Part 3 out of 3
The bewildered druggist answered:
"Yes--but I did not tell on him--I haven't said a word--I swear it--he
has served me excellently from that time on--"
The officer pronounced severely:
"I will take down your testimony. The law will take notice of this new
action, of which it was ignorant, Monsieur Marambot. I was commissioned
to arrest your servant for the theft of two ducks surreptitiously taken
by him from M. Duhamel of which act there are witnesses. I shall make a
note of your information."
Then, turning toward his men, he ordered:
"Come on, bring him along!"
The two gendarmes dragged Denis out.
The lawyer used a plea of insanity, contrasting the two misdeeds in order
to strengthen his argument. He had clearly proved that the theft of the
two ducks came from the same mental condition as the eight knife-wounds
in the body of Maramlot. He had cunningly analyzed all the phases of
this transitory condition of mental aberration, which could, doubtless,
be cured by a few months' treatment in a reputable sanatorium. He had
spoken in enthusiastic terms of the continued devotion of this faithful
servant, of the care with which he had surrounded his master, wounded by
him in a moment of alienation.
Touched by this memory, M. Marambot felt the tears rising to his eyes.
The lawyer noticed it, opened his arms with a broad gesture, spreading
out the long black sleeves of his robe like the wings of a bat, and
"Look, look, gentleman of the jury, look at those tears. What more can I
say for my client? What speech, what argument, what reasoning would be
worth these tears of his master? They, speak louder than I do, louder
than the law; they cry: 'Mercy, for the poor wandering mind of a while
ago! They implore, they pardon, they bless!"
He was silent and sat down.
Then the judge, turning to Marambot, whose testimony had been excellent
for his servant, asked him:
"But, monsieur, even admitting that you consider this man insane, that
does not explain why you should have kept him. He was none the less
Marambot, wiping his eyes, answered:
"Well, your honor, what can you expect? Nowadays it's so hard to find
good servants--I could never have found a better one."
Denis was acquitted and put in a sanatorium at his master's expense.
It had been a stag dinner. These men still came together once in a while
without their wives as they had done when they were bachelors. They
would eat for a long time, drink for a long time; they would talk of
everything, stir up those old and joyful memories which bring a smile to
the lip and a tremor to the heart. One of them was saying: "Georges, do
you remember our excursion to Saint-Germain with those two little girls
"I should say I do!"
And a little detail here or there would be remembered, and all these
things brought joy to the hearts.
The conversation turned on marriage, and each one said with a sincere
air: "Oh, if it were to do over again!" Georges Duportin added: "It's
strange how easily one falls into it. You have fully decided never to
marry; and then, in the springtime, you go to the country; the weather is
warm; the summer is beautiful; the fields are full of flowers; you meet a
young girl at some friend's house--crash! all is over. You return
Pierre Letoile exclaimed: "Correct! that is exactly my case, only there
were some peculiar incidents--"
His friend interrupted him: "As for you, you have no cause to complain.
You have the most charming wife in the world, pretty, amiable, perfect!
You are undoubtedly the happiest one of us all."
The other one continued: "It's not my fault."
"It is true that I have a perfect wife, but I certainly married her much
against my will."
"Yes--this is the adventure. I was thirty-five, and I had no more idea
of marrying than I had of hanging myself. Young girls seemed to me to be
inane, and I loved pleasure.
"During the month of May I was invited to the wedding of my cousin, Simon
d'Erabel, in Normandy. It was a regular Normandy wedding. We sat down
at the table at five o'clock in the evening and at eleven o'clock we were
still eating. I had been paired off, for the occasion, with a
Mademoiselle Dumoulin, daughter of a retired colonel, a young, blond,
soldierly person, well formed, frank and talkative. She took complete
possession of me for the whole day, dragged me into the park, made me
dance willy-nilly, bored me to death. I said to myself: 'That's all very
well for to-day, but tomorrow I'll get out. That's all there is to it!'
"Toward eleven o'clock at night the women retired to their rooms; the men
stayed, smoking while they drank or drinking while they smoked, whichever
"Through the open window we could see the country folks dancing. Farmers
and peasant girls were jumping about in a circle yelling at the top of
their lungs a dance air which was feebly accompanied by two violins and a
clarinet. The wild song of the peasants often completely drowned the
sound of the instruments, and the weak music, interrupted by the
unrestrained voices, seemed to come to us in little fragments of
scattered notes. Two enormous casks, surrounded by flaming torches,
contained drinks for the crowd. Two men were kept busy rinsing the
glasses or bowls in a bucket and immediately holding them under the
spigots, from which flowed the red stream of wine or the golden stream of
pure cider; and the parched dancers, the old ones quietly, the girls
panting, came up, stretched out their arms and grasped some receptacle,
threw back their heads and poured down their throats the drink which they
preferred. On a table were bread, butter, cheese and sausages. Each one
would step up from time to time and swallow a mouthful, and under the
starlit sky this healthy and violent exercise was a pleasing sight, and
made one also feel like drinking from these enormous casks and eating the
crisp bread and butter with a raw onion.
"A mad desire seized me to take part in this merrymaking, and I left my
companions. I must admit that I was probably a little tipsy, but I was
soon entirely so.
"I grabbed the hand of a big, panting peasant woman and I jumped her
about until I was out of breath.
"Then I drank some wine and reached for another girl. In order to
refresh myself afterward, I swallowed a bowlful of cider, and I began to
bounce around as if possessed.
"I was very light on my feet. The boys, delighted, were watching me and
trying to imitate me; the girls all wished to dance with me, and jumped
about heavily with the grace of cows.
"After each dance I drank a glass of wine or a glass of cider, and toward
two o'clock in the morning I was so drunk that I could hardly stand up.
"I realized my condition and tried to reach my room. Everybody was
asleep and the house was silent and dark.
"I had no matches and everybody was in bed. As soon as I reached the
vestibule I began to, feel dizzy. I had a lot of trouble to find the
banister. At last, by accident, my hand came in contact with it, and I
sat down on the first step of the stairs in order to try to gather my
"My room was on the second floor; it was the third door to the left.
Fortunately I had not forgotten that. Armed with this knowledge, I
arose, not without difficulty, and I began to ascend, step by step. In
my hands I firmly gripped the iron railing in order not to fall, and took
great pains to make no noise.
"Only three or four times did my foot miss the steps, and I went down on
my knees; but thanks to the energy of my arms and the strength of my
will, I avoided falling completely.
"At last I reached the second floor and I set out in my journey along the
hall, feeling my way by the walls. I felt one door; I counted: 'One';
but a sudden dizziness made me lose my hold on the wall, make a strange
turn and fall up against the other wall. I wished to turn in a straight
line: The crossing was long and full of hardships. At last I reached the
shore, and, prudently, I began to travel along again until I met another
door. In order to be sure to make no mistake, I again counted out loud:
'Two.' I started out on my walk again. At last I found the third door.
I said: 'Three, that's my room,' and I turned the knob. The door opened.
Notwithstanding my befuddled state, I thought: 'Since the door opens,
this must be home.' After softly closing the door, I stepped out in the
darkness. I bumped against something soft: my easy-chair. I immediately
stretched myself out on it.
"In my condition it would not have been wise to look for my bureau, my
candles, my matches. It would have taken me at least two hours. It
would probably have taken me that long also to undress; and even then I
might not have succeeded. I gave it up.
"I only took my shoes off; I unbuttoned my waistcoat, which was choking
me, I loosened my trousers and went to sleep.
"This undoubtedly lasted for a long time. I was suddenly awakened by a
deep voice which was saying: 'What, you lazy girl, still in bed? It's
"A woman's voice answered: 'Already! I was so tired yesterday.'
"In bewilderment I wondered what this dialogue meant. Where was I? What
had I done? My mind was wandering, still surrounded by a heavy fog. The
first voice continued: 'I'm going to raise your curtains.'
"I heard steps approaching me. Completely at a loss what to do, I sat
up. Then a hand was placed on my head. I started. The voice asked:
'Who is there?' I took good care not to answer. A furious grasp seized
me. I in turn seized him, and a terrific struggle ensued. We were
rolling around, knocking over the furniture and crashing against the
walls. A woman's voice was shrieking: 'Help! help!'
"Servants, neighbors, frightened women crowded around us. The blinds
were open and the shades drawn. I was struggling with Colonel Dumoulin
"I had slept beside his daughter's bed!
"When we were separated, I escaped to my room, dumbfounded. I locked
myself in and sat down with my feet on a chair, for my shoes had been
left in the young girl's room.
"I heard a great noise through the whole house, doors being opened and
closed, whisperings and rapid steps.
"After half an hour some one knocked on my door. I cried: 'Who is
there?' It was my uncle, the bridegroom's father. I opened the door:
"He was pale and furious, and he treated me harshly: 'You have behaved
like a scoundrel in my house, do you hear?' Then he added more gently
'But, you young fool, why 'the devil did you let yourself get caught at
ten o'clock in the morning? You go to sleep like a log in that room,
instead of leaving immediately-immediately after.'
"I exclaimed: 'But, uncle, I assure you that nothing occurred. I was
drunk and got into the wrong room.'
"He shrugged his shoulders! 'Don't talk nonsense.' I raised my hand,
exclaiming: 'I swear to you on my honor.' My uncle continued: 'Yes,
that's all right. It's your duty to say that.'
"I in turn grew angry and told him the whole unfortunate occurrence. He
looked at me with a bewildered expression, not knowing what to believe.
Then he went out to confer with the colonel.
"I heard that a kind of jury of the mothers had been formed, to which
were submitted the different phases of the situation.
"He came back an hour later, sat down with the dignity of a judge and
began: 'No matter what may be the situation, I can see only one way out
of it for you; it is to marry Mademoiselle Dumoulin.'
"I bounded out of the chair, crying: 'Never! never!'
"Gravely he asked: 'Well, what do you expect to do?'
"I answered simply: 'Why-leave as soon as my shoes are returned to me.'
"My uncle continued: 'Please do not jest. The colonel has decided to
blow your brains out as soon as he sees you. And you may be sure that he
does not threaten idly. I spoke of a duel and he answered: "No, I tell
you that I will blow his brains out."
"'Let us now examine the question from another point of view. Either you
have misbehaved yourself--and then so much the worse for you, my boy; one
should not go near a young girl--or else, being drunk, as you say, you
made a mistake in the room. In this case, it's even worse for you. You
shouldn't get yourself into such foolish situations. Whatever you may
say, the poor girl's reputation is lost, for a drunkard's excuses are
never believed. The only real victim in the matter is the girl. Think
"He went away, while I cried after him: 'Say what you will, I'll not
"I stayed alone for another hour. Then my aunt came. She was crying.
She used every argument. No one believed my story. They could not
imagine that this young girl could have forgotten to lock her door in a
house full of company. The colonel had struck her. She had been crying
the whole morning. It was a terrible and unforgettable scandal. And my
good aunt added: 'Ask for her hand, anyhow. We may, perhaps, find some
way out of it when we are drawing up the papers.'
"This prospect relieved me. And I agreed to write my proposal. An hour
later I left for Paris. The following day I was informed that I had been
"Then, in three weeks, before I had been able to find any excuse, the
banns were published, the announcement sent out, the contract signed, and
one Monday morning I found myself in a church, beside a weeping young
girl, after telling the magistrate that I consented to take her as my
companion--for better, for worse.
"I had not seen her since my adventure, and I glanced at her out of the
corner of my eye with a certain malevolent surprise. However, she was
not ugly--far from it. I said to myself: 'There is some one who won't
laugh every day.'
"She did not look at me once until, the evening, and she did not say a
"Toward the middle of the night I entered the bridal chamber with the
full intention of letting her know my resolutions, for I was now master.
I found her sitting in an armchair, fully dressed, pale and with red
eyes. As soon as I entered she rose and came slowly toward me saying:
'Monsieur, I am ready to do whatever you may command. I will kill myself
if you so desire'
"The colonel's daughter was as pretty as she could be in this heroic
role. I kissed her; it was my privilege.
"I soon saw that I had not got a bad bargain. I have now been married
five years. I do not regret it in the least."
Pierre Letoile was silent. His companions were laughing. One of them
said: "Marriage is indeed a lottery; you must never choose your numbers.
The haphazard ones are the best."
Another added by way of conclusion: "Yes, but do not forget that the god
of drunkards chose for Pierre."
We were speaking of adventures, and each one of us was relating his story
of delightful experiences, surprising meetings, on the train, in a hotel,
at the seashore. According to Roger des Annettes, the seashore was
particularly favorable to the little blind god.
Gontran, who was keeping mum, was asked what he thought of it.
"I guess Paris is about the best place for that," he said. "Woman is
like a precious trinket, we appreciate her all the more when we meet her
in the most unexpected places; but the rarest ones are only to be found
He was silent for a moment, and then continued:
"By Jove, it's great! Walk along the streets on some spring morning.
The little women, daintily tripping along, seem to blossom out like
flowers. What a delightful, charming sight! The dainty perfume of
violet is everywhere. The city is gay, and everybody notices the women.
By Jove, how tempting they are in their light, thin dresses, which
occasionally give one a glimpse of the delicate pink flesh beneath!
"One saunters along, head up, mind alert, and eyes open. I tell you it's
great! You see her in the distance, while still a block away; you
already know that she is going to please you at closer quarters. You can
recognize her by the flower on her hat, the toss of her head, or her
gait. She approaches, and you say to yourself: 'Look out, here she is!'
You come closer to her and you devour her with your eyes.
"Is it a young girl running errands for some store, a young woman
returning from church, or hastening to see her lover? What do you care?
Her well-rounded bosom shows through the thin waist. Oh, if you could
only take her in your arms and fondle and kiss her! Her glance may be
timid or bold, her hair light or dark. What difference does it make?
She brushes against you, and a cold shiver runs down your spine. Ah, how
you wish for her all day! How many of these dear creatures have I met
this way, and how wildly in love I would have been had I known them more
"Have you ever noticed that the ones we would love the most distractedly
are those whom we never meet to know? Curious, isn't it? From time to
time we barely catch a glimpse of some woman, the mere sight of whom
thrills our senses. But it goes no further. When I think of all the
adorable creatures that I have elbowed in the streets of Paris, I fairly
rave. Who are they! Where are they? Where can I find them again?
There is a proverb which says that happiness often passes our way; I am
sure that I have often passed alongside the one who could have caught me
like a linnet in the snare of her fresh beauty."
Roger des Annettes had listened smilingly. He answered: "I know that as
well as you do. This is what happened to me: About five years ago, for
the first time I met, on the Pont de la Concorde, a young woman who made
a wonderful impression on me. She was dark, rather stout, with glossy
hair, and eyebrows which nearly met above two dark eyes. On her lip was
a scarcely perceptible down, which made one dream-dream as one dreams of
beloved woods, on seeing a bunch of wild violets. She had a small waist
and a well-developed bust, which seemed to present a challenge, offer a
temptation. Her eyes were like two black spots on white enamel. Her
glance was strange, vacant, unthinking, and yet wonderfully beautiful.
"I imagined that she might be a Jewess. I followed her, and then turned
round to look at her, as did many others. She walked with a swinging
gait that was not graceful, but somehow attracted one. At the Place de
la Concorde she took a carriage, and I stood there like a fool, moved by
the strongest desire that had ever assailed me.
"For about three weeks I thought only of her; and then her memory passed
out of my mind.
"Six months later I descried her in the Rue de la Paix again. On seeing
her I felt the same shock that one experiences on seeing a once dearly
loved woman. I stopped that I might better observe her. When she passed
close enough to touch me I felt as though I were standing before a red
hot furnace. Then, when she had passed by, I noticed a delicious
sensation, as of a cooling breeze blowing over my face. I did not follow
her. I was afraid of doing something foolish. I was afraid of myself.
"She haunted all my dreams.
"It was a year before I saw her again. But just as the sun was going
down on one beautiful evening in May I recognized her walking along the
Avenue des Champs-Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe stood out in bold relief
against the fiery glow of the sky. A golden haze filled the air; it was
one of those delightful spring evenings which are the glory of Paris.
"I followed her, tormented by a desire to address her, to kneel before
her, to pour forth the emotion which was choking me. Twice I passed by
her only to fall back, and each time as I passed by I felt this
sensation, as of scorching heat, which I had noticed in the Rue de la
"She glanced at me, and then I saw her enter a house on the Rue de
Presbourg. I waited for her two hours and she did not come out. Then I
decided to question the janitor. He seemed not to understand me. 'She
must be visiting some one,' he said.
"The next time I was eight months without seeing her. But one freezing
morning in January, I was walking along the Boulevard Malesherbes at a
dog trot, so as to keep warm, when at the corner I bumped into a woman
and knocked a small package out of her hand. I tried to apologize. It
"At first I stood stock still from the shock; then having returned to her
the package which she had dropped, I said abruptly:
"'I am both grieved and delighted, madame, to have jostled you. For more
than two years I have known you, admired you, and had the most ardent
wish to be presented to you; nevertheless I have been unable to find out
who you are, or where you live. Please excuse these foolish words.
Attribute them to a passionate desire to be numbered among your
acquaintances. Such sentiments can surely offend you in no way! You do
not know me. My name is Baron Roger des Annettes. Make inquiries about
me, and you will find that I am a gentleman. Now, if you refuse my
request, you will throw me into abject misery. Please be good to me and
tell me how I can see you.'
"She looked at me with her strange vacant stare, and answered smilingly:
"'Give me your address. I will come and see you.'
"I was so dumfounded that I must have shown my surprise. But I quickly
gathered my wits together and gave her a visiting card, which she slipped
into her pocket with a quick, deft movement.
"Becoming bolder, I stammered:
"'When shall I see you again?'
"She hesitated, as though mentally running over her list of engagements,
and then murmured:
"'Will Sunday morning suit you?'
"'I should say it would!'
"She went on, after having stared at me, judged, weighed and analyzed me
with this heavy and vacant gaze which seemed to leave a quieting and
deadening impression on the person towards whom it was directed.
"Until Sunday my mind was occupied day and night trying to guess who she
might be and planning my course of conduct towards her. I finally
decided to buy her a jewel, a beautiful little jewel, which I placed in
its box on the mantelpiece, and left it there awaiting her arrival.
"I spent a restless night waiting for her.
"At ten o'clock she came, calm and quiet, and with her hand outstretched,
as though she had known me for years. Drawing up a chair, I took her hat
and coat and furs, and laid them aside. And then, timidly, I took her
hand in mine; after that all went on without a hitch.
"Ah, my friends! what a bliss it is, to stand at a discreet distance and
watch the hidden pink and blue ribbons, partly concealed, to observe the
hazy lines of the beloved one's form, as they become visible through the
last of the filmy garments! What a delight it is to watch the ostrich-
like modesty of those who are in reality none too modest. And what is so
pretty as their motions!
"Her back was turned towards me, and suddenly, my eyes were irresistibly
drawn to a large black spot right between her shoulders. What could it
be? Were my eyes deceiving me? But no, there it was, staring me in the
face! Then my mind reverted to the faint down on her lip, the heavy
eyebrows almost meeting over her coal-black eyes, her glossy black hair--
I should have been prepared for some surprise.
"Nevertheless I was dumfounded, and my mind was haunted by dim visions of
strange adventures. I seemed to see before me one of the evil genii of
the Thousand and One Nights, one of these dangerous and crafty creatures
whose mission it is to drag men down to unknown depths. I thought of
Solomon, who made the Queen of Sheba walk on a mirror that he might be
sure that her feet were not cloven.
"And when the time came for me to sing of love to her, my voice forsook
me. At first she showed surprise, which soon turned to anger; and she
said, quickly putting on her wraps:
"'It was hardly worth while for me to go out of my way to come here.'
"I wanted her to accept the ring which I had bought for her, but she
replied haughtily: 'For whom do you take me, sir?' I blushed to the roots
of my hair. She left without saying another word.
"There is my whole adventure. But the worst part of it is that I am now
madly in love with her. I can't see a woman without thinking of her.
All the others disgust me, unless they remind me of her. I cannot kiss a
woman without seeing her face before me, and without suffering the
torture of unsatisfied desire. She is always with me, always there,
dressed or nude, my true love. She is there, beside the other one,
visible but intangible. I am almost willing to believe that she was
bewitched, and carried a talisman between her shoulders.
"Who is she? I don't know yet. I have met her once or twice since. I
bowed, but she pretended not to recognize me. Who is she? An Oriental?
Yes, doubtless an oriental Jewess! I believe that she must be a Jewess!
But why? Why? I don't know!"
The subject of sequestration of the person came up in speaking of a
recent lawsuit, and each of us had a story to tell--a true story, he
said. We had been spending the evening together at an old family mansion
in the Rue de Grenelle, just a party of intimate friends. The old
Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, who was eighty-two, rose, and, leaning his
elbow on the mantelpiece, said in his somewhat shaky voice:
"I also know of something strange, so strange that it has haunted me all
my life. It is now fifty-six years since the incident occurred, and yet
not a month passes that I do not see it again in a dream, so great is the
impression of fear it has left on my mind. For ten minutes I experienced
such horrible fright that ever since then a sort of constant terror has
remained with me. Sudden noises startle me violently, and objects
imperfectly distinguished at night inspire me with a mad desire to flee
from them. In short, I am afraid of the dark!
"But I would not have acknowledged that before I reached my present age.
Now I can say anything. I have never receded before real danger, ladies.
It is, therefore, permissible, at eighty-two years of age, not to be
brave in presence of imaginary danger.
"That affair so completely upset me, caused me such deep and mysterious
and terrible distress, that I never spoke of it to any one. I will now
tell it to you exactly as it happened, without any attempt at
"In July, 1827, I was stationed at Rouen. One day as I was walking along
the quay I met a man whom I thought I recognized without being able to
recall exactly who he was. Instinctively I made a movement to stop. The
stranger perceived it and at once extended his hand.
"He was a friend to whom I had been deeply attached as a youth. For five
years I had not seen him; he seemed to have aged half a century. His
hair was quite white and he walked bent over as though completely
exhausted. He apparently understood my surprise, and he told me of the
misfortune which had shattered his life.
"Having fallen madly in love with a young girl, he had married her, but
after a year of more than earthly happiness she died suddenly of an
affection of the heart. He left his country home on the very day of her
burial and came to his town house in Rouen, where he lived, alone and
unhappy, so sad and wretched that he thought constantly of suicide.
"'Since I have found you again in this manner,' he said, 'I will ask you
to render me an important service. It is to go and get me out of the
desk in my bedroom--our bedroom--some papers of which I have urgent need.
I cannot send a servant or a business clerk, as discretion and absolute
silence are necessary. As for myself, nothing on earth would induce me
to reenter that house. I will give you the key of the room, which I
myself locked on leaving, and the key of my desk, also a few words for my
gardener, telling him to open the chateau for you. But come and
breakfast with me tomorrow and we will arrange all that.'
"I promised to do him the slight favor he asked. It was, for that
matter, only a ride which I could make in an hour on horseback, his
property being but a few miles distant from Rouen.
"At ten o'clock the following day I breakfasted, tete-a-tete, with my
friend, but he scarcely spoke.
"He begged me to pardon him; the thought of the visit I was about to make
to that room, the scene of his dead happiness, overcame him, he said.
He, indeed, seemed singularly agitated and preoccupied, as though
undergoing some mysterious mental struggle.
"At length he explained to me exactly what I had to do. It was very
simple. I must take two packages of letters and a roll of papers from
the first right-hand drawer of the desk, of which I had the key. He
"'I need not beg you to refrain from glancing at them.'
"I was wounded at that remark and told him so somewhat sharply. He
"'Forgive me, I suffer so,' and tears came to his eyes.
"At about one o'clock I took leave of him to accomplish my mission.
"'The weather was glorious, and I trotted across the fields, listening to
the song of the larks and the rhythmical clang of my sword against my
boot. Then I entered the forest and walked my horse. Branches of trees
caressed my face as I passed, and now and then I caught a leaf with my
teeth and chewed it, from sheer gladness of heart at being alive and
vigorous on such a radiant day.
"As I approached the chateau I took from my pocket the letter I had for
the gardener, and was astonished at finding it sealed. I was so
irritated that I was about to turn back without having fulfilled my
promise, but reflected that I should thereby display undue
susceptibility. My friend in his troubled condition might easily have
fastened the envelope without noticing that he did so.
"The manor looked as if it had been abandoned for twenty years. The open
gate was falling from its hinges, the walks were overgrown with grass and
the flower beds were no longer distinguishable.
"The noise I made by kicking at a shutter brought out an old man from a
side door. He seemed stunned with astonishment at seeing me. On
receiving my letter, he read it, reread it, turned it over and over,
looked me up and down, put the paper in his pocket and finally said:
"'Well, what is it you wish?'
"I replied shortly:
"'You ought to know, since you have just read your master's orders. I
wish to enter the chateau.'
"He seemed overcome.
"'Then you are going in--into her room?'
"I began to lose patience.
"'Damn it! Are you presuming to question me?'
"He stammered in confusion:
"'No--sir--but--but it has not been opened since--since the-death. If
you will be kind enough to wait five minutes I will go and--and see if--'
"I interrupted him angrily:
"'See here, what do you mean by your tricks?
"'You know very well you cannot enter the room, since here is the key!'
"He no longer objected.
"'Then, sir, I will show you the way.'
"'Show me the staircase and leave me. I'll find my way without you.'
"This time I lost patience, and pushing him aside, went into the house.
"I first went through the kitchen, then two rooms occupied by this man
and his wife. I then crossed a large hall, mounted a staircase and
recognized the door described by my friend.
"I easily opened it, and entered the apartment. It was so dark that at
first I could distinguish nothing. I stopped short, disagreeably
affected by that disagreeable, musty odor of closed, unoccupied rooms.
As my eyes slowly became accustomed to the darkness I saw plainly enough
a large and disordered bedroom, the bed without sheets but still
retaining its mattresses and pillows, on one of which was a deep
impression, as though an elbow or a head had recently rested there.
"The chairs all seemed out of place. I noticed that a door, doubtless
that of a closet, had remained half open.
"I first went to the window, which I opened to let in the light, but the
fastenings of the shutters had grown so rusty that I could not move them.
I even tried to break them with my sword, but without success. As I was
growing irritated over my useless efforts and could now see fairly well
in the semi-darkness, I gave up the hope of getting more light, and went
over to the writing desk.
"I seated myself in an armchair and, letting down the lid of the desk, I
opened the drawer designated. It was full to the top. I needed but
three packages, which I knew how to recognize, and began searching for
"I was straining my eyes in the effort to read the superscriptions when I
seemed to hear, or, rather, feel, something rustle back of me. I paid no
attention, believing that a draught from the window was moving some
drapery. But in a minute or so another movement, almost imperceptible,
sent a strangely disagreeable little shiver over my skin. It was so
stupid to be affected, even slightly, that self-respect prevented my
turning around. I had just found the second package I needed and was
about to lay my hand on the third when a long and painful sigh, uttered
just at my shoulder, made me bound like a madman from my seat and land
several feet off. As I jumped I had turned round my hand on the hilt of
my sword, and, truly, if I had not felt it at my side I should have taken
to my heels like a coward.
"A tall woman dressed in white, stood gazing at me from the back of the
chair where I had been sitting an instant before.
"Such a shudder ran through all my limbs that I nearly fell backward. No
one who has not experienced it can understand that frightful, unreasoning
terror! The mind becomes vague, the heart ceases to beat, the entire
body grows as limp as a sponge.
"I do not believe in ghosts, nevertheless I collapsed from a hideous
dread of the dead, and I suffered, oh! I suffered in a few moments more
than in all the rest of my life from the irresistible terror of the
supernatural. If she had not spoken I should have died perhaps. But she
spoke, she spoke in a sweet, sad voice that set my nerves vibrating.
I dare not say that I became master of myself and recovered my reason.
No! I was terrified and scarcely knew what I was doing. But a certain
innate pride, a remnant of soldierly instinct, made me, almost in spite
of myself, maintain a bold front. She said:
"'Oh, sir, you can render me a great service.'
"I wanted to reply, but it was impossible for me to pronounce a word.
Only a vague sound came from my throat. She continued:
"'Will you? You can save me, cure me. I suffer frightfully. I suffer,
oh! how I suffer!' and she slowly seated herself in my armchair, still
looking at me.
"'Will you?' she said.
"I nodded in assent, my voice still being paralyzed.
"Then she held out to me a tortoise-shell comb and murmured:
"'Comb my hair, oh! comb my hair; that will cure me; it must be combed.
Look at my head--how I suffer; and my hair pulls so!'
"Her hair, unbound, very long and very black, it seemed to me, hung over
the back of the armchair and touched the floor.
"Why did I promise? Why did I take that comb with a shudder, and why did
I hold in my hands her long black hair that gave my skin a frightful cold
sensation, as though I were handling snakes? I cannot tell.
"That sensation has remained in my fingers, and I still tremble in
"I combed her hair. I handled, I know not how, those icy locks. I
twisted, knotted, and unknotted, and braided them. She sighed, bowed her
head, seemed happy. Suddenly she said, 'Thank you!' snatched the comb
from my hands and fled by the door that I had noticed ajar.
"Left alone, I experienced for several seconds the horrible agitation of
one who awakens from a nightmare. At length I regained my senses. I ran
to the window and with a mighty effort burst open the shutters, letting a
flood of light into the room. Immediately I sprang to the door by which
that being had departed. I found it closed and immovable!
"Then the mad desire to flee overcame me like a panic the panic which
soldiers know in battle. I seized the three packets of letters on the
open desk, ran from the room, dashed down the stairs four steps at a
time, found myself outside, I know not how, and, perceiving my horse a
few steps off, leaped into the saddle and galloped away.
"I stopped only when I reached Rouen and alighted at my lodgings.
Throwing the reins to my orderly, I fled to my room and shut myself in to
reflect. For an hour I anxiously asked myself if I were not the victim
of a hallucination. Undoubtedly I had had one of those incomprehensible
nervous attacks those exaltations of mind that give rise to visions and
are the stronghold of the supernatural. And I was about to believe I had
seen a vision, had a hallucination, when, as I approached the window, my
eyes fell, by chance, upon my breast. My military cape was covered with
long black hairs! One by one, with trembling fingers, I plucked them off
and threw them away.
"I then called my orderly. I was too disturbed, too upset to go and see
my friend that day, and I also wished to reflect more fully upon what I
ought to tell him. I sent him his letters, for which he gave the soldier
a receipt. He asked after me most particularly, and, on being told I was
ill--had had a sunstroke--appeared exceedingly anxious. Next morning I
went to him, determined to tell him the truth. He had gone out the
evening before and had not yet returned. I called again during the day;
my friend was still absent. After waiting a week longer without news of
him, I notified the authorities and a judicial search was instituted.
Not the slightest trace of his whereabouts or manner of disappearance was
"A minute inspection of the abandoned chateau revealed nothing of a
suspicious character. There was no indication that a woman had been
"After fruitless researches all further efforts were abandoned, and for
fifty-six years I have heard nothing; I know no more than before."