Mark Blickley ~ Lunar Lament

Standard

At night the wind blows without great force but the slight, constant breeze makes it necessary for her to wear the cloth overcoat. It is a fine old coat. A happy coat given to her by a happy mother. She cannot pull the sides of the coat together to button it up any more. Yet every night she tries. The coat is worn and shiny and she likes how the moon sometimes reflects off the worn material. It makes it sparkle and gives additional luster to her words.

She folds her arms across her chest, covertly tugging at the coat lapels, trying to stretch the material so that a button will slip into a hole. Frustrated by her failure to mate the button with a hole, she directs her anger at the wind, blaming it, and not her fat, for the chill slithering up her exposed housedress.

The anger has made her glad and she mumbles as her footsteps crunch on the driveway. When she twists her ankle in a pothole the mumbling gives way to a cackling staccato.

She falls silent as she reaches the end of the driveway. The overgrown weeds at the foot of the pavement can be dangerous. Especially at night. She makes hissing sounds at the foliage; no rodent accepts her challenge.

Chilled, yet confident, she looks at her watch. It is five-thirty a.m. It is late, her latest time since early spring. Her anger returns. She pivots and faces her house. The rotting beams and sunken porch push the house out towards her in a decayed slope. The broken stained glass windows, whipped by thick branches, do not have moonlight to advertise their faded glory. She cannot see the twinkling reds and blues: there is only darkness and the slashing of leaving scratching glass.

“Aeeeeeeeeeeh! Aeeeeeeeh! You killed my mother! Aeeeeeeeeeeh! Bastards! Not me, bastards! Aeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh! Can’t fool me ‘cause you killed my mother! Aeeeeeeh! Bastards! Filthy sneakin’ bastards! I’ll tell. I’ll tell the doctor. I’ll tell the doctor right now! I know! They killed my mother again! I know! Police! Police! Aeeeeeeeh! Treat it! Clean it! Bastards! I know! I knew! Aeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh!”

She spins, shivering, her voice rising an octave with each scream. The words, smothered by her screams, explode from her throat in a cacophony of taut, stretched squeals.

Her throat burns yet her voice rises steadily until its pitch can only be heard by dogs. She flaps her arms as she stares at the apartment building across the street. After a pause her shrieking continues. From a second floor apartment inside the building Tommy Eromagne looks at his clock and sighs. She was late, that’s all. Nothing to be alarmed about. Now he can relax.

Tommy despises sleeping and is thankful at his age that he requires only three hours of it. He fears sleep as much as she fears the nightly demon that propels her out onto the curb. Tommy recognizes the sound of fear and it makes him less afraid when it isn’t just a silent throbbing inside his chest.
Sometimes Tommy attempts to understand the old woman’s screaming story about her mother, but it’s not that important to him anymore. When he relaxes his interpretive inclination and simply listens to her voice, it becomes a kind of soothing litany, like a religious chant, where the sounds, not the words, are what move him.

Listening to her nightly bouts with fear encourages him. He mouths each of her screams. Tommy would like to scream but he has a bad heart, a very bad heart. He can’t scream so he must pass his evenings listening to the erratic heartbeat that is just waiting for the chance to stop. Tommy knows the heartbeat will want to stop while he is asleep and can offer no resistance. The louder and more frantic her screams, the more stress he places on his respiratory system, dwindling his energy until he drops off into an exhausted sleep. When he awakens a few hours later he is proud of not having given up those three hours without a fight.

Tommy knows that as long as he is willing to fight fear the battle will continue. He isn’t sure if his resisting makes sleep respect him enough to overpower him for only a few hours, or if sleep enjoys the skirmishes and does not wish for them to end.

The sudden crash of bursting glass ends the screams filtering into his bedroom window. Tommy pulls himself up to his window in time to see the heavy woman in the cloth overcoat fall to the pavement. Splinters of glass from a hurled beer bottle prick her legs, forming warm thin lines of red that stain the sidewalk by her feet.

“Shut the fuck up,” yells a male voice from the apartment beneath Tommy.

The woman looks up at Tommy’s neighbor. “Aeeeeeeeeeh!” she howls. An empty jar of spaghetti sauce explodes just inches from her head. “You stupid bitch! Get the fuck back inside! I gotta get my sleep!”

From a window above Tommy’s a female voice calls out, “Why don’t the cops do something about her? Look at her. My son says she shoots beavers all the time.”

Tommy stares down at the bleeding woman. When he sees her look up he ducks his head. After a brief pause he peeks up at the window.

A third tenant’s voice joins in. “With all that goddamned money she’s supposed to have you’d think she could afford a muzzle or something!”

“I’ll muzzle that witch,” shouts out a young voice. The apartment building spits out a water balloon filled with urine. It lands with deadly accuracy on the screaming woman’s shoulder, splattering up into her face.

“That’ll piss her off,” the youngster shouts out. A chorus of tenants’ voices laughs their approval.

A police car pulls up to the curb. Two officers, each biting into a bagel, approach the prostrated woman. They gag at her smell and toss their breakfast into the street. An arrogant rat retrieves the discarded bagels and greedily chews them underneath a battered 1998 Honda Civic.
The policemen are reluctant to help the woman to her feet. Rubber gloves are snapped over their hands. They frown at each other and look up at the building behind them. Every window seems to have a head attached to it, shouting down at them to drag the woman off, take her away.

“No. Don’t take her, don’t take her,” whispers Tommy. “Please let her be.”

The sky is a dull gray; daylight is swallowing the night. As the woman is stiffly raised to her feet a roar of approval showers down on the reluctant police officers. The cops, holding the moist and foul smelling woman at arms length, face the tenement and execute a mock bow. It excites the tenement crowd and they scream even louder.

The building seems to tremble, but what is really trembling is the woman’s right arm. While the policemen are bent at the waist, she lunges at the holster of the officer bowing to her left. She’s surprised how easy it is to lift the gun from his belt.

By the time the policemen complete their curtsy, the screams of approval have become screams of terror. Every head from every window ducks to the floor. Every head, that is, except Tommy’s. He’s frozen at his window sill. The woman looks up at his window. They make eye contact. A crisp crack and the tapping of glass stuns Tommy. He looks down on the office to the woman’s right who is aiming his gun at her. Tommy is sure that cop has just shot the woman. A burning sensation in his neck distracts him but he can see the woman dropping to the ground, as if in slow motion, clutching her side.

Tommy feels dizzy and staggers back. His feet crumble and he bangs his head against the headboard. The pain in his neck disappears but now he is having a hard time breathing. An irritating cough soon turns into a choke and Tommy is laying on the bed, spitting up blood.

“That sonofabitch shot me! She shot me! Goddamn her!”

Tommy would like to call out for help but he can’t speak. All he can do is spit blood. His wheezing is loud and each exhale is accompanied by impressive propulsion of fluid. Tommy feels tired, very tired, but he will not sleep.”

Tommy grabs the headboard with both hands and pulls himself up. He feels more confident now. His breathing seems to be stabilizing. Perhaps all the blood pouring out his nose and throat is decongesting his lungs. But this damned dizziness is frightening. He doesn’t want to feel so dizzy.

Tommy strains to hear the sounds of the outside world, the sounds of rescue and comfort, but all he can hear is his labored breathing and vomiting.

Tommy doesn’t understand why the room is getting darker. He knows that sun must have risen by now. His globular reading lamp burns on his night table right above his head, but it looks as if it’s hundreds of feet away. The round lamp glows like a distant moon.

Tommy Eromange’s head is spinning so fast he closes his eyes. Tommy doesn’t want to close his eyes, but with his eyes shut he can concentrate much better on his hearing. He strains to listen for sounds of help and relief, yet the only noise he can make out is the frantic pounding of his heart.

A large weight seems to have dropped on to Tommy’s chest and he opens his mouth as wide as he can, gulping air.

By the time the attendants strap him in, Tommy’s frozen lips are a circle of blue. As they lift him up into the ambulance a sudden gust of wind floats the fabric, exposing his face; his exhausted eyes reflect the daylight and dozens of heads staring down at him from their window ledges.

 

“Lunar Lament” was first published in Mark Blickley’s short story collection, Sacred Misfits (Red Hen Press, 2004)

ol8

Peter Weltner ~ A Graveyard in Savannah

Standard

Traveler, you who pass by and wonder why,
know I lie where all my life I feared to be.
Fast as I fled from death, he chose to run
towards me. Let a boy’s supple muscles, back,
shoulders, arms rhyme with my tomb’s cover’s
curve. Beauty’s never enough to save us,
won’t serve to see us through. Even if he seems
a god’s equal, time’s arc’s always the same.
The dead can’t love nor oblivion feel.
Fear of the end made Frankenstein try to
resurrect a corpse like mine. I’d be his monster
if I could. I’m anonymous, no lasting fame
despite my name. Read it, traveler, and smile
while your eyes ravish that beautiful boy.

 

from The One-Winged Body (Marrowstone Press, 2011) by Peter Welter, illustrated by Galen Garwood.

Wenceslas

Stardust Memories!

Standard

Like many a Macabrista, we here at DM collect collections. Among these, we have a trove of original movie posters of all shapes and sizes from the UK and US. Alas we do not anticipate landing a contract to decorate a new city airport any time soon, so we must bid Adieu to these baubles.

99 & 44
As a visibly arresting collectible, movie posters not only make an office wall or man cave their own, they also appreciate with every passing day. Whether they underscore your love of an individual film or performer, recall an era, or simply stand on their own as striking modern art, you will find adding a movie poster (or three) to your habitat a rare enduring value.

mouse that roared 59
(Too, rest assured you will be the talk of the birthday party gifting an original piece of movie memorabilia to your nearest and dearest.)

annie hall 1 sheet
Titles available are listed below. Pics can easily be located on Google Images. All are ready to display, mount, and/or frame. Email us at dansemacabreonline at g mail dot com for individual sizes and highly competitive prices ~ or make us an offer we can’t refuse for the lot.

devil rides out
Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)
Annie Hall (1977)
Arabian Adventure (1979)
Bat 21 (1988)
Batman (1989) Teaser
The Big Sleep (1978)
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
The Cassandra Crossing (1977)
Century (1993)
Colonel Chabert (1995)
Cuba (1978)
The Devil’s Bride (1968)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
The Empire Strikes Back (1981)
Fantasia (80’s re-release)
The Final Option (1983)
Five Days One Summer (1982)
The French Connection II (1975)
Goldeneye (1995) Teaser
Juggernaut (1974)
La Traviata (1983)
Last Days of Man on Earth (1974)
Licence to Kill (1989)
The Living Daylights (1987)
The Long Good Friday (1982) Reviews
Love and Death (1975)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) Teaser w/gun
Marathon Man (1976)
Moonraker (1979)
The Mouse That Roared (1959)
Never Say Never Again (1983)
The Next Man (1976)
Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
99 & 44/100ths % Dead (1974)
The Optimists (1973)
Patriot Games (1991)
The People That Time Forgot (1977)
Radio Days (1987)
Reckless (1984)
The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976)
Roger & Me (1990)
The Sea Wolves (1982)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Straight No Chaser (1991)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Twins of Evil (1972)
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)
Who Dares Wins (1983)
The Wild Geese (1978)
You Only Live Twice (1967) Little Nellie & Volcano

tmwtgg001

Anonymous ~ The Closed Cabinet

Standard

I

It was with a little alarm and a good deal of pleasurable excitement that I looked forward to my first grown-up visit to Mervyn Grange. I had been there several times as a child, but never since I was twelve years old, and now I was over eighteen. We were all of us very proud of our cousins the Mervyns: it is not everybody that can claim kinship with a family who are in full and admitted possession of a secret, a curse, and a mysterious cabinet, in addition to the usual surplusage of horrors supplied in such cases by popular imagination. Some declared that a Mervyn of the days of Henry VIII had been cursed by an injured abbot from the foot of the gallows. Others affirmed that a dissipated Mervyn of the Georgian era was still playing cards for his soul in some remote region of the Grange. There were stories of white ladies and black imps, of bloodstained passages and magic stones. We, proud of our more intimate acquaintance with the family, naturally gave no credence to these wild inventions. The Mervyns, indeed, followed the accepted precedent in such cases, and greatly disliked any reference to the reputed mystery being made in their presence; with the inevitable result that there was no subject so pertinaciously discussed by their friends in their absence. My father’s sister had married the late Baronet, Sir Henry Mervyn, and we always felt that she ought to have been the means of imparting to us a very complete knowledge of the family secret. But in this connection she undoubtedly failed of her duty. We knew that there had been a terrible tragedy in the family some two or three hundred years ago—that a peculiarly wicked owner of Mervyn, who flourished in the latter part of the sixteenth century, had been murdered by his wife who subsequently committed suicide. We knew that the mysterious curse had some connection with this crime, but what the curse exactly was we had never been able to discover. The history of the family since that time had indeed in one sense been full of misfortune. Not in every sense. A coal mine had been discovered in one part of the estate, and a populous city had grown over the corner of another part; and the Mervyns of to-day, in spite of the usual percentage of extravagant heirs and political mistakes, were three times as rich as their ancestors had been. But still their story was full of bloodshed and shame, of tales of duels and suicides, broken hearts and broken honor. Only these calamities seemed to have little or no relation to each other, and what the precise curse was that was supposed to connect or account for them we could not learn. When she first married, my aunt was told nothing about it. Later on in life, when my father asked her for the story, she begged him to talk upon a pleasanter subject; and being unluckily a man of much courtesy and little curiosity, he complied with her request. This, however, was the only part of the ghostly traditions of her husband’s home upon which she was so reticent. The haunted chamber, for instance—which, of course, existed at the Grange—she treated with the greatest contempt. Various friends and relations had slept in it at different times, and no approach to any kind of authenticated ghost-story, even of the most trivial description, had they been able to supply. Its only claim to respect, indeed, was that it contained the famous Mervyn cabinet, a fascinating puzzle of which I will speak later, but which certainly had nothing haunting or horrible about its appearance.

My uncle’s family consisted of three sons. The eldest, George, the present baronet, was now in his thirties, married, and with children of his own. The second, Jack, was the black-sheep of the family. He had been in the Guards, but, about five years back, had got into some very disgraceful scrape, and had been obliged to leave the country. The sorrow and the shame of this had killed his unhappy mother, and her husband had not long afterwards followed her to the grave. Alan, the youngest son, probably because he was the nearest to us in age, had been our special favorite in earlier years. George was grown up before I had well left the nursery, and his hot, quick temper had always kept us youngsters somewhat in awe of him. Jack was four years older than Alan, and, besides, his profession had, in a way, cut his boyhood short. When my uncle and aunt were abroad, as they frequently were for months together on account of her health, it was Alan, chiefly, who had to spend his holidays with us, both as school-boy and as undergraduate. And a brighter, sweeter-tempered comrade, or one possessed of more diversified talents for the invention of games or the telling of stories, it would have been difficult to find.

For five years together now our ancient custom of an annual visit to Mervyn had been broken. First there had been the seclusion of mourning for my aunt, and a year later for my uncle; then George and his wife, Lucy,—she was a connection of our own on our mother’s side, and very intimate with us all,—had been away for nearly two years on a voyage round the world; and since then sickness in our own family had kept us in our turn a good deal abroad. So that I had not seen my cousins since all the calamities which had befallen them in the interval, and as I steamed northwards I wondered a good deal as to the changes I should find. I was to have come out that year in London, but ill-health had prevented me; and as a sort of consolation Lucy had kindly asked me to spend a fortnight at Mervyn, and be present at a shooting-party, which was to assemble there in the first week of October.

I had started early, and there was still an hour of the short autumn day left when I descended at the little wayside station, from which a six-mile drive brought me to the Grange. A dreary drive I found it—the round, gray, treeless outline of the fells stretching around me on every side beneath the leaden, changeless sky. The night had nearly fallen as we drove along the narrow valley in which the Grange stood: it was too dark to see the autumn tints of the woods which clothed and brightened its sides, almost too dark to distinguish the old tower,—Dame Alice’s tower as it was called,—which stood some half a mile farther on at its head. But the light shone brightly from the Grange windows, and all feeling of dreariness departed as I drove up to the door. Leaving maid and boxes to their fate, I ran up the steps into the old, well-remembered hall, and was informed by the dignified man-servant that her ladyship and the tea were awaiting me in the morning-room.

I found that there was nobody staying in the house except Alan, who was finishing the long vacation there: he had been called to the Bar a couple of years before. The guests were not to arrive for another week, so that I had plenty of opportunity in the interval to make up for lost time with my cousins. I began my observations that evening as we sat down to dinner, a cozy party of four. Lucy was quite unchanged—pretty, foolish, and gentle as ever. George showed the full five years’ increase of age, and seemed to have acquired a somewhat painful control of his temper. Instead of the old petulant outbursts, there was at times an air of nervous, irritable self-restraint, which I found the less pleasant of the two. But it was in Alan that the most striking alteration appeared. I felt it the moment I shook hands with him, and the impression deepened that evening with every hour. I told myself that it was only the natural difference between boy and man, between twenty and twenty-five, but I don’t think that I believed it. Superficially the change was not great. The slight-built, graceful figure; the deep gray eyes, too small for beauty; the clear-cut features, the delicate, sensitive lips, close shaven now, as they had been hairless then,—all were as I remembered them. But the face was paler and thinner than it had been, and there were lines round the eyes and at the corners of the mouth which were no more natural to twenty-five than they would have been to twenty. The old charm indeed—the sweet friendliness of manner, which was his own peculiar possession—was still there. He talked and laughed almost as much as formerly, but the talk was manufactured for our entertainment, and the laughter came from his head and not from his heart. And it was when he was taking no part in the conversation that the change showed most. Then the face, on which in the old time every passing emotion had expressed itself in a constant, living current, became cold and impassive—without interest, and without desire. It was at such times that I knew most certainly that here was something which had been living and was dead. Was it only his boyhood? This question I was unable to answer.

Still, in spite of all, that week was one of the happiest in my life. The brothers were both men of enough ability and cultivation to be pleasant talkers, and Lucy could perform adequately the part of conversational accompanist, which, socially speaking, is all that is required of a woman. The meals and evenings passed quickly and agreeably; the mornings I spent in unending gossips with Lucy, or in games with the children, two bright boys of five and six years old. But the afternoons were the best part of the day. George was a thorough squire in all his tastes and habits, and every afternoon his wife dutifully accompanied him round farms and coverts, inspecting new buildings, trudging along half-made roads, or marking unoffending trees for destruction. Then Alan and I would ride by the hour together over moor and meadowland, often picking our way homewards down the glen-side long after the autumn evenings had closed in. During these rides I had glimpses many a time into depths in Alan’s nature of which I doubt whether in the old days he had himself been aware. To me certainly they were as a revelation. A prevailing sadness, occasionally a painful tone of bitterness, characterized these more serious moods of his, but I do not think that, at the end of that week, I would, if I could, have changed the man, whom I was learning to revere and to pity, for the light-hearted playmate whom I felt was lost to me for ever.
II

The only feature of the family life which jarred on me was the attitude of the two brothers towards the children. I did not notice this much at first, and at all times it was a thing to be felt rather than to be seen. George himself never seemed quite at ease with them. The boys were strong and well grown, healthy in mind and body; and one would have thought that the existence of two such representatives to carry on his name and inherit his fortune would have been the very crown of pride and happiness to their father. But it was not so. Lucy indeed was devoted to them, and in all practical matters no one could have been kinder to them than was George. They were free of the whole house, and every indulgence that money could buy for them they had. I never heard him give them a harsh word. But there was something wrong. A constraint in their presence, a relief in their absence, an evident dislike of discussing them and their affairs, a total want of that enjoyment of love and possession which in such a case one might have expected to find. Alan’s state of mind was even more marked. Never did I hear him willingly address his nephews, or in any way allude to their existence. I should have said that he simply ignored it, but for the heavy gloom which always overspread his spirits in their company, and for the glances which he would now and again cast in their direction—glances full of some hidden painful emotion, though of what nature it would have been hard to define. Indeed, Alan’s attitude towards her children I soon found to be the only source of friction between Lucy and this otherwise much-loved member of her husband’s family. I asked her one day why the boys never appeared at luncheon.

“Oh, they come when Alan is away,” she answered; “but they seem to annoy him so much that George thinks it is better to keep them out of sight when he is here. It is very tiresome. I know that it is the fashion to say that George has got the temper of the family; but I assure you that Alan’s nervous moods and fancies are much more difficult to live with.”

That was on the morning—a Friday it was—of the last day which we were to spend alone. The guests were to arrive soon after tea; and I think that with the knowledge of their approach Alan and I prolonged our ride that afternoon beyond its usual limits. We were on our way home, and it was already dusk, when a turn of the path brought us face to face with the old ruined tower, of which I have already spoken as standing at the head of the valley. I had not been close up to it yet during this visit at Mervyn. It had been a very favorite haunt of ours as children, and partly on that account, partly perhaps in order to defer the dreaded close of our ride to the last possible moment, I proposed an inspection of it. The only portion of the old building left standing in any kind of entirety was two rooms, one above the other. The tower room, level with the bottom of the moat, was dark and damp, and it was the upper one, reached by a little outside staircase, which had been our rendezvous of old. Alan showed no disposition to enter, and said that he would stay outside and hold my horse, so I dismounted and ran up alone.

The room seemed in no way changed. A mere stone shell, littered with fragments of wood and mortar. There was the rough wooden block on which Alan used to sit while he first frightened us with bogey-stories, and then calmed our excited nerves by rapid sallies of wild nonsense. There was the plank from behind which, erected as a barrier across the doorway, he would defend the castle against our united assault, pelting us with fir-cones and sods of earth. This and many a bygone scene thronged on me as I stood there, and the room filled again with the memories of childish mirth. And following close came those of childish terrors. Horrors which had oppressed me then, wholly imagined or dimly apprehended from half- heard traditions, and never thought of since, flitted around me in the gathering dusk. And with them it seemed to me as if there came other memories too,—memories which had never been my own, of scenes whose actors had long been with the dead, but which, immortal as the spirit before whose eyes they had dwelt, still lingered in the spot where their victim had first learnt to shudder at their presence. Once the ghastly notion came to me, it seized on my imagination with irresistible force. It seemed as if from the darkened corners of the room vague, ill-defined shapes were actually peering out at me. When night came they would show themselves in that form, livid and terrible, in which they had been burnt into the brain and heart of the long ago dead.

I turned and glanced towards where I had left Alan. I could see his figure framed in by the window, a black shadow against the gray twilight of the sky behind. Erect and perfectly motionless he sat, so motionless as to look almost lifeless, gazing before him down the valley into the illimitable distance beyond. There was something in that stern immobility of look and attitude which struck me with a curious sense of congruity. It was right that he should be thus—right that he should be no longer the laughing boy who a moment before had been in my memory. The haunting horrors of that place seemed to demand it, and for the first time I felt that I understood the change. With an effort I shook myself free from these fancies, and turned to go. As I did so, my eye fell upon a queer-shaped painted board, leaning up against the wall, which I well recollected in old times. Many a discussion had we had about the legend inscribed upon it, which in our wisdom we had finally pronounced to be German, chiefly because it was illegible. Though I had loudly professed my faith in this theory at the time, I had always had uneasy doubts on the subject, and now half smiling I bent down to verify or remove them. The language was English, not German; but the badly painted, faded Gothic letters in which it was written made the mistake excusable. In the dim light I had difficulty even now in deciphering the words, and felt when I had done so that neither the information conveyed nor the style of the composition was sufficient reward for the trouble I had taken. This is what I read:

“Where the woman sinned the maid shall win;
But God help the maid that sleeps within.”

What the lines could refer to I neither had any notion nor did I pause then even in my own mind to inquire. I only remember vaguely wondering whether they were intended for a tombstone or for a doorway. Then, continuing my way, I rapidly descended the steps and remounted my horse, glad to find myself once again in the open air and by my cousin’s side.

The train of thought into which he had sunk during my absence was apparently an absorbing one, for to my first question as to the painted board he could hardly rouse himself to answer.

“A board with a legend written on it? Yes, he remembered something of the kind there. It had always been there, he thought. He knew nothing about it,”—and so the subject was not continued.

The weird feelings which had haunted me in the tower still oppressed me, and I proceeded to ask Alan about that old Dame Alice whom the traditions of my childhood represented as the last occupant of the ruined building. Alan roused himself now, but did not seem anxious to impart information on the subject. She had lived there, he admitted, and no one had lived there since. “Had she not,” I inquired, “something to do with the mysterious cabinet at the house? I remember hearing it spoken of as ‘Dame Alice’s cabinet.’

“So they say,” he assented; “she and an Italian artificer who was in her service, and who, chiefly I imagine on account of his skill, shared with her the honor of reputed witchcraft.”

“She was the mother of Hugh Mervyn, the man who was murdered by his wife, was she not?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Alan, briefly.

“And had she not something to do with the curse?” I inquired after a short pause, and nervously I remembered my father’s experience on that subject, and I had never before dared to allude to it in the presence of any member of the family. My nervousness was fully warranted. The gloom on Alan’s brow deepened, and after a very short “They say so” he turned full upon me, and inquired with some asperity why on earth I had developed this sudden curiosity about his ancestress.

I hesitated a moment, for I was a little ashamed of my fancies; but the darkness gave me courage, and besides I was not afraid of telling Alan—he would understand. I told him of the strange sensations I had had while in the tower—sensations which had struck me with all that force and clearness which we usually associate with a direct experience of fact. “Of course it was a trick of imagination,” I commented; “but I could not get rid of the feeling that the person who had dwelt there last must have had terrible thoughts for the companions of her life.”

Alan listened in silence, and the silence continued for some time after I had ceased speaking.

“It is strange,” he said at last; “instincts which we do not understand form the motive-power of most of our life’s actions, and yet we refuse to admit them as evidence of any external truth. I suppose it is because we MUST act somehow, rightly or wrongly; and there are a great many things which we need not believe unless we choose. As for this old lady, she lived long—long enough, like most of us, to do evil; unlike most of us, long enough to witness some of the results of that evil. To say that, is to say that the last years of her life must have been weighted heavily enough with tragic thought.”

I gave a little shudder of repulsion.

“That is a depressing view of life, Alan,” I said. “Does our peace of mind depend only upon death coming early enough to hide from us the truth? And, after all, can it? Our spirits do not die. From another world they may witness the fruits of our lives in this one.”

“If they do,” he answered with sudden violence, “it is absurd to doubt the existence of a purgatory. There must in such a case be a terrible one in store for the best among us.”

I was silent. The shadow that lay on his soul did not penetrate to mine, but it hung round me nevertheless, a cloud which I felt powerless to disperse.

After a moment he went on,—”Provided that they are distant enough, how little, after all, do we think of the results of our actions! There are few men who would deliberately instill into a child a love of drink, or wilfully deprive him of his reason; and yet a man with drunkenness or madness in his blood thinks nothing of bringing children into the world tainted as deeply with the curse as if he had inoculated them with it directly. There is no responsibility so completely ignored as this one of marriage and fatherhood, and yet how heavy it is and far-reaching.”

“Well,” I said, smiling, “let us console ourselves with the thought that we are not all lunatics and drunkards.”

“No,” he answered; “but there are other evils besides these, moral taints as well as physical, curses which have their roots in worlds beyond our own,—sins of the fathers which are visited upon the children.”

He had lost all violence and bitterness of tone now; but the weary dejection which had taken their place communicated itself to my spirit with more subtle power than his previous mood had owned.

“That is why,” he went on, and his manner seemed to give more purpose to his speech than hitherto,—”that is why, so far as I am concerned, I mean to shirk the responsibility and remain unmarried.”

I was hardly surprised at his words. I felt that I had expected them, but their utterance seemed to intensify the gloom which rested upon us. Alan was the first to arouse himself from its influence.

“After all,” he said, turning round to me and speaking lightly, “without looking so far and so deep, I think my resolve is a prudent one. Above all things, let us take life easily, and you know what St. Paul says about ‘trouble in the flesh,’—a remark which I am sure is specially applicable to briefless barristers, even though possessed of a modest competence of their own. Perhaps one of these days, when I am a fat old judge, I shall give my cook a chance if she is satisfactory in her clear soups; but till then I shall expect you, Evie, to work me one pair of carpet-slippers per annum, as tribute due to a bachelor cousin.”

I don’t quite know what I answered,—my heart was heavy and aching,—but I tried with true feminine docility to follow the lead he had set me. He continued for some time in the same vein; but as we approached the house the effort seemed to become too much for him, and we relapsed again into silence.

This time I was the first to break it. “I suppose,” I said, drearily, “all those horrid people will have come by now.”

“Horrid people,” he repeated, with rather an uncertain laugh, and through the darkness I saw his figure bend forward as he stretched out his hand to caress my horse’s neck. “Why, Evie, I thought you were pining for gayety, and that it was, in fact, for the purpose of meeting these ‘horrid people’ that you came here.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, wistfully; “but somehow the last week has been so pleasant that I cannot believe that anything will ever be quite so nice again.”

We had arrived at the house as I spoke, and the groom was standing at our horses’ heads. Alan got off and came round to help me to dismount; but instead of putting up his arm as usual as a support for me to spring from, he laid his hand on mine. “Yes, Evie,” he said, “it has been indeed a pleasant time. God bless you for it.” For an instant he stood there looking up at me, his face full in the light which streamed from the open door, his gray eyes shining with a radiance which was not wholly from thence. Then he straightened his arm, I sprang to the ground, and as if to preclude the possibility of any answer on my part, he turned sharply on his heel, and began giving some orders to the groom. I went on alone into the house, feeling, I knew not and cared not to know why, that the gloom had fled from my spirit, and that the last ride had not after all been such a melancholy failure as it had bid fair at one time to become.
III

In the hall I was met by the housekeeper, who informed me that, owing to a misunderstanding about dates, a gentleman had arrived whom Lucy had not expected at that time, and that in consequence my room had been changed. My things had been put into the East Room,— the haunted room,—the room of the Closed Cabinet, as I remembered with a certain sense of pleased importance, though without any surprise. It stood apart from the other guest-rooms, at the end of the passage from which opened George and Lucy’s private apartment; and as it was consequently disagreeable to have a stranger there, it was always used when the house was full for a member of the family. My father and mother had often slept there: there was a little room next to it, though not communicating with it, which served for a dressing-room. Though I had never passed the night there myself, I knew it as well as any room in the house. I went there at once, and found Lucy superintending the last arrangements for my comfort.

She was full of apologies for the trouble she was giving me. I told her that the apologies were due to my maid and to her own servants rather than to me; “and besides,” I added, glancing round, “I am distinctly a gainer by the change.”

“You know, of course,” she said, lightly, “that this is the haunted room of the house, and that you have no right to be here?”

“I know it is the haunted room,” I answered; “but why have I no right to be here?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “There is one of those tiresome Mervyn traditions against allowing unmarried girls to sleep in this room. I believe two girls died in it a hundred and fifty years ago, or something of that sort.”

“But I should think that people, married or unmarried, must have died in nearly every room in the house,” I objected.

“Oh, yes, of course they have,” said Lucy; “but once you come across a bit of superstition in this family, it is of no use to ask for reasons. However, this particular bit is too ridiculous even for George. Owing to Mr. Leslie having come to-day, we must use every room in the house: it is intolerable having a stranger here, and you are the only relation staying with us. I pointed all that out to George, and he agreed that, under the circumstances, it would be absurd not to put you here.”

“I am quite agreeable,” I answered; “and, indeed, I think I am rather favored in having a room where the last recorded death appears to have taken place a hundred and fifty years ago, particularly as I should think that there can be scarcely anything now left in it which was here then, except, of course, the cabinet.”

The room had, in fact, been entirely done up and refurnished by my uncle, and was as bright and modern-looking an apartment as you could wish to see. It was large, and the walls were covered with one of those white and gold papers which were fashionable thirty years ago. Opposite us, as we stood warming our backs before the fire, was the bed—a large double one, hung with a pretty shade of pale blue. Material of the same color covered the comfortable modern furniture, and hung from gilded cornices before the two windows which pierced the side of the room on our left. Between them stood the toilet-table, all muslin, blue ribbons, and silver. The carpet was a gray and blue Brussels one. The whole effect was cheerful, though I fear inartistic, and sadly out of keeping with the character of the house. The exception to these remarks was, as I had observed, the famous closed cabinet, to which I have more than once alluded. It stood against the same wall of the room as that in which the fireplace was, and on our right—that is, on that side of the fireplace which was farthest from the windows. As I spoke, I turned to go and look at it, and Lucy followed me. Many an hour as a child had I passed in front of it, fingering the seven carved brass handles, or rather buttons, which were ranged down its center. They all slid, twisted, or screwed with the greatest ease, and apparently like many another ingeniously contrived lock; but neither I nor any one else had ever yet succeeded in sliding, twisting, or screwing them after such a fashion as to open the closed doors of the cabinet. No one yet had robbed them of their secret since first it was placed there three hundred years ago by the old lady and her faithful Italian. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, was this tantalizing cabinet. Carved out of some dark foreign wood, the doors and panels were richly inlaid with lapis- lazuli, ivory, and mother-of-pearl, among which were twisted delicately chased threads of gold and silver. Above the doors, between them and the cornice, lay another mystery, fully as tormenting as was the first. In a smooth strip of wood about an inch wide, and extending along the whole breadth of the cabinet, was inlaid a fine pattern in gold wire. This at first sight seemed to consist of a legend or motto. On looking closer, however, though the pattern still looked as if it was formed out of characters of the alphabet curiously entwined together, you found yourself unable to fix upon any definite word, or even letter. You looked again and again, and the longer that you looked the more certain became your belief that you were on the verge of discovery. If you could approach the mysterious legend from a slightly different point of view, or look at it from another distance, the clew to the puzzle would be seized, and the words would stand forth clear and legible in your sight. But the clew never had been discovered, and the motto, if there was one, remained unread.

For a few minutes we stood looking at the cabinet in silence, and then Lucy gave a discontented little sigh. “There’s another tiresome piece of superstition,” she exclaimed; “by far the handsomest piece of furniture in the house stuck away here in a bedroom which is hardly ever used. Again and again have I asked George to let me have it moved downstairs, but he won’t hear of it.”

“Was it not placed here by Dame Alice herself?” I inquired a little reproachfully, for I felt that Lucy was not treating the cabinet with the respect which it really deserved.

“Yes, so they say,” she answered; and the tone of light contempt in which she spoke was now pierced by a not unnatural pride in the romantic mysteries of her husband’s family. “She placed it here, and it is said, you know, that when the closed cabinet is opened, and the mysterious motto is read, the curse will depart from the Mervyn family.”

“But why don’t they break it open?” I asked, impatiently. “I am sure that I would never have remained all my life in a house with a thing like that, and not found out in some way or another what was inside it.”

“Oh, but that would be quite fatal,” answered she. “The curse can only be removed when the cabinet is opened as Dame Alice intended it to be, in an orthodox fashion. If you were to force it open, that could never happen, and the curse would therefore remain for ever.”

“And what is the curse?” I asked, with very different feelings to those with which I had timidly approached the same subject with Alan. Lucy was not a Mervyn, and not a person to inspire awe under any circumstances. My instincts were right again, for she turned away with a slight shrug of her shoulders.

“I have no idea,” she said. “George and Alan always look portentously solemn and gloomy whenever one mentions the subject, so I don’t. If you ask me for the truth, I believe it to be a pure invention, devised by the Mervyns for the purpose of delicately accounting for some of the disreputable actions of their ancestors. For you know, Evie,” she added, with a little laugh, “the less said about the character of the family into which your aunt and I have married the better.”

The remark made me angry, I don’t know why, and I answered stiffly, that as far as I was acquainted with them, I at least saw nothing to complain of.

“Oh, as regards the present generation, no,—except for that poor, wretched Jack,” acquiesced Lucy, with her usual imperturbable good- humor.

“And as regards the next?” I suggested, smiling, and already ashamed of my little temper.

“The next is perfect, of course,—poor dear boys.” She sighed as she spoke, and I wondered whether she was really as unconscious as she generally appeared to be of the strange dissatisfaction with which her husband seemed to regard his children. Anyhow the mention of them had evidently changed her mood, and almost directly afterwards, with the remark that she must go and look after her guests, who had all arrived by now, she left me to myself.

For some minutes I sat by the bright fire, lost in aimless, wandering thought, which began with Dame Alice and her cabinet, and which ended somehow with Alan’s face, as I had last seen it looking up at me in front of the hall-door. When I had reached that point, I roused myself to decide that I had dreamt long enough, and that it was quite time to go down to the guests and to tea. I accordingly donned my best teagown, arranged my hair, and proceeded towards the drawing-room. My way there lay through the great central hall. This apartment was approached from most of the bedrooms in the house through a large, arched doorway at one end of it, which communicated directly with the great staircase. My bedroom, however, which, as I have said, lay among the private apartments of the house, opened into a passage which led into a broad gallery, or upper chamber, stretching right across the end of the hall. From this you descended by means of a small staircase in oak, whose carved balustrade, bending round the corner of the hall, formed one of the prettiest features of the picturesque old room. The barrier which ran along the front of the gallery was in solid oak, and of such a height that, unless standing close up to it, you could neither see nor be seen by the occupants of the room below. On approaching this gallery I heard voices in the hall. They were George’s and Alan’s, evidently in hot discussion. As I issued from the passage, George was speaking, and his voice had that exasperated tone in which an angry man tries to bring to a close an argument in which he has lost his temper. “For heaven’s sake leave it alone, Alan; I neither can nor will interfere. We have enough to bear from these cursed traditions as it is, without adding one which has no foundation whatever to justify it—a mere contemptible piece of superstition.”

“No member of our family has a right to call any tradition contemptible which is connected with that place, and you know it,” answered Alan; and though he spoke low, his voice trembled with some strong emotion. A first impulse of hesitation which I had had I checked, feeling that as I had heard so much it was fairer to go on, and I advanced to the top of the staircase. Alan stood by the fireplace facing me, but far too occupied to see me. His last speech had seemingly aroused George to fury, for the latter turned on him now with savage passion.

“Damn it all, Alan!” he cried, “can’t you be quiet? I will be master in my own house. Take care, I tell you; the curse may not be quite fulfilled yet after all.”

As George uttered these words, Alan lifted his eyes to him with a glance of awful horror: his face turned ghastly white; his lips trembled for a moment; and then he answered back with one half- whispered word of supreme appeal—”George!” There was a long- drawn, unutterable anguish in his tone, and his voice, though scarcely audible, penetrated to every corner of the room, and seemed to hang quivering in the air around one after the sound had ceased. Then there was a terrible stillness. Alan stood trembling in every limb, incapable apparently of speech or action, and George faced him, as silent and motionless as he was. For an instant they remained thus, while I looked breathlessly on. Then George, with a muttered imprecation, turned on his heel and left the room. Alan followed him as he went with dull lifeless eyes; and as the door closed he breathed deeply, with a breath that was almost a groan.

Taking my courage in both hands, I now descended the stairs, and at the sound of my footfall he glanced up, started, and then came rapidly to meet me.

“Evie! you here,” he said; “I did not notice you. How long have you been here?” He was still quite white, and I noticed that he panted for breath as he spoke.

“Not long,” I answered, timidly, and rather spasmodically; “I only heard a sentence or two. You wanted George to do something about some tradition or other,—and he was angry,—and he said something about the curse.”

While I spoke Alan kept his eyes fixed on mine, reading through them, as I knew, into my mind. When I had finished he turned his gaze away satisfied, and answered very quietly, “Yes, that was it.” Then he went back to the fireplace, rested his arm against the high mantelpiece above it, and leaning his forehead on his arm, remained silently looking into the fire. I could see by his bent brow and compressed lips that he was engaged upon some earnest train of thought or reasoning, and I stood waiting—worried, puzzled, curious, but above all things, pitiful, and oh! longing so intensely to help him if I could. Presently he straightened himself a little, and addressed me more in his ordinary tone of voice, though without looking round. “So I hear they have changed your room.”

“Yes,” I answered. And then, flushing rather, “Is that what you and George have been quarreling about?” I received no reply, and taking this silence for assent, I went on deprecatingly, “Because you know, if it was, I think you are rather foolish, Alan. As I understand, two girls are said to have died in that room more than a hundred years ago, and for that reason there is a prejudice against putting a girl to sleep there. That is all. Merely a vague, unreasonable tradition.”

Alan took a moment to answer.

“Yes,” he said at length, speaking slowly, and as if replying to arguments in his own mind as much as to those which I had uttered. “Yes, it is nothing but a tradition after all, and that of the very vaguest and most unsupported kind.”

“Is there even any proof that girls have not slept there since those two died?” I asked. I think that the suggestion conveyed in this question was a relief to him, for after a moment’s pause, as if to search his memory, he turned round.

“No,” he answered, “I don’t think that there is any such proof; and I have no doubt that you are right, and that it is a mere prejudice that makes me dislike your sleeping there.”

“Then,” I said, with a little assumption of sisterly superiority,
“I think George was right, and that you were wrong.”

Alan smiled,—a smiled which sat oddly on the still pale face, and in the wearied, worn-looking eyes. “Very likely,” he said; “I daresay that I am superstitious. I have had things to make me so.” Then coming nearer to me, and laying his hands on my shoulders, he went on, smiling more brightly, “We are a queer-tempered, bad- nerved race, we Mervyns, and you must not take us too seriously, Evie. The best thing that you can do with our odd ways is to ignore them.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” I answered, laughing, too glad to have won him back to even temporary brightness, “as long as you and George don’t come to blows over the question of where I am to sleep; which after all is chiefly my concern,—and Lucy’s.”

“Well, perhaps it is,” he replied, in the same tone; “and now be off to the drawing-room, where Lucy is defending the tea-table single-handed all this time.”

I obeyed, and should have gone more cheerfully had I not turned at the doorway to look back at him, and caught one glimpse of his face as he sank heavily down into the large arm-chair by the fireside.

However, by dinner-time he appeared to have dismissed all painful reflections from his mind, or to have buried them too deep for discovery. The people staying in the house were, in spite of my sense of grievance at their arrival, individually pleasant, and after dinner I discovered them to be socially well assorted. For the first hour or two, indeed, after their arrival, each glared at the other across those triple lines of moral fortification behind which every well-bred Briton takes refuge on appearing at a friend’s country-house. But flags of truce were interchanged over the soup, an armistice was agreed upon during the roast, and the terms of a treaty of peace and amity were finally ratified under the sympathetic influence of George’s best champagne. For the achievement of this happy result Alan certainly worked hard, and received therefor many a grateful glance from his sister-in-law. He was more excited than I had ever seen him before, and talked brilliantly and well—though perhaps not as exclusively to his neighbors as they may have wished. His eyes and his attention seemed everywhere at once: one moment he was throwing remarks across to some despairing couple opposite, and the next he was breaking an embarrassing pause in the conversation by some rapid sally of nonsense addressed to the table in general. He formed a great contrast to his brother, who sat gloomy and dejected, making little or no response to the advances of the two dowagers between whom he was placed. After dinner the younger members of the party spent the evening by Alan’s initiative, and chiefly under his direction, in a series of lively and rather riotous games such as my nursery days had delighted in, and my schoolroom ones had disdained. It was a great and happy surprise to discover that, grown up, I might again enjoy them. I did so, hugely, and when bedtime came all memories more serious than those of “musical chairs” or “follow my leader” had vanished from my mind. I think, from Alan’s glance as he handed me my bed candle, that the pleasure and excitement must have improved my looks.

“I hope you have enjoyed your first evening of gayety, Evie,” he said.

“I have,” I answered, with happy conviction; “and really I believe that it is chiefly owing to you, Alan.” He met my smile by another; but I think that there must have been something in his look which recalled other thoughts, for as I started up the stairs I threw a mischievous glance back at him and whispered, “Now for the horrors of the haunted chamber.”

He laughed rather loudly, and saying “Good-night, and good-luck,” turned to attend to the other ladies.

His wishes were certainly fulfilled. I got to bed quickly, and—as soon as my happy excitement was sufficiently calmed to admit of it— to sleep. The only thing which disturbed me was the wind, which blew fiercely and loudly all the earlier portion of the night, half arousing me more than once. I spoke of it at breakfast the next morning; but the rest of the world seemed to have slept too heavily to have been aware of it.
IV

The men went out shooting directly after breakfast, and we women passed the day in orthodox country-house fashion,—working and eating; walking and riding; driving and playing croquet; and above, beyond, and through all things, chattering. Beyond a passing sigh while I was washing my hands, or a moment of mournful remembrance while I changed my dress, I had scarcely time even to regret the quiet happiness of the week that was past. In the evening we danced in the great hall. I had two valses with Alan. During a pause for breath, I found that we were standing near the fireplace, on the very spot where he and George had stood on the previous afternoon. The recollection made me involuntarily glance up at his face. It looked sad and worried, and the thought suddenly struck me that his extravagant spirits of the night before, and even his quieter, careful cheerfulness of to-night, had been but artificial moods at best. He turned, and finding my eyes fixed on him, at once plunged into conversation, discussed the peculiarities of one of the guests, good-humoredly enough, but with so much fun as to make me laugh in spite of myself. Then we danced again. The plaintive music, the smooth floor, and the partner were all alike perfect, and I experienced that entire delight of physical enjoyment which I believe nothing but a valse under such circumstances can give. When it was over I turned to Alan, and exclaimed with impulsive appeal, “Oh, I am so happy,—you must be happy too!” He smiled rather uncertainly, and answered, “Don’t bother yourself about me, Evie, I am all right. I told you that we Mervyns had bad nerves; and I am rather tired. That’s all.” I was too passionately determined just then upon happiness, and his was too necessary to mine for me not to believe that he was speaking the truth.

We kept up the dancing till Lucy discovered with a shock that midnight had struck, and that Sunday had begun, and we were all sent off to bed. I was not long in making my nightly preparations, and had scarcely inserted myself between the sheets when, with a few long moans, the wind began again, more violently even than the night before. It had been a calm, fine day, and I made wise reflections as I listened upon the uncertainty of the north-country climate. What a tempest it was! How it moaned, and howled, and shrieked! Where had I heard the superstition which now came to my mind, that borne upon the wind come the spirits of the drowned, wailing and crying for the sepulture which had been denied them? But there were other sounds in that wind, too. Evil, murderous thoughts, perhaps, which had never taken body in deeds, but which, caught up in the air, now hurled themselves in impotent fury through the world. How I wished the wind would stop. It seemed full of horrible fancies, and it kept knocking them into my head, and it wouldn’t leave off. Fancies, or memories—which?—and my mind reverted with a flash to the fearful thoughts which had haunted it the day before in Dame Alice’s tower. It was dark now. Those ghastly intangible shapes must have taken full form and color, peopling the old ruin with their ageless hideousness. And the storm had found them there and borne them along with it as it blew through the creviced walls. That was why the wind’s sound struck so strangely on my brain. Ah! I could hear them now, those still living memories of dead horror. Through the window crannies they came shrieking and wailing. They filled the chimney with spirit sobs, and now they were pressing on, crowding through the room,—eager, eager to reach their prey. Nearer they came;—nearer still! They were round my bed now! Through my closed eyelids I could almost see their dreadful shapes; in all my quivering flesh I felt their terrors as they bent over me,—lower, lower. . . .

With a start I aroused myself and sat up. Was I asleep or awake? I was trembling all over still, and it required the greatest effort of courage I had ever made to enable me to spring from my bed and strike a light. What a state my nerves or my digestion must be in! From my childhood the wind had always affected me strangely, and I blamed myself now for allowing my imagination to run away with me at the first. I found a novel which I had brought up to my room with me, one of the modern, Chinese-American school, where human nature is analyzed with the patient, industrious indifference of the true Celestial. I took the book to bed with me, and soon under its soothing influences fell asleep. I dreamt a good deal,— nightmares, the definite recollection of which, as is so often the case, vanished from my mind as soon as I awoke, leaving only a vague impression of horror. They had been connected with the wind, of that alone I was conscious, and I went down to breakfast, maliciously hoping that others’ rest had been as much disturbed as my own.

To my surprise, however, I found that I had again been the only sufferer. Indeed, so impressed were most of the party with the quiet in which their night had been passed, that they boldly declared my storm to have been the creature of my dreams. There is nothing more annoying when you feel yourself aggrieved by fate than to be told that your troubles have originated in your own fancy; so I dropped the subject. Though the discussion spread for a few minutes round the whole table, Alan took no part in it. Neither did George, except for what I thought a rather unnecessarily rough expression of his disbelief in the cause of my night’s disturbance. As we rose from breakfast I saw Alan glance towards his brother, and make a movement, evidently with the purpose of speaking to him. Whether or not George was aware of the look or action, I cannot say; but at the same moment he made rapidly across the room to where one of his principal guests was standing, and at once engaged him in conversation. So earnestly and so volubly was he borne on, that they were still talking together when we ladies appeared again some minutes later, prepared for our walk to church. That was not the only occasion during the day on which I witnessed as I thought the same by-play going on. Again and again Alan appeared to be making efforts to engage George in private conversation, and again and again the latter successfully eluded him.

The church was about a mile away from the house, and as Lucy did not like having the carriages out on a Sunday, one service a week as a rule contented the household. In the afternoon we took the usual Sunday walk. On returning from it, I had just taken off my outdoor things, and was issuing from my bedroom, when I found myself face to face with Alan. He was coming out of George’s study, and had succeeded apparently in obtaining that interview for which he had been all day seeking. One glance at his face told me what its nature had been. We paused opposite each other for a moment, and he looked at me earnestly.

“Are you going to church?” he inquired at last, abruptly.

“No,” I answered, with some surprise. “I did not know that any one was going this evening.”

“Will you come with me?”

“Yes, certainly; if you don’t mind waiting a moment for me to put my things on.”

“There’s plenty of time,” he answered; “meet me in the hall.”

A few minutes later we started.

It was a calm, cloudless night, and although the moon was not yet half-full, and already past her meridian, she filled the clear air with gentle light. Not a word broke our silence. Alan walked hurriedly, looking straight before him, his head upright, his lips twitching nervously, while every now and then a half-uttered moan escaped unconsciously from between them. At last I could bear it no longer, and burst forth with the first remark which occurred to me. We were passing a big, black, queer-shaped stone standing in rather a lonely uncultivated spot at one end of the garden. It was an old acquaintance of my childhood; but my thoughts had been turned towards it now from the fact that I could see it from my bedroom window, and had been struck afresh by its uncouth, incongruous appearance.

“Isn’t there some story connected with that stone?” I asked. “I remember that we always called it the Dead Stone as children.”

Alan cast a quick, sidelong glance in that direction, and his brows contracted in an irritable frown. “I don’t know,” he answered shortly; “they say that there is a woman buried beneath it, I believe.”

“A woman buried there!” I exclaimed in surprise; “but who?”

“How should I know? They know nothing whatever about it. The place is full of stupid traditions of that kind.” Then, looking suspiciously round at me, “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know; it was just something to say,” I answered plaintively. His strange mood so worked upon my nerves, that it was all that I could do to restrain my tears. I think that my tone struck his conscience, for he made a few feverish attempts at conversation after that. But they were so entirely abortive that he soon abandoned the effort, and we finished our walk to church as speechlessly as we had begun it.

The service was bright, and the sermon perhaps a little commonplace, but sensible as it seemed to me in matter, and adequate in style. The peaceful evening hymn which followed, the short solemn pause of silent prayer at the end, soothed and refreshed my spirit. A hasty glance at my companion’s face as he stood waiting for me in the porch, with the full light from the church streaming round him, assured me that the same influence had touched him too. Haggard and sad he still looked, it is true; but his features were composed, and the expression of actual pain had left his eyes.

Silent as we had come we started homeward through the waning moonlight, but this silence was of a very different nature to the other, and after a minute or two I did not hesitate to break it.

“It was a good sermon?” I observed, interrogatively.

“Yes,” he assented, “I suppose you would call it so; but I confess that I should have found the text more impressive without its exposition.”

“Poor man!”

“But don’t you often find it so?” he asked. “Do you not often wish, to take this evening’s instance, that clergymen would infuse themselves with something of St. Paul’s own spirit? Then perhaps they would not water all the strength out of his words in their efforts to explain them.”

“That is rather a large demand to make upon them, is it not?”

“Is it?” he questioned. “I don’t ask them to be inspired saints. I don’t expect St. Paul’s breadth and depth of thought. But could they not have something of his vigorous completeness, something of the intensity of his feeling and belief? Look at the text of to- night. Did not the preacher’s examples and applications take something from its awful unqualified strength?”

“Awful!” I exclaimed, in surprise; “that is hardly the expression I should have used in connection with those words.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The text is very beautiful, of course, and at times, when people are tiresome and one ought to be nice to them, it is very difficult to act up to. But—”

“But you think that ‘awful’ is rather a big adjective to use for so small a duty,” interposed Alan, and the moonlight showed the flicker of a smile upon his face. Then he continued, gravely, “I doubt whether you yourself realize the full import of the words. The precept of charity is not merely a code of rules by which to order our conduct to our neighbors; it is the picture of a spiritual condition, and such, where it exists in us, must by its very nature be roused into activity by anything that affects us. So with this particular injunction, every circumstance in our lives is a challenge to it, and in presence of all alike it admits of one attitude only: ‘Beareth all things, endureth all things.’ I hope it will be long before that ‘all’ sticks in your gizzard, Evie,— before you come face to face with things which nature cannot bear, and yet which must be borne.”

He stopped, his voice quivering; and then after a pause went on again more calmly, “And throughout it is the same. Moral precepts everywhere, which will admit of no compromise, no limitation, and yet which are at war with our strongest passions. If one could only interpose some ‘unless,’ some ‘except,’ even an ‘until,’ which should be short of the grave. But we cannot. The law is infinite, universal, eternal; there is no escape, no repose. Resist, strive, endure, that is the recurring cry; that is existence.”

“And peace,” I exclaimed, appealingly. “Where is there room for peace, if that be true?”

He sighed for answer, and then in a changed and lower tone added, “However thickly the clouds mass, however vainly we search for a coming glimmer in their midst, we never doubt that the sky IS still beyond—beyond and around us, infinite and infinitely restful.”

He raised his eyes as he spoke, and mine followed his. We had entered the wooded glen. Through the scanty autumn foliage we could see the stars shining faintly in the dim moonlight, and beyond them the deep illimitable blue. A dark world it looked, distant and mysterious, and my young spirit rebelled at the consolation offered me.

“Peace seems a long way off,” I whispered.

“It is for me,” he answered, gently; “not necessarily for you.”

“Oh, but I am worse and weaker than you are. If life is to be all warfare, I must be beaten. I cannot always be fighting.”

“Cannot you? Evie, what I have been saying is true of every moral law worth having, of every ideal of life worth striving after, that men have yet conceived. But it is only half the truth of Christianity. You know that. We must strive, for the promise is to him that overcometh; but though our aim be even higher than is that of others, we cannot in the end fail to reach it. The victory of the Cross is ours. You know that? You believe that?”

“Yes” I answered, softly, too surprised to say more. In speaking of religion he, as a rule, showed to the full the reserve which is characteristic of his class and country, and this sudden outburst was in itself astonishing; but the eager anxiety with which he emphasized the last words of appeal impressed and bewildered me still further. We walked on for some minutes in silence. Then suddenly Alan stopped, and turning, took my hand in his. In what direction his mind had been working in the interval I could not divine; but the moment he began to speak I felt that he was now for the first time giving utterance to what had been really at the bottom of his thoughts the whole evening. Even in that dim light I could see the anxious look upon his face, and his voice shook with restrained emotion.

“Evie,” he said, “have you ever thought of the world in which our spirits dwell, as our bodies do in this one of matter and sense, and of how it may be peopled? I know,” he went on hurriedly, “that it is the fashion nowadays to laugh at such ideas. I envy those who have never had cause to be convinced of their reality, and I hope that you may long remain among the number. But should that not be so, should those unseen influences ever touch your life, I want you to remember then, that, as one of the race for whom Christ died, you have as high a citizenship in that spirit land as any creature there: that you are your own soul’s warden, and that neither principalities nor powers can rob you of that your birthright.”

I think my face must have shown my bewilderment, for he dropped my hand, and walked on with an impatient sigh.

“You don’t understand me. Why should you? I dare-say that I am talking nonsense—only—only—”

His voice expressed such an agony of doubt and hesitation that I burst out—

“I think that I do understand you a little, Alan. You mean that even from unearthly enemies there is nothing that we need really fear—at least, that is, I suppose, nothing worse than death. But that is surely enough!”

“Why should you fear death?” he said, abruptly; “your soul will live.”

“Yes, I know that, but still—” I stopped with a shudder.

“What is life after all but one long death?” he went on, with sudden violence. “Our pleasures, our hopes, our youth are all dying; ambition dies, and even desire at last; our passions and tastes will die, or will live only to mourn their dead opportunity. The happiness of love dies with the loss of the loved, and, worst of all, love itself grows old in our hearts and dies. Why should we shrink only from the one death which can free us from all the others?”

“It is not true, Alan!” I cried, hotly. “What you say is not true. There are many things even here which are living and shall live; and if it were otherwise, in everything, life that ends in death is better than no life at all.”

“You say that,” he answered, “because for you these things are yet living. To leave life now, therefore, while it is full and sweet, untainted by death, surely that is not a fate to fear. Better, a thousand times better, to see the cord cut with one blow while it is still whole and strong, and to launch out straight into the great ocean, than to sit watching through the slow years, while strand after strand, thread by thread, loosens and unwinds itself,— each with its own separate pang breaking, bringing the bitterness of death without its release.

His manner, the despairing ring in his voice, alarmed me even more than his words. Clinging to his arm with both hands, while the tears sprang to my eyes—

“Alan,” I cried, “don’t say such things,—don’t talk like that.
You are making me miserable.”

He stopped short at my words, with bent head, his features hidden in the shadow thus cast upon them,—nothing in his motionless form to show what was passing within him. Then he looked up, and turned his face to the moonlight and to me, laying his hand on one of mine.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said; “it is all right, my little David. You have driven the evil spirit away.” And lifting my hand, he pressed it gently to his lips. Then drawing it within his arm, he went on, as he walked forward, “And even when it was on me at its worst, I was not meditating suicide, as I think you imagine. I am a very average specimen of humanity,—neither brave enough to defy the possibilities of eternity nor cowardly enough to shirk those of time. No, I was only trying idiotically to persuade a girl of eighteen that life was not worth living; and more futilely still, myself, that I did not wish her to live. I am afraid, that in my mind philosophy and fact have but small connection with each other; and though my theorizing for your welfare may be true enough, yet,— I cannot help it, Evie,—it would go terribly hard with me if anything were to happen to you.”

His voice trembled as he finished. My fear had gone with his return to his natural manner, but my bewilderment remained.

“Why SHOULD there anything happen to me?” I asked.

“That is just it,” he answered, after a pause, looking straight in front of him and drawing his hand wearily over his brow. “I know of no reason why there should.” Then giving a sigh, as if finally to dismiss from his mind a worrying subject—”I have acted for the best,” he said, “and may God forgive me if I have done wrong.”

There was a little silence after that, and then he began to talk again, steadily and quietly. The subject was deep enough still, as deep as any that we had touched upon, but both voice and sentiment were calm, bringing peace to my spirit, and soon making me forget the wonder and fear of a few moments before. Very openly did he talk as we passed on across the long trunk shadows and through the glades of silver light; and I saw farther then into the most sacred recesses of his soul than I have ever done before or since.

When we reached home the moon had already set; but some of her beams seemed to have been left behind within my heart, so pure and peaceful was the light which filled it.

The same feeling continued with me all through that evening. After dinner some of the party played and sang. As it was Sunday, and Lucy was rigid in her views, the music was of a sacred character. I sat in a low armchair in a dark corner of the room, my mind too dreamy to think, and too passive to dream. I hardly interchanged three words with Alan, who remained in a still darker spot, invisible and silent the whole time. Only as we left the room to go to bed, I heard Lucy ask him if he had a headache. I did not hear his answer, and before I could see his face he had turned back again into the drawing-room.
V

It was early, and when first I got to my room I felt little inclined for sleep. I wandered to the window, and drawing aside the curtains, looked out upon the still, starlit sky. At least I should rest quiet to-night. The air was very clear, and the sky seemed full of stars. As I stood there scraps of schoolroom learning came back to my mind. That the stars were all suns, surrounded perhaps in their turn by worlds as large or larger than our own. Worlds beyond worlds, and others farther still, which no man might number or even descry. And about the distance of those wonderful suns too,—that one, for instance, at which I was looking,—what was it that I had been told? That our world was not yet peopled, perhaps not yet formed, when the actual spot of light which now struck my sight first started from the star’s surface! While it flashed along, itself the very symbol of speed, the whole of mankind had had time to be born, and live, and die!

My gaze dropped, and fell upon the dim, half-seen outline of the Dead Stone. That woman too. While that one ray speeded towards me her life had been lived and ended, and her body had rotted away into the ground. How close together we all were! Her life and mine; our joys, sufferings, deaths—all crowded together into the space of one flash of light! And yet there was nothing there but a horrible skeleton of dead bones, while I—!

I stopped with a shudder, and turned back into the room. I wished that Alan had not told me what lay under the stone; I wished that I had never asked him. It was a ghastly thing to think about, and spoilt all the beauty of the night to me.

I got quickly into bed, and soon dropped asleep. I do not know how long I slept; but when I woke it was with the consciousness again of that haunting wind.

It was worse than ever. The world seemed filled with its din. Hurling itself passionately against the house, it gathered strength with every gust, till it seemed as if the old walls must soon crash in ruins round me. Gust upon gust; blow upon blow; swelling, lessening, never ceasing. The noise surrounded me; it penetrated my inmost being, as all-pervading as silence itself, and wrapping me in a solitude even more complete. There was nothing left in the world but the wind and I, and then a weird intangible doubt as to my own identity seized me. The wind was real, the wind with its echoes of passion and misery from the eternal abyss; but was there anything else? What was, and what had been, the world of sense and of knowledge, my own consciousness, my very self,—all seemed gathered up and swept away in that one sole-existent fury of sound.

I pulled myself together, and getting out of bed, groped my way to the table which stood between the bed and the fireplace. The matches were there, and my half-burnt candle, which I lit. The wind penetrating the rattling casement circled round the room, and the flame of my candle bent and flared and shrank before it, throwing strange moving lights and shadows in every corner. I stood there shivering in my thin nightdress, half stunned by the cataract of noise beating on the walls outside, and peered anxiously around me. The room was not the same. Something was changed. What was it? How the shadows leaped and fell, dancing in time to the wind’s music. Everything seemed alive. I turned my head slowly to the left, and then to the right, and then round—and stopped with a sudden gasp of fear.

The cabinet was open!

I looked away, and back, and again. There was no room for doubt. The doors were thrown back, and were waving gently in the draught. One of the lower drawers was pulled out, and in a sudden flare of the candle-light I could see something glistening at its bottom. Then the light dwindled again, the candle was almost out, and the cabinet showed a dim black mass in the darkness. Up and down went the flame, and each returning brightness flashed back at me from the thing inside the drawer. I stood fascinated, my eyes fixed upon the spot, waiting for the fitful glitter as it came and went. What was there there? I knew that I must go and see, but I did not want to. If only the cabinet would close again before I looked, before I knew what was inside it. But it stood open, and the glittering thing lay there, dragging me towards itself.

Slowly at last, and with infinite reluctance, I went. The drawer was lined with soft white satin, and upon the satin lay a long, slender knife, hilted and sheathed in antique silver, richly set with jewels. I took it up and turned back to the table to examine it. It was Italian in workmanship, and I knew that the carving and chasing of the silver were more precious even than the jewels which studded it, and whose rough setting gave so firm a grasp to my hand. Was the blade as fair as the covering, I wondered? A little resistance at first, and then the long thin steel slid easily out. Sharp, and bright, and finely tempered it looked with its deadly, tapering point. Stains, dull and irregular, crossed the fine engraving on its surface and dimmed its polish. I bent to examine them more closely, and as I did so a sudden stronger gust of wind blew out the candle. I shuddered a little at the darkness and looked up. But it did not matter: the curtain was still drawn away from the window opposite my bedside, and through it a flood of moonlight was pouring in upon floor and bed.

Putting the sheath down upon the table, I walked to the window to examine the knife more closely by that pale light. How gloriously brilliant it was! darkened now and again by the quickly passing shadows of wind-driven clouds. At least so I thought, and I glanced up and out of the window to see them. A black world met my gaze. Neither moon was there nor moonlight: the broad silver beam in which I stood stretched no farther than the window. I caught my breath, and my limbs stiffened as I looked. No moon, no cloud, no movement in the clear, calm, starlit sky; while still the ghastly light stretched round me, and the spectral shadows drifted across the room.

But it was not all dark outside: one spot caught my eye, bright with a livid unearthly brightness—the Dead Stone shining out into the night like an ember from hell’s furnace! There was a horrid semblance of life in the light,—a palpitating, breathing glow,— and my pulses beat in time to it, till I seemed to be drawing it into my veins. It had no warmth, and as it entered my blood my heart grew colder, and my muscles more rigid. My fingers clutched the dagger-hilt till its jeweled roughness pressed painfully into my palm. All the strength of my strained powers seemed gathered in that grasp, and the more tightly I held the more vividly did the rock gleam and quiver with infernal life. The dead woman! The dead woman! What had I to do with her? Let her bones rest in the filth of their own decay,—out there under the accursed stone.

And now the noise of the wind lessens in my ears. Let it go on,— yes, louder and wilder, drowning my senses in its tumult. What is there with me in the room—the great empty room behind me? Nothing; only the cabinet with its waving doors. They are waving to and fro, to and fro—I know it. But there is no other life in the room but that—no, no; no other life in the room but that.

Oh! don’t let the wind stop. I can’t hear anything while it goes on;—but if it stops! Ah! the gusts grow weaker, struggling, forced into rest. Now—now—they have ceased.

Silence!

A fearful pause.

What is that that I hear? There, behind me in the room?

Do I hear it? Is there anything?

The throbbing of my own blood in my ears.

No, no! There is something as well,—something outside myself.

What is it?

Low; heavy; regular.

God! it is—it is the breath of a living creature! A living creature! here—close to me—alone with me!

The numbness of terror conquers me. I can neither stir nor speak.
Only my whole soul strains at my ears to listen.

Where does the sound come from?

Close behind me—close.

Ah-h!

It is from there—from the bed where I was lying a moment ago! . . .

I try to shriek, but the sound gurgles unuttered in my throat. I clutch the stone mullions of the window, and press myself against the panes. If I could but throw myself out!—anywhere, anywhere— away from that dreadful sound—from that thing close behind me in the bed! But I can do nothing. The wind has broken forth again now; the storm crashes round me. And still through it all I hear the ghastly breathing—even, low, scarcely audible—but I hear it. I shall hear it as long as I live! . . .

Is the thing moving?

Is it coming nearer?

No, no; not that,—that was but a fancy to freeze me dead.

But to stand here, with that creature behind me, listening, waiting for the warm horror of its breath to touch my neck! Ah! I cannot. I will look. I will see it face to face. Better any agony than this one.

Slowly, with held breath, and eyes aching in their stretched fixity, I turn. There it is! Clear in the moonlight I see the monstrous form within the bed,—the dark coverlet rises and falls with its heaving breath. . . . Ah! heaven have mercy! Is there none to help, none to save me from this awful presence? . . .

And the knife-hilt draws my fingers round it, while my flesh quivers, and my soul grows sick with loathing. The wind howls, the shadows chase through the room, hunting with fearful darkness more fearful light; and I stand looking, . . . listening. . . .

. . . . . .

I must not stand here for ever; I must be up and doing. What a noise the wind makes, and the rattling of the windows and the doors. If he sleeps through this he will sleep through all. Noiselessly my bare feet tread the carpet as I approach the bed; noiselessly my left arm raises the heavy curtain. What does it hide? Do I not know? The bestial features, half-hidden in coarse, black growth; the muddy, blotched skin, oozing foulness at every pore. Oh, I know them too well! What a monster it is! How the rank breath gurgles through his throat in his drunken sleep. The eyes are closed now, but I know them too; their odious leer, and the venomous hatred with which they can glare at me from their bloodshot setting. But the time has come at last. Never again shall their passion insult me, or their fury degrade me in slavish terror. There he lies; there at my mercy, the man who for fifteen years has made God’s light a shame to me, and His darkness a terror. The end has come at last,—the only end possible, the only end left me. On his head be the blood and the crime! God almighty, I am not guilty! The end has come; I can bear my burden no farther.

“Beareth all things, endureth all things.”

Where have I heard those words? They are in the Bible; the precept of charity. What has that to do with me? Nothing. I heard the words in my dreams somewhere. A white-faced man said them, a white-faced man with pure eyes. To me?—no, no, not to me; to a girl it was—an ignorant, innocent girl, and she accepted them as an eternal, unqualified law. Let her bear but half that I have borne, let her endure but one-tenth of what I have endured, and then if she dare let her speak in judgment against me.

Softly now; I must draw the heavy coverings away, and bare his breast to the stroke,—the stroke that shall free me. I know well where to plant it; I have learned that from the old lady’s Italian. Did he guess why I questioned him so closely of the surest, straightest road to a man’s heart? No matter, he cannot hinder me now. Gently! Ah! I have disturbed him. He moves, mutters in his sleep, throws out his arm. Down; down; crouching behind the curtain. Heavens! if he wakes and sees me, he will kill me. No! alas! if only he would. I would kiss the hand that he struck me with; but he is too cruel for that. He will imagine some new and more hellish torture to punish me with. But the knife! I have got that; he shall never touch me living again. . . . He is quieter now. I hear his breath, hoarse and heavy as a wild beast’s panting. He draws it more evenly, more deeply. The danger is past. Thank God!

God! What have I to do with Him? A God of Judgment. Ha, ha! Hell cannot frighten me; it will not be worse than earth. Only he will be there too. Not with him, not with him,—send me to the lowest circle of torment, but not with him. There, his breast is bare now. Is the knife sharp? Yes; and the blade is strong enough. Now let me strike—myself afterwards if need be, but him first. Is it the devil that prompts me? Then the devil is my friend, and the friend of the world. No. God is a God of love. He cannot wish such a man to live. He made him, but the devil spoilt him; and let the devil have his handiwork back again. It has served him long enough here; and its last service shall be to make me a murderess.

How the moonlight gleams from the blade as my arm swings up and back: with how close a grasp the rough hilt draws my fingers round it. Now.

A murderess?

Wait a moment. A moment may make me free; a moment may make me— that!

Wait.

Hand and dagger droop again. His life has dragged its slime over my soul; shall his death poison it with a fouler corruption still?

“My own soul’s warden.”

What was that? Dream memories again.

“Resist, strive, endure.”

Easy words. What do they mean for me? To creep back now to bed by his side, and to begin living again to-morrow the life which I have lived to-day? No, no; I cannot do it. Heaven cannot ask it of me. And there is no other way. That or this; this or that. Which shall it be? Ah! I have striven, God knows. I have endured so long that I hoped even to do so to the end. But to-day! Oh! the torment and the outrage: body and soul still bear the stain of it. I thought that my heart and my pride were dead together, but he has stung them again into aching, shameful life. Yesterday I might have spared him, to save my own cold soul from sin; but now it is cold no longer. It burns, it burns and the fire must be slaked.

Ay, I will kill him, and have done with it. Why should I pause any longer? The knife drags my hand back for the stroke. Only the dream surrounds me; the pure man’s face is there, white, beseeching, and God’s voice rings in my heart—

“To him that overcometh.”

But I cannot overcome. Evil has governed my life, and evil is stronger than I am. What shall I do? what shall I do? God, if Thou art stronger than evil, fight for me.

“The victory of the Cross is ours.”

Yes, I know it. It is true, it is true. But the knife? I cannot loose the knife if I would. How to wrench it from my own hold? Thou God of Victory be with me! Christ help me!

I seize the blade with my left hand; the two-edged steel slides through my grasp; a sharp pain in fingers and palm; and then— nothing. . . .

. . . . . .
VI

When I again became conscious, I found myself half kneeling, half lying across the bed, my arms stretched out in front of me, my face buried in the clothes. Body and mind were alike numbed. A smarting pain in my left hand, a dreadful terror in my heart, were at first the only sensations of which I was aware. Slowly, very slowly, sense and memory returned to me, and with them a more vivid intensity of mental anguish, as detail by detail I recalled the weird horror of the night. Had it really happened,—was the thing still there,—or was it all a ghastly nightmare? It was some minutes before I dared either to move or look up, and then fearfully I raised my head. Before me stretched the smooth white coverlet, faintly bright with yellow sunshine. Weak and giddy, I struggled to my feet, and, steadying myself against the foot of the bed, with clenched teeth and bursting heart, forced my gaze round to the other end. The pillow lay there, bare and unmarked save for what might well have been the pressure of my own head. My breath came more freely, and I turned to the window. The sun had just risen, the golden tree-tops were touched with light, faint threads of mist hung here and there across the sky, and the twittering of birds sounded clearly through the crisp autumn air.

It was nothing but a bad dream then, after all, this horror which still hung round me, leaving me incapable of effort, almost of thought. I remembered the cabinet, and looked swiftly in that direction. There it stood, closed as usual, closed as it had been the evening before, as it had been for the last three hundred years, except in my dreams.

Yes, that was it; nothing but a dream,—a gruesome, haunting dream. With an instinct of wiping out the dreadful memory, I raised my hand wearily to my forehead. As I did so, I became conscious again of how it hurt me. I looked at it. It was covered with half-dried blood, and two straight clean cuts appeared, one across the palm and one across the inside of the fingers just below the knuckles. I looked again towards the bed, and, in the place where my hand had rested during my faint, a small patch of red blood was to be seen.

Then it was true! Then it had all happened! With a low shuddering sob I threw myself down upon the couch at the foot of the bed, and lay there for some minutes, my limbs trembling, and my soul shrinking within me. A mist of evil, fearful and loathsome, had descended upon my girlhood’s life, sullying its ignorant innocence, saddening its brightness, as I felt, for ever. I lay there till my teeth began to chatter, and I realized that I was bitterly cold. To return to that accursed bed was impossible, so I pulled a rug which hung at one end of the sofa over me, and, utterly worn out in mind and body, fell uneasily asleep.

I was roused by the entrance of my maid. I stopped her exclamations and questions by shortly stating that I had had a bad night, had been unable to rest in bed, and had had an accident with my hand,—without further specifying of what description.

“I didn’t know that you had been feeling unwell when you went to bed last night, miss,” she said.

“When I went to bed last night? Unwell? What do you mean?”

“Only Mr. Alan has just asked me to let him know how you find yourself this morning,” she answered.

Then he expected something, dreaded something. Ah! why had he yielded and allowed me to sleep here, I asked myself bitterly, as the incidents of the day before flashed through my mind.

“Tell him,” I said, “what I have told you; and say that I wish to speak to him directly after breakfast.” I could not confide my story to any one else, but speak of it I must to some one or go mad.

Every moment passed in that place was an added misery. Much to my maid’s surprise I said that I would dress in her room—the little one which, as I have said, was close to my own. I felt better there; but my utter fatigue and my wounded hand combined to make my toilet slow, and I found that most of the party had finished breakfast when I reached the dining-room. I was glad of this, for even as it was I found it difficult enough to give coherent answers to the questions which my white face and bandaged hand called forth. Alan helped me by giving a resolute turn to the conversation. Once only our eyes met across the table. He looked as haggard and worn as I did: I learned afterwards that he had passed most of that fearful night pacing the passage outside my door, though he listened in vain for any indication of what was going on within the room.

The moment I had finished breakfast he was by my side. “You wish to speak to me? now?” he asked in a low tone.

“Yes; now,” I answered, breathlessly, and without raising my eyes from the ground.

“Where shall we go? Outside? It is a bright day, and we shall be freer there from interruption.”

I assented; and then looking up at him appealingly, “Will you fetch my things for me? I CANNOT go up to that room again.”

He seemed to understand me, nodded, and was gone. A few minutes later we left the house, and made our way in silence towards a grassy spot on the side of the ravine where we had already indulged in more than one friendly talk.

As we went, the Dead Stone came for a moment into view. I seized Alan’s arm in an almost convulsive grip. “Tell me,” I whispered,— “you refused to tell me yesterday, but you must now,—who is buried beneath that rock?”

There was now neither timidity nor embarrassment in my tone. The horrors of that house had become part of my life for ever, and their secrets were mine by right. Alan, after a moment’s pause, a questioning glance at my face, tacitly accepted the position.

“I told you the truth,” he replied, “when I said that I did not know; but I can tell you the popular tradition on the subject, if you like. They say that Margaret Mervyn, the woman who murdered her husband, is buried there, and that Dame Alice had the rock placed over her grave,—whether to save it from insult or to mark it out for opprobrium, I never heard. The poor people about here do not care to go near the place after dark, and among the older ones there are still some, I believe, who spit at the suicide’s grave as they pass.”

“Poor woman, poor woman!” I exclaimed, in a burst of uncontrollable compassion.

“Why should you pity her?” demanded he with sudden sternness; “she WAS a suicide and a murderess too. It would be better for the public conscience, I believe, if such were still hung in chains, or buried at the cross-roads with a stake through their bodies.”

“Hush, Alan, hush!” I cried hysterically, as I clung to him; “don’t speak harshly of her: you do not know, you cannot tell, how terribly she was tempted. How can you?”

He looked down at me in bewildered surprise. “How can I?” he repeated. “You speak as if YOU could. What do you mean?”

“Don’t ask me,” I answered, turning towards him my face,—white, quivering, tear-stained. “Don’t ask me. Not now. You must answer my questions first, and after that I will tell you. But I cannot talk of it now. Not yet.”

We had reached the place we were in search of as I spoke. There, where the spreading roots of a great beech-tree formed a natural resting place upon the steep side of the ravine, I took my seat, and Alan stretched himself upon the grass beside me. Then looking up at me—”I do not know what questions you would ask,” he said, quietly; “but I will answer them, whatever they may be.”

But I did not ask them yet. I sat instead with my hands clasping my knee, looking opposite at the glory of harmonious color, or down the glen at the vista of far-off, dream-like loveliness, on which it opened out. The yellow autumn sunshine made everything golden, the fresh autumn breezes filled the air with life; but to me a loathsome shadow seemed to rest upon all, and to stretch itself out far beyond where my eyes could reach, befouling the beauty of the whole wide world. At last I spoke. “You have known of it all, I suppose; of this curse that is in the world,—sin and suffering, and what such words mean.”

“Yes,” he said, looking at me with wondering pity, “I am afraid so.”

“But have you known them as they are known to some,—agonized, hopeless suffering, and sin that is all but inevitable? Some time in your life probably you have realized that such things are: it has come home to you, and to every one else, no doubt, except a few ignorant girls such as I was yesterday. But there are some,—yes, thousands and thousands,—who even now, at this moment, are feeling sorrow like that, are sinking deep, deeper into the bottomless pit of their soul’s degradation. And yet men who know this, who have seen it, laugh, talk, are happy, amuse themselves—how can they, how can they?” I stopped with a catch in my voice, and then stretching out my arms in front of me—”And it is not only men. Look how beautiful the earth is, and God has made it, and lets the sun crown it every day with a new glory, while this horror of evil broods over and poisons it all. Oh, why is it so? I cannot understand it.”

My arms drooped again as I finished, and my eyes sought Alan’s. His were full of tears, but there was almost a smile quivering at the corners of his lips as he replied: “When you have found an answer to that question, Evie, come and tell me and mankind at large: it will be news to us all.” Then he continued—”But, after all, the earth is beautiful, and the sun does shine: we have our own happiness to rejoice in, our own sorrows to bear, the suffering that is near to us to grapple with. For the rest, for this blackness of evil which surrounds us, and which we can do nothing to lighten, it will soon, thank God, become vague and far off to you as it is to others: your feeling of it will be dulled, and, except at moments, you too will forget.”

“But that is horrible,” I exclaimed, passionately; “the evil will be there all the same, whether I feel it or not. Men and women will be struggling in their misery and sin, only I shall be too selfish to care.”

“We cannot go outside the limits of our own nature,” he replied; “our knowledge is shallow and our spiritual insight dark, and God in His mercy has made our hearts shallow too, and our imagination dull. If, knowing and trusting only as men do, we were to feel as angels feel, earth would be hell indeed.”

It was cold comfort, but at that moment anything warmer or brighter would have been unreal and utterly repellent to me. I hardly took in the meaning of his words, but it was as if a hand had been stretched out to me, struggling in the deep mire, by one who himself felt solid ground beneath him. Where he stood I also might some day stand, and that thought seemed to make patience possible.

It was he who first broke the silence which followed. “You were saying that you had questions to ask me. I am impatient to put mine in return, so please go on.”

It had been a relief to me to turn even to generalizations of despair from the actual horror which had inspired them, and to which my mind was thus recalled. With an effort I replied, “Yes, I want to ask you about that room—the room in which I slept, and— and the murder which was committed there.” In spite of all that I could do, my voice sank almost to a whisper as I concluded, and I was trembling from head to foot.

“Who told you that a murder was committed there?” Something in my face as he asked the question made him add quickly, “Never mind. You are right. That is the room in which Hugh Mervyn was murdered by his wife. I was surprised at your question, for I did not know that anyone but my brothers and myself were aware of the fact. The subject is never mentioned: it is closely connected with one intensely painful to our family, and besides, if spoken of, there would be inconveniences arising from the superstitious terrors of servants, and the natural dislike of guests to sleep in a room where such a thing had happened. Indeed it was largely with the view of wiping out the last memory of the crime’s locality, that my father renewed the interior of the room some twenty years ago. The only tradition which has been adhered to in connection with it is the one which has now been violated in your person—the one which precludes any unmarried woman from sleeping there. Except for that, the room has, as you know, lost all sinister reputation, and its title of ‘haunted’ has become purely conventional. Nevertheless, as I said, you are right—that is undoubtedly the room in which the murder was committed.”

He stopped and looked up at me, waiting for more.

“Go on; tell me about it, and what followed.” My lips formed the words; my heart beat too faintly for my breath to utter them.

“About the murder itself there is not much to tell. The man, I believe, was an inhuman scoundrel, and the woman first killed him in desperation, and afterwards herself in despair. The only detail connected with the actual crime of which I have ever heard, was the gale that was blowing that night—the fiercest known to this countryside in that generation; and it has always been said since that any misfortune to the Mervyns—especially any misfortune connected with the curse—comes with a storm of wind. That was why I so disliked your story of the imaginary tempests which have disturbed your nights since you slept there. As to what followed,”—he gave a sigh,—”that story is long enough and full of incident. On the morning after the murder, so runs the tale, Dame Alice came down to the Grange from the tower to which she had retired when her son’s wickednesses had driven her from his house, and there in the presence of the two corpses she foretold the curse which should rest upon their descendants for generations to come. A clergyman who was present, horrified, it is said at her words, adjured her by the mercy of Heaven to place some term to the doom which she had pronounced. She replied that no mortal might reckon the fruit of a plant which drew its life from hell; that a term there should be, but as it passed the wisdom of man to fix it, so it should pass the wit of man to discover it. She then placed in the room this cabinet, constructed by herself and her Italian follower, and said that the curse should not depart from the family until the day when its doors were unlocked and its legend read.

“Such is the story. I tell it to you as it was told to me. One thing only is certain, that the doom thus traditionally foretold has been only too amply fulfilled.”

“And what was the doom?”

Alan hesitated a little, and when he spoke his voice was almost awful in its passionless sternness, in its despairing finality; it seemed to echo the irrevocable judgment which his words pronounced: “That the crimes against God and each other which had destroyed the parents’ life should enter into the children’s blood, and that never thereafter should there fail a Mervyn to bring shame or death upon one generation of his father’s house.

“There were two sons of that ill-fated marriage,” he went on after a pause, “boys at the time of their parents’ death. When they grew up they both fell in love with the same woman, and one killed the other in a duel. The story of the next generation was a peculiarly sad one. Two brothers took opposite sides during the civil troubles; but so fearful were they of the curse which lay upon the family, that they chiefly made use of their mutual position in order to protect and guard each other. After the wars were over, the younger brother, while traveling upon some parliamentary commission, stopped a night at the Grange. There, through a mistake, he exchanged the report which he was bringing to London for a packet of papers implicating his brother and several besides in a royalist plot. He only discovered his error as he handed the papers to his superior, and was but just able to warn his brother in time for him to save his life by flight. The other men involved were taken and executed, and as it was known by what means information had reached the Government, the elder Mervyn was universally charged with the vilest treachery. It is said that when after the Restoration his return home was rumored the neighboring gentry assembled, armed with riding whips, to flog him out of the country if he should dare to show his face there. He died abroad, shame-stricken and broken-hearted. It was his son, brought up by his uncle in the sternest tenets of Puritanism, who, coming home after a lengthened journey, found that during his absence his sister had been shamefully seduced. He turned her out of doors, then and there, in the midst of a bitter January night, and the next morning her dead body and that of her new-born infant were found half buried in the fresh-fallen snow on the top of the wolds. The ‘white lady’ is still supposed by the villagers to haunt that side of the glen. And so it went on. A beautiful, heartless Mervyn in Queen Anne’s time enticed away the affections of her sister’s betrothed, and on the day of her own wedding with him, her forsaken sister was found drowned by her own act in the pond at the bottom of the garden. Two brothers were soldiers together in some Continental war, and one was involuntarily the means of discovering and exposing the treason of the other. A girl was betrayed into a false marriage, and her life ruined by a man who came into the house as her brother’s friend, and whose infamous designs were forwarded and finally accomplished by that same brother’s active though unsuspecting assistance. Generation after generation, men or women, guilty or innocent, through the action of their own will or in spite of it, the curse has never yet failed of its victims.”

“Never yet? But surely in our own time—your father?” I did not dare to put the question which was burning my lips.

“Have you never heard of the tragic end of my poor young uncles?” he replied. “They were several years older than my father. When boys of fourteen and fifteen they were sent out with the keeper for their first shooting lesson, and the elder shot his brother through the heart. He himself was delicate, and they say that he never entirely recovered from the shock. He died before he was twenty, and my father, then a child of seven years old, became the heir. It was partly, no doubt, owing to this calamity having thus occurred before he was old enough to feel it, that his comparative skepticism on the whole subject was due. To that I suppose, and to the fact that he grew up in an age of railways and liberal culture.”

“He didn’t believe, then, in the curse?”

“Well, rather, he thought nothing about it. Until, that is, the time came when it took effect, to break his heart and end his life.”

“How do you mean?”

There was silence for a little. Alan had turned away his head, so that I could not see his face. Then—

“I suppose you have never been told the true story of why Jack left the country?”

“No. Was he—is he—?”

“He is one victim of the curse in this generation, and I, God help me, am the other, and perhaps more wretched one.”

His voice trembled and broke, and for the first time that day I almost forgot the mysterious horror of the night before, in my pity for the actual, tangible suffering before me. I stretched out my hand to his, and his fingers closed on mine with a sudden, painful grip. Then quietly—

“I will tell you the story,” he said, “though since that miserable time I have spoken of it to no one.”

There was a pause before he began. He lay there by my side, his gaze turned across me up the sunbright, autumn-tinted glen, but his eyes shadowed by the memories which he was striving to recall and arrange in due order in his mind. And when he did speak it was not directly to begin the promised recital.

“You never knew Jack,” he said, abruptly.

“Hardly,” I acquiesced. “I remember thinking him very handsome.”

“There could not be two opinions as to that,” he answered. “And a man who could have done anything he liked with life, had things gone differently. His abilities were fine, but his strength lay above all in his character: he was strong,—strong in his likes and in his dislikes, resolute, fearless, incapable of half measures—a man, every inch of him. He was not generally popular—stiff, hard, unsympathetic, people called him. From one point of view, and one only, he perhaps deserved the epithets. If a woman lost his respect she seemed to lose his pity too. Like a mediaeval monk, he looked upon such rather as the cause than the result of male depravity, and his contempt for them mingled with anger, almost, as I sometimes thought, with hatred. And this attitude was, I have no doubt, resented by the men of his own class and set, who shared neither his faults nor his virtues. But in other ways he was not hard. He could love; I, at least, have cause to know it. If you would hear his story rightly from my lips, Evie, you must try and see him with my eyes. The friend who loved me, and whom I loved with the passion which, if not the strongest, is certainly, I believe, the most enduring of which men are capable,—that perfect brother’s love, which so grows into our being that when it is at peace we are scarcely conscious of its existence, and when it is wounded our very life-blood seems to flow at the stroke. Brothers do not always love like that: I can only wish that we had not done so.
VII

“Well, about five years ago, before I had taken my degree, I became acquainted with a woman whom I will call ‘Delia,’—it is near enough to the name by which she went. She was a few years older than myself, very beautiful, and I believed her to be what she described herself—the innocent victim of circumstance and false appearance, a helpless prey to the vile calumnies of worldlings. In sober fact, I am afraid that, whatever her life may have been actually at the time that I knew her—a subject which I have never cared to investigate—her past had been not only bad enough irretrievably to fix her position in society, but bad enough to leave her without an ideal in the world, though still retaining within her heart the possibilities of a passion which, from the moment that it came to life, was strong enough to turn her whole existence into one desperate reckless straining after an object hopelessly beyond her reach. That was the woman with whom, at the age of twenty, I fancied myself in love. She wanted to get a husband, and she thought me—rightly—ass enough to accept the post. I was very young then even for my years,—a student, an idealist, with an imagination highly developed, and no knowledge whatever of the world as it actually is. Anyhow, before I had known her a month, I had determined to make her my wife. My parents were abroad at the time, George and Lucy here, so that it was to Jack that I imparted the news of my resolve. As you may imagine, he did all that he could to shake it. But I was immovable. I disbelieved his facts, and despised his contempt from the standpoint of my own superior morality. This state of things continued for several weeks, during the greater part of which time I was at Oxford. I only knew that while I was there, Jack had made Delia’s acquaintance, and was apparently cultivating it assiduously.

“One day, during the Easter vacation, I got a note from her asking me to supper at her house. Jack was invited too: we lodged together while my people were away.

“There is no need to dwell upon that supper. There were two or three women there of her own sort, or worse, and a dozen men from among the most profligate in London. The conversation was, I should think, bad even for that class; and she, the goddess of my idolatry, outstripped them all by the foul, coarse shamelessness of her language and behavior. Before the entertainment was half over, I rose and took my leave, accompanied by Jack and another man,— Legard was his name,—who I presume was bored. Just as we had passed through into the anteroom, which lay beyond the one in which we had been eating, Delia followed us, and laying her hand on Jack’s arm, said that she must speak with him. Legard and I went into the outer hall, and we had not been there more than a minute when the door from the anteroom opened, and we heard Delia’s voice. I remember the words well,—that was not the only occasion on which I was to hear them. ‘I will keep the ring as a record of my love,’ she said, ‘and understand, that though you may forget, I never shall.’ Jack came through, the door closed, and as we went out I glanced towards his left hand, and saw, as I expected to see, the absence of the ring which he usually wore there. It contained a gem which my mother had picked up in the East, and I knew that he valued it quite peculiarly. We always called it Jack’s talisman.

“A miserable time followed, a time for me of agonizing wonder and doubt, during which regret for my dead illusion was entirely swallowed up in the terrible dread of my brother’s degradation. Then came the announcement of his engagement to Lady Sylvia Grey; and a week later, the very day after I had finally returned to London from Oxford, I received a summons from Delia to come and see her. Curiosity, and the haunting fear about Jack, which still hung round me, induced me to consent to what otherwise would have been intolerably repellent to me, and I went. I found her in a mad passion of fury. Jack had refused to see her or to answer her letters, and she had sent for me, that I might give him her message,—tell him that he belonged to her and her only, and that he never should marry another woman. Angry at my interference, Jack disdained even to repudiate her claims, only sending back a threat of appealing to the police if she ventured upon any further annoyance. I wrote as she told me, and she emphasized my silence on the subject by writing back to me a more definite and explicit assertion of her rights. Beyond that for some weeks she made no sign. I have no doubt that she had means of keeping watch upon both his movements and mine; and during that time, as she relinquished gradually all hopes of inducing him to abandon his purpose, she was being driven to her last despairing resolve.

“Later, when all was over, Jack told me the story of that spring and summer. He told me how, when he found me immovable on the subject, he had resolved to stop the marriage somehow through Delia herself. He had made her acquaintance, and sought her society frequently. She had taken a fancy to him, and he admitted that he had availed himself of this fact to increase his intimacy with her, and, as he hoped ultimately, his power over her. But he was not conscious of ever having varied in his manner towards her of contemptuous indifference. This contradictory behavior,—his being constantly near her, yet always beyond her reach,—was probably the very thing which excited her fancy into passion, the one strong passion of the poor woman’s life. Then came his deliberate demand that she should by her own act unmask herself in my sight. The unfortunate woman tried to bargain for some proof of affection in return, and on this occasion had first openly declared her feelings towards him. He did not believe her; he refused her terms; but when as her payment she asked for the ring which was so especially associated with himself, he agreed to give it to her. Otherwise hoping, no doubt against hope, dreading above all things a quarrel and final separation, she submitted unconditionally. And from the time of that evening, when Legard and I had overheard her parting words, Jack never saw her again until the last and final catastrophe.

“It was in July. My parents had returned to England, but had come straight on here. Jack and I were dining together with Lady Sylvia at her father’s house—her brother, young Grey, making the fourth at dinner. I had arranged to go to a party with your mother, and I told the servants that a lady would call for me early in the evening. The house stood in Park Lane, and after dinner we all went out on to the broad balcony which opened from the drawing- room. There was a strong wind blowing that night, and I remember well the vague, disquieted feeling of unreality that possessed me,— sweeping through me, as it were, with each gust of wind. Then, suddenly, a servant stood behind me, saying that the lady had come for me, and was in the drawing-room. Shocked that my aunt should have troubled herself to come so far, I turned quickly, stepped back into the room, and found myself face to face with Delia. She was fully dressed for the evening, with a long silk opera-cloak over her shoulders, her face as white as her gown, her splendid eyes strangely wide open and shining. I don’t know what I said or did; I tried to get her away, but it was too late. The others had heard us, and appeared at the open window. Jack came forward at once, speaking rapidly, fiercely; telling her to leave the house at once; promising desperately that he would see her in his own rooms on the morrow. Well I remember how her answer rang out,—

“‘Neither to-morrow nor another day: I will never leave you again while I live.’

“At the same instant she drew something swiftly from under her cloak, there was the sound of a pistol shot and she lay dead at our feet, her blood splashing upon Jack’s shirt and hands as she fell.”

Alan paused in his recital. He was trembling from head to foot; but he kept his eyes turned steadily downwards, and both face and voice were cold—almost expressionless.

“Of course there was an inquest,” he resumed, “which, as usual, exercised its very ill-defined powers in inquiring into all possible motives for the suicide. Young Grey, who had stepped into the room just before the shot had been fired, swore to the last words Delia had uttered; Legard to those he had overheard the night of that dreadful supper: there were scores of men to bear witness to the intimate relations which had existed between her and Jack during the whole of the previous spring. I had to give evidence. A skillful lawyer had been retained by one of her sisters, and had been instructed by her on points which no doubt she had originally learnt from Delia herself. In his hands, I had not only to corroborate Grey and Legard, and to give full details of that last interview, but also to swear to the peculiar value which Jack attached to the talisman ring which he had given Delia; to the language she had held when I saw her after my return from Oxford; to her subsequent letter, and Jack’s fatal silence on the occasion. The story by which Jack and I strove to account for the facts was laughed at as a clumsy invention, and my undisguised reluctance in giving evidence added greatly to its weight against my brother’s character.

“The jury returned a verdict of suicide while of unsound mind, the result of desertion by her lover. You may imagine how that verdict was commented upon by every Radical newspaper in the kingdom, and for once society more than corroborated the opinions of the press. The larger public regarded the story as an extreme case of the innocent victim and the cowardly society villain. It was only among a comparatively small set that Delia’s reputation was known, and there, in view of Jack’s notorious and peculiar intimacy, his repudiation of all relations with her was received with contemptuous incredulity. That he should have first entered upon such relations at the very time when he was already courting Lady Sylvia was regarded even in those circles as a ‘strong order,’ and they looked upon his present attitude with great indignation, as a cowardly attempt to save his own character by casting upon the dead woman’s memory all the odium of a false accusation. With an entire absence of logic, too, he was made responsible for the suicide having taken place in Lady Sylvia’s presence. She had broken off the engagement the day after the catastrophe, and her family, a clan powerful in the London world, furious at the mud through which her name had been dragged, did all that they could to intensify the feeling already existing against Jack.

“Not a voice was raised in his defense. He was advised to leave the army; he was requested to withdraw from some of his clubs, turned out of others, avoided by his fast acquaintances, cut by his respectable ones. It was enough to kill a weaker man.

“He showed no resentment at the measure thus dealt out to him. Indeed, at the first, except for Sylvia’s desertion of him, he seemed dully indifferent to it all. It was as if his soul had been stunned, from the moment that that wretched woman’s blood had splashed upon his fingers, and her dead eyes had looked up into his own.

“But it was not long before he realized the full extent of the social damnation which had been inflicted upon him, and he then resolved to leave the country and go to America. The night before he started he came down here to take leave. I was here looking after my parents—George, whose mind was almost unhinged by the family disgrace, having gone abroad with his wife. My mother at the first news of what had happened had taken to her bed, never to leave it again; and thus it was in my presence alone, up there in my father’s little study, that Jack gave him that night the whole story. He told it quietly enough; but when he had finished, with a sudden outburst of feeling he turned upon me. It was I who had been the cause of it all. My insensate folly had induced him to make the unhappy woman’s acquaintance, to allow and even encourage her fatal love, to commit all the blunders and sins which had brought about her miserable ending and his final overthrow. It was by means of me that she had obtained access to him on that dreadful night; my evidence which most utterly damned him in public opinion; through me he had lost his reputation, his friends, his career, his country, the woman he loved, his hopes for the future; through me, above all, that the burden of that horrible death would lie for ever on his soul. He was lashing himself to fury with his own words as he spoke; and I stood leaning against the wall opposite to him, cold, dumb, unresisting, when suddenly my father interrupted. I think that both Jack and I had forgotten his presence; but at the sound of his voice, changed from what we had ever heard it, we turned to him, and I then for the first time saw in his face the death-look which never afterwards quitted it.

“‘Stop, Jack,’ he said; ‘Alan is not to blame; and if it had not been in this way, it would have been in some other. I only am guilty, who brought you both into existence with my own hell- stained blood in your veins. If you wish to curse anyone, curse your family, your name, me if you will, and may God forgive me that you were ever born into the world!'”

Alan stopped with a shudder, and then continued, dully, “It was when I heard those words, the most terrible that a father could have uttered, that I first understood all that that old sixteenth- century tale might mean to me and mine,—I have realized it vividly enough since. Early the next morning, when the dawn was just breaking, Jack came to the door of my room to bid me good-by. All his passion was gone. His looks and tones seemed part and parcel of the dim gray morning light. He freely withdrew all the charges he had made against me the night before; forgave me all the share that I had had in his misfortunes; and then begged that I would never come near him, or let him hear from me again. ‘The curse is heavy upon us both,’ he said, ‘and it is the only favor which you can do me.’ I have never seen him since.”

“But you have heard of him!” I exclaimed; “what has become of him?”

Alan raised himself to a sitting posture. “The last that I heard,” he said, with a catch in his voice, “was that in his misery and hopelessness he was taking to drink. George writes to him, and does what he can; but I—I dare not say a word, for fear it should turn to poison on my lips,—I dare not lift a hand to help him, for fear it should have power to strike him to the ground. The worst may be yet to come; I am still living, still living: there are depths of shame to which he has not sunk. And oh, Evie, Evie, he is my own, my best-loved brother!”

All his composure was gone now. His voice rose to a kind of wail with the last words, and folding his arms on his raised knee, he let his head fall upon them, while his figure quivered with scarcely restrained emotion. There was a silence for some moments while he sat thus, I looking on in wretched helplessness beside him. Then he raised his head, and, without looking round at me, went on in a low tone: “And what is in the future? I pray that death instead of shame may be the portion of the next generation, and I look at George’s boys only to wonder which of them is the happy one who shall some day lie dead at his brother’s feet. Are you surprised at my resolution never to marry? The fatal prophecy is rich in its fulfillment; none of our name and blood are safe; and the day might come when I too should have to call upon my children to curse me for their birth,—should have to watch while the burden which I could no longer bear alone pressed the life from their mother’s heart.”

Through the tragedy of this speech I was conscious of a faint suggestion of comfort, a far-off glimmer, as of unseen home-lights on a midnight sky. I was in no mood then to understand, or to seek to understand, what it was; but I know now that his words had removed the weight of helpless banishment from my spirit—that his heart, speaking through them to my own, had made me for life the sharer of his grief.
VIII

Presently he drew his shoulders together with a slight determined jerk, threw himself back upon the grass, and turning to me, with that tremulous, haggard smile upon his lips which I knew so well, but which had never before struck me with such infinite pathos, “Luckily,” he said, “there are other things to do in life besides being happy. Only perhaps you understand now what I meant last night when I spoke of things which flesh and blood cannot bear, and yet which must be borne.”

Suddenly and sharply his words roused again into activity the loathsome memory which my interest in his story had partially deadened. He noticed the quick involuntary contraction of my muscles, and read it aright. “That reminds me,” he went on; “I must claim your promise. I have told you my story. Now, tell me yours.”

I told him; not as I have set it down here, though perhaps even in greater detail, but incoherently, bit by bit, while he helped me out with gentle questions, quickly comprehending gestures, and patient waiting during the pauses of exhaustion which perforce interposed themselves. As my story approached its climax, his agitation grew almost equal to my own, and he listened to the close, his teeth clenched, his brows bent, as if passing again with me through that awful conflict. When I had finished, it was some moments before either of us could speak; and then he burst forth into bitter self-reproach for having so far yielded to his brother’s angry obstinacy as to allow me to sleep the third night in that fatal room.

“It was cowardice,” he said, “sheer cowardice! After all that has happened, I dared not have a quarrel with one of my own blood. And yet if I had not hardened my heart, I had reason to know what I was risking.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“Those other two girls who slept there,” he said, breathlessly; “it was in each case after the third night there that they were found dead—dead, Evie, so runs the story, with a mark upon their necks similar in shape and position to the death-wound which Margaret Mervyn inflicted upon herself.”

I could not speak, but I clutched his hand with an almost convulsive grip.

“And I knew the story,—I knew it!” he cried. “As boys we were not allowed to hear much of our family traditions, but this one I knew. When my father redid the interior of the east room, he removed at the same time a board from above the doorway outside, on which had been written—it is said by Dame Alice herself—a warning upon this very subject. I happened to be present when our old housekeeper, who had been his nurse, remonstrated with him warmly upon this act; and I asked her afterwards what the board was, and why she cared about it so much. In her excitement she told me the story of those unhappy girls, repeating again and again that, if the warning were taken away, evil would come of it.”

“And she was right,” I said, dully. “Oh, if only your father had left it there!”

“I suppose,” he answered, speaking more quietly, “that he was impatient of traditions which, as I told you, he at that time more than half despised. Indeed he altered the shape of the doorway, raising it, and making it flat and square, so that the old inscription could not have been replaced, even had it been wished. I remember it was fitted round the low Tudor arch which was previously there.”

My mind, too worn with many emotions for deliberate thought, wandered on languidly, and as it were mechanically, upon these last trivial words. The doorway presented itself to my view as it had originally stood, with the discarded warning above it; and then, by a spontaneous comparison of mental vision, I recalled the painted board which I had noticed three days before in Dame Alice’s tower. I suggested to Alan that it might have been the identical one—its shape was as he described. “Very likely,” he answered, absently. “Do you remember what the words were?”

“Yes, I think so,” I replied. “Let me see.” And I repeated them slowly, dragging them out as it were one by one from my memory:

“Where the woman sinned the maid shall win;
But God help the maid that sleeps within.”

“You see,” I said, turning towards him slowly, “the last line is a warning such as you spoke of.”

But to my surprise Alan had sprung to his feet, and was looking down at me, his whole body quivering with excitement. “Yes, Evie,” he cried, “and the first line is a prophecy;—where the woman sinned the maid HAS won.” He seized the hand which I instinctively reached out to him. “We have not seen the end of this yet,” he went on, speaking rapidly, and as if articulation had become difficult to him. “Come, Evie, we must go back to the house and look at the cabinet—now, at once.”

I had risen to my feet by this time, but I shrank away at those words. “To that room? Oh, Alan—no, I cannot.”

He had hold of my hand still, and he tightened his grasp upon it.
“I shall be with you; you will not be afraid with me,” he said.
“Come.” His eyes were burning, his face flushed and paled in rapid
alternation, and his hand held mine like a vice of iron.

I turned with him, and we walked back to the Grange, Alan quickening his pace as he went, till I almost had to run by his side. As we approached the dreaded room my sense of repulsion became almost unbearable; but I was now infected by his excitement, though I but dimly comprehended its cause. We met no one on our way, and in a moment he had hurried me into the house, up the stairs, and along the narrow passage, and I was once more in the east room, and in the presence of all the memories of that accursed night. For an instant I stood strengthless, helpless, on the threshold, my gaze fixed panic-stricken on the spot where I had taken such awful part in that phantom tragedy of evil; then Alan threw his arm round me, and drew me hastily on in front of the cabinet. Without a pause, giving himself time neither to speak nor think, he stretched out his left hand and moved the buttons one after another. How or in what direction he moved them I know not; but as the last turned with a click, the doors, which no mortal hand had unclosed for three hundred years, flew back, and the cabinet stood open. I gave a little gasp of fear. Alan pressed his lips closely together, and turned to me with eager questioning in his eyes. I pointed in answer tremblingly at the drawer which I had seen open the night before. He drew it out, and there on its satin bed lay the dagger in its silver sheath. Still without a word he took it up, and reaching his right hand round me, for I could not now have stood had he withdrawn his support, with a swift strong jerk he unsheathed the blade. There in the clear autumn sunshine I could see the same dull stains I had marked in the flickering candle-light, and over them, still ruddy and moist, were the drops of my own half-dried blood. I grasped the lapel of his coat with both my hands, and clung to him like a child in terror, while the eyes of both of us remained fixed as if fascinated upon the knife-blade. Then, with a sudden start of memory, Alan raised his to the cornice of the cabinet, and mine followed. No change that I could detect had taken place in that twisted goldwork; but there, clear in the sight of us both, stood forth the words of the magic motto:

“Pure blood shed by the blood-stained knife
Ends Mervyn shame, heals Mervyn strife.”

In low steady tones Alan read out the lines, and then there was silence—on my part of stunned bewilderment, the bewilderment of a spirit overwhelmed beyond the power of comprehension by rushing, conflicting emotions. Alan pressed me closer to him, while the silence seemed to throb with the beating of his heart and the panting of his breath. But except for that he remained motionless, gazing at the golden message before him. At length I felt a movement, and looking up saw his face turned down towards mine, the lips quivering, the cheeks flushed, the eyes soft with passionate feeling. “We are saved, my darling,” he whispered; “saved, and through you.” Then he bent his head lower, and there in that room of horror, I received the first long lover’s kiss from my own dear husband’s lips.

. . . . . .

My husband, yes; but not till some time after that. Alan’s first act, when he had once fully realized that the curse was indeed removed, was—throwing his budding practice to the winds—to set sail for America. There he sought out Jack, and labored hard to impart to him some of his own newfound hope. It was slow work, but he succeeded at last; and only left him when, two years later, he had handed him over to the charge of a bright-eyed Western girl, to whom the whole story had been told, and who showed herself ready and anxious to help in building up again the broken life of her English lover. To judge from the letters that we have since received, she has shown herself well fitted for the task. Among other things she has money, and Jack’s worldly affairs have so prospered that George declares that he can well afford now to waste some of his superfluous cash upon farming a few of his elder brother’s acres. The idea seems to smile upon Jack, and I have every hope this winter of being able to institute an actual comparison between our small boy, his namesake, and his own three- year-old Alan. The comparison, by the way, will have to be conditional, for Jacket—the name by which my son and heir is familiarly known—is but a little more than two.

I turn my eyes for a moment, and they fall upon the northern corner of the East Room, which shows round the edge of the house. Then the skeleton leaps from the cupboard of my memory; the icy hand which lies ever near my soul grips it suddenly with a chill shudder. Not for nothing was that wretched woman’s life interwoven with my own, if only for an hour; not for nothing did my spirit harbor a conflict and an agony, which, thank God, are far from its own story. Though Margaret Mervyn’s dagger failed to pierce my flesh, the wound in my soul may never wholly be healed. I know that that is so; and yet as I turn to start through the sunshine to the cedar shade and its laughing occupants, I whisper to myself with fervent conviction, “It was worth it.”

 

ORANGERIE Promo

Otto Larssen ~ The Manuscript

Standard

Two gentlemen sat chatting together one evening.

Their daily business was to occupy themselves with literature. At the present moment they were engaged in drinking whisky,—an occupation both agreeable and useful,—and in chatting about books, the theater, women and many other things. Finally they came around to that inexhaustible subject for conversation, the mysterious life of the soul, the hidden things, the Unknown, that theme for which Shakespeare has given us an oft-quoted and oft-abused device, which one of the men, Mr. X., now used to point his remarks. Raising his glass, he looked at himself meditatively in a mirror opposite, and, in a good imitation of the manner of his favorite actor, he quoted:

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in thy philosophy, Horatio.”

Mr. Y. arranged a fresh glass for himself, and answered:

“I believe it. I believe also that it is given but to a few chosen ones to see these things. It never fell to my lot, I know. Fortunately for me, perhaps. For,—at least so it appears to me,— these chosen ones appear on closer investigation to be individuals of an abnormal condition of brain. As far as I personally am concerned, I know of nothing more strange than the usual logical and natural sequence of events on our globe. I confess things do sometimes happen outside of this orderly sequence; but for the cold-blooded and thoughtful person the Strange, the apparently Inexplicable, usually turns out to be a sum of Chance, that Chance we will never be quite clever enough to fully take into our calculations.

“As an instance I would like to tell you the story of what happened several years back to a friend of mine, a young French writer. He had a good, sincere mind, but he had also a strong leaning toward which was just then in danger of becoming as much of a fashion in France as it is here now. The event of which I am about to tell you threw him into what was almost a delirium, which came near to robbing him of his normal intelligence, and therefore came near to robbing French readers of a few excellent books.

“This was the way it happened:

“It was about ten years back, and I was spending the spring and summer in Paris. I had a room with the family of a concierge on the left bank, rue de Vaugirard, near the Luxembourg Gardens.

“A few steps from my modest domicile lived my friend Lucien F. We had become acquainted through a chain of circumstances which do not belong to this story, but these circumstances had made firm friends of us, a friendship which was a source of great pleasure and also of assistance to me in my study of Paris conditions. This friendship also enabled me to enjoy better and cheaper whisky than one can usually meet with in the city by the Seine, a real good ‘Jameson Highland.’

“Lucien F. had already published several books which had aroused attention through the oddity of their themes, and their gratifying success had made it possible for him to establish himself in a comfortably furnished bachelor apartment on the corner of the rue de Vaugirard and the rue de Conde.

“The apartment had a corridor and three rooms; a dining room, a bedroom and a charming study with an inclosed balcony, the three windows of which,—a large one in the center and two smaller ones at the side,—sent a flood of light in over the great writing table which filled nearly the entire balcony. Inside the room, near the balcony, stood a divan covered with a bearskin rug. Upon this divan I spent many of my hours in Paris, occupied in the smoking of my friend’s excellent cigars, and the sampling of his superlatively good whisky. At the same time I could lie staring up at the tops of the trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, while Lucien worked at his desk. For, unlike most writers, he could work best when he was not alone.

“If I remained away several days, he would invariably ring my bell early some morning, and drag me out of bed with the remark: ‘The whisky is ready. I can’t write if you are not there.’

“During the particular days of which I shall tell you, he was engaged in the writing of a fantastic novelette, ‘The Force of the Wind,’ a work which interested him greatly, and which he would interrupt unwillingly at intervals to furnish copy for the well- known newspaper that numbered him among the members of its staff. His books were printed by the same house that did the printing for the paper.

“Often, as I lay in my favorite position on the divan, the bell would ring and we would he honored by a visit from the printer’s boy Adolphe, a little fellow in a blue blouse, the true type of Paris gamin. Adolphe rejoiced in a broken nose, a pair of crafty eyes, and had his fists always full of manuscripts which he treated with a carelessness that would have driven a literary novice to despair. The long rolls of yellow paper would hang out of his trousers pockets as if ready to fall apart at his next movement. And the disrespectful manner in which he crammed my friend Lucien’s scarcely dried essay into the breast of his blouse would have certainly called forth remarks from a journalist of more self- conceit.

“But his eyes were so full of sly cunning, and there was such an atmosphere of Paris about the stocky little fourteen-year-old chap, that we would often keep him longer with us, and treat him to a glass of anisette to hear his opinion of the writers whose work he handled. He was an amusing cross between a tricky little Paris gamin and a real child, and he hit off the characteristics of the various writers with as keen a touch of actuality as he could put into his stories of how many centimes he had won that morning at ‘craps’ from his friend Pierre. Pierre was another employee of the printing house, Adolphe’s comrade in his study of the mysteries of Paris streets, and now his rival. They were both in love with the same girl, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the keeper of ‘La Prunelle’ Cafe, and her favor was often the prize of the morning’s game.

“Now and then this rivalry between the two young Parisians would drop into a hand-to-hand fight. I myself was witness to such a skirmish one day, in front of ‘La Prunelle.’ The rivals pulled each other’s hair mightily while the manuscripts flew about over the pavement, and Virginie, in her short skirts, stood at the door of the cafe and laughed until she seemed about to shake to pieces.

“Pierre was the strongest, and Adolphe came off with a bloody nose. He gathered up his manuscripts in grim silence and left the battlefield and the still laughing Virginie with an expression of deep anger on his wounded face.

“The following day, when I teased him a little because of his defeat, he smiled a sly smile and remarked:

“‘Yes, but I won a franc from him, the big stupid animal. And so it was I, after all, who took Virginie out that evening. We went to the Cafe “Neant,” where I let them put me in the coffin and pretend to be decaying, to amuse her. She thought it was lots of fun.’

“One morning Lucien had come for me as usual, put me on the divan, and seated himself at his writing table. He was just putting the last words to his novel, and the table was entirely covered with the scattered leaves, closely written. I could just see his neck as he sat there, a thin-sinewed, expressive neck. He bent over his work, blind and deaf for anything else. I lay there and gazed out over the tops of the trees in the park up into the blue summer sky. The window on the left side of the desk stood wide open, for it was a warm and sultry day. I sipped my whisky slowly. The air was heavy, and thunder threatened in the distance. After a little while the clouds gathered together, heavy, low-hanging, copper- hued, real thunder clouds, and the trees in the park rustled softly. The air was stifling, and lay heavy as lead on my breast.

“‘Lucien!’

“Lucien did not hear or see anything, his pen flew over the paper.

“I fell hack lazily on my divan.

“Then, suddenly, there was a mighty tumult. A strong gust of wind swept through the street, bending the trees in the gardens quite out of my horizon. With a crash the right-hand window in the balcony flew wide open, and like a cyclone, the wind swept through, clearing the table in an instant of all the loose sheets of paper that had lain scattered about it.

“‘The devil! Why don’t you shut the window!’ I cried, springing up from the sofa.

“‘Spare your energy, it’s too late,’ said Lucien with a gentle mockery in his soft voice. ‘Look there!’—he pointed out into the street, where his sheets of paper went swirling about in the heavy air like white doves.

“A second later came the rain, a veritable cloud-burst. We shut the windows and gave ourselves up to melancholy thoughts about the lost manuscript, the recovery of which now seemed utterly hopeless.

“‘That’s one thousand francs, at least, that the wind has robbed me of,’ sighed Lucien. ‘Well, enfin, that doesn’t matter so much. But do you know anything more tiresome than to work over the same subject a second time? I can’t think of doing it. It would fairly make me sick to try it.’

“We were in a sad mood that morning. When we went out to breakfast at about two o’clock, we looked about for some traces of the lost manuscript.

“There was nothing to be seen. It had vanished completely, whirled off to all four corners of the earth probably, this manuscript from which Lucien had expected so much. Truly it was ‘The Force of the Wind.’

. . . . .

“Now comes the strange part of the story. One morning, two weeks later, Lucien stood in the door of my little room, pale as a ghost. He had a bundle of printer’s proofs in his hand, and held them out to me without a word.

“I looked at it and read:

“‘”The Force of the Wind,” by Lucien F.’

“It was a good bundle of proofs, the entire first proofs of Lucien’s novel, that novel the manuscript of which we had seen blown out of the balcony window and whirled away by the winds.

“‘My dear man,’ I exclaimed, as I handed him back the proofs. ‘You HAVE been industrious indeed, to write your entire novel over again in so short a time—and to have proofs already—’

“Lucien did not answer. He stood silent, staring at me with a weird look in his otherwise so sensible eyes. After a moment he stammered:

“‘I did not write the novel over again. I have not touched a pen since the day the manuscript blew out of the window.’

“‘Are you a sleep-walker, Lucien?’

“‘Why do you ask?’

“‘Why, that would be the only natural explanation. They say we can do a great many things in sleep, of which we know nothing when we wake. I’ve heard queer stories of that. Men have committed murders in their sleep. It happens quite often that sleep-walkers write letters in a handwriting they do not recognize when awake.’

“‘I have never been a sleep-walker,’ answered Lucien.

“‘Oh, you never can tell,’ I remarked. ‘Would you rather explain it as magic? Or as the work of fairies? Or do you believe in ghosts? Your muse has fascinated you, you mystic!’ And I laughed and trilled a line from ‘The Mascot,’ which we had seen the evening before at the Lyric.

“But my merriment did not seem to strike an answering note in Lucien. He turned from me in silence, and with an offended expression took his hat and his proofs, and—humorist and skeptic as he was ordinarily, he parted from me with the words, uttered in a theatrical tone:

“‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in thy philosophy.’

“He turned on his heel and left the room.

“To be candid, I was unpleasantly affected by the little scene. I could not for an instant doubt Lucien’s honesty,—he was so pale, so frightened almost—so touching in the alarm and excitement of his soul. Of course the only explanation that I could see was that he had written his novel in a sleep-walking state.

“For certainly no printer could set up type from a manuscript that did not exist,—to say nothing of printing it and sending out proofs.

“Several days passed, but Lucien did not come near me. I went to his place once or twice, but the door was locked. Had the devil carried him off bodily? Or had this strange and inexplicable occurrence robbed him of his sanity, and robbed me of his friendship and his excellent whisky?

“After three useless attempts to find him at home, and after writing him a letter which he did not answer, I gave up Lucien without any further attempt to understand his enigmatical behavior. A short time after, I left for my home without having seen or heard anything more of him.

. . . . .

“Months passed. I remained at home, and one evening when, during the course of a gay party, the conversation came around to the subject of mysticism and occult occurrences, I dished up my story of the enigmatical manuscript. The Unknown, the Occult, was the rage just then, and my story was received with great applause and called forth numerous quotations as to ‘more things in heaven and earth.’ I came to think so much of it myself that I wrote it out and sent it to Professor Flammarion, who was just then making a study of the Unknown, which he preserved in his later book ‘L’Inconnu.’

“The occupying myself with the story brought my mind around again to memories of Lucien. One day, I saw a notice in Le Figaro to the effect that his book, ‘The Force of the Wind,’ had appeared in a second large edition, and had aroused much attention, particularly in spiritualistic circles. I seemed to see him again before me, with his long nervous neck, which was so expressive. The vision of this neck rose up before me whenever I drank the same sort of whisky that I had drunk so often with him, and the longing to hear something more of my lost friend came over me. I sat down one evening when in a sentimental mood, and wrote to him, asking him to tell me something of himself and to send me his book.

“A week later I received the little book and the following letter which I have here in my pocket. It is somewhat crumpled, for I have read it several times. But no matter. I will read it to you now, if you will pardon my awkward translating of the French original.

“Here it is:
“DEAR FRIEND:

“Many thanks for your letter. Here is the book. I have to thank you also that you did not lay my behavior of your last days in Paris up against me. It must have seemed strange to you. I will try to explain it.

“I have been nervous from childhood. The fact that most of my books have treated of fantastic subjects,—somewhat in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe—has made me more susceptible for all that world which lies beyond and about the world of every-day life. I have sought after,—and yet feared—the mystical; cool and lucid as I can be at times, I have always had an inclination for the enigmatical, the Unknown.

“But the first thing that ever happened in my life that I could not explain or understand was the affair of the manuscript. You remember the day I stood in your room? I must have looked the picture of misery. The affair had played more havoc with my nerves than you can very well understand. Your mockery hurt me, and yet under all I felt ashamed of my own thoughts concerning this foolish occurrence. I could not explain the phenomenon, and I shivered at the things that it suggested to me. In this condition, which lasted several weeks, I could not bear to see you or anyone else, and I was impolite enough even to leave your letter unanswered.

“The book appeared and made a hit, since that sort of thing was the center of interest just then. But almost a month passed before I could arouse myself from that condition of fear and—I had almost said, softening of the brain—which prevented my enjoyment of my success.

“Then the explanation came. Thanks to this occurrence I know now that I shall never again be in danger of being ‘haunted.’

“And I know now that Chance can bring about stranger happenings than can any fancied visitations from the spirit world. Here you have the story of this ‘mystic’ occurrence, which came near endangering my sanity, and which turns out to be a chance combination of a gust of wind, a sudden downpour of rain, and the strange elements in the character of our little friend Adolphe the printer’s boy.

“You remember that funny little chap with the crafty eye, his talent for gambling, and his admiration for the girl of ‘La Prunelle’? A queer little mixture this child who has himself alone to look to for livelihood and care, the typical race of the Paris streets, the modified gamin from ‘Les Miserables.’

“About a month after the appearance of my book I lay on the divan one day,—your favorite place, you remember?—and lost myself in idle reasonings on the same old subject that never left my mind day or night, when the bell rang and Adolphe appeared, to call for the essay on ‘Le Boulevarde.’ There was an unusually nervous gleam in his eyes that day. I gave him an anisette and tried to find out what his trouble was. I did find it out, and I found out a good deal more besides.

“Thanks to his good fortune as a gambler, Virginie came to look upon him with favor. Pierre was quite out of the race and Adolphe’s affection was reciprocated as much as his heart could desire. But with his good fortune in love came all the suffering, all the torture, the suspicions that tear the hearts of us men when we set our hopes upon a woman’s truth. Young as he was he went through them all, and now he was torturing himself with the thought that she did not really love him and was only pretending, while she gave her heart to another. Perhaps he was right—why not?

“I talked to Adolphe as man to man, and managed to bring back a gleam of his usual jollity and sly humor. He took another glass of anisette, and said suddenly:

“‘M. Lucien—I did something—’

“‘Did what?’ I asked.

“‘Something I should have told you long ago—it was wrong, and you’ve always been so nice to me—’

“You remember the day, two months ago, when we had such a sudden wind and rain storm, a regular cloud-burst? I was down here in this neighborhood fetching manuscripts from M. Labouchere and M. Laroy. I was to have come up here for copy from you, too. But then—you’ll understand after all I’ve been telling you,—I came around past ‘La Prunelle’ and Virginie stood in the doorway, and she’d promised to go out with me that evening. So I ran up to speak to her. And then when I went on again, I saw a sheet with your writing lying in the street. You know I know all the gentlemen’s writing, whose copy I fetch. Then I was frightened. I thought to myself, ‘The devil,’ I thought, ‘here I’ve lost M. Lucien’s manuscript.’ I couldn’t remember calling for it, but I thought I must have done so before I got M. Laroy’s. I can’t remember much except Virginie these days. I took up the sheet and saw three others a little further on. And I saw a lot more shining just behind the railing of the Luxembourg Garden. You know how hard it rained. The water held the paper down, so the wind couldn’t carry it any further. I ran into the Garden and picked up all the sheets, thirty-two of them. All of them, except the first four I found in the street, had blown in behind the railing. And I can tell you I was precious glad that I had them all together. I ran back to the office, told them I had dropped the manuscript in the street, but asked them not to say anything to you about it. But the sheets were all there,—you always number them so clearly, and ‘handsome August,’ the compositer, promised he wouldn’t tell on me. I knew if the foreman heard of it, he’d put me out, for he had a grudge against me. So nobody knew anything about it. But I thought I ought to tell you, ’cause you’ve been so nice to me. Maybe you’ll understand how one gets queer at times, when a girl like Virginie tells you she likes you better than Pierre, and yet you think she might deceive you for his sake—that big, stupid animal— But now I’ll be going. Much obliged for your kindness, M. Lucien, and for the anisette—’ And he left me.

“There you have the explanation, the very simple and natural explanation of the phenomenon that almost drove me crazy.

“The entire ‘supernatural’ occurrence was caused by a careless boy’s love affairs, by a gust of southwest wind, by a sudden heavy rain, and by the chance that I had used English ink, the kind that water cannot blur. All these simple natural things made me act so foolishly toward a good friend, the sort of friend I have always known you to be. Let me hear from you, and tell me what you people up North think of my book. I give you my word that the ‘Unknown Powers’ shall never again make me foolish enough to risk losing your friendship!

“Yours
“LUCIEN.”

“So this is my story. Yes, ‘there are more things in heaven and earth—’ But the workings of Chance are the strangest of all. And this whisky is really very good. Here’s to you.”

dm29d

Vsevolod Vladimirovitch Krestovski ~ Knights of Industry

Standard

I
THE LAST WILL OF THE PRINCESS

Princess Anna Chechevinski for the last time looked at the home of her girlhood, over which the St. Petersburg twilight was descending. Defying the commands of her mother, the traditions of her family, she had decided to elope with the man of her choice. With a last word of farewell to her maid, she wrapped her cloak round her and disappeared into the darkness.

The maid’s fate had been a strange one. In one of the districts beyond the Volga lived a noble, a bachelor, luxuriously, caring only for his own amusement. He fished, hunted, and petted the pretty little daughter of his housekeeper, one of his serfs, whom he vaguely intended to set free. He passed hours playing with the pretty child, and even had an old French governess come to give her lessons. She taught little Natasha to dance, to play the piano, to put on the airs and graces of a little lady. So the years passed, and the old nobleman obeyed the girl’s every whim, and his serfs bowed before her and kissed her hands. Gracefully and willfully she queened it over the whole household.

Then one fine day the old noble took thought and died. He had forgotten to liberate his housekeeper and her daughter, and, as he was a bachelor, his estate went to his next of kin, the elder Princess Chechevinski. Between the brother and sister a cordial hatred had existed, and they had not seen one another for years.

Coming to take possession of the estate, Princess Chechevinski carried things with a high hand. She ordered the housekeeper to the cow house, and carried off the girl Natasha, as her daughter’s maid, to St. Petersburg, from the first hour letting her feel the lash of her bitter tongue and despotic will. Natasha had tried in vain to dry her mother’s tears. With growing anger and sorrow she watched the old house as they drove away, and looking at the old princess she said to herself, “I hate her! I hate her! I will never forgive her!”

Princess Anna, bidding her maid good-by, disappeared into the night. The next morning the old princess learned of the flight. Already ill, she fell fainting to the floor, and for a long time her condition was critical. She regained consciousness, tried to find words to express her anger, and again swooned away. Day and night, three women watched over her, her son’s old nurse, her maid, and Natasha, who took turns in waiting on her. Things continued thus for forty-eight hours. Finally, on the night of the third day she came to herself. It was Natasha’s watch.

“And you knew? You knew she was going?” the old princess asked her fiercely.

The girl started, unable at first to collect her thoughts, and looked up frightened. The dim flicker of the night light lit her pale face and golden hair, and fell also on the grim, emaciated face of the old princess, whose eyes glittered feverishly under her thick brows.

“You knew my daughter was going to run away?” repeated the old woman, fixing her keen eyes on Natasha’s face, trying to raise herself from among the lace-fringed pillows.

“I knew,” the girl answered in a half whisper, lowering her eyes in confusion, and trying to throw off her first impression of terror.

“Why did you not tell me before?” the old woman continued, even more fiercely.

Natasha had now recovered her composure, and raising her eyes with an expression of innocent distress, she answered:

“Princess Anna hid everything from me also, until the very last. How dare I tell you? Would you have believed me? It was not my business, your excellency!”

The old princess shook her head, smiling bitterly and incredulously.

“Snake!” she hissed fiercely, looking at the girl; and then she added quickly:

“Did any of the others know?”

“No one but myself!” answered Natasha.

“Never dare to speak of her again! Never dare!” cried the old princess, and once more she sank back unconscious on the pillows.

About noon the next day she again came to herself, and ordered her son to be called. He came in quietly, and affectionately approached his mother.

The princess dismissed her maid, and remained alone with her son.

“You have no longer a sister!” she cried, turning to her son, with the nervous spasm which returned each time she spoke of her daughter. “She is dead for us! She has disgraced us! I curse her! You, you alone are my heir!”

At these words the young prince pricked up his ears and bent even more attentively toward his mother. The news of his sole heirship was so pleasant and unexpected that he did not even think of asking how his sister had disgraced them, and only said with a deep sigh:

“Oh, mamma, she was always opposed to you. She never loved you!”

“I shall make a will in your favor,” continued the princess, telling him as briefly as possible of Princess Anna’s flight. “Yes, in your favor—only on one condition: that you will never recognize your sister. That is my last wish!

“Your wish is sacred to me,” murmured her son, tenderly kissing her hand. He had always been jealous and envious of his sister, and was besides in immediate need of money.

The princess signed her will that same day, to the no small satisfaction of her dear son, who, in his heart, was wondering how soon his beloved parent would pass away, so that he might get his eyes on her long-hoarded wealth.

II
THE LITHOGRAPHER’S APPRENTICE

Later on the same day, in a little narrow chamber of one of the huge, dirty tenements on Vosnesenski Prospekt, sat a young man of ruddy complexion. He was sitting at a table, bending toward the one dusty window, and attentively examining a white twenty-five ruble note.

The room, dusty and dark, was wretched enough. Two rickety chairs, a torn haircloth sofa, with a greasy pillow, and the bare table at the window, were its entire furniture. Several scattered lithographs, two or three engravings, two slabs of lithographer’s stone on the table, and engraver’s tools sufficiently showed the occupation of the young man. He was florid, with red hair; of Polish descent, and his name was Kasimir Bodlevski. On the wall, over the sofa, between the overcoat and the cloak hanging on the wall, was a pencil drawing of a young girl. It was the portrait of Natasha.

The young man was so absorbed in his examination of the twenty-five ruble note that when a gentle knock sounded on the door he started nervously, as if coming back to himself, and even grew pale, and hurriedly crushed the banknote into his pocket.

The knock was repeated—and this time Bodlevski’s face lit up. It was evidently a well-known and expected knock, for he sprang up and opened the door with a welcoming smile.

Natasha entered the room.

“What were you dreaming about that you didn’t open the door for me?” she asked caressingly, throwing aside her hat and cloak, and taking a seat on the tumble-down sofa. “What were you busy at?”

“You know, yourself.”

And instead of explaining further, he drew the banknote from his pocket and showed it to Natasha.

“This morning the master paid me, and I am keeping the money,” he continued in a low voice, tilting back his chair. “I pay neither for my rooms nor my shop, but sit here and study all the time.”

“It’s so well worth while, isn’t it?” smiled Natasha with a contemptuous grimace.

“You don’t think it is worth while?” said the young man. “Wait!
I’ll learn. We’ll be rich!

“Yes, if we aren’t sent to Siberia!” the girl laughed. “What kind of wealth is that?” she went on. “The game is not worth the candle. I’ll be rich before you are.”

“All right, go ahead!”

“Go ahead? I didn’t come to talk nonsense, I came on business. You help me, and, on my word of honor, we’ll be in clover!”

Bodlevski looked at his companion in astonishment.

“I told you my Princess Anna was going to run away. She’s gone! And her mother has cut her off from the inheritance,” Natasha continued with an exultant smile. “I looked through the scrap basket, and have brought some papers with me.”

“What sort of papers?”

“Oh, letters and notes. They are all in Princess Anna’s handwriting. Shall I give them to you?” jested Natasha. “Have a good look at them, examine them, learn her handwriting, so that you can imitate every letter. That kind of thing is just in your line; you are a first-class copyist, so this is just the job for you.”

The engraver listened, and only shrugged his shoulders.

“No, joking aside,” she continued seriously, drawing nearer Bodlevski, “I have thought of something out of the common; you will be grateful. I have no time to explain it all now. You will know later on. The main thing is—learn her handwriting.”

“But what is it all for?” said Bodlevski wonderingly.

“So that you may be able to write a few words in the handwriting of
Princess Anna; what you have to write I’ll dictate to you.”

“And then?”

“Then hurry up and get me a passport in some one else’s name, and have your own ready. But learn her handwriting. Everything depends on that!”

“It won’t be easy. I’ll hardly be able to!” muttered Bodlevski, scratching his head.

Natasha flared up.

“You say you love me?” she cried energetically, with a glance of anger. “Well, then, do it. Unless you are telling lies, you can learn to do banknotes.”

The young man strode up and down his den, perplexed.

“How soon do you want it?” he asked, after a minute’s thought. “In a couple of days?”

“Yes, in about two days, not longer, or the whole thing is done for!” the girl replied decisively. “In two days I’ll come for the writing, and be sure my passport is ready!”

“Very well. I’ll do it,” consented Bodlevski. And Natasha began to dictate to him the wording of the letter.

As soon as she was gone the engraver got to work. All the evening and a great part of the night he bent over the papers she had brought, examining the handwriting, studying the letters, and practicing every stroke with the utmost care, copying and repeating it a hundred times, until at last he had reached the required clearness. At last he mastered the writing. It only remained to give it the needed lightness and naturalness. His head rang from the concentration of blood in his temples, but he still worked on.

Finally, when it was almost morning, the note was written, and the name of Princess Anna was signed to it. The work was a masterpiece, and even exceeded Bodlevski’s expectations. Its lightness and clearness were remarkable. The engraver, examining the writing of Princess Anna, compared it with his own work, and was astonished, so perfect was the resemblance.

And long he admired his handiwork, with the parental pride known to every creator, and as he looked at this note he for the first time fully realized that he was an artist.

III
THE CAVE

“Half the work is done!” he cried, jumping from the tumble-down sofa. “But the passport? There’s where the shoe pinches,” continued the engraver, remembering the second half of Natasha’s commission. “The passport—yes—that’s where the shoe pinches!” he muttered to himself in perplexity, resting his head on his hands and his elbows on his knees. Thinking over all kinds of possible and impossible plans, he suddenly remembered a fellow countryman of his, a shoemaker named Yuzitch, who had once confessed in a moment of intoxication that “he would rather hook a watch than patch a shoe.” Bodlevski remembered that three months before he had met Yuzitch in the street, and they had gone together to a wine shop, where, over a bottle generously ordered by Yuzitch, Bodlevski had lamented over the hardships of mankind in general, and his own in particular. He had not taken advantage of Yuzitch’s offer to introduce him to “the gang,” only because he had already determined to take up one of the higher branches of the “profession,” namely, to metamorphose white paper into, banknotes. When they were parting, Yuzitch had warmly wrung his hand, saying:

“Whenever you want anything, dear friend, or if you just want to see me, come to the Cave; come to Razyeziy Street and ask for the Cave, and at the Cave anyone will show you where to find Yuzitch. If the barkeeper makes difficulties just whisper to him that ‘Secret’ sent you, and he’ll show you at once.”

As this memory suddenly flashed into his mind, Bodlevski caught up his hat and coat and hurried downstairs into the street. Making his way through the narrow, dirty streets to the Five Points, he stopped perplexed. Happily he noticed a sleepy watchman leaning leisurely against a wall, and going up to him he said:

“Tell me, where is the Cave?”

“The what?” asked the watchman impatiently.

“The Cave.”

“The Cave? There is no such place!” he replied, looking suspiciously at Bodlevski.

Bodlevski put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some small change: “If you tell me—”

The watchman brightened up. “Why didn’t you say so before?” he asked, grinning. “You see that house, the second from the corner? The wooden one? That’s the Cave.”

Bodlevski crossed the street in the direction indicated, and looked for the sign over the door. To his astonishment he did not find it and only later he knew that the name was strictly “unofficial,” only used by members of “the gang.”

Opening the door cautiously, Bodlevski made his way into the low, dirty barroom. Behind the bar stood a tall, handsome man with an open countenance and a bald head. Politely bowing to Bodlevski, with his eyes rather than his head, he invited him to enter the inner room. But Bodlevski explained that he wanted, not the inner room, but his friend Yuzitch.

“Yuzitch?” said the barkeeper thoughtfully. “We don’t know anyone of that name.”

“Why, he’s here all the time,” cried Bodlevski, in astonishment.

“Don’t know him,” retorted the barkeeper imperturbably.

“‘Secret’ sent me!” Bodlevski suddenly exclaimed, without lowering his voice.

The barkeeper looked at him sharply and suspiciously, and then asked, with a smile:

“Who did you say?”

“‘Secret,'” repeated Bodlevski.

After a while the barkeeper said, “And did your—friend make an appointment?”

“Yes, an appointment!” Bodlevski replied, beginning to lose patience.

“Well, take a seat in the inner room,” again said the barkeeper slyly. “Perhaps your friend will come in, or perhaps he is there already.”

Bodlevski made his way into a roomy saloon, with five windows with faded red curtains. The ceiling was black from the smoke of hanging lamps; little square tables were dotted about the floor; their covers were coarse and not above reproach on the score of cleanliness. The air was pungent with the odor of cheap tobacco and cheaper cigars. On the walls were faded oleographs of generals and archbishops, flyblown and stained.

Bodlevski, little as he was used to refined surroundings, found his gorge rising. At some of the little tables furtive, impudent, tattered, sleek men were drinking.

Presently Yuzitch made his appearance from a low door at the other end of the room. The meeting of the two friends was cordial, especially on Bodlevski’s side. Presently they were seated at a table, with a flask of wine between them, and Bodlevski began to explain what he wanted to his friend.

As soon as he heard what was wanted, Yuzitch took on an air of importance, knit his brows, hemmed, and hawed.

“I can manage it,” he said finally. “Yes, we can manage it. I must see one of my friends about it. But it’s difficult. It will cost money.”

Bodlevski immediately assented. Yuzitch at once rose and went over to a red-nosed individual in undress uniform, who was poring over the Police News.

“Friend Borisovitch,” said Yuzitch, holding out his hand to him, “something doing!”

“Fair or foul?” asked the man with the red nose.

“Hang your cheek!” laughed Yuzitch; “if I say it, of course it’s fair.” After a whispered conference, Yuzitch returned to Bodlevski and told him that it was all right; that the passport for Natasha would be ready by the next evening. Bodlevski paid him something in advance and went home triumphantly.

At eleven o’clock the next evening Bodlevski once more entered the large room at the Cave, now all lit up and full of an animated crowd of men and women, all with the same furtive, predatory faces. Bodlevski felt nervous. He had no fears while turning white paper into banknotes in the seclusion of his own workshop, but he was full of apprehensions concerning his present guest, because several people had to be let into the secret.

Yuzitch presently appeared through the same low door and, coming up to Bodlevski, explained that the passport would cost twenty rubles. Bodlevski paid the money over in advance, and Yuzitch led him into a back room. On the table burned a tallow candle, which hardly lit up the faces of seven people who were grouped round it, one of them being the red-nosed man who was reading the Police News. The seven men were all from the districts of Vilna and Vitebsk, and were specialists in the art of fabricating passports.

The red-nosed man approached Bodlevski: “We must get acquainted with each other,” he said amiably. “I have the honor to present myself!” and he bowed low; “Former District Secretary Pacomius Borisovitch Prakkin. Let me request you first of all to order some vodka; my hand shakes, you know,” he added apologetically. “I don’t want it so much for myself as for my hand—to steady it.”

Bodlevski gave him some change, which the red-nosed man put in his pocket and at once went to the sideboard for a flask of vodka which he had already bought. “Let us give thanks! And now to business!” he said, smacking his lips after a glass of vodka.

A big, red-haired man, one of the group of seven, drew from his pocket two vials. In one was a sticky black fluid; in the other, something as clear as water.

“We are chemists, you see,” the red-nosed man explained to Bodlevski with a grin, and then added:

“Finch! on guard!”

A young man, who had been lolling on a couch in the corner, rose and took up a position outside the door.

“Now, brothers, close up!” cried the red-nosed man, and all stood in close order, elbow to elbow, round the table. “And now we take a newspaper and have it handy on the table! That is in case,” he explained to Bodlevski, “any outsider happened in on us—which Heaven prevent! We aren’t up to anything at all; simply reading the political news! You catch on?”

“How could I help catching on?”

“Very well. And now let us make everything as clear as in a looking-glass. What class do you wish to make the person belong to? The commercial or the nobility?”

“I think the nobility would be best,” said Bodlevski.

“Certainly! At least that will give the right of free passage through all the towns and districts of the Russian Empire. Let us see. Have we not something that will suit?”

And Pacomius Borisovitch, opening his portfolio, filled with all kinds of passports, certificates, and papers of identification, began to turn them over, but without taking any out of the portfolio. All with the same thought—that some stranger might come in.

“Ha! here’s a new one! Where did it come from?” he cried.

“I got it out of a new arrival,” muttered the red-headed man.

“Well done! Just what we want! And a noble’s passport, too! It is evident that Heaven is helping us. See what a blessing brings!

“‘This passport is issued by the District of Yaroslav,'” he
continued reading, “‘to the college assessor’s widow, Maria
Solontseva, with permission to travel,'” and so on in due form.
“Did you get it here?” he added, turning to the red-headed man.

“Came from Moscow!”

“Pinched?”

“Knocked on the head!” briefly replied the red-headed man.

“Knocked on the head?” repeated Pacomius Borisovitch. “Serious business. Comes under sections 332 and 727 of the Penal Code.”

“Driveling again!” cried the red-headed man. “I’ll teach you to talk about the Penal Code!” and rising deliberately, he dealt Pacomius Borisovitch a well-directed blow on the head, which sent him rolling into the corner. Pacomius picked himself up, blinking with indignation.

“What is the meaning of such conduct?” he asked loftily.

“It means,” said the red-headed man, “that if you mention the Penal
Code again I’ll knock your head off!”

“Brothers, brothers!” cried Yuzitch in a good-humored tone; “we are losing precious time! Forgive him!” he added, turning to Pacomius. “You must forgive him!”

“I—forgive him,” answered Pacomius, but the light in his eye showed that he was deeply offended.

“Well,” he went on, addressing Bodlevski, “will it suit you to have the person pass as Maria Solontseva, widow of a college assessor?”

IV
THE CAPTAIN OF THE GOLDEN BAND

Bodlevski had not time to nod his head in assent, when suddenly the outer door was pushed quickly open and a tall man, well built and fair-haired, stepped swiftly into the room. He wore a military uniform and gold-rimmed eyeglasses.

The company turned their faces toward him in startled surprise, but no one moved. All continued to stand in close order round the table.

“Health to you, eaglets! honorable men of Vilna! What are you up to? What are you busy at?” cried the newcomer, swiftly approaching the table and taking the chair that Pacomius Borisovitch had just been knocked out of.

“What is all this?” he continued, with one hand seizing the vial of colorless liquid and with the other the photograph of the college assessor’s widow. “So this is hydrochloric acid for erasing ink? Very good! And this is a photo! So we are fabricating passports? Very fine! Business is business! Hey! Witnesses!”

And the fair-haired man whistled sharply. From the outer door appeared two faces, set on shoulders of formidable proportions.

The red-headed man silently went up to the newcomer and fiercely seized him by the collar. At the same moment the rest seized chairs or logs or bars to defend themselves.

The fair-haired man meanwhile, not in the least changing his expression of cool self-confidence, quickly slipped his hands into his pockets and pulled out a pair of small double-barreled pistols. In the profound silence in which this scene took place they could distinctly hear the click of the hammers as he cocked them. He raised his right hand and pointed the muzzle at the breast of his opponent.

The red-headed man let go his collar, and glancing contemptuously at him, with an expression of hate and wrath, silently stepped aside.

“How much must we pay?” he asked sullenly.

“Oho! that’s better. You should have begun by asking that!” answered the newcomer, settling himself comfortably on his chair and toying with his pistols. “How much do you earn?”

“We get little enough! Just five rubles,” answered the red-headed man.

“That’s too little. I need a great deal more. But you are lying, brother! You would not stir for less than twenty rubles!”

“Thanks for the compliment!” interrupted Pacomius Borisovitch.

The fair-haired man nodded to him satirically. “I need a lot more,” he repeated firmly and impressively; “and if you don’t give me at least twenty-five rubles I’ll denounce you this very minute to the police—and you see I have my witnesses ready.”

“Sergei Antonitch! Mr. Kovroff! Have mercy on us! Where can we
get so much from? I tell you as in the presence of the Creator!
There are ten of us, as you see. And there are three of you. And
I, Yuzitch, and Gretcka deserve double shares!” added Pacomius
Borisovitch persuasively.

“Gretcka deserves nothing at all for catching me by the throat,” decided Sergei Antonitch Kovroff.

“Mr. Kovroff!” began Pacomius again. “You and I are gentlemen—”

“What! What did you say?” Kovroff contemptuously interrupted him. “You put yourself on my level? Ha! ha! ha! No, brother; I am still in the Czar’s service and wear my honor with my uniform! I, brother, have never stained myself with theft or crime, Heaven be praised. But what are you?”

“Hm! And the Golden Band? Who is its captain?” muttered Gretcka angrily, half to himself.

“Who is its captain? I am—I, Lieutenant Sergei Antonitch Kovroff, of the Chernovarski Dragoons! Do you hear? I am captain of the Golden Band,” he said proudly and haughtily, scrutinizing the company with his confident gaze. “And you haven’t yet got as far as the Golden Band, because you are COWARDS! Chuproff,” he cried to one of his men, “go and take the mask off Finch, or the poor boy will suffocate, and untie his arms—and give him a good crack on the head to teach him to keep watch better.”

The “mask” that Kovroff employed on such occasions was nothing but a piece of oilcloth cut the size of a person’s face, and smeared on one side with a thick paste. Kovroff’s “boys” employed this “instrument” with wonderful dexterity; one of them generally stole up behind the unconscious victim and skillfully slapped the mask in his face; the victim at once became dumb and blind, and panted from lack of breath; at the same time, if necessary, his hands were tied behind him and he was leisurely robbed, or held, as the case might be.

The Golden Band was formed in the middle of the thirties, when the first Nicholas had been about ten years on the throne. Its first founders were three Polish nobles. It was never distinguished by the number of its members, but everyone of them could honestly call himself an accomplished knave, never stopping at anything that stood in the way of a “job.” The present head of the band was Lieutenant Kovroff, who was a thorough-paced rascal, in the full sense of the word. Daring, brave, self-confident, he also possessed a handsome presence, good manners, and the worldly finish known as education. Before the members of the Golden Band, and especially before Kovroff, the small rascals stood in fear and trembling. He had his secret agents everywhere, following every move of the crooks quietly but pertinaciously. At the moment when some big job was being pulled off, Kovroff suddenly appeared unexpectedly, with some of his “boys,” and demanded a contribution, threatening instantly to inform the police if he did not get it—and the rogues, in order to “keep him quiet,” had to give him whatever share of their plunder he graciously deigned to indicate. Acting with extraordinary skill and acumen in all his undertakings he always managed so that not a shadow of suspicion could fall on himself and so he got a double share of the plunder: robbing the honest folk and the rogues at the same time. Kovroff escaped the contempt of the crooks because he did things on such a big scale and embarked with his Golden Band on the most desperate and dangerous enterprises that the rest of roguedom did not even dare to consider.

The rogues, whatever their rank, have a great respect for daring, skill, and force—and therefore they respected Kovroff, at the same time fearing and detesting him.

“Who are you getting that passport for?” he asked, calmly taking the paper from the table and slipping it into his pocket. Gretcka nodded toward Bodlevski.

“Aha! for you, is it? Very glad to hear it!” said Kovroff, measuring him with his eyes. “And so, gentlemen, twenty-five rubles, or good-by—to our happy meeting in the police court!”

“Mr. Kovroff! Allow me to speak to you as a man of honor!” Pacomius Borisovitch again interrupted. “We are only getting twenty rubles for the job. The whole gang will pledge their words of honor to that. Do you think we would lie to you and stain the honor of the gang for twenty measly rubles?”

“That is business. That was well said. I love a good speech, and am always ready to respect it,” remarked Sergei Antonitch approvingly.

“Very well, then, see for yourself,” went on the red-nosed Pacomius, “see for yourself. If we give you everything, we are doing our work and not getting a kopeck!”

“Let him pay,” answered Kovroff, turning his eyes toward Bodlevski.

Bodlevski took out his gold watch, his only inheritance from his father, and laid it down on the table before Kovroff with the five rubles that remained.

Kovroff again measured him with his eyes and smiled.

“You are a worthy young man!” he said. “Give me your hand! I see that you will go far.”

And he warmly pressed the engraver’s hand. “But you must know for the future,” he added in a friendly but impressive way, “that I never take anything but money when I am dealing with these fellows. Ho, you!” he went on, turning to the company, “some one go to uncle’s and get cash for this watch; tell him to pay conscientiously at least two thirds of what it is worth; it is a good watch. It would cost sixty rubles to buy. And have a bottle of champagne got ready for me at the bar, quick! And if you don’t, it will be the worse for you!” he called after the departing Yuzitch, who came back a few minutes later, and gave Kovroff forty rubles. Kovroff counted them, and put twenty in his pocket, returning the remainder in silence, but with a gentlemanly smile, to Bodlevski.

“Fair exchange is no robbery,” he said, giving Bodlevski the passport of the college assessor’s widow. “Now that old rascal Pacomius may get to work.”

“What is there to do?” laughed Pacomius; “the passport will do very well. So let us have a little glass, and then a little game of cards.”

“We are going to know each other better; I like your face, so I hope we shall make friends,” said Kovroff, again shaking hands with Bodlevski. “Now let us go and have some wine. You will tell me over our glasses what you want the passport for, and on account of your frankness about the watch, I am well disposed to you. Lieutenant Sergei Kovroff gives you his word of honor on that. I also can be magnanimous,” he concluded, and the new friends accompanied by the whole gang went out to the large hall.

There began a scene of revelry that lasted till long after midnight. Bodlevski, feeling his side pocket to see if the passport was still there, at last left the hall, bewildered, as though under a spell. He felt a kind of gloomy satisfaction; he was possessed by this satisfaction, by the uncertainty of what Natasha could have thought out, by the question how it would all turn out, and by the conviction that his first crime had already been committed. All these feelings lay like lead on his heart, while in his ears resounded the wild songs of the Cave.

V
THE KEYS OF THE OLD PRINCESS

It was nine o’clock in the evening. Natasha lit the night lamp in the bedroom of the old Princess Chechevinski, and went silently into the dressing room to prepare the soothing powders which the doctors had prescribed for her, before going to sleep.

The old princess was still very weak. Although her periods of unconsciousness had not returned, she was still subject to paroxysms of hysteria. At times she sank into forgetfulness, then started nervously, sometimes trembling in every limb. The thought of the blow of her daughter’s flight never left her for a moment.

Natasha had just taken the place of the day nurse. It was her turn to wait on the patient until midnight. Silence always reigned in the house of the princess, and now that she was ill the silence was intensified tenfold. Everyone walked on tiptoe, and spoke in whispers, afraid even of coughing or of clinking a teaspoon on the sideboard. The doorbells were tied in towels, and the whole street in front of the house was thickly strewn with straw. At ten the household was already dispersed, and preparing for sleep. Only the nurse sat silently at the head of the old lady’s bed.

Pouring out half a glass of water. Natasha sprinkled the powder in it, and took from the medicine chest a phial with a yellowish liquid. It was chloral. Looking carefully round, she slowly brought the lip of the phial down to the edge of the glass and let ten drops fall into it. “That will be enough,” she said to herself, and smiled. Her face, as always, was coldly quiet, and not the slightest shade of any feeling was visible on it at that moment.

Natasha propped the old lady up with her arm. She drank the medicine given to her and lay down again, and in a few minutes the chloral began to have its effect. With an occasional convulsive movement of her lower lip, she sank into a deep and heavy sleep. Natasha watched her face following the symptoms of unconsciousness, and when she was convinced that sleep had finally taken complete possession of her, and that for several hours the old woman was deprived of the power to hear anything or to wake up, she slowly moved her chair nearer the bedstead, and without taking her quietly observant eyes from the old woman’s face, softly slipped her hand under the lower pillow. Moving forward with the utmost care, not more than an inch or so at a time, her hand stopped instantly, as soon as there was the slightest nervous movement of the old woman’s face, on which Natasha’s eyes were fixed immovably. But the old woman slept profoundly, and the hand again moved forward half an inch or so under the pillow. About half an hour passed, and the girl’s eyes were still fastened on the sleeping face, and her hand was still slipping forward under the pillow, moving occasionally a little to one side, and feeling about for something. Natasha’s expression was in the highest degree quiet and concentrated, but under this quietness was at the same time concealed something else, which gave the impression that if—which Heaven forbid!—the old woman should at that moment awake, the other free hand would instantly seize her by the throat.

At last the finger-ends felt something hard. “That is it!” thought Natasha, and she held her breath. In a moment, seizing its treasure, her hand began quietly to withdraw. Ten minutes more passed, and Natasha finally drew out a little bag of various colored silks, in which the old princess always kept her keys, and from which she never parted, carrying it by day in her pocket, and by night keeping it under her pillow. One of the keys was an ordinary one, that of her wardrobe. The other was smaller and finely made; it was the key of her strong box.

About an hour later, the same keys, in the same order, and with the same precautions, found their way back to their accustomed place under the old lady’s pillow.

Natasha carefully wiped the glass with her handkerchief, in order that not the least odor of chloral might remain in it, and with her usual stillness sat out the remaining hours of her watch.

VI
REVENGED

The old princess awoke at one o’clock the next day. The doctor was very pleased at her long and sound sleep, the like of which the old lady had not enjoyed since her first collapse, and which, in his view, was certain to presage a turn for the better.

The princess had long ago formed a habit of looking over her financial documents, and verifying the accounts of income and expenditure. This deep-seated habit, which had become a second nature, did not leave her, now she was ill; at any rate, every morning, as soon as consciousness and tranquillity returned to her, she took out the key of her wardrobe, ordered the strong box to be brought to her, and, sending the day nurse out of the room, gave herself up in solitude to her beloved occupation, which had by this time become something like a childish amusement. She drew out her bank securities, signed and unsigned, now admiring the colored engravings on them, now sorting and rearranging them, fingering the packets to feel their thickness, counting them over, and several thousands in banknotes, kept in the house in case of need, and finally carefully replaced them in the strong box. The girl, recalled to the bedroom by the sound of the bell, restored the strong box to its former place, and the old princess, after this amusement, felt herself for some time quiet and happy.

The nurses had had the opportunity to get pretty well used to this foible; so that the daily examination of the strong box seemed to them a part of the order of things, something consecrated by custom.

After taking her medicine, and having her hands and face wiped with a towel moistened with toilet water, the princess ordered certain prayers to be read out to her, or the chapter of the Gospel appointed for the day, and then received her son. From the time of her illness—that is, from the day when she signed the will making him her sole heir—he had laid it on himself as a not altogether pleasant duty to put in an appearance for five minutes in his mother’s room, where he showed himself a dutiful son by never mentioning his sister, but asking tenderly after his mother’s health, and finally, with a deep sigh, gently kissing her hand, taking his departure forthwith, to sup with some actress or to meet his companions in a wine shop.

When he soon went away, the old lady, as was her habit, ordered her strong box to be brought, and sent the nurse out of the room. It was a very handsome box of ebony, with beautiful inlaid work.

The key clicked in the lock, the spring lid sprang up, and the eyes of the old princess became set in their sockets, full of bewilderment and terror. Twenty-four thousand rubles in bills, which she herself with her own hands had yesterday laid on the top of the other securities, were no longer in the strong box. All the unsigned bank securities were also gone. The securities in the name of her daughter Anna had likewise disappeared. There remained only the signed securities in the name of the old princess and her son, and a few shares of stock. In the place of all that was gone, there lay a note directed “to Princess Chechevinski.”

The old lady’s fingers trembled so that for a long time she could not unfold this paper. Her staring eyes wandered hither and thither as if she had lost her senses. At last she managed somehow to unfold the note, and began to read:

“You cursed me, forced me to flee, and unjustly deprived me of my inheritance. I am taking my money by force. You may inform the police, but when you read this note, I myself and he who carried out this act by my directions, will have left St. Petersburg forever.

“Your daughter,
“PRINCESS ANNA CHECHEVINSKI.”

The old lady’s hands did not fall at her sides, but shifted about on her lap as if they did not belong to her. Her wandering, senseless eyes stopped their movements, and in them suddenly appeared an expression of deep meaning. The old princess made a terrible, superhuman effort to recover her presence of mind and regain command over herself. A single faint groan broke from her breast, and her teeth chattered. She began to look about the room for a light, but the lamp had been extinguished; the dull gray daylight filtering through the Venetian blinds sufficiently lit the room. Then the old lady, with a strange, irregular movement, crushed the note together in her hand, placed it in her mouth, and with a convulsive movement of her jaws chewed it, trying to swallow it as quickly as possible.

A minute passed, and the note had disappeared. The old princess closed the strong box and rang for the day nurse. Giving her the usual order in a quiet voice, she had still strength enough to support herself on her elbow and watch the nurse closing the wardrobe, and then to put the little bag with the keys back under her pillow, in its accustomed place. Then she again ordered the nurse to go.

When, two hours later, the doctor, coming for the third time, wished to see his patient and entered her bedroom, he found only the old woman’s lifeless body. The blow had been too much—the daughter of the ancient and ever honorable line of Chechevinski a fugitive and a thief!

Natasha had had her revenge.

VII
BEYOND THE FRONTIER

On the morning of that same day, at nine o’clock, a well-dressed lady presented at the Bank of Commerce a number of unsigned bank shares. At the same time a young man, also elegantly dressed, presented a series of signed shares, made out in the name of “Princess Anna Chechevinski.” They were properly indorsed, the signature corresponding to that in the bank books.

After a short interval the cashier of the bank paid over to the well-dressed lady a hundred and fifty thousand rubles in bills, and to the elegantly dressed young man seventy thousand rubles. The lady signed her receipt in French, Teresa Dore; the young man signed his name, Ivan Afonasieff, son of a merchant of Kostroma.

A little later on the same day—namely, about two o’clock—a light carriage carried two passengers along the Pargoloff road: a quietly dressed young woman and a quietly dressed young man. Toward evening these same young people were traveling in a Finnish coach by the stony mountain road in the direction of Abo.

Four days later the old Princesss Chechevinski was buried in the
Nevski monastery.

On his return from the monastery, young Prince Chechevinski went straight for the strong box, which he had hitherto seen only at a distance, and even then only rarely. He expected to find a great deal more money in it than he found—some hundred and fifty thousand rubles; a hundred thousand in his late mother’s name, and fifty thousand in his own. This was the personal property of the old princess, a part of her dowry. The young prince made a wry face—the money might last him two or three years, not more. During the lifetime of the old princess no one had known accurately how much she possessed, so that it never even entered the young prince’s head to ask whether she had not had more. He was so unmethodical that he never even looked into her account book, deciding that it was uninteresting and not worth while.

That same day the janitor of one of the huge, dirty tenements in Vosnesenski Prospekt brought to the police office notice of the fact that the Pole, Kasimir Bodlevski, had left the city; and the housekeeper of the late Princess Chechevinski informed the police that the serf girl Natalia Pavlovna (Natasha) had disappeared without leaving a trace, which the housekeeper now announced, as the three days’ limit had elapsed.

At that same hour the little ship of a certain Finnish captain was gliding down the Gulf of Bothnia. The Finn stood at the helm and his young son handled the sails. On the deck sat a young man and a young woman. The young woman carried, in a little bag hung round her neck, two hundred and forty-four thousand rubles in bills, and she and her companion carried pistols in their pockets for use in case of need. Their passports declared that the young woman belonged to the noble class, and was the widow of a college assessor, her name being Maria Solontseva, while the young man was a Pole, Kasimir Bodlevski.

The little ship was crossing the Gulf of Bothnia toward the coast of Sweden.

VIII
BACK TO RUSSIA

In the year 1858, in the month of September, the “Report of the St. Petersburg City Police” among the names of “Arrivals” included the following:

Baroness von Doring, Hanoverian subject.
Ian Vladislav Karozitch, Austrian subject.

The persons above described might have been recognized among the fashionable crowds which thronged the St. Petersburg terminus of the Warsaw railway a few days before: A lady who looked not more than thirty, though she was really thirty-eight, dressed with simple elegance, tall and slender, admirably developed, with beautifully clear complexion, piercing, intelligent gray eyes, under finely outlined brows, thick chestnut hair, and a firm mouth- -almost a beauty, and with an expression of power, subtlety and decision. “She is either a queen or a criminal,” a physiognomist would have said after observing her face. A gentleman with a red beard, whom the lady addressed as “brother,” not less elegantly dressed, and with the same expression of subtlety and decision. They left the station in a hired carriage, and drove to Demuth’s Hotel.

Before narrating the adventures of these distinguished persons, let us go back twenty years, and ask what became of Natasha and Bodlevski. When last we saw them the ship that carried them away from Russia was gliding across the Gulf of Bothnia toward the Swedish coast. Late in the evening it slipped into the port of Stockholm, and the worthy Finn, winding in and out among the heavy hulls in the harbor—he was well used to the job—landed his passengers on the wharf at a lonely spot near a lonely inn, where the customs officers rarely showed their noses. Bodlevski, who had beforehand got ready the very modest sum to pay for their passage, with pitiable looks and gestures and the few Russian phrases the good Finn could understand, assured him that he was a very poor man, and could not even pay the sum agreed on in full. The deficit was inconsiderable, some two rubles in all, and the good Finn was magnanimous; he slapped his passenger on the shoulder, called him a “good comrade,” declared that he would not press a poor man, and would always be ready to do him a service. He even found quarters for Bodlevski and Natasha in the inn, under his protection. The Finn was indeed a very honest smuggler. On the next morning, bidding a final farewell to their nautical friend, our couple made their way to the office of the British Consul, and asked for an opportunity to speak with him. At this point Natasha played the principal role.

‘My husband is a Pole,” said the handsome girl, taking a seat opposite the consul in his private office, “and I myself am Russian on the father’s side, but my mother was English. My husband is involved in a political enterprise; he was liable to transportation to Siberia, but a chance made it possible for us to escape while the police were on their way to arrest him. We are now political fugitives, and we intrust our lives to the protection of English law. Be generous, protect us, and send us to England!”

The ruse, skillfully planned and admirably presented, was completely successful, and two or three days later the first passenger ship under the English flag carried the happy couple to London.

Bodlevski destroyed his own passport and that of the college assessor’s widow, Maria Solontseva, which Natasha had needed as a precaution while still on Russian soil. When they got to England, it would be much handier to take new names. But with their new position and these new names a great difficulty presented itself: they could find no suitable outlet for their capital without arousing very dangerous suspicions. The many-sided art of the London rogues is known to all the world; in their club, Bodlevski, who had lost no time in making certain pleasant and indispensable acquaintances there, soon succeeded in getting for himself and Natasha admirably counterfeited new passports, once more with new names and occupations. With these, in a short time, they found their way to the Continent. They both felt the full force of youth and a passionate desire to live and enjoy life; in their hot heads hummed many a golden hope and plan; they wished, to begin with, to invest their main capital somewhere, and then to travel over Europe, and to choose a quiet corner somewhere where they could settle down to a happy life.

Perhaps all this might have happened if it had not been for cards and roulette and the perpetual desire of increasing their capital— for the worthy couple fell into the hands of a talented company, whose agents robbed them at Frascati’s in Paris, and again in Hamburg and various health resorts, so that hardly a year had passed when Bodlevski one fine night woke up to the fact that they no longer possessed a ruble. But they had passed a brilliant year, their arrival in the great cities had had its effect, and especially since Natasha had become a person of title; in the course of the year she succeeded in purchasing an Austrian barony at a very reasonable figure—a barony which, of course, only existed on paper.

When all his money was gone, there was nothing left for Bodlevski but to enroll himself a member of the company which had so successfully accomplished the transfer of his funds to their own pockets. Natasha’s beauty and Bodlevski’s brains were such strong arguments that the company willingly accepted them as new recruits. The two paid dear for their knowledge, it is true, but their knowledge presently began to bear fruit in considerable abundance. Day followed day, and year succeeded year, a long series of horribly anxious nights, violent feelings, mental perturbations, crafty and subtle schemes, a complete cycle of rascalities, an entire science of covering up tracks, and the perpetual shadow of justice, prison, and perhaps the scaffold. Bodlevski, with his obstinate, persistent, and concentrated character, reached the highest skill in card-sharping and the allied wiles. All games of “chance” were for him games of skill. At thirty he looked at least ten years older. The life he led, with its ceaseless effort, endless mental work, perpetual anxiety, had made of him a fanatical worshiper at the shrine of trickery. He dried up visibly in body and grew old in mind, mastering all the difficult arts of his profession, and only gained confidence and serenity when he had reached the highest possible skill in every branch of his “work.” From that moment he took a new lease of life; he grew younger, he became gay and self-confident, his health even visibly improved, and he assumed the air and manner of a perfect gentleman.

As for Natasha, her life and efforts in concert with Bodlevski by no means had the same wearing effect on her as on him. Her proud, decided nature received all these impressions quite differently. She continued to blossom out, to grow handsomer, to enjoy life, to take hearts captive. All the events which aroused so keen a mental struggle in her companion she met with entire equanimity. The reason was this: When she made up her mind to anything, she always decided at once and with unusual completeness; a very short time given to keen and accurate consideration, a rapid weighing of the gains and losses of the matter in hand, and then she went forward coldly and unswervingly on her chosen path. Her first aim in life had been revenge, then a brilliant and luxurious life—and she knew that they would cost dear. Therefore, once embarked on her undertaking, Natasha remained calm and indifferent, brilliantly distinguished, and ensnaring the just and the unjust alike. Her intellect, education, skill, resource, and innate tact made it possible for her everywhere to gain a footing in select aristocratic society, and to play by no means the least role there. Many beauties envied her, detested her, spoke evil of her, and yet sought her friendship, because she almost always queened it in society. Her friendship and sympathy always seemed so cordial, so sincere and tender, and her epigrams were so pointed and poisonous, that every hostile criticism seemed to shrivel up in that glittering fire, and there seemed to be nothing left but to seek her friendship and good will. For instance, if things went well in Baden, one could confidently foretell that at the end of the summer season Natasha would be found in Nice or Geneva, queen of the winter season, the lioness of the day, and the arbiter of fashion. She and Bodlevski always behaved with such propriety and watchful care that not a shadow ever fell on Natasha’s fame. It is true that Bodlevski had to change his name once or twice and to seek a new field for his talents, and to make sudden excursions to distant corners of Europe—sometimes in pursuit of a promising “job,” sometimes to evade the too persistent attentions of the police. So far everything had turned out favorably, and his name “had remained unstained,” when suddenly a slight mishap befell. The matter was a trifling one, but the misfortune was that it happened in Paris. There was a chance that it might find issue in the courts and the hulks, so that there ensued a more than ordinarily rapid change of passports and a new excursion—this time to Russia, back to their native land again, after an absence of twenty years. Thus it happened that the papers announced the arrival in St. Petersburg of Baroness von Doring and Ian Vladislav Karozitch.

IX
THE CONCERT OF THE POWERS

A few days after there was a brilliant reunion at Princess Shadursky’s. All the beauty and fashion of St. Petersburg were invited, and few who were invited failed to come. It happened that Prince Shadursky was an admirer of the fair sex, and also that he had had the pleasure of meeting the brilliant Baroness von Doring at Hamburg, and again in Paris. It was, therefore, to be expected that Baroness von Doring should be found in the midst of an admiring throng at Princess Shadursky’s reception. Her brother, Ian Karozitch, was also there, suave, alert, dignified, losing no opportunity to make friends with the distinguished company that thronged he prince’s rooms.

Late in the evening the baroness and her brother might have been seen engaged in a tete-a-tete, seated in two comfortable armchairs, and anyone who was near enough might have heard the following conversation:

“How goes it?” Karozitch asked in a low tone.

“As you see, I am making a bit,” answered the baroness in the same quiet tone. But her manner was so detached and indifferent that no one could have guessed her remark was of the least significance. It should be noted that this was her first official presentation to St. Petersburg society. And in truth her beauty, united with her lively intellect, her amiability, and her perfect taste in dress, had produced a general and even remarkable effect. People talked about her and became interested in her, and her first evening won her several admirers among those well placed in society.

“I have been paying attention to the solid capitalists,” replied
Karozitch; “we have made our debut in the role of practical actors.
Well, what about him?” he continued, indicating Prince Shadursky
with his eyes.

“In the web,” she replied, with a subtle smile.

“Then we can soon suck his brains?”

“Soon—but he must be tied tighter first. But we must not talk here.” A moment later Karozitch and the baroness were in the midst of the brilliant groups of guests.

A few late corners were still arriving. “Count Kallash!” announced the footman, who stood at the chief entrance to the large hall.

At this new and almost unknown but high-sounding name, many eyes were turned toward the door through which the newcomer must enter. A hum of talk spread among the guests:

“Count Kallash—”

“Who is he—?”

“It is a Hungarian name—I think I heard of him somewhere.”

“Is this his first appearance?”

“Who is this Kallash? Oh, yes, one of the old Hungarian families—”

“How interesting—”

Such questions and answers crossed each other in a running fire among the various groups of guests who filled the hall, when a young man appeared in the doorway.

He lingered a moment to glance round the rooms and the company; then, as if conscious of the remarks and glances directed toward him, but completely “ignoring” them, and without the least shyness or awkwardness, he walked quietly through the hall to the host and hostess of the evening.

People of experience, accustomed to society and the ways of the great world, can often decide from the first minute the role which anyone is likely to play among them. People of experience, at the first view of this young man, at his first entrance, merely by the way he entered the hall, decided that his role in society would be brilliant—that more than one feminine heart would beat faster for his presence, that more than one dandy’s wrath would be kindled by his successes.

“How handsome he is!” a whisper went round among the ladies. The men for the most part remained silent. A few twisted the ends of their mustache and made as though they had not noticed him. This was already enough to foreshadow a brilliant career.

And indeed Count Kallash could not have passed unnoticed, even among a thousand young men of his class. Tall and vigorous, wonderfully well proportioned, he challenged comparison with Antinous. His pale face, tanned by the sun, had an expression almost of weariness. His high forehead, with clustering black hair and sharply marked brows, bore the impress of passionate feeling and turbulent thought strongly repressed. It was difficult to define the color of his deep-set, somewhat sunken eyes, which now flashed with southern fire, and were now veiled, so that one seemed to be looking into an abyss. A slight mustache and pointed beard partly concealed the ironical smile that played on his passionate lips. The natural grace of good manners and quiet but admirably cut clothes completed the young man’s exterior, behind which, in spite of all his reticence, could be divined a haughty and exceptional nature. A more profound psychologist would have seen in him an obstinately passionate, ungrateful nature, which takes from others everything it desires, demanding it from them as a right and without even a nod of acknowledgment. Such was Count Nicholas Kallash.

A few days after the reception at Prince Shadursky’s Baroness von Doring was installed in a handsome apartment on Mokhovoi Street, at which her “brother,” Ian Karozitch, or, to give him his former name, Bodlevski, was a frequent visitor. By a “lucky accident” he had met on the day following the reception our old friend Sergei Antonovitch Kovroff, the “captain of the Golden Band.” Their recognition was mutual, and, after a more or less faithful recital of the events of the intervening years, they had entered into an offensive and defensive alliance.

When Baroness von Doring was comfortably settled in her new quarters, Sergei Antonovitch brought a visitor to Bodlevski: none other than the Hungarian nobleman, Count Nicholas Kallash.

“Gentlemen, you are strangers; let me introduce you to each other,” said Kovroff, presenting Count Kallash to Bodlevski.

“Very glad to know you,” answered the Hungarian count, to Bodlevski’s astonishment in Russian; “very glad, indeed! I have several times had the honor of hearing of you. Was it not you who had some trouble about forged notes in Paris?”

“Oh, no! You are mistaken, dear count!” answered Bodlevski, with a pleasant smile. “The matter was not of the slightest importance. The amount was a trifle and I was unwilling even to appear in court!”

“You preferred a little journey to Russia, didn’t you?” Kovroff remarked with a smile.

“Little vexations of that kind may happen to anyone,” said Bodlevski, ignoring Kovroff’s interruption. “You yourself, dear count, had some trouble about some bonds, if I am not mistaken?”

“You are mistaken,” the count interrupted him sharply. “I have had various troubles, but I prefer not to talk about them.”

“Gentlemen,” interrupted Kovroff, “we did not come here to quarrel, but to talk business. Our good friend Count Kallash,” he went on, turning to Bodlevski, “wishes to have the pleasure of cooperating in our common undertaking, and—I can recommend him very highly.”

“Ah!” said Bodlevski, after a searching study of the count’s face. “I understand! the baroness will return in a few minutes and then we can discuss matters at our leisure.”

But in spite of this understanding it was evident that Bodlevski and Count Kallash had not impressed each other very favorably. This, however, did not prevent the concert of the powers from working vigorously together.

X
AN UNEXPECTED REUNION

On the wharf of the Fontauka, not far from Simeonovski Bridge, a crowd was gathered. In the midst of the crowd a dispute raged between an old woman, tattered, disheveled, miserable, and an impudent-looking youth. The old woman was evidently stupid from misery and destitution.

While the quarrel raged a new observer approached the crowd. He was walking leisurely, evidently without an aim and merely to pass the time, so it is not to be wondered at that the loud dispute arrested his attention.

“Who are you, anyway, you old hag? What is your name?” cried the impudent youth.

“My name? My name?” muttered the old woman in confusion. “I am a—
I am a princess,” and she blinked at the crowd.

Everyone burst out laughing. “Her Excellency, the Princess! Make way for the Princess!” cried the youth.

The old woman burst into sudden anger.

“Yes, I tell you, I am a princess by birth!” and her eyes flashed as she tried to draw herself up and impose on the bantering crowd.

“Princess What? Princess Which? Princess How?” cried the impudent youth, and all laughed loudly.

“No! Not Princess How!” answered the old woman, losing the last shred of self-restraint; but Princess Che-che-vin-ski! Princess Anna Chechevinski!”

When he heard this name Count Kallash started and his whole expression changed. He grew suddenly pale, and with a vigorous effort pushed his way through the crowd to the miserable old woman’s side.

“Come!” he said, taking her by the arm. “Come with me! I have something for you!”

“Something for me?” answered the old woman, looking up with stupid inquiry and already forgetting the existence of the impudent youth. “Yes, I’ll come! What have you got for me?”

Count Kallash led her by the arm out of the crowd, which began to disperse, abashed by his appearance and air of determination. Presently he hailed a carriage, and putting the old woman in, ordered the coachman to drive to his rooms.

There he did his best to make the miserable old woman comfortable, and his housekeeper presently saw that she was washed and fed, and soon the old woman was sleeping in the housekeeper’s room.

To explain this extraordinary event we must go back twenty years.

In 1838 Princess Anna Chechevinski, then in her twenty-sixth year, had defied her parents, thrown to the winds the traditions of her princely race, and fled with the man of her choice, followed by her mother’s curses and the ironical congratulations of her brother, who thus became sole heir.

After a year or two she was left alone by the death of her companion, and step by step she learned all the lessons of sorrow. From one stage of misfortune to another she gradually fell into the deepest misery, and had become a poor old beggar in the streets when Count Kallash came so unexpectedly to her rescue.

It will be remembered that, as a result of Natasha’s act of vengeance, the elder Princess Chechevinski left behind her only a fraction of the money her son expected to inherit. And this fraction he by no means hoarded, but with cynical disregard of the future he poured money out like water, gambling, drinking, plunging into every form of dissipation. Within a few months his entire inheritance was squandered.

Several years earlier Prince Chechevinski had taken a deep interest in conjuring and had devoted time and care to the study of various forms of parlor magic. He had even paid considerable sums to traveling conjurers in exchange for their secrets. Naturally gifted, he had mastered some of the most difficult tricks, and his skill in card conjuring would not have done discredit even to a professional magician.

The evening when his capital had almost melted away and the shadow of ruin lay heavy upon him, he happened to be present at a reception where card play was going on and considerable sums were staked.

A vacancy at one of the tables could not be filled, and, in spite of his weak protest of unwillingness, Prince Chechevinski was pressed into service. He won for the first few rounds, and then began to lose, till the amount of his losses far exceeded the slender remainder of his capital. A chance occurred where, by the simple expedient of neutralizing the cut, mere child’s play for one so skilled in conjuring, he was able to turn the scale in his favor, winning back in a single game all that he had already lost. He had hesitated for a moment, feeling the abyss yawning beneath him; then he had falsed, made the pass, and won the game. That night he swore to himself that he would never cheat again, never again be tempted to dishonor his birth; and he kept his oath till his next run of bad luck, when he once more neutralized the cut and turned the “luck” in his direction.

The result was almost a certainty from the outset, Prince
Chechevinski became a habitual card sharper.

For a long time fortune favored him. His mother’s reputation for wealth, the knowledge that he was her sole heir, the high position of the family, shielded him from suspicion. Then came the thunderclap. He was caught in the act of “dealing a second” in the English Club, and driven from the club as a blackleg. Other reverses followed: a public refusal on the part of an officer to play cards with him, followed by a like refusal to give him satisfaction in a duel; a second occasion in which he was caught redhanded; a criminal trial; six years in Siberia. After two years he escaped by way of the Chinese frontier, and months after returned to Europe. For two years he practiced his skill at Constantinople. Then he made his way to Buda-Pesth, then to Vienna. While in the dual monarchy, he had come across a poverty- stricken Magyar noble, named Kallash, whom he had sheltered in a fit of generous pity, and who had died in his room at the Golden Eagle Inn. Prince Chechevinski, who had already borne many aliases, showed his grief at the old Magyar’s death by adopting his name and title; hence it was that he presented himself in St. Petersburg in the season of 1858 under the high-sounding title of Count Kallash.

An extraordinary coincidence, already described, had brought him face to face with his sister Anna, whom he had never even heard of in all the years since her flight. He found her now, poverty- stricken, prematurely old, almost demented, and, though he had hated her cordially in days gone by, his pity was aroused by her wretchedness, and he took her to his home, clothed and fed her, and surrounded her with such comforts as his bachelor apartment offered.

In the days that followed, every doubt he might have had as to her identity was dispelled. She talked freely of their early childhood, of their father’s death, of their mother; she even spoke of her brother’s coldness and hostility in terms which drove away the last shadow of doubt whether she was really his sister. But at first he made no corresponding revelations, remaining for her only Count Kallash.

XI
THE PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM

Little by little, however, as the poor old woman recovered something of health and strength, his heart went out toward her. Telling her only certain incidents of his life, he gradually brought the narrative back to the period, twenty years before, immediately after their mother’s death, and at last revealed himself to his sister, after making her promise secrecy as to his true name. Thus matters went on for nearly two years.

The broken-down old woman lived in his rooms in something like comfort, and took pleasure in dusting and arranging his things. One day, when she was tidying the sitting room, her brother was startled by a sudden exclamation, almost a cry, which broke from his sister’s lips.

“Oh, heaven, it is she!” she cried, her eyes fixed on a page of the photograph album she had been dusting. “Brother, come here; for heaven’s sake, who is this?”

“Baroness von Doring,” curtly answered Kallash, glancing quickly at the photograph. “What do you find interesting in her?”

“It is either she or her double! Do you know who she looks like?”

“Lord only knows! Herself, perhaps!”

“No, she has a double! I am sure of it! Do you remember, at mother’s, my maid Natasha?”

“Natasha?” the count considered, knitting his brows in the effort to recollect.

“Yes, Natasha, my maid. A tall, fair girl. A thick tress of chestnut hair. She had such beautiful hair! And her lips had just the same proud expression. Her eyes were piercing and intelligent, her brows were clearly marked and joined together—in a word, the very original of this photograph!”

“Ah,” slowly and quietly commented the count, pressing his hand to his brow. “Exactly. Now I remember! Yes, it is a striking likeness.”

“But look closely,” cried the old woman excitedly; “it is the living image of Natasha! Of course she is more matured, completely developed. How old is the baroness?”

“She must be approaching forty. But she doesn’t look her age; you would imagine her to be about thirty-two from her appearance.

“There! And Natasha would be just forty by now!”

“The ages correspond,” answered her brother.

“Yes.” Princess Anna sighed sadly. “Twenty-two years have passed since then. But if I met her face to face I think I would recognize her at once. Tell me, who is she?”

“The baroness? How shall I tell you? She has been abroad for twenty years, and for the last two years she has lived here. In society she says she is a foreigner, but with me she is franker, and I know that she speaks Russian perfectly. She declares that her husband is somewhere in Germany, and that she lives here with her brother.”

“Who is the ‘brother’?” asked the old princess curiously.

“The deuce knows! He is also a bit shady. Oh, yes! Sergei
Kovroff knows him; he told me something about their history; he
came here with a forged passport, under the name of Vladislav
Karozitch, but his real name is Kasimir Bodlevski.”

“Kasimir Bodlevski,” muttered the old woman, knitting her brows. “Was he not once a lithographer or an engraver, or something of the sort?”

“I think he was. I think Kovroff said something about it. He is a fine engraver still.”

“He was? Well, there you are!” and Princess Anna rose quickly from her seat. “It is she—it is Natasha! She used to tell me she had a sweetheart, a Polish hero, Bodlevski. And I think his name was Kasimir. She often got my permission to slip out to visit him; she said he worked for a lithographer, and always begged me to persuade mother to liberate her from serfdom, so that she could marry him.”

This unexpected discovery meant much to Kallash. Circumstances, hitherto slight and isolated, suddenly gained a new meaning, and were lit up in a way that made him almost certain of the truth. He now remembered that Kovroff had once told him of his first acquaintance with Bodlevski, when he came on the Pole at the Cave, arranging for a false passport; he remembered that Natasha had disappeared immediately before the death of the elder Princess Chechevinski, and he also remembered how, returning from the cemetery, he had been cruelly disappointed in his expectations when he had found in the strong box a sum very much smaller than he had always counted on, and with some foundation; and before him, with almost complete certainty, appeared the conclusion that the maid’s disappearance was connected with the theft of his mother’s money, and especially of the securities in his sister’s name, and that all this was nothing but the doing of Natasha and her companion Bodlevski.

“Very good! Perhaps this information will come in handy!” he said to himself, thinking over his future measures and plans. “Let us see—let us feel our way—perhaps it is really so! But I must go carefully and keep on my guard, and the whole thing is in my hands, dear baroness! We will spin a thread from you before all is over.”

XII
THE BARONESS AT HOME

Every Wednesday Baroness von Doring received her intimate friends. She did not care for rivals, and therefore ladies were not invited to these evenings. The intimate circle of the baroness consisted of our Knights of Industry and the “pigeons” of the bureaucracy, the world of finance, the aristocracy, which were the objects of the knights’ desires. It often happened, however, that the number of guests at these intimate evenings went as high as fifty, and sometimes even more.

The baroness was passionately fond of games of chance, and always sat down to the card table with enthusiasm. But as this was done conspicuously, in sight of all her guests, the latter could not fail to note that fortune obstinately turned away from the baroness. She almost never won on the green cloth; sometimes Kovroff won, sometimes Kallash, sometimes Karozitch, but with the slight difference that the last won more seldom and less than the other two.

Thus every Wednesday a considerable sum found its way from the pocketbook of the baroness into that of one of her colleagues, to find its way back again the next morning. The purpose of this clever scheme was that the “pigeons” who visited the luxurious salons of the baroness, and whose money paid the expenses of these salons, should not have the smallest grounds for suspicion that the dear baroness’s apartment was nothing but a den of sharpers. Her guests all considered her charming, to begin with, and also rich and independent and passionate by nature. This explained her love of play and the excitement it brought, and which she would not give up, in spite of her repeated heavy losses.

Her colleagues, the Knights of Industry, acted on a carefully devised and rigidly followed plan. They were far from putting their uncanny skill in motion every Wednesday. So long as they had no big game in sight, the game remained clean and honest. In this way the band might lose two or three thousand rubles, but such a loss had no great importance, and was soon made up when some fat “pigeon” appeared.

It sometimes happened that this wily scheme of honest play went on for five or six weeks in succession, so that the small fry, winning the band’s money, remained entirely convinced that it was playing in an honorable and respectable private house, and very naturally spread abroad the fame of it throughout the whole city. But when the fat pigeon at last appeared, the band put forth all its forces, all the wiles of the black art, and in a few hours made up for the generous losses of a month of honorable and irreproachable play on the green cloth.

Midnight was approaching.

The baroness’s rooms were brilliantly lit up, but, thanks to the thick curtains which covered the windows, the lights could not be seen from the street, though several carriages were drawn up along the sidewalk.

Opening into the elegant drawing-room was a not less elegant card room, appreciatively nicknamed the Inferno by the band. In it stood a large table with a green cloth, on which lay a heap of bank notes and two little piles of gold, before which sat Sergei Antonovitch Kovroff, presiding over the bank with the composure of a true gentleman.

What Homeric, Jovine calm rested on every feature of his face! What charming, fearless self-assurance, what noble self-confidence in his smile, in his glance! What grace, what distinction in his pose, and especially in the hand which dealt the cards! Sergei Kovroff’s hands were decidedly worthy of attention. They were almost always clad in new gloves, which he only took off on special occasions, at dinner, or when he had some writing to do, or when he sat down to a game of cards. As a result, his hands were almost feminine in their delicacy, the sensibility of the finger tips had reached an extraordinary degree of development, equal to that of one born blind. And those fingers were skillful, adroit, alert, their every movement carried out with that smooth, indefinable grace which is almost always possessed by the really high-class card sharper. His fingers were adorned with numerous rings, in which sparkled diamonds and other precious stones. And it was not for nothing that Sergei Kovroff took pride in them! This glitter of diamonds, scattering rainbow rays, dazzled the eyes of his fellow players. When Sergei Kovroff sat down to preside over the bank, the sparkling of the diamonds admirably masked those motions of his fingers which needed to be masked; they almost insensibly drew away the eyes of the players from his fingers, and this was most of all what Sergei Kovroff desired.

Round the table about thirty guests were gathered. Some of them sat, but most of them played standing, with anxious faces, feverishly sparkling eyes, and breathing heavily and unevenly. Some were pale, some flushed, and all watched with passionate eagerness the fall of the cards. There were also some who had perfect command of themselves, distinguished by extraordinary coolness, and jesting lightly whether they lost or won. But such happily constituted natures are always a minority when high play is going on.

Silence reigned in the Inferno. There was almost no conversation; only once in a while was heard a remark, in a whisper or an undertone, addressed by a player to his neighbor; the only sound was that short, dry rustle of the cards and the crackling of new bank notes, or the tinkle of gold coins making their way round the table from the bank to the players, and from the players back to the bank.

The two Princes Shadursky, father and son, both lost heavily. They sat opposite Sergei Kovroff, and between them sat Baroness von Doring, who played in alliance with them. The clever Natasha egged them on, kindling their excitement with all the skill and calculation possible to one whose blood was as cold as the blood of a fish, and both the Shadurskys had lost their heads, no longer knowing how much they were losing.

XIII
AN EXPLANATION

Count Kallash and his sister had just breakfasted when the count’s
French footman entered the study.

“Madame la baronne von Doring!” he announced obsequiously.

Brother and sister exchanged a rapid glance.

“Now is our opportunity to make sure,” said Kallash, with a smile.

“If it is she, I shall recognize her by her voice,” whispered
Princess Anna. “Shall I remain here or go?”

“Remain in the meantime; it will be a curious experience. Faites entrer!” he added to the footman.

A moment later light, rapid footsteps were heard in the entrance hall, and the rustling of a silk skirt.

“How do you do, count! I have come to see you for a moment. I came in all haste, on purpose. I have come IN PERSON, you must be duly appreciative! Vladislav is too busy, and the matter is an important one. I wanted to see you at the earliest opportunity. Well, we may all congratulate ourselves. Fate and fortune are decidedly on our side!” said the baroness, speaking rapidly, as she entered the count’s study.

“What has happened? What is the news?” asked the count, going forward to meet her.

“We have learned that the Shadurskys have just received a large sum of money; they have sold an estate, and the purchaser has paid them in cash. Our opportunity has come. Heaven forbid that we should lose it! We must devise a plan to make the most of it.”

The baroness suddenly stopped short in the middle of the sentence, and became greatly confused, noticing that there was a third person present.

“Forgive me! I did not give you warning,” said the count, shrugging his shoulders and smiling; “permit me! PRINCESS ANNA CHECHEVINSKI!” he continued with emphasis, indicating his poor, decrepit sister. “Of course you would not have recognized her, baroness.”

“But I recognized Natasha immediately,” said the old woman quietly, her eyes still fixed on Natasha’s face.

The baroness suddenly turned as white as a sheet, and with trembling hands caught the back of a heavy armchair.

Kallash with extreme politeness assisted her to a seat.

“You didn’t expect to meet me, Natasha?” said the old woman gently and almost caressingly, approaching her.

“I do not know you. Who are you?” the baroness managed to whisper, by a supreme effort.

“No wonder; I am so changed,” replied Princess Anna. “But YOU are just the same. There is hardly any change at all.”

Natasha began to recover her composure.

“I don’t understand you,” she said coldly, contracting her brows.

“But I understand YOU perfectly.”

“Allow me, princess,” Kallash interrupted her, “permit me to have an explanation with the baroness; she and I know each other well. And if you will pardon me, I shall ask you in the meantime to withdraw.”

And he courteously conducted his sister to the massive oak doors, which closed solidly after her.

“What does this mean?” said the baroness, rising angrily, her gray eyes flashing at the count from under her broad brows.

“A coincidence,” answered Kallash, shrugging his shoulders with an ironical smile.

“How a coincidence? Speak clearly!”

“The former mistress has recognized her former maid—that is all.”

“How does this woman come to be here? Who is she?”

“I have told you already; Princess Anna Chechevinski. And as to how she came here, that was also a coincidence, and a strange one.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed the baroness.

“Why impossible? They say the dead sometimes return from the tomb, and the princess is still alive. And why should the matter not have happened thus, for instance? Princess Anna Chechevinski’s maid Natasha took advantage of the confidence and illness of the elder princess to steal from her strong box, with the aid of her sweetheart, Kasimir Bodlevski, money and securities—mark this, baroness—securities in the name of Princess Anna. And might it not happen that this same lithographer Bodlevski should get false passports at the Cave, for himself and his sweetheart, and flee with her across the frontier, and might not this same maid, twenty years later, return to Russia under the name of Baroness von Doring? You must admit that there is nothing fantastic in all this! What is the use of concealing? You see I know everything!”

“And what follows from all this?” replied the baroness with a forced smile of contempt.

“Much MAY follow from it,” significantly but quietly replied Kallash. “But at present the only important matter is, that I know all. I repeat it—ALL.”

“Where are your facts?” asked the baroness.

“Facts? Hm!” laughed Kallash. “If facts are needed, they will be forthcoming. Believe me, dear baroness, that if I had not legally sufficient facts in my hands, I would not have spoken to you of this.”

Kallash lied, but lied with the most complete appearance of probability.

The baroness again grew confused and turned white.

“Where are your facts? Put them in my hands!” she said at last, after a prolonged silence.

“Oh, this is too much! Get hold of them yourself!” the count replied, with the same smile. “The facts are generally set forth to the prisoner by the court; but it is enough for you in the meantime to know that the facts exist, and that they are in my possession. Believe, if you wish. If you do not wish, do not believe. I will neither persuade you nor dissuade you.”

“And this means that I am in your power?” she said slowly, raising her piercing glance to his face.

“Yes; it means that you are in my power,” quietly and confidently answered Count Kallash.

“But you forget that you and I are in the same boat.”

“You mean that I am a sharper, like you and Bodlevski? Well, you are right. We are all berries of the same bunch—except HER” (and he indicated the folding doors). “She, thanks to many things, has tasted misery, but she is honest. But we are all rascals, and I first of all. You are perfectly right in that. If you wish to get me in your power—try to find some facts against me. Then we shall be quits!”

“And what is it you wish?”

“It is too late for justice, at least so far as she is concerned,” replied the count, with a touch of sadness; “but it is not too late for a measure of reparation. But we can discuss that later,” he went on more lightly, as if throwing aside the heavy impression produced by the thought of Princess Anna’s misery. “And now, dear baroness, let us return to business, the business of Prince Shadursky! I will think the matter over, and see whether anything suggests itself.”

He courteously conducted the baroness to the carriage, and they parted, to all appearance, friends. But there were dangerous elements for both in that seeming friendship.

XIV
GOLD MINING

A wonderful scheme was hatched in Count Kallash’s fertile brain. Inspired by the thought of Prince Shadursky’s newly replenished millions, he devised a plan for the gang which promised brilliant results, and only needed the aid of a discreet and skillful confederate. And what confederate could be more trustworthy than Sergei Antonovitch Kovroff? So the two friends were presently to be found in secret consultation in the count’s handsome study, with a bottle of good Rhine wine before them, fine cigars between their lips, and the memory of a well-served breakfast lingering pleasantly in their minds. They were talking about the new resources of the Shadurskys.

“To take their money at cards—what a wretched business—and so infernally commonplace,” said Count Kallash. “To tell you the truth, I have for a long time been sick of cards! And, besides, time is money! Why should we waste several weeks, or even months, over something that could be done in a few days?”

Kovroff agreed completely, but at the same time put the question, if not cards, what plan was available?

“That is it exactly!” cried Kallash, warming up. “I have thought it all over. The problem is this: we must think up something that would surprise Satan himself, something that would make all Hades smile and blow us hot kisses. But what of Hades?—that’s all nonsense. We must do something that will make the whole Golden Band throw up their caps. That is what we have to do!”

“Quite a problem,” lazily answered Kovroff, chewing the end of his cigar. “But you are asking too much.”

“But that is not all,” the count interrupted him; “listen! This is what my problem demands. We must think of some project that unites two precious qualities: first, a rapid and huge profit; second, entire absence of risk.”

“Conditions not altogether easy to fulfill,” remarked Kovroff doubtfully.

“So it seems. And daring plans are not to be picked up in the street, but are the result of inspiration. It is what is called a ‘heavenly gift,’ my dear friend.”

“And you have had an inspiration?” smiled Sergei Antonovitch, with a slightly ironical shade of friendly skepticism.

“I have had an inspiration,” replied the supposititious Hungarian nobleman, falling into the other’s tone.

“And your muse is—?”

“The tenth of the muses,” the count interrupted him: “another name is Industry.”

“She is the muse of all of us.”

“And mine in particular. But we are not concerned with her, but with her prophetic revelations.”

“Oh, dear count! Circumlocutions apart! This Rhine wine evidently carries you to misty Germany. Tell me simply what the matter is.”

“The matter is simply this: we must institute a society of ‘gold miners,’ and we must find gold in places where the geological indications are dead against it. That is the problem. The Russian laws, under threat of arrest and punishment, sternly forbid the citizens of the Russian Empire, and likewise the citizens of other lands within the empire, to buy or sell the noble metals in their crude form, that is, in nuggets, ore, or dust. For example, if you bought gold in the rough from me—gold dust, for example—we should both, according to law, have to take a pleasant little trip beyond the Ural Mountains to Siberia, and there we should have to engage in mining the precious metal ourselves. A worthy occupation, no doubt, but not a very profitable one for us.”

“Our luxuries would be strictly limited,” jested Kovroff, with a wry smile.

“There it is! You won’t find many volunteers for that occupation, and that is the fulcrum of my whole plan. You must understand that gold dust in the mass is practically indistinguishable in appearance from brass filings. Let us suppose that we secretly sell some perfectly pure brass filings for gold dust, and that they are readily bought of us, because we sell considerably below the market rate. It goes without saying that the purchaser will presently discover that we have done him brown. But, I ask you, will he go and accuse us knowing that, as the penalty for his purchase, he will have to accompany us along the Siberian road?”

“No man is his own enemy,” sententiously replied Kovroff, beginning to take a vivid interest in what his companion was saying. “But how are you going to work it?”

“You will know at the proper time. The chief thing is, that our problem is solved in the most decisive manner. You and I are pretty fair judges of human nature, so we may be pretty sure that we shall always find purchasers, and I suggest that we make a beginning on young Prince Shadursky. How we shall get him into it is my business. I’ll tell you later on. But how do you like the general idea of my plan?”

“It’s clever enough!” cried Kovroff, pressing his hand with the gay enthusiasm of genuine interest.

“For this truth much thanks!” cried Kallash, clinking glasses with him. “It is clever—that is the best praise I could receive from you. Let us drink to the success of my scheme!”

XV
THE FISH BITES

Three days after this conversation the younger prince Shadursky dined with Sergei Antonovitch Kovroff.

That morning he received a note from Kovroff, in which the worthy Sergei complained of ill health and begged the prince to come and dine with him and cheer him up.

The prince complied with his request, and appearing at the appointed time found Count Kallash alone with his host.

Among other gossip, the prince announced that he expected shortly to go to Switzerland, as he had bad reports of the health of his mother, who was in Geneva.

At this news Kallash glanced significantly toward Kovroff.

Passing from topic to topic, the conversation finally turned to the financial position of Russia. Sergei Antonovitch, according to his expression, “went to the root of the matter,” and indicated the “source of the evil,” very frankly attacking the policy of the government, which did everything to discourage gold mining, hedging round this most important industry with all kinds of difficulties, and practically prohibiting the free production of the precious metals by laying on it a dead weight of costly formalities.

“I have facts ready to hand,” he went on, summing up his argument. “I have an acquaintance here, an employee of one of the best-known men in the gold-mining industry.” Here Kovroff mentioned a well- known name. “He is now in St. Petersburg. Well, a few days ago he suddenly came to me as if he had something weighing on his mind. And I have had business relations with him in times past. Well, what do you think? He suddenly made me a proposal, secretly of course; would I not take some gold dust off his hands? You must know that these trusted employees every year bring several hundred pounds of gold from Asia, and of course it stands to reason that they cannot get rid of it in the ordinary way, but smuggle it through private individuals. It is uncommonly profitable for the purchasers, because they buy far below the market rates. So there are plenty of purchasers. Several of the leading jewelers” (and here he named three or four of the best-known firms) “never refuse such a deal, and last year a banking house in Berlin bought a hundred pounds’ weight of gold through agents here. Well, this same employee, my acquaintance, is looking for an opportunity to get rid of his wares. And he tells me he managed to bring in about forty pounds of gold, if not more. I introduce this fact to illustrate the difficulties put in the way of enterprise by our intelligent government.”

Shadursky did not greatly occupy himself with serious questions and he was totally ignorant of all details of financial undertakings. It was, therefore, perfectly easy for Sergei Antonovitch to assume a tone of solid, practical sense, which imposed completely on the young prince. Young Shadursky, from politeness, and to prove his worldly wisdom, assented to Kovroff’s statements with equal decision. All the same, from this conversation, he quite clearly seized on the idea that under certain circumstances it would be possible to buy gold at a much lower price than that demanded by the Imperial Bank. And this was just the thought which Kallash and Kovroff wished to sow in the young prince’s mind.

“Of course, I myself do not go in for that kind of business,” went on Kovroff carelessly, “and so I could not give my friend any help. But if some one were going abroad, for instance, he might well risk such an operation, which would pay him a very handsome profit.”

“How so? In what way?” asked Shadursky.

“Very simply. You buy the goods here, as I already said, much below the government price. So that to begin with you make a very profitable bargain. Then you go abroad with your wares and there, as soon as the exchange value of gold goes up, you can sell it at the nearest bank. I know, for instance, that the agent of the ——- Bank” (and he mentioned a name well known in St. Petersburg) made many a pretty penny for himself by just such a deal. This is how it was: He bought gold dust for forty thousand rubles, and six weeks later got rid of it in Hamburg for sixty thousand. Whatever you may say, fifty per cent on your capital in a month and a half is pretty good business.”

“Deuce take it! A pretty profitable bargain, without a doubt!” cried Shadursky, jumping from his chair. “It would just suit me! I could get rid of it in Geneva or Paris,” he went on in a jesting tone.

“What do you think? Of course!” Sergei Antonovitch took him up, but in a serious tone. “You or some one else—in any case it would be a good bargain. For my acquaintance has to go back to Asia, and has only a few days to spare. He doesn’t know where to turn and rather than take his gold back with him, he would willingly let it go at an even lower rate than the smugglers generally ask. If I had enough free cash I would go in for it myself.”

“It looks a good proposition,” commented Count Kallash.

“It is certainly very enticing; what do you think?” said Prince
Shadursky interrogatively, folding his arms.

“Hm—yes! very enticing,” answered Kovroff. “A fine chance for anyone who has the money.”

“I would not object! I would not object!” protested Shadursky.
“Suppose you let me become acquainted with your friend.”

“You? Well—” And Kovroff considered; “if you wish. Why not? Only I warn you, first, if you are going to buy, buy quickly, for my friend can’t wait; and secondly, keep the matter a complete secret, for very unpleasant results might follow.”

“That goes without saying. That stands to reason,” assented Shadursky. “I can get the money at once and I am just going abroad, in a day or two at the latest. So it would be foolish to miss such a chance. So it is a bargain?” And he held out his hand to Kovroff.

“How a bargain?” objected the cautious Sergei Antonovitch. “I am not personally concerned in the matter, and you must admit, my dear prince, that I can make no promises for my acquaintance.”

“I don’t mean that!” cried Shadursky. “I only ask you to arrange for me to meet him. Bring us together—and drop him a hint that I do not object to buying his wares. You will confer a great obligation on me.”

“Oh, that is quite a different matter. That I can always do; the more so, because we are such good friends. Why should I not do you such a trifling service? As far as an introduction is concerned, you may count on it.”

And they cordially shook each other by the hand.

XVI
GOLD DUST

Both Kallash and Kovroff were too cautious to take an immediate, personal part in the gold-dust sale. There was a certain underling, Mr. Escrocevitch by name, at Sergei Kovroff’s beck and call—a shady person, rather dirty in aspect, and who was, therefore, only admitted to Sergei’s presence by the back door and through the kitchen, and even then only at times when there were no outsiders present.

Mr. Escrocevitch was a person of general utility and was especially good at all kinds of conjuring tricks. Watches, snuff-boxes, cigar-cases, silver spoons, and even heavy bronze paper-weights acquired the property of suddenly vanishing from under his hands, and of suddenly reappearing in a quite unexpected quarter. This valuable gift had been acquired by Mr. Escrocevitch in his early years, when he used to wander among the Polish fairs, swallowing burning flax for the delectation of the public and disgorging endless yards of ribbon and paper.

Mr. Escrocevitch was a precious and invaluable person also owing to his capacity of assuming any role, turning himself into any given character, and taking on the corresponding tone, manners, and appearance, and he was, further, a pretty fair actor.

He it was who was chosen to play the part of the Siberian employee.

Not more than forty-eight hours had passed since the previous conversation. Prince Shadursky was just up, when his footman announced to him that a Mr. Valyajnikoff wished to see him.

The prince put on his dressing gown and went into the drawing-room, where the tolerably presentable but strangely dressed person of Mr. Escrocevitch presented itself to him.

“Permit me to have the honor of introducing myself,” he began, bowing to Prince Shadursky; “I am Ivanovitch Valyajnikoff. Mr. Sergei Antonovitch Kovroff was so good as to inform me of a certain intention of yours about the dust. So, if your excellency has not changed your mind, I am ready to sell it to you with pleasure.”

“Very good of you,” answered Prince Shadursky, smiling gayly, and giving him a chair.

“To lose no time over trifles,” continued Mr. Escrocevitch, “let me invite you to my quarters. I am staying at a hotel; you can see the goods there; you can make tests, and, if you are satisfied, I shall be very happy to oblige your excellency.”

Prince Shadursky immediately finished dressing, ordered his carriage, and went out with the supposititious Valyajnikoff. They drove to a shabby hotel and went to a dingy room.

“This is my poor abode. I am only here on the wing, so to speak. I humbly request you to be seated,” Mr. Escrocevitch said obsequiously. “Not to lose precious time, perhaps your excellency would like to look at my wares? Here they are—and I am most willing to show them.”

And he dragged from under the bed a big trunk, in which were five canvas bags of various sizes, packed full and tied tightly.

“Here, here it is! This is our Siberian dust,” he said, smiling and bowing, indicating the trunk with a wave of his hand, as if introducing it to Prince Shadursky.

“Would not your excellency be so good as to choose one of these bags to make a test? It will be much better if you see yourself that the business is above board, with no swindle about it. Choose whichever you wish!”

Shadursky lifted one of the bags from the trunk, and when Mr. Escrocevitch untied it, before the young prince’s eyes appeared a mass of metallic grains, at which he gazed not without inward pleasure.

“How are you going to make a test?” he asked. “We have no blow- pipes nor test-tubes here?”

“Make your mind easy, your excellency! We shall find everything we require—blow-pipes and test-tubes and nitric acid, and even a decimal weighing machine. In our business we arrange matters in such a way that we need not disturb outsiders. Only charcoal we haven’t got, but we can easily send for some.”

And going to the door, he gave the servant in the passage an order, and a few minutes later the latter returned with a dish of charcoal.

“First class! Now everything is ready,” cried Mr. Escrocevitch, rubbing his hands; and for greater security he turned the key in the door.

“Take whichever piece of charcoal you please, your excellency; but, not to soil your hands, you had better let me take it myself, and you sprinkle some of the dust on it,” and he humbled himself before the prince. “Forgive me for asking you to do it all yourself, since it is not from any lack of politeness on my part, but simply in order that your excellency should be fully convinced that there is no deception.” Saying this, he got his implements ready and lit the lamp.

The blow-pipe came into action. Valyajnikoff made the experiment, and Shadursky attentively followed every movement. The charcoal glowed white hot, the dust ran together and disappeared, and in its place, when the charcoal had cooled a little, and the amateur chemist presented it to Prince Shadursky, the prince saw a little ball of gold lying in a crevice of the charcoal, such as might easily have formed under the heat of the blow-pipe.

“Take the globule, your excellency, and place it, for greater security, in your pocketbook,” said Escrocevitch; “you may even wrap it up in a bit of paper; and keep the sack of gold dust yourself, so that there can be no mistake.”

Shadursky gladly followed this last piece of advice.

“And now, your excellency, I should like you kindly to select another bag; we shall make two or three more tests in the same way.”

The prince consented to this also.

Escrocevitch handed him a new piece of charcoal to sprinkle dust on, and once more brought the blow-pipe into operation. And again the brass filings disappeared and in the crevice appeared a new globule of gold.

“Well, perhaps these two tests will be sufficient. What is your excellency good enough to think on that score?” asked the supposed Valyajnikoff.

“What is the need of further tests? The matter is clear enough,” assented the prince.

“If it is satisfactory, we shall proceed to make it even more satisfactory. Here we have a touch-stone, and here we have some nitric acid. Try the globules on the touchstone physically, and, so to speak, with the nitric acid chemically. And if you wish to make even more certain, this is what we shall do. What quantity of gold does your excellency wish to take?”

“The more the better. I am ready to buy all these bags.”

“VERY much obliged to your excellency, as this will suit me admirably,” said Escrocevitch, bowing low. “And so, if your excellency is ready, then I humbly beg you to take each bag, examine it, and seal it with your excellency’s own seal. Then let us take one of the globules and go to one of the best jewelers in St. Petersburg. Let him tell us the value of the gold and in this way the business will be exact; there will be no room for complaint on either side, since everything will be fair and above board.”

The prince was charmed with the honesty and frankness of Mr.
Valyajnikoff.

They went together to one of the best-known jewelers, who, in their presence, made a test and announced that the gold was chemically pure, without any alloy, and therefore of the highest value.

On their return to the hotel, Mr. Escrocevitch weighed the bags, which turned out to weigh forty-eight pounds. Allowing three pounds for the weight of the bags, this left forty-five pounds of pure gold.

“How much a pound do you want?” Shadursky asked him.

“A pretty low price, your excellency,” answered the Siberian, with a shrug of his shoulders, “as I am selling from extreme necessity, because I have to leave for Siberia; I’ve spent too much time and money in St. Petersburg already; and if I cannot sell my wares, I shall not be able to go at all. I assume that the government price is known to your excellency?”

“But I am willing to take two hundred rubles a pound. I can’t take a kopeck less, and even so I am making a reduction of nearly a hundred rubles the pound.”

“All right!” assented Shadursky. “That will amount to—” he went on, knitting his brows, “forty-five pounds at two hundred rubles a pound—”

“It will make exactly nine thousand, your excellency. Just exactly nine,” Escrocevitch obsequiously helped him out. The prince, cutting the matter short, immediately gave him a check, and taking the trunk with the coveted bags, drove with the Siberian employee to his father’s house, where the elder Prince Shadursky, at his son’s pressing demand, though very unwillingly, exchanged the check for nine thousand rubles in bills, for which Ivan Ivanovitch Valyajnikoff forthwith gave a receipt. The prince was delighted with his purchase, and he did not utter a syllable about it to anyone except Kovroff.

Sergei Antonovitch gave him a friendly counsel not to waste any time, but to go abroad at once, as, according to the Exchange Gazette, gold was at that moment very high, so that he had an admirable opportunity to get rid of his wares on very favorable terms.

The prince, in fact, without wasting time got his traveling passport, concealed his purchase with the utmost care, and set out for the frontier, announcing that he was on his way to his mother, whose health imperatively demanded his presence.

The success of the whole business depended on the fact that brass filings, which bear a strong external resemblance to gold dust, are dissipated in the strong heat of the blowpipe. The charcoal was prepared beforehand, a slight hollow being cut in it with a penknife, in the bottom of which is placed a globule of pure gold, the top of which is just below the level of the charcoal, and the hollow is filled up with powdered charcoal mixed with a little beeswax. The “chemist” who makes the experiments must make himself familiar with the distinctive appearance of the charcoal, so as to pick it out from among several pieces, and must remember exactly where the crevice is.

On this first occasion, Escrocevitch had prepared all four pieces of charcoal, which were brought by the servant in the passage. He chose as his temporary abode a hotel whose proprietor was an old ally of his, and the servant was also a confederate.

Thus was founded the famous “Gold Products Company,” which is still in very successful operation, and is constantly widening its sphere of activity.

XVII
THE DELUGE

Count Kallash finally decided on his course of action. It was too late to seek justice for his sister, but not too late for a tardy reparation. The gang had prospered greatly, and the share of Baroness von Doring and Bodlevski already amounted to a very large figure. Count Kallash determined to demand for his sister a sum equal to that of the securities in her name which Natasha had stolen, calculating that this would be enough to maintain his sister in peace and comfort to the end of her days. His own life was too stormy, too full of risks for him to allow his sister’s fate to depend on his, so he had decided to settle her in some quiet nook where, free from danger, she might dream away her few remaining years.

To his surprise Baroness von Doring flatly refused to be put under contribution.

“Your demand is outrageous,” she said. “I am not going to be the victim of any such plot!”

“Very well, I will compel you to unmask?”

“To unmask? What do you mean, count? You forget yourself!”

“Well, then, I shall try to make you remember me!” And Kallash turned his back on her and strode from the room. A moment later, and she heard the door close loudly behind him.

The baroness had already told Bodlevski of her meeting with Princess Anna, and she now hurried to him for counsel. They agreed that their present position, with Kallash’s threats hanging over their heads, was intolerable. But what was to be done?

Bodlevski paced up and down the room, biting his lips, and seeking some decisive plan.

“We must act in such a way,” he said, coming to a stand before the baroness, “as to get rid of this fellow once for all. I think he is dangerous, and it never does any harm to take proper precautions. Get the money ready, Natasha; we must give it to him.”

“What! give him the money!” and the baroness threw up her hands. “Will that get us out of his power? Can we feel secure? It will only last till something new happens. At the first occasion—”

“Which will also be the last!” interrupted Bodlevski. “Suppose we do give him the money to-day; does that mean that we give it for good? Not at all! It will be back in my pocket to-morrow! Let us think it out properly!” and he gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder, and sat down in an easy chair in front of her.

The result of their deliberations was a little note addressed to
Count Kallash:

“DEAR COUNT,” it ran, “I was guilty of an act of folly toward you to-day. I am ashamed of it, and wish to make amends as soon as possible. We have always been good friends, so let us forget our little difference, the more so that an alliance is much more advantageous to us both than a quarrel. Come this evening to receive the money you spoke of, and to clasp in amity the hand of your devoted friend,
VON D.”

Kallash came about ten o’clock in the evening, and received from Bodlevski the sum of fifty thousand rubles in notes. The baroness was very amiable, and persuaded him to have some tea. There was not a suggestion of future difficulties, and everything seemed to promise perfect harmony for the future. Bodlevski talked over plans of future undertakings, and told him, with evident satisfaction, that they had just heard of the arrest of the younger Prince Shadursky, in Paris, for attempting to defraud a bank by a pretended sale of gold dust. Count Kallash was also gay, and a certain satisfaction filled his mind at the thought of his sister’s security, as he felt the heavy packet of notes in his pocket. He smoked his cigar with evident satisfaction, sipping the fragrant tea from time to time. The conversation was gay and animated, and for some reason or other turned to the subject of clubs.

“Ah, yes,” interposed Bodlevski, “a propos! I expect to be a member of the Yacht Club this summer. Let me recommend to you a new field of action. They will disport themselves on the green water, and we on the green cloth! By the way, I forgot to speak of it—I bought a boat the other day, a mere rowboat. It is on the Fontauka Canal, at the Simeonovski bridge. We must come for a row some day.”

“Delightful,” exclaimed the baroness. “But why some day? Why not to-night? The moon is beautiful, and, indeed, it is hardly dark at midnight. Your speaking of boats has filled me with a sudden desire to go rowing. What do you say, dear count?” and she turned amiably to Kallash.

Count Kallash at once consented, considering the baroness’s idea an admirable one, and they were soon on their way toward the Simeonovski bridge.

“How delightful it is!” cried the baroness, some half hour later, as they were gliding over the quiet water. “Count, do you like strong sensations?” she asked suddenly.

“I am fond of strong sensations of every kind,” he replied, taking up her challenge.

“Well, I am going to offer you a little sensation, though it always greatly affects me. Everything is just right for it, and I am in the humor, too.”

“What is it to be?” asked Count Kallash indifferently.

“You will see in a moment. Do you know that there are underground canals in St. Petersburg?”

“In St. Petersburg?” asked Kallash in astonishment.

“Yes, in St. Petersburg! A whole series of underground rivers, wide enough for a boat to pass through. I have rowed along them several times. Does not that offer a new sensation, something quite unlike St. Petersburg?”

“Yes, it is certainly novel,” answered Count Kallash, now interested. “Where are they? Pray show them to me.”

“There is one a few yards off. Shall we enter? You are not afraid?” she said with a smile of challenge.

“By no means—unless you command me to be afraid,” Kallash replied in the same tone. “Let us enter at once!”

“Kasimir, turn under the arch!” and the boat cut across the canal toward a half circle of darkness. A moment more and the darkness engulfed them completely. They were somewhere under the Admiralty, not far from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Away ahead of them was a tiny half circle of light, where the canal joined the swiftly flowing Neva. Carriages rumbled like distant thunder above their heads.

“Deuce take it! it is really rather fine!” cried the count, with evident pleasure. “A meeting of pirates is all we need to make it perfect. It is a pity that we cannot see where we are!”

“Light a match. Have you any?” said the baroness. “I have, and wax matches, too.” The count took out a match and lit it, and the underground stream was lit by a faint ruddy glow. The channel, covered by a semicircular arch, was just wide enough for one boat to pass through, with oars out. The black water flowed silently by in a sluggish, Stygian stream. Bats, startled by the light, fluttered in their faces, and then disappeared in the darkness.

As the boat glided on, the match burned out in Count Kallash’s fingers. He threw it into the water, and opened his matchbox to take another.

At the same moment he felt a sharp blow on the head, followed by a second, and he sank senseless in the bottom of the boat.

“Where is the money?” cried Bodlevski, who had struck him with the handle of the oar. “Get his coat open!” and the baroness deftly drew the thick packet from the breast pocket of his coat. “Here it is! I have it!” she replied quickly.

“Now, overboard with him! Keep the body steady!” A dull splash, and then silence. “To-night we shall sleep secure!”

They counted without their host. Princess Anna had also her scheme of vengeance, and had worked it out, without a word to her brother. When Natasha and Bodlevski entered their apartment, they found the police in possession, and a few minutes later both were under arrest. Abundant evidence of fraud and forgery was found in their dwelling, and the vast Siberian solitudes avenged the death of their last victim.

13c

Anonymous ~ Bourgonef

Standard

I
AT A TABLE D’HOTE

At the close of February, 1848, I was in Nuremberg. My original intention had been to pass a couple of days there on my way to Munich, that being, I thought, as much time as could reasonably be spared for so small a city, beckoned as my footsteps were to the Bavarian Athens, of whose glories of ancient art and German Renaissance I had formed expectations the most exaggerated— expectations fatal to any perfect enjoyment, and certain to be disappointed, however great the actual merit of Munich might be. But after two days at Nuremberg I was so deeply interested in its antique sequestered life, the charms of which had not been deadened by previous anticipations, that I resolved to remain there until I had mastered every detail and knew the place by heart.

I have a story to tell which will move amidst tragic circumstances of too engrossing a nature to be disturbed by archaeological interests, and shall not, therefore, minutely describe here what I observed in Nuremberg, although no adequate description of that wonderful city has yet fallen in my way. To readers unacquainted with this antique place, it will be enough to say that in it the old German life seems still to a great extent rescued from the all- devouring, all-equalizing tendencies of European civilization. The houses are either of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, or are constructed after those ancient models. The citizens have preserved much of the simple manners and customs of their ancestors. The hurrying feet of commerce and curiosity pass rapidly by, leaving it sequestered from the agitations and the turmoils of metropolitan existence. It is as quiet as a village. During my stay there rose in its quiet streets the startled echoes of horror at a crime unparalleled in its annals, which, gathering increased horror from the very peacefulness and serenity of the scene, arrested the attention and the sympathy in a degree seldom experienced. Before narrating that, it will be necessary to go back a little, that my own connection with it may be intelligible, especially in the fanciful weaving together of remote conjectures which strangely involved me in the story.

The table d’hote at the Bayerischer Hof had about thirty visitors— all, with one exception, of that local commonplace which escapes remark. Indeed this may almost always be said of tables d’hote; though there is a current belief, which I cannot share, of a table d’hote being very delightful—of one being certain to meet pleasant people there.” It may be so. For many years I believed it was so. The general verdict received my assent. I had never met those delightful people, but was always expecting to meet them. Hitherto they had been conspicuous by their absence. According to my experience in Spain, France, and Germany, such dinners had been dreary or noisy and vapid. If the guests were English, they were chillingly silent, or surlily monosyllabic: to their neighbors they were frigid; amongst each other they spoke in low undertones. And if the guests were foreigners, they were noisy, clattering, and chattering, foolish for the most part, and vivaciously commonplace. I don’t know which made me feel most dreary. The predominance of my countrymen gave the dinner the gayety of a funeral; the predominance of the Mossoo gave it the fatigue of got-up enthusiasm, of trivial expansiveness. To hear strangers imparting the scraps of erudition and connoisseurship which they had that morning gathered from their valets de place and guide-books, or describing the sights they had just seen, to you, who either saw them yesterday, or would see them to-morrow, could not be permanently attractive. My mind refuses to pasture on such food with gusto. I cannot be made to care what the Herr Baron’s sentiments about Albert Durer or Lucas Cranach may be. I can digest my rindfleisch without the aid of the commis voyageur’s criticisms on Gothic architecture. This may be my misfortune. In spite of the Italian blood which I inherit, I am a shy man—shy as the purest Briton. But, like other shy men, I make up in obstinacy what may be deficient in expansiveness. I can be frightened into silence, but I won’t be dictated to. You might as well attempt the persuasive effect of your eloquence upon a snail who has withdrawn into his shell at your approach, and will not emerge till his confidence is restored. To be told that I MUST see this, and ought to go there, because my casual neighbor was charme, has never presented itself to me as an adequate motive.

From this you readily gather that I am severely taciturn at a table d’hote. I refrain from joining in the “delightful conversation” which flies across the table, and know that my reticence is attributed to “insular pride.” It is really and truly nothing but impatience of commonplace. I thoroughly enjoy good talk; but, ask yourself, what are the probabilities of hearing that rare thing in the casual assemblage of forty or fifty people, not brought together by any natural affinities or interests, but thrown together by the accident of being in the same district, and in the same hotel? They are not “forty feeding like one,” but like forty. They have no community, except the community of commonplace. No, tables d’hote are not delightful, and do not gather interesting people together.

Such has been my extensive experience. But this at Nuremberg is a conspicuous exception. At that table there was one guest who, on various grounds, personal and incidental, remains the most memorable man I ever met. From the first he riveted my attention in an unusual degree. He had not, as yet, induced me to emerge from my habitual reserve, for in truth, although he riveted my attention, he inspired me with a strange feeling of repulsion. I could scarcely keep my eyes from him; yet, except the formal bow on sitting down and rising from the table, I had interchanged no sign of fellowship with him. He was a young Russian, named Bourgonef, as I at once learned; rather handsome, and peculiarly arresting to the eye, partly from an air of settled melancholy, especially in his smile, the amiability of which seemed breaking from under clouds of grief, and still more so from the mute appeal to sympathy in the empty sleeve of his right arm, which was looped to the breast-button of his coat. His eyes were large and soft. He had no beard or whisker, and only delicate moustaches. The sorrow, quiet but profound, the amiable smile and the lost arm, were appealing details which at once arrested attention and excited sympathy. But to me this sympathy was mingled with a vague repulsion, occasioned by a certain falseness in the amiable smile, and a furtiveness in the eyes, which I saw—or fancied—and which, with an inexplicable reserve, forming as it were the impregnable citadel in the center of his outwardly polite and engaging manner, gave me something of that vague impression which we express by the words “instinctive antipathy.”

It was, when calmly considered, eminently absurd. To see one so young, and by his conversation so highly cultured and intelligent, condemned to early helplessness, his food cut up for him by a servant, as if he were a child, naturally engaged pity, and, on the first day, I cudgeled my brains during the greater part of dinner in the effort to account for his lost arm. He was obviously not a military man; the unmistakable look and stoop of a student told that plainly enough. Nor was the loss one dating from early life: he used his left arm too awkwardly for the event not to have had a recent date. Had it anything to do with his melancholy? Here was a topic for my vagabond imagination, and endless were the romances woven by it during my silent dinner. For the reader must be told of one peculiarity in me, because to it much of the strange complications of my story are due; complications into which a mind less active in weaving imaginary hypotheses to interpret casual and trifling facts would never have been drawn. From my childhood I have been the victim of my constructive imagination, which has led me into many mistakes and some scrapes; because, instead of contenting myself with plain, obvious evidence, I have allowed myself to frame hypothetical interpretations, which, to acts simple in themselves, and explicable on ordinary motives, render the simple-seeming acts portentous. With bitter pangs of self-reproach I have at times discovered that a long and plausible history constructed by me, relating to personal friends, has crumpled into a ruin of absurdity, by the disclosure of the primary misconception on which the whole history was based. I have gone, let us say, on the supposition that two people were secretly lovers; on this supposition my imagination has constructed a whole scheme to explain certain acts, and one fine day I have discovered indubitably that the supposed lovers were not lovers, but confidants of their passions in other directions, and, of course, all my conjectures have been utterly false. The secret flush of shame at failure has not, however, prevented my falling into similar mistakes immediately after.

When, therefore, I hereafter speak of my “constructive imagination,” the reader will know to what I am alluding. It was already busy with Bourgonef. To it must be added that vague repulsion, previously mentioned. This feeling abated on the second day; but, although lessened, it remained powerful enough to prevent my speaking to him. Whether it would have continued to abate until it disappeared, as such antipathies often disappear, under the familiarities of prolonged intercourse, without any immediate appeal to my amour propre, I know not; but every reflective mind, conscious of being accessible to antipathies, will remember that one certain method of stifling them is for the object to make some appeal to our interest or our vanity: in the engagement of these more powerful feelings, the antipathy is quickly strangled. At any rate it is so in my case, and was so now.

On the third day, the conversation at table happening to turn, as it often turned, upon St. Sebald’s Church, a young Frenchman, who was criticising its architecture with fluent dogmatism, drew Bourgonef into the discussion, and thereby elicited such a display of accurate and extensive knowledge, no less than delicacy of appreciation, that we were all listening spellbound. In the midst of this triumphant exposition the irritated vanity of the Frenchman could do nothing to regain his position but oppose a flat denial to a historical statement made by Bourgonef, backing his denial by the confident assertion that “all the competent authorities” held with him. At this point Bourgonef appealed to me, and in that tone of deference so exquisitely flattering from one we already know to be superior he requested my decision; observing that, from the manner in which he had seen me examine the details of the architecture, he could not be mistaken in his confidence that I was a connoisseur. All eyes were turned upon me. As a shy man, this made me blush; as a vain man, the blush was accompanied with delight. It might easily have happened that such an appeal, acting at once upon shyness and ignorance, would have inflamed my wrath; but the appeal happening to be directed on a point which I had recently investigated and thoroughly mastered, I was flattered at the opportunity of a victorious display.

The pleasure of my triumph diffused itself over my feelings towards him who had been the occasion of it. The Frenchman was silenced; the general verdict of the company was too obviously on our side. From this time the conversation continued between Bourgonef and myself; and he not only succeeded in entirely dissipating my absurd antipathy—which I now saw to have been founded on purely imaginary grounds, for neither the falseness nor the furtiveness could now be detected—but he succeeded in captivating all my sympathy. Long after dinner was over, and the salle empty, we sat smoking our cigars, and discussing politics, literature, and art in that suggestive desultory manner which often gives a charm to casual acquaintances.

It was a stirring epoch, that of February, 1848. The Revolution, at first so hopeful, and soon to manifest itself in failure so disastrous, was hurrying to an outburst. France had been for many months agitated by cries of electoral reform, and by indignation at the corruption and scandals in high places. The Praslin murder, and the dishonor of M. Teste, terminated by suicide, had been interpreted as signs of the coming destruction. The political banquets given in various important cities had been occasions for inflaming the public mind, and to the far-seeing, these banquets were interpreted as the sounds of the tocsin. Louis Philippe had become odious to France, and contemptible to Europe. Guizot and Duchatel, the ministers of that day, although backed by a parliamentary majority on which they blindly relied, were unpopular, and were regarded as infatuated even by their admirers in Europe. The Spanish marriages had all but led to a war with England. The Opposition, headed by Thiers and Odillon Barrot, was strengthened by united action with the republican party, headed by Ledru Rollin, Marrast, Flocon, and Louis Blanc.

Bourgonef was an ardent republican. So was I; but my color was of a different shade from his. He belonged to the Reds. My own dominant tendencies being artistic and literary, my dream was of a republic in which intelligence would be the archon or ruler; and, of course, in such a republic, art and literature, as the highest manifestation of mind, would have the supreme direction. Do you smile, reader? I smile now; but it was serious earnest with me then. It is unnecessary to say more on this point. I have said so much to render intelligible the stray link of communion which riveted the charm of my new acquaintance’s conversation; there was both agreement enough and difference enough in our views to render our society mutually fascinating.

On retiring to my room that afternoon I could not help laughing at my absurd antipathy against Bourgonef. All his remarks had disclosed a generous, ardent, and refined nature. While my antipathy had specially fastened upon a certain falseness in his smile—a falseness the more poignantly hideous if it were falseness, because hidden amidst the wreaths of amiability—my delight in his conversation had specially justified itself by the truthfulness of his mode of looking at things. He seemed to be sincerity itself. There was, indeed, a certain central reserve; but that might only he an integrity of pride; or it might be connected with painful circumstances in his history, of which the melancholy in his face was the outward sign.

That very evening my constructive imagination was furnished with a detail on which it was soon to be actively set to work. I had been rambling about the old fortifications, and was returning at nightfall through the old archway near Albert Durer’s house, when a man passed by me. We looked at each other in that automatic way in which men look when they meet in narrow places, and I felt, so to speak, a start of recognition in the eyes of the man who passed. Nothing else, in features or gestures, betrayed recognition or surprise. But although there was only that, it flashed from his eyes to mine like an electric shock. He passed. I looked back. He continued his way without turning. The face was certainly known to me; but it floated in a mist of confused memories.

I walked on slowly, pestering my memory with fruitless calls upon it, hopelessly trying to recover the place where I could have seen the stranger before. In vain memory traveled over Europe in concert-rooms, theaters, shops, and railway carriages. I could not recall the occasion on which those eyes had previously met mine. That they had met them I had no doubt. I went to bed with the riddle undiscovered.

II
THE ECHOES OF MURDER

Next morning Nuremberg was agitated with a horror such as can seldom have disturbed its quiet; a young and lovely girl had been murdered. Her corpse was discovered at daybreak under the archway leading to the old fortifications. She had been stabbed to the heart. No other signs of violence were visible; no robbery had been attempted.

In great cities, necessarily great centers of crime, we daily hear of murders; their frequency and remoteness leave us undisturbed. Our sympathies can only be deeply moved either by some scenic peculiarities investing the crime with unusual romance or unusual atrocity, or else by the more immediate appeal of direct neighborly interest. The murder which is read of in the Times as having occurred in Westminster, has seldom any special horror to the inhabitants of Islington or Oxford Street; but to the inhabitants of Westminster, and especially to the inhabitants of the particular street in which it was perpetrated, the crime assumes heart-shaking proportions. Every detail is asked for, and every surmise listened to, with feverish eagerness is repeated and diffused through the crowd with growing interest. The family of the victim; the antecedents of the assassin, if he is known; or the conjectures pointing to the unknown assassin,—are eagerly discussed. All the trivial details of household care or domestic fortunes, all the items of personal gossip, become invested with a solemn and affecting interest. Pity for the victim and survivors mingle and alternate with fierce cries for vengeance on the guilty. The whole street becomes one family, commingled by an energetic sympathy, united by one common feeling of compassion and wrath.

In villages, and in cities so small as Nuremberg, the same community of feeling is manifested. The town became as one street. The horror spread like a conflagration, the sympathy surged and swelled like a tide. Everyone felt a personal interest in the event, as if the murder had been committed at his own door. Never shall I forget that wail of passionate pity, and that cry for the vengeance of justice, which rose from all sides of the startled city. Never shall I forget the hurry, the agitation, the feverish restlessness, the universal communicativeness, the volunteered services, the eager suggestion, surging round the house of the unhappy parents. Herr Lehfeldt, the father of the unhappy girl, was a respected burgher known to almost every one. His mercer’s shop was the leading one of the city. A worthy, pious man, somewhat strict, but of irreproachable character; his virtues, no less than those of his wife, and of his only daughter, Lieschen— now, alas; for ever snatched from their yearning eyes—were canvassed everywhere, and served to intensify the general grief. That such a calamity should have fallen on a household so estimable, seemed to add fuel to the people’s wrath. Poor Lieschen! her pretty, playful ways—her opening prospects, as the only daughter of parents so well to do and so kind—her youth and abounding life—these were detailed with impassioned fervor by friends, and repeated by strangers who caught the tone of friends, as if they, too, had known and loved her. But amidst the surging uproar of this sea of many voices no one clear voice of direction could be heard; no clue given to the clamorous bloodhounds to run down the assassin.

Cries had been heard in the streets that night at various parts of the town, which, although then interpreted as the quarrels of drunken brawlers, and the conflicts of cats, were now confidently asserted to have proceeded from the unhappy girl in her death- struggle. But none of these cries had been heard in the immediate neighborhood of the archway. All the inhabitants of that part of the town agreed that in their waking hours the streets had been perfectly still. Nor were there any traces visible of a struggle having taken place. Lieschen might have been murdered elsewhere, and her corpse quietly deposited where it was found, as far as any evidence went.

Wild and vague were the conjectures. All were baffled in the attempt to give them a definite direction. The crime was apparently prompted by revenge—certainly not by lust, or desire of money. But she was not known to stand in any one’s way. In this utter blank as to the assignable motive, I, perhaps alone among the furious crowd, had a distinct suspicion of the assassin. No sooner had the news reached me, than with the specification of the theater of the crime there at once flashed upon me the intellectual vision of the criminal: the stranger with the dark beard and startled eyes stood confessed before me! I held my breath for a few moments, and then there came a tide of objections rushing over my mind, revealing the inadequacy of the grounds on which rested my suspicions. What were the grounds? I had seen a man in a particular spot, not an unfrequented spot, on the evening of the night when the crime had been committed there; that man had seemed to recognize me, and wished to avoid being recognized. Obviously these grounds were too slender to bear any weight of construction such as I had based on them. Mere presence on the spot could no more inculpate him than it could inculpate me; if I had met him there, equally had he met me there. Nor even if my suspicion were correct that he knew me, and refused to recognize me, could that be any argument tending to criminate him in an affair wholly disconnected with me. Besides, he was walking peaceably, openly, and he looked like a gentleman. All these objections pressed themselves upon me, and kept me silent. But in spite of their force I could not prevent the suspicion from continually arising. Ashamed to mention it, because it may have sounded too absurd, I could not prevent my constructive imagination indulging in its vagaries, and with this secret conviction I resolved to await events, and in case suspicion from other quarters should ever designate the probable assassin, I might then come forward with my bit of corroborative evidence, should the suspected assassin be the stranger of the archway.

By twelve o’clock a new direction was given to rumor. Hitherto the stories, when carefully sifted of all exaggerations of flying conjecture, had settled themselves into something like this: The Lehfeldts had retired to rest at a quarter before ten, as was their custom. They had seen Lieschen go into her bedroom for the night, and had themselves gone to sleep with unclouded minds. From this peaceful security they were startled early in the morning by the appalling news of the calamity which had fallen on them. Incredulous at first, as well they might be, and incapable of believing in a ruin so unexpected and so overwhelming, they imagined some mistake, asserting that Lieschen was in her own room. Into that room they rushed, and there the undisturbed bed, and the open window, but a few feet from the garden, silently and pathetically disclosed the fatal truth. The bereaved parents turned a revealing look upon each other’s whitened faces, and then slowly retired from the room, followed in affecting silence by the others. Back into their own room they went. The father knelt beside the bed, and, sobbing, prayed. The mother sat staring with a stupefied stare, her lips faintly moving. In a short while the flood of grief, awakened to a thorough consciousness, burst from their laboring hearts. When the first paroxysms were over they questioned others, and gave incoherent replies to the questions addressed to them. From all which it resulted that Lieschen’s absence, though obviously voluntary, was wholly inexplicable to them; and no clew whatever could be given as to the motives of the crime. When these details became known, conjecture naturally interpreted Lieschen’s absence at night as an assignation. But with whom? She was not known to have a lover. Her father, on being questioned, passionately affirmed that she had none; she loved no one but her parents, poor child! Her mother, on being questioned, told the same story—adding, however, that about seventeen months before, she had fancied that Lieschen was a little disposed to favor Franz Kerkel, their shopman; but on being spoken to on the subject with some seriousness, and warned of the distance between them, she had laughed heartily at the idea, and since then had treated Franz with so much indifference that only a week ago she had drawn from her mother a reproof on the subject.

“I told her Franz was a good lad, though not good enough for her, and that she ought to treat him kindly. But she said my lecture had given her an alarm, lest Franz should have got the same maggot into his head.”

This was the story now passing through the curious crowds in every street. After hearing it I had turned into a tobacconist’s in the Adlergrasse, to restock my cigar-case, and found there, as everywhere, a group discussing the one topic of the hour. Herr Fischer, the tobacconist, with a long porcelain pipe pendent from his screwed-up lips, was solemnly listening to the particulars volubly communicated by a stout Bavarian priest; while behind the counter, in a corner, swiftly knitting, sat his wife, her black bead-like eyes also fixed on the orator. Of course I was dragged into the conversation. Instead of attending to commercial interests, they looked upon me as the possible bearer of fresh news. Nor was it without a secret satisfaction that I found I could gratify them in that respect. They had not heard of Franz Kerkel in the matter. No sooner had I told what I had heard than the knitting-needles of the vivacious little woman were at once suspended.

“Ach Je!” she exclaimed, “I see it all. He’s the wretch!”

“Who?” we all simultaneously inquired.

“Who? Why, Kerkel, of course. If she changed, and treated him with indifference, it was because she loved him; and he has murdered the poor thing.”

“How you run on, wife!” remonstrated Fischer; while the priest shook a dubious head.

“I tell you it is so. I’m positive.”

“If she loved him.”

“She did, I tell you. Trust a woman for seeing through such things.”

“Well, say she did,” continued Fischer, “and I won’t deny that it may be so; but then that makes against the idea of his having done her any harm.”

“Don’t tell me,” retorted the convinced woman. “She loved him. She went out to meet him in secret, and he murdered her—the villain did. I’m as sure of it as if these eyes had seen him do it.”

The husband winked at us, as much as to say, “You hear these women!” and the priest and I endeavored to reason her out of her illogical position. But she was immovable. Kerkel had murdered her; she knew it; she couldn’t tell why, but she knew it. Perhaps he was jealous, who knows? At any rate, he ought to be arrested.

And by twelve o’clock, as I said, a new rumor ran through the crowd, which seemed to confirm the little woman in her rash logic. Kerkel had been arrested, and a waistcoat stained with blood had been found in his room! By half-past twelve the rumor ran that he had confessed the crime. This, however, proved on inquiry to be the hasty anticipation of public indignation. He had been arrested; the waistcoat had been found: so much was authentic; and the suspicions gathered ominously over him.

When first Frau Fischer had started the suggestion it flew like wildfire. Then people suddenly noticed, as very surprising, that Kerkel had not that day made his appearance at the shop. His absence had not been noticed in the tumult of grief and inquiry; but it became suddenly invested with a dreadful significance, now that it was rumored that he had been Lieschen’s lover. Of all men he would be the most affected by the tragic news; of all men he would have been the first to tender sympathy and aid to the afflicted parents, and the most clamorous in the search for the undiscovered culprit. Yet, while all Nuremberg was crowding round the house of sorrow, which was also his house of business, he alone remained away. This naturally pointed suspicion at him. When the messengers had gone to seek him, his mother refused them admission, declaring in incoherent phrases, betraying great agitation, that her son was gone distracted with grief and could see no one. On this it was determined to order his arrest. The police went, the house was searched, and the waistcoat found.

The testimony of the girl who lived as servant in Kerkel’s house was also criminatory. She deposed that on the night in question she awoke about half-past eleven with a violent toothache; she was certain as to the hour, because she heard the clock afterwards strike twelve. She felt some alarm at hearing voices in the rooms at an hour when her mistress and young master must long ago have gone to bed; but as the voices were seemingly in quiet conversation, her alarm subsided, and she concluded that instead of having gone to bed her mistress was still up. In her pain she heard the door gently open, and then she heard footsteps in the garden. This surprised her very much. She couldn’t think what the young master could want going out at that hour. She became terrified without knowing exactly at what. Fear quite drove away the toothache, which had not since returned. After lying there quaking for some time, again she heard footsteps in the garden; the door opened and closed gently; voices were heard; and she at last distinctly heard her mistress say, “Be a man, Franz. Good-night— sleep well;” upon which Franz replied in a tone of great agony, “There’s no chance of sleep for me.” Then all was silent. Next morning her mistress seemed “very queer.” Her young master went out very early, but soon came back again; and there were dreadful scenes going on in his room, as she heard, but she didn’t know what it was all about. She heard of the murder from a neighbor, but never thought of its having any particular interest for Mr. Franz, though, of course, he would be very sorry for the Lehfeldts.

The facts testified to by the servant, especially the going out at that late hour, and the “dreadful scenes” of the morning, seemed to bear but one interpretation. Moreover, she identified the waistcoat as the one worn by Franz on the day preceding the fatal night.

III
THE ACCUSED

Now at last the pent-up wrath found a vent. From the distracting condition of wandering uncertain suspicion, it had been recalled into the glad security of individual hate. Although up to this time Kerkel had borne an exemplary reputation, it was now remembered that he had always been of a morose and violent temper, a hypocrite in religion, a selfish sensualist. Several sagacious critics had long “seen through him”; others had “never liked him”; others had wondered how it was he kept his place so long in Lehfeldt’s shop. Poor fellow! his life and actions, like those of every one else when illuminated by a light thrown back upon them, seemed so conspicuously despicable, although when illuminated in their own light they had seemed innocent enough. His mother’s frantic protestations of her son’s innocence—her assertions that Franz loved Lieschen more than his own soul—only served to envelop her in the silent accusation of being an accomplice, or at least of being an accessory after the fact.

I cannot say why it was, but I did not share the universal belief. The logic seemed to me forced; the evidence trivial. On first hearing of Kerkel’s arrest, I eagerly questioned my informant respecting his personal appearance; and on hearing that he was fair, with blue eyes and flaxen hair, my conviction of his innocence was fixed. Looking back on these days, I am often amused at this characteristic of my constructive imagination. While rejecting the disjointed logic of the mob, which interpreted his guilt, I was myself deluded by a logic infinitely less rational. Had Kerkel been dark, with dark eyes and beard, I should probably have sworn to his guilt, simply because the idea of that stranger had firmly fixed itself in my mind.

All that afternoon, and all the next day, the busy hum of voices was raised by the one topic of commanding interest. Kerkel had been examined. He at once admitted that a secret betrothal had for some time existed between him and Lieschen. They had been led to take this improper step by fear of her parents, who, had the attachment been discovered, would, it was thought, have separated them for ever. Herr Lehfeldt’s sternness, no less than his superior position, seemed an invincible obstacle, and the good mother, although doting upon her only daughter, was led by the very intensity of her affection to form ambitious hopes of her daughter’s future. It was barely possible that some turn in events might one day yield an opening for their consent; but meanwhile prudence dictated secrecy, in order to avert the most pressing danger, that of separation.

And so the pretty Lieschen, with feminine instinct of ruse, had affected to treat her lover with indifference; and to compensate him and herself for this restraint, she had been in the habit of escaping from home once or twice a week, and spending a delicious hour or two at night in the company of her lover and his mother. Kerkel and his mother lived in a cottage a little way outside the town. Lehfeldt’s shop stood not many yards from the archway. Now, as in Nuremberg no one was abroad after ten o’clock, except a few loungers at the cafes and beer-houses, and these were only to be met inside the town, not outside it, Lieschen ran extremely little risk of being observed in her rapid transit from her father’s to her lover’s house. Nor, indeed, had she ever met anyone in the course of these visits.

On the fatal night Lieschen was expected at the cottage. Mother and son waited at first hopefully, then anxiously, at last with some vague uneasiness at her non-appearance. It was now a quarter past eleven—nearly an hour later than her usual time. They occasionally went to the door to look for her; then they walked a few yards down the road, as if to catch an earlier glimpse of her advancing steps. But in vain. The half-hour struck. They came back into the cottage, discussing the various probabilities of delay. Three-quarters struck. Perhaps she had been detected; perhaps she was ill; perhaps—but this was his mother’s suggestion, and took little hold of him—there had been visitors who had stayed later than usual, and Lieschen, finding the night so advanced, had postponed her visit to the morrow. Franz, who interpreted Lieschen’s feelings by his own, was assured that no postponement of a voluntary kind was credible of her. Twelve o’clock struck. Again Franz went out into the road, and walked nearly up to the archway; he returned with heavy sadness and foreboding at his heart, reluctantly admitting that now all hope of seeing her that night was over. That night? Poor sorrowing heart, the night was to be eternal! The anguish of the desolate “never more” was awaiting him.

There is something intensely pathetic in being thus, as it were, spectators of a tragic drama which is being acted on two separate stages at once—the dreadful link of connection, which is unseen to the separate actors, being only too vividly seen by the spectators. It was with some interest that I, who believed in Kerkel’s innocence, heard this story; and in imagination followed its unfolding stage. He went to bed, not, as may be expected, to sleep; tossing restlessly in feverish agitation, conjuring up many imaginary terrors—but all of them trifles compared with the dread reality which he was so soon to face. He pictured her weeping—and she was lying dead on the cold pavement of the dark archway. He saw her in agitated eloquence pleading with offended parents—and she was removed for ever from all agitations, with the peace of death upon her young face.

At an early hour he started, that he might put an end to his suspense. He had not yet reached the archway before the shattering news burst upon him. From that moment he remembered nothing. But his mother described his ghastly agitation, as, throwing himself upon her neck, he told her, through dreadful sobs, the calamity which had fallen. She did her best to comfort him; but he grew wilder and wilder, and rolled upon the ground in the agony of an immeasurable despair. She trembled for his reason and his life. And when the messengers came to seek him, she spoke but the simple truth in saying that he was like one distracted. Yet no sooner had a glimpse of light dawned on him that some vague suspicion rested on him in reference to the murder, than he started up, flung away his agitation, and, with a calmness which was awful, answered every question, and seemed nerved for every trial. From that moment not a sob escaped him until, in the narrative of the night’s events, he came to that part which told of the sudden disclosure of his bereavement. And the simple, straightforward manner in which he told this tale, with a face entirely bloodless, and eyes that seemed to have withdrawn all their light inwards, made a great impression on the audience, which was heightened into sympathy when the final sob, breaking through the forced calmness, told of the agony which was eating its fiery way through the heart.

The story was not only plausible in itself, but accurately tallied with what before had seemed like the criminating evidence of the maid; tallied, moreover, precisely as to time, which would hardly have been the case had the story been an invention. As to the waistcoat which had figured so conspicuously in all the rumors, it appeared that suspicion had monstrously exaggerated the facts. Instead of a waistcoat plashed with blood—as popular imagination pictured it—it was a gray waistcoat, with one spot and a slight smear of blood, which admitted of a very simple explanation. Three days before, Franz had cut his left hand in cutting some bread; and to this the maid testified, because she was present when the accident occurred. He had not noticed that his waistcoat was marked by it until the next day, and had forgotten to wash out the stains.

People outside shook skeptical heads at this story of the cut hand. The bloody waistcoat was not to be disposed of in that easy way. It had fixed itself too strongly in their imagination. Indeed, my belief is that even could they have seen the waistcoat, its insignificant marks would have appeared murderous patches to their eyes. I had seen it, and my report was listened to with ill- concealed disbelief, when not with open protestation. And when Kerkel was discharged as free from all suspicion, there was a low growl of disappointed wrath heard from numerous groups.

This may sympathetically be understood by whomsoever remembers the painful uneasiness of the mind under a great stress of excitement with no definite issue. The lust for a vengeance, demanded by the aroused sensibilities of compassion, makes men credulous in their impatience; they easily believe anyone is guilty, because they feel an imperious need for fastening the guilt upon some definite head. Few verdicts of “Not Guilty” are well received, unless another victim is at hand upon whom the verdict of guilty is likely to fall. It was demonstrable to all judicial minds that Kerkel was wholly, pathetically innocent. In a few days this gradually became clear to the majority, but at first it was resisted as an attempt to balk justice; and to the last there were some obstinate doubters, who shook their heads mysteriously, and said, with a certain incisiveness, “Somebody must have done it; I should very much like to know who.”

Suspicion once more was drifting aimlessly. None had pointed in any new direction. No mention of anyone whom I could identify with the stranger had yet been made; but, although silent on the subject, I kept firm in my conviction, and I sometimes laughed at the pertinacity with which I scrutinized the face of every man I met, if he happened to have a black beard; and as black beards are excessively common, my curiosity, though never gratified, was never allowed repose.

Meanwhile Lieschen’s funeral had been emphatically a public mourning. Nay, so great was the emotion, that it almost deadened the interest which otherwise would have been so powerful, in the news now daily reaching us from Paris. Blood had flowed upon her streets—in consequence of that pistol-shot, which, either by accident or criminal intent, had converted the demonstration before the hotel of the Minister of Foreign Affairs into an insurrection. Paris had risen; barricades were erected. The troops were under arms. This was agitating news.

Such is the solidarity of all European nations, and so quick are all to vibrate in unison with the vibrations of each, that events like those transacted in Paris necessarily stirred every city, no matter how remote, nor politically how secure. And it says much for the intense interest excited by the Lehfeldt tragedy that Nuremberg was capable of sustaining that interest even amid the tremendous pressure of the February Revolution. It is true that Nuremberg is at all times somewhat sequestered from the great movements of the day, following slowly in the rear of great waves; it is true, moreover, that some politicians showed remarkable eagerness in canvassing the characters and hopes of Louis Philippe and Guizot; but although such events would at another period have formed the universal interest, the impenetrable mystery hanging over Lieschen’s death threw the Revolution into the background of their thoughts. If when a storm is raging over the dreary moorland, a human cry of suffering is heard at the door, at once the thunders and the tumult sink into insignificance, and are not even heard by the ear which is pierced with the feeble human voice: the grandeurs of storm and tempest, the uproar of surging seas, the clamorous wail of sea-birds amid the volleying artillery of heaven, in vain assail the ear that has once caught even the distant cry of a human agony, or serve only as scenical accompaniments to the tragedy which is foreshadowed by that cry. And so it was amid the uproar of 1848. A kingdom was in convulsions; but here, at our door, a young girl had been murdered, and two hearths made desolate. Rumors continued to fly about. The assassin was always about to be discovered; but he remained shrouded in impenetrable darkness. A remark made by Bourgonef struck me much. Our host, Zum Bayerischen Hof, one day announced with great satisfaction that he had himself heard from the syndic that the police were on the traces of the assassin.

“I am sorry to hear it,” said Bourgonef.

The guests paused from eating, and looked at him with astonishment.

“It is a proof,” he added, “that even the police now give it up as hopeless. I always notice that whenever the police are said to be on the traces the malefactor is never tracked. When they are on his traces they wisely say nothing about it; they allow it to be believed that they are baffled, in order to lull their victim into a dangerous security. When they know themselves to be baffled, there is no danger in quieting the public mind, and saving their own credit, by announcing that they are about to be successful.”

IV
A DISCOVERY

Bourgonef’s remark had been but too sagacious. The police were hoplessly baffled. In all such cases possible success depends upon the initial suggestion either of a motive which leads to a suspicion of the person, or of some person which leads to a suspicion of the motive. Once set suspicion on the right track, and evidence is suddenly alight in all quarters. But, unhappily, in the present case there was no assignable motive, no shadow darkening any person.

An episode now came to our knowledge in which Bourgonef manifested an unusual depth of interest. I was led to notice this interest, because it had seemed to me that in the crime itself, and the discussions which arose out of it, he shared but little of the universal excitement. I do not mean that he was indifferent—by no means; but the horror of the crime did not seem to fascinate his imagination as it fascinated ours. He could talk quite as readily of other things, and far more readily of the French affairs. But on the contrary, in this new episode he showed peculiar interest. It appeared that Lehfeldt, moved, perhaps, partly by a sense of the injustice which had been done to Kerkel in even suspecting him of the crime, and in submitting him to an examination more poignantly affecting to him under such circumstances than a public trial would have been under others; and moved partly by the sense that Lieschen’s love had practically drawn Kerkel within the family—for her choice of him as a husband had made him morally, if not legally, a son-in-law; and moved partly by the sense of loneliness which had now settled on their childless home,—Lehfeldt had in the most pathetic and considerate terms begged Kerkel to take the place of his adopted son, and become joint partner with him in the business. This, however, Kerkel had gently yet firmly declined. He averred that he felt no injury, though great pain had been inflicted on him by the examination. He himself in such a case would not have shrunk from demanding that his own brother should be tried, under suspicions of similar urgency. It was simple justice that all who were suspected should be examined; justice also to them that they might for ever clear themselves of doubtful appearances. But for the rest, while he felt his old affectionate respect for his master, he could recognize no claim to be removed from his present position. Had she lived, said the heartbroken youth, he would gladly have consented to accept any fortune which her love might bestow, because he felt that his own love and the devotion of a life might repay it. But there was nothing now that he could give in exchange. For his services he was amply paid; his feelings towards Lieschen’s parents must continue what they had ever been. In vain Lehfeldt pleaded, in vain many friends argued. Franz remained respectfully firm in his refusal.

This, as I said, interested Bourgonef immensely. He seemed to enter completely into the minds of the sorrowing, pleading parents, and the sorrowing, denying lover. He appreciated and expounded their motives with a subtlety and delicacy of perception which surprised and delighted me. It showed the refinement of his moral nature. But, at the same time, it rendered his minor degree of interest in the other episodes of the story, those which had a more direct and overpowering appeal to the heart, a greater paradox.

Human nature is troubled in the presence of all mystery which has not by long familiarity lost its power of soliciting attention; and for my own part, I have always been uneasy in the presence of moral problems. Puzzled by the contradictions which I noticed in Bourgonef, I tried to discover whether he had any general repugnance to stories of crimes, or any special repugnance to murders, or, finally, any strange repugnance to this particular case now everywhere discussed. And it is not a little remarkable that during three separate interviews, in the course of which I severally, and as I thought artfully, introduced these topics, making them seem to arise naturally out of the suggestion of our talk, I totally failed to arrive at any distinct conclusion. I was afraid to put the direct question: Do you not share the common feeling of interest in criminal stories? This question would doubtless have elicited a categorical reply; but somehow, the consciousness of an arriere-pensee made me shrink from putting such a question.

Reflecting on this indifference on a special point, and on the numerous manifestations I had noticed of his sensibility, I came at last to the conclusion that he must be a man of tender heart, whose delicate sensibilities easily shrank from the horrible under every form; and no more permitted him to dwell unnecessarily upon painful facts, than they permit imaginative minds to dwell on the details of an operation.

I had not long settled this in my mind before an accident suddenly threw a lurid light upon many details noticed previously, and painfully revived that inexplicable repulsion with which I had at first regarded him. A new suspicion filled my mind, or rather, let me say, a distinct shape was impressed upon many fluctuating suspicions. It scarcely admitted of argument, and at times seemed preposterous, nevertheless it persisted. The mind which in broad daylight assents to all that can be alleged against the absurdities of the belief in apparitions, will often acknowledge the dim terrors of darkness and loneliness—terrors at possibilities of supernatural visitations. In like manner, in the clear daylight of reason I could see the absurdity of my suspicion, but the vague stirrings of feeling remained unsilenced. I was haunted by the dim horrors of a possibility.

Thus it arose. We were both going to Munich, and Bourgonef had shortened his contemplated stay at Nuremberg that he might have the pleasure of accompanying me; adding also that he, too, should be glad to reach Munich, not only for its art, but for its greater command of papers and intelligence respecting what was then going on in France. On the night preceding the morning of our departure, I was seated in his room, smoking and discussing as usual, while Ivan, his servant, packed up his things in two large portmanteaus.

Ivan was a serf who spoke no word of any language but his own. Although of a brutal, almost idiotic type, he was loudly eulogized by his master as the model of fidelity and usefulness. Bourgonef treated him with gentleness, though with a certain imperiousness; much as one might treat a savage mastiff which it was necessary to dominate without exasperating. He more than once spoke of Ivan as a living satire on physiognomists and phrenologists; and as I am a phrenologist, I listened with some incredulity.

“Look at him,” he would say. “Observe the low, retreating brow, the flat face, the surly mouth, the broad base of the head, and the huge bull-like neck. Would not anyone say Ivan was as destructive as a panther, as tenacious as a bull-dog, as brutal as a bull? Yet he is the gentlest of sluggish creatures, and as tender-hearted as a girl! That thick-set muscular frame shrouds a hare’s heart. He is so faithful and so attached that I believe for me he would risk his life; but on no account could you get him to place himself in danger on his own account. Part of his love for me is gratitude for having rescued him from the conscription: the dangers incident to a military life had no charm for him!”

Now, although Bourgonef, who was not a phrenologist, might be convinced of the absence of ferocious instincts in Ivan, to me, as a phrenologist, the statement was eminently incredible. All the appearances of his manner were such as to confirm his master’s opinion. He was quiet, even tender in his attentions. But the tyrannous influence of ideas and physical impressions cannot be set aside; and no evidence would permanently have kept down my distrust of this man. When women shriek at the sight of a gun, it is in vain that you solemnly assure them that the gun is not loaded. “I don’t know,” they reply,—”at any rate, I don’t like it.” I was much in this attitude with regard to Ivan. He might be harmless. I didn’t know that; what I did know was—that I didn’t like his looks.

On this night he was moving noiselessly about the room, employed in packing. Bourgonef’s talk rambled over the old themes; and I thought I had never before met with one of my own age whose society was so perfectly delightful. He was not so conspicuously my superior on all points that I felt the restraints inevitably imposed by superiority; yet he was in many respects sufficiently above me in knowledge and power to make me eager to have his assent to my views where we differed, and to have him enlighten me where I knew myself to be weak.

In the very moment of my most cordial admiration came a shock. Ivan, on passing from one part of the room to the other, caught his foot in the strap of the portmanteau and fell. The small wooden box, something of a glove-box, which he held in his hand at the time, fell on the floor, and falling over, discharged its contents close to Bourgonef’s feet. The objects which caught my eyes were several pairs of gloves, a rouge-pot and hare’s foot, and a black beard!

By what caprice of imagination was it that the sight of this false beard lying at Bourgonef’s feet thrilled me with horror? In one lightning-flash I beheld the archway—the stranger with the startled eyes—this stranger no longer unknown to me, but too fatally recognized as Bourgonef—and at his feet the murdered girl!

Moved by what subtle springs of suggestion I know not, but there before me stood that dreadful vision, seen in a lurid light, but seen as clearly as if the actual presence of the objects were obtruding itself upon my eyes. In the inexpressible horror of this vision my heart seemed clutched with an icy hand.

Fortunately Bourgonef’s attention was called away from me. He spoke angrily some short sentence, which of course was in Russian, and therefore unintelligible to me. He then stooped, and picking up the rouge-pot, held it towards me with his melancholy smile. He was very red in the face; but that may have been either anger or the effect of sudden stooping. “I see you are surprised at these masquerading follies,” he said in a tone which, though low, was perfectly calm. “You must not suppose that I beautify my sallow cheeks on ordinary occasions.”

He then quietly handed the pot to Ivan, who replaced it with the gloves and the beard in the box; and after making an inquiry which sounded like a growl, to which Bourgonef answered negatively, he continued his packing.

Bourgonef resumed his cigar and his argument as if nothing had happened.

The vision had disappeared, but a confused mass of moving figures took its place. My heart throbbed so violently that it seemed to me as if its tumult must be heard by others. Yet my face must have been tolerably calm, since Bourgonef made no comment on it.

I answered his remarks in vague fragments, for, in truth, my thoughts were flying from conjecture to conjecture. I remembered that the stranger had a florid complexion; was this rouge? It is true that I fancied the stranger carried a walking-stick in his right hand; if so, this was enough to crush all suspicions of his identity with Bourgonef; but then I was rather hazy on this point, and probably did not observe a walking-stick.

After a while my inattention struck him, and looking at me with some concern, he inquired if there was anything the matter. I pleaded a colic, which I attributed to the imprudence of having indulged in sauerkraut at dinner. He advised me to take a little brandy; but, affecting a fresh access of pain, I bade him good- night. He hoped I should be all right on the morrow—if not, he added, we can postpone our journey till the day after.

Once in my own room I bolted the door, and sat down on the edge of the bed in a tumult of excitement.

V
FLUCTUATIONS

Alone with my thoughts, and capable of pursuing conjectures and conclusions without external interruption, I quickly exhausted all the hypothetical possibilities of the case, and, from having started with the idea that Bourgonef was the assassin, I came at last to the more sensible conclusion that I was a constructive blockhead. My suspicions were simply outrageous in their defect of evidence, and could never for one moment have seemed otherwise to any imagination less riotously active than mine.

I bathed my heated head, undressed myself, and got into bed, considering what I should say to the police when I went next morning to communicate my suspicions. And it is worthy of remark, as well as somewhat ludicrously self-betraying, that no sooner did I mentally see myself in the presence of the police, and was thus forced to confront my suspicions with some appearance of evidence, than the whole fabric of my vision rattled to the ground. What had I to say to the police? Simply that, on the evening of the night when Lieschen was murdered, I had passed in a public thoroughfare a man whom I could not identify, but who as I could not help fancying, seemed to recognize me. This man, I had persuaded myself, was the murderer; for which persuasion I was unable to adduce a tittle of evidence. It was uncolored by the remotest possibility. It was truly and simply the suggestion of my vagrant fancy, which had mysteriously settled itself into a conviction; and having thus capriciously identified the stranger with Lieschen’s murderer, I now, upon evidence quite as preposterous, identified Bourgonef with the stranger.

The folly became apparent even to myself. If Bourgonef had in his possession a rouge-pot and false beard, I could not but acknowledge that he made no attempt to conceal them, nor had he manifested any confusion on their appearance. He had quietly characterized them as masquerading follies. Moreover, I now began to remember distinctly that the stranger did carry a walking-stick in his right hand; and as Bourgonef had lost his right arm, that settled the point.

Into such complications, would the tricks of imagination lead me! I blushed mentally, and resolved to let it serve as a lesson in future. It is needless, however, to say that the lesson was lost, as such lessons always are lost; a strong tendency in any direction soon disregards all the teachings of experience. I am still not the less the victim of my constructive imagination, because I have frequently had to be ashamed of its vagaries.

The next morning I awoke with a lighter breast, rejoicing in the caution which had delayed me from any rash manifestation of suspicions now seen to be absurd. I smiled as the thought arose: what if this suspected stranger should also be pestered by an active imagination, and should entertain similar suspicions of me? He must have seen in my eyes the look of recognition which I saw in his. On hearing of the murder, our meeting may also have recurred to him; and his suspicions would have this color, wanting to mine, that I happen to inherit with my Italian blood a somewhat truculent appearance, which has gained for me among my friends the playful sobriquet of “the brigand.”

Anxious to atone at once for my folly, and to remove from my mind any misgiving—if it existed—at my quitting him so soon after the disclosures of the masquerading details, I went to Bourgonef as soon as I was dressed and proposed a ramble till the diligence started for Munich. He was sympathetic in his inquiries about my colic, which I assured him had quite passed away, and out we went. The sharp morning air of March made us walk briskly, and gave a pleasant animation to our thoughts. As he discussed the acts of the provisional government, so wise, temperate, and energetic, the fervor and generosity of his sentiments stood out in such striking contrast with the deed I had last night recklessly imputed to him that I felt deeply ashamed, and was nearly carried away by mingled admiration and self-reproach to confess the absurd vagrancy of my thoughts and humbly ask his pardon. But you can understand the reluctance at a confession so insulting to him, so degrading to me. It is at all times difficult to tell a man, face to face, eye to eye, the evil you have thought of him, unless the recklessness of anger seizes on it as a weapon with which to strike; and I had now so completely unsaid to myself all that I once had thought of evil, that to put it in words seemed a gratuitous injury to me and insult to him.

A day or two after our arrival in Munich a reaction began steadily to set in. Ashamed as I was of my suspicions, I could not altogether banish from my mind the incident which had awakened them. The image of that false beard would mingle with my thoughts. I was vaguely uncomfortable at the idea of Bourgonef’s carrying about with him obvious materials of disguise. In itself this would have had little significance; but coupled with the fact that his devoted servant was—in spite of all Bourgonef’s eulogies— repulsively ferocious in aspect, capable, as I could not help believing, of any brutality,—the suggestion was unpleasant. You will understand that having emphatically acquitted Bourgonef in my mind, I did not again distinctly charge him with any complicity in the mysterious murder; on the contrary, I should indignantly have repelled such a thought; but the uneasy sense of some mystery about him, coupled with the accessories of disguise, and the aspect of the servant, gave rise to dim, shadowy forebodings which ever and anon passed across my mind.

Did it ever occur to you, reader, to reflect on the depths of deceit which lie still and dark even in the honestest minds? Society reposes on a thin crust of convention, underneath which lie fathomless possibilities of crime, and consequently suspicions of crime. Friendship, however close and dear, is not free from its reserves, unspoken beliefs, more or less suppressed opinions. The man whom you would indignantly defend against any accusation brought by another, so confident are you in his unshakable integrity, you may yourself momentarily suspect of crimes far exceeding those which you repudiate. Indeed, I have known sagacious men hold that perfect frankness in expressing the thoughts is a sure sign of imperfect friendship; something is always suppressed; and it is not he who loves you that “tells you candidly what he thinks” of your person, your pretensions, your children, or your poems. Perfect candor is dictated by envy, or some other unfriendly feeling, making friendship a stalking-horse, under cover of which it shoots the arrow which will rankle. Friendship is candid only when the candor is urgent—meant to avert impending danger or to rectify an error. The candor which is an impertinence never springs from friendship. Love is sympathetic.

I do not, of course, mean to intimate that my feeling for Bourgonef was of that deep kind which justifies the name of friendship. I only want to say that in our social relations we are constantly hiding from each other, under the smiles and courtesies of friendly interest, thoughts which, if expressed, would destroy all possible communion—and that, nevertheless, we are not insincere in our smiles and courtesies; and therefore there is nothing paradoxical in my having felt great admiration for Bourgonef, and great pleasure in his society, while all the time there was deep down in the recesses of my thoughts an uneasy sense of a dark mystery which possibly connected him with a dreadful crime.

This feeling was roused into greater activity by an incident which now occurred. One morning I went to Bourgonef’s room, which was at some distance from mine on the same floor, intending to propose a visit to the sculpture at the Glyptothek. To my surprise I found Ivan the serf standing before the closed door. He looked at me like a mastiff about to spring; and intimated by significant gestures that I was not allowed to enter the room. Concluding that his master was occupied in some way, and desired not to be disturbed, I merely signified by a nod that my visit was of no consequence, and went out. On returning about an hour afterwards I saw Ivan putting three pink letters into the letter-box of the hotel. I attached no significance to this very ordinary fact at the time, but went up to my room and began writing my letters, one of which was to my lawyer, sending him an important receipt. The dinner-bell sounded before I had half finished this letter; but I wrote on, determined to have done with it at once, in case the afternoon should offer any expedition with Bourgonef.

At dinner he quietly intimated that Ivan had informed him of my visit, and apologized for not having been able to see me. I, of course, assured him that no apology was necessary, and that we had plenty of time to visit sculpture together without intruding on his private hours. He informed me that he was that afternoon going to pay a visit to Schwanthaler, the sculptor, and if I desired it, he would ask permission on another occasion to take me with him. I jumped at the proposal, as may be supposed.

Dinner over, I strolled into the Englische Garten, and had my coffee and cigar there. On my return I was vexed to find that in the hurry of finishing my letters I had sealed the one to my lawyer, and had not enclosed the receipt which had been the object of writing. Fortunately it was not too late. Descending to the bureau of the hotel, I explained my mistake to the head-waiter, who unlocked the letter-box to search for my letter. It was found at once, for there were only seven or eight in the box. Among these my eye naturally caught the three pink letters which I had that morning seen Ivan drop into the box; but although they were SEEN by me they were not NOTICED at the time, my mind being solely occupied with rectifying the stupid blunder I had made.

Once more in my own room a sudden revelation startled me. Everyone knows what it is to have details come under the eye which the mind first interprets long after the eye ceases to rest upon them. The impressions are received passively; but they are registered, and can be calmly read whenever the mind is in activity. It was so now. I suddenly, as if now for the first time, saw that the addresses on Bourgonef’s letters were written in a fluent, masterly hand, bold in character, and with a certain sweep which might have come from a painter. The thrill which this vision gave will be intelligible when you remember that Bourgonef had lost or pretended to have lost his right arm, and was, as I before intimated, far from dexterous with his left. That no man recently thrown upon the use of a left hand could have written those addresses was too evident. What, then, was the alternative? The empty sleeve was an imposture! At once the old horrible suspicion returned, and this time with tenfold violence, and with damnatory confirmation.

Pressing my temples between my hands, I tried to be calm and to survey the evidence without precipitation; but for some time the conflict of thoughts was too violent. Whatever might be the explanation, clear it was that Bourgonef, for some purposes, was practising a deception, and had, as I knew, other means of disguising his appearance. This, on the most favorable interpretation, branded him with suspicion. This excluded him from the circle of honest men.

But did it connect him with the murder of Lieschen Lehfeldt? In my thought it did so indubitably; but I was aware of the difficulty of making this clear to anyone else.

VI
FIRST LOVE

If the reader feels that my suspicions were not wholly unwarranted, were indeed inevitable, he will not laugh at me on learning that once more these suspicions were set aside, and the fact—the damnatory fact, as I regarded it—discovered by me so accidentally, and, I thought, providentially, was robbed of all its significance by Bourgonef himself casually and carelessly avowing it in conversation, just as one may avow a secret infirmity, with some bitterness, but without any implication of deceit in its concealment.

I was the more prepared for this revulsion of feeling, by the difficulty I felt in maintaining my suspicions in the presence of one so gentle and so refined. He had come into my room that evening to tell me of his visit to Schwanthaler, and of the sculptor’s flattering desire to make my personal acquaintance. He spoke of Schwanthaler, and his earnest efforts in art, with so much enthusiasm, and was altogether so charming, that I felt abashed before him, incapable of ridding myself of the dreadful suspicions, yet incapable of firmly believing him to be what I thought. But more than this, there came the new interest awakened in me by his story; and when, in the course of his story, he accidentally disclosed the fact that he had not lost his arm, all my suspicions vanished at once.

We had got, as usual, upon politics, and were differing more than usual, because he gave greater prominence to his sympathy with the Red Republicans. He accused me of not being “thorough-going,” which I admitted. This he attributed to the fact of my giving a divided heart to politics—a condition natural enough at my age, and with my hopes. “Well,” said I, laughing, “you don’t mean to take a lofty stand upon your few years’ seniority. If my age renders it natural, does yours profoundly alter such a conviction?”

“My age, no. But you have the hopes of youth. I have none. I am banished for ever from the joys and sorrows of domestic life; and therefore, to live at all, must consecrate my soul to great abstractions and public affairs.”

“But why banished, unless self-banished?”

“Woman’s love is impossible. You look incredulous. I do not allude to this,” he said, taking up the empty sleeve, and by so doing sending a shiver through me.

“The loss of your arm,” I said—and my voice trembled slightly, for I felt that a crisis was at hand—”although a misfortune to you, would really be an advantage in gaining a woman’s affections. Women are so romantic, and their imaginations are so easily touched!”

“Yes,” he replied bitterly; “but the trouble is that I have not lost my arm.”

I started. He spoke bitterly, yet calmly. I awaited his explanation in great suspense.

“To have lost my arm in battle, or even by an accident, would perhaps have lent me a charm in woman’s eyes. But, as I said, my arm hangs by my side—withered, unpresentable.”

I breathed again. He continued in the same tone, and without noticing my looks.

“But it is not this which banishes me. Woman’s love might be hoped for, had I far worse infirmities. The cause lies deeper. It lies in my history. A wall of granite has grown up between me and the sex.”

“But, my dear fellow, do you—wounded, as I presume to guess, by some unworthy woman—extend the fault of one to the whole sex? Do you despair of finding another true, because a first was false?”

“They are all false,” he exclaimed with energy. “Not, perhaps, all false from inherent viciousness, though many are that, but false because their inherent weakness renders them incapable of truth. Oh! I know the catalogue of their good qualities. They are often pitiful, self-devoting, generous; but they are so by fits and starts, just as they are cruel, remorseless, exacting, by fits and starts. They have no constancy—they are too weak to be constant even in evil; their minds are all impressions; their actions are all the issue of immediate promptings. Swayed by the fleeting impulses of the hour, they have only one persistent, calculable motive on which reliance can always be placed—that motive is vanity; you are always sure of them there. It is from vanity they are good—from vanity they are evil; their devotion and their desertion equally vanity. I know them. To me they have disclosed the shallows of their natures. God! how I have suffered from them!”

A deep, low exclamation, half sob, half curse, closed his tirade. He remained silent for a few minutes, looking on the floor, then, suddenly turning his eyes upon me, said:

“Were you ever in Heidelberg?”

“Never.”

“I thought all your countrymen went there? Then you will never have heard anything of my story. Shall I tell you how my youth was blighted? Will you care to listen?”

“It would interest me much.”

“I had reached the age of seven-and-twenty,” he began, “without having once known even the vague stirrings of the passion of love. I admired many women, and courted the admiration of them all; but I was as yet not only heart-whole, but, to use your Shakespeare’s phrase, Cupid had not tapped me on the shoulder.

“This detail is not unimportant in my story. You may possibly have observed that in those passionate natures which reserve their force, and do not fritter away their feelings in scattered flirtations or trivial love-affairs, there is a velocity and momentum, when the movement of passion is once excited, greatly transcending all that is ever felt by expansive and expressive natures. Slow to be moved, when they do move it is with the whole mass of the heart. So it was with me. I purchased my immunity from earlier entanglements by the price of my whole life. I am not what I was. Between my past and present self there is a gulf; that gulf is dark, stormy, and profound. On the far side stands a youth of hope, energy, ambition, and unclouded happiness, with great capacities for loving; on this side a blighted manhood, with no prospects but suffering and storm.”

He paused. With an effort he seemed to master the suggestions which crowded upon his memory, and continued his narrative in an equable tone.

“I had been for several weeks at Heidelberg. One of my intimate companions was Kestner, the architect, and he one day proposed to introduce me to his sister-in-law, Ottilie, of whom he had repeatedly spoken to me in terms of great affection and esteem.

“We went, and we were most cordially received. Ottilie justified Kestner’s praises. Pretty, but not strikingly so—clever, but not obtrusively so; her soft dark eyes were frank and winning; her manner was gentle and retiring, with that dash of sentimentalism which seems native to all German girls, but without any of the ridiculous extravagance too often seen in them. I liked her all the more because I was perfectly at my ease with her, and this was rarely the case in my relations to young women. I don’t enjoy their society.

“You leap at once to the conclusion that we fell in love. Your conclusion is precipitate. Seeing her continually, I grew to admire and respect her; but the significant smiles, winks, and hints of friends, pointing unmistakably at a supposed understanding existing between us, only made me more seriously examine the state of my feelings, and assured me that I was not in love. It is true that I felt a serene pleasure in her society, and that when away from her she occupied much of my thoughts. It is true that I often thought of her as a wife; and in these meditations she appeared as one eminently calculated to make a happy home. But it is no less true that during a temporary absence of hers of a few weeks I felt no sort of uneasiness, no yearning for her presence, no vacancy in my life. I knew, therefore, that it was not love which I felt.

“So much for my feelings. What of hers? They seemed very like my own. That she admired me, and was pleased to be with me, was certain. That she had a particle of fiery love for me I did not, could not believe. And it was probably this very sense of her calmness which kept my feelings quiet. For love is a flame which often can be kindled only by contact with flame. Certainly this is so in proud, reserved natures, which are chilled by any contact with temperature not higher than their own.

“On her return, however, from that absence I have mentioned, I was not a little fluttered by an obvious change in her manner; an impression which subsequent meetings only served to confirm. Although still very quiet, her manner had become more tender, and it had that delicious shyness which is the most exquisite of flatteries, as it is one of the most enchanting of graces. I saw her tremble slightly beneath my voice, and blush beneath my gaze.

“There was no mistaking these signs. It was clear that she loved me; and it was no less clear that I, taking fire at this discovery, was myself rapidly falling in love. I will not keep you from my story by idle reflections. Take another cigar.” He rose and paced up and down the room in silence.

VII
AGALMA

“At this juncture there arrived from Paris the woman to whom the great sorrow of my life is due. A fatalist might read in her appearance at this particular moment the signs of a prearranged doom. A few weeks later, and her arrival would have been harmless; I should have been shielded from all external influence by the absorbing force of love. But, alas! this was not to be. My fate had taken another direction. The woman had arrived whose shadow was to darken the rest of my existence. That woman was Agalma Liebenstein.

“How is it that the head which we can only see surrounded with a halo, or a shadow, when the splendors of achievement or the infamy of shame instruct our eyes, is by the uninstructed eye observed as wholly vulgar? We all profess to be physiognomists; how is it we are so lamentably mistaken in our judgments? Here was a woman in whom my ignorant eyes saw nothing at all remarkable except golden hair of unusual beauty. When I say golden, I am not speaking loosely. I do not mean red or flaxen hair, but hair actually resembling burnished gold more than anything else. Its ripples on her brow caught the light like a coronet. This was her one beauty, and it was superb. For the rest, her features were characterless. Her figure was tall and full; not graceful, but sweepingly imposing. At first I noticed nothing about her except the braided splendor of her glorious hair.”

He rose, and went into his bedroom, from which he returned with a small trinket-box in his hand. This he laid open on the table, disclosing a long strand of exquisite fair hair lying on a cushion of dark-blue velvet.

“Look at that,” he said. “Might it not have been cut from an angel’s head?”

“It is certainly wonderful.”

“It must have been hair like this which crowned the infamous head of Lucrezia Borgia,” he said, bitterly. “She, too, had golden hair; but hers must have been of paler tint, like her nature.”

He resumed his seat, and, fixing his eyes upon the lock, continued:

“She was one of Ottilie’s friends—dear friends, they called each other,—which meant that they kissed each other profusely, and told each other all their secrets, or as much as the lying nature of the sex permitted and suggested. It is, of course, impossible for me to disentangle my present knowledge from my past impressions so as to give you a clear description of what I then thought of Agalma. Enough that, as a matter of fact, I distinctly remember not to have admired her, and to have told Ottilie so; and when Ottilie, in surprise at my insensibility, assured me that men were in general wonderfully charmed with her (though, for her part, she had never understood why), I answered, and answered sincerely, that it might be true with the less refined order of men, but men of taste would certainly be rather repelled from her.

“This opinion of mine, or some report of it, reached Agalma.

“It may have been the proximate cause of my sorrows. Without this stimulus to her vanity, she might have left me undisturbed. I don’t know. All I know is, that over many men Agalma exercised great influence, and that over me she exercised the spell of fascination. No other word will explain her influence; for it was not based on excellences such as the mind could recognize to be attractions; it was based on a mysterious personal power, something awful in its mysteriousness, as all demoniac powers are. One source of her influence over men I think I can explain: she at once captivated and repelled them. By artful appeals to their vanity, she made them interested in her and in her opinion of them, and yet kept herself inaccessible by a pride which was the more fascinating because it always seemed about to give way. Her instinct fastened upon the weak point in those she approached. This made her seductive to men, because she flattered their weak points; and hateful to women, because she flouted and disclosed their weak points.

“Her influence over me began in the following way. One day, at a picnic, having been led by her into a conversation respecting the relative inferiority of the feminine intellect, I was forced to speak rather more earnestly than usual, when suddenly she turned to me and exclaimed in a lower voice:

“‘I am willing to credit anything you say; only pray don’t continue talking to me so earnestly.’

“‘Why not?’ I asked, surprised.

“She looked at me with peculiar significance, but remained silent.

“‘May I ask why not?’ I asked.

“‘Because, if you do, somebody may be jealous.’ There was a laughing defiance in her eye as she spoke.

“‘And pray, who has a right to be jealous of me?’

“‘Oh! you know well enough.’

“It was true; I did know; and she knew that I knew it. To my shame be it said that I was weak enough to yield to an equivocation which I now see to have been disloyal, but which I then pretended to have been no more than delicacy to Ottilie. As, in point of fact, there had never been a word passed between us respecting our mutual feelings, I considered myself bound in honor to assume that there was nothing tacitly acknowledged.

“Piqued by her tone and look, I disavowed the existence of any claims upon my attention; and to prove the sincerity of my words, I persisted in addressing my attentions to her. Once or twice I fancied I caught flying glances, in which some of the company criticised my conduct, and Ottilie also seemed to me unusually quiet. But her manner, though quiet, was untroubled and unchanged. I talked less to her than usual, partly because I talked so much to Agalma, and partly because I felt that Agalma’s eyes were on us. But no shadow of ‘temper’ or reserve darkened our interchange of speech.

“On our way back, I know not what devil prompted me to ask Agalma whether she had really been in earnest in her former allusion to ‘somebody.’

“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I was in earnest then.’

“‘And now?’

“‘Now I have doubts. I may have been misinformed. It’s no concern of mine, anyway; but I had been given to understand. However, I admit that my own eyes have not confirmed what my ears heard.’

“This speech was irritating on two separate grounds. It implied that people were talking freely of my attachment, which, until I had formally acknowledged it, I resented as an impertinence; and it implied that, from personal observation, Agalma doubted Ottilie’s feelings for me. This alarmed my quick-retreating pride! I, too, began to doubt. Once let loose on that field, imagination soon saw shapes enough to confirm any doubt. Ottilie’s manner certainly had seemed less tender—nay, somewhat indifferent—during the last few days. Had the arrival of that heavy lout, her cousin, anything to do with this change?

“Not to weary you by recalling all the unfolding stages of this miserable story with the minuteness of detail which my own memory morbidly lingers on, I will hurry to the catastrophe. I grew more and more doubtful of the existence in Ottilie’s mind of any feeling stronger than friendship for me; and as this doubt strengthened, there arose the flattering suspicion that I was becoming an object of greater interest to Agalma, who had quite changed her tone towards me, and had become serious in her speech and manner. Weeks passed. Ottilie had fallen from her pedestal, and had taken her place among agreeable acquaintances. One day I suddenly learned that Ottilie was engaged to her cousin.

“You will not wonder that Agalma, who before this had exercised great fascination over me, now doubly became an object of the most tender interest. I fell madly in love. Hitherto I had never known that passion. My feeling for Ottilie I saw was but the inarticulate stammerings of the mighty voice which now sounded throught the depths of my nature. The phrase, madly in love, is no exaggeration; madness alone knows such a fever of the brain, such a tumult of the heart. It was not that reason was overpowered; on the contrary, reason was intensely active, but active with that logic of flames which lights up the vision of maniacs.

“Although, of course, my passion was but too evident to every one, I dreaded its premature avowal, lest I should lose her; and almost equally dreaded delay, lest I should suffer from that also. At length the avowal was extorted from me by jealousy of a brilliant Pole—Korinski—who had recently appeared in our circle, and was obviously casting me in the shade by his superior advantages of novelty, of personal attraction, and of a romantic history. She accepted me; and now, for a time, I was the happiest of mortals. The fever of the last few weeks was abating; it gave place to a deep tide of hopeful joy. Could I have died then! Could I have even died shortly afterwards, when I knew the delicious mystery of a jealousy not too absorbing! For you must know that my happiness was brief. Jealousy, to which all passion of a deep and exacting power is inevitably allied, soon began to disturb my content. Agalma had no tenderness. She permitted caresses, never returned them. She was ready enough to listen to all my plans for the future, so long as the recital moved amid details of fortune and her position in society—that is, so long as her vanity was interested; but I began to observe with pain that her thoughts never rested on tender domesticities and poetic anticipations. This vexed me more and more. The very spell which she exercised over me made her want of tenderness more intolerable. I yearned for her love—for some sympathy with the vehement passion which was burning within me; and she was as marble.

“You will not be surprised to hear that I reproached her bitterly for her indifference. That is the invariable and fatal folly of lovers—they seem to imagine that a heart can be scolded into tenderness! To my reproaches she at first answered impatiently that they were unjust; that it was not her fault if her nature was less expansive than mine; and that it was insulting to be told she was indifferent to the man whom she had consented to marry. Later she answered my reproaches with haughty defiance, one day intimating that if I really thought what I said, and repented our engagement, it would be most prudent for us to separate ere it was too late. This quieted me for a while. But it brought no balm to my wounds.

“And now fresh tortures were added. Korinski became quite marked in his attentions to Agalma. These she received with evident delight; so much so, that I saw by the glances of others that they were scandalized at it; and this, of course, increased my pain. My renewed reproaches only made her manner colder to me; to Korinski it became what I would gladly have seen towards myself.

“The stress and agitation of those days were too much for me. I fell ill, and for seven weeks lay utterly prostrate. On recovering, this note was handed to me. It was from Agalma.”

Bourgonef here held out to me a crumpled letter, and motioned that
I should open it and read. It ran thus:

“I have thought much of what you have so often said, that it would be for the happiness of both if our unfortunate engagement were set aside. That you have a real affection for me I believe, and be assured that I once had a real affection for you; not, perhaps, the passionate love which a nature so exacting as yours demands, and which I earnestly hope it may one day find, but a genuine affection nevertheless, which would have made me proud to share your lot. But it would be uncandid in me to pretend that this now exists. Your incessant jealousy, the angry feelings excited by your reproaches, the fretful irritation in which for some time we have lived together, has completely killed what love I had, and I no longer feel prepared to risk the happiness of both of us by a marriage. What you said the other night convinces me that it is even your desire our engagement should cease. It is certainly mine. Let us try to think kindly of each other and meet again as friends.
AGALMA LIEBENSTEIN.”

When I had read this and returned it to him, he said:

“You see that this was written on the day I was taken ill. Whether she knew that I was helpless I know not. At any rate, she never sent to inquire after me. She went off to Paris; Korinski followed her; and—as I quickly learned on going once more into society— they were married! Did you ever, in the whole course of your experience, hear of such heartless conduct?”

Bourgonef asked this with a ferocity which quite startled me. I did not answer him; for, in truth, I could not see that Agalma had been very much to blame, even as he told the story, and felt sure that could I have heard her version it would have worn a very different aspect. That she was cold, and disappointed him, might be true enough, but there was no crime; and I perfectly understood how thoroughly odious he must have made himself to her by his exactions and reproaches. I understood this, perhaps, all the better, because in the course of his narrative Bourgonef had revealed to me aspects of his nature which were somewhat repulsive. Especially was I struck with his morbid vanity, and his readiness to impute low motives to others. This unpleasant view of his character—a character in many respects so admirable for its generosity and refinement—was deepened as he went on, instead of awaiting my reply to his question.

“For a wrong so measureless, you will naturally ask what measureless revenge I sought.”

The idea had not occurred to me; indeed I could see no wrong, and this notion of revenge was somewhat startling in such a case.

“I debated it long,” he continued. “I felt that since I was prevented from arresting any of the evil to myself, I could at least mature my plans for an adequate discharge of just retributions on her. It reveals the impotence resulting from the trammels of modern civilization, that while the possibilities of wrong are infinite, the openings for vengeance are few and contemptible. Only when a man is thrown upon the necessities of this ‘wild justice’ does he discover how difficult vengeance really is. Had Agalma been my wife, I could have wreaked my wrath upon her, with assurance that some of the torture she inflicted on me was to fall on her. Not having this power what was I to do? Kill her? That would have afforded one moment of exquisite satisfaction—but to her it would have been simply death—and I wanted to kill the heart.”

He seemed working with an insane passion, so that I regarded him with disgust, mingled with some doubts as to what horrors he was about to relate.

“My plan was chosen. The only way to reach her heart was to strike through her husband. For several hours daily I practised with the pistol, until—in spite of only having a left hand—I acquired fatal skill. But this was not enough. Firing at a mark is simple work. Firing at a man—especially one holding a pistol pointed at you—is altogether different. I had too often heard of ‘crack shots’ missing their men, to rely confidently on my skill in the shooting gallery. It was necessary that my eye and hand should be educated to familiarity with the real object. Part of the cause why duelists miss their man is from the trepidation of fear. I was without fear. At no moment in my life have I been afraid; and the chance of being shot by Korinski I counted as nothing. The other cause is unfamiliarity with the mark. This I secured myself against by getting a lay figure of Korinski’s height, dressing it to resemble him, placing a pistol in its hand, and then practising at this mark in the woods. After a short time I could send a bullet through the thorax without taking more than a hasty glance at the figure.

“Thus prepared, I started for Paris. But you will feel for me when you learn that my hungry heart was baffled of its vengeance, and baffled for ever. Agalma had been carried off by scarlet fever. Korinski had left Paris, and I felt no strong promptings to follow him, and wreak on him a futile vengeance. It was on HER my wrath had been concentrated, and I gnashed my teeth at the thought that she had escaped me.

“My story is ended. The months of gloomy depression which succeeded, now that I was no longer sustained by the hope of vengeance, I need not speak of. My existence was desolate, and even now the desolation continues over the whole region of the emotions. I carry a dead heart within me.”

VIII
A SECOND VICTIM

Bourgonef’s story has been narrated with some fullness, though in less detail than he told it, in order that the reader may understand its real bearings on MY story. Without it, the motives which impelled the strange pertinacity of my pursuit would have been unintelligible. I have said that a very disagreeable impression remained on my mind respecting certain aspects of his character, and I felt somewhat ashamed of my imperfect sagacity in having up to this period been entirely blind to those aspects. The truth is, every human being is a mystery, and remains so to the last. We fancy we know a character; we form a distinct conception of it; for years that conception remains unmodified, and suddenly the strain of some emergency, of the incidental stimulus of new circumstances, reveals qualities not simply unexpected, but flatly contradictory of our previous conception. We judge of a man by the angle he subtends to our eye—only thus CAN we judge of him; and this angle depends on the relation his qualities and circumstances bear to our interests and sympathies. Bourgonef had charmed me intellectually; morally I had never come closer to him than in the sympathies of public questions and abstract theories. His story had disclosed hidden depths.

My old suspicions reappeared, and a conversation we had two days afterwards helped to strengthen them.

We had gone on a visit to Schwanthaler, the sculptor, at his tiny little castle of Schwaneck, a few miles from Munich. The artist was out for a walk, but we were invited to come in and await his return, which would be shortly; and meanwhile Bourgonef undertook to show me over the castle, interesting as a bit of modern Gothic, realizing on a diminutive scale a youthful dream of the sculptor’s. When our survey was completed—and it did not take long—we sat at one of the windows and enjoyed a magnificent prospect. “It is curious,” said Bourgonef, “to be shut up here in this imitation of medieval masonry, where every detail speaks of the dead past, and to think of the events now going on in Paris which must find imitators all over Europe, and which open to the mind such vistas of the future. What a grotesque anachronism is this Gothic castle, built in the same age as that which sees a reforming pope!”

“Yes; but is not the reforming pope himself an anachronism?”

“As a Catholic,” here he smiled, intimating that his orthodoxy was not very stringent, “I cannot admit that; as a Protestant, you must admit that if there must be a pope, he must in these days be a reformer, or—give up his temporal power. Not that I look on Pio Nono as more than a precursor; he may break ground, and point the way, but he is not the man to lead Europe out of its present slough of despond, and under the headship of the Church found a new and lasting republic. We want a Hildebrand, one who will be to the nineteenth century as Gregory was to the eleventh.”

“Do you believe in such a possibility? Do you think the Roman pontiff can ever again sway the destinies of Europe?”

“I can hardly say I believe it; yet I see the possibility of such an opening if the right man were to arise. But I fear he will not arise; or if he should, the Conclave will stifle him. Yet there is but one alternative: either Europe must once more join in a crusade with a pope at the head, or it must hoist the red flag. There is no other issue.”

“Heaven preserve us from both! And I think we shall be preserved from the Pope by the rottenness of the Church; from the drapeau rouge by the indignation and horror of all honest men. You see how the Provisional Government has resisted the insane attempt of the fanatics to make the red flag accepted as the national banner?”

“Yes; and it is the one thing which dashes my pleasure in the new revolution. It is the one act of weakness which the Government has exhibited; a concession which will be fatal unless it be happily set aside by the energetic party of action.”

“An act of weakness? say rather an act of strength. A concession? say rather the repudiation of anarchy, the assertion of law and justice.”

“Not a bit. It was concession to the fears of the timid, and to the vanity of the French people. The tricolor is a French flag— not the banner of humanity. It is because the tricolor has been identified with the victories of France that it appeals to the vanity of the vainest of people. They forget that it is the flag of a revolution which failed, and of an empire which was one perpetual outrage to humanity. Whereas the red is new; it is the symbol of an energetic, thorough-going creed. If it carries terror with it, so much the better. The tyrants and the timid should be made to tremble.”

“I had no idea you were so bloodthirsty,” said I, laughing at his vehemence.

“I am not bloodthirsty at all; I am only logical and consistent. There is a mass of sophistry current in the world which sickens me. People talk of Robespierre and St. Just, two of the most virtuous men that ever lived—and of Dominic and Torquemada, two of the most single-minded—as if they were cruel and bloodthirsty, whereas they were only convinced.”

“Is it from love of paradox that you defend these tigers?”

“Tigers, again—how those beasts are calumniated!”

He said this with a seriousness which was irresistibly comic. I shouted with laughter; but he continued gravely:

“You think I am joking. But let me ask you why you consider the tiger more bloodthirsty than yourself? He springs upon his food— you buy yours from the butcher. He cannot live without animal food: it is a primal necessity, and he obeys the ordained instinct. You can live on vegetables; yet you slaughter beasts of the field and birds of the air (or buy them when slaughtered), and consider yourself a model of virtue. The tiger only kills his food or his enemies; you not only kill both, but you kill one animal to make gravy for another! The tiger is less bloodthirsty than the Christian!”

“I don’t know how much of that tirade is meant to be serious; but to waive the question of the tiger’s morality, do you really—I will not say sympathize,—but justify Robespierre, Dominic, St. Just, and the rest of the fanatics who have waded to their ends through blood.”

“He who wills the END, wills the MEANS.”

“A devil’s maxim.”

“But a truth. What the foolish world shrinks at as bloodthirstiness and cruelty is very often mere force and constancy of intellect. It is not that fanatics thirst for blood—far from it,—but they thirst for the triumph of their cause. Whatever obstacle lies on their path must be removed; if a torrent of blood is the only thing that will sweep it away—the torrent must sweep.”

“And sweep with it all the sentiments of pity, mercy, charity, love?”

“No; these sentiments may give a sadness to the necessity; they make the deed a sacrifice, but they cannot prevent the soul from seeing the aim to which it tends.”

“This is detestable doctrine! It is the sophism which has destroyed families, devastated cities, and retarded the moral progress of the world more than anything else. No single act of injustice is ever done on this earth but it tends to perpetuate the reign of iniquity. By the feelings it calls forth it keeps up the native savagery of the heart. It breeds injustice, partly by hardening the minds of those who assent, and partly by exciting the passion of revenge in those who resist.”

“You are wrong. The great drag-chain on the car of progress is the faltering inconsistency of man. Weakness is more cruel than sternness. Sentiment is more destructive than logic.”

The arrival of Schwanthaler was timely, for my indignation was rising. The sculptor received us with great cordiality, and in the pleasure of the subsequent hour I got over to some extent the irritation Bourgonef’s talk had excited.

The next day I left Munich for the Tyrol. My parting with Bourgonef was many degrees less friendly than it would have been a week before. I had no wish to see him again, and therefore gave him no address or invitation in case he should come to England. As I rolled away in the Malleposte, my busy thoughts reviewed all the details of our acquaintance, and the farther I was carried from his presence, the more obtrusive became the suspicions which connected him with the murder of Lieschen Lehfeldt. How, or upon what motive, was indeed an utter mystery. He had not mentioned the name of Lehfeldt. He had not mentioned having before been at Nuremberg. At Heidelberg the tragedy occurred—or was Heidelberg only a mask? It occurred to me that he had first ascertained that I had never been at Heidelberg before he placed the scene of his story there.

Thoughts such as these tormented me. Imagine, then, the horror with which I heard, soon after my arrival at Salzburg, that a murder had been committed at Grosshesslohe—one of the pretty environs of Munich much resorted to by holiday folk—corresponding in all essential features with the murder at Nuremberg! In both cases the victim was young and pretty. In both cases she was found quietly lying on the ground, stabbed to the heart, without any other traces of violence. In both cases she was a betrothed bride, and the motive of the unknown assassin a mystery.

Such a correspondence in the essential features inevitably suggested an appalling mystery of unity in these crimes,—either as the crimes of one man, committed under some impulse of motiveless malignity and thirst for innocent blood—or as the equally appalling effect of IMITATION acting contagiously upon a criminal imagination; of which contagion there have been, unfortunately, too many examples—horrible crimes prompting certain weak and feverish imaginations, by the very horror they inspire, first to dwell on, and finally to realize their imitations.

It was this latter hypothesis which found general acceptance. Indeed it was the only one which rested upon any ground of experience. The disastrous influence of imitation, especially under the fascination of horror, was well known. The idea of any diabolical malice moving one man to pass from city to city, and there quietly single out his victims—both of them, by the very hypothesis, unrelated to him, both of them at the epoch of their lives, when the peace of the heart is assured, and the future is radiantly beckoning to them,—that any man should choose such victims for such crimes was too preposterous an idea long to be entertained. Unless the man were mad, the idea was inconceivable; and even a monomaniac must betray himself in such a course, because he would necessarily conceive himself to be accomplishing some supreme act of justice.

It was thus I argued; and indeed I should much have preferred to believe that one maniac were involved, rather than the contagion of crime,—since one maniac must inevitably be soon detected; whereas there were no assignable limits to the contagion of imitation. And this it was which so profoundly agitated German society. In every family in which there happened to be a bride, vague tremors could not be allayed; and the absolute powerlessness which resulted from the utter uncertainty as to the quarter in which this dreaded phantom might next appear, justified and intensified those tremors. Against such an apparition there was no conceivable safeguard. From a city stricken with the plague, from a district so stricken, flight is possible, and there are the resources of medical aid. But from a moral plague like this, what escape was possible?

So passionate and profound became the terror, that I began to share the opinion which I heard expressed, regretting the widespread publicity of the modern press, since, with many undeniable benefits, it carried also the fatal curse of distributing through households, and keeping constantly under the excitement of discussion, images of crime and horror which would tend to perpetuate and extend the excesses of individual passion. The mere dwelling long on such a topic as this was fraught with evil.

This and more I heard discussed as I hurried back to Munich. To Munich? Yes; thither I was posting with all speed. Not a shadow of doubt now remained in my mind. I knew the assassin, and was resolved to track and convict him. Do not suppose that THIS time I was led away by the vagrant activity of my constructive imagination. I had something like positive proof. No sooner had I learned that the murder had been committed at Grosshesslohe, than my thoughts at once carried me to a now memorable visit I had made there in company with Bourgonef and two young Bavarians. At the hotel where we dined, we were waited on by the niece of the landlord, a girl of remarkable beauty, who naturally excited the attention of four young men, and furnished them with a topic of conversation. One of the Bavarians had told us that she would one day be perhaps one of the wealthiest women in the country, for she was engaged to be married to a young farmer who had recently found himself, by a rapid succession of deaths, sole heir to a great brewer, whose wealth was known to be enormous.

At this moment Sophie entered bringing wine, and I saw Bourgonef slowly turn his eyes upon her with a look which then was mysterious to me, but which now spoke too plainly its dreadful meaning.

What is there in a look, you will say? Perhaps nothing; or it may be everything. To my unsuspecting, unenlightened perception, Bourgonef’s gaze was simply the melancholy and half-curious gaze which such a man might be supposed to cast upon a young woman who had been made the topic of an interesting discourse. But to my mind, enlightened as to his character, and instructed as to his peculiar feelings arising from his own story, the gaze was charged with horror. It marked a victim. The whole succession of events rose before me in vivid distinctness; the separate details of suspicion gathered into unity.

Great as was Bourgonef’s command over his features, he could not conceal uneasiness as well as surprise at my appearance at the table d’hote in Munich. I shook hands with him, putting on as friendly a mask as I could, and replied to his question about my sudden return by attributing it to unexpected intelligence received at Salzburg.

“Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Well, I’m afraid it will prove very serious,” I said. “But we shall see. Meanwhile my visit to the Tyrol must be given up or postponed.”

“Do you remain here, then?”

“I don’t know what my movements will be.”

Thus I had prepared him for any reserve or strangeness in my manner; and I had concealed from him the course of my movements; for at whatever cost, I was resolved to follow him and bring him to justice.

But how? Evidence I had none that could satisfy any one else, however convincing it might be to my own mind. Nor did there seem any evidence forthcoming from Grosshesslohe. Sophie’s body had been found in the afternoon lying as if asleep in one of the by- paths of the wood. No marks of a struggle; no traces of the murderer. Her affianced lover, who was at Augsburg, on hearing of her fate, hurried to Grosshesslohe, but could throw no light on the murder, could give no hint as to a possible motive for the deed. But this entire absence of evidence, or even ground of suspicion, only made MY case the stronger. It was the motiveless malignity of the deed which fastened it on Bourgonef; or rather, it was the absence of any known motive elsewhere which assured me that I had detected the motive in him.

Should I communicate my conviction to the police? It was possible that I might impress them with at least sufficient suspicion to warrant his examination—and in that case the truth might be elicited; for among the many barbarities and iniquities of the criminal procedure in Continental States which often press heavily on the innocent, there is this compensating advantage, that the pressure on the guilty is tenfold heavier. If the innocent are often unjustly punished—imprisoned and maltreated before their innocence can be established—the guilty seldom escape. In England we give the criminal not only every chance of escape, but many advantages. The love of fair-play is carried to excess. It seems at times as if the whole arrangements of our procedure were established with a view to giving a criminal not only the benefit of every doubt, but of every loophole through which he can slip. Instead of this, the Continental procedure goes on the principle of closing up every loophole, and of inventing endless traps into which the accused may fall. We warn the accused not to say anything that may be prejudicial to him. They entangle him in contradictions and confessions which disclose his guilt.

Knowing this, I thought it very likely that, however artful Bourgonef might be, a severe examination might extort from him sufficient confirmation of my suspicion to warrant further procedure. But knowing also that THIS resort was open to me when all others had failed, I resolved to wait and watch.

IX
FINALE

Two days passed, and nothing occurred. My watching seemed hopeless, and I resolved to try the effect of a disguised interrogatory. It might help to confirm my already settled conviction, if it did not elicit any new evidence.

Seated in Bourgonef’s room, in the old place, each with a cigar, and chatting as of old on public affairs, I gradually approached the subject of the recent murder.

“Is it not strange,” I said, “that both these crimes should have happened while we were casually staying in both places?”

“Perhaps we are the criminals,” he replied, laughing. I shivered slightly at this audacity. He laughed as he spoke, but there was a hard, metallic, and almost defiant tone in his voice which exasperated me.

“Perhaps we are,” I answered, quietly. He looked full at me; but I was prepared, and my face told nothing. I added, as in explanation, “The crime being apparently contagious, we may have brought the infection from Nuremberg.”

“Do you believe in that hypothesis of imitation?”

“I don’t know what to believe. Do you believe in there being only one murderer? It seems such a preposterous idea. We must suppose him, at any rate, to be a maniac.”

“Not necessarily. Indeed there seems to have been too much artful contrivance in both affairs, not only in the selection of the victims, but in the execution of the schemes. Cunning as maniacs often are they are still maniacs, and betray themselves.”

“If not a maniac,” said I, hoping to pique him, “he must be a man of stupendous and pitiable vanity,—perhaps one of your constant- minded friends, whom you refuse to call bloodthirsty.”

“Constant-minded, perhaps; but why pitiably vain?”

“Why? Because only a diseased atrocity of imagination, stimulating a nature essentially base and weak in its desire to make itself conspicuous, would or could suggest such things. The silly youth who ‘fired the Ephesian dome,’ the vain idiot who set fire to York Minster, the miserable Frenchmen who have committed murder and suicide with a view of making their exit striking from a world in which their appearance had been contemptible, would all sink into insignificance beside the towering infamy of baseness which—for the mere love of producing an effect on the minds of men, and thus drawing their attention upon him, which otherwise would never have marked him at all—could scheme and execute crimes so horrible and inexcusable. In common charity to human nature, let us suppose the wretch is mad; because otherwise his miserable vanity would be too loathsome.” I spoke with warmth and bitterness, which increased as I perceived him wincing under the degradation of my contempt.

“If his motive WERE vanity,” he said, “no doubt it would be horrible; but may it not have been revenge?”

“Revenge!” I exclaimed; “what! on innocent women?”

“You assume their innocence.”

“Good God! do you know anything to the contrary?”

“Not I. But as we are conjecturing, I may as well conjecture it to have been the desire to produce a startling effect.”

“How do you justify your conjecture?”

“Simply enough. We have to suppose a motive; let us say it was revenge, and see whether that will furnish a clue.”

“But it can’t. The two victims were wholly unconnected with each other by any intermediate acquaintances, consequently there can have been no common wrong or common enmity in existence to furnish food for vengeance.”

“That may be so; it may also be that the avenger made them vicarious victims.”

“How so?”

“It is human nature. Did you ever observe a thwarted child striking in its anger the unoffending nurse, destroying its toys to discharge its wrath? Did you ever see a schoolboy, unable to wreak his anger on the bigger boy who has just struck him, turn against the nearest smaller boy and beat him? Did you ever know a schoolmaster, angered by one of the boy’s parents, vent his pent-up spleen upon the unoffending class? Did you ever see a subaltern punished because an officer had been reprimanded? These are familiar examples of vicarious vengeance. When the soul is stung to fury, it must solace itself by the discharge of that fury—it must relieve its pain by the sight of pain in others. We are so constituted. We need sympathy above all things. In joy we cannot bear to see others in distress; in distress we see the joy of others with dismal envy which sharpens our pain. That is human nature.”

“And,” I exclaimed, carried away by my indignation, “you suppose that the sight of these two happy girls, beaming with the quiet joy of brides, was torture to some miserable wretch who had lost his bride.”

I had gone too far. His eyes looked into mine. I read in his that he divined the whole drift of my suspicion—the allusion made to himself. There often passes into a look more than words can venture to express. In that look he read that he was discovered, and I read that he had recognized it. With perfect calmness, but with a metallic ring in his voice which was like the clash of swords, he said:

“I did not say that I supposed this; but as we were on the wide field of conjecture—utterly without evidence one way or the other, having no clue either to the man or his motives—I drew from the general principles of human nature a conclusion which was just as plausible—or absurd if you like—as the conclusion that the motive must have been vanity.”

“As you say, we are utterly without evidence, and conjecture drifts aimlessly from one thing to another. After all, the most plausible explanation is that of a contagion of imitation.”

I said this in order to cover my previous imprudence. He was not deceived—though for a few moments I fancied he was—but replied:

“I am not persuaded of that either. The whole thing is a mystery, and I shall stay here some time in the hope of seeing it cleared up. Meanwhile, for a subject of conjecture, let me show you something on which your ingenuity may profitably be employed.”

He rose and passed into his bedroom. I heard him unlocking and rummaging the drawers, and was silently reproaching myself for my want of caution in having spoken as I had done, though it was now beyond all doubt that he was the murderer, and that his motive had been rightly guessed; but with this self-reproach there was mingled a self-gratulation at the way I had got out of the difficulty, as I fancied.

He returned, and as he sat down I noticed that the lower part of his surtout was open. He always wore a long frogged and braided coat reaching to the knees—as I now know, for the purpose of concealing the arm which hung (as he said, withered) at his side. The two last fastenings were now undone.

He held in his hand a tiny chain made of very delicate wire. This he gave me, saying:

“Now what would you conjecture that to be?”

“Had it come into my hands without any remark, I should have said it was simply a very exquisite bit of ironwork; but your question points to something more out of the way.”

“It IS iron-work,” he said.

Could I be deceived? A third fastening of his surtout was undone!
I had seen but two a moment ago.

“And what am I to conjecture?” I asked.

“Where that iron came from? It was NOT from a mine.” I looked at it again, and examined it attentively. On raising my eyes in inquiry—fortunately with an expression of surprise, since what met my eyes would have startled a cooler man—I saw the fourth fastening undone!

“You look surprised,” he continued, “and will be more surprised when I tell you that the iron in your hands once floated in the circulation of a man. It is made from human blood.”

“Human blood!” I murmured.

He went on expounding the physiological wonders of the blood,—how it carried, dissolved in its currents, a proportion of iron and earths; how this iron was extracted by chemists and exhibited as a curiosity; and how this chain had been manufactured from such extracts. I heard every word, but my thoughts were hurrying to and fro in the agitation of a supreme moment. That there was a dagger underneath that coat—that in a few moments it would flash forth— that a death-struggle was at hand,—I knew well. My safety depended on presence of mind. That incalculable rapidity with which, in critical moments, the mind surveys all the openings and resources of an emergency, had assured me that there was no weapon within reach—that before I could give an alarm the tiger would be at my throat, and that my only chance was to keep my eyes fixed upon him, ready to spring on him the moment the next fastening was undone, and before he could use his arm.

At last the idea occurred to me, that as, with a wild beast, safety lies in attacking him just before he attacks you, so with this beast my best chance was audacity. Looking steadily into his face, I said slowly:

“And you would like to have such a chain made from my blood.” I rose as I spoke. He remained sitting, but was evidently taken aback.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“I mean,” said I, sternly, “that your coat is unfastened, and that if another fastening is loosened in my presence, I fell you to the earth.”

“You’re a fool!” he exclaimed.

I moved towards the door, keeping my eye fixed upon him as he sat pale and glaring at me.

“YOU are a fool,” I said—” and worse, if you stir.”

At this moment, I know not by what sense, as if I had eyes at the back of my head, I was aware of some one moving behind me, yet I dared not look aside. Suddenly two mighty folds of darkness seemed to envelop me like arms. A powerful scent ascended my nostrils. There was a ringing in my ears, a beating at my heart. Darkness came on, deeper and deeper, like huge waves. I seemed growing to gigantic stature. The waves rolled on faster and faster. The ringing became a roaring. The beating became a throbbing. Lights flashed across the darkness. Forms moved before me. On came the waves hurrying like a tide, and I sank deeper and deeper into this mighty sea of darkness. Then all was silent. Consciousness was still.

. . . . . .

How long I remained unconscious, I cannot tell. But it must have been some considerable time. When consciousness once more began to dawn within me, I found myself lying on a bed surrounded by a group of eager, watching faces, and became aware of a confused murmur of whispering going on around me. “Er Lebt” (he lives) were the words which greeted my opening eyes—words which I recognized as coming from my landlord.

I had had a very narrow escape. Another moment and I should not have lived to tell the tale. The dagger that had already immolated two of Bourgonef’s objects of vengeance would have been in my breast. As it was, at the very moment when the terrible Ivan had thrown his arms around me and was stifling me with chloroform, one of the servants of the hotel, alarmed or attracted by curiosity at the sound of high words within the room, had ventured to open the door to see what was going on. The alarm had been given, and Bourgonef had been arrested and handed over to the police. Ivan, however, had disappeared; nor were the police ever able to find him. This mattered comparatively little. Ivan without his master was no more redoubtable than any other noxious animal. As an accomplice, as an instrument to execute the will of a man like Bourgonef, he was a danger to society. The directing intelligence withdrawn, he sank to the level of the brute. I was not uneasy, therefore, at his having escaped. Sufficient for me that the real criminal, the mind that had conceived and directed those fearful murders, was at last in the hands of justice. I felt that my task had been fully accomplished when Bourgonef’s head fell on the scaffold.

 

main-p1