Part 6 out of 7
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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?"
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"'Yes,' she said, 'I was in earnest then.'
"'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
"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
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."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"The bosom's lord sits lightly on its throne,"
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
. . . . . .
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
The Closed Cabinet
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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-
"And as regards the next?" I suggested, smiling, and already
ashamed of my little temper.