposited it upon the table. “I rather fancy that this is a case for dissection.”

He took a penknife from his waistcoat pocket. Opening the large blade, he thrust its point into the object on the table. Little or no resistance seemed to be offered to the passage of the blade, but as it was inserted the tentacula simultaneously began to writhe and twist. Tress withdrew the knife.

“I thought so!” He held the blade out for our inspection. The point was covered with some viscid-looking matter. “That’s blood! The thing’s alive!”


“Alive! That’s the secret of the whole performance!”


“But me no buts, my Pugh! The mystery’s exploded! One more ghost is lost to the world! The person from whom I obtained that pipe was an Indian juggler—up to many tricks of the trade. He, or some one for him, got hold of this sweet thing in reptiles—and a sweeter thing would, I imagine, be hard to find—and covered it with some preparation of, possibly, gum arabic. He allowed this to harden. Then he stuck the thing—still living, for those sort of gentry are hard to kill—to the pipe. The consequence was that when anyone lit up, the warmth was communicated to the adhesive agent—again some preparation of gum, no doubt—it moistened it, and the creature, with infinite difficulty, was able to move. But I am open to lay odds with any gentleman of sporting tastes that this time the creature’s traveling days are done. It has given me rather a larger taste of the horrors than is good for my digestion.”

With the aid of the tongs he removed the creature from the table. He placed it on the hearth. Before Brasher or I had a notion of what it was he intended to do he covered it with a heavy marble paper weight. Then he stood upon the weight, and between the marble and the hearth he ground the creature flat.

While the execution was still proceeding, Bob sat up upon the floor.

“Hollo!” he asked, “what’s happened?”

“We’ve emptied the bottle, Bob,” said Tress. “But there’s another where that came from. Perhaps you could drink another tumblerful, my boy?”

Bob drank it!

“Those gentry are hard to kill.” Here is fact, not fantasy. Lizard yarns no less sensational than this Mystery Story can be found between the covers of solemn, zoological textbooks.
Reptiles, indeed, are far from finicky in the matters of air, space, and especially warmth. Frogs and other such sluggish-blooded creatures have lived after being frozen fast in ice. Their blood is little warmer than air or water, enjoying no extra casing of fur or feathers.
Air and food seem held in light esteem by lizards. Their blood need not be highly oxygenated; it nourishes just as well when impure. In temperate climes lizards lie torpid and buried all winter; some species of the tropic deserts sleep peacefully all summer. Their anatomy includes no means for the continuous introduction and expulsion of air; reptilian lungs are little more than closed sacs, without cell structure.
If any further zoological fact were needed to verify the dénouement of “The Pipe,” it might be the general statement that lizards are abnormal brutes anyhow. Consider the chameleons of unsettled hue. And what is one to think of an animal which, when captured by the tail, is able to make its escape by willfully shuffling off that appendage?


The Lost Duchess


DGG fur DMdJ

“Has the duchess returned?”

“No, your grace.”

Knowles came farther into the room. He had a letter on a salver. When the duke had taken it, Knowles still lingered. The duke glanced at him.

“Is an answer required?”

“No, your grace.” Still Knowles lingered. “Something a little singular has happened. The carriage has returned without the duchess, and the men say that they thought her grace was in it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I hardly understand myself, your grace. Perhaps you would like to see Barnes.”

Barnes was the coachman.

“Send him up.” When Knowles had gone, and he was alone, his grace showed signs of being slightly annoyed. He looked at his watch. “I told her she’d better be in by four. She says that she’s not feeling well, and yet one would think that she was not aware of the fatigue entailed in having the prince come to dinner, and a mob of people to follow. I particularly wished her to lie down for a couple of hours.”

Knowles ushered in not only Barnes, the coachman, but Moysey, the footman, too. Both these persons seemed to be ill at ease. The duke glanced at them sharply. In his voice there was a suggestion of impatience.

“What is the matter?”

Barnes explained as best he could.

“If you please, your grace, we waited for the duchess outside Cane and Wilson’s, the drapers. The duchess came out, got into the carriage, and Moysey shut the door, and her grace said, ‘Home!’ and yet when we got home she wasn’t there.”

“She wasn’t where?”

“Her grace wasn’t in the carriage, your grace.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

“Her grace did get into the carriage; you shut the door, didn’t you?”

Barnes turned to Moysey. Moysey brought his hand up to his brow in a sort of military salute—he had been a soldier in the regiment in which, once upon a time, the duke had been a subaltern.

“She did. The duchess came out of the shop. She seemed rather in a hurry, I thought. She got into the carriage, and she said, ‘Home, Moysey!’ I shut the door, and Barnes drove straight home. We never stopped anywhere, and we never noticed nothing happen on the way; and yet when we got home the carriage was empty.”

The duke started.

“Do you mean to tell me that the duchess got out of the carriage while you were driving full pelt through the streets without saying anything to you, and without you noticing it?”

“The carriage was empty when we got home, your grace.”

“Was either of the doors open?”

“No, your grace.”

“You fellows have been up to some infernal mischief. You have made a mess of it. You never picked up the duchess, and you’re trying to palm this tale off on me to save yourselves.”

Barnes was moved to adjuration:

“I’ll take my Bible oath, your grace, that the duchess got into the carriage outside Cane and Wilson’s.”

Moysey seconded his colleague.

“I will swear to that, your grace. She got into that carriage, and I shut the door, and she said, ‘Home, Moysey!'”

The duke looked as if he did not know what to make of the story and its tellers.

“What carriage did you have?”

“Her grace’s brougham, your grace.”

Knowles interposed:

“The brougham was ordered because I understood that the duchess was not feeling very well, and there’s rather a high wind, your grace.”

The duke snapped at him:

“What has that to do with it? Are you suggesting that the duchess was more likely to jump out of a brougham while it was dashing through the streets than out of any other kind of vehicle?”

The duke’s glance fell on the letter which Knowles had brought him when he first had entered. He had placed it on his writing table. Now he took it up. It was addressed:

“To His Grace the Duke of Datchet.

The name was written in a fine, clear, almost feminine hand. The words in the left-hand corner of the envelope were written in a different hand. They were large and bold; almost as though they had been painted with the end of the penholder instead of being written with the pen. The envelope itself was of an unusual size, and bulged out as though it contained something else besides a letter.

The duke tore the envelope open. As he did so something fell out of it on to the writing table. It looked as though it was a lock of a woman’s hair. As he glanced at it the duke seemed to be a trifle startled. The duke read the letter:

“Your grace will be so good as to bring five hundred pounds in gold to the Piccadilly end of the Burlington Arcade within an hour of the receipt of this. The Duchess of Datchet has been kidnaped. An imitation duchess got into the carriage, which was waiting outside Cane and Wilson’s, and she alighted on the road. Unless your grace does as you are requested, the Duchess of Datchet’s left-hand little finger will be at once cut off, and sent home in time to receive the prince to dinner. Other portions of her grace will follow. A lock of her grace’s hair is inclosed with this as an earnest of our good intentions.

“Before 5:30 p.m. your grace is requested to be at the Piccadilly end of the Burlington Arcade with five hundred pounds in gold. You will there be accosted by an individual in a white top hat, and with a gardenia in his buttonhole. You will be entirely at liberty to give him into custody, or to have him followed by the police, in which case the duchess’s left arm, cut off at the shoulder, will be sent home for dinner—not to mention other extremely possible contingencies. But you are advised to give the individual in question the five hundred pounds in gold, because in that case the duchess herself will be home in time to receive the prince to dinner, and with one of the best stories with which to entertain your distinguished guests they ever heard.

“Remember! not later than 5:30, unless you wish to receive her grace’s little finger.”

The duke stared at this amazing epistle when he had read it as though he found it difficult to believe the evidence of his eyes. He was not a demonstrative person, as a rule, but this little communication astonished even him. He read it again. Then his hands dropped to his sides, and he swore.

He took up the lock of hair which had fallen out of the envelope. Was it possible that it could be his wife’s, the duchess? Was it possible that a Duchess of Datchet could be kidnaped, in broad daylight, in the heart of London, and be sent home, as it were, in pieces? Had sacrilegious hands already been playing pranks with that great lady’s hair? Certainly, that hair was so like her hair that the mere resemblance made his grace’s blood run cold. He turned on Messrs. Barnes and Moysey as though he would have liked to rend them.

“You scoundrels!”

He moved forward as though the intention had entered his ducal heart to knock his servants down. But, if that were so, he did not act quite up to his intention. Instead, he stretched out his arm, pointing at them as if he were an accusing spirit:

“Will you swear that it was the duchess who got into the carriage outside Cane and Wilson’s?”

Barnes began to stammer:

“I’ll swear, your grace, that I—I thought—”

The duke stormed an interruption:

“I don’t ask what you thought. I ask you, will you swear it was?”

The duke’s anger was more than Barnes could face. He was silent. Moysey showed a larger courage.

“I could have sworn that it was at the time, your grace. But now it seems to me that it’s a rummy go.”

“A rummy go!” The peculiarity of the phrase did not seem to strike the duke just then—at least, he echoed it as if it didn’t. “You call it a rummy go! Do you know that I am told in this letter that the woman who entered the carriage was not the duchess? What you were thinking about, or what case you will be able to make out for yourselves, you know better than I; but I can tell you this—that in an hour you will leave my service, and you may esteem yourselves fortunate if, to-night, you are not both of you sleeping in jail.”

One might almost have suspected that the words were spoken in irony. But before they could answer, another servant entered, who also brought a letter for the duke. When his grace’s glance fell on it he uttered an exclamation. The writing on the envelope was the same writing that had been on the envelope which had contained the very singular communication—like it in all respects, down to the broomstick-end thickness of the “Private!” and “Very pressing!!!” in the corner.

“Who brought this?” stormed the duke.

The servant appeared to be a little startled by the violence of his grace’s manner.

“A lady—or, at least, your grace, she seemed to be a lady.”

“Where is she?”

“She came in a hansom, your grace. She gave me that letter, and said, ‘Give that to the Duke of Datchet at once—without a moment’s delay!’ Then she got into the hansom again, and drove away.”

“Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Your grace!”

The man seemed surprised, as though the idea of stopping chance visitors to the ducal mansion vi et armis had not, until that moment, entered into his philosophy. The duke continued to regard the man as if he could say a good deal, if he chose. Then he pointed to the door. His lips said nothing, but his gesture much. The servant vanished.

“Another hoax!” the duke said grimly, as he tore the envelope open.

This time the envelope contained a sheet of paper, and in the sheet of paper another envelope. The duke unfolded the sheet of paper. On it some words were written. These:

“The duchess appears so particularly anxious to drop you a line, that one really hasn’t the heart to refuse her.

“Her grace’s communication—written amidst blinding tears!—you will find inclosed with this.”

“Knowles,” said the duke, in a voice which actually trembled, “Knowles, hoax or no hoax, I will be even with the gentleman who wrote that.”

Handing the sheet of paper to Mr. Knowles, his grace turned his attention to the envelope which had been inclosed. It was a small, square envelope, of the finest quality, and it reeked with perfume. The duke’s countenance assumed an added frown—he had no fondness for envelopes which were scented. In the center of the envelope were the words, “To the Duke of Datchet,” written in the big, bold, sprawling hand which he knew so well.

“Mabel’s writing,” he said, half to himself, as, with shaking fingers, he tore the envelope open.

The sheet of paper which he took out was almost as stiff as cardboard. It, too, emitted what his grace deemed the nauseous odors of the perfumer’s shop. On it was written this letter:

“MY DEAR HEREWARD—For Heaven’s sake do what these people require! I don’t know what has happened or where I am, but I am nearly distracted! They have already cut off some of my hair, and they tell me that, if you don’t let them have five hundred pounds in gold by half-past five, they will cut off my little finger too. I would sooner die than lose my little finger—and—I don’t know what else besides.

“By the token which I send you, and which has never, until now, been off my breast, I conjure you to help me.

“Hereward—help me!”

When he read that letter the duke turned white—very white, as white as the paper on which it was written. He passed the epistle on to Knowles.

“I suppose that also is a hoax?”

Mr. Knowles was silent. He still yielded to his constitutional disrelish to commit himself. At last he asked:

“What is it that your grace proposes to do?”

The duke spoke with a bitterness which almost suggested a personal animosity toward the inoffensive Mr. Knowles.

“I propose, with your permission, to release the duchess from the custody of my estimable correspondent. I propose—always with your permission—to comply with his modest request, and to take him his five hundred pounds in gold.” He paused, then continued in a tone which, coming from him, meant volumes: “Afterwards, I propose to cry quits with the concocter of this pretty little hoax, even if it costs me every penny I possess. He shall pay more for that five hundred pounds than he supposes.”


The Duke of Datchet, coming out of the bank, lingered for a moment on the steps. In one hand he carried a canvas bag which seemed well weighted. On his countenance there was an expression which to a casual observer might have suggested that his grace was not completely at his ease. That casual observer happened to come strolling by. It took the form of Ivor Dacre.

Mr. Dacre looked the Duke of Datchet up and down in that languid way he has. He perceived the canvas bag. Then he remarked, possibly intending to be facetious:

“Been robbing the bank? Shall I call a cart?”

Nobody minds what Ivor Dacre says. Besides, he is the duke’s own cousin. Perhaps a little removed; still, there it is. So the duke smiled a sickly smile, as if Mr. Dacre’s delicate wit had given him a passing touch of indigestion.

Mr. Dacre noticed that the duke looked sallow, so he gave his pretty sense of humor another airing.

“Kitchen boiler burst? When I saw the duchess just now I wondered if it had.”

His grace distinctly started. He almost dropped the canvas bag.

“You saw the duchess just now, Ivor! When?”

The duke was evidently moved. Mr. Dacre was stirred to languid curiosity. “I can’t say I clocked it. Perhaps half an hour ago; perhaps a little more.”

“Half an hour ago! Are you sure? Where did you see her?”

Mr. Dacre wondered. The Duchess of Datchet could scarcely have been eloping in broad daylight. Moreover, she had not yet been married a year. Everyone knew that she and the duke were still as fond of each other as if they were not man and wife. So, although the duke, for some cause or other, was evidently in an odd state of agitation, Mr. Dacre saw no reason why he should not make a clean breast of all he knew.

“She was going like blazes in a hansom cab.”

“In a hansom cab? Where?”

“Down Waterloo Place.”

“Was she alone?”

Mr. Dacre reflected. He glanced at the duke out of the corners of his eyes. His languid utterance became a positive drawl.

“I rather fancy that she wasn’t.”

“Who was with her?”

“My dear fellow, if you were to offer me the bank I couldn’t tell you.”

“Was it a man?”

Mr. Dacre’s drawl became still more pronounced.

“I rather fancy that it was.”

Mr. Dacre expected something. The duke was so excited. But he by no means expected what actually came.

“Ivor, she’s been kidnaped!”

Mr. Dacre did what he had never been known to do before within the memory of man—he dropped his eyeglass.


“She has! Some scoundrel has decoyed her away, and trapped her. He’s already sent me a lock of her hair, and he tells me that if I don’t let him have five hundred pounds in gold by half-past five he’ll let me have her little finger.”

Mr. Dacre did not know what to make of his grace at all. He was a sober man—it couldn’t be that! Mr. Dacre felt really concerned.

“I’ll call a cab, old man, and you’d better let me see you home.”

Mr. Dacre half raised his stick to hail a passing hansom. The duke caught him by the arm.

“You ass! What do you mean? I am telling you the simple truth. My wife’s been kidnaped.”

Mr. Dacre’s countenance was a thing to be seen—and remembered.

“Oh! I hadn’t heard that there was much of that sort of thing about just now. They talk of poodles being kidnaped, but as for duchesses—You’d really better let me call that cab.”

“Ivor, do you want me to kick you? Don’t you see that to me it’s a question of life and death? I’ve been in there to get the money.” His grace motioned toward the bank. “I’m going to take it to the scoundrel who has my darling at his mercy. Let me but have her hand in mine again, and he shall continue to pay for every sovereign with tears of blood until he dies.”

“Look here, Datchet, I don’t know if you’re having a joke with me, or if you’re not well—”

The duke stepped impatiently into the roadway.

“Ivor, you’re a fool! Can’t you tell jest from earnest, health from disease? I’m off! Are you coming with me? It would be as well that I should have a witness.”

“Where are you off to?”

“To the other end of the Arcade.”

“Who is the gentleman you expect to have the pleasure of meeting there?”

“How should I know?” The duke took a letter from his pocket—it was the letter which had just arrived. “The fellow is to wear a white top hat, and a gardenia in his buttonhole.”

“What is it you have there?”

“It’s the letter which brought the news—look for yourself and see; but, for God’s sake, make haste!” His grace glanced at his watch. “It’s already twenty after five.”

“And do you mean to say that on the strength of a letter such as this you are going to hand over five hundred pounds to—”

The duke cut Mr. Dacre short.

“What are five hundred pounds to me? Besides, you don’t know all. There is another letter. And I have heard from Mabel. But I will tell you all about it later. If you are coming, come!”

Folding up the letter, Mr. Dacre returned it to the duke.

“As you say, what are five hundred pounds to you? It’s as well they are not as much to you as they are to me, or I’m afraid—”

“Hang it, Ivor, do prose afterwards!”

The duke hurried across the road. Mr. Dacre hastened after him. As they entered the Arcade they passed a constable. Mr. Dacre touched his companion’s arm.

“Don’t you think we’d better ask our friend in blue to walk behind us? His neighborhood might be handy.”

“Nonsense!” The duke stopped short. “Ivor, this is my affair, not yours. If you are not content to play the part of silent witness, be so good as to leave me.”

“My dear Datchet, I’m entirely at your service. I can be every whit as insane as you, I do assure you.”

Side by side they moved rapidly down the Burlington Arcade. The duke was obviously in a state of the extremest nervous tension. Mr. Dacre was equally obviously in a state of the most supreme enjoyment. People stared as they rushed past. The duke saw nothing. Mr. Dacre saw everything, and smiled.

When they reached the Piccadilly end of the Arcade the duke pulled up. He looked about him. Mr. Dacre also looked about him.

“I see nothing of your white-hatted and gardenia-buttonholed friend,” said Ivor.

The duke referred to his watch.

“It’s not yet half-past five. I’m up to time.”

Mr. Dacre held his stick in front of him and leaned on it. He indulged himself with a beatific smile.

“It strikes me, my dear Datchet, that you’ve been the victim of one of the finest things in hoaxes—”

“I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”

The voice which interrupted Mr. Dacre came from the rear. While they were looking in front of them some one approached them from behind, apparently coming out of the shop which was at their backs.

The speaker looked a gentleman. He sounded like one, too. Costume, appearance, manner, were beyond reproach—even beyond the criticism of two such keen critics as were these. The glorious attire of a London dandy was surmounted with a beautiful white top hat. In his buttonhole was a magnificent gardenia.

In age the stranger was scarcely more than a boy, and a sunny-faced, handsome boy at that. His cheeks were hairless, his eyes were blue. His smile was not only innocent, it was bland. Never was there a more conspicuous illustration of that repose which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.

The duke looked at him and glowered. Mr. Dacre looked at him and smiled.

“Who are you?” asked the duke.

“Ah—that is the question!” The newcomer’s refined and musical voice breathed the very soul of affability. “I am an individual who is so unfortunate as to be in want of five hundred pounds.”

“Are you the scoundrel who sent me that infamous letter?”

The charming stranger never turned a hair.

“I am the scoundrel mentioned in that infamous letter who wants to accost you at the Piccadilly end of the Burlington Arcade before half-past five—as witness my white hat and my gardenia.”

“Where’s my wife?”

The stranger gently swung his stick in front of him with his two hands. He regarded the duke as a merry-hearted son might regard his father. The thing was beautiful!

“Her grace will be home almost as soon as you are—when you have given me the money which I perceive you have all ready for me in that scarcely elegant-looking canvas bag.” He shrugged his shoulders quite gracefully. “Unfortunately, in these matters one has no choice—one is forced to ask for gold.”

“And suppose, instead of giving you what is in this canvas bag, I take you by the throat and choke the life right out of you?”

“Or suppose,” amended Mr. Dacre, “that you do better, and commend this gentleman to the tender mercies of the first policeman we encounter.”

The stranger turned to Mr. Dacre. He condescended to become conscious of his presence.

“Is this gentleman your grace’s friend? Ah—Mr. Dacre, I perceive! I have the honor of knowing Mr. Dacre, though, possibly, I am unknown to him.”

“You were—until this moment.”

With an airy little laugh the stranger returned to the duke. He brushed an invisible speck of dust off the sleeve of his coat.

“As has been intimated in that infamous letter, his grace is at perfect liberty to give me into custody—why not? Only”—he said it with his boyish smile—”if a particular communication is not received from me in certain quarters within a certain time the Duchess of Datchet’s beautiful white arm will be hacked off at the shoulder.”

“You hound!”

The duke would have taken the stranger by the throat, and have done his best to choke the life right out of him then and there, if Mr. Dacre had not intervened.

“Steady, old man!” Mr. Dacre turned to the stranger. “You appear to be a pretty sort of a scoundrel.”

The stranger gave his shoulders that almost imperceptible shrug.

“Oh, my dear Dacre, I am in want of money! I believe that you sometimes are in want of money, too.”

Everybody knows that nobody knows where Ivor Dacre gets his money from, so the allusion must have tickled him immensely.

“You’re a cool hand,” he said.

“Some men are born that way.”

“So I should imagine. Men like you must be born, not made.”

“Precisely—as you say!” The stranger turned, with his graceful smile, to the duke: “But are we not wasting precious time? I can assure your grace that, in this particular matter, moments are of value.”

Mr. Dacre interposed before the duke could answer.

“If you take my strongly urged advice, Datchet, you will summon this constable who is now coming down the Arcade, and hand this gentleman over to his keeping. I do not think that you need fear that the duchess will lose her arm, or even her little finger. Scoundrels of this one’s kidney are most amenable to reason when they have handcuffs on their wrists.”

The duke plainly hesitated. He would—and he would not. The stranger, as he eyed him, seemed much amused.

“My dear duke, by all means act on Mr. Dacre’s valuable suggestion. As I said before, why not? It would at least be interesting to see if the duchess does or does not lose her arm—almost as interesting to you as to Mr. Dacre. Those blackmailing, kidnaping scoundrels do use such empty menaces. Besides, you would have the pleasure of seeing me locked up. My imprisonment for life would recompense you even for the loss of her grace’s arm. And five hundred pounds is such a sum to have to pay—merely for a wife! Why not, therefore, act on Mr. Dacre’s suggestion? Here comes the constable.” The constable referred to was advancing toward them—he was not a dozen yards away. “Let me beckon to him—I will with pleasure.” He took out his watch—a gold chronograph repeater. “There are scarcely ten minutes left during which it will be possible for me to send the communication which I spoke of, so that it may arrive in time. As it will then be too late, and the instruments are already prepared for the little operation which her grace is eagerly anticipating, it would, perhaps, be as well, after all, that you should give me into charge. You would have saved your five hundred pounds, and you would, at any rate, have something in exchange for her grace’s mutilated limb. Ah, here is the constable! Officer!”

The stranger spoke with such a pleasant little air of easy geniality that it was impossible to tell if he were in jest or in earnest. This fact impressed the duke much more than if he had gone in for a liberal indulgence of the—under the circumstances—orthodox melodramatic scowling. And, indeed, in the face of his own common sense, it impressed Mr. Ivor Dacre too.

This well-bred, well-groomed youth was just the being to realize—aux bouts des ongles—a modern type of the devil, the type which depicts him as a perfect gentleman, who keeps smiling all the time.

The constable whom this audacious rogue had signaled approached the little group. He addressed the stranger:

“Do you want me, sir?”

“No, I do not want you. I think it is the Duke of Datchet.”

The constable, who knew the duke very well by sight, saluted him as he turned to receive instructions.

The duke looked white, even savage. There was not a pleasant look in his eyes and about his lips. He appeared to be endeavoring to put a great restraint upon himself. There was a momentary silence. Mr. Dacre made a movement as if to interpose. The duke caught him by the arm.

He spoke: “No, constable, I do not want you. This person is mistaken.”

The constable looked as if he could not quite make out how such a mistake could have arisen, hesitated, then, with another salute, he moved away.

The stranger was still holding his watch in his hand.

“Only eight minutes,” he said.

The duke seemed to experience some difficulty in giving utterance to what he had to say.

“If I give you this five hundred pounds, you—you—”

As the duke paused, as if at a loss for language which was strong enough to convey his meaning, the stranger laughed.

“Let us take the adjectives for granted. Besides, it is only boys who call each other names—men do things. If you give me the five hundred sovereigns, which you have in that bag, at once—in five minutes it will be too late—I will promise—I will not swear; if you do not credit my simple promise, you will not believe my solemn affirmation—I will promise that, possibly within an hour, certainly within an hour and a half, the Duchess of Datchet shall return to you absolutely uninjured—except, of course, as you are already aware, with regard to a few of the hairs of her head. I will promise this on the understanding that you do not yourself attempt to see where I go, and that you will allow no one else to do so.” This with a glance at Ivor Dacre. “I shall know at once if I am followed. If you entertain such intentions, you had better, on all accounts, remain in possession of your five hundred pounds.”

The duke eyed him very grimly.

“I entertain no such intentions—until the duchess returns.”

Again the stranger indulged in that musical laugh of his.

“Ah, until the duchess returns! Of course, then the bargain’s at an end. When you are once more in the enjoyment of her grace’s society, you will be at liberty to set all the dogs in Europe at my heels. I assure you I fully expect that you will do so—why not?” The duke raised the canvas bag. “My dear duke, ten thousand thanks! You shall see her grace at Datchet House, ‘pon my honor, probably within the hour.”

“Well,” commented Ivor Dacre, when the stranger had vanished, with the bag, into Piccadilly, and as the duke and himself moved toward Burlington Gardens, “if a gentleman is to be robbed, it is as well that he should have another gentleman rob him.”


Mr. Dacre eyed his companion covertly as they progressed. His Grace of Datchet appeared to have some fresh cause for uneasiness. All at once he gave it utterance, in a tone of voice which was extremely somber:

“Ivor, do you think that scoundrel will dare to play me false?”

“I think,” murmured Mr. Dacre, “that he has dared to play you pretty false already.”

“I don’t mean that. But I mean how am I to know, now that he has his money, that he will still not keep Mabel in his clutches?”

There came an echo from Mr. Dacre.

“Just so—how are you to know?”

“I believe that something of this sort has been done in the States.”

“I thought that there they were content to kidnap them after they were dead. I was not aware that they had, as yet, got quite so far as the living.”

“I believe that I have heard of something just like this.”

“Possibly; they are giants over there.”

“And in that case the scoundrels, when their demands were met, refused to keep to the letter of their bargain and asked for more.”

The duke stood still. He clinched his fists, and swore:

“Ivor, if that—villain doesn’t keep his word, and Mabel isn’t home within the hour, by—I shall go mad!”

“My dear Datchet”—Mr. Dacre loved strong language as little as he loved a scene—”let us trust to time and, a little, to your white-hatted and gardenia-buttonholed friend’s word of honor. You should have thought of possible eventualities before you showed your confidence—really. Suppose, instead of going mad, we first of all go home?”

A hansom stood waiting for a fare at the end of the Arcade. Mr. Dacre had handed the duke into it before his grace had quite realized that the vehicle was there.

“Tell the fellow to drive faster.” That was what the duke said when the cab had started.

“My dear Datchet, the man’s already driving his geerage off its legs. If a bobby catches sight of him he’ll take his number.”

A moment later, a murmur from the duke:

“I don’t know if you’re aware that the prince is coming to dinner?”

“I am perfectly aware of it.”

“You take it uncommonly cool. How easy it is to bear our brother’s burdens! Ivor, if Mabel doesn’t turn up I shall feel like murder.”

“I sympathize with you, Datchet, with all my heart, though, I may observe, parenthetically, that I very far from realize the situation even yet. Take my advice. If the duchess does not show quite as soon as we both of us desire, don’t make a scene; just let me see what I can do.”

Judging from the expression of his countenance, the duke was conscious of no overwhelming desire to witness an exhibition of Mr. Dacre’s prowess.

When the cab reached Datchet House his grace dashed up the steps three at a time. The door flew open.

“Has the duchess returned?”


A voice floated downward from above. Some one came running down the stairs. It was her Grace of Datchet.


She actually rushed into the duke’s extended arms. And he kissed her, and she kissed him—before the servants.

“So you’re not quite dead?” she cried.

“I am almost,” he said.

She drew herself a little away from him.

“Hereward, were you seriously hurt?”

“Do you suppose that I could have been otherwise than seriously hurt?”

“My darling! Was it a Pickford’s van?”

The duke stared.

“A Pickford’s van? I don’t understand. But come in here. Come along, Ivor. Mabel, you don’t see Ivor.”

“How do you do, Mr. Dacre?”

Then the trio withdrew into a little anteroom; it was really time. Even then the pair conducted themselves as if Mr. Dacre had been nothing and no one. The duke took the lady’s two hands in his. He eyed her fondly.

“So you are uninjured, with the exception of that lock of hair. Where did the villain take it from?”

The lady looked a little puzzled.

“What lock of hair?”

From an envelope which he took from his pocket the duke produced a shining tress. It was the lock of hair which had arrived in the first communication. “I will have it framed.”

“You will have what framed?” The duchess glanced at what the duke was so tenderly caressing, almost, as it seemed, a little dubiously. “Whatever is it you have there?”

“It is the lock of hair which that scoundrel sent me.” Something in the lady’s face caused him to ask a question; “Didn’t he tell you he had sent it to me?”


“Did the brute tell you that he meant to cut off your little finger?”

A very curious look came into the lady’s face. She glanced at the duke as if she, all at once, was half afraid of him. She cast at Mr. Dacre what really seemed to be a look of inquiry. Her voice was tremulously anxious.

“Hereward, did—did the accident affect you mentally?”

“How could it not have affected me mentally? Do you think that my mental organization is of steel?”

“But you look so well.”

“Of course I look well, now that I have you back again. Tell me, darling, did that hound actually threaten you with cutting off your arm? If he did, I shall feel half inclined to kill him yet.”

The duchess seemed positively to shrink from her better half’s near neighborhood.

“Hereward, was it a Pickford’s van?”

The duke seemed puzzled. Well he might be.

“Was what a Pickford’s van?”

The lady turned to Mr. Dacre. In her voice there was a ring of anguish.

“Mr. Dacre, tell me, was it a Pickford’s van?”

Ivor could only imitate his relative’s repetition of her inquiry.

“I don’t quite catch you—was what a Pickford’s van?”

The duchess clasped her hands in front of her.

“What is it you are keeping from me? What is it you are trying to hide? I implore you to tell me the worst, whatever it may be! Do not keep me any longer in suspense; you do not know what I already have endured. Mr. Dacre, is my husband mad?”

One need scarcely observe that the lady’s amazing appeal to Mr. Dacre as to her husband’s sanity was received with something like surprise. As the duke continued to stare at her, a dreadful fear began to loom in his brain.

“My darling, your brain is unhinged!”

He advanced to take her two hands again in his; but, to his unmistakable distress, she shrank away from him.

“Hereward—don’t touch me. How is it that I missed you? Why did you not wait until I came?”

“Wait until you came?”

The duke’s bewilderment increased.

“Surely, if your injuries turned out, after all, to be slight, that was all the more reason why you should have waited, after sending for me like that.”

“I sent for you—I?” The duke’s tone was grave. “My darling, perhaps you had better come upstairs.”

“Not until we have had an explanation. You must have known that I should come. Why did you not wait for me after you had sent me that?”

The duchess held out something to the duke. He took it. It was a card—his own visiting card. Something was written on the back of it. He read aloud what was written.

“Mabel, come to me at once with the bearer. They tell me that they cannot take me home.” It looks like my own writing.”

“Looks like it! It is your writing.”

“It looks like it—and written with a shaky pen.”

“My dear child, one’s hand would shake at such a moment as that.”

“Mabel, where did you get this?”

“It was brought to me in Cane and Wilson’s.”

“Who brought it?”

“Who brought it? Why, the man you sent.”

“The man I sent!” A light burst upon the duke’s brain. He fell back a pace. “It’s the decoy!”

Her grace echoed the words:

“The decoy?”

“The scoundrel! To set a trap with such a bait! My poor innocent darling, did you think it came from me? Tell me, Mabel, where did he cut off your hair?”

“Cut off my hair?”

Her grace put her hand to her head as if to make sure that her hair was there.

“Where did he take you to?”

“He took me to Draper’s Buildings.”

“Draper’s Buildings?”

“I have never been in the City before, but he told me it was Draper’s Buildings. Isn’t that near the Stock Exchange?”

“Near the Stock Exchange?”

It seemed rather a curious place to which to take a kidnaped victim. The man’s audacity!

“He told me that you were coming out of the Stock Exchange when a van knocked you over. He said that he thought it was a Pickford’s van—was it a Pickford’s van?”

“No, it was not a Pickford’s van. Mabel, were you in Draper’s Buildings when you wrote that letter?”

“Wrote what letter?”

“Have you forgotten it already? I do not believe that there is a word in it which will not be branded on my brain until I die.”

“Hereward! What do you mean?”

“Surely you cannot have written me such a letter as that, and then have forgotten it already?”

He handed her the letter which had arrived in the second communication. She glanced at it, askance. Then she took it with a little gasp.

“Hereward, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a chair.” She took a chair. “Whatever—whatever’s this?” As she read the letter the varying expressions which passed across her face were, in themselves, a study in psychology. “Is it possible that you can imagine that, under any conceivable circumstances, I could have written such a letter as this?”


She rose to her feet with emphasis.

“Hereward, don’t say that you thought this came from me!”

“Not from you?” He remembered Knowles’s diplomatic reception of the epistle on its first appearance. “I suppose that you will say next that this is not a lock of your hair?”

“My dear child, what bee have you got in your bonnet? This a lock of my hair! Why, it’s not in the least bit like my hair!”

Which was certainly inaccurate. As far as color was concerned it was an almost perfect match. The duke turned to Mr. Dacre.

“Ivor, I’ve had to go through a good deal this afternoon. If I have to go through much more, something will crack!” He touched his forehead. “I think it’s my turn to take a chair.” Not the one which the duchess had vacated, but one which faced it. He stretched out his legs in front of him; he thrust his hands into his trousers pockets; he said, in a tone which was not gloomy but absolutely grewsome:

“Might I ask, Mabel, if you have been kidnaped?”


“The word I used was ‘kidnaped.’ But I will spell it if you like. Or I will get a dictionary, that you may see its meaning.”

The duchess looked as if she was beginning to be not quite sure if she was awake or sleeping. She turned to Ivor.

“Mr. Dacre, has the accident affected Hereward’s brain?”

The duke took the words out of his cousin’s mouth.

“On that point, my dear, let me ease your mind. I don’t know if you are under the impression that I should be the same shape after a Pickford’s van had run over me as I was before; but, in any case, I have not been run over by a Pickford’s van. So far as I am concerned there has been no accident. Dismiss that delusion from your mind.”


“You appear surprised. One might even think that you were sorry. But may I now ask what you did when you arrived at Draper’s Buildings?”

“Did! I looked for you!”

“Indeed! And when you had looked in vain, what was the next item in your programme?”

The lady shrank still farther from him.

“Hereward, have you been having a jest at my expense? Can you have been so cruel?” Tears stood in her eyes.

Rising, the duke laid his hand upon her arm.

“Mabel, tell me—what did you do when you had looked for me in vain?”

“I looked for you upstairs and downstairs and everywhere. It was quite a large place, it took me ever such a time. I thought that I should go distracted. Nobody seemed to know anything about you, or even that there had been an accident at all—it was all offices. I couldn’t make it out in the least, and the people didn’t seem to be able to make me out either. So when I couldn’t find you anywhere I came straight home again.”

The duke was silent for a moment. Then with funereal gravity he turned to Mr. Dacre. He put to him this question:

“Ivor, what are you laughing at?”

Mr. Dacre drew his hand across his mouth with rather a suspicious gesture.

“My dear fellow, only a smile!”

The duchess looked from one to the other.

“What have you two been doing? What is the joke?”

With an air of preternatural solemnity the duke took two letters from the breast pocket of his coat.

“Mabel, you have already seen your letter. You have already seen the lock of your hair. Just look at this—and that.”

He gave her the two very singular communications which had arrived in such a mysterious manner, and so quickly one after the other. She read them with wide-open eyes.

“Hereward! Wherever did these come from?”

The duke was standing with his legs apart, and his hands in his trousers pockets. “I would give—I would give another five hundred pounds to know. Shall I tell you, madam, what I have been doing? I have been presenting five hundred golden sovereigns to a perfect stranger, with a top hat, and a gardenia in his buttonhole.”

“Whatever for?”

“If you have perused those documents which you have in your hand, you will have some faint idea. Ivor, when it’s your funeral, I’ll smile. Mabel, Duchess of Datchet, it is beginning to dawn upon the vacuum which represents my brain that I’ve been the victim of one of the prettiest things in practical jokes that ever yet was planned. When that fellow brought you that card at Cane and Wilson’s—which, I need scarcely tell you, never came from me—some one walked out of the front entrance who was so exactly like you that both Barnes and Moysey took her for you. Moysey showed her into the carriage, and Barnes drove her home. But when the carriage reached home it was empty. Your double had got out upon the road.”

The duchess uttered a sound which was half gasp, half sigh.


“Barnes and Moysey, with beautiful and childlike innocence, when they found that they had brought the thing home empty, came straightway and told me that you had jumped out of the brougham while it had been driving full pelt through the streets. While I was digesting that piece of information there came the first epistle, with the lock of your hair. Before I had time to digest that there came the second epistle, with yours inside.”

“It seems incredible!”

“It sounds incredible; but unfathomable is the folly of man, especially of a man who loves his wife.” The duke crossed to Mr. Dacre. “I don’t want, Ivor, to suggest anything in the way of bribery and corruption, but if you could keep this matter to yourself, and not mention it to your friends, our white-hatted and gardenia-buttonholed acquaintance is welcome to his five hundred pounds, and—Mabel, what on earth are you laughing at?”

The duchess appeared, all at once, to be seized with inextinguishable laughter.

“Hereward,” she cried, “just think how that man must be laughing at you!”

And the Duke of Datchet thought of it.